Planes, trains, and automobiles.
1. London to Bordeaux via EasyJet: ok, I love EasyJet. Fast and efficient check in coupled with a “hey everyone, you know your seat number so just get on the plane like adults” attitude. Even if we were an hour late taking off thanks to the baggage guys accidentally destroying someone’s suitcase (but the guys boarded the plane, they called the woman to the front, took her down to the hold to rearrange her stuff in some sort of temporary luggage I’m assuming, and generally handled it in such a way that the woman couldn’t get upset).
However, that does mean we reached Bordeaux an hour late. That’s a problem because I had a bus ticket for the only bus to Bayonne today and we landed with 45 minutes to spare. If I missed that bus, I would then miss the last train to Saint Jean from Bayonne, and then lose on the pre-paid hotel in St Jean tonight. Missing the bus also means the whole walk is delayed a day, and all of the reservations at various points (about 8 nights worth) would have to be changed. I could not miss that bus!
Bordeaux’ airport was small and quaint, passport control was literally in a hanger (but it went fast), and check out their airport food/beverage service!
2. Bordeaux to Bayonne: I took out cash as quickly as I could and ran to the city center shuttle. It just pulled away as I cleared the Starbucks (I guess I shouldn’t have stopped to snap a pic). That’s ok, taxi stand was right next to the shuttle stop and I’m willing to pay €20 instead of the shuttle price of €8. Jumped into the first one, showed him my bus ticket, and we’re off!
Oh man. Why oh why did I let my husband convince me to leave my wedding ring home? The taxi driver was a very nice guy, about 35, and absolutely insistent that he is going to take me out to dinner and show me Bordeaux. No, I’m catching a bus to Bayonne. What about in the future? Ok, whatever… thinking I really can’t set this guy off because my fate (ie my ability to catch that bus) was in his hands.
Then it happens: what’s your number and I will program it in my phone to call you later? And he’s passing his phone back to me.
Do you have any idea how hard it was to resist putting my husband’s number into his phone?
Fake number saved in his phone, he then insists on me taking his. Ok fine. It’s gone from my phone now.
We finally reach the bus station with ten minutes to spare. Uhhhhh… €55! So he tried to pick me up and then the taxi ride was €55!!!
But it was worth it. We passed that airport shuttle bus as we were pulling out.
Missing this bus would have cost me a LOT more than €55.
I think I need to pick up a cheap fake ring somewhere on the trail.
Bordeaux seems lovely, though, if not a bit decayed.
3. Bayonne to Saint Jean Pied de Port: The bus ride to Bayonne was pretty uneventful, which again is a good thing. It looked like an amazing town to explore, with old ramparts, moats, and walls that had all been incorporated into the modern life of the city — such as the tennis courts using one side of the medieval citadel wall (I’m assuming that’s what the wall was– driving by on bus).
The bus let me off right in front of the tourist office in the center of town. Brilliant! I’ll just pop in and ask where the train station, go get some lunch (I was starving since I had breakfast at 6:30 in Gatwick but didn’t have time to make any stops for food in Bordeaux), check out the citadel and cathedral, then catch my train to Saint Jean in three hours. Smooth sailing!
As I’m adjusting my pack outside the office (it was becoming burdensome and not easy to manage, but I attributed that to being tired — more on that later), two women passed me speaking English and sounding frustrated. Me being me and always trying to butt in, I stopped them to ask if they needed help. Not only did this pair of sisters have problems with missed flights to France, but now they were frustrated trying to get to SJPdP because of the rail strike.
I had known about the strike for a month and thought I planned accordingly. When I bought my ticket back in Seattle, the SNFC website stated that some trains were already cancelled BUT if you saw a train that could be booked, it would not be affected by the strike. I was confident my train was running. I’m also an idiot.
According to Sally and Amy (from Texas!), they were at the station and there were no trains at all. There were also no replacement busses. What was at the train station was groups of irate pilgrims demanding refunds for their tickets.
So I went back inside the tourist office just to verify with them. I talked to the same woman who gave me directions to the station, and she called around for me. Yep, my train was NOT running!
I’m so glad that I butted in to Amy and Sally’s plight because in the end — they saved ME! If I had lallygagged around Bayonne for a few hours before heading to the station, I would have been stranded.
Someone at the station gave Sally a city-connector bus schedule and instructed her to go to another town and take a taxi the rest of the way to SJPdP. They were exhausted from having been up for 24+ hours and neither spoke French, so we teamed up.
We took this city bus to the end of its line to a village called Cambo-les-Bains. It dropped us off at a little strip mall and the bus driver told me the taxi stand was about three blocks ahead. It started pouring on us, but it was all good. Adventure hath commenced!
Umm… except the taxi stand was closed and a sign directed us back to the strip mall. Upon return, I scanned the whole lot and street but couldn’t see the green taxi stand box or any signage. Oh boy. At this point all three of us needed a bathroom break and to regroup.
There was a little tabac there but no food — so we drank. I got to enjoy my first kir in France on this trip and it was delicious. I still couldn’t see any taxi stands. When I was inside paying, I asked where the taxis were. That’s when the very gruff barkeep pointed out the door at a taxi idling one row over in the parking lot. Oh geez, the taxi stand was 50′ from us but we didn’t notice it.
He asked where we are going, when I told him, his gruffness melted and he got very excited for us. He grasped our hands and wished us well as we walked to the car, then as we’re loading up, he cane running out to show us a framed photo of him in Santiago at the end of his Camino. “Bon Camino!” It was such a sweet moment!
Our taxi driver was amazing and so kind! Look at how relieved my Texan friends were to finally be making progress: He drove us right into the heart of SJPdP, right in front of the pilgrims office. And… wait for it… the ride was only €65 — split three ways! Was I robbed in Bordeaux by Mr Slick Pickup Artist?
Doesn’t matter. Look how gorgeous SJPdP is!
And here’s a picture with my B&B in it. Can you see it?
That’s right: I’m staying under the rainbow.
View from the balcony:
I had a lovely dinner with Amy and Sally, getting to know them and talking about why we’re doing this trek. Y’all know that I rarely take pictures of food, but I had to photograph the beef dish the sisters shared. This is for Al:
Bon Camino, my new friends! (And after we cross into Spain, Buen Camino!)
In other news, my pack is too heavy. I’m admitting it now openly. It’s just too heavy. It kicked my butt today and I haven’t even started yet. I made a split decision to buy a 40L in SJPdP that only weighs about a half pound empty (my North Face is 4.5 lbs empty because of the frame/structure). Surprisingly, EVERYTHING I brought fits except the travel blanket. Hmmm…
I’m sad to let the pack go because 1. It was Al’s anniversary present to me (and in a way, symbolic of his approval and encouragement for this crazy trip), and 2. It was FRIGGING EXPENSIVE! But I had to reason with myself: what’s the point of holding on to it if it may prevent me from finishing? So I’m donating it (and the blanket) to the Catholic Services office in the morning.
My burden feels lighter already.