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DAY 29: from FOISSAC to CONQUES, 65 KM

Every day follows the same ritual: waking up early at 5 a.m. to set off as quickly as possible to beat the heat. As I write this at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, it's 40 degrees Celsius here in Conques. Literally baking hot. People claim it has never been this consistently hot for so long. Today, we were already on our way to Figeac by 6:45 a.m. However, we've decided not to go into Figeac itself. From Foissac, we can easily reach the Lot river, and we'll follow the river as much as possible until we get near Figeac and then to Decazeville. There are two reasons for this: it's cooler to ride by the river, and yesterday evening Bruno had pain in his right knee, so riding along the river means he has to pedal less strenuously.

Cycling along the beautiful landscapes of the Lot

Cycling along the Lot is really pleasant, and we witness a beautiful sunrise with stunning colors. We find occasional shade, which is a relief under the ever-intensifying sun. We make our first stop in a small village called Laroque-Bouillat, where we visit the Chapelle des Gabariers, which is over 1000 years old. The "gabariers" were boatmen who navigated flat boats or barges with sails in various regions of France, including Quercy (where we rode through yesterday) and Rouergue, where we are today. It was a particularly risky profession with frequent fatalities. The vault of the church's ship has the shape of an inverted gabarier boat. There's also a beautiful antependium (altar frontal) featuring a gabarier boat loaded with barrels of wine in the center, and a Pieta to its left. Lastly, we see a magnificent processional cross. It's incredible to find such beautiful artworks in this simple church made of local brownstone.

Laroque-Bouillat, Chapelle des gabariers: vault and ntependium

From there, we continue cycling along the Lot until we reach Decazeville. Before heading into the hills towards Conques, we stop by the Notre Dame church, an late 18th to early 19th-century church with a neoclassical appearance and a square shape without a transept. The Stations of the Cross consist of 14 paintings by the 19th-century French painter Gustave Moreau.

Decazeville: Notre Dame church

While I visit the church, Bruno goes to a nearby bike shop because the screw clamping the saddle post is misaligned. The mechanic, Regis from Atelier du Cycle, suggests replacing the screw. I join Bruno and ask Regis to check my tires as well. When I inquire about payment, he says it's free. He saw our sign related to the Rinus-Pinifonds and considers this his contribution. A super kind man whom we thank warmly, promising to share his photo and shop on our blog.

Bruno, glad that Regis managed to repair his saddle post and for free as well. Last effort to reach Noalhac

After getting our daily supplies, we set off for Conques. We'll be cycling on the Via Podiensis route through Noalhac. A local man explained to us: 10 km of hard pedaling to Noalhac, then a steep slope of about one kilometer near the church of Noalhac, followed by a slight incline of about two kilometers, and finally, 7 km of super steep downhill with almost no cars. His description is spot on. 12 to 14 km of hard effort uphill and then 7 kilometers of significant effort cautiously descending with all the disc brakes engaged. The ascent is already very beautiful, but the descent is breathtakingly beautiful and impressive. From afar and down below, we can see the abbey church shining in the sun. Taking that challenging route was definitely worth it. Bruno thinks this is the most amazing sight he's seen so far, even though he's highly appreciated many landscapes in Gers and Quercy. This is the highlight (for now).

Church on the way to Noalhac. View on the valley of Conques. Bruno exhausted after reaching the top r

We enter Conques via a small bridge, reaching the west side of the abbey church with its magnificent tympanum, but we'll save that for later. We cycle to our apartment in a historic municipal building converted into four flats. It's fully equipped and impeccably clean. It's aptly named "Le Compostelle," situated just 200 meters behind the abbey church. It couldn't be better. We stayed here five years ago and were charmed by the house. They couldn't guarantee bike charging back then. I ask our neighbour if I can borrow an extension cord, and she promptly offers to let both bikes stay in her garage overnight and to charge mine there. Upon seeing and hearing about our cause, she's delighted to contribute to the Rinus-Pinifonds. Bruno and I keep repeating that we meet so many kind and helpful French people, and we're deeply grateful for their assistance and support.

The impressive abbey church of Conques

After a short rest and freshening up, we decide to brave the heat and walk to the Romanesque Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy de Conques. It's a pilgrimage church where the relics of Saint Foy are venerated. It serves as a prototype for other major pilgrimage churches: the Abbey Church of Saint-Martial in Limoges, the Church of Saint-Sauveur in Figeac, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, and the Cathedral of Saint James in Compostela. It's a masterpiece of Romanesque art in southern France. This abbey was built from 1041 onwards by Abbot Odolric on the site of the former hermitage of Dadon from the late 8th century. It was a Benedictine abbey until 153, and then placed under the responsibility of canons. Since 1873, the abbey church has been entrusted to the Norbertine or Premonstratensian order.

We're surprised to see so many tourists around 2:30 p.m. The village center is charming, with many old houses that have all been restored, although perhaps there are a bit too many shops. Nevertheless, the local population needs to make a living as well. We quickly view the church from the outside, paying particular attention to its two tall towers, the beautiful choir, and the west side tympanum depicting the Last Judgment with a judging God, the damned (disappearing into the mouth of hell), and the chosen ones ascending to heaven. The former polychrome tympanum still retains some color, and during the summer, they project the likely medieval colors onto it. An amusing detail is the outer border of the tympanum, featuring 14 faces sculpted behind a text band, known as "le curieux de Conques" or "the curious person of Conques."

Conques: Tympanum of the west portal, the high pillars and the ribbed vault of the crossing

Inside, the Romanesque sober style leaves a strong impression: very tall pillars with elegant groin vaults. Only the crossing tower has a ribbed vault since it was added later; there are various beautiful capitals. Despite being a Romanesque church, it has quite large windows that let in a lot of light. A refreshing abbey church where many overheated tourists find solace and coolness. Visitors can also admire several fine statues and modern stained glass windows. Since 1994, there have been simple stained glass windows by Pierre Soulages, an artist from Rodez who has a major museum there. He was known for painting various shades of black but also worked with shades of gray and brown.

Conques: The stained glass windows of Soulages, a pieta. During the sound and light show the original colours of the tympanum are shown

Afterward, we briefly visit the museum housing the Treasures of Conques. I'm particularly eager to show Bruno the large reliquary statue of Sainte Foy, the young martyr from the 4th century who is venerated here. The statue is partly that of Sainte Foy, with the head originating from a Roman emperor. It's beautifully gilded and adorned with numerous precious and semi-precious stones. The museum also holds a rich collection of relics: arms, heads, etc., from many saints. Pilgrims were attracted to Conques because they could venerate a multitude of relics for various reasons. After our visit, we hurry back inside to escape the heat.

First, Bruno improves the English translation of day 28 for Grandma and sends it back to her. In the meantime, I've completed the draft version of day 29 and will send it to Grandma later, but first, I'll grab a bite to eat. Luckily, we bought food in Decazeville because the local grocery store's shelves are empty. The wine is overpriced there, catering to tourists. We have a few beers with us.

Tomorrow, we'll continue to Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac, entering a beautiful natural area through which the Via Podiensis passes. It's going to be a climb of 1500 meters. Hopefully, we'll make it. Only three days left if all goes well, and then the Via Podiensis journey will be complete, a wonderful experience shared with Bruno. I'm incredibly glad that I've had Floky on the Via Turonensis and now Bruno on the Via Podiensis as fellow travelers, and I'm truly enjoying it. There's no doubt that Rientje is enjoying it immensely too.

Conques: The abbey church (2018)

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