Saturday, October 21, 2017

GR653A Day 19: Éguilles - Salon de Provence

Broke the 30 km barrier today, and reached an overall total of 400 km! 

This is the longest continual walk I have done so far, and the hardest, too. In addition to the continuing ups and downs in the first part (things have levelled off now), there's the lack of logistical support: no special hostels for pilgrims, except in very few places where you can stay at a convent; mostly you have to spend a lot of time researching your own places to stay, trying to figure out how close they are to the route (as this is not normally mentioned in the descriptions on hotel websites or airbnb). Hotels and even nunneries are more expensive than in Italy or in Spain. And eating in restaurants could easily double the cost of your trip beyond that - a plain pizza in the south of France costs €16, any main dish at a restaurant over €20. Bars in the Italian sense, serving a stand-up breakfast for €2 and sandwiches for €4.50, don't exist either. The solution is grocery stores and bakeries - if you can find them open, that is! In small villages they keep very irregular hours, and even in cities they are closed on Sundays. 

So when I left Éguilles at 8 this morning everything was still closed. Fortunately I had brought supplies with me from the flat in Aix, so I breakfasted in my airbnb room and dined on the remaining leftovers for the rest of the day. From Éguilles I descended into a valley of vineyards and into a forest of scrub, rather than trees - short prickly shrubs, punctuated here and there by maritime pines.

Despite the lack of cover, these "woods" were full of hunters this Saturday morning. But there were also plenty of locals out jogging and mountain biking, and I figured they wouldn't be out there if it was dangerous! However it was a relief to find that after walking a short stretch along the road, the woods on the other side were quiet and hunter-free. Here I passed a borie: a small round house made of stone.

I also passed over the Canal de Marseille - twice. 

The country here looked very different - quite flat, with a row of hoodoo-like formations. With 25 km behind me I was very glad to see the sign announcing Salon de Provence - in two languages. 

Salon de Provence is where French air force pilots train, and I had been seeing their small white training planes flying overhead all day. As well as a fly-by from the "Patrouille de France" - the national acrobatic aviation team! I came into the city right by the aeronautic academy, where I met a bus driver on his break at the head stop who was also a pilgrim, and a member of the local branch of the Amis de la Chemin de St Jacques. He was very anxious to talk to me, and I only wish my language skills had been up to the occasion! Another thing that makes walking in France more difficult is the fact that the French speak French. Period. Unlike Italians, Germans, Dutch, etc. they don't switch to English or even slow down when they realise you are staring at them with a look of total incomprehension on your face. They just keep on talking - in French. With a few exceptions, such as the next person I spoke to in Salon, a man in his garden whom I asked to fill my water bottle. He spoke good English with a Brooklyn accent. But I actually had a harder time communicating with him than with the bus driver; the concept of a pilgrimage or any kind of walking voyage was totally foreign to him, and he felt it his duty to inform me that hitch-hiking is legal in France! :)

The lady at the tourist office stamped my pilgrim passport with a beautiful stamp - called a tampon in French, and yes, it did take me a while to get used to asking for tampons in churches and tourist information offices! But she had no luck contacting those members of the Amis de St Jacques who offer hospitality to pilgrims, so she got me a slight discount at a hotel just down the road, and by then I was too tired to bother looking any further! So here I am at the aptly named (for me) Hotel Angleterre, after a hot shower that revived me sufficiently for a walk around the historic town centre.

Salon-en-Provence was the hometown of Nostradamus. And the locals seem to keep up the tradition of studying the stars, judging by this shop window! 

His tomb is in this church, which was, of course, shut. I forgot to mention - it's also very hard to get a look at the inside of a church, in France! Which is a pity, because both the Collegial church of St Laurent and the chapel of St Michel looked like they might be beautiful inside as well as out. Sunday mass is not until 11, so I shall never find out!

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