Aosta Photos

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St. Bernard Pass Photos

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St. Bernard Pass

Before I write about leaving Orsieres I will transcribe my notes upon arriving there.
“The walk today was entirely on paths. The mountains change constantly with the clouds and sunlight. There were lots of walkers about. Got directions from a very muscular, pretty, older woman who seemed to be working on her house.”
When I saw the muscular woman, I was staring at a map and looking at the crazy, nearly useless “turn left at the big pole” directions in my book, and she came out of her house. It was a hillside house of the Modern, big glass & open spaces variety. She was trying to splain me that I had to veer right at the small grass roadway that descended the hill, forming a border of a pasture containing both cows and goats. After going 3-4 clicks too many, on one road and another path, I finally found the correct path. It was a small road that descended into pine woods, occasionally breaking into a clearing. The havey overcast sky cleared, with distinct rainclouds that brought a shower now, and now sun again. It was a great arrival weather- except that my arrival was still 2 hours away.
“ I got lost after that and then my right Achilles started cramping up again. The hills are green, the villages mediaeval (sic) in their closeness. They seem to be cities of barns, with their overhangs over small streets, barns below and houses above. Old grey wood, cryptic writing on the thresholds. The church here in Orsieres is dark, smalles like a new BMW, felt really peaceful. Just the right scale- big enough to be grand and make me feel like I’m in the current, or presence of, place of, something bigger than me, but of which I am a part.
“The church in Sembalier was nice, quiet, plain, peaceful, bright, and small. Between and chapel and a church.
“I like staying at churches- makes me feel connected to the tradition of Pilgrimage. I’d like to think that this isn’t another item to consume…
“I think a lot about scale. A lot of the local knowledge is difficult to access b/c the norm is the car—asking for distances, directions, people don’t know via walking…. Also maps- hard to find maps of a scale small enough to be useful in making the decision about taking this trail or that. The compass is indispensable. “

14 June
Leaving Oriseres was a little difficult because I didn’t know where I was going to stay. I knew it was to be a short day in order to rest up for the following day whereupon I’d make the St. Bernard Pass. Everything in the town was wet, and it looked like things there generally stayed wet or icy. I left a message at the place listed as a hostel in Bourg St. Pierre. I went to the tourist office in Orsieres, which was also the train station, but they were no help. Then the Post Office to send some postcards because I might get lost in the snow and never return. And finally to the trail.
From my notes: “Short walk today- very pleasant/ Little confusion. Lie-down after lunch.”
The trail was mostly through pine forest, so more of that golden light, and the wonderful way evergreens dance in the wind. Their needle-covered branches are more like very deep sleeves. The ground was soft, buoyant. I passed through a town that was a simply a few barns, no stores. A family was lunching on their patio. I stopped at a shrine to Mary (looked like a gazebo) that a church put up. There was a spring, all next to a rushing stream, and it was sunny.
“The air smelled like cows- the state fair: sweet hay earthy manure & that animal smell.”
“Then next to the stream again, Came upon a lake that was a power station, also had sheep. The stream continued upwards, trail was a soft and moss-covered.”
The town of Bourg St. Pierre wasn’t much. Strangely there were few working-age people and no men. It seemed like a town of old ladies. The restaurant in town was closed, but luckily there was a highway and a gas station with a restaurant about 1 km away. They served horse steaks.
The hostel looked like a boy scout camp. Since I got there so early I felt like I was just waiting. With no real reading material (it is heavy) and no inclination to draw I sat there and finally went to sleep.
15 June
Waking at the Scout Camp, I found no breakfast stores. Being that today was St. Bernard Day (apparently I missed a huge festival at the Pass) I thought I needed breakfast and went back to the aforementioned horse restaurant. Then I was off, and the trail quickly rose above the treeline to a windswept, cold, wet landscape. I saw a Marmot. The moisture in the air kept me wet. I was nearing 10,000 feet so I was short of breath. The trail followed the old Roman road up the mountain and was generally above the paved automobile road. I came upon some ruins- probably an 18th century summer farm- and then on to more and more snow. In the final stretch I was waist deep in snow. I knew it was an ice bridge over a stream and was very nervous about falling through. There was a moment when I was not sure I could make the last climb, as I found myself at the bottom of a big ice bowl. I’d ascend twenty feet and slide back ten.
Arriving at the top there were loads- bus loads- of people standing around taking pictures and ooh-ing and ah-ing. When I walked up out that ice bowl people looked at me- and I felt- like an alien. A monk at the door of the pass said that I looked cold and like I could use a snack and some tea- he was quite right.
The hospice there felt very safe, solid, and warm. I finally found the dining room, and was dutifully handed a bowl full of herbal tea and some crackers.
Dinner was a few hours later, and I sat at the only table with a French family and a very chatty South African woman. She was headed to Aosta so we planned to walk together the next day. This would be the first time I had a walking companion.
After dinner I visited the crypt, which is an incredibly silent place. There is the sound of water, and a particularly gruesome Christ. And stillness.
16 June
It rained all night. Luckily in the morning the rain had mostly stopped, but there were heavy clouds and fog. The trail would take us over the mountains and not on the roads, but my new friend wasn’t comfortable walking on ice, so we took the road down, down, down. There were beautiful vistas, very green. We stopped for lunch around 11 and had a fantastic meal of locally made cheeses, a half glass of complimentary wine, and breads. Continuing on, the trail came back into the world of evergreen trees, and soon we were walking through cow fields that were defined by movable electric fences. I was shocked by one and for a second forgot where I was. Then I remembered who I was, where I was, and what I was doing. All of this happened in an instant, then back to walking.
After going down down down down until I didn’t think we could go down anymore, then down some more my knees and thighs were really shaky. We found the hotel suggested by the book (I don’t remember the name), and arranged for a two-bed room with little trouble. It was nice to share the cost of the room. I had planned on staying a day in Aosta, and part of me now wishes I had. But I continued on thinking that it somehow it was good for me to have company. Walking with someone else I realize how slowly I walk (this doesn’t surprise me).
From my notes “Nice to be back in a city. Pretty girls walking around, cafes, hipsters on their bicycles. Its cool. Wish I could speak Italian.” The World Cup was in South Africa, and my South African companion told me about the horns at the games, and about the team’s nickname. We were both tired as I was about a 30km day, and went to bed before dark.

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St. Maurice to Orsieres

St. Maurice to Martigny
Leaving the church at St. Maurice was a little difficult because the music was good, and it was warm in the church. I had blisters on both heels, and my Achilles was cramping up. The weather was blustery, cloudy and foggy. Breakfast consisted of toasted bread, juice and coffee in a smoky bar with a jovial barmaid and joking customers.
The next stop is Martigny. I secured another church apartment there, and had to be there before 4 again (I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a short walk so I happened to get there at 3:30).
The first part of the walk was up, over and around some hills (in Switzerland this is a major undertaking). I was excited to ford a ravine on a rope bridge, but the directions were not clear. After the hills was a steady uphill through a flat river valley hemmed in close by mountains. If the river were a wider it would be a fjord. In a few places, walking through the woods, the valley met the mountain in a tall nearly vertical stone wall. The valley’s width varied between ¾ and two miles, but seemed to go forward forever.
I passed through a fence of concrete “teeth” that were about four feet tall, two feet wide. They were defenses put in during WWII to stop tanks from climbing the valley. The fences were placed across the valley at intervals of about one mile. Also, along those stone walls of the valley, periodically I’d come across a big steel door. Some of these had a barred window, through which I could see an antechamber with a second steel door. Surely this was some sort of munitions room, tunnel access, or something also having to do with WWII defenses. Or possibly it was for cheese making.
For lunch I had my usual—yogurt, dried sausage, hard cheese, bread. I was in a park that had a few kids playing. A dog made friends with me, hoping for a treat, I’m sure. Soon the dog’s owner, a girl of 12 or so, came along and we spoke to one another, but neither of us could understand the other. Made me think perhaps no one understood a thing I was saying the whole time!
After wandering around Martigny, I found the church. Circumambulating it 2 or 3,l I found the door with the right number. Behind it was a very friendly priest donning his robes, readying for Mass. He offered me a beer and water—for a person from the Bible Belt it was very strange to be offered a beer by a man of the cloth. But, I welcomed it. Then I sat in silence in the little apartment during mass. There was a bicycle race going on outside, so now and again I heard the cheers of spectators. Gosh that was a long wait.
Finally the priest came back with a woman who was in a big hurry to get to the apartment. We drove through a few tunnels and all I could think was: where is she taking me? How far from the trail is this?
The apartment was a fine little Modern concrete building with a gas station nearby. I was able to get some pasta and cheese and wine and cook a grand dinner. By triangulating what appeared to be the mountains that corresponded to my topo map, I was able to figure my position, and I saved a good 2 hours of walking.

Martigny to Orsieres
I didn’t sleep well in the cute little church apartment. I think the stress of the language barrier, the physical strain, and knowing I was planning to walk over the mountains that were towering over me was all adding up. I felt puny.
It turns out that the apartment was just steps from the very well-marked path. The valley to Martigny was less wide, so the path was up on the mountain. In places the trail was on metal catwalks that had been anchored to the mountain side. The VF path corresponded to an exercise path, and every now and again I passed a huffing-puffing 40 some-odd year old man in very good shape. Passing people, they’d say “bon promenade,” as though I were walking down the Levee of the Mississippi river in my linen suit trying to catch a cool breeze. Bon promenade. While it was a fine trek, it was no promenade. Perhaps that is another of those words that doesn’t quite translate exactly.
The trail crossed the river a few times and went through sections of woods that were moss covered, and I hopped from rock to rock. The river was always close by, rushing loudly. The mossy rocks and pine trees made this forest a beautiful golden green, and everything was soft to the touch. There was no underbrush, and the trail was marked every 50 meters or so by red blazes on the trees. Without seeing from one to the next, there was only one direction to go: up stream.
I sat on some logs for lunch, letting my feet air out. Just as soon as I had as much junk as possible strewn about—socks hanging from a log, my shirt hung up to dry, plastic food bags and empty containers about– a couple of horseback riders appeared.
After more walking, I passed through a couple of quiet villages. I stopped in one church that was rebuilt in the mid-1800s, that re-used parts of the stone floor from about 800. There was a little garden and water in the front. It was incredibly still and quiet.
Passing through that town I discovered a new building type: the house-barn. It looked like people wer e living above hay-filled barns. I think they bring their cattle down from the hills to spend the winter in the barn. In the summer it was a little stinky. Having grown up in a post germ-theory world, the concept of the house-barn is a little strange, but in the context of months of freezing weather it makes a little sense.
Finally the vistas opened as the valley widened. There were grass-covered hills and the mood of the place changed by the minute as clouds passed by.
In Orsieres the church was again quiet. There was fresh incense and the place smelled clean and old, but fresh. Evening rains came. The only hotel was $70, but I got a stuffed St. Bernard. It rained all night, which was good sleeping weather.

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St. Maurice Orsieres Photos

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St. Maurice to Orsieres

St. Maurice to Martigny
Leaving the church at St. Maurice was a little difficult because the music was good, and it was warm in the church. I had blisters on both heels, and my Achilles was cramping up. The weather was blustery, cloudy and foggy. Breakfast consisted of toasted bread, juice and coffee in a smoky bar with a jovial barmaid and joking customers.
The next stop is Martigny. I secured another church apartment there, and had to be there before 4 again (I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a short walk so I happened to get there at 3:30).
The first part of the walk was up, over and around some hills (in Switzerland this is a major undertaking). I was excited to ford a ravine on a rope bridge, but the directions were not clear. After the hills was a steady uphill through a flat river valley hemmed in close by mountains. If the river were a wider it would be a fjord. In a few places, walking through the woods, the valley met the mountain in a tall nearly vertical stone wall. The valley’s width varied between ¾ and two miles, but seemed to go forward forever.
I passed through a fence of concrete “teeth” that were about four feet tall, two feet wide. They were defenses put in during WWII to stop tanks from climbing the valley. The fences were placed across the valley at intervals of about one mile. Also, along those stone walls of the valley, periodically I’d come across a big steel door. Some of these had a barred window, through which I could see an antechamber with a second steel door. Surely this was some sort of munitions room, tunnel access, or something also having to do with WWII defenses. Or possibly it was for cheese making.
For lunch I had my usual—yogurt, dried sausage, hard cheese, bread. I was in a park that had a few kids playing. A dog made friends with me, hoping for a treat, I’m sure. Soon the dog’s owner, a girl of 12 or so, came along and we spoke to one another, but neither of us could understand the other. Made me think perhaps no one understood a thing I was saying the whole time!
After wandering around Martigny, I found the church. Circumambulating it 2 or 3,l I found the door with the right number. Behind it was a very friendly priest donning his robes, readying for Mass. He offered me a beer and water—for a person from the Bible Belt it was very strange to be offered a beer by a man of the cloth. But, I welcomed it. Then I sat in silence in the little apartment during mass. There was a bicycle race going on outside, so now and again I heard the cheers of spectators. Gosh that was a long wait.
Finally the priest came back with a woman who was in a big hurry to get to the apartment. We drove through a few tunnels and all I could think was: where is she taking me? How far from the trail is this?
The apartment was a fine little Modern concrete building with a gas station nearby. I was able to get some pasta and cheese and wine and cook a grand dinner. By triangulating what appeared to be the mountains that corresponded to my topo map, I was able to figure my position, and I saved a good 2 hours of walking.

Martigny to Orsieres
I didn’t sleep well in the cute little church apartment. I think the stress of the language barrier, the physical strain, and knowing I was planning to walk over the mountains that were towering over me was all adding up. I felt puny.
It turns out that the apartment was just steps from the very well-marked path. The valley to Martigny was less wide, so the path was up on the mountain. In places the trail was on metal catwalks that had been anchored to the mountain side. The VF path corresponded to an exercise path, and every now and again I passed a huffing-puffing 40 some-odd year old man in very good shape. Passing people, they’d say “bon promenade,” as though I were walking down the Levee of the Mississippi river in my linen suit trying to catch a cool breeze. Bon promenade. While it was a fine trek, it was no promenade. Perhaps that is another of those words that doesn’t quite translate exactly.
The trail crossed the river a few times and went through sections of woods that were moss covered, and I hopped from rock to rock. The river was always close by, rushing loudly. The mossy rocks and pine trees made this forest a beautiful golden green, and everything was soft to the touch. There was no underbrush, and the trail was marked every 50 meters or so by red blazes on the trees. Without seeing from one to the next, there was only one direction to go: up stream.
I sat on some logs for lunch, letting my feet air out. Just as soon as I had as much junk as possible strewn about—socks hanging from a log, my shirt hung up to dry, plastic food bags and empty containers about– a couple of horseback riders appeared.
After more walking, I passed through a couple of quiet villages. I stopped in one church that was rebuilt in the mid-1800s, that re-used parts of the stone floor from about 800. There was a little garden and water in the front. It was incredibly still and quiet.
Passing through that town I discovered a new building type: the house-barn. It looked like people wer e living above hay-filled barns. I think they bring their cattle down from the hills to spend the winter in the barn. In the summer it was a little stinky. Having grown up in a post germ-theory world, the concept of the house-barn is a little strange, but in the context of months of freezing weather it makes a little sense.
Finally the vistas opened as the valley widened. There were grass-covered hills and the mood of the place changed by the minute as clouds passed by.
In Orsieres the church was again quiet. There was fresh incense and the place smelled clean and old, but fresh. Evening rains came. The only hotel was $70, but I got a stuffed St. Bernard. It rained all night, which was good sleeping weather.

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Vevey- St. Maurice photos

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