Paris > SJPDP > Roncevalles/Espinal
September 3 – 7, 2017
The next couple days in Paris were lovely but mostly uneventful except for Sarah’s birthday which was a really fun picnic in the Parc de la Villette. We caught up on sleep and got some final supplies at these awesome camping stores Sarah showed us called Au Vieux Campeur. We also took her recommended pastry tour down the Rue de Bac before enjoying a Mont Blanc and a Paris Brest at the Jardin de Tuileries near the Louvre.
(These are the poles and liner I got)
And then in was Wednesday September 6th and time to go. We left Paris fairly early to get to the Montparnasse station in time for a 9:50 train but we couldn’t figure out where the 96 bus stop was because of the construction in front of Sarah’s house so we ended up missing 3 in rapid succession as we walked farther down toward the Louvre but we were still at the station in time to have a quick cappuccino before boarding our impossibly long train that surely split in Bordeaux as the train in Belgium had in Kortrijk. This one was much more clearly marked. We had assigned seats and our compartment was filled with huge amounts of luggage and some unfortunate parenting choices but all in all it was an uneventful train trip to Bayonne and plenty of time there to change to our smaller train to St Jean Pied de Port. We had noticed a few other pilgrims coming from Paris but now it was abundantly clear where the bulk of this train was headed and we just followed the crowd as we disembarked.
The pilgrim office in SJPDP was busy but the lady who helped us was lovely and there seemed to be several spaces left down the street of alburgues even though apparently the town had filled up the night before and they had to house people in the local gymnasium.
We chose one that was €10 and looked cute. The dorm room also wasn’t so huge and so far we were the only ones (so yay for 2 bottom bunks). The lady who ran it seemed a bit odd but we liked her quirkiness at first. We would discover later sometimes it came with a bit of an edge but even with witnessing her showing another traveler her cats hernia, trying to grab our passports 1 minute after 6 and getting yelled at (her break time where we had to be out of the albergue), and not allowing anyone to leave before 7am I still think it was a decent choice.
We had enough time to grab some basque pâté and groceries for the next day’s snacks and have a delicious pilgrims dinner at a nearby restaurant where we sat in a row of our peers and chatted before having an early night.
We got ready as early as we could and were out by 7:05 but stopped to get a coffee and a Basque pastry for breakfast and I knew V had wished we would have left a little earlier but she was a great sport. There were already plenty of other pilgrims on the road and it was easy to find “the way.”
If you’ve been following my Instagram you know I’ve been obsessing over trying to get pictures of these mini horses that truly show how tiny and cute they are and I was rewarded this morning with one so close I think that task is finally accomplished. Next to climb the Pyrénées.
We made lots of friends, a fair few even from Oregon, as we trudge up the mountains. There’s more road walking than I expect but also beautiful green hills and lots of cute sheep. When we get to Orisson, a tiny albergue that is the last one before Roncevalles, even though it is barely a third of the way there, we stop for lunch. Orisson has been fully booked for a while and Lauren from yesterday warned us that it was even possible they would run out of food but that seemed to far from the case. Still, even the giant alburgue in Roncevalles fills up and we still had so many miles both up and down to go.
This day was so long and yet as I try to write about what happened in it there doesn’t seem to be much but really there was. There were the million people we met. There was the mysterious green tent on the side of the trail and another mysterious hut with a cloth doorway just before the Spanish border. There was the French snack truck that served hard boiled eggs and the Spanish coffee cart at the very highest point of the trail. There was the water fountain (drinkable) that signaled you had entered Spain and there was the terrifying downhill that wrecked havoc on my knees but surely must have been even more terrifying for the cyclists I saw trying to navigate down it.
Finally there was Roncevalles and the giant municipal albergue that had filled a half hour before we arrived and we were far from the last on the trail. So they had a van cab that went back and forth with 8 passengers in each trip going to albergues in the next towns over.
In some ways I might be sad to have missed the official Spanish start but the albergue we ended up at, Haizea in Espinal, was actually much cozier with its tiny bar and group dinner. It even had mostly single beds even if Vanessa and I did end up with the only 2 top bunks in the entire room. If only the man who talked loudly and had a CPAP machine hadn’t been in our room it would have been the perfect end to our first day.