We took Sunday as an opportunity to sleep in a bit (or at least I did being the one with no kids to tend to). Still feeling the pull of a largely ignored jet lag, has left me in a state of frequent yawning until I really start to come into my own around 5pm each day. We spent much of the day relaxing around the house, sharing resources and me typing up my notes and reflections from the past week. My plan was to leave on an overnight train from Limoges headed for Madrid at 7pm. I took an opportunity in the meantime to enjoy the cool, dry afternoon and take a stroll through the woods we’d explored the previous day.
It was wonderful to have some time to simply be in the woods and observe rather than analyze. Of course, I inevitably found myself doing this as well but simply reflecting on the history of this landscape , the legacy its been through and the stories and clues that remain dating back thousands of years (left for us by the Romans in the forms of the ancient stone retaining walls and roadways interlaced throughout the forest. It had been a while since I’d had time to simply be and I did my best to make the most of it over the ensuing two hours.
We’d planned to set off at 6 to reach the railway station with enough time for me to buy a ticket and depart. The route I’d planned to take, brought me north to Poities and then south down to Madrid. We arrived at the gorgeous station about 20 minutes early. Feeling a bit anxious about missing my train, I headed towards the ticket counter. When it was my turn, I was astonished to learn that the train I’d planned to take was booked. Well, initially I learned that the sleeper car I’d hoped to get which only cost 2 Euros more than just a single seat was booked. Having accepted that I might be sleeping sitting up, I then found out that there was no way I could get to Madrid that night. Plan B quickly turned to C when the ticket agent informed me that there was nothing available until Thursday (it was Sunday). As that wouldn’t do, we gathered up my things (I was thankful that Michael, Angela and Tom had stuck around to see me off) and headed back to their house where they graciously hosted me for yet another night.
It took a fair amount of ingenuity and I have no idea what I would’ve done without the internet, but within 2 hours I’d arrived at a backup plan. Monday morning train north to Paris, flight from Paris to Madrid. I’d be there by 8 in the evening. It was definitely not what I’d hoped to do though it worked and only put me one day off my original schedule. With that taken care of, it was time to call it a night.
Michael, Tom and I set off at 7:25 to reach the train station in La Souterraine - a railways station about 30 minutes north of Michael’s village. There we said our goodbyes, I boarded the train, and was back on the road. I’m grateful to Michael and his family for their hospitality. They were gracious caring hosts living a modest life in a beautiful place. His planning efforts made for an invaluable insight into a slice of the coppice traditions in France and for that I am grateful.
I had one train transfer between La Souterraine and Paris - on the second leg of the journey I learned that I didn’t actually have a reserved seat for the last two hours which made for a bit less than comfortable experience but at least I was off. Once in Paris I had to cross town from the Austerlitz station in order to arrive at the airport. Fortunately I had a few hours to spare.Coincidentally the Paris Austerlitz Station is adjacent to a public botanical garden where I proceeded to peruse the grounds for an hour or so. Carrying my luggage on a leisurely stroll made for a bit of a tiring experience. They had some great specimen trees including a pair of black walnuts (Juglans nigra) that were probably 28” in diameter and were planted there 160 years ago.
After a quick jaunt around the city and a pass over the Seine River, I set off for the airport, ready to make my way towards Spain. The Madrid airport was very low key- I wasn’t looking forward to the stress of lines and security but it proved to be a fairly smooth and easy trip. Two hours later I was in Madrid collecting my things.
I’d found a convenient hotel on-line at a very reasonable price via the website www.booking.com. I checked in, unpacked my things and then headed out to get some dinner. The first person I encountered as I stepped out onto the street walked by swiftly and I noticed he was wearing a Middlebury College sweatshirt - that’s only an hour away from where I live. I stopped him and we chatted for a minute. He’s leading a student group there for the semester. What a very small world.
I headed up the main road and passed by a small ‘taverna’-type bar/restaurant and saw the words ‘jamon bellota’ on the menu. I stopped instantly. I’ll write about it in more detail tomorrow but jamon means ham and bellota, acorn. This is the most famous meat product produced on the Iberian peninsula. I ordered a sandwich and the waiter proceeded to remove several paper thin slices of ham from a leg suspended on a horizontal display stand. While I’m not convinced it was actual ‘jamon bellota’ (it probably should’ve cost twice or more what they charged) the meat did have a delicious, rich flavor and made for a nice sandwich, despite the fact that all it amounted to was a sliced baguette and several slices of ham. More on all of this tomorrow though… Just had to wet your appetite (I don’t even know if that qualifies as a pun?!)