Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 13: Outwitted by a Shopping Cart!

Dscn0141bAugust 24: I walked into the hilltop town of Lauzerte pretty early in the morning. In the United States, you’ll usually find towns down in valleys and near rivers or oceans. A lot of the small towns in France, however, are on hilltops—the better to defend against invasions. Lauzerte is probably no longer in any danger of invasion, except, perhaps, of the tourist variety. The town is absolutely beautiful!

Near the base, just before the long, steep climb to the top of the city, I saw a large building with lots of shopping carts out front that suggested it might be a supermarket. And I’m always excited whenever I find a place large enough to have shopping carts because that means it’s larger than the typical shop with a lot more options available.

I have to say, however, the shopping carts in France are annoying me. I can see the shopping carts, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out how to actually use one. They’re all locked into each other, and I’ve never been able to separate one of the carts from the rest. I’ve quietly watched other people walking around with their carts, and it appears that you have to slip in a euro coin or two to unlock them. I’m not entirely sure, but I think when you return the cart, it releases the coins again to you. Kind of like a deposit that you get back when you’re done using the cart. It might even be a good idea—maybe it’ll help avoid all those lonely shopping carts that wind up miles away from where they started.

I’ve thought about putting in some coins to get the shopping cart, but I never had the correct change on me to make it work. It’s very frustrating because I don’t want to walk around with my heavy pack. A shopping cart would be great! I could throw my pack in it, wander around the store, and all is good.
But since I’ve never managed to successfully free a shopping cart, I wound up walking around with the pack on my back and using a smaller basket with a handle that I could lug around like luggage. The basket isn’t big enough to hold my pack, though.

In the store, a woman accidentally backed into me and turned around, saying, “Sorry!”

I was stunned. She said sorry! In English!

“You speak English!” I exclaimed.

And indeed she did. She was an American, after all. She’d been living in France for the last ten years, though.

“Then why did you apologize for bumping into me in English?” I asked. “Did I look American or something?”

No, she just hadn’t learned French. I was a little disappointed to hear this. Living in France for the last ten years and she didn’t even know how to say sorry in French yet? She said she hasn’t learned French because she was older and it’s difficult for older people to pick up new languages. Yeah, maybe it is more difficult, but foreign languages ARE hard! It doesn’t matter what age you are! And frankly, after ten years, she could have been 90 and been speaking French pretty darned well if she really had made an effort.

And I found myself a little annoyed with her. It seems disgraceful to me to live in a country and not bother to learn the local language. Oh, yes, I know, I’ve been in France for a couple of weeks and I can’t have a conversation in French to save my life, but a few important differences: I’d only been in the country for a couple of weeks! Hardly enough time to master an entirely new language. I was also going to be leaving the country in another couple of weeks. I wasn’t living in France—I was just a mere visitor. And finally, I actually was learning some French in my travels. Not a whole lot, admittedly, but if I learned just one new word every day, I’d know close to 4,000 words after ten years! One word a day for my duration in France might get me 30 words.

But all the same, it was exciting to talk to an honest-to-goodness American. It was only the second time since I started my hike that I bumped into an American.
We parted ways and I continued looking around for various groceries. I purchased my goods, setting off the alarm when I tried to take the basket through the checkout line. Oops. I guess because I didn’t feed a coin into the basket, they didn’t want anyone walking out of the building with those.
Checking out at grocery stores has become something of a chore for me. I hate it. The main reason being because the stores like to charge 5 cents per plastic bag that you use. What this means is that they never put your groceries in bags unless you explicitly ask for them. And frankly, I don’t really want the plastic bags anyhow. I just need to get them outside so I can repackage the goods out of cardboard boxes and into ZipLock bags, eat and drink whatever goods I bought for my late-morning lunch, and put everything in my pack and get going. So basically, I just need something to carry my groceries outside! I don’t want to pay for a bunch of plastic bags that I would use, quite literally, for about one minute.

And they won’t let me take the basket outside.

And I haven’t been able to “free” a shopping cart.

So when it comes time to check out, things get “messy.” I start throwing everything into my backpack all willy-nilly and without any order. Then the checker finishes ringing everything up, so it’s time to pay, and I’ll hand over my credit card which they’ll swipe as I franticly stuff food that doesn’t fit into my pack. Then they want me to sign the slip, so I let go of my pack to sign it, then my pack falls over and everything I stuffed in so willy-nilly falls out.

I return the slip and the pen, and the checker hands me a receipt—and where the heck do I put that? So I stuff it in a pocket, then franticly try to stuff all the food back into my backpack.

In the meantime, the checker is waiting for me to finish. He can’t even start scanning the goods for the next person because then their food would get mixed up with my food. So they wait patiently for me to get all my food into my pack, which puts a lot of stress on me to hurry up and get out of their way. Invariably, I knock my trekking pole over, which makes a large clattering sound, and an audience starts building around me, watching the fumbling American with his groceries.

Eventually, I get most of the groceries into my pack. The last few items I figure I can carry out by hand. I retrieve my trekking pole, put on my pack, and walk outdoors, then look for a place to sit down and unpack my franticly-loaded pack for repacking properly.

Dscn0147bSo I don’t much like the whole checkout process—but the problem could be solved, easily, if they were just willing to give out plastic bags for free, allowed me to use the basket to carry my groceries out, or had a grocery cart I could actually outsmart.

Eventually, though, I finally make it outside. There’s nowhere to sit, except on the ground next to the building. No chairs or tables to sit down or rest or relax. So I sit down, because by now I’m tired of standing anyhow, and eat the food and drink the beverage I acquired that’s heavy and bulky and was meant for immediate consumption. Then I repack whatever other food I bought that needs to be repacked.

An hour after I arrive, I’m finally ready to continue to hike.

Up the hill to the top of Lauzerte, a beautiful little town that I only see for about five minutes because just as soon as I reach the top, I’m heading down the other side and back out of town. No sense wasting time by sitting around—I’d already wasted an hour at the supermarket!

Late in the afternoon, the trail went into another town with about five houses and a restaurant/hotel called Aube-Nouvelle. I stopped there to rest and get out from under the heat of the brutal mid-day sun. I ordered a salad and a Coke. The salad was lovely, and so was the Coke. And I lingered for a few hours reading my Kindle and killing time.

But then it was time to keep hiking. I paid my bill and continued on.

My plan was to find a place to camp just before the town of Moissac. I’d have done a solid 20 miles of hiking, and my guidebook showed a water source at Chapelle d’Espis. My plan was to bulk up with water there, then stop at the next good place to camp for the night.

A kilometer or so past the chapel, there was an orchard, and I seriously considered camping in the orchard. The weather forecast did include a slight chance of rain—about 20 or 30%—so I needed somewhere I could set up my tarp, and the trees of the orchard were perfect for that, and the ground under the trees were clear of thick vegetation. The only thing that held me back was that the ground look rock solid without even any grasses to dull the hardened ground. And if it did rain, there was a good chance that the ground would turn to mud. I can find something better than this, I thought. I’ve always been able to find great little places to camp. No reason to stop at a mediocre location, at best.
And anyhow, I had a Plan B. My map showed the trail getting off the paved road just before Moissac and crossing a small stream over a footbridge. If push came to shove, I could probably set up camp there. It was a little further away than I wanted, but it would do.

Dscn0150bAs I walked passed the orchard, more houses started popping up along the road, and I first started getting an idea that maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe I should have taken the orchard when I had the chance, because there weren’t anymore orchards as I got closer to Moissac. Just more houses and more people.

But! I still had Plan B! Plan B would save me!
Until I arrived at the creek crossing, and I saw that someone’s backyard was backed right into it and in plain view. Even worse, several people were in the backyard sitting around chatting. There was no way I could stealth camp there and not get caught. I continued walking, praying for anything at this point. I stealth camped my way through the Florida Keys. Certainly I could stealth camp somewhere in or near Moissac.

Eventually I started getting into the heart of the city. Individual houses were now gone—just wall-to-wall buildings lining the streets with an occasional alleyway to get behind some of them. I did pass one place that looked like it had been gutted by a fire and was seemingly unoccupied, but I didn’t want to set up camp in a condemned building either.

I had planned to stop hiking nearly an hour earlier, and now I was in the middle of town, the sun had set, and it was quickly starting to get dark. Why didn’t you stop at the orchard! I thought to myself. Because you thought the ground was too hard?! *rolling eyes*

In town, I decided that looking for paid lodging would be my Plan C. I kept my eyes open for any signs for hotels or gites, and still, I saw nothing. In fact, some of the streets I walked on looked like they might even be considered the “bad” part of town with lots of graffiti and run-down buildings.
Then I lost the trail markers. They were there one block, and not there the next. I did see a strange symbol, new to me, that I had followed for over a kilometer that seemed to overlap the GR 65, but I didn’t really know what it was for. Without being able to find anymore GR 65 blazes, I started following the other strange symbols instead. It seemed to be going in the right direction in the heart of the town, and I knew the trail did go there.

I arrived at the Abbey Church of Saint Pierre, a huge an impressive building I admired from the outside. With darkness approaching, though, I didn’t even bother to try poking my head in. I needed to find a place to stop!

The strange symbols led me away from the Abbey, which I followed for about two minutes before my internal alarm bells started sounding off. The direction just felt wrong to me. They led me to the downtown area well enough, but my gut was telling me they led out of town in the wrong direction. I sat down and pulled out my guidebook, which conveniently had a written description for how to follow the trail out of town from if you were facing the main entrance to the abbey. I walked back to the abbey, now ignoring the strange symbols I had been following, and started following the written directions in my guidebook which, not surprisingly, took me out of town in an entirely different direction. And I also started picking up the GR 65 blazes again. YES! At least I was definitely back on the trail again!

A few blocks later, the trail passed by the Hotel-Restaurant du Luxembourg. Lodging! I walked in, praying they had a room available, which they did for 49 euros. A bargain under the circumstances! (But still, it was about 49 euros more than I had originally planned to spend for the night!)
I headed up to my room, dropped all my possessions, and jumped in the shower. Since I had one, I figured, I may was well make good use of it. =)

Very steep trail in some sections!

Someone had a nice view from a balloon!

The hilltop town of Lauzerte in the distance.

Hey, wait a minute… that looks suspiciously like a supermarket!

The town plaza at the top of Lauzerte.

Some cheerful hiker graffiti. =)


Looking back at Lauzerte over a field of dying sunflowers.

I’m not really sure how people are supposed to get into this structure…

A small church along the way…

The inside had some pretty simple decorations.

A fruit stand for pilgrims.

My lunch stop for the afternoon.

In places where intersections aren’t well-marked
with blazes, hikers make their own.


Chapelle d’Espis

Pilgrims walking into Moissac.

I didn’t even know Playboy had a European Tour!!!!

This is the strange symbol I started following when
I lost track of the GR 65 blazes.

Abbey church of Saint Pierre.


The V's said...

So, if those plastic bags are like the ones here in the states, they are thin and fold up really small. Wouldn't it make sense to buy 2 or 3 to keep in your pack to use from store to store? Seems like an easier solution, and they could double as rain hats... :-)

Sarcasmo said...

I was going to ask a similar question as V's. The bags are so light-weight. I'm loving the pictures in this blog chapter. The scenery is lovely, like looking at Impressionist art and Van Gogh.

christmas6 said...

we have a grocery here where you have to put in a quarter to use the card. you also have to bag your own groceries :( i am really enjoying your blog. have a safe trip :)

geckospot said...

"I’d already wasted an hour at the supermarket!"
Welcome back to the real world! At least 1 hr each week is wasted in them for me, usually 2 or 3.

Those strange hiker symbols haven't turned up anywhere else? They're cute.

BOOTY said...

When I was in England, the carts said they wanted either a euro coin or a pound coin, but I discovered that an American quarter was the right diameter and would also free the cart. When you re-tether it, the latch on the tether does shove your coin back out. At any rate, the diameter of the coin, not the value, was the deciding factor. Maybe you have other coins of a similar diameter?

Amanda from Seattle said...

And you know darling, that we have the no plastic bags thing here in city of Seattle! Only paper or reusable bags that you purchase....of course you aren't carrying your "world" on your back here at home. But I agree that purchasing one or two of the bags for reuse each time might not take up too much space in your pack!!

Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

I was going to say "Don't you have Aldi in Seattle?" But then I checked their website and apparently you don't. They have the pay cart thing for a quarter, which you get back when you put the cart back when you are done. Oh, and they charge you for bags there as well.

Anonymous said...

Since no one else asked the question, while you chatted with the American who had been there 10 years, why didn't you ask about the shopping cart situation. During the 10 years she must have learned how to negotiate that situation... Just curious,

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Italy I'd keep a 500 lira coin with me all the time to put in the shopping carts. One cool trick, if you ever need a little money, is to back 2 carts up against each other and hook each one to the other one, and you get an extra coin. Probably not the most ethical thing to do, though...