Monday, April 28, 2008

Music in Conques

The life of a long distance walker is sort of 'different' - and a little bit of a world of its own, as I am finding out. When you have spent nearly two weeks walking the landscape, passing through just villages in the main, it seems odd to come to a place full of visitors who are not walkers.

But Conques has its very own remedy against 'strangeness' and it is music. The Romanesque church is narrow but very tall, and somehow it does magic things with sound. I think I have been fortunate, and this weekend quite a few amateur groups have been singing here. This afternoon were some who had travelled all the way from Marseille. And the fathers who run the Abbey are very welcoming; so somehow the place switches easily from song to prayer etc when it needs to. I am not a 'good' Catholic - but the music in that church this morning made it all a celebration of something very joyful. I look forward to a bit more music this evening before I leave in the morning!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Today is a gorgeous Sunday here and I am spending it in Conques, which has a monastery church set in the middle of a valley. It is a beautiful morning, and I have just climbed down to see the old pilgrim's bridge. I was pleased to find it was quite easy to climb back up after two weeks of practice climbing up and down many many hills!

I can hardly believe that I need sunblock and t-shirt so soon after needing all my layers in the snow and rain!

This whole region, Aveyron, is beautiful, quite remote, and not at all heavily touristed. I spent the night before I got here in Golinhac, which had a view over the valley just to die for! The lady at the camping ground spoiled me. Instead of spending the night in the gite with all the men snoring, I got a room to myself in a chalet.

There is lots of good company along the way. Some people I only see once; as they are travelling a lot more quickly. But others I see again and again, even when you think you have said 'Goodbye', as people take shorter and longer days in different places. Lots of good food too, and as this is not a touristy area - except for Conques today- the prices are really reasonable. The gites are clean and comfortable, and wonderful places to meet others.
OK time to explore more of medieval Conques. I went to a concert last night in the church and the sound was just superb echoing up in the tall arches.
Catch you somewhere else en route!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

day 10 of walking

I know you are not being at all well informed but I am alive and well and have now been walking for ten days. Still have 11 kms to go today so this is just a quickie en route.

Arrived in Le Puy on April 12th. Very beautiful set in a volcanic basin, and I guess I got to see it at its best in the sunshine. Got to climb the volcanic plugs to a stature of Notre Dame of France and a chapel. On the Monday morning I went to the pilgrim Mass and received the blessing from the bishop of Le Puy, who also spoke to me in English. I was the only English speaker there that morning though I have since caught up with a couple from Wellington.

Lovely days, very varied, walking from Le Puy. Sometimes the views were just superb, sometimes the countryside was quite desolate and isolated. Second morning there was snow on the ground at Montbonnet and it was magic walking up into the forest, so quiet and beautiful. After my first six days the real pilgrimage began when I crossed the Aubrac Plateau and it was very very cold and wet. Magic moment was arriving at Aubrac itself and seeing the domes of the old monastery/church looming out of the mist, much as they must have for medieval pilgrims. However, I have come down the other side, along with quite a deluge on the track!!!! and this morning am using the internet in Espalion, before carrying on 11 more km for the night in Estaing. It is sunny today and I am even in shorts and sunhat! It is very green and verdant here and the flowers are out all along the route, whereas on the Aubrac it was very much winter. Have one big blister on a toe after the rain. Socks drying out beautifully on the outside of my pack today!

Gites I am staying in are mostly used overnight just by other walkers and are very friendly. Often have demi-pension with superb home cooked meals. Last night was in historic building and dormitory looked straight out over twisted steeple of church od Come d'Olt.
Ok gotta get going. Just letting you all know I am alive and well, writing this in Espalion!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

On the way!

There is very little internet here, but today I have found some, so can tell everyone that I am well! I am loving the walk very much. The countryside is beautiful and always changing. So far I have taken it gently and only walked about 15km per day. Last night there was snow in the little village of Le Faux. I have seen a French family from Anjou all week but they finish today. Thus is such a wonderful thing to be able to do, and I have to keep pinching myself to know that it is real.

I think I will have to create a blog on my return from my dairy about this trip..... but for now, greetings to all, and I will blog when I can. I need to get walking again now as there is quite far still to go today!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

La defense, and starting to follow the pilgrims

This morning I decided to do a tourist thing I have never done, and go and see the La Defense Arch. First new thing I learned was about the 'real' metro rush hour, something I seem to have miraculously missed before. To say it was sardines would be an understatement! I asked someone if it was this bad every morning.... ''mostly" was the reply.
Was it worth going all that way? Maybe. French flair was somehow evident in the skyscrapers, as they were all different sizes and shapes, and you got to see all the juxtaposition clearly as there was a big open space in the middle. But...don't bother spending nine euro to go up in the lift to see the 'vue panoramique'. You only get to see a fraction of the view... it is not all around... and it was so incredibly polluted.
However, back in town I got to meet my friend Monique for lunch. And then I began following where pilgrims have gone before, and somehow it was quite special.
First I walked to the Tour St Jacques. The top two thirds of this has now been beautifully restored and looked glorious standing out in the sunshine this afternoon. I sat in the nearby garden looking at it, and contemplated how many pilgrims had gone before. It almost seemed like at that moment I began my pilgrimage proper.
Next I visited Notre Dame, beautiful and inspiring as ever, but of course full with tourists. I have been there before and on this occasion didn't stay long. I headed across the bridge and began to follow the Rue St Jacques. My first stop was at St Severin Church, where the stained glass was very impressive. I continued walking up the hill, past the Sorbonne, until eventually I came to the church of St Jacques Haut Pas. Inside was an old statue of St Jacques, and also an old wooden carved plaque. I did the tourist thing here and took photos.
I wandered as far as Port Royal, and saw a bit of yet another area of Paris worth exploring. Ah well, there is always next time!!
So today, my pilgrimage 'started' in Paris, and now tomorrow I do the un-pilgrim thing and take the train to Le Puy en Velay. (Shame it leaves at 7am!)

PS Forgot to mention - I got sunburned!!!!!! I thought this shouldn't happen in April, especially when it snowed here last week!!!! But I won't moan too much: it is bound to be wetter and colder in Le Puy!!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Auvers sur Oise

Yesterday had a wonderful day. Went out of Paris on the suburban trains - had to change differently there on the way there and back which was interesting - but had a timetable printed out for me by a helpful person at the ticket office. I headed to Auvers-sur-Oise which was where van Gogh lived his last weeks in the company of his brother, and painted prolifically.

When I arrived in the town, I decided to head uphill towards the church first. Good choice. Had 12th century part of the building up the front side. Outside there was a sign showing van Gogh's superb painting of this old part of the church from the outside, plus the bell tower etc. I stood in awe.

The cemetery where Vincent and his brother Theo were buried was not far away. I was hesitant to wander, as the graves were not signposted, and locals were tending to their own modern day graves. But I found the graves, covered with a leafy plant, near a wall. There were two simple matching headstones.
Best bit came next. I saw a sign pointing to another painting site, not far away in a field, so I went to look. Just being in the countryside brought back lovely memories of my time cycling in the Loire. Ahhhhh; Plus it made me think about how I would soon be walking on tracks like this. I was able to follow the track down into the town itself.
I had a delicious lunch then went to find the Dr's house..... can't recall name sorry.. but he was mentor and friend, and van Gogh painted his portrait. The house and garden were very atmospheric, and the woman running it was very friendly and welcoming and spoke good English. Next I went to Daubigny's house: he was initiator of plein air painting.... and used to go out on a boat in the river Oise to paint. This wee village was quite a hotbed of artists in its time.
My feet were hot and tired by had turned into a very warm day, and I was wishing I had brought t-shirt and sandles with me instead of raincoat!
What a lovely place to wander. If it wasn't so impractical, I would have bought a poster of van Gogh's painting of the Auvers church. I will just have to remember it by my photo!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Basilique St Denis

Went to Basilique St Denis yesterday afternoon. After crowded metro, St Denis town was like a haven of something more rural when you emerged into the square. There is something very special about the feeling created when so much space is left free with the buildings on the edges.
Loved seeing the Basilica. It is an amazing edifice, built over time so it reflects various styles, eg Romanesque merged with Gothic. Lots of French royalty were buried here, and there were tombs of Kings and Queens galore.
When I got back to the hostel, I re-read my info and realised this was an important gathering place for pilgrims from the north. So I was inadvertently on the pilgrim trail already!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Day 1 in Paris

Here I am in Paris! It was an uneventful trip over, with just a few bits of mild turbulence over India and Pakistan mainly. We were a little bit delayed leaving Singapore as we had to have ten minutes time between us and a Frankfurt flight, as we were taking the same path. Then there was the queue I knew would be there at CDG; like NZ thirty years ago. I am amazed the French put up with it: only two out of four possible seats open to stamp people through, and no quicker route for EU passports. However, it wasn't really too long before I had my bags, and then I was pleasantly surprised to find a transit train to the RER. I think it was new:- last time I was at CDG I remember it was like an IQ test I failed to work out which bus to take to get on the RER!

Found the hostel easily and before long - just after midnight- was tucked up soundly in my bed, and slept well until about 5am. Shortly after that my room-mate crept quietly in from a night out. So I returned the favour and got up very quietly at 7am, leaving them sound asleep.

I have had a lovely morning. I decided on a quietish 'recovery' day - and have a list already of places I want to see, so my jetlagged brain needn't think too hard. The Canal St Martin I have read about, and it starts right near my hostel in Boulevard Jules Ferry. In fact, it goes 'underground' just over the road through a little neighbourhood park. I really enjoyed wandering down it this morning, passing locals heading off to work or school or walking their dogs etc. I passed a zillion neighbourhood restaurants where one could eat. Yum! But in the end my jetlagged body was ready to munch well before lunchtime, so I bought something yummy from a boulangerie and sat in a park and ate it! I got as far as Place de Bitche - no typo!- where there was a church that was called St Jacques -St Christophe. Saw lots of statues etc of St Christopher, and think I saw one St Jacques window but it was reflected in quiet chapel so never went in to disturb people.

The weather has been coolish but not windy, and I am fine out walking in it with my jacket on. In fact this is perfect walking weather I reckon; but I think I might be lucky it isn't raining here.

Now I am off to the station to book my ticket to Le Puy for Saturday. I have a few things on my list for this arvo..... but will see if jetlag catches up with my enthusiasm at some stage! I have slipped back into speaking my bits of French more easily than I thought... and am loving being back in France. Catch you with more news when I can.... but I know rural interent once I hit Le Puy won't be too good!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

At Terminal 3

Here I am at Changi Airport in Terminal 3, getting ready to go to the Gate Lounge for departure to Paris. I walked over to Terminal 2 after I had checked in, to post a few postcards. Then caught the skytrain back, just for fun, just because I could!! Had a delicious bit of early lunch in the foodcourt in the basement of this terminal. Very delicious. Plus had a pineapple juice Singapore squeezed style with ice. Will soon be sitting down for the long haul to Paris. Catch you all again when I can!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Jurong Bird Park

Today I decided to go to the Jurong Bird Park. I remember going here with Shona when I was only about 23.... mumble mumble years ago, and it has certainly changed since then. I remember being fascinated by the birds back then, but I also remember it was a hot day and there was a lot of walking and not much in the way of shelter. The whole complex now seems to have so much bush there, that though it is hot, it sort of feels a bit sheltered.

It was an easy trip out there on public transport. I caught the MRT out to the end of the line at Boon Lay, past Chinese Gardens (which was the stop for D's apartment when I arrived here in 2006). Then it was an easy transfer onto a Bus #194, air-con, to the Bird Park. It didn't seem like a large proportion of the park's visitors came this way, but it was perfectly easy and straightforward.

There were friendly people near the park entrance, and first off I was told that the penguins were about to be fed. Ahhhh, it was gloriously cold when I went in there! There were five different species in the exhibit, including the Humboldt, which is found near South America. There were King Penguins. It was fascinating watching them swim, as they seemed to use their wings in a gliding motion, as if they were gliding effortlessly through the air. This contrasted with the puffins who seemed to have to wave their wings frantically to get around in the water. The puffins' beaks also seemed quite odd! There were quite a lot of penguins in the exhibit. Not sure what I really think about them being in such a small space in the tropics, even though I loved seeing them.

I thought I might climb on the Panorail train next, but another friendly guide pointed out that the "birds 'n buddies" show was about to start. So I headed in that direction. The bird I loved the most was the Hornbill, which flew across above the audience, displaying its beautiful wings. Luckily, a little later, I happened on a talk about the hornbill as well.

Next I climbed on the Panorail, which travels in a circuit around the park, passing high above many of the exhibits. While some of the birds are caged, there are some very big aviaries as well. The first stop was at Lory Station, where the Lory Loft is full of parakeets. It is "9 storeys" high, and you come in near the top of all the rainforest, then walk a little lower along a wooden structure that has 'swingbridges' and towers. The lorikeets have a large area in which to fly freely.

Next stop was the Waterfall Aviary, which the monorail goes right into. It is huge and doesn't feel like you are in an aviary, but rather in a tropical rainforest. The waterfall is man-made, and gives moisture into the air, that is beneficial to the birds. I was fascinated by the various species of tropical starlings, with irridiscent feathers... quite amazing!

There was plenty to see at the park.... and I spent several hours wandering there. There is still plenty I haven't seen, but maybe I will go there on my return... decided there was no point making myself see 'everything' in the heat.

I took the 'long way' home on the MRT, just to see some different apartment blocks, and yes, to sit down in some air-con comfort for a while. It was 3pm when I got back to Little India station, but a nearby restaurant was happy to serve me at any time. (I will have to remember in the next few days to eat at the 'proper' French times, or I will go hungry!)

Now I have re-packed my bags with warm clothing at the top, ready for a most dramatic change in climate!

Night Safari

Yesterday I went with one of my dorm-mates, Sarah from England, to see the Night Safari. We paid for a transfer, which was a great idea, as I really appreciated being whisked quickly straight home later in the evening. And Mohammed our driver was a very friendly guy.
Mohammed had a theory about the best way to do things, which was that you saw the show first, then went on the tram, as otherwise the 8.30pm show was often full. So we lined up in the queue for the 7.30pm show, only to have the heavens open at about 7pm. And open they did, in truly tropical style. (When we got back to the hostel in town, the people on reception were amazed as it hadn't even rained in town.)
So then we joined the zillions in the queue for a tram ride. But they had the trams rolling along quickly and the queue moved quickly, and before we knew it, we were on a tram. They have artificial 'moonlight' conditions. And it was quite wonderful rolling through the rainforest seeing all the animals alongside. They even had a few elephants, right near us. I noticed that they were feeding on green branches that I had seen being taken in on a truck a bit earlier. So the 'nearness' is kind of stage-managed, even though it doesn't seem like it. There was also a big bull elephant with the most enormous tusks. Unfortunately the person in front of us broke the rule (I think just because she forgot) and flashed her camera as we passed this. Yikes! But fortunately big bull elephant didn't miss a beat and carried on eating.
We thought we would be too late and the 8.30pm show would be full, but luckily there was still room. The person leading the commentary was entertainment herself, a real stand-up comedienne. Sure, a lot of her stuff was scripted, but she also ad-libbed with people in a few places and she was very very funny. A young English child next to us was taken up and used in an act, where an animal had to smell which hand she was hiding a grape in. And a 'macho male' - who turned out to be a very shy Kiwi- had to go up and get a huge python wrapped around him. And one poor unsuspecting family had been sitting on a bench seat that this python lay beneath- and they did a 'mock hunt' for it. The whole show was excellent and had quite a range of animals. It was fun!
The only 'downside' of taking the transfer, was that we needed to be ready to be picked up at 9.30pm, so lacked time to go walking on the trails. But as I was feeling quite jaded by then anyhow, I was quite glad to go. And amazingly, I enjoyed a wonderful night's sleep. I woke once at 4am, then went back to sleep until 6.30am. This is the quickest transition to normal sleep out of jetlag I can recall, all ready to give myself the next dose of it for Paris.
Oh, I did wake one other time. Just after 11pm, although several people in the room were sleeping, Ms Plastic Bag Torturer #2 began her act. I swear she had a whole pack full of plastic bags of an especially noisy variety! The thing is, she was still asleep at 7.30am when I came down to breakfast, so either she is panicking by now as she forgot to set her alarm for an early start.... or...
PS I am of course, Miss Sanctimonious. And I am now off to Jurong Bird Park, where it could well be quite warm!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Singapore History Museum

Once I got over the fact that I hadn't slept much I ventured out for the day. First I went to the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd..... (Dean, tell Joseph I thought of him there!) I had forgotten how impressed I was last time by the really strong choir. Fans were going full bore in there the whole time, and they had this wonderful way of opening up the windows to get a bit of breeze through.
Then map in hand, I actually managed without too many wrong direction turns to find the Singapore History Museum, which was still being renovated last time I was here. They have done absolutely amazing things with the building. They have added on a huge extension out the back, with a modern link between the two bits, and architecturally it is all harmonious. I think it is amazing.
I arrived just as a free guided tour was leaving and I joined a small, very international group for it. What was best was that the guide was a 'local', well able to put a local slant on all she told us about the history. She was a volunteer, and this was her hobby to 'de-stress' from work. Seems like quite a busy way to spend time on Sunday morning to me!
After the tour I walked back in the heat... very warm by now, to the corner of Bencoolen and Bras Basah. Those are names I remember from the accommodation place, and 'eggs for breakfast' place, that Shona and I hung out in all those years ago. Names may be the same, but the streets have totally changed. Our sleeping building gave way to the wrecker's ball many years ago it would seem, and flash modern buildings are there now. But despite any sadness at the loss of old character, I would have to say that the food court on the corner was great, and it was easy to find something I liked.
I returned to the museum after lunch to see more of some of the exhibits, and wore their audio-guide. By the time I came out, the sky had threatening black bits, and I saw some fork lightning jump out of the sky. Fortunately it never came to anything before I got to the MRT stop, and I managed to get back to the hostel as well before any rain hit.
I have showered off all the sweat, and am now looking forward to my evening at Night Safari. But I can't close without sharing something from Auckland Airport that I forgot. The toilets in the gate lounge 'talk to you'. I am not sure what all the non-English speakers make of it - but it is totally bizarre in English. As you leave, the toilet says something like: "Please leave the door slightly open when you leave. Thank you. Please come again. " I mean..... I ask you..... which man dreamed this up!!!

Jetlag and plastic bag torture!

You will have to forgive me if I only half make sense! My body has determined rhythms of its own. Yesterday evening when I arrived here I was quite tired as it was past my bedtime NZ time. Then I perked up and was wide awake again. Then found my alarm clock with the 'old' time - 3am. So decided I needed to head off to bed as I might not be asleep long.
Hostel bed was very comfy and I slept very well... until 1.30am = 6.30am body time when I usually get up. Groan! Lay there quietly in the dark, feeling quite relaxed about being awake, which was good, as sometimes I am very 'wired' in these early morning times of jetlag. Now you see why I give myself three sleeps worth of stopover.... and I only tend to adjust by an hour a night, so possibly I will be awake 2.30am tonight. But let's hope not.
The other reminder I was away from home was the 'plastic bag torture' - a feature of big city hostels where people need to come and go at odd hours for transport - and something I last experienced in Sydney last year. You'd think that if you knew you had to get up at 4am, you would pack nearly all your bag the night before, and do the last few bits outside the room. Not hard eh!! Well, apparently it is! This one only lasted ten minutes instead of two hours, but she had a very 'special' bag that made the most exquisite noise for at least a full 30 seconds.
Hostel room is very clean, great aircon, good toilet facilities, and there are a bunch of friendly people in there. Unusual design gives us partly individual cubicles. Great amount of space to put all your gear, on a 'table' next to the bed, and in a lockable locker underneath, or even hanging up on provided hangers! Design was done on a computer without user-input though I think - thought of you Tim!!! - as it was a bit tricky to access the locker... ie you needed to crawl under the table area.
The hostel is in a wonderful neighbourhood. At the top of a hill above a small park. Very tranquil spot, but close to all the action, especially in Little India. I saw lots of people eating out down there yesterday evening as I arrived, so I know where to go eat already.
Okey dokey, breakfast time here, so must go indulge in the free hostel breakfast, and that should help me over some jetlag and reset my body clock a bit.
See you later! Margaret

Arrived in Singapore!

Well, it has been a long day and my body is telling me to get to bed already..... but I will do a quick post. I ended up with an aisle seat when I asked at the gate lounge desk... yeah... always happier if I can get up and walk around on a long flight. And interestingly, I am sure a daytime flight seemed longer than a night one! But a few time zones and quite a few hours later, I have reached the equator. Very friendly crew down our end of the plane which was very pleasant.
The hostel is lovely. Took the MRT here then had to work out which direction I needed to walk in from the Little India station. Once I had finally worked out where the 'carpark' was that I needed to cross diagonally I was home and hosed. It is the Hangout @Mt Emily (YHA) that I am staying in. It is just above a park, and involved a short hill climb to reach here. Amazingly tranquil, yet a hop, skip and a jump from all the activity in Little India and Orchard Rd. Great air-con. And very soon, it won't actually matter whether I find the bed is comfy or not, I am sure I will sleep well!
I have booked a transfer package for the Night Safari tomorrow evening at the Zoo. Possibly there are cheaper options, but this is all inclusive and easy! Now.... to sleep..... Night all!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Auckland Airport

Here I am at Auckland Airport. Early start from home, but got to see absolutely glorious sunrise at PN airport. Caroline gave up her first cricket-free morning to come and see me off so we had yummy hot chocolate drinks. Passed nearly over the top of Ruapehu, and saw Egmont to the left, its peak poking out but the bottom swathed in cloud. Thought of you all in Taranaki ;-) Got a wonderful view of the harbour as we came in to land, with all the mangroves in the little harbour fingers.
Was going to indulge in some McD fries but the service was so slack I gave up! Now about to go through security and passport control etc. It all seems very real at this stage. Jammed in a middle seat rather than the aisle I prefer, but at least they have those little screens to keep me entertained for ten and a half hours. Last time I amused myself making up a playlist of songs off all their CD collection and before I knew it 8 and a half hours had gone!

Catch you in Singapore probably! Love to everyone, Adventure starting!

Friday, April 04, 2008

One more sleep

One more sleep.
Taxi ordered for 7.15am.
Adventure is about to begin.
I should be getting some sleep in my account now before jetlag hits
but can't quite get the mind calm
strangely enough!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Geological Society Meeting

One of the good things about living in Palmerston North is that the RSNZ run an e-mail announcement service. Anyone can sign up to receive it, and they use it to advertise what their own meetings are about, and they also include anything of scientific interest for the general public in our area.
This week they advertised the geological society meeting, which I managed to get to after negotiating a rabbit warren at Massey. It was the "President's lecture", which Nick Mortimer, current president of GSNZ, is touring with, and was about "Cenozoic volcanoes of the SW Pacific."

It was really interesting, and not too technical for a geological hobo like myself. In my NZ fauna paper last year we had learned about how quite a large mass had rifted off Gondwanaland to drift away, largely sink, and end up as New Zealand. Nick had some wonderful satellite images that in effect stripped the sea away so you could see some undersea depths, and the extent of the "Zelandia" land mass was clear. Fascinating.

I hadn't quite realised how geologically distinct the northern and southern parts of NZ were/are geologically. A key factor in this was a basaltic land mass that got itself jammed up against the east coast, stopping subduction further south, while allowing rifting up north. So basins and volcanic arcs formed in the north, but not in the south. (Subduction has since resumed in the south, as the basalt has cooled in more recent times.)

It was a fascinating talk. Thanks to Nick and the Geological Society!