Charenton-le-Pont to Richard-Lenoir métro 5. 5 kms (Charenton-Ecoles metro, Place du Cardinal Lavigerie, Avenue Jean Jaurés, Rue Claude Decaen, Place Félix Eboué, Rue de Reuilly, Rue Faidherbe, Rue Godefroy Caraignac, Square Saint Aboise, Boulevard Voltaire, 11th arrondissement, Richard-Lenoir métro).
Parc Zoologique de Paris.
I was deposited by my bla bla car from Reims in an area I had never previously visited. I decided to walk T the Maria Canal for my Seiki Shiatsu workshop with Catherine Dompas, but I dawdled so much, I had to ake the tube the rest of the way!
Where people live – I have seen this all over London and Paris recently: more people made homeless by the rich-poor divide.
Wherever you go in Paris there’s something lovely to see amidst the blocks of flats, supermarkets and cafés.
Beautiful sun throwing shadows.
Église de Saint-Esprit.
There is a garden in front of the Saint Aboise Church in memory of the Monks of Tibhirine (Algeria). They were horrifically murdered in their Abbey during the Algerian Civil War. A French film was made about it, Of Gods and Men, was awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010.
To get to Richard-Lenoir métro from Boulevard Voltaire you take a left and walk through a public gardens with vines and a playpark.
An impressive floral display for the end of October.
Wu Chi – undifferentiated timelessness, the un-manifest aspect ofthe Tao.In peacock feathers from the garden birds.
I enjoyed teaching an introduction to Chi Gung for a group of Masters students (Greek, Dutch, American) from the Netherlands before I left. Their performances at Thursday’s showcase were stimulating: a two-hander addressing non-binary issues in an appropriately naïve style, and a quirky performed reading reminding me of the toymaker in Copélia.
View from the garden. It was colder in the final days, but I still did T’ai Chi there in the morning sun.
Delicate ivy ‘drawings’ on the wall.
Silver birch bark – surely the origin of the design of camouflage clothing!
Autumn leaf burning by E. I sat and watched the burning embers and the small flames lick as the sky darkened. The fire was still warm in the morning.
The walk back to the station took me past Halloween house decorations, the luminous sumac tree, and a village hall (last time the gate was shut and I couldn’t see in, so this time I crept up and peered in the window – they were all playing cards in there!). Then there were two furry friendly (hungry?) donkeys who I was instructed not to feed, and several people who kindly stopped to offer me a lift, which I declined so I could walk.
The WW1 memorial for the dead soldiers, significant given that the topic of my studies is death.
Strips of roots growing across the bottom of the tree.
A whorl of bark.
Flowers found at ground level on the pavement.
Outside the old school is this lovely sundial with the inscription La grive aux raisins (thrush with grapes is a delicacy and also the name of the local newsletter) andon the gate of the village room.
View from the train to Reims.
Another sundial, a giant one in Reims lit up in the night. Cadrans Solaire de la Marne, also connected to WW1 as the River Marne, site of the battles of 1914 and 1918 where the German advancements were halted.
From the back of a toilet door at Le Maryland bar in Reims – not so very respectful of our monarch!
This bar is near the Cathedral and I do not recommend it as it was full of smokers and smoke, and with men making not so-funny remarks. I didn’t feel comfortable there on my own.
Sculpture by Armelle Blary https://armelleblary.com in a window in Reims – inspired by the work of Louise Bouregeois I would guess.
Les bunnies. At the home of Julie Martin who was my bla bla car driver 10 days before and who kindly invited me to stay on my return. Together with her lovely flatmate, Marie, I was cooked two sorts of crêpes which were delicious.
Many thanks to them for their hopitality. Check out their innovate business: Be Vegetal My Friend which offers all sorts of workshops with plants and flowers, plus you can see Julie demonstrating what she does, and go there to get designs for your wedding or event.
Julie Martin, Be Vegetal My Freind, in her element!
Yesterday I lay down on my back to do my exercises under a tree with my eyes closed. I was focusing on my breath and muscles, moving through my paces. I opened them on hearing a tweet and there, in the spreading branches (don’t they always spread?) and bright leaves, was one, no, two, a whole flock of little birds with long tails bobbing up and down, jutting their tiny heads and flitting fast from place to place. I couldn’t see their backs because I was underneath, but there were hints of pink adding to the brown and beige. They took no notice of me, which was nice.
As I watched, a beastie with many legs crawled up the edge of my arm and onto the top; another one went in and, thankfully, out of my ear; an ant went all round my knee.
When I went to the loo I sprayed soft moss fronds and scratchy bits of autumn twig on the floor!
Later sitting at my desk, writing, the lime greenery was only broken by the odd brown leaf and matching beech nuts opening their hard lips to the air. From the first floor I am half way up where the branches are thinner. It all shivers and sways gently, not much, almost settling, continuing its dialogue with the breeze.
This morning I stood beside another one to do my T’ai Chi. Just as I got to move 134 I found myself back at thirty something so I completed almost a whole second round (140 in total). I got slower and slower. In the fog I saw the tips of my fingers, covered in fine rain, shift in my peripheral vision and I felt myself sink a little.
It’s trunk was very quiet, half in, half out of the ground. I couldn’t see it move although I knew it was, inside. It stood there before I got here of course, and stands there now. I tried to emulate it. I thought of the tree, being in all weathers; watching people, animals and insects coming and going over the years. The wind rustled it. Then did the same to my hair. I stood, learning.
Then I stood still, ‘standing like a tree’ (it’s a chi gung exercise). It was lighter now (approaching 7am). I enjoyed it.
First in shoulder stand and then bottom in the air – the world looked lovely even upside down looking between my legs.
After I gave Shiatsu to a wood worker this morning, I left him on the mat and walked to the window. High on the second floor I was level with the top of the tree and there was a woodpecker. No, really. Right there. Black and white all down its back with a red top knot and knickers. The window was closed, but I saw it noiselessly tapping inbetween tilting its head to the right as if looking to see if anyone was coming.
When I looked back into the room and asked how L was doing, he said “floating” and then there was a wait. From inside himself with his eyes tight shut he added, “my body’s fizzing”.
I didn’t try to take a photo of the woodpecker in case I disturbed it. However this little critter, a ladybird, was on my last piece of apple (from the tree in the garden) when I came back in.
I sit and work in the garden and the hot sun heats my lower back beautifully. I tan.
A peacock feather.
I look up as something thuds. An apple lies beside me. As I watch, whisper of a leaf; an acorn drops. Fruits still red and ripening.
Giving one Shiatsu per day for the community.
I took a walk to the Intermarché/ supermarket on a sunny Sunday.
School and graf / graffiti.
The garden is the best place for writing. The light is inspiring. I caught myself thinking, ‘With this beauty and peacefulness I don’t need to eat’!
The slightly weird grottoes showing above the trees, which catch the morning rays.
After my tour, I sat in the garden as the sky darkened and the moon brightened. The last of the sun illuminated the tops of the birches and their tiny leaves flickered in the wind. The cyprus stood steady, turning a black silhouette before the rest. I watched a plane go past a star – that’s what it looked like.
Then an owl hooted: sometimes singly, followed by silence, then four in a row. Baby blue clouds appeared and a gauze of them passed in front of the orb which altered the light on the lawn.
The sound in the trees kidded my body into thinking it was colder than it was. Still, I pulled my hood over my hat, poked my thumbs through the holes in my sleeves and wormed one hand up the opposite arm. The chickens had been put to bed I realised, and there was no sign of the peacocks. A dog barked. The church bell tolled. I recognised a halloween sky but minus the bats! And I knew there was revellry going on indoors.
The Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement “Andante” by Mozart plays over and over in my head. I get down to the next chapter.
Oh the Autumn colours please me! As this is farmland, there are sheep, and further along the way, horses too.
With a lot of space to wander and feed. They aren’t fazed by me at all.
One matching chestnut, one dappled grey and one white. I wonder again, do horses (and cows) communicate with each other? Do they vary their behaviour at different times of the day? ‘It’s getting dark guys, let’s have one more meal and then lie down for the night!’
Here are the wide open arable fields where huge spreaders are spraying (just like Kent!). There are almost no flowers or birds as a result of the chemicals. These are recently sown and ploughed fields.
I follow the sign posts and there are also familiar neon arrows at ground level to keep me right – pointers for a run or cross-country cycling no doubt.
I remember the red and white stripes of the French walks I made in Normandy, but as always the entrances and exits for walkers are unusual.
This one was a sort of turnstile of oxydised metal.
I tread quietly. Once I enter the woods, the leaves are falling randomly around me and there is a sweet autumnal leafy smell.
Saw-edged sweet chestnut leaves litter the way, bronze and tan.
Ash and sycamore, acorns in cups, chestnuts in their prickly cases.
There are no fuchsias here like in Ireland, the hedgerows are instead bountiful with clematis, their furry seed heads studded with dark brown cores.
A tweet here and there; a rustling up high; and chirp chirp as a bird darts past.
I pick my way over sandy white soil, and admire the whispy grasses.
Laden with ruddy apples, on a carpet of windfalls.
Downhill, past domestic vines, beehives and allotments with bright flowers, I discover Saint Thomas.
The mairie, town hall
Ceramic flowers on a grave
By the end of the day, the effects of the sun as she brightens the wall and path shining low now behind a telegraph pole or street light so a shadow is thrown.
I am in Champagne country, in Picardy. I took the train from Reims.
The driver waited patiently
The countryside looked amazing through the train window – flat, on into the distance, great expanses of single colours.
I visited the Artisan Baker and then left my rucksack under a tree as the Intermarché was in the opposite direction and I was tired.
I set off with the additional weight of shopping (root veg and cheese) and the first place of note I passed was the library – so surprising to see one in this small but well resourced village. The three women greeted me effusively and showed me around, asking me questions, instructing me on how to use it and proudly showing their collection of English books. Marie T was just leaving, she said, and offered me a most welcome lift, telling me her incredibly sad personal family ‘death’ story on the way. She said that volunteering at the library had been her lifeline and now she was living again.
I am staying in a old convent (where nuns are or were is always a good place for me). It was used as a prison and a hospital in the past by the Americans and the Gestapo so it has a chequered history.
18th October 2018
Early the first morning, the cockerel (that’s him above, all white and fluffy) asks us why we are not outside yet. He is right, it is a gloriously sunny morning. I found a spot between four silver birch trees for t’ai chi.
Later I was greeted by Johnny the gardener and able to keep practicing my French. Everyone is really friendly.
The hives are not producing honey but they have a local source.
Spiralling up to a pool of sunshine I sit and soak it up, starting my writing.
L from New Zealand crouches in a grotto – he wears nail varnish and makes both art as well as shelves – his contribution to the community.
I move as the sun goes behind trees, finding new spots.
Collecting windfalls – brown, yellow and red; prising walnuts from their damp black coats; snapping hazel shells for a breakfast from the garden.
Someone has made apple cake and roasted some chestnuts which I add to my banquet.
We drink tea and eat homemade cakes during the English conversation group that evening. I learn about some of the local people, their jobs, travels and families. We have a laugh.
One and a half hours from Paris Nation by Bla Bla Car, Reims is in champagne country. Not far from the Belgian border, it is just north of the Wildlife Parc Naturel Régional de la Montagne de Reims, west of Metz and south of Lille.
I visited for part of a day and there is undoubtedly more to see. Julie, my driver, deposited me at the Gare / station (there are 2 entrances) and as we bade each other goodbye she kindly invited me to stay with her in a week’s time – she is a couch surfing host.
Opposite the front of the station is a park, Square Colbert, which was completely closed for landscaping, and beyond that, along the Boulevard du Général Leclerc, are the posh hotels. At right angles is Place Drouet d’Erlon, along which you will find eating places galore.
I unfortunately chose poorly (I wanted a place in the sun and a chèvre / goats cheese salad). I do not recommend Café Le Gaulois – the food was very poor quality and over priced.
The Catholic Église Saint-Jacques (Church of the patron Saint of the caminos (walking pathways, les chemins) in Spain (the one who gave Santiago de Compostella its name).
I found the Musée des Beaux-Arts quite by chance.
The next stop had to be the cathedral, stunning against the blue sky.
Round the side of the cathedral the Carnegie Library can be found.
I passed the Opéra, the opera house on my way back to the station.
Camley Street Natural Park; St Pancreas Parish church and gardens; and Goldington Crescent Gardens, Camden London.
As I wander through European cities I find myself attracted time and again to the green spaces. Indeed, a few days ago, I traversed most of Paris from the Bois de Boulogne in the far east, to the Pont Bercy, and what a beautiful walk it was.
Today, I arrived off the Eurostar at St Pancreas London, weary in body and of spirit, but the sun shone, so I googled parks and gardens in the area. I made my way to the St Pancreas gardens, narrowly avoiding being run over by a London taxi due to the lack of pavement, and came across a community garden I had tried to enter twice before, Camley Street Natural Park – this time it was open.
A slice of sylvan pleasure between railway, canal, and high rise buildings, I discovered that this London Wildlife Trust-funded oasis is an ideal place to picnic. Flower beds are constructed from railway sleepers and hunks of stone and bordered pathways are lined with bark pieces.
There is an extensive pond with a green membrane pierced by rushes, and a wild flower meadow with rose bay willow herb. It constitutes a very brief, windy way to the other side if you use it, as many suit-clad workers obviously do, as a thoroughfare; but you may also make a circuit and take in the bug-finding, log-pile place; the ‘fairy glade’ (where if I was not mistaken a counselling session was happening); and pond-dipping where a quiet volunteer was carefully cleaning the sign.
There are rustic benches in private nooks, and, luckily, a few tables in the cafe clearing because it was so densely wooded that there was almost no sun there this September noon.
Bring your little ones and they will have hours of down-to-earth fun – inside if the weather is inclement (there is an activities room and exhibition with nests and pine cones) or out, learning about bats and birds, recycling and natural landscaping. I saw willow, birch, brambles and cherry, and there were tourists in the Visitor Centre being helped by the member of staff.
This old coal yard is located by the waterway which once transported the fuel to Yorkshire, where incidentally the next-door sliver of a bridge was formed before being placed in its current position in 2016. Unlike the uneven Park’s paths which absorb any sound (do not try with buggies, bikes nor suitcases), the bridge’s smooth surface resonates with and amplifies joggers’ footfall and cycle wheels.
Just down the road is the St Pancreas old church and gardens, today shining in the sunlight and showing off its higgledy-piggleddy stones, working mortuary, royal blue water fountain (at least I think that is what it is), and unusual monument “especially dedicated to the memory of those whose graves are now unseen or the records of whose names may be …(could not read this word) obliterated”.
They have done a great job of bringing interesting facts and people to our attention in the wee church: the relationship of Thomas Hardy to the ‘consecrated burial ground’, and memorials to Mary Wollenstonecraft, activist, and John Soane, architect of the Bank of England whose main residence is in the area and whose ‘country’ house in Ealing (Pitzhanger Manor, see above) I coincidentally visited last week.
Under the trees sit study groups, lunching pairs and individuals reading or on their phones. What a contrast with the welcome smell of warm wax which filled the holy interior. I enjoyed the plaque ‘in memory of my dear husband Earnest Wiggins d 1975’ before drifting into my third bout of 60 winks sitting on a proud wooden chair at the back listening to the ponderous ticking of an unseen clock.
Making my way towards Mornington Crescent tube station, with its faint hints of Mary Poppins and WW2 popular songs, I come across Goldington Crescent Gardens. In the Autumn sun, causing the fallen leaves to glow and throwing strong olive green and top-hat grey shadows on the grass, there is a public sculpture. It is in three parts: one resembles a silver pile of unmentionable; the second an ant eater with its snout in the ground; and the third is a mystery. The artwork stands out starkly beside the pink and red brick 1903 Goldington Buildings opposite, which edges elegantly wrap around whatever is in its heart. Interesting fact: in Vienna they have a word for these buildings which conceal a space behind the facade, which is ‘Hof’.
Pontorson 10.5.17; Brittany circular, coastal walk / ‘les balades’ (rambles) / ‘les randonnées’ (hikes) – La Bernière to Port de Pornic 11.5.17, both France.
Journey via Bla Bla Car to Zaragoza, Spain 12.5.17.
On the Camino Francés in Spain, the hostels are where you meet other backpackers and exchange tales. Up until today, I had ￼not encountered anyone in France, but the two women I had seen the previous night were breakfasting when I got down to the youth hostel kitchen. After being initially engaged in (French) conversation with a rather interested man who told me he did all sorts of work, anything he was asked to do, and then kissed me goodbye (yes, the dangers of being a single female traveller!), I was invited to sit with them for a while. They asked me what I was up to and after explaining, I was enthusiastically given a piece of paper by Lysiane, with her name and address on it, and told that if I ever visited Brussels I could stay with her in return for Shiatsu. Almost everyone I meet and talk to knows what Shiatsu is and likes it; it really is quite notable compared with the UK.
Myself and a number of others arrived at the station before it opened. It was unclear to us all how we should get tickets and where to go, until a brusque woman came to open up. We waited in the gorgeous sun before realising we needed to cross the tracks for the stopping train to Rennes which I had booked online the day before. A Japanese couple regaled us, as we waited, with a comparison between the efficiency of French signposting and the contrasting confusion in Britain.
My day’s walk on the Brittany coast began in the rain at La Bernière-en-Retz, a small town where a lot of street work was being carried out, but that was otherwise deserted. The sea was well out, revealing broad sands with low stone walls. I felt immensely light-hearted, as happy as I was when walking in northern Spain in the Autumn of 2016.
The path was easy to find and varied. Sometimes it was on cliffs, at others beside dwellings. Always there was the expansive view of the water, with miniscule collectors of seafish in the distance. After a while there was a series of platforms from which hung voluminous lift-nets. I was told that when the tide is in, these fill with fish. These traditional ‘carrelets’ are expensive apparently, but bring high yields and are found all along this coast.
The low stone walls are also demarcations related to fishing, left over from many years ago, and easily seen at certain times of the day.
Grassy paths wound up and over the rocks, seagulls shrieked, and the fresh breeze bought welcome fragrances of the cypress trees.
Picnic lunch was taken (illegally, it transpired) under ancient stones to shelter from the wet.
Port de Pornic with its gentle harbour, silver grey turrets, and small yachts came as a surprise. Rather quaint and sophisticated by turns, it is quite a centre but I did not investigate. Instead, here I turned and headed back the way I had come, stopping to divest myself of waterproof trousers as the sun started to show itself, seeing things from back-to-front and in a different light, literally.
The next day I took a Bla Bla Car from Bordeaux, via Bayonne, Irun, and Pamplona to Zaragoza to stay with the genial Yvonne.
Bla Bla Car is generally unknown in the UK. It is a fantastic system, originally set up so that someone who is making a long-distance journey has company while they drive. Nowadays some complain that it has become a sort of glorified taxi service, but on the whole I found it to be a social thing.
It operates in France and Spain, and there is a website where you search for the setting-off point and destination, and then identify who you might like to go with. Like air bnb, the drivers are vetted and reviewed, and you can guarantee that the cost is less than the cheapest mode of public transport for that same journey. Sometimes the driver reserves the right to choose, and although you have paid (I used PayPal for safety), you can be rejected, and then the fee is repaid immediately.
In fact, it was often tricky to find a train or bus which goes went a to b at the times I was searching, whereas it was always possible to find someone who was driving, once you got the hang of the site. And of course I met fascinating people. On the first leg, from Bordeaux to Bayonne, I sat in the back with a young woman who told me all about her life, parents, health and loves, showing me photos and shedding a tear now and then.
At Pamplona we said good luck to two gentlemen who had both injured themselves on the Camino, been home to recover, and were re-joining it there. Then Charles, the car owner, and I made the final leg to Zaragoza, arriving at the radio station with messages flying between myself, my expectant host, and the driver. I have found all the drivers this month to be courteous and obliging. It was good that I had my daughter’s old Nokia with a topped-up Spanish SIM in it as we were late and so I was able to communicate by text and phone.
I had been asked several times why I was bothering to go to Zaragoza. It seems to have a poor reputation with tourists as a predominantly industrial city. My reasons for going: Yvonne kindly invited me when I met her at her father’s funeral and that was my plan – if I am invited somewhere I go, that’s how I choose between all the possible amazing places in Spain. Result: it was a fascinating and enjoyable place to visit, made considerably better I am sure by being shown around and treated like a queen by a resident!
Bas-Courtils to Mont Saint-Michel to Pontorson 9.5.17.
In this part of France I would suggest that it’s always better to go by the randonnées, Sentier de Littoral (coastal path), than by the road, as there are rarely pavements.
I left Bas-Courtils at 8am on a gloriously sunny morn. Beside the sea, the land stretches level affording a distant, nearly unbroken view.
What a racket! Sheep: many, one after the other, having been let out (perhaps after the winter?) moving slowly in single file across the field, over the grey clay. A female and her lamb were leading, with not a human in sight, and yet they were reminiscent of the group of us who crossed the bay yesterday, though we did follow a guide.
Unlike the walks I had been making in the days preceding this, the path crossed numerous obstacles. To be honest it was a trial to have to climb and clamber over fences with a huge backpack. What with that, gates which do not open, and crossing deep, wet grassy fields, well, really this way is not pilgrim-friendly.
Mont Saint-Michel is clear in the distance. My human eye (rather than the camera) can see the shuttle buses, like black and white caterpillars on the horizon, the place I walked along 14 hours earlier. They are in contrast to the luminous spring green of the fields.
￼It is cold, exposed like yesterday, but still I have bare arms. I did not even think about it. It was more that I moved instinctively towards the Mount.
I crossed rivers by planks, sidled round deep pools, and struggled to follow the way which did not seem clear to me.
Another surge of black-headed sheep ma maaa-ed their way from their farm onto the plains.
I arrived at the M S-M service buildings: restaurants, shops (though I followed the signs and found none), toilets (equally hard to locate), and so on. And then having completed the ‘Chemin de la Baie’ I launched straight, alongside the River Cuesnon, a new ‘randonnée’ in the direction of Pontorson.
After the hubbub of the tourists, the peace of the river was potent. Birds quietly mentioned, incongruous chariots raced silently round the track nearby, dogs were carried patiently in the backpacks of two cyclists, and just me making my way along a hard path beside a swollen river with butterflies blue.
I was continuing to take care of the way I walked, the parts of my feet on which the weight landed, and minute details of my posture. This walking provides ample time to pay attention to long-practiced bad habits.
Hush reeds in the wind, like witches whispering. It was a very short 10 kms to the next town, so I gave in and lay down, with my mind all but clear and just the sensation of the sun on my back.
My feet were throbbing, my ankles had felt quite unpleasant for a stretch. Now I listened lazily to the ducks, the farm machinery moaning, and felt the grass dampen me. Seed pods sailed down and piqued my thigh. I was not exactly pushing myself. There was no need to be in Pontorson before 5pm when the youth hostel opened.
Random thoughts passed through me: When you wait, you see more around you. There was no signal so no sending or receiving. It was the hottest day so far, and I needed a hat and sunglasses for the first time!
There was nothing to do when I arrived at 1.30 – all was closed. So I had a peaceful beer and sat in the main square opposite the Hôtel de Ville. It is a comprehensive town with a thoroughly helpful tourist information: there was free wifi where I could wait as long as I wanted in order to book trains and send messages. The only down-side were two men who would not leave me alone as I picnicked so I had to move on.
It was 22 degrees. I was impressed by the pharmacy because it sold herbs and homeopathy too. I was surprised by conversations in English at the next table. In fact it took me a while to realise, while I sat and wrote, that it was the English language I was hearing; about dogs and living here in Normandy; believe me, it was about the M25!
There were a couple of women with rucksacks at the hostel: the first time I had seen other trekkers since I started walking. They did not stop and exchange despite my smile. The very young man in charge of the hostel was welcoming and helpful. All was clean, and I had a room with bunks to myself and space to do my t’ai chi.