Monday, March 18, 2013

VF Phase 1: Trip Summary

The abbreviated Phase 1 trek
What a interesting and challenging excursion.  The first 120 km of the Via Francigena offered a unique cultural, physical and spiritual experience.  The weather proved to be a formidable obstacle, but who would have expected the prevailing atmosphere in early March to be so hostile?  Lesson learned, but sometimes you just have to do it and not wait for the perfect day, because the perfect day may never arrive.  Although I had ambitiously planned to walk in France until April, I have instead decided to visit Crete where the weather in early Spring is a bit more tolerable.  This has been a looooong winter and I am dying for some sun and warmth.

Several events I found particularly fascinating.  Dining with Benedictine monks at the Abbaye St. Paul, visiting Dover Castle, exploring Canterbury Cathedral, walking around St. Omer, and of course marching through a blizzard in rural France.  

Notre Dame, St. Omer
Arras Belfry
More photos here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wisques to St. Omer: VF-6

Abbey of Saint Bertin, St. Omer
Woke up at the Abbaye St. Paul.
Abbaye St. Paul, Wisques
Hit the road at 7:00.
Looking towards St. Omer from Wisques
Eager to get to St. Omer.  The weather was OK, even the sun was shining.  I first visited the Notre Dame.
Notre-Dame Cathedral, St. Omer
Then I went into the St. Omer Mairie to get my stamp.  When I came out, the sky was black and heavy snow was again falling.  My plan to continue to Therouanne was thwarted. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bainghen to Wisques: VF-5

Abbaye St. Paul, Wisques
I left Bainghen with favorable, ie. no snow or wind, weather.  The 24 km of walking went well, though snow still covered areas of road.

  Went through several small villages including: Fouquesolles, Haute Ville, Quercamps, Boisdinghem, Zudausques and Leulinghem.

 Arrived at Abbaye St. Paul about 1:45.  Waited until 2:30 to ring the bell.  Stumbled through request for accommodation and the man put me in a small waiting room where I sat for 15 minutes.  A monk came in and led me to the chamber #12.  It is a decent room and bed.  After looking at the map and eating a bit of cheese and bread, I took a nap.  Woke up about 6:00 pm.  Decided to attend the evening repas at 7:30.  They ceremonially washed my hands and I sat at the guest table with 3 other elderly men.  The meal consisted of a cream soup flavoured with ginger, a simple cassarole with tomato sauce, a piece of Camembert cheese with lettuce, a piece of bread, and a bananna.  It was satisfying.  I observed the other monks briefly and they seemed normal enough.  One of the guests spoke English and translated a bit for me.  He asked where I was from and I said Germany.  Another man spoke German and asked me what city I lived and I said Cottbus.  I said as little as possible without being rude.  They told me about the 9:30 service.  The German speaking man mentioned something about a piece of paper which I didn't quite understand.  Anyway, I decided to not go to the service.  The French part would have been incomprehensible... So, I planned the day today and went to sleep about 9:30

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bainghen to Licques and back

Fierce winter storm, actually a blizzard, kept me from progressing.  So, I braved the 5 km to Licques to get some supplies for the long walk to Wisques.  Enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Retour aux Sources for another day. 
Road to Licques

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guînes to Bainghen: VF-4

Abbaye Church, Licques
Beginning of an 4 day epic battle with the weather.  Woke up at the La Forge in Guînes.
Aim was Licques about 15km.
Colonne Blanchard, Guines
Started walking at 9:30 from Guînes and it was snowing.  The road to Licques was surreal and quite pleasant.

Arrived in Licques around 12:30 and walked to the campsite that reportedly had chalets open year around.  Well it was closed.  In fact just about everything was closed, including the Abbey/Church.  Went into a cafe next to the church and had a couple of beers.  Asked the proprietor for assistance in finding accommodation.  Fortunately, she had an English speaking friend.  She found a place about 5km away from Licques in a town called Bainghen.  I scored with the Retour aux Sources.  It was super comfortable and perfect shelter from the storm.  Very quiet. 
Bainghen, France

Retour Aux Sources, Bainghen

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Calais to Guînes: VF-3

Hôtel de Ville, Calais
Sunday, March 10
Stayed the night in the Hotel Pacific.
The Burghers of Calais, by Rodin

Walked 12 km to Guînes along the canal. 

Chateau along the canal to Guînes

Church on ancient site, Guînes

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dover to Calais: VF-2
Stayed at the Hubert House.   Went up the hill to Dover Castle and obtained second passport stamp.  Dover Castle is remarkable and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.
The masonry is worth comment as I have never seen such amazing work.  The mortar is reinforced with chinking and the stones all have a unique glassy surface.
(Note: my camera was out of battery, so the above photos are by others)
Toured castle and the Royal Regiment Museum.  The Royal Regiment Museum was very well done.  It was interesting to see how the "American War" was portrayed.  Proudly, it was displayed that the Regiment "won most of the battles against the rebels, but still lost the war..."

Took ferry to Calais.
White Cliffs of Dover from Ferry to Calais

Friday, March 8, 2013

Canterbury to Dover: VF-1

Waldershare Churchyard
Walked the 30 km in heavy rain and through muddy paths.
Patrixbourne Church
Sheperdswell Church
Waldershare House
Including the Roman road, that incidentally was not paved as I had optimistically conceived, but was rather a series of muddy and water filled trenches.  The last 5k was a tough slog.     Lovely English weather.  The final approach through the valley at Charlton Cemetery into Dover was strangely mystical as the steep hills appeared through the fog and rain.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cottbus to Canterbury: VF-0

Stained Glass of Sigeric, Canterbury
Thursday, March 7 I have arrived in Canterbury.  Started at 6:00 am by walking the 1k to the Hauptbahnhof with my loaded pack to get a feel for my burden.  Felt light and comfortable as it should.  Took the 7:00 train and arrived at Schönefeld at 8:40.  Dealt with the usual airport hassle and boarded the plane at 10:30.  Short flight to London Luton.  Picked up my train ticket and found the shuttle bus to the train station.  Arrived at 12:30.  Boarded the train to Brighton at 12:55.  Changed trains at London Bridge at 2:00.   Saw the completed alien-formed monstrosity called "The Shard" briefly.  It just hurt my eyes to look at it.  Say no more, but I think that the corrupted city planners really put the cart before the horse...

Took the 'Split train' to Ramsgate (8 car train that separates at Ashford into 2 4 car segments, so you have to know where to sit).  Arrived in Canterbury West around
3:00.  Found my accommodation, The Pilgrim's Hotel, and checked in.  Dropped my gear and went out straightaway to the Cathedral.  Paid the £8.50 entrance fee and went to the Precincts office.  Obtained my pilgrim's passport for £2 and got the first stamp.  Spent the next 2 hours checking out this wonderful building.
Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral
Candle marking shrine of Thomas a Beckett, Canterbury Cathedral

Stained Glass, Canterbury Cathedral
Cloister, Canterbury Cathedral

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Via Francigena: From Canterbury

New Plan.  Starting from Canterbury on March 7.  Why not attempt to do the whole Via Francigena?  The main constraint is that I have to return to Cottbus on April 8th for the next semester.   Here is the perhaps overly ambitious itinerary for the first phase.

Date Route Start End
08.03.2013 VF-1 Canterbury  Dover
09.03.2013 VF-2 Calais  Wissant
10.03.2013 VF-3 Wissant -  Guînes
11.03.2013 VF-4 Guînes -  Licques
12.03.2013 VF-5 Licques -  Wisques
13.03.2013 VF-6 Wisques -  Thérouanne
14.03.2013 VF-7 Thérouanne -  Auchy-au-Bois
15.03.2013 VF-8 Auchy-au-Bois -  Bruay-la-Buissière
16.03.2013 VF-9 Bruay-la-Buissière -  Arras

The key to this kind of adventure is savoir faire.  Adapt and thrive is the pilgrim's way, particularly since I cannot speak French.   No worries, just be prepared for the unexpected...  I will post updates as frequently as possible and keep a journal.  Adieu!  Bon voyage et au revoir.