French tourism and pilgrim walks

French tourism and pilgrim walks

It was a strange feeling to be at a press luncheon in San Francisco—an event hosted by tourist offices of the region of Aquitaine and the city of Bordeaux, France. I felt like a fish out of water. Ralph and I have been to France many times, but don’t fly premier class or 5-star hotels. We generally stay in small hotels, gites (B & B’s), gîtes d’étapes (hostels), pensions, and spare bedrooms in private homes.

Lock for lovers on Paris bridge

We carry backpacks rather than matched pieces of luggage, and we buy only a few souvenirs rather than go on extensive shopping sprees. The biggest difference between our vacations in France and that of most tourists, however, is that we spend the majority of our time hiking—usually a couple of hundred miles—along one of the French Grande Randonnée (GR) routes. 

Eyes glazing over

As I talked to the hosts at the San Francisco event, I watched as their eyes glazed over as I tried to explain my mode of travel. I’m not a good enough salesperson to sell most people on the notion of long-distance hiking, but I am pretty good at describing where they might enjoy hiking if they are already of the mindset to go. In this case, the vendors of tours for oenophiles (wine connoisseurs) and of accommodations on the beaches of Biarritz were probably more interested in talking to well-heeled tourists than to one who often wears trail runners or boots. 

Not that anyone was rude (they weren’t) and don’t think for a moment that I think that the French are the only people who look at long-distance hikers askance. I often feel like “a stranger in a strange land” here. When I am around “regular” people here at home, I often sense that they don’t “get it.” Why would anyone deliberately walk rather than ride? Couch surf rather than stay in a hotel? and so forth. Even my mother always thought that what I do is a strange obsession (but is probably happy that it keeps me out of trouble.) Luckily, we have many friends and acquaintances that hike and can lend support for our mutual addiction. 

Love French cuisine

At this particular lunch, we enjoyed good wines, a fine and creamy mushroom soup, a delightful filet mignon, and Crème caramel for dessert. Even though I wasn’t representative of who French tourism most likely wants to reach, I was happy to spend my early afternoon studying the maps of Aquitaine looking up the towns that we have visited on a couple of our French hikes. I was also delighted to be treated to wine and food that reminded me of the dozens of delectable meals that I have had while on the French pilgrimage trails.

Vive la France!

As always, French tourism, thank you for your hospitality here and abroad!

Note: Our Camino routes completed in France: LePuy route starting back in Geneva, SW (GR65), Arles, and soon—the last 130 miles of the Vezelay.


Exciting visit to Grizzly Bear Research Center

As much as we enjoy hiking trips, we also like driving trips to special places. Our recent trip to visit our friend Lorinda in Richland, Washington, was the starting and ending point of a rich, beautiful, educational, and just-plain-fun tour to the northeast corner of that state.

Richland (population 57,000) sits on the confluence of the Columbia River (the largest river in the Pacific Northwest) and the Yakima. Although it’s an arid region with hot summers and cold winters, the region supports large landholdings producing wheat, cattle, milk, apples, potatoes, cherries, grapes, and hops.

As one woman we talked with remarked, “I love living here, you have to seek out the special attractions.” Lorinda, knowing that Ralph and I love spending time outdoors, had lined up a special attractions–visiting the Grizzly Bear Research Center at Washington State University.Read More

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Where Else to Roam?

‘Bucket List’ or Serendipity?

On the Vezelay Camino route, after Limoges, we found many castles and fortresses!

“Once upon a time” I thought that one really should do a “bucket list,” or set out to check off the places listed in “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” or some other similar book with a catchy title. I’m not saying that these concepts are bad, just that, in my experience, they don’t allow for real life! At least not ours, we like to be more flexible. 

Truthfully, when Ralph and I started the John Muir Trail in 1989 (the year we were married), we hadn’t planned to do more than backpack from Kearsarge Pass (near Lone Pine, CA) to Mt. Whitney. In fact, it was several years (meanwhile backpacking in other parts of the Sierra Nevada) before we decided to do another section of the JMT.  Because our time was limited for each backpacking trip, we actually hiked the JMT in sections—returning four times to do it all.

But ‘what then?’ What then, because I had just officially retired, but could keep teaching as a job-share, was that we were able to take off for longer periods—we came down into Yosemite Valley at the end of trip #4, went home, and repacked, and then flew to Spain and start the Camino Frances—the best known of the Spanish Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trails.

A Reality Check

Ralph (83) and I (78) are at a point in our lives where we can facing the fact that we may not be able to hike ‘forever.’ We have no way of knowing if we will even be able to hike another few years—things happen!

We know that we are not as strong as we once were and can’t hike as fast or as far as we once could. Also, increasingly, we see friends developing conditions or illnesses that limit their mobility. This is just part of the aging process. So, we are approaching travel, especially that will include hiking, more carefully. We are being more selective about destinations.

Our plans include

One thing seems certain, we will continue to explore routes of the Camino de Santiago. We are part of the pilgrim community here, and find the Camino trails of Europe compelling. Each route is different; we enjoy experiencing the cultures, the places the trails take us, and meeting new people. We have about 140 miles more to go on the Vezelay, French route to reach Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees so returning there is on the horizon.

The ‘biggie’ coming up even sooner, however, is a cruise to Antarctica—the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctica peninsula. This year we are celebrating our 30th anniversary and this is one way that we are making it memorable.