Saturday, August 28, 2010

Poitiers, part 2

As promised, second half of the Poitiers travelogue started yesterday:

The bed is wonderfully soft and well furnished with pillows. Hard to drag myself out of it in the morning in search of coffee, pastry, and a portable lunch. I score the latter first: two peaches and a box of whole grain chocolate chip breakfast things. I like those. I might finish them on tomorrow's train. Then at last a bakery not closed for vacation, though by the quality of their pain au chocolat I wish they had been. Coffee, of course, may be had most anywhere.
On to the hike! I choose to take the GR toward the south, since it seems to get out of town quicker in that direction. I'm treated to a long, pleasant walk down a riverside parkway, modest homes across the road. A bus runs by regularly, a point that might become important by the time I return.
Then away from town, and to the countryside.
Er, almost.
What I get is a walk along paved roads through a gigantic construction site. No idea what they're building; they're just laying sewer pipes or whatever. Acres torn up, nothing recognisable emerging yet. Big enough for a whole neighborhood, though.
Finally, finally, out of suburbia and into the peaceful green. Not wild green, though they've figured out to leave riverbanks alone now: the growth prevents erosion of the banks, keeps the water cool for fish to breed, provides habitat for birds and small animals, and people like it. Just a few meters from the bank, this strip of non-development ends and the fields, pastures and orchards begin. In France you're never far from somebody's home. If you're on a hiking path, you're probably crossing somebody's extended yard.

Saint Benoit is a wonderful village, working hard on keeping its 11th century charm working for the 21st. Its church (to Saint André) is a jewel of medieval architecture. Inside, there are vestiges of the original floor-to-ceiling paintings here and there on the walls, and where they've sketched in new artwork to replace what has been lost to time. In one of the windows - just one - a perfect statue of Christ on his throne smiles down on the last two rows of pews. Why just the last two? Were such carvings planned all around, but only this one was made? There is no explanation given. It's unusual, this Christ cut into the wall where its beveled for the window.
There's a lot of hiking possible from St Benoit. Three local trails and the two GRs, plus countless dirt roads and tracks. The blue loop seems the most interesting; 9 km along the river plus a viewpoint and a walk across the viaduc (an old railroad bridge high above the ground, crossing the river, the new railway, and a bit of the town, now maintained for pedestrians).

It is a great hike, but for one thing. I am always either on top of the bluff overlooking the river Clain, or in the dense woods along its bank.

Never do I get so much as a glimpse of the blond cliffs separating up from down, that magnificent panorama I saw from the train arriving.
Nearing Poitiers again, I follow a sign indicating an Insect Garden. It's there to direct cars, but it doesn't say how far this garden might be. I can't find it on my map, either, so after a footsore km I give it up. Back at the riverside promenade I do take the bus, which I notice makes a loop all the way around the city center. A nifty way of seeing it, with my tenderized feet protesting against the asphalt.

Halfway around, I get off anyway to walk along the riverfront again and to the Jardin des Plantes. The river views are nice, with the trailing willows and each waterside home its punt or canoe. The Garden, however, is a disappointment, all boring plantations, keep off the grass signs, and roaring lawnmowers. Blech.

Back to the hotel by 5 for a well-deserved rest. Probably 23-25 km today: not all that far, but so much of it on concrete or asphalt or cobblestones. Hard on the dogs, all that, and I didn't wear my clunky boots. Wednesday morning I take another stroll around town. It's interesting how few shops are unique. All up and down the pedestrian district, there's not one in ten that we don't have in Clermont as well. Even most of the bakeries are chains.

There's a mural I like, painted, almost tagged, on the side of a religious school (but not part of it), featuring in part a distorted basketball player. To the left is the motto "Sell Tony Parker!" In French that's a pun, because "vendre" (sell) is so close to "viva". Sell him indeed. The fascination with this egocentric jock (he fancies himself a philosopher now) has got to fade soon. Once he retires from basketball, will anybody pay attention to his philosophy?

It's interesting too how much weight my backpack has taken on, these two nights. I've changed the umbrella for a pocket paperback but surely that weighs less, not more. It seems my backpack has been secretly pigging out at the Poitevin while I was out hiking, or something. It weighs me down, so I park myself at the train station, waiting for it to be lunchtime, and after that traintime. Natalie must be ravenous. I bet Bandersnatch ate up all the catfood already.