Author Archives: bbj1969per@aol.com

A full day in Lyon – and beyond?

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The Rhone River in Lyon – viewing the Ponte de l’Universite and Ponte de la Guillotière

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite. That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden. Back in the 1950s, people called Harry a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.” (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

In the last post I finally managed to get out of Paris, onto the train at Gare de Lyon, then ride on down to Lyon. (Later than planned; my 9:30 a.m. train got switched to 2:30.) There was also a bit of a hubbub involving Lyon’s two train stations. That resulted in me wandering around in the rain awhile before finding my luxurious lodging at HO36 Hostel, at 36 Rue Montesquieu. 

First thing next morning – Thursday, September 14 – I checked Google Maps for a laundromat. (Ho36 had good WiFi.) I found one and hiked down Rue Bechevelin, then took a short left to 43 Rue Chevreul. I washed and dried the wet sweaty clothes from the day before, at Promoclean Laverie Chevreul. (Laverie is French for “laundromat.”) While waiting on that I crossed the street for a cafe creme and sweet treat at Cafe Suzette, and posted this on Facebook:

“For breakfast [I had] this flan, in the shape of a pie slice. Delish, and you [can] eat it with your hands. Along with a cafe creme, while your hot sweaty laundry from yesterday is at the lavendaria across the street.”

(My mistake. I later learned “lavendaria” means something totally different.*)

I also posted that “Tomorrow I head for Le Puy en Velay,” and that my tablet’s autocorrect had a fit with such names. “It’s going to be a long month.” Which it was, with me constantly correcting autocorrect. (Which can’t stand either “creative writing” or foreign names.) But back to Thursday morning. After dropping off my clean laundry at Ho36, I started my city tour.

I planned to head over to the twin rivers, cross the bridges and get to Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. It’s atop a high hill, like the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris. And like “Sacred Heart” it’s said to offer a splendid panorama of the city. But somehow, maybe still reeling from yesterday’s confused late-afternoon hike in the rain, I turned left on Rue Marseille. It was a nice walk, for a while, but by and by I got the feeling I’d made a wrong turn. “I should have gotten to the river by now!” As it turned out, Rue Marseille runs parallel to the Rhone River. (Three blocks away.) What I I should have done is stay on Rue Montesquieu and head west(ish) over to Quai Claude Bernard. From there I could head up to Pont de la Guillotière and cross over the Rhone. As it was, I ended up hiking parallel to the river and away from “Guillotière” bridge.

I ended up hikiing past Rue Raoul Servant, and thus past all those train multi-tracks that lead to a tunnel under the Rhone and on to Gare de Lyon-Perrache. (One of two train stations in the city.) And ended up hiking on to where Rue Marseille turns into Boulevard Yves Farge. By this time I’d hiked a half hour, and eventually reached “Vocational High School Louise Labé.”

Along the way I stopped at the first sidewalk wine store I saw. I’d heard so much about the Beaujolais nouveau the city is famous for, and wanted to try some. (A unique local wine and highly-prized regional specialty.) I went inside and asked if they had any. But the man just looked at me funny and said, with a deep French accent, “Noh-VAHM-brrr.” (Rolling his eyes, if only in his mind.) From the tone of his voice I gathered that was French for “dumbass!” I also gathered that Beaujolais nouveau doesn’t keep for long. Another “gang aft aglay!”

Back on the street – refreshed at least from a break in hiking – I tried a different tack. I turned right, and after a block of so saw what I’d been looking for. The heights of the city, topped by several buildings with steeples. Two blocks more and I found the Rhone River, then headed up to what looked like the highest steepled building. I kept walking toward Pont de la Guillotière, making sure to memory-mark where I’d turn to get back to Rue Montesquieu – and “home!” I crossed over to and through the Presqu’île heart of the city, which looked interesting, full of bustling young people, pilgrims and young romantics of all kinds. (“I wish I had more time.”)

I originally planned to hike all the way up the hill to the Basilica, but the route wasn’t at all clear. (No “direct way.”) And by this time I was getting tired from more hiking than I expected. Plus there was a funiculaire, and it was reasonably priced, so I took it instead. And the view just from the top of the hill was spectacular, by itself, but that was as good as it got.

Just like in Paris I’d hoped to climb to the top of the Basilica tower in Lyon. Then came another surprise. (Another “aft aglay.”) It turns out that to climb the tower you have to join a tour group. But aside from the expense, to me that meant standing around in a group of strangers, trying to feign interest in a lot of touristy questions. In other words, wasting time and money, to which I said, “No thanks!” Still, the view – even just from the top of the hill – was spectacular:

The highlight of the day today, hiking around Lyon, France. Two views of the city from high atop the hill where stands the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvielle. “Mission Accomplished!” I planned to climb up, but I must confess – I do not deny, but confess – that I took the funicular up. I was worn out by then, by the walking today and trials and tribulations of yesterday.

I posted that on Facebook, with the pictures, then hiked back to my lodging at Ho36. I took a shower, did some yoga and in due course wandered down to the bar-slash-community-room for a bite of dinner and a beer or two. Before leaving home I’d downloaded the Manybooks.net version of Travels with a Donkey, as a file so I could read it anywhere. (Even without internet.) And there in that big Ho36 dining-room-slash-bar I started re-reading Travels in earnest. I wanted to know what to expect, and we’d be starting the long hike in three days.

But first I had to get to Le Puy.

Sitting among all the fellow hostelers, sipping on an ice cold beer and reading Stevenson’s account of the adventure again, I thought about tomorrow’s transportation. Back home I’d bought a ticket for a 1:30 train and bus to Le Puy, however

When I got to Part Dieu Wednesday afternoon, and before starting the hike to Ho36, I took some time to just stand and scope out the situation. (The vast station.) Mostly I wanted to familiarize myself with how to get out of Lyon and on to the train to Le Puy. I watched people boarding, and saw that they all had one of those square things with the squiggly lines inside, either on their phones or on a piece of paper. (What I later learned was a “QR Square.”) And I didn’t have either one. So I planned to get there early next morning and figure something out.

Before retiring for the night I set the alarm for 8:-00 – the train left at 1:30 – but woke up at 6:30. I went through my morning ablutions and packed up. Then, figuring I had a little time to relax, I lay down for a bit – but “danged if I didn’t fall asleep again.” (And had really weird dream to boot.) Still with some time to go I left Ho36, hiked up Rue Marseille to the McDonald’s where I’d stopped to get my bearings on Wednesday. I’d checked Google Maps for a simpler route, so from the McDonald’s I hiked straight up Rue Paul Bert and followed it all the way. I got to Part Dieu in 22 minutes, at least half the time it took on Wednesday to get to the hostel.

I got to the station and went inside. Crowded, noisy and vast, and amid all the chaos I got run into, literally, by a tall attractive brunette in a red vest. Which I really appreciated; she was one of the station’s staff. After some mumbled apologies I asked her for help. She may have thought I was one of those “angels unawares,” but at any rate she directed me to the nook off to the side of the station – out of the main drag – where I could get a paper pass. The line was short, I got my paper with the squiggly square and – with plenty of time to spare – took a hike.

Out through the exit and over the six tracks east of the station, through the Parc Jeanne Jugan and up Rue d’Avigny for a ways. Then back to the Parc where I stopped at the Hotel-Restaurant Campanile Lyon, for a leisurely brunch at one of the shaded outdoor tables. And that was that. 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 for an hour and 20 minutes.

What could go wrong? I was on my way to Le Puy en Velay – and beyond!

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More like, “to Le Puy-en-Velay and beyond…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Lyon France Images – Image Results. It goes with a a page, “Lyon in pictures – the mysterious food capital of France.” And aside from the Ponte de l’Universite and Ponte de la Guillotière, you can see the Basilica “Fourviere” at the far upper left.

“The last post:” More “gang aft aglay” – and luxury in Lyon!

A note about clothes washing on an overseas hiking journey to Europe. Sometimes while taking my end-of-day shower – and as necessary – I can wash my sweat-damp clothes by stomping soap into them and then rinsing with the shower hose. (A quick trick I had to learn in Jerusalem, when my Piggly-Wiggly bag full of dirty clothes got lost on the bus-ride to Nazareth.) And incidentally, the French word for laundromat is “laverie,” as in the Promoclean title. “Lavanderia” is apparently something to eat. See for example French Lavanderia Recipe – Image Results.

Re: The Lyon Beaujolais. “The wine is marketed to be drunk in November, only a few months after the grapes were on the vines.”

“Angels unawares.” See Hebrews 13:2 – Bible Hub, in the KJV, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (The attractive young lady in the red vest certainly got my vote for a nice berth in heaven…)

The lower image is courtesy of Infinity And Beyond – Image Results, referring to sayings by Buzz Lightyear, the “fictional main character in DisneyPixar‘s Toy Story franchise.” See also To Infinity and Beyond: A Journey of Cosmic Discovery, on the 2023 book by Tyson and Walker.

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 72-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

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More “gang aft aglay” – and luxury in Lyon!

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Chambre-ho36-Lyon
Room 10 at the HO36 Hostel Lyon, sheer luxury after that “flat” in Paris, and hiking in the rain…

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The last post described my September trip to France, as far as the train from Paris down to Lyon. (Two days in each city. Then I’d join my GR 70 hiking partners in Le Puy en Velay.)

Back home, preparing for getting to Lyon, I’d planned and memorized the hike from Gare de Lyon-Perrache to the HO36 Hostel where I’d booked a room. I figured the train would get to Lyon-Perrache first, as the more direct route. But as we approached the city, the overhead speaker announced we’d get to Lyon-Part-Dieu first, much to my surprise. So, I went into a “quick-recalculating” mode, then for reasons set out in that last post, “decided to get off at Part Dieu, even though I’d paid the ticket for Lyon-Perrache.” (Mostly I didn’t want to make a special side-trip the next day, back to Part Dieu, as I’d have to if I stayed with the original plan.)

I came up with a beautiful plan to get from Lyon Part Dieu to the HO36 Hostel, at 36 Rue Montesquieu. Unfortunately, that’s when the ”gang aft aglay” thing kicked in again. (The thing that plagued me a good part of the trip so far.) “For one thing it was raining, again. For another I hadn’t memorized the pre-mapped route” back to Part Dieu “as well as I’d done the way from Lyon-Perrache.” So, as noted, the latest “aglay” started when my 9:30 train from Paris got cancelled. I’d had to change to the 2:30 train, and so got to Lyon much later than planned.

Then, once I left Part Dieu station, it started to rain. What followed was me learning yet again that under such circumstances Google Maps don’t always match reality. Put another way, those Maps can give you a route that’s hard to memorize and execute – in the rain.

Here’s what I mean. When I left the hostel Friday – in the act of leaving the city – it took a mere 22 minutes to hike back to Lyon Part Dieu. It was simple. Head out Rue Montesquieu to Rue Marseille, and take that street up to the McDonald’s where the street splits. (The McDonald’s I found on the way in Wednesday afternoon.) Then just follow Rue Paul Bert all the way to the station. You can’t miss it. But that’s not what happened that rainy Wednesday afternoon.

Aside from the rain, I re-learned that in “walking” mode, Google tends to send you through a lot of side streets and back alleys. That can seem more “direct,” but it’s hard to remember. And about that McDonald’s I found? Technically – I learned later – it’s at 6 Place Gabriel Péri, just off “Cr. Gambetta,” after it crosses Pont de la Guillotiere. That’s where I ended up  late Wednesday afternoon, after hiking around in the rain. I recalled that McDonald’s has free WiFi, so decided to stop for a bite and check my bearings. (In hindsight I could as easily stand outside and use their internet, under the eaves, without waiting in line as long as I did.)

I’d been angling west, heading generally toward the twin rivers and the Presqu’île center of the city. (Toting my 20-pound backpack, with rain gear.) I found I actually wasn’t that far from the hostel. But to get there – per Google Maps, courtesy of the Lyon McDonald’s – the best way was, again, through side streets and back alleys. (Google says walk down Rue Marseille, then take a right on Rue Bechevelin until it angles over and meets Rue Gilbert Dru, and so on.) I thought I could remember all that, and eventually did find the hostel, but the Wednesday hike from Part Dieu had totaled a lot more than a “mere 22 minutes.” I didn’t get there until 6:30.

At this point the reader may ask, “Why does he do such things? Everything seemed to go wrong! So many ‘gang aft agleys.’ This guy really had a lousy time!” But nothing could be further from the truth. About which I recall a quote about Ernest Hemingway traveling in Europe:

“One of the things about him is that he’s committed to travel. He likes, I think, more than anything to be a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land. Everything is heightened, and taste is heightened, vision is heightened, smells are heightened.”

So it is true that finding your way around a strange foreign city – “where they talk funny” in ways you can’t understand – can be a big challenge, but that’s what “heightens” the experience. And it especially heightens the taste of that first sip of icy cold beer at the end of a challenging day. Which is how things turned out that first day in Lyon.

It did take until 6:30 to find the hostel and get into my room – but, “Oh, what a room!”

Three times the size of the dump in Paris – I charitably called it a “flat” – in both the room itself and in the big luxurious bed. Plus I got a bathroom of my own. My own shower too! (No climbing half a flight of stairs to a landing between two floors, to get either.) I’d gotten hot and sweaty hiking from Part Dieu, but the Ho36 hostel made my day. And a big part of that was the bar and nice big common area I saw first thing on entering from Rue Montesquieu.

Once ensconced in my room I took a luxuriant hot shower, warming up nicely after my wet, sweaty hike. After more pure luxuriating in Room 10, I hiked – walked, sans pack – back to the McDonald’s for a late dinner. (I’d done a lot of hiking that day, mostly carrying a 20-pound pack. Remember? Five or so hours killing time, up to Notre Dame and back, between the train I expected and the one I finally took?) Last of all I got my tablet from the room, went down to the first-floor bar-slash–common-area, and enjoyed a cold draft beer – or two. All while settling in nicely among the other guests, some of them young, full of life, and/or fellow pilgrims.

And ready for more “gang aft aglay” on the morrow, should that again be necessary…

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The bar and common area at HO36 Lyon. “Sheer luxury” after Paris…

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The upper image is courtesy of HO36 Hostel Lyon – Official website – Best prices – ho36.

“Last post.” On Lyon, another Basilica and another “best laid plans…”

“I didn’t want to make a special side-trip.” When traveling, especially on foot in Europe, I like to make sure beforehand of my hiking route to a mass-transit connection, so I don’t miss the connection.

“Then take Rue Paul Bert…” All the while, hiking, thinking to myself, “Rue Paul, Rue Paul, I’ve heard that name before.”

On my 2019 trip to Jerusalem. See This time last year – in Jerusalem! (And links therein.)

On the “fun” of traveling in a strange country, see also for example 27 Surprising Benefits of Traveling Abroad, and 10 Benefits of Foreign Travel – WanderWisdom. As for the quote about Hemingway in a strange country, I copied that down from Episode 1 of the Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway, “A Writer (1899-1929),” as noted by a Professor Cushman.

The lower image is courtesy of Ho36 Hostel Lyon – Image Results.

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On Lyon, another Basilica and another “best laid plans…”

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Way up on that distant hill is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvièrewith a “splendid view…”

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I last posted on December 13, 2023. It’s now January 13, 2024.

Since that month-ago post I’ve gone through two family Christmases. One meant driving a thousand miles up to Massachusetts and back. The second came a week after the real Christmas, and both involved lots of pre-celebration preparation. (To get just the right gifts.) Then too, that first one meant catching some kind of nasty bug at the hotel bar in Wilkes-Barre PA, on the drive home. Which got me a “sore throat of Biblical proportions,” and had a dramatic impact on the second celebration as well. Which also means I’ve been going through lots of recuperation time, a recuperation helped in large part by generic NyQuilDayQuil, and lots of new-discovered Vicks VapoCOOL Severe cough drops. (And by the way, “Those things work great!“)

My last post described the second of two days in Paris, and the adventures therein. (Before heading down to Le Puy En Velay to link up with my companions for a 150-mile hike on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail in the Cevennes Mountains.) That noon I got rain-drenched, visiting the Basilique du Sacré Cœur, in Montmartre, “home of the famed Moulin Rouge.” And found the line outside way too long to get a chance to climb the tower for it’s “spectacular view.”

I also arrived at the world famous Père Lachaise Cemetery, a mere ten minutes late, later that afternoon. (It closed at 6:00 p.m. “on a summer’s eve,” much to my surprise.) But settled for the next best thing, La Pere Lachaise Bistro, just across Boulevard de Ménilmontant. (Where I had two Goudales – which stands for “good ales” – to ease my disappointment.)

In other words, of the two things I really wanted to see in Paris this visit, both got screwed up. Which led me to quote the world famous Robbie Burns saying, “The best laid plans o’ mice and men, gang aft aglay!” And dang if it didn’t happen again the following day as well, when I had to get up early to catch a 9:30 train. (From Gare de Lyon down to Lyon, where I’d never been.)

After my two Goudales I went back to my tiny flat and set the alarm for 6:30.

So, it was Wednesday, September 13, and I set the alarm for 6:30 because I wanted plenty of time to hike down to Gare de Lyon. I did get there in plenty of time all right, but then learned my 9:30 train had been cancelled. The next train was at 2:30, so now I had five and a half hours to kill. I started with a leisurely breakfast at a cafe across the street, Brasserie l’Arrosoir, and that was nice by itself. (Watching the frantic tourists coming and going from the station.)

I had two leisurely cafe cremes, and later a lentil and walnut salad. The first healthy meal I’d had since getting to France. It tasted great, but looked like it came out of a small can of dogfood. (No sharing “food porn” on Facebook.) As for that cancelled ticket, I had to pay an extra 16 Euros for a new one, subject to a refund. (Which I just remembered, typing this out. But by now it’s too late for any refund.) On the plus side, the Trenitalia desk – where I got the new ticket – was “manned” by a lovely, dark-haired young lady from Sicily. I told her that just the year before I and my companions had hiked in Italy. (From Assisi to Rome on the Way of St. Francis.) We had a nice conversation, especially when I mentioned we’d been told there were some good hiking paths in Sicily as well. I closed that pleasant conversation noting that even though I had to pay extra for a cancelled train, “At least I got to meet you!” (Ever the romantic.)

After that, walking with a lighter heart, I hiked across Pont Charles de Gaulle for some unexpected sightseeing. Across the Seine and up various quais to Ile de la Cite and the Notre Dame cathedral. We visited there in 2021 getting ready for our hike over the Pyrenees, and the Cathedral was still in the long process of being rebuilt. Along the way I came across LA CREME DE PARIS NOTRE-DAME. That quaint little cafe is at the corner of Quai de Montebello and Rue de la Cite, right across from Ile de la Cite itself, and it was there, back in 2021, that I ran across Tom, Carol and Ray, quite by accident. (My 2021 hiking companions.) I had just hiked down from my hotel near Place de Stalingrad, hoping to meet them at their lodging. But as it turned out they were just crossing the intersection, on their way to get Covid-tested. (In 2021 you had to get that test clearance before you could take any train in France, something I don’t miss.)

After the extra “bonus” sightseeing, I caught my train at 2:30. It took three leisurely hours to get to Lyon, during which I enjoyed a cold beer in the club car. But then came a hiccup.

Back home, on Google Maps, I’d carefully pre-mapped and memorized my way. I planned to hike from Gare de Lyon-Perrache station, located on the mid-city Presqu’île peninsula. From there to the HO36 Hostel on Rue Montesquieu was said to be a leisurely half-hour hike. (Much of it along the Rhone River.) And under the original plan (with the train leaving Paris at 9:30), I figured to get there long before check-in time, so I planned a stop in at the Damn Fine Bookstore. At 20 Rue Bechevelin, it was on the way and only two minutes to the hostel.

The “Damn Fine Bookstore” had good reviews, as the finest of all such bookstores in France, plus it had a cafe. “The coffee is affordable, and the kitsch sofas are reminiscent of an English tea room. Even the bathroom is a delight.” Unfortunately, because the 9:30 train got cancelled I no longer had so much time to kill. Plus some other complicating factors came into play.

For one thing, I based the pre-mapping and memorizing on a theory the Paris train would reach Lyon-Perrache station first. I’d memorized that route. Cross the bridge over the Rhone River to Av. Bethelot, up the Quai Claude Bernard to Rue Montesquieu and turn right. Piece o’ cake. (Or so I thought.) But as it turned out – as it came announced overhead – the train got to Lyon Part Dieu first. (“Why the heck would a train get to Part Dieu before the implied Parte Uno?”)

On the other hand, I knew I’d be leaving for Le Puy en Velay on Friday, from Part Dieu. So under the original plan, I’d have to make a special trip on Thursday, hiking from my hostel to Part Dieu. (I always want to make sure of such a route beforehand, just to be sure I can “get there on time.”) It’s one of my quirks, and this one got me into a “quick-recalculating” mode.

The result? After due consideration I decided to get off at Part Dieu, even though I’d paid the ticket for Lyon-Perrache. For one thing I’d get off the train quicker, and another personal quirk I have is the fear of missing a stop and having to double back at the next station. (And maybe pay an extra fee.) Plus, by getting off at Part Dieu, I wouldn’t have to make that special side-trip on Thursday. I’d have more time for fun and sightseeing. I’d “kill two birds with one stone.”

It was a beautiful plan, but danged if that ” gang aft aglay” didn’t kick in again. For one thing it was raining, again. For another I hadn’t memorized the pre-mapped route from Part Dieu as well as I’d done the way from Lyon-Perrache. But that’s a story for next time…

In the meantime here’s a view of the inside of the station I got very familiar with on Friday…

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Inside Lyon-Part-Dieu station – where I spent lots of time last Friday, September 15…

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The upper image is courtesy of Lyon France Image – Image Results. It goes with a page “8 best things to do in Lyon for an amazing holiday experience.” Number One on the list: “Admire the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.” (I put “splendid view” in quote marks because to get that best view – from the Basilica tower – you have to spend time in a tour group.)

Re: Last post: My second day in Paris – and “Best Laid Plans…”

See the “Damn Fine” review at Best Bookstore Cafes in France – Fodors Travel Guide.

The lower image is courtesy of Lyon-Part-Dieu station – Wikipedia. Caption: “Interior of the station.”

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My second day in Paris – and “Best Laid Plans…”

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A view of (or from) the Sacred Heart Basilica – when Paris weather isn’t drenching you with rain….

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December 13, 2023 – The last post covered my first day in Paris, last September 11. Though it was more like my first two days, or one long day. Technically that included one last Sunday in the U.S. for a month. Or you could define it as between my shower Sunday morning before church and the chance to take one Tuesday afternoon. (“Circumstances beyond my control.”)

Either way, that long “day” – or two – included last-minute packing on Sunday (“oh darn, I forgot!”), getting to Hartsfield airport in Atlanta three hours ahead of time, then flying out at 6:30 p.m. and getting to Paris at 9:15 Monday morning. That middle part of a long day Included six time changes (flying east over the Atlantic), plus a red-eye flight where I got maybe 30 or 40 minutes of real sleep. (If that.) So I got to Paris Monday morning nice and jet-lagged.

That post also covered my first morning in Paris, where – hiking to my hotel – I somehow got shunted off Boulevard Voltaire and onto Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. (I finally had to ask directions.) And – after all that – trying to take a nap, once I found my tiny garret (of sorts), a nap interrupted by incessant hammering across the alley. Then in the afternoon hiking down to Gare de Lyon, from where I’d be leaving early Wednesday morning. (And stopping on the hike back “at a cute little bistro at the corner of Av. Daumesnil … and AC Ledru Rollin. A block or two above Gare de Lyon, which I just checked out.”) Which brings up my second day in Paris.

One thing I wanted to do this Paris-visit was hike up to Basilique du Sacré Cœur, in Montmartre, home of the famed Moulin Rouge. The Basilica sits high atop a hill, with a tower said to offer spectacular views of the city. (For a small fee.) I’d also read that to do that you had to get there before noon. So, Tuesday September 12, I got up early and headed up. (After first stopping at a cafe around the corner – on Boulevard Voltaire – for a good French breakfast.)

I note in a later post that to see such spectacular views you generally have to pay a price. (Often quite a high price.) Which brings up some things about that “spectacular view of Paris.” The Basilica (of Sacred Heart) stands “proudly atop” Montmartre hill, which itself stands 426 feet high. So just getting to the top of the hill meant walking up four separate sets of of long steep step-stairs. But I figured it was both good exercise and good training for the upcoming 150-mile hike in the Cevennes. Then came another problem. Here’s what I wrote later:

Ah, the romance of Paris! Like, hike an hour to Montmartre and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart – highest point in the city, with a great view – and have it start pouring [down rain] the minute you get there… Then hike back to your tiny flat, sopping wet, but stopping along the way for two steaming cafe cremes. And a hard-bread ham and cheese sandwich…. And figure at least you don’t have to wash your clothes in the sink tonight. (Except for your “delicate.”) The clothes you’ve worn since leaving Atlanta.

Which brings up a need for some explanation. For one thing, just before noon the line to get into the Basilica doubled back and around the entrance. Meaning at least an hour’s wait, but since I didn’t want to stand in the rain that long – I’d found some shelter under some trees close by – I opted out of that adventure. (“Maybe some other time.”) For another thing, that “pouring down rain” was the first kind-of shower I’d had since leaving home Sunday. (Monday was busy, and the shower-plus-WC was a half-flight up, between the fourth and fifth floors.)

Another note: I had packed a heavy-duty bright yellow galvanized rubber rain jacket, mostly because the forecast for Paris on Monday was for heavy rain. (Also for Lyon the day I got there.) But I didn’t take it with me when I hiked up to the Basilica. Mostly because the weather didn’t look too bad when I left my little garret. (“A lesson for all you young kids out there!”)

Anyway, heading home from the Basilica I hiked through more rain, but not quite as bad. Besides, I was already soaked. So halfway back I stopped at another sidewalk cafe – for which Paris is famous – with a covered patio and a view outside. I wanted to sit out some of the rain, and enjoy two steaming cafe cremes (“to ward off evil spirits”). Plus I’d worked up an appetite so I also had another hard-bread ham sandwich. (Mostly because I could understand that limited part of the French-only menu.) And again spent time watching the passers-by. Which brings up the essence of Paris: To me it’s sitting at a sidewalk cafe, watching people and jotting in a notebook. Like Hemingway. Which I did at least seven times this trip to Paris. (Though if he were alive today, “Hem” would probably be posting notes on Facebook to the folks back home.)

Once back at my tiny apartment I took a hot shower – in the one bathroom between two floors – then hiked back up Boulevard Voltaire. I’d seen a Laundry Self Service at Number 48, and there dried my wet clothes and ball cap. Then took another nap, this one more successful.

Refreshed from my nap, I headed west on Rue Sedaine, over to Bd. Richard-Lenoir, which I now knew fairly well. Without too much trouble I found Gare de Lyon and checked the surrounding area. (Lots of cafes nearby in case I got there early Wednesday morning.) On the way back I stopped at another cafe, for a beer. (“Hey, I’d done a lot of hiking.”)

And speaking of hiking: Counting Monday I had hiked some 15 miles in two days, including that two-mile hike down from Gare du Nord carrying a 20-pound backpack…

Later still, on the hike back from Gare de Lyon, I found the French equivalent of a mini-mart. I wanted something to tide me over in case I got hungry or thirsty during the night. (In case the jet lag interrupted my sleep patterns.) I got a 16-ounce bottle of water, but the only reasonably-priced “food” I could interpret from the French was a good-sized bag of croutons. (Which tasted amazingly good when I did wake up in the middle of the night.)

Anyway, back at my garret I checked Google Maps. (The place had decent internet.) Another place I wanted to see was Pere Lachaise, a famous cemetery where Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and many French notables are buried. By this time it was near 5:30, so I headed east, knowing what road to take. (A block south on Bd. Voltaire, then east on Rue de la Roquette. “Piece o’ cake!”) But as shown that morning, “The best laid plans o’ mice and men, gang aft aglay!”

Which is being interpreted: I got to the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery pretty quick, just a little after 6:00 p.m. Only to find out that it closed at 6:00. “Who the heck closes a famous cemetery at 6:00 on a summer’s eve?” So I did the next best thing. I saw a Pere Lachaise Bistro across the street, so I stopped in there for a bit of a nightcap. There I sampled two La Goudales, an amusing French beer-brew that eased my disappointment.

But I couldn’t stay for a third. I had to get up early next morning to catch that 9:30 train from Gare de Lyon down to Le Puy en Velay. (To meet up with my Cevennes hiking companions.) So I got home and set the alarm for 6:30. Then got up that early, to arrive at Gare de Lyon, also nice and early, only to find that that “gang aft agley” thing had struck again.

Which is a story for next time…

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Get to “La Pere” too late? There’s always “La Pere Lachaise” across Bd. de Ménilmontant

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The upper image is courtesy of View From Basilica Of The Sacred Heart Paris – Image Results. I originally posted my photo of the ‘spectacular’ of Paris, high atop Montmartre Hill.” But the platform kept screwing it up and taking it off. (Technical terms used by bloggers.) My photo showed the view on a rainy day – the day I got rained on – and I noted, “You can barely see the Eiffel Tower, on the horizon, about a fourth of the way in from the left.The full caption read, My ‘spectacular’ view of Paris, high atop Montmartre Hill, by the ‘Sacred Heart‘ Basilica…

Re: “Last post.” “The last time I saw Paris?” – Just this past September!

For some interesting reading Google “due to circumstances beyond control.” I remember the phrase from some old Bug Bunny cartoons.

Re: Garret – Wikipedia. Technically that’s a “room or unfinished part of a house just under the roof.” My room on Rue Sedaine had a couple of floors above it.

I borrowed from Sacré-Coeur de Paris, the must-see basilica at the top of Montmartre Hill.

Re: “Best laid plans.” See Best Laid Plans – Origin & Meaning – GRAMMARIST, noting the Robert Burns poem with the line, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” The rest of the thought, “An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promised joy.” The expression “conveys that one should not expect things to always turn out as planned.” Indeed.

Re: “La Goudale.” According to Wikipedia, “La Goudale is a bière de garde which was originally brewed in Douai (northern France) by Les Brasseurs de Gayant. The brewery has since moved to Arques. Its name derives from “good ale”, the name given to local ales in the 14th century.”

The lower image is courtesy of Pere Lachaise Bistro Paris – Image Results. And speaking of “Pere Lachaise,” Garry Wills mentioned it in his book “Lincoln at Gettysburg – The Words that Remade America,” G.K. Hall and Co., 1992, Chapter 2, “Gettysburg and the Culture of Death.” (I just happened to be reading that part while working on this post.) Wills wrote of Edward Everett, the orator who spoke for two hours before Lincoln, and of the “rural cemetery” movement. That movement reflected “changing attitudes toward death” in 19th century America. “Images of hope and immortality were popular in rural cemeteries in contrast to the puritanical pessimism depicted in earlier cemeteries.” (One such was the cemetery at Gettysuburg.) Another orator noted “the surroundings of nature combined with art as exhibited in the cemeteries of Pere Lachaise and Mt. Auburn … and other celebrated burial places of the dead.” But of course all this is a “rabbit trail,” contrary to “that UCC – unity and coherence crap,” which is why I put this in the notes.

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“The last time I saw Paris?” – Just this past September!

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I didn’t see Liz Taylor, but there was lots of other lovely “passing scenery” in the city…

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My last post – on hiking the GR 70 in France – talked about my planning for and dreaming about the trip. (Hiking 150 miles on what’s also called the “Robert Louis Stevenson Trail.”)

It also talked of the difference between such dreams and how an adventure really turns out. (“Matching dreams and plans with reality, once you get over there.”) And finally it addressed the question: “Why would anyone in his right mind – especially at age 72 – want to go through such an ordeal?” Taking the last question first: One big reason is “I just love long walks.” I always have, and as a writer do some great thinking whenever I’m “out on the Trail.” And I’m not alone: Everyone “from Beethoven, Goethe, Dickens, Darwin to Steve Jobs took long walks:”

[W]alking holds just some of our attention, leaving a large segment to meander and observe. It’s this doing-something-but-not-really-thinking-about-it aspect of walking that might be most directly behind the ability of a good walk to stir up creative, new ideas.

Other reasons – with more detail in the Notes: Long walks help you become more creative, healthier and productive. (Not to mention “following in the footsteps of giants.”) Also in my case, long walks are a great way to get to know some intimate nooks and crannies of cities like Paris and Lyon. I’ll get to Lyon in the next post, but this one’s about hiking adventures in Paris.

In Paris I did a lot of meandering and observing, but first had to get over there. Which meant another red-eye flight from Atlanta, leaving at 6:30 Sunday evening and getting to Paris the next morning at 9:15. I guessed later that I got maybe 30 or 40 minutes real sleep the whole night. Mostly I watched a lot of old movies. The one I remember most was “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” mostly because I like the music. But on arrival I knew what to do. I’d made the same trip in 2021: From De Gaulle airport take the RER Train B to the Gare du Nord.

Which brings up navigating in a strange city. In my overseas trips so far I’ve relied on local “free” WiFi. There are portable hotspots you can use for European internet service, but they were something like $300 for 30 days the last time I checked. Instead, before leaving home I printed out Google maps of the route I was to take, from the train station to my hotel. I also wrote out and printed out written instructions, which were pretty clear. Up to a point.

I’d booked a place on Rue Sedaine, two miles southwest of the station. To get there (I wrote) “get on the Bd. de Magenta, which leads to the Place de la Republique.” On the other side of “Republique” the streets split, but I would get on the Bd. Voltaire. A little bit further down, once I saw the “Maze le Garage Electrique,” I’d know Rue Sedaine was coming up. And at the corner of Rue Sedaine I’d see a bar, “Le coup d’oeil,’ and turn right. So far so good.

The walk was pleasant, even carrying a 20-pound pack. I stopped just the other side of the Place de la Republique, at a Starbucks of all places. To rest, regroup, admire the passing scenery and ease into this strange new place with a little touch of home. Then, hiking further on, I discovered a quirk in my plans. After hiking what I reckoned to be about a mile and a half, right by the Stellar Restaurant Ephemera, the streets split. I stayed on the sidewalk I’d been hiking on.

And from there, on and on some more. “What was taking so long?” I kept thinking, “I should be seeing the Maze le Garage Electrique and Le coup d’oeil any time now.” Finally I tried asking directions from some locals. First a young couple, but they shied away like I was a strange man still grubby from a red-eye flight, or just wanting a hand-out. Then I asked a young Frenchman, sitting on a bench at what turned out to be the “Marche Bastille.” It’s another long, park-like area, like the Place de la Republique, between two busy streets, but skinnier and with more trees.

He was polite, and set me straight. So much for the city’s reputation for being so rude.

I found out later that the long narrow park I’d arrived at is also the site of “one of the biggest markets in Paris, stretching along the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir and across the Place de la Bastille.” As it also turned out, I had just hiked past Rue Sedaine, but on the wrong side. So as it also turns out, back where the streets split I should not have stayed on the same sidewalk I’d been walking on. Instead I should have crossed over, twice, past the “public toilettes” in a center traffic island. That way I’d get back to Boulevard Voltaire. Instead I’d been inadvertently shunted over to Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. And that’s how I discovered the Marche Bastille. What was interesting (to me anyway) was my handwritten route-notes. I later saw that they gave another way of finding the hotel. (And not get too lost.) I wrote that it’s on Rue Sedaine, “between the Marche Bastille Market and the Cemetary ‘Pere Lachaise’ where Jim and Oscar are buried.”

That’s Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde by the way. In planning my two days in Paris I noted two places I wanted to visit. One was the Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre, with it’s splendid hilltop view of the whole city. The other was “Pere Lechaise,” resting-ground of a great number of notables, French, American and others. I eventually did make it to that world-famous cemetery, but that’s a story for another time. Meanwhile I had to get to my hotel.

I did get to it, but from the wrong end of Rue Sedaine. And later that day I discovered that the Maze le Garage Electrique and Le coup d’oeil were right where they were supposed to be, on my printed out map. But first I checked in and got Room 14, four floors up from the street. And it was tiny. The twin bed took up half the first part in, and a quarter of the whole apartment. But it was home, and it was in Paris, even though the “WC” was outside, on a stair-landing between my floor and the next one up. With its window right next to my window.

Which made for some interesting listening later on.

I tried to take a nap, but soon heard a lot of hammering and other building sounds from across the alley. Later that night I woke up and looked out the window, to drink in Paris at night. Quiet and peaceful. I looked down to the left, across the alley to a one-floor-down apartment with an unshaded window open to the breeze. The guy who’d been doing all the hammering that morning was on a cot, sound asleep, half-covered with a light blanket, with a bright light off to his right, out of my sight. The whole place had the air of extensive remodeling. Or just being made move-in livable. I felt bad about some things I’d been thinking, earlier, trying to take that nap.

Back to that first-day Monday afternoon in Paris. (After hiking down “the scenic route” from Gare du Nord to my hotel, by way of Marche Bastille, a long narrow park on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir.) The following Wednesday I was scheduled to take an early train down to Lyon, from the Gare de Lyon train station. So that Monday afternoon – after trying to take a cure-jet-lag nap – I took a hike down to Gare de Lyon. I wanted to check mostly on how long it would take to get there. The train was to leave at 9:30 a.m., and I didn’t want any slip-ups.

The hotel had tolerable WiFi, so I could see I should take Avenue Ledru Rollin down the mile to the station. I did, and found the Lyon station. (It’s expansive and hard to miss, plus there were signs on the street.) The route crossed Avenue Daumesnil, so on the way back I stopped at a cute little bistro at the corner of “Daumesnil” and Ledru Rollin, a block up from the station. I had two beers and enjoyed the passing scenery, then on the way back to the hotel stopped at a French mini-mart. I wanted something to get me through the night, in case I woke up early from the jet lag. But the only food I knew what It was was a bag of croutons and some bottled water.

Then I tried taking another nap, starting about 3:30 p.m., and this one worked. Later, despite all the hiking I’d done already that day, I decided to take yet another walk. In part to make sure the Maze le Garage Electrique and Le coup d’oeil were still where they were supposed to be. They were, but then I hiked a bit more up Boulevard Voltaire, to where it split off from Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. (To see what I should have done.) On the way back I stopped off at Le coup d’oeil on the corner of Rue Sedaine, and had one more beer. (After getting to know some unknown-to-most-other-tourist intimate nooks and crannies of Paris.)

And there was (Sunday) evening, and there was (Monday) morning—the first day. My first day in Paris, in September 2023, that is. I’ll cover my second day in Paris in the next post…

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Place de la Bastille
The Place de la République, part-way to my last-September lodging on Rue Sedaine…

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The upper image is courtesy of “The Last Time I Saw Paris” – Image Results. See also The Last Time I Saw Paris – Wikipedia, on the 1954 “Technicolor romantic drama,” set in the city just as World War II was ending, and loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s short story ‘Babylon Revisited:'”

The film starred Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson in his last role for MGM, with Walter PidgeonDonna ReedEva GaborKurt KasznarGeorge DolenzSandy DescherOdette, and (a then-unknown) Roger Moore in his Hollywood debut. The film’s title song, by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, was already a classic when the movie was made and inspired the movie’s title.

Re: Doing some good thinking while walking. See The Science of Why You Do Your Best Thinking While WalkingHow Walking Enhances Cognitive Performance | Psychology Today, and Why The Greatest Minds Take Long Walks – Canva, source of the quote, “Why everyone from Beethoven, Goethe, Dickens, Darwin to Steve Jobs took long walks and why you should too.” The Psychology Today writer said that “listening to audiobooks and walking is my primary method of learning about the world, specifically business, history, and society.” For myself, when at home I watch educational videos – Wondrium and Crash Courses – while stair-stepping 30 minutes at a time. (With a 30-pound weight vest and 10 pounds of ankle weights.)

Re: Hotspots. The article 6 best portable Wi-Fi hotspots for travelers in 2023 | CNN lists some alternatives, but they’re still pretty expensive, considering the probably add-ons.

Re: Rude Parisians. See Why are people in Paris so rude? – Paris Forum – Tripadvisor. On this trip I found the opposite to be true, as will be detailed in a future post.

The lower image is courtesy of parisinfo.com.

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On lessons from 2022, applied to 2023…

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The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the starting point for last year’s 150-mile pilgrim hike…

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November 16, 2023 – My last post talked about matching up Dreams, maps and reality, as applied to my recent hike on the Stevenson Trail in France. I also talked about “why such a fool” – especially an old fool, at 72 – would “put himself through such an ordeal.” I had some answers, but ended with a promise “next time” to talk about walking Paris and Lyon. Specifically:

…on exploring Paris and Lyon, on my own, “before even starting the hike.” Where I [will] describe things like getting drenched on arrival at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, and finding out that trying to memorize a Google Map route, from Lyon Part Dieu train station to the HO36 Hostel in Lyon, can make you feel lost and in despair.

That second problem concerned me trying to use a memorized Google Map to get from the “Part Dieu” train station to the HO36 Hostel on 36 rue Montesquieu. But that post is turning out to be more complicated than I thought. Both cities were eventful for me, but since I last posted almost three weeks ago, it’s time to fill in with this post, on some lessons from the past.

Like last year (2022) we hiked 150 miles on the St Francis Way A pilgrimage route. But instead of hiking as most do – from Rome to Assisi – we went the other way, from Assisi back to Rome. And I can mention one mistake I didn’t make in this most recent trip: I didn’t get a &^%#$ ticket – costing 30 Euros – for not validating my bus pass, in Assisi, down by the train station.

It happened on the ride back from visiting the Basilica of San Francis … but it wasn’t my fault. Two knuckleheads in front of me had trouble making change (or whatever). A long line started forming behind me, so the driver told us – starting with me – to “go to the back of the bus.” That’s where, supposedly, there was another machine to validate your bus ticket.

I didn’t validate the pass, mostly because I didn’t see any such machine. But when we got back to the train station in Assisi – a short walk from our lodging – an officious-looking guy magically appeared and announced the aforementioned fine for failure to validate. I protested long, hard and loud – “the driver told me to go to the back of the bus!” – but to no avail. It was all, “No comprendo,” or however they say it in Italy. As I mentioned, that was “Not a good start to what was supposed to be a pilgrimage to enlightenment.” On the other hand, part of being enlightened could be not repeating mistakes of the past. So, “One lesson learned!”

One guidebook on the Way of St. Francis said the Apennine Mountain Range is “the thick spine of the Italian peninsula.” And that because of its “challenging topography, the Way of St. Francis is a challenging walk.” The book noted that veterans of the Camino de Santiago (like us) may compare several days walking on the Way of St. Francis “to a walk over the Route [de] Napoleón that crosses the Pyrenees. A daily climb of 500 to 1000 meters is not unusual.”

So I found one big difference between last year’s hike and the latest one. The Stevenson Trail wasn’t as full of “zig-zags, switchbacks and cut-backs.” I mentioned that my 8th grade math teacher had taught us the shortest distance between two points was a straight line.

However, that rule doesn’t apply to the Way of St. Francis. And that led me to wonder, “Why did St. Francis follow this ‘path?‘” Back and forth, up and down, full of zig-zags, switchbacks and cut-backs. And why wouldn’t he take the smoother route along the valley that beckoned down below? (The smooth path that the train takes from Rome up to Assisi and back.)

So one difference: The Stevenson Trail mostly goes “straight” north to south; not as many zig-zags. Though there were plenty of slippery boulders and rock-strewn paths to negotiate, at least we didn’t have to backtrack so much – or so it seemed – and pay for the same real estate twice.

One similarity between the two hikes? Many days on both trails there were few if any places to stop for refreshment during the day. It wasn’t that unusual to go a whole day’s hike, of 10 or 12 miles or more, without any of those stops so prevalent on the Camino Frances (French Way). On the other hand, in Italy you could still always look forward to a warm bed, hot shower and a cold beer at the end of the day. And the same was true of the Stevenson Trail.

But that leaves the question: Why would an old fool “put himself through such an ordeal.” That’s a question I asked myself quite often on the Stevenson Trail, especially during the early days of the hike. One answer I came up with? The idea that on such a trek the goal is to “push beyond your limits. To ask yourself at least once a day, ‘What the heck am I doing here?'”

And then keep going…

But once we got home my brother and hiking companion found another answer. “Rucking.” I just did learn that Rucking can help you burn fat, build muscle, and stay strong as you age. And here I’ve been rucking since 2016, back on the Chilkoot Trail, and didn’t even know it.

It seems that hauling big, heavy dead animals you’ve killed – “game after hunting trips” – or just carrying heavy things in general has been around a long time. That’s a trait unique to humans, a “foundational behavior throughout [human] history.” As in traveling long distances, moving whole families and their belongings, in search of a better life, more food or just to get away from hostile tribes looking to kill you. And as it turns out, in modern times such carrying a heavy weight over distances “is a great exercise for fitness and longevity.”

Which is a thought that came to me late on the Stevenson hike.

When exercising I track aerobic minutes, minutes of aerobic exercise. But to get credit for such exercise you need to go ten minutes straight, and that presents a problem on the Trail. Carrying such a heavy weight, and especially hiking uphill (and/or climbing over and around all those stupid rocks) means you need a standing-stop break several times in ten minutes. That meant theoretically you don’t get any “aerobic credit.” But I finally figured out – on the GR-70 – that hiking hours a day with a heavy pack combines two different exercises: aerobics and weight-lifting. Which is pretty much what “rucking” is all about. Problem solved!

I’ll be writing more about rucking as a good reason for my overseas hikes in a future post. And also get to the part about exploring Paris and Lyon, this year, on my own, “before even starting the hike.” And describe things like getting drenched on arrival at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, and finding out that trying to memorize a Google Map route, from Lyon Part Dieu train station to the HO36 Hostel in Lyon, “can make you feel lost and in despair.” Until next time…

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“…here I’ve been rucking since 2016 … and didn’t even know it.”

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The upper image is courtesy of Basilica Of Saint Francis Of Assisi – Wikipedia – Image Results.

I borrowed much of the main text here from Getting ready for Rome – and “the Way of St. Francis, from April 2022, and Some highlights – Way of St. Francis 2022, from October 2022. Other past posts include On St. Patty 2022 – and the Way of St. Francis, from March 2022, One week away from a “Roman Holiday” from August 2022, and St. Francis, his birds and my Bucket List, from October 2022.

“One guidebook.” The Way of St Francis … to Assisi and Rome, by “Sandy” Brown.

“Pay for the real estate twice.” A quote from George Patton. See Not me. I don’t like to pay for the same real estate twice.

10-minute aerobic minimum. See Physical activity – World Health Organization (WHO), and The Aerobics Way, the 1978 book by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper.

The lower image is courtesy of Rucking For Fitness Image – Image Results.

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Dreams, maps and reality – hiking in France, 2023…

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The kind of path we often had to negotiate on the GR 70, here on the second day’s hike…

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For months now I’ve been planning for and dreaming about this year’s overseas travel adventure: A 15-day, 150-mile hike on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, in the Cévennes mountains of south-central France. (Described in Stevenson’s 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) That process of planning and dreaming only ended when I finally flew into Paris last Sunday, September 10. Then it was time to start matching dreams and plans with reality.

I also planned for and dreamed about visiting Paris again, for the third time since 1979. And that’s not to mention heading from there down to Lyon, where I’ve never been. And where I planned to sample some Beaujolais nouveau (wine) for which the city is famous.

From there I’d take the train-and-bus to Le Puy en Velay and meet up with my brother Tom and his wife Carol, this year’s hiking companions. (Coming up from two weeks in Spain.) We’d spend Saturday, September 16, getting good and ready, then start our 150-mile hike the day after that. The ultimate goal was St. Jean du Gard, where Stevenson ended his hike in 1878. We’d arrive 15 hiking days later, mostly following the path Stevenson hiked. We’d arrive there – if all went according to plan – on October 3, 145 years to the day from when he arrived. (With two days off from hiking for us, at Brugeyrolles, east of Langogne, and Pont de Montvert.)

Tom had reserved each night’s lodging months before. (A lesson he learned back in 2017, from our first hike on the Camino Francais.) To help with navigation, he and Carol both had French phone coverage, which included online maps. For myself, I had no French phone coverage and no online maps. I chose to rely on their phone maps, along with “free” French WiFi. (Which I thought would be available in most cafes, and the places we’d stop at night.)

As for Paris and Lyon – when I was on my own – I printed out paper maps to guide me in finding my lodging, and some places to visit in each city. Like the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, along with the Père Lachaise Cemetery. And the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon. The towers of both basilicas were said to offer spectacular views of each city.

Then came the process of “matching maps and dreams to reality.” Or as John Steinbeck once said, you don’t take a trip, a trip takes you. Which turned out to be at least partly true.

In hindsight the trip was mostly “fun,” though not according to everyone’s definition. The French food was tantalizing, even if you didn’t always know what you were getting when you ordered. But the hike itself was certainly challenging, in many ways. Mostly every day, in the form of miles and miles of rock-strewn paths. (Which we had to hike and sometimes climb over, often at the dazzling speed of 1.2 miles an hour.) That daily “challenging” led some back-home friends and family to wonder, “Why on earth would you ever do such a thing?” (“Especially now that you’re over the hill, at age 72?”) Or as I put it in An update:

The food was great [in southern France], as were the many spectacular views from the tops of all those hills in the Cevennes. Which is another way of saying I’m still looking for an answer for people who ask, “Why would anyone want to do that?

Aside from the many spectacular views and wonderful French cuisine, I had another good reason to put up with the “bunts and blunders” of hiking miles and miles over rock-strewn paths. I plan to write a book on this latest adventure, just like Stevenson did. And who knows? Maybe I can get some fame and fortune from this and other adventure books, just like he did.

All of which is a big reason why I write blog-posts. I plan to put them together at a later date – keeping in mind the need for that unity and coherence stuff – and make more eBooks out of them. And speaking of travel-ventures, I’ve had many in the past 10 years: Eight days canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi. Hiking the Camino de Santiago, three times, on various parts. Or the Chilkoot Trail, the “meanest 33 miles in history.”

Which brings up yet another good reason. I love long walks and always have. I do some great thinking on such long walks, especially “walking” five or six hours a day, with a 20-pound pack on my back. On the Stevenson Trail I spent a lot of time framing what I’d write on Facebook, hopefully later that same day. Then using those posts as notes when I got back home, to use in framing these blog-posts, and ultimately putting them together in an ebook.

But in the end, Stevenson may have said it best:

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.” (Emphasis added.)

And there was plenty of “globe granite underfoot,” on paths which often felt strewn with cutting flints. On that note, for much of the hike I kept reminding myself, “If you do fall, fall backwards. The pack will cushion you.” Much to my credit I didn’t fall at all… Until the last day, when I may have been in a hurry to get to the end, but that’s a story for later. Which I can also say about exploring Paris and Lyon, on my own, before even starting the hike. “That’s a story for the next post.” But first a foretaste of that “heavenly banquet of hiking,” from the second day’s hike:

…we now have two hiking days under our belts, with me only developing one big blister yesterday, on the ball of my left foot. Thanks in large part to hiking over slippery-rock trails like this, from yesterday. And today, tip-toeing – not through the tulips – but trying to NOT step down hard on that one blister-foot.

You saw what I’m talking about at the top of the page. And both that picture and the quote came from my Facebook post that day. (After a beerless night in Le Monastier-sur-Gazelle. It was Sunday, when everything shuts down in rural France. I had no WiFi that night either.) That second day – Monday, September 18 – we hiked 11.5 miles from “Le Monastier” to Bargettes. (A town so small and unknown that you get “baguettes” on a Google search.)

So much for the foretaste of “heavenly hiking.” (Irony or sarcasm?) It’s time to finish this post and start on the next, on exploring Paris and Lyon, on my own, “before even starting the hike.” Where I describe things like getting drenched on arrival at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, and finding out that trying to memorize a Google Map route, from Lyon Part Dieu train station to the HO36 Hostel in Lyon, can make you feel lost and in despair. Until next time…

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Lyon-Part-Dieu: From here I tried to match a memorized Google Map” to reality…

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I took the upper-image picture.

Re: The 2017 hike on the French Way. I met Tom in Pamplona, 450 miles from Santiago de Compostela. See “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited, and “Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts. In 2019 we three hiked from Porto, Portugal, back up to Santiago, and in 2021 we hiked from St. Jean Pied-de-Port over the Pyrenees, the part I missed in 2017. See Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally!

Re: Steinbeck on trips. The actual quote is “people don’t take trips. Trips take people.” John Steinbeck – Travel Quote of the Week – Authentic Traveling.

Re: “Bunts and blunders” of hiking. (For example.) See Practical Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, Ariel Press (1914), at page 177. True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock. It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.See also Evelyn Underhill – Wikipedia.

About that “unity and coherence.” See On George Will’s “Happy Eye.” There I noted Will’s saying a columnist needs three seductive skills, with the third being, “be gifted at changing the subject frequently.’” I said I’d “learned to change the subject so frequently that my family says my writing ‘goes all over the place.’” And that I would try to “improve my column-writing Unity and Coherence.” 

Re: Thinking while walking. See The Science of Why You Do Your Best Thinking While Walking, How Walking Enhances Cognitive Performance | Psychology Today, and Why The Greatest Minds Take Long Walks – Canva: “Why everyone from Beethoven, Goethe, Dickens, Darwin to Steve Jobs took long walks and why you should too.”

Re: The “travel for travel’s sake” quote. See Quote by Robert Louis Stevenson: “For my part…”

The lower image is courtesy of Lyon Part Dieu Train Station – Image Results.

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An update – Stevenson Trail “REST of the Way…”

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Is this what we’ll see, hiking into Saint-Jean-du-Gard after 15 days on the GR 70 in France?

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October 12, 2023 – My last post said I’d add updates – to that September 10 post – as I hiked the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, in France. But alas, I never got the chance. The days were just too hectic, the “free” French WiFi was iffy at best, and most days it was enough just to shower, wash that day’s clothes for the next day, and get a good meal – at the end of the day. I also said I’d put those updates between two sets of asterisks (below), which is what I’ll do now, now that I’m back home in God’s Country, safe and sound. (As this first week back moves along. It’s taking some time to get over the jet lag and get back up to speed, like understanding what people around me are saying…)

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September 10, 2023 – In my last post, Stevenson Trail – from Le Puy to La Bastide-Puylaurent, I wrote about my upcoming trip to France, to Hike the GR70. (The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, described in his 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) There I wrote about the first half of the hike. I wanted to do a second post to cover the rest, but alas, the time for doing that has run out: Today’s the day. Meaning later this evening I’ll be on my way, leaving the ATL on a red-eye flight. (And getting to Paris early Monday morning.)

The thing is, while I’m in France I’ll only have a tablet, not a laptop. With every thing I can call my own for a month supposedly weighing 15 pounds or less, all in one pack. So finishing another post while overseas will be problematic to say the least. So I’ll try this: Write up this post beforehand, then update it as I hike the Trail. (After enjoying Paris and Lyon.)

Then I’ll put in updates “on the road,” between these two sets of asterisks:

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And now for the delayed updates: For starters, I’ll have to update the Trail – from Le Puy to La Bastide-Puylaurent – my next-to-last post – in the post or posts I’ll do next. For one thing, the journey from Le Puy – pronounced “Le Pew,” as in Pepé Le Pew – down to Bastide turned out a bit different than anticipated. Different details, adventures and fill-in-the-blanks kind of stuff.

Like our first day’s hike on Sunday, September 17. We got to in Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille only to find the whole town closed for the night. Which made it the first of several “beerless nights.” (See the note below on my definition of a Camino hike.) And we did end up days later at Camping Nature Beyond the Clouds, “located on a volcanic plateau at an altitude of 1100m [3,600 feet] with an unobstructed view of all horizons.” That was the first of several “Kamping Kabins,” of the type featured at KOA Kampgrounds back in the states. But we had to wait until the next morning to see the low-lying clouds in the valley below to see why it got that name.

But mostly I remember rocks. Lots of rocks, strewn in, around and across the paths. And I remember thinking to myself, quite often during the early days of the hike, “If you fall, fall backwards. The pack will cushion you.” On that note I only slipped and fell two times, both on the last day. The second time possibly because I was in a hurry to get to the final destination. But the first time happened because of a particularly moist and misty early morning dew. It collected on some slick, shale-like rock, which made my left foot slip as I tried to climb up and over this particular rock… And I fell to the left, tweaking my left ankle.

I walked gingerly on it the rest of that day and well into the rest-day that followed.

But to do justice to the journey I really need to devote at least two more posts on it. Meaning, “so much for my experiment of thinking I could post updates while on an actual ‘Camino hike.’” Which I define as a hike where you don’t have to pack a tent, sleeping bag and all your food. Instead, at the end of each day you look forward to a room with a warm bed, hot shower and cold beer. And which also means it’s time to get back to the original post, which will cover me until I can get over my jet lag and back to my at-home rhythm. And share some of the inspirational lessons I learned along the way. After all, this Stevenson Trail hike was a pilgrimage:

A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life

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Returning to the original September 10 post: So stay tuned! Meanwhile, for a preview of those last 50 miles I checked Robert Louis Stevenson Trail – Enlightened Traveller®. Here are the highlights. From La Bastide-Puylaurent, we climb to “Chambonnet Plateau, cross the Atlantic-Mediterranean watershed, and head down valley to picture-postcard Chasseradès.” (And enter “Cévennes proper,” to which the terms “rugged” and “mountainous” aptly apply.)

Then comes a memorable climb to Mont Lozère and Le Pic de Finiels, the highest point in south-central France. “A short and relatively-steep descent is followed by a gentle hike to Finiels. Then follow a picturesque trail into Camisard Country and Le Pont de Montvert.” Heading to Florac we’re supposed to see “memorable views over the ‘blue waves’ of the Cevennes hills,” with alternate views of Mediterranean and Alpine flora, “and back again.”

In the “steep-sided, red rock” Mimente Valley we’ll pass by “menhirs and chestnut groves, the traditional staff of life in the Cevennes.” Which leads to the end of the trip, at Saint-Jean-du-Gard. (After hiking up the Corniche des Cevennes, said to offer 360-degree “last-gasp photos.” See also Cévennes – Wikipedia: “The Corniche des Cévennes (the D 907) is a spectacular road between St-Jean-Gard and Florac. [Or vice-versa.) It was constructed at the beginning of the 18th century to enable the movement of Louis XIV’s troops during his conflict with the Camisards.”)

Anyway, Stevenson reached the town on October 3, 1878. We will reach it – if all goes according to plan – on October 3, 2023. 145 years to the day after Stevenson ended his journey. And sold his faithful donkey Modestine, then took a stagecoach to Alès. We will take a day off from our hikes. (Of four, six and five days hiking in a row, with two days off in between.) Then take a train to Ales, and from there head back to Paris and on home to the States.

In the meantime, if you’re interested check out Walking the GR70 Chemin de Stevenson – I Love Walking In France. I listed some of my own reasons for doing such hikes in prior posts, but mostly I do it for the adventure. And the challenge, and to get away from the rut of ordinary, everyday life. But I’ll probably add more reasons, while I’m hiking, in those updates from France. (Between the two sets of asterisks above.) In the meantime, wish me Happy Hiking!

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The hiking was mostly happy, but challenging, as I hope to detail in future posts. (While also commenting on upcoming Feast days, like October 18’s remembering St. Luke – physician, historian, artist. See also On Saints Luke, and James of Jerusalem – 2021.) The food was great, as were the many spectacular views from the tops of all those hills in the Cevennes. Which is another way of saying I’m still looking for an answer for people who ask, “Why would anyone want to do that?

The upper image is courtesy of St Jean Du Gard France – Image Results.

The lower image is courtesy of Pilgrimage – Image Resultswhich led me to Why the Oldest Form of Travel Could Be the Most Popular in a Post=COVID World: “Pilgrimages are the oldest form of travel,” from the start to go to shrines or temples and leave offerings, and/or connect to God or ancestors. Also defined as a “hyper-meaningful journey” or “sacred endeaver,” making it different from regular forms of travel or leisure; “it is the meaning or transformation that occurs.”

One pilgrimage that has exploded is the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes in Europe. There are many pathways, but one of the main pathways is the Camino Frances, which is a trail that goes from France to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Santiago, Spain. 

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The Stevenson Trail – from Le Puy to La Bastide-Puylaurent

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A view of Le Puy-en-Velay
Le Puy en Velay, where “we” begin a 15-day, 150-mile hike on the Stevenson Trail, in France…

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After my last-post rueful meditation on a possible second Trump term, it’s time I turned back to some fun stuff. Like Walking the GR70. (The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, described in his book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) For starters, I’ll meet up with my two hiking companions in Le Puy-en-Velay. (After two days in Paris and two days in Lyon.) Then, after a day spent in Le Puy we’ll start the hike, about which I’ve done some research.

One site said that for the first few days after leaving Le Puy en Velay, “the GR 70 passes through forests and farmlands and the countryside appears deceptively gentle (although your leg muscles will likely disagree!). This is quintessential rural France.” But then, days later, “As the path approaches Mont-Lozère and climbs Col de Finiels (the highest point on the walk), the vegetation – and the livestock – disappears.” Tall rock formations line the edge of the trail and “during the walking season, the path is open and exposed to fierce sunshine and biting winds.”

But that comes after 50 miles of hiking, and 26 miles after Langogne, of which more later.

Then, 16 miles after climbing Col de Finiels, we come to Cévennes National Park. Of which another site said: “Continuing south to the Cévennes National Park, the GR 70 returns to the shelter of the forest with occasional glimpses through the trees to the wooded hills beyond. As you conquer each ridge, you’ll be richly rewarded with panoramic views of a landscape that appears to have been untouched for millennia.” Something to look forward to.

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Our first night after Le Puy is in Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille. That’s where Stevenson met an old man, “Father Adam,” and bought Modestine. He needed a donkey to “carry his sleeping pack, food supplies and other essentials needed for his journey.” When we hike into that town we should first pass by “Le Modestine,” an eatery, then a bit further “Bar Snack le Stevenson.”

After leaving Le Monastier we “commence with a short and relatively steep descent into the Upper Loire Valley. Then climb over 400 metres, through charming hamlets and across volcanic plateau.” On the trail to Pradelles – one of France’s “most beautiful villages” – the ascents and descents are less steep, but the trail is “far from flat… Climb to the volcanic plateau from the Arquejol Viaduct before descending through forest to the granite ‘City of the High Prairies.'”

Whatever that is. Maybe the “camping beyond the clouds,” below.

Which leads to a side note: Some addresses on my brother’s spreadsheet are hard to find on Google Maps. Like, on leaving Le Monastier we hike 11.5 miles to some place I couldn’t find. (Which is why they call such activities “exploring.”) I’m thinking we end up in Landos, on the trail from Le Monastier to Longogne, of which more later. From there we hike 11 miles and end up at Camping Nature Beyond the Clouds. (So named because it’s “located on a volcanic plateau at an altitude of 1100m [3,600 feet] with an unobstructed view of all horizons.”)

And it’s still 35 miles before we get to climb the Col de Finiels.

So anyway, after “Camping Beyond the Clouds” we hike 9.5 miles to a place on Route de Brugeyrolles, in Langogne. Google Maps shows two routes, the shortest 10.2 miles. (The spreadsheet says 9.5 miles.) Either way, we take our first day off there.

In his book Stevenson described the countryside “but nothing on the town itself,” even though it was the largest town on his route. And speaking of Langogne, I mentioned it in last May’s Gearing up for the Stevenson Trail. I ended the post noting the “infamous Beast of Gévaudan.” The Beast was said to be a “man-eating ogre” prowling the area of Langogne. (“It” first attacked a young woman tending cattle in the Mercoire Forest near Langogne, in the early summer of 1764.) I said I definitely needed to do “more research on that topic.”

Here’s what I learned. Stevenson mentioned it in “Camp in the Dark,” in his Travels. It turns out the Beast terrorized the province of Gévaudan, which we pass through. But as it also turns out, it was apparently shot and killed by a local hunter, Jean Chastel, in 1767. The killings stopped after that. On the other hand, one theory said the attacks were really caused by wolves:

Attacks by wolves were a very serious problem during the era, not only in France but throughout Europe, with thousands of deaths attributed to wolves in the 18th century alone. In the spring of 1765, in the midst of the Gévaudan hysteria, an unrelated series of attacks occurred near the commune of Soissons, northeast of Paris, when an individual wolf killed at least four people over a period of two days before being tracked and killed by a man armed with a pitchfork. Such incidents were fairly typical in rural parts of western and central Europe.

One site said on leaving Langogne we pass through “forest and charming hamlet en route to the medieval village,” Cheylard-l’Évêque, where we’ll spend Friday night. (After hiking 10.5 miles.) From there we go off the trail, the 11.8 miles to Saint-Étienne-de-Lugdarès. (Arriving Saturday afternoon, we hope.) On Sunday we hike a long 13.8 miles to La Bastide-Puylaurent.

Stevenson stayed at a Trappist monastery a mile and a half east of town. He described his stay at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges – “Our Lady of the Snows” – in a chapter of the same name. Nearing it he described the weather as desolate and inclement, and that he experienced a “slavish, superstitious fear.” (For one thing, places to stay were much harder to find back then; thus his “camping”) Aside from the monks – generally sworn to a vow of silence – he encountered only two other boarders, retraitants. (A word that can mean “retreater,” retiree or pensioner.)

One was a country parish priest, the other a retired “old soldier.” (He first came as a boarder, then decided to stay on as a novitiate.) At supper the first night the talk turned to politics, which led to a brief flareup. Next morning over coffee they “found out I was a heretic.” (In his 20’s he rejected Christianity and declared himself an atheist.) What followed? “Now the hunt was up.” He tried to defend himself but got instead a long lecture on the “harrowing details of hell.” The haranguing went on until finally Stevenson protested against “this uncivil usage.” That led to a comment that the two had “no other feeling but interest in your soul.” All of which is a reminder: “Never discuss politics, religion or the Great Pumpkin” with people you don’t know.

With that comment, “there ended my conversion.” Stevenson waited until after supper to saddle up Modestine and set off for Chasseradès. That’s a former commune – which merged with Mont Lozère et Goulet in 2017 – some six miles southwest of Le Bastide. And we too will stop at Chasserades, on our way to Le Bleymard, after a “mere” 8.2 mile hike.

I’ll cover that “rest of the hike” in my next post, which I hope will be before I leave for Paris.

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undefined
Abbey of Notre-Dame des Neiges, where “retraitants” tried to save RLS‘s soul…

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The full link of the first source: Walking the GR70 Chemin de Stevenson – I Love Walking In France. See also Robert Louis Stevenson Trail GR70 – The Enlightened Traveller®. Both reviewers sometimes took different routes than those on our itinerary, so I’ll have to fill in those details in my After action report. (Compare that with an After-action review.)

For the “Great Pumpkin,” see Never Discuss Politics, Religion or the Great Pumpkin (ABC News):

Consider Linus, never without his blanket, as he philosophizes: ‘There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin…” [In discussing] the difference between believing in Santa Claus and believing in the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown observes, “We are obviously separated by denominational differences.”

(BTW: In Mont Lozère et Goulet we’ll still be 12.3 miles north of Col de Finiels.)

The lower image is courtesy of Abbey of Notre-Dame des Neiges – Wikipedia.

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On a second Trump term…

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John Henry Fuseli - The NightmareFXD.jpg
To many Americans, the thought of a second Trump term as president is a true nightmare

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A head’s up. The punchline for the headline above would be, “At least it wouldn’t be as bad as living in Russia!” That’s the impression I got after starting to read my latest Arkady Renko novel. (Tatiana, one of a series of “life in Russia” novels by Martin Cruz Smith.) There’s more on dealing with a possible second Trump term as president below, but first a word about those Renko novels. They really make me appreciate living in the United States.

I started off years ago reading Gorky Park, the book. Then watched the 1983 film, twice. (With William Hurt as Arkady, along with Lee Marvin and Brian Dennehy). I later bought the DVD and watched it a few more times. (A depressing but fascinating look at life in Russia as it used to be.) The book came out in 1981, the film in 1983, which gives an idea how far back my attachment goes. Some time later I bought the book Polar Star. (Published in 1989.) More on that later.

Then a few days ago, I passed through the Large Print section of a local library. I came across another Renko novel, Tatiana, published in 2013. It tells of Renko having survived “the cultural journey from the Soviet Union to the New Russia, only to find the nation as obsessed with secrecy and brutality as was the old Communist regime.” Apparently things hadn’t changed much.

Which brings us back to a “maybe second Trump:” I must confess – I “do not deny, but confess” – to some sleepless nights about that. Sleepless nights at the thought of him winning the 2024 presidential election. To be sure, that seems far-fetched at this point. Or maybe not. The point is, with a second Trump term America might start looking more like Arkady Renko’s Russia.

Death threats, reporters disappearing, broken legs, riots. At least that’s what some think…

Many Republicans say Trump can’t win, but there are those national polls. Polls showing that even with his baggage and indictments, Trump is running neck and neck with President Biden. And it’s virtually certain he’ll be the Republican nominee. So the choice will be him, or one person running against him. (Not to mention the nightmare possibility of a third-party candidate forcing the election into the House of Representatives.*) And for some reason President Biden remains unpopular. (“Why?”) One recent poll showed him with a 41.2 percent approval rating but a 54.9 percent disapproval rating. All of which means Trump has theoretic 50-50 shot at re-election.

For a bit of comfort, there’s the poll saying 53% of US voters say they wouldn’t vote for Trump. (Another poll puts that figure at a whopping 64% of Americans. “53% of Americans said they ‘definitely’ would not support him and another 11% said they ‘probably’ would not support him.) Still, the best policy seems to be hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Which I explored, in a way, in an August 2019 post, On “why it might be better…” (Gasp!)

The “gasp” was for the idea that it might have been better if Trump had won back in 2020. (You know, without inciting the January 6 riot and shredding the Constitution.) For one thing, in the years between 2020 and 2024, if he lost, “he might just wreak more havoc to American democracy than he could as president.” Which has certainly been true. He lost, but still manages to wreak havoc to American democracy. The flip side? Massive Trump Fatigue.

At any rate, I asked – back in August 2019 – if it wouldn’t be “better to get it over with?” To look forward to getting rid of Trump once and for all, in 2024? Then too, if he did get re-elected in 2020, he would immediately become a Lame Duck. Such politicians – not eligible to run again – often “lose their credibility and influence” on fellow politicians. Also, “Projects uncompleted may fall to the wayside as their influence is greatly diminished.” (Like “building a wall?”)

On the other hand, since a lame duck president doesn’t need to worry about being re-elected, he can focus more on leaving a a good legacy. (He doesn’t have to worry about “catering to his wacko base.”) One example from history was Ronald Reagan. When he got elected to a second term he signed an arms control treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, “despite his opposition to arms control” during his first term. He changed his hardline stance.

Another example was P.T. Barnum. Famous for saying “there’s a sucker born every minute” – as a circus entrepreneur, if not shyster – he later ran for public office. Surprise of surprises, he became a humane, effective and ethical politician. He served two terms in the Connecticut legislature in 1865, as a Republican. On the subject of slavery and blacks voting…

Barnum spoke before the legislature and said, “A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit.”

From there he got elected Mayor of Bridgeport, CT in 1875, and “worked to improve the water supply, bring gas lighting to streets, and enforce liquor and prostitution laws.”  And he was instrumental in starting Bridgeport Hospital in 1878, becoming its first president.

Like I said, surprise of surprises. And it’s possible – though I wouldn’t bet the farm on it – that something like that might happen if Trump gets re-elected. Still, even if he did get re-elected things here will still be better than living in Russia. As shown by those Arkady Renko novels.

The thing that first impressed me about Renko was his ability to survive. For example, in Gorky Park he starts out as a dogged – if not quite respected – Moscow homicide investigator. Respected in a sense as the son of famous World War Two General, Stalin‘s Favorite General celebrated as “The Butcher of Ukraine.” But dogged in the sense that he’s made an enemy of the KGB. He “exposes corruption and dishonesty on the part of influential and well-protected members of the elite, regardless of the consequences.”

One such consequence? His partner is shot to death by members of the KGB, during the investigation into three mutilated bodies, found in the aforementioned Gorky Park. (Like Dirty Harry, whose on-screen partners “were famously short-lived,” it can be fatal to be close to Renko.)

Also in that first novel he gets betrayed by the man he trusts and works for, the powerful prosecutor Iamskoy. Iamskoy is really secretly working with Jack Osborne. (A corrupt and corrupting American played to perfection by Lee Marvin.) Renko ends up killing Iamskoy and Osborne’s henchman, but suffers a near-fatal stomach wound. He “recuperates” – in a KGB-run asylum – where he is regularly interrogated, and given various injections to make him talk. (Or just for the pure pleasure of watching him squirm.) State doctors “diagnose” him with Pathoheterodoxy Syndrome, “a fictional mental illness” symptomized by misguided arrogance. A side note, while the syndrome is fictional, “the incident also alludes to the very real Soviet practice of diagnosing dissidents with ‘sluggish schizophrenia,’ and of forcibly treating them with psychotropic drugs.”

He eventually escapes, miraculously, but is forced to flee ever-eastward, to Siberia, staying just one step ahead of the KGB. (The farther east he goes, the fewer thugs get dispatched to hunt him down). In Polar Star, Renko reaches the end of his rope, literally and metaphorically.

After uncovering corruption in high places (in Gorky Park), Renko is dismissed from his job as a Moscow police investigator and is forced to accept a variety of menial jobs in remote parts of the Soviet Union. [Like Siberia.] Finally, he finds himself gutting fish on a factory ship in the Bering Sea, in part to hide from the KGB, who have tried to kill him. 

Then there’s a murder on board. Renko is forced – reluctantly – to investigate, but his insistence on learning the truth, “rather than allowing her murder to be covered up as a suicide,” earns him more death threats, by the on-board KGB stooge and all but one or two other workers. But like I said, he manages to survive, in very trying circumstances.

Like we might find useful, if there is a second Trump term.

But from Polar Star we move on to Tatiana, which lists some of his miraculous escapes.

[Renko’s doctor had – so far – treated him] for a gunshot wound, a bullet to the brain that should have killed him and would have if the round had not been degraded by time. Instead of plowing a causeway through Arkady’s head, bits had lodged between the skull and the covering of the brain, and caused bleeding enough to justify drilling drain holes and lifting the lid of his head.” Because of all that the doctor had “taken a proprietary interest in his health.”

And that’s not to mention the stabbing-by-ice pick in Gorky Park, in a virtual cesspool of a Moscow fountain that got him taken to the KGB-run “asylum.” Where a series of “treatments” like painful spinal injections got him diagnosed with “Pathoheterodoxy Syndrome.”

But as interesting as the Tatiana novel has been – so far as I’ve gotten – it’s Polar Star that’s been the more interesting. Mostly because in it, Renko’s world has been turned upside down. Like America will be if Trump gets re-elected in 2024.

As a respected Moscow homicide detective, Renko had long been “on top.” And sent many men to prison. In Polar Star, one of them, Karp Korobetz, is now a Top Dog. A highly respected trawl master, and a favorite of the captain and crew alike. And he swears to kill Renko in revenge. “You’ll never get off this ship alive.” Renko on the other hand is now among the onboard lowest of the low. He works on the slime line, in the lowest bowels of the ship. But survive he does, with tricks and techniques we might all need to learn, possibly starting on Election Day, 2024.

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Well, I did try to link up those Renko novels to how a second Trump terms as president could still be tolerable. Or at least better than living in Russia!

But at this point – still thrashing around more of Arkady’s hair-breadth escapes – I haven’t made much progress. And this post has gone on far too long. I’m still stuck in the middle of Tatiana, but have to confess, I just took a sneak peek at the last chapter. And learned that most of the novel’s good people survive. They too “made it through to the other side.”

Which I guess is as good a metaphor as any to wrap up this post. If we can sneak a look at America, once Trump is out of the way for good – one way or another – we’ll see that things turn out okay as well. There may be a blood bath (hopefully metaphoric) if he gets re-elected. And lots of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. But in the end we’ve gotten through worse, and will again. Then too, since we’ve gone through one Trump term, we’ve built up a certain Herd immunity. An indirect protection; “Once the herd immunity has been reached, disease gradually disappears from a population and may result in eradication or permanent reduction.”

Here’s hoping all that happens without a second Trump term.

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Some good advice, through a quote from Benjamin Disraeli.

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The upper image is courtesy of The Nightmare – Wikipedia. “‘The Nightmare‘ is a 1781 oil painting by Swiss artist Henry Fuseli. It shows a woman in deep sleep with her arms thrown below her, and with a demonic and ape-like incubus crouched on her chest.”

On the Arkady books, see for example Arkady Renko – Book Series In Order. References to “Tatiana” are from the Center Point Large Print edition, Thorndike, Maine, 2014. Page 63 details Arkady’s doctor listing his various bullet wounds. At page 119, Tatiana, speaking on tape, says Russia is and has always been a “drunken bear.” Sometimes, curled in another corner is such a journalist as Tatiana, whose arms and legs have been systematically broken:

The thugs who do such work are meticulous. We don’t have to go to Chechnya to find such men. We recruit them and train them and call them patriots. And when they find an honest journalist, they let the bear loose… Sooner or later, I will be poisoned or nudged off a cliff or shot by a stranger…

Pages 127-129 tells of Renko’s wife Irina, his love-hate interest in Gorky Park, dying trying to get an antibiotic for a minor infection. From a “local polyclinic.” She is highly allergic to penicillin, which is just what she got thanks to an inattentive nurse. And the incompetent doctor could have saved her with a counter-injection of adrenaline, but “snapped off the key to the pharmacy cabinet, sealing her fate.”

Pages 157-58 tell of a thug trying to get Tatiana’s indecipherable notebook. He traps Renko in a barge ballast. A large concrete pad squeezes him, gently at first, as he is “laid out like a canape … in effect, entombed with less room than a coffin.” The thug – Alexi – keeps lowering the concrete ballast and Renko wonders, “what would be crushed first, rib cage or skull?” Then the thug’s pug, a pet dog, discovers Renko “and crawled up his chest to lick his face.” When Alexi reaches in to get the dog, Renko grabs his arm and dislocates Alexi’s shoulder, in desperation.

Like I said, Renko has an uncanny ability to survive.

Re: “Forcing the election into the House of Representatives.” For example, if a third-party candidate got enough Electoral College votes to deny both Trump and Biden the 270 needed to win.

Biden popularity. See How Popular Is Joe Biden? | FiveThirtyEight, Joe Biden’s approval rating compared to Trump rings alarm bells, or Why Is Joe Biden So Unpopular? – U.S. News & World Report:

On paper, the Biden administration has racked up some impressive achievements: more than 6 million new jobs were created, a single-year record. Unemployment dropped from 6.2% to 3.9%, another single-year first. Childhood poverty and hunger are down while average wages went up. Biden has the first majority non-white Cabinet in history and presides over the most diverse administration in history. He passed a massive COVID-19 relief bill and an expansive infrastructure package many previous presidents tried and failed to achieve.

On the other hand, “A Quinnipiac University poll from August echoed the NBC results, with 34% of registered voters viewing Trump favorably and 57% viewing him unfavorably.” Compare that with Biden’s 41.2 percent approval and “only” 54.9 percent disapproval rating. That gives Biden a 7.2 percent lead in approval and shows that Trump is 2.1 percent “more unpopular.” See Donald Trump is(still) very unpopular | CNN Politics, which added, “Usually, presidents’ poll numbers begin to improve once they leave office – as people tend to remember the good things about their tenure and forget the bad stuff as time passes. That hasn’t happened for Trump,” for reasons including that “January 6 was such a cataclysm that people haven’t forgotten it.” Which may help me not have so many nightmares. See also Trump Is Least Popular President in the History of Gallup, and Trump’s ‘MAGA movement’ widely unpopular, new poll finds.

Another note: Last May I posted On those slow-grinding wheels of justice, which in turn cited the June 2018 post, “The rope has to tighten SLOWLY.” The 2023 post asked “Did they have to grind this slow?” Citing the May 2023 jury verdict finding him Liable for Sexual Abuse and Defamation. But it seems that finally things are heating up for him, and not in a good way.

On Trump fatigue. The link is to No One Wants to Think About Donald Trump Anymore, Experts Say. The article noted that for one thing, the “disinterest in Trump’s recent indictments are part of a broader ‘psychosis’ Americans feel about his overall behavior:”

…people are tired of hearing about Trump’s actions and have been for several years. “A part of the reason Trump lost the 2020 election is people were tired of it,” Carter said, referring to Trump’s continuous scandals. “It’s exhausting, for journalists and the public to be constantly having this guy living in their minds.”

(The “Carter” in question was Jared Carter, Vermont Law and Graduate School law professor.)

I borrowed some P.T. Barnum information from On that OTHER “Teflon Don.” (March 2016.)

Re: Dirty Harry and his partners. See Every Dirty Harry Partner (& Who Survived Their Films).

Re: “Blood bath.” Referring to “a very bad situation in which a lot of harm or damage is caused.” (BLOODBATH | English meaning – Cambridge Dictionary.)

The lower image is courtesy of Hope For The Best Prepare For The Worst – Image Results. See also Benjamin Disraeli – Wikipedia.

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