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Europe » France » Midi-Pyrénées » Saint-Jean
September 7th 2010
Published: September 8th 2010
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Had a wonderful afternoon wandering around Bayonne. Everywhere I looked was beautiful stunning architecture. And the fact that it's all so old and yet still so elegant adds a certain magic to the place. I started out just wandering the streets and came across the Cathedral of our Lady of St. Mary. Walked around the outside to the cloisters and then rather accidentally came across the entrance to the Cathedral. I feel so lucky that I did - it showed the value of taking things slowly and looking out for those opportunities that do resent themselves when you're taking notice.  I think it might be the most beautiful Cathedral I have ever seen! Amazing stained glass windows and lots of gorgeous shrines around the outer area. I came across the shrine to Mary and just felt compelled to stop there for a while. I made a donation, lit a candle and prayed. Something about the place, the beauty of it all, the rightness of the spot, bought me to tears. I sat and prayed and cried. I then left the Cathedral and wandered some more around the old part of town to the Chateau Vieux (the old castle), the Jardin Botanique (the botanical gardens), and le Jardin Botanique (the public garden). I had another sit down and drink at the theatre cafe. Back to my hotel to chill and then I headed out to dinner. I asked at reception about where i should go, but the guy there could not speak English at all and told me everything was closed (clearly wrong as it was only 8.30 - early for dinner for the French). So I was on my own! Wandered to a restaurant not too far away from the hotel - the Monte Carlo Cafe. Funnily enough it was located right outside the Saint Esprit Church - where the original priory was a stopover for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela (the Pilgramage Trail).  I got great service despite my lack of French. And as a bonus, got to see a genuine French fist fight. Exciting - they're a feisty lot the French men.  Then it was back to the hotel now for some much needed sleep.

Monday 6th September:
Up at 7am to catch the train to St Jean Pied de Port. Picked up some breakfast at the station. I was waiting for the train when a man approached me. I could tell straight away he was also a pilgram. He introduced himself as Johan, and then introduced me to someone he'd met who was also a pilgram - Soo Hyong. We were soon joined by yet another pilgram - Johaness. Although I had felt a little lonely and isolated yesterday, today I felt part of a little tight knit community. We all hung out on the train and chatted. Only the kind of conversations you have with a whole pile of strangers from different countries - where are you from, what do you do, why are you doing the trail, etc. What an international bunch - Holland, South Korea, and Germany. On arrival at St Jean Pied de Port we all started heading to the centre of town to find accommodation. Johan had something already sorted, so he went off on his own. Soo Hyong headed off with a girl from Korea he met at the station. Me and Johaness then met up with Armando and Oberto. We found a Refugio and decided not to spend all day trying to sort accommodation but to just lock it in. It's a nice place - only 6 beds per room, clean and tidy. And the owner is lovely - very friendly. Luckily Johaness had pretty good French which was very helpful. Once that was sorted we banged into Armando and Oberto again, so went with them to the pilgrims office where they booked their accommodation. We then started checking out the town altogether. We wandered through the old town, into the church and lit a candle and prayed, then up to the most amazing food market - wine, cheese, cakes, salami - and everything available to be tasted!  Yummy!!  Unfortunately, Johaness then got a call to say that his mother had had a brain hemerroage. Tragic. He,of course, then had to head home. So I'd lost my first traveling companion - I was sad even though I'd only known him a few hours. Spent the rest of the day with Armando and Oberto - it was a really wonderful day! Armando is from Brazil and Oberto is from Austria (and doesn't really speak any english) - the way we all managed to communicate with each other has been pretty amazing. We toured all the sites in town  - the citedal, the river, the markets, the citedal wall. In between we had lunch and a drink or two. It was all in all alot of walking and talking in the sun. Showered at my Refugio and then had dinner with Armando, once I could find him. We ate at a little French place. Didn't get much sleep during the night due to excessive snoring by my neighbours. 

Tuesday, 7th September
Wow what a massive massive day!! Met Armando and Oberto at their hostel at 7am. It was dark and started raining just as we were about to leave. We decided to do the more difficult route - route Napoleon. It was uphill right from the start. We just walked and walked and walked. I certainly felt like a real pilgram with my raincoat, walking stick, confronting a challenging incline, and in the rain. We walked for 8 hours pretty much non stop. It was up to about 1400m. We snacked as we walked. We did a quick stop at a little hut at the top of the Pyrenees that a French couple were using. They had the fire going and had the place warm and toasty - the guy even offered us a cup of warm milk. Just one indication of how lovely and friendly everyone doing the trail is. We arrived at Rocenville about 3pm. Got settled at the Refugio - it sleeps about 100, so it's pretty massive. We then did the usual, washed our clothes and sorted our gear. Went to the local pub/restaurant and met some more Brazilians. We had the Pilgrams meal for dinner at the resaturant around 7pm - me, Oberto and Armando were joined by Marco (Brazil) and Perry (Holland). At 8pm we went to the local church and attended the special service they hold for the Pilgrams. It was lovely. It´s been a while since I´ve attended a Catholic Ceremony. And at the end they turned off the lights, sang and did a special blessing for the Pilgrams. The boys then went for drinks, I was tired so lay on my bed and read. 10 o´clock was lights out, and then sleep.

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