I finally made it to Le Puy en Velay!

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They were having a “Fetes Renaissance” in Le Puy en Velay – but first I had to get there…

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Back in October 2023, I posted Dreams … and reality – hiking in France. It told of my planning last September’s 15-day hike on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. (In the Cévennes mountains of south-central France, as described in his 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) Next – on November 29, 2023 – I posted “The last time I saw Paris?”

That post told of my first day – of two – in Paris. After that came posts on some adventures that followed; both in the “City of Lights” and later my two days in Lyon. I got as far as A full day in Lyon – and beyond? That told of getting to Lyon-Part-Dieu station on my last day in Lyon. (Friday afternoon, September 15, 2023.) I got there with time to spare, enough for a “leisurely brunch at one of the shaded outdoor tables” in nearby park. Then I just had to board the train:

All I had to do was get on the train for a 45-minute down to Saint-Étienne-Châteaucreux, find the bus station in 15 minutes, then ride [that bus] for an hour and 20 minutes. What could go wrong? I was on my way to Le Puy en Velay – and beyond!

But then came that canoe-trip reprise, about the adventure my brother Tom and I shared at the end of March 2024, from the 17th to the 23d. (According to plan, we’d paddle ten miles off the coast of Mississippi for five days.) I did a first post on planning that, then a second one about how that adventure really turned out. But now it’s time to get back to hiking in France.

We left off with me worrying about not having “one of those square things with the squiggly lines inside,” either on my tablet or a piece of paper. (What I later learned is called a “QR Square.”) But my concern worked out, mostly because a “tall attractive brunette in a red vest” ran into me – literally – inside the Part Dieu station. Her red vest signified that she worked for the train company, and she guided me to a little nook off the main drag where I got that piece of paper with the squiggly lines, meaning I could now board the train to St. Etienne.

It turned out to be a pleasant 45-minute ride. My assigned seat was by the window. Directly across from me sat two lovely young French lasses. Another sat beside me, and two more sat right across the aisle. (“A thorn among five roses.”) Then we got to the Saint-Étienne-Châteaucreux Gare-Routiere at 2:45, to find more of that “gang aft aglay.”

Way too many people started heading over to the one bus a-waiting, a five-minute walk from the train. To make a long story short, that bus could only take half the people going to Le Puy. (Which – on the way down – some locals pronounced “le pew,” like Pepé Le Pew, the oversexed cartoon skunk?) And I was among the second half, people who had to wait, mostly because I make it a point not to be seen rushing around like the usual pushy, touristy Americano.

But it worked out. In the fullness of time “they” got us all cabs, three passengers at a time, instead of another bus. I was one of the last, and on the long ride to Le Puy wondered about the protocol. Would the driver charge us? Should I tip him? When we got to the Gare du Puy-en-Velay I reached in my pocket to get some money, but the driver shook his head, “No, no!”

From there at the station my printed maps and comments worked out well.

Tom and Carol wouldn’t arrive until 7:00 or so, so I had time to kill. But before leaving home I’d checked L’Adélaïde Crêperie Café, and it turned out to be a six-minute walk from the station. Down Avenue Charles Dupuy, past a convergence of main drags – Boulevard de la Republique and Faubourg St. Jean – with an asphalt-and-concrete “island” between the two. The apartment Tom rented was on Faubourg St. Jean, but for some reason I didn’t know the street number. Theoretically I could have buzzed whichever entrance-door it might be, identified myself as Tom’s brother and asked if I could get in early, but at the time it seemed like a lot of trouble.

Aside from that, L’Adelaide was right across the street. (92 feet if you go up to the crosswalk and back down, like you’re supposed to.) It had some nice sidewalk tables with a view of passersby, young and old, and I was ready for a beer. And so there I sat, a la Hemingway, but instead of jotting in my small pocket notebook I posted this on Facebook:

Greetings from Le Puy en Velay… A challenging day [but] it worked out. Once I got here I found Le Adelaide cafe, five minutes from the station[, and got an early dinner.] First course, a wrap with some kind of sausage inside, plus the famous “lentils of Le Puy.” (You can Google them yourself.) A plat du jour which included a second Heineken. Second course, a dessert crepe, covered with chocolate. And a Cafe American. (Lest I get too sloshed.) As I write this it’s 6:20, and I meet my hiking partners at 7:10 at the station, five minutes from here.

That was certainly a highlight, and for the rest of the two-evenings-and-a-day, coming and going from the apartment, I’d wave over to the waiter. (We’d gotten to know each other during my Friday afternoon hours of enjoyment.) But I never could convince Tom and Carol to go there and sit at a sidewalk table for hours like I had done. Too many other places to see I guess…

And speaking of Tom and Carol, just before 7:00 I hiked the five minutes back to the station, still carrying that pack. But as John Steinbeck noted, “here I run into a literary difficulty.” As I said on Facebook that night, “I met my hiking companions at the Le Puy ‘Gare’ (train and bus station), and we are in our lodging for the next two nights. (Before the REAL adventure begins.)”

That family get-together was “good and pleasant,” as was the off day that followed, but all that breaks my narrative continuity. “This is permissible in life but not in writing.” But I’ll give you a few tidbits, mostly about why so many people took the train-and-bus to Le Puy. That weekend they had the equivalent of what we in the states call a big Renaissance fair. That’s why the town was so crowded. As I wrote on Facebook, “there’s some kind of Medieval festival (Renaissance?) going on this weekend, with lots of folk dressed up in REAL old time garb. It promises to be interesting.” And it was, including a sample of the world-famous Le Puy green lentils:

Among other treats we lunched on soup made from the famous local lentils. They’re unique flavor and goodness comes from the volcanic soil, I’m told. Plus a hunk of some “fromage,” kind of mix of Roquefort and “Bleu.” And bread and a jam grilled cake.

All of which (food) was delicious, as was the Cafe Creme, done up the special way they make it in Le Puy. (After “touring the local cathedral.”) That is, “not at all like they made it in Paris or Lyon. ‘Rich and creamy!'” Followed by a note: “Got to carb up for tomorrow’s hike… We start our 15 days of hiking with a 12-mile first jaunt tomorrow.” Which means that we are finally there. “We” are finally ready to start doing some posts on the actual hike itself.

So the next post – finally – should be about how we actually start hiking! Stay tuned…

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The upper image is courtesy of Fêtes renaissances du Roi de l’Oiseau 2023. (The full title.) See also Informations – Roi de l’oiseau. As indicated, in 2023 it ran from September 13th through the 17th. And see also Roi de l’oiseau – Du 13 au 17 septembre 2023.

In the first indent-quote I changed the “emphases added” part.

Re: The rose and thorns. According to Wiktionary, the free dictionary, the usual “humorous” reference is to “A woman situated between two men.” (As in, “A rose between two thorns.”) But often – as in my posing between my daughter and granddaughter – I say that I feel like “a thorn between two roses.” Then there’s Learn English: Idioms and phrases with roses – ABC Education, which said this: “The phrase ‘there is no rose without thorns’ means that in order to enjoy something that is beautiful and pleasurable, you must endure something that is difficult or painful.” The latter being one of those “rabbit trails” that make blogging so fun – and educational.

A fuller version of what Steinbeck wrote, at page 123 of the Penguin Books’ Travels with Charley:

Chicago was a break in my journey, a resumption of my name, identity and happy marital status… I was delighted at the change, back to my known and trusted life – but here I run into a literary difficulty. Chicago broke my continuity. This is permissible in life but not in writing. So I leave Chicago out, because it was off the line, out of drawing. In my travels it was pleasant and good; in writing it would contribute only to disunity.

But note that on pages 116 through 119 Steinbeck spent four pages describing his arrival early at Chicago’s Ambassador East hotel, “in wrinkled hunting clothes, unshaven and lightly crusted with the dirt of travel.” So much so that he was given a room that hadn’t been cleaned yet, which led him into a long account of “Lonesome Charlie,” his name for the previous occupant who left various clues of his stay. (Could that be deemed a “rabbit trail?”)

The lower image is courtesy of Start Of A Long Hike – Image Results.

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