Meanwhile I made the most of the afternoon to visit Moissac's great draw card: the closters of St Peter's Abbey. This is said to be the oldest cloister in the world, founded in 1100. Capitals were carved in limestone and columns made of marble. There are 46 of these decorated capitals, with biblical scenes or intricate leaf designs.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
A little blue (free) bus transported me from near the hotel to the train station. The journey, with a long change at Montauban and another short one at Agen, was uneventful; raining as usual! On arrival in Moissac, I soon found my accommodation just across the road from the station: the Gite Ultreia, well known in Camino circles because the owners are Irish with a reputation for the warmth of their hospitality. Sure enough, Rom Bates was most helpful, advising me to go straight back to the station to try and book my onward travel. Train strikes are due in France for the next two days. I have managed to book the replacement bus to Toulouse at 8.30 tomorrow, but I may have to continue travelling and not stay in Toulouse as planned. This means I lose the chance to see St Sernin Basilica. We'll have to see what happens!
Monday, May 30, 2016
Dinner at La Chartreuse Hotel:
Beautiful pate de foie gras
Confit of duck
Rocamadour goats cheese w. salad
There was a system of trying a great selection of regional wines that were open on a barrel in the centre of the dining room. All of the reds were Malbec, which is a really strong and tannin rich wine (not really to my taste, even though I tried many of them!).
Info about Malbec wine:
Mediterranean influence allows grapes to ripen. In Cahors, Malbec is called ‘Cot’ and in the Middle Ages it was called “black wine” for its deep, purple-ebony hue.
It is a household name thanks to Argentina, but it still has a foothold in southwest France where it originated. Same grape, two very different wines. A Malbec from Argentina tends to be plummy and fruit-forward, with a velvety soft texture. In France, Malbec tends to have more structure, firmer tannins, and an inky dark, brooding quality.
Wines to try
Pate de foie gras
Confit of duck
Earlier in the afternoon I had visited the Cathedral of St Etienne:
One of two large cupolas
Tympanum from mid 12 th century, showing ascension of Christ and the martyrdom of St Stephen
Bus to Cahors 10.40 €
Beer 4.60 €
Demi pension at La Chartreuse 119.45 €
The bus left Figeac at 9.50 and took 1.5 hours. It was a large tour bus, too big for the narrow winding country road, and only a handful of passengers. We followed the river on our left all the way; it was brown and swollen with the recent rains. On the right of the road were overhanging cliffs, with occasional tunnels. I sat behind the driver and tried to take photos. I knew we would be passing St Cirque de Popie, a famous beauty spot across the river, and just managed to get a photo before the heavens opened with the first of several downpours.
From the bus
Entering a tunnel
St Cirque high on the cliff across the river
We finally arrived at Cahors train station, so I went straight away to book a ticket to Moissac for tomorrow. I then had to find my hotel, La Chartreuse, which was some way off.
Cahors is built inside a big meander on the river, a good defensive position occupied since Roman times, when it was known as Divona. The town is best known for its fortified medieval bridge (1306-80), with its three towers: the Valontre Bridge.
It was a big magnet for tourists, including a big group of Spaniards.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
After lunch I went to see the Heritage Museum, a freebie depicting the history of the town. Not a word in English, so I had to study each section carefully to find out the gist of things. There was a lot on window styles through the ages, as these help to date buildings (though out on the street it is difficult to know what is original and what has been restored).
Poster about the exhibition
Display about the invention of metal aircraft propellers
In Figeac there is also a Resistance Museum, but I could only look through the windows since it's closed on Sundays. Figeac was a centre for resistance to the Nazis; in one fell swoop 145 members of the Resistance were shipped off to Dachau.
Some other Figeac pics follow;
Half timbered house
Typical narrow street
View over the town from Church of Le Puy (closed this a.m. because everyone was at the other one)
More info from museum:
1309 F received right to produce coins
Merchants traded in:
Pepper, cardamom, swords of Toledo, camphor, indigo, sandalwood, woollen cloth, dried fish, ostrich feathers and ostrich eggs, cochineal.....
2 nights at Le Pont d'Or plus breakfasts 287€
Supermarket shopping for dinner on Sat and lunches (incl ready made couscous, avocado and half bottle of red) 13€
Museum entry 5€
Pizza on Sunday night, with wine, and Creme brûlée 21€
Raining cats and dogs this morning, so I dawdled over breakfast. There was both a machine for squeezing oranges and another for boiling your own egg to perfection. Why not?
Eventually I had to go out in full wet gear. It was hard trying to take photos, juggling with my umbrella to try and keep my iPhone dry. Eventually I found my way to St Savior's Church, which had a capacity crowd this morning. There was a duet (guitar and female singer) entertaining the congregation with catchy modern music, and a line of kids waiting for their confirmation and first communion. Afterwards they were all given a rose to present to their mother, since today is Mothers Day in France. The priest then took his microphone around and let these kids say something. It was a popular move with all the proud parents. For me, it was very entertaining and better than a Sunday morning in the rain. As I came out, a man asked me if I could recommend a good restaurant. Do I look like a local? Anyway, I have been to mass like any good pilgrim!
Saturday, May 28, 2016
I had a stroke of luck this morning: I was sitting outside the Tourist Office, using their free wi fi, when a Figeac minibus pulled up outside and two French ladies emerged. I saw my chance to get to Figeac right away at 10.30 am instead of waiting for the post bus at 1.30 pm. They told me they had paid 65€ for the one hour journey, whereas the post bus was only 20€. I negotiated with the driver for that price. She was going back there after all! She also had to deliver some luggage for pilgrims to Decazeville en route.
It proved to be a really pleasant journey, even though the driver couldn't speak much English. She was a very careful and experienced driver and needed to be as the narrow winding road out of Conques was not for the faint hearted. Worse still was negotiating the way to the Gite outside Decazeville, directly on the Chemin, but up the mountainside to drop off bags. I prayed nothing was coming in the opposite direction! Nothing was !
She dropped me at my hotel in Figeac, the Best Western Pont d'Or, where I had booked a room in comparative luxury for 2 nights. I have a balcony overlooking the river and bridge, plus a bath! Heaven!
After a long luxurious siesta, I walked into town to the Tourist Office to check on transport to Cahors on Monday. Then off to Figeac's most famous museum, in honour of the person who worked out how Egyption hieroglyphics worked. Info below is from the Museum's Guide in English:
Champollion (1790-1832) born here. Father was a bookseller. Moved to Grenoble and studied there before going to Paris to the school of Oriental languages, where he studied many languages and writing systems. In 1822 he discovered the key to the system of Egyptian writing.
His work, deciphering hieroglyphics led to the study of Egyptology. He undertook research into the numerous gods venerated by the ancient Egyptians. His experdition to the Nile Valley revealed the nature of their buildings and their role in the religious and political life of ancient Egypt.
Portrait of Champollion
Some of his work
Replica of Rosetta Stone full size, spoilt by camera flash
All this info is for JL's benefit, as I'm here to look at early medieval architecture not Egyptian stuff!!
Strolling round the town afterwards was a treat: lots of metchant's houses unchanged through the centuries. The restaurants were packed on a Saturday lunchtime and spilling out onto the squares. I caught the tail end of a market and bought some fruit (non existent in Conques) - cherries and apricots, plus a lump of cheese for my lunch.
Cheese stall in market
Tourist train, mainly carrying a brass band dressed in red and yellow. They started to play when held up in traffic from the market, to everyone's amusement.
Friday, May 27, 2016
After walking 206 kms every step of the way, with all its ups and downs, and in all weathers, it's time for a rest! Conques is unbelievably picturesque, with its medieval streets, narrow, winding and cobbled, and is just the spot for weary pilgrims to have some R and R.
This morning is warm and sunny. The crowds have mostly gone on their way. I've just consumed a Tarte aux Pommes from the bakery and am about to go and make a tour of the Abbey Church of St Foy. Background follows:
The original monastery building at Conques was an eighth-century oratory built by monks fleeing the Saracens in Spain. The original chapel was destroyed in the eleventh century in order to facilitate the creation of a much larger church  as the arrival of the relics of St. Foy caused the pilgrimage route to shift from Agen to Conques.The second phase of construction, which was completed by the end of the 11th century, included the building of the five radiating chapels, the ambulatory with a lower roof, the choir without the gallery and the nave without the galleries. The third phase of construction, which was completed early in the twelfth-century, was inspired by the churches of Toulouse and Santiago Compostela. Like most pilgrimage churches Conques is a basilica plan that has been modified into a cruciform plan. Galleries were added over the aisle and the roof was raised over the transept and choir to allow people to circulate at the gallery level. The western aisle was also added to allow for increased pilgrim traffic.The exterior length of the church is 59 meters. The interior length is 56 meters. the width of each transept is 4 meters. The height of the crossing tower is 26.40 meters tall.. (Info from Wikipedia).
More information on this website:
More information on this website:
BTW, my hotel is above a gift shop built right opposite the west door of the church:
View from my window
Early morning view from my window
Charmaine and Tim, the Australian couple I'd met en route, and had dinner with again last night
Having "done" the Church and its Treasury, here are a few more photos of the day:
Afternoon photo of view from my window lying in bed after my siesta
Looking down the aisle towards the altar
East end of the church
Reliquary of Pepin in the Treasury, back and front
Illuminated manuscript "Song of St Foy"
Christ in majesty in the centre; bottom left "goodies" being welcomed into Heaven; bottom right "baddies" going to Hell
Bottom: sinners suffering greatly in Hell
Feeling very lazy this afternoon after my comprehensive exploration of the Church, I had a long siesta with my shutters tightly closed against the chattering mob below. Then I went for a beer at the Hotel St Jacques, where their wi fi is the best in town, albeit controlled by ever changing passwords. I got into conversation with two men (French and French Canadian) who were volunteers at the large Gite just behind the Church. They agreed to let me have a look round. It was previously the monastery and currently houses 90 pilgrims per day. It is a rabbit warren of a place, with both dorms and private ensuite rooms. (I didn't know about this, or I might have stayed there)
I have booked dinner again at the Hotel St Jacques, tonight on their terrace as it's such a warm evening.
Last night's dinner
Tiny fish pate amuse bouche
Roquefort tart with salad
Fish (maybe cod?)
Mousse with rhubarb
Expenses in Conques
Le Christmo for 2 nights plus a DIY breakfast 153.20€
2 dinners at hotel c. 45€
Goodies from boulangerie for lunch 3.70€
Entry to Treasury 4.50€
Sundry beers and coffees 16 €
Note: everything in this touristy town costs more!
Tomorrow I'm booked on the post bus which takes both luggage and pilgrims, leaving Conques at 1.30 and arriving in Figeac before 4.00. This costs 20€ door to door.
Sitting on the hotel terrace restaurant, one storey above street level: currently 23 degrees at 8.30 pm.