The next place I arranged to stay was a suggestion from the book: L’Abbaye St. Maurice. I wrote an email to them in French, and they seemed to understand it, and I understood their response: get there before 4:45 pm. it was 40 km from Vevey- a nearly impossible walk with the hills. The walk would have me pass through Montreaux, famous for its Jazz Festival. Having lived in new Orleans, famous for its jazz, I wasn interested to see it, but the Montreaux festival is in July.
It is at this point that I’m getting a good lesson in the tactical realities of walking. I felt pressured for time, and ignorant of the resources available to me. Because I couldn’t lug around many guidebooks- and it would’ve taken specialized books for the villages through which I was passing- and didn’t speak the language well enough to chat with people, I had to use some combination of long and short planning and immediate responses. I can’t underestimate how helpful it was to have Joanne doing some internet research at home, Stateside, with my reconnoitering and reckoning.
All this is to say, I took a 12 minute train ride to save me 6 hours of walking. It is amazing how slow walking is. Early in the trip I admired beautiful French snails and likened my travels to their travails across the earth, and slugging my sack along alpine trails made me very much appreciate this short train ride. The train was from Vevey to Villeneuve. At Villeneuve I broke my fast at a bar, where there were quite a few men taking their morning beers and smokes. Pretty and courteous barmaid. If there had been some Rock and Roll playing- maybe some Rolling Stones or Howlin Wolf- I’d’ve started drinking too. But no, it’s a walking day.
The trail was very well marked and even included the distance and time. Being a slow walker, it was difficult for me to keep up with the time. It was a good way for me to pace myself. I came to the end of the lake and walked through various villages, each smaller than the previous. Cows appeared. Swiss cows have these huge pewter bells that are engraved, and are loud and pretty. When I arrived in Zurich there was a family- a mother and two boys- and the boys each had a big cow bell. It was incredibly cute, as the bells were about as long as their arms. Now I understood the reference.
I had yogurt in my pack and at one point passed a young man who spoke with an accent I couldn’t understand at all. He kept telling me something about my sack, and something blanc- white. He had a big white dog with him, so I thought maybe the dog wanted something in my sack? Dunno. Walking through the valley was easy, flat, green, cool. Walking along a dirt road with birch trees on my left, a towering mountain behind them, and mountains further away on my right.
Came upon two elderly women with two dogs and two children. They were very curious about what I was doing, and when I said I was walking from Ronchamp to Rome, one of them exclaimed that she was from Ronchamp. I could understand her French, and explained to me that my yogurt was all spilled down my sack. So I sat down right there and scraped it off, eating it. They must’ve thought I was crazy.
Moving on, the road is long and straight, now I’m in a birch forest. interspersed with fields of cows and poppies. I passed a hunky muscle man walking his little shar-pei. He had lived in California for 5 years and was a snowboarder, preferred wintertime. He directed me to turn right in the woods and take the trail to the river Rhone. Sure enough there was a trail and then there was the river- a much better walk. The river was silty, fast, quiet. Cows and wheat on either side. Passing villages on the left, then right. The Swiss have a wonderful way to get across rivers wiouth a bridge: they’ll use a line to span the river and hang it about 6 feet above the water. A flat-bottomed boat with a rudder is attached to the line. When you push the rudder right, the boat glides across the line, pushed by the force of the river as directed by the rudder.
The abbey at St Maurice was founded in the 4th century. There was a perpetual psalmody- psalm-singing 24 hours a day- there for about 400 years. link:
Walking into and around the place, the church seems to always be there. Maybe because the village buildings are built in the same style and stones as the church. Or because the valley seems to be tight there, and the mountains are always looming overhead, the town seems to be an interior space surrounded by wilds and lorded over by the church. I stayed in a little apartment in a an old building attached to the church and its compund. I could hear women (nuns perhaps?) but see no one. I had skeleton keys and a long dark corridor that led to a little bright room. The World Cup was being played and the only cafe showing it was across the square from my window, so I had cheers and boos take me to sleep.
There continues to be beautiful chanting inside the church, and the next morning it was relaxing and rejuvinating to sit there and hear the music. While I was there it was also very human: the organist was practicing, and had to replay one part about 5 times before moving on.
Tarver on Via Francigena in retrosp… Pat Desmond on Via Francigena in retrosp… Tarver on Pontarlier-Laussanne- Vevey buddhistartnews on Pontarlier-Laussanne- Vevey aunt Edie on VF map