Saint Palais to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
Wednesday 29 October
Today’s ride was a short one, only 33.44 km clocked up by the time I arrived, so I took my time and enjoyed the scenery. I had planned to have lunch when I arrived in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, but my stomach is still on summer time… So had to stop for bread and cheese at 11.30. The hills weren’t as bad as I was expecting, I did get off an push a couple of times, but nothing compared the the wrong turn hill a few days ago. Cows, and sheep and green pastures, and the warm sunshine – a true delight.
I took a short detour to visit the church at Saint-Jean-Le-Vieux, with a very interesting graveyard that had many Basque symbols on the headstones, one of which looked like a kind of swastika, a common symbol in Hindu Bali where I live. Later I met a woman wearing a necklace with the same symbol, and asked her about it – it is called a lauburu or Basque cross, and she said it represents the four elements.
Arriving in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was like arriving into a magical medieval fairyland. Cobbled streets leading up and around the walled city, shops full of pilgrim paraphernalia, scollop shells nailed to every door… I couldn’t wait to explore. I first went to the pilgrims office and a very kindly gentleman with very little English helped me with maps of the route, and booking into a pilgrims hostel for the next two nights, I had tried to ask for a private room, but he said there were none. He also offered some suggestions of where to try and sell my bike, as now I will be walking.
I went to the hostel with an American woman, she went downstairs and claimed a bed, so I did the same, then she went to shower. About 20 mins later a woman came in screaming that they were not open yet and we had to pack everything up. I packed up, but explained to her that we had been sent there by the Pilgrim’s office – she said they weren’t open until after 2pm. We had both arrived after 2. She soon calmed down, and then was actually quite helpful. Showing us to a dorm upstairs. There were perhaps twenty beds, but at that time only three of us. Unfortunately as the day progressed more and more people started to arrive – it was going to be a full house. I hope my earplugs are up to it.
I then went to the two suggested bike shops to try to sell my bike, but one wasn’t interested, saying it wasn’t a good bike – I argued that it had got me from Paris! The other was overstocked, and also not interested. Plan B. I asked at the Pilgrims office if I could store it there, and yes, that would be no problem, for no charge. So I will try and advertise on some French websites, and see if I can somehow arrange to sell it. Or Plan C, worse case scenario, return to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the end of my walk and try and figure out something then – Anyone want to buy a bike? Only four weeks old, still under guarantee. Good price.
The American woman had asked if I wanted to join her for dinner – so we went out to a nearby resturant. She was leaving early the next morning, so wanted an early night. She told me there was a pilgrims blessing at the church at 8pm that was very nice, and worth going to. It was just on 8, so I went, but the church was locked – I later learnt that it’s every night at 6.30pm, so I’ll go tomorrow. A blessing couldn’t hurt, perhaps it will help sell my bike.
Well I made it! Today completes the first part of my trip – I will begin walking in a couple of days. Since leaving Orleans where I installed my bike distance monitor, I have clocked up 888.05 km. If I add the official distances from the towns between Paris to Orleans, that’s an extra 132 km (I actually did more going around roundabout those few extra times and taking wrong exits) – which means I have cycled more than 1,000 km! It was mostly easy, and one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve done. I think I will crack open a bottle of Champagne tomorrow before I start my 780km to walk to Santiago.