**Let me apologize for the delays in posting. Its been hectic and often there isn't a good connection. I will post more photos when I have a better connection
Today we going to travel from Paris to Saint Jean Pied de Port in southern France. This is where we start, and many other people start, the Camino de Santiago. We already had our train tickets, all the way to Saint Jean. But first, we had to get to the train station. We got up, did our business, packed up the backpacks, and headed to the metro station. Fortunately, we didn't have to worry about getting our deposit back, since my wife had taken care of it the night before. We walked down to the metro station Le Nationale, the same one we'd used yesterday to see the sights. When we were on the metro, I'd noticed a stop called Montpasse Bienvenue, and discovered that it was the same stop we wanted to take for the train. We got off at Montpasse and walked quite a ways underground, following occasional signs for the Gare Montpasse, and finally reached the train station.
We weren't sure how to get our
actual tickets, or if we needed to, so we looked for an information/ticket counter. We found it without too much trouble, and when we asked about tickets, we were told our printout with the QR code would be just fine. We would need to scan it at the turnstiles for the train, and have it available if the conductor requested it. Modern times, what can I say. While we were getting help at the information booth, we met a guy name Wayne, from Colorado. We walked together to the Starbuck's to get a coffee, and wait our train. It was only 8:30am, and the train didn't leave until 10:11. Also, we needed to pay attention to the sign, since the track number wouldn't be shown until just before the train came, and the train wouldn't be here long. We each ordered a cappuccino, and Wayne got some kind of pastry, and we stood at a table, waiting. A little while before the train came, a regular table opened up, so we got to sit down a bit.
Just before 10am, the sign showed that our train would be at track 2, and at the same time, we noticed a
bunch of people heading there, so we got up and followed the crowd. Just like the ticket guy told us, there were like 6 turnstiles and all we had to do was put our printouts over the scanner and it opened. It was at this time that we really noticed our car number... 18, which actually meant the 18th car in line! After a long walk, we found our car, the last one in the train. Wayne was in the same car, but on the first floor while our seats were on the top floor. Very soon after sitting down, the train started off. It was a fairly modern train, with decent seating, a toilet on each floor of each car, and a snack bar car... 8 cars ahead of us. The first part of our trip was to Bayonne, where we changed cars for our trip to Cambo Les Bains, and we only had 10 minutes to change trains. It was about a 3-hour trip to Bayonne, so I walked down to the snack bar and picked up a light lunch for both of us. I got a ham & cheese sandwich for Manoli and a couscous dish for
me, and of course a soda. I don't remember how much it cost, but it wasn't expensive. The scenery was interesting, and we only stopped briefly at another station, before pulling into Bayonne, on time. Here is where everything changed!
The train was continuing on to Bayeux and Hundayne, but a lot of people got off. When we left the train, we just sort of followed the crowd, a good many of which had backpacks so they were probably going to Saint Jean too. Also, I didn't see any other trains at the station, which did seem sort of strange. When we entered the station, my wife asked about our train, and a train lady pointed outdoors to us, so we continued following the crowd, and ended up getting on a bus, assured by the lady and the driver that that was the right thing to do. It turned out that the track to Cambo Les Bains was undergoing repairs or some such. After a fairly long bus trip, we pulled into Saint Jeanne Pied de Port, at the train station of course. The train station is downhill from the main part of town, so we had to walk
quite a bit to get to the town center. We finally reached the main drag, for pilgrims of course, with the stores, hostels, and the Pilgrim's Office. We checked out the Pilgrim's Office, but the line was quite long, so we proceeded to locate our hostel for the night, Gite de Compostela. I'd taken a photo of the town's map at the train station, so all I had to do was find the address on my reservation and away we went. As I'd expected, it was a little bit away from the center of town, but it had big signs in yellow and blue, so it wasn't hard to find.
We'd told the lady at the Gite in response to her question of when we would be there, 5pm. Well, we were a bit early, and nobody was in the office, but we discovered from other people already there, that our key was in the door. Sure enough, we went upstairs and room 203 had a note on it and the key was in the door. The note asked us to come to the office at 7pm. We stored our gear in the room, each took a good hot
shower, and headed out to see the town. We found a decent cafe and stopped to have a cafe au lait, then strolled up the main drag to the pilgrim's office again. This time there were no lines, so we stopped in to get "credentials" or passport. This is the document you use on the Camino to prove you'd walked at least 100 kilometers. You have to get one stamp per day, at least. Pretty much all albergues (hostels) have them, along with most restaurants, cafes, churches when open, and even some stores. The guy there also gave us a map of the walk from here to Roncevalles, the normal stop for the first day, and explained a few things. I already knew it, but Manoli got familiar with it.
Since it was almost 7pm, we walked back to the Gite for our meeting. The host explained a couple things, such as the showers, check-out time, etc. We asked about luggage transfer, since we'd already determined that our luggage was a bit on the heavy side, and he gave us an envelope to use. The luggage transfer cost 8 Euros per bag. We'd decided we'd take out the heaviest
things from each of our backpacks, and put them in the lightweight day pack for transfer to Refuge Orisson, our stop the first day. I'd already decided, remembering the last time I was on the Camino Frances, that the walk to Roncesvalles is rather grueling, and for my wife's benefit, and mine since I was five years older, to stop at the only place to stop between Saint Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles, Refuge Orisson. Refuge Orisson was only 8 kilometers from the beginning, but it was 8 kilometers of grueling, steep uphill. My memory didn't do it justice, or so we found out the next day. The hostel has a number of bunk beds, a nice bar where they serve a group dinner, and a very nice terrace overlooking the valley below.
We went back out to look for a place to eat dinner. We settled on Cafe La Paix, since they looked busy and they had outdoors seating. Manoli ordered escargot (snails) again, and I ordered lamb with grilled potatoes and mushrooms. The potatoes and mushrooms were delicious, as was what meat I could get off the lamb bones. Oh well, it was tasty and apparently French. After dinner we headed back to the Gite, got our bag we were shipping ready to go, and hit the hay. Tomorrow was the big day!
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