Day 11 – Walking the Via Francigena- from Arras to Bapaume, France
Today started with a very good breakfast on a large communal table at our elegant B&B.
The owner of the bed and breakfast had set a beautifully decorated table with a freshly baked almond pie, fresh juice, delicious white tea with Jasmine, gourmet butter and freshly baked bread.
She signed our pilgrims’ passports, admitting that she had never seen one of these or heard of our pilgrimage before.
It was a cool morning with a strong breeze that would stay with us until the afternoon.
We walked with our warm coats all day long, plus scarves and gloves.
When the sun finally came out, it really got warm, and we walked with just light shirts.
For most of the day, we walked between fields, dotted with more war cemeteries.
We passed a New Zealand Cemetery, an Australian Cemetery and another British Cemetery.
The few villages we passed had no cafes, no stores, no post office, just churches, crucified Jesus statues, and monuments to soldiers who had fallen in the wars.
We walked for hours without any rest.
At the British Cemetery, we saw clean stone steps, so we sat for a little rest, drinking some water and eating an apple and nuts.
There was not much to look at today, so I started photographing the brick work on the houses we passed.
We passed no places to eat, no markets to buy water all day.
The only option was a vending machine for hot baguettes.
We also passed a lovely honesty farm shop, with prices on lockers.
They had sacks of potatoes, carrots, honey, local oil and other products.
You put the money in the honesty box and take what you need.
After a long walk, we arrived in Bapaume.
At the outskirts of town, we saw many stores catering for funeral needs.
They had headstones, funeral flower shops, and marble coffins for sale, as well as funeral homes, ambulances and a few clinics and hospitals.
The interesting thing is that Bapaume is a small place.
It is really not a big city, so it felt really strange.
As we arrived in the center of town, there were the usual selection of shops and businesses.
We passed by banks, real estate offices, hair salons, bakeries, clothing stores, beauty product stores and a few restaurants.
By that time our feet were hurting and we needed to take off our backpacks.
We checked into our hotel, got a small but very clean, airy and new or newly renovated room.
We showered and plumped ourselves on the bed, happy to be off our feet.
On TV, I saw beautiful women, dressed in lovely dresses, their hair made up, and none of them carrying a big backpack like I do…
I have to admit that I am having a crisis of meaning today.
It was building up inside me in the past few days, where we passed by many war cemeteries.
I started feeling that I do not really enjoy this pilgrimage.
I don’t like the food, and all day I walk carrying my heavy backpack, feeling like a stocky packhorse.
I also do not like so much the way the locals on the roads respond to our presence.
It is true that most young people that pass us by, honk their car horns in encouragement.
Sometimes they also cheer us on vocally.
But the older generation just slow down their cars, sometimes to almost a stop, roll down their windows and gawk at us.
They never smile or say, “Bonjour.”
Only when we smile at them and greet them with, “Bonjour,” do they say it back, or more often quickly drive off, as if they did not expect creatures like us to speak.
It is disheartening and it feels very unfriendly.
I remember in Japan how people ran after us to give us plastic raincoats in the rain, bags of goodies, money, food, gifts of handmade amulets and always smiles, greetings, and showering us with sympathy, encouragement and love….
Tonight at our hotel, I was questioning what I was doing here.
I saw on TV a news program about the rise of nationalism all over Europe, and
the rise of new forms of racism, sexism and crime in Europe.
I do not feel as great here as I do in Asia.
We ate dinner in our hotel’s restaurant.
The food was excellent, and it looked like the rest of the town thought so, too.
The restaurant was nearly full with locals, who came to eat in the only chef’s restaurant in town.
We have some long days of walking in the next few days.
I will try to cheer myself up and get out of this funk….
From the Northern French countryside, sending you love and light,
6.25 hours of walking (8:45am-3:00pm)
Active walking time – 6 hours
Daily Steps – 36,462
Daily Kilometers – 26.5 (including sightseeing in Arras)
Total Kilometers walked from Canterbury – 231.5
Maximum Altitude today: 129 meters
Total Elevation climbed today: 1959 meters
Total Descent today: 1905 meters
From Arras to Bapaume, France
Hôtel de la Paix, Bapaume, France – clean modern small rooms.