Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday's Millinery Musing - France on Foot - part 1

By guest blogger Jennifer

In 1999 a friend at work dropped a book on Dave's desk and said. "You and Jennifer should do this." The book was France on Foot by Bruce LeFavour. It completely changed our view of what a vacation could be. It changed us.

We bravely ventured forth in 2000, armed with our map 903, France Grande Randonee or France Long Distance Walking Paths. This map traces nearly 37,000 miles of trails in France alone, and as Le Favour points out this is more than one and a half times the distance around the world at the equator.

The French trail system was established in the 1930's by the FFRP(translation: French Long Distance Walking Federation). This group of activists along with other individuals and preservation organizations were concerned because the paths, which had always been  open to everyone, had fallen into decline and were being swallowed up by the automobile and modern agriculture. In 1999 there were about 6,000 volunteers who did the hard work of maintaining these trails. The trails are not only maintained, they are meticulously mapped in the IGN Serie Bleue maps.

We have never rented a car in France. We fly into Paris, take the metro from the airport to one of the train stations, and a train to the area where we want to walk. To avoid the highways and traffic we take a taxi to the trailhead. This always entertains the taxi driver who invariably gives us outstanding recommendations for local restaurants, wines, and on occasion, excellent recipes. He basically drops us in the middle of nowhere, waves cheerily and shouts, "Bon Courage!" We love that. It's always the same.

At this point we are out of touch for several weeks. We carry everything we need in backpacks. We have maps and a compass.

Once we are within the trail system we can walk locally or regionally. The pleasures of walking through the French countryside are infinite whether it is through the lovely villages, vineyards or forests. We rarely see other hikers. Dave walks faster than I do so we are often far apart, meeting up several times a day. On the silent path one can hear the cuckoos in the forests, pick wood violets and wild geraniums, and hear the sound of ones own breath and footsteps. It is deeply relaxing.

We are often asked why we don't ride bikes instead of walk, we could cover more ground, get to places more quickly etc. For us it's too fast. Life whizzes by on a bike. When we walk we can really see where we are and an intimacy with the countryside develops. It is a friendship that is slow and welcoming with not only the land but with the weather and bird life.

At the end of the day there is always a good meal and a real bed. You may be wondering, "Where do you sleep?"  Stay tuned!

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