I woke up yesterday in Chalons en Champagne, in the first hotel reccomendation I’ve used from my original itinerary. Just by chance, but that it also had a bathtub- that was destiny! I went to sleep in Chaussée-sur-Marne, on a bale of hay, listening to bleating baby goats below me- just by chance I found a cheverie that accommodates pilgrims- that was destiny!
I had a sort of restless sleep at the hotel from eating dinner too late, so soon after opening my eyes I had my cofffee. I spent the morning writing and answering emails while I had good WiFi.
Around 9:30am, I dragged my feet to the tourist office to get a stamp and find where the Via Francigena trail connects to the city. Along the way I also found - some french soccer facepaint in a newsstand, and this awesome old Mini Cooper flagrantly parked in front of the cathedral.
And I found the trail, it was really well marked for Francigena and Compostelle. As I passed bikers, joggers, and dog walkers, they shouted “Allez Les Bleus!” which was fun- I guess people really do respond to you differently when you put on make up!
Even though I knew I was on the right path, and it was marked well everywhere, when I got about 2km in and the frequency of french football fans died down, I felt a little uneasy. I barely saw anyone, literally just one other person and they were urinating off the trail. I was like 2km/25 in, and I also didn’t see a lot of outlets if I wanted to get off the trail at some later point. So I decided to reroute. And, I wanted to watch the World Cup for real and it was almost noon!.
So I had made 5k circle. I ate lunch and watched the match quietly before hitting the road. I was struggling to get going, but when I looked at the map it seemed that there was a road almost directly from the restaurant to the next town on the road to Rome, so I got on it.
I had none of the anxiety I felt on the trail. I walked a suburban path and ticked off the cities on my map listening to music, checking messages, and wondering where my road would end without worrying about it at all.
I saw a big hotel in La Chaussée-sur-Marne, one city before St. Amande, and thought, this must be the place! I looked around for a reception area, then just a person nearby. A woman jogging around the block confirmed the hotel had closed.
“There’s another around the corner though!”
So that’s where I went. It looked pretty nice, a restaurant with a patio, small garden, and buckets of champagne on ice. I felt a bit of premature happiness thinking about the shower I wanted to take, but also checked in with my legs to see if I could walk 7km to the next town if this didn’t work.
The reception desk had a wall with just three clunky keys hanging behind it. That should have been my first clue.
“We’re fully booked”
As I learned in 7th grade french and have yet to hear anyone say - “Zut! Alors...”
I actually didn’t react at all, I just asked if there were others, and it turns out there really weren’t, but the receptionist was kind enough to keep calling and searching for 20 minutes on a busy Saturday, until something worked.
I was sitting outside, searching with my phone too, to no avail. I finally decided to pack it in, thank the desk, and start walking again.
“Merci beacoup, vraiment”-
“Wait!” He put the phone receiver on his shoulder. I think I have something, it’s an attic, no shower, just 500m down the road.
I pictured my grandmother’s attic and shrugged.
He wrote down the name “La Ferme Gourmande” and sent me on my way to arrive in 15 minutes.
I now had a piece of paper, which I walked straight to the Pizza truck in the middle of town with. I placed an order cause I did not want to risk one driving away on me again by the time I checked into the BnB- and continued to the place.
It looked like a restaurant and a young couple waiting for a table showed me it also had goats.
Eventually, I met the head of the whole show, the English speaking cheese maker, who introduced me to his whole family working Saturday night dinner at the restaurant, and finally showed me the attic room.
I followed the creaky stairs above the pens of goats to learn that “attic” was the direct translation from french for “hay loft”
“Do you have a - “
And I guess I have been carrying it around all this time for this moment.
I am the first person to admit, I’m scared of the dark, and I didn’t know how I would sleep in this massive hayloft by myself, listening to the goats knocking latches and stamping their feet all night. But I also knew it was the craziest hotel room I’ve ever seen, and if I could make it through the night it would be an experience for which I had no reference points.
“Awesome!” I said, put my backpack down on a haybale and went to pick up the pizza.