Day Thirty Two: Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

April 28, 2017

Day Thirty Two: Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port

Having decided not to brave the road to St Jean, we got up early enough to catch the 7:45 bus. Since the hotel was right by the train station, it was easy to get there (it's a bus because the train line is broken somehow). However ticket sales was closed, so it became a matter of using the ticket machine. Over several tries, the darn thing denied ever hearing of St Jean Pied de Port. But finally, with some trick or spelling that I can not remember, it did it. 10 euros each.

Next up were three Korean/Amrican fellows and a lady from Delaware. Everyone on the bus was presumably a hiker/pilgrim so already there was a communal feeling. More like a camp bus, I guess. The Koreans asked for help, but I could not make the machine admit to knowing St Jean a second time. I moved over to a second machine, with a different (and weird old ipod style) interface and unfamiliar set of choices, discounts, loyalty cards, and whatnot mentioned. I finally figured it out and got a ticket for the lady from Delaware. Now an expert on machine two, I set about getting tickets for the Koreans. I was almost there, but at the last second it seemed to want me to confirm that I wanted three ticket. When I said yes, it gleefully thought it had sold 9. No attempt at "back buttoning" would change its mind.

Meanwhile the bus had come and I went to help Dodie load our stuff underneath. When I returned to the Koreans, they said a "French guy" had bought them a ticket from machine one, but to some random location. I pointed out that the tickets only cost 5 euros, so maybe problem. We tried machine two again, but it hated the fellows' bank cards. Because we were all pilgrims, not to mention (mostly) North American, there was nonr of the usual caution about bank cards. "Here, let me try it". "You got another one?" "Maybe mine will work for you" kind of stuff.

We never did get proper tickets printed or paid for. No matter, the bus driver did not ask or care about tickets. Laissez faire, eh.

We studied the road carefully as the bus labored up into the hills. At first it was four lanes, but with a shoulder, but it settled down to two lanes, very curvy, sometimes some shoulder, usually not. We watched a truck ahead for some time as it cut the corners, trespassing onto the shoulder where there was one. Overall verdict: certain death had we cycled.

Bikes go into the belly of the beast - only partially folded.
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Off to camp!
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No shoulder!
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Not even a white line, and curvy road!
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When the bus pulled in to St Jean our little friends pulled their backpacks from the belly and quickly disappeared. That left us to undo the partial fold we had done to our bikes and get all our panniers squared away. By the time we rolled away, we assumed our campanions had already vacuumed up all the shelter spaces.

Though we were eager to get into town, we did stop at the post office for yet another mail back. We have pretty much done discarding things from home now deemed too heavy, and are busy mailing back junk we have picked up here.

Where we are now- very roughly
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The town itself, as is common, has two parts - an old town and the newer bits. In this case the old town boasts about a 60% intact perimeter wall. The real action and picture taking territory is within the walls, and focussed on two to four short streets. Actually two to four streets is pretty much all that fits in the walls. The main street, Rue de la Citadelle, starts steep and gets steeper. Here is to be found the pilgrim welcome centre, the everything a walker might need shop, plus hotels and gites, bakers and butchers. Also, tons of walkers/pilgrims and tourists looking at the walkers/pilgrims. It was great looking and terrific fun.

Up into St Jean's old town
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St Jean old town
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The bikes arrive at pilgrim information
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Chemin St Jacques does not only live at a few spots in the old town, but is everywhere. There are markers of the route in the pavement, St Jacques symbols everywhere, and historical plaques describing the importance of the pilgrimage over the ages.

Naturally we went into the welcome centre and were greeted, approriately enough by Jacques. Jacques had at one point done the Camino by bike, and approved of our main guide book (the one bought by Dodie for $3 in Montreal), which is the same one he had. Jacques seemed to think we could cycle up the pass, so we'll give it a try.

Pilgrims line up at the welcome centre for support and advice. The TI in town was not really into it.
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Next stop the St Jacques everything you could want store - with zillions of coquille themed items, quality boots and parkas, books, maps, and such like. I got a cool keychain and Dodie got a bag that can serve as an in town back pack. So cool.

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Attractive Camino themed tiles
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Camino themed tee shirts. Ha ha, I already got mine at Lourdes.
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Hand made clay pilgrims
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Dodie's new little backpack lists all the towns on the Camino from here to Santiago
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Another great souvenir for Steve!
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In the store we met a family of walkers, from North Vancouver. - Brent, Martine, and Emily, plus a further 18 year old son who we did not really meet. Emily had glitched her back somehow, so we walked back to our gite where Dodie had some back medicine that could help her.

The only other cyclists in town. They said they were not going any further, but how did they get here? We did not get a chance to talk to them much at all.
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Martine (?),Emily, and Brent - walkers from North Vancouver.
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Some of the houses of St Jean
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The "modern" part of St Jean
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People waiting for the municipal hostel to open at 2 p.m. There were about twenty at 1:30
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One gate to the city
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The Camino enters St Jean from up its hill, in the north, and exits at the bottow. Pilgrims are guided through by these markers in the pavement
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Ah yes, the gite. It had been recommended by Jacques, though there seemed plenty to choose from. There is also a municipal dormitory style shelter. We noticed about twenty hikers already lined up there, waiting for the 2 p.m. opening.

Dodie would be ok with dormitory, says it is part of the "experience". I say clearly "Only in dire emergency". Our gite also has a dormitory component. Looking at it I say - "So where do I plug in the tablet, backup battery, camera battery, GPS, and phone?" Plus other less kind things.

The dormitory part of our gite - looks really cramped to me
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For some reason that does not seem to come up at hotels, bed bugs are a big topic here. The backpackers' supply offered a good supply of some kind of spray. And at the gite, they asked people to leave the best part of their stuff downstairs and to bring into the rooms only the essentials. So we learned a new French word today: punaises (bed bugs). They say there has been no problem (so far) this year. But really, if our sleeping bags or gear become affected it would be disastrous. How could we disinfect? How could we in conscience check in at the next place? And we could never return to Didier's place in Paris.It just better not happen!

"Punaises" - unwelcome new word of the day
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Our gite
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SPECIAL FEATURE:Basque Country

We knew before coming here that we were entering Basque Country. The Basque lands "Euskal Herria" include seven provinces, from Bilbao, Spain north to Bayonne, France. Four of the provinces are in Spain and three in France. We have been trying to figure out what makes the Basques unique, and we far have come up with a few, probably very superficial, items.

There is a red beret - the Basque Hat, the Basque cross, the Basque national colours of red and green (and white), the Basque language, Euskara, and the Basque cake and ham. Photos below should illustrate most of these.

One anecdote about this. I had noticed Basque cakes at a shop in town and wanted to set off again to go find one. Jacques, from the pilgrim centre was sitting in the restaurant of the gite, so I asked him exactly where that shop was. He did not know, he said, because actually he was from north of Paris, just helping out here for a couple of weeks. But anyway, he said, why would I want Basque cake? "Because it has the name Basque and I need to research it", I replied. It's yucchy, he claimed, forget it.

I ignored that and found the shop. There were two flavours, cherry and (maybe) cream. I went for cherry. The shop also specialized in ham. Now in Bayonne we had seen Bayonne ham advertised as a local specialty. And an hour earlier at another shop here we had bought a ham sandwich. We asked if that was Bayonne ham, and were told no, it was superior Spanish ham. The man said the deeper we would get into Spain, the better and cheaper the ham would become. I found it chewy and kind of "old" tasting. So at the Basque cake, and ham, shop I asked again if it was Bayonne ham. The answer was yes, and that the farm (the man I was talking to was the farmer) had to pay 2 euros per ham to certify that. The man gleefully pointed out that I would end up paying that 2 euros if I bought a ham. A whole one costs over 100 euros!

Anyway, I like Basque cake a lot. The ham is like sushi or lax- basically raw. Could be an acquired taste.One other great thing: canneles!

Canneles are actually a specialty of Bordeaux, we have been told
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Canneles - were in four sweet flavours and maybe the same in savoury
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The man who makes the canneles. He says only the sweet, plain ones are common in their Bordeaux place of origin. He has elaborated the idea into various varieties. I liked the Nutella one best.
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The Basques, long supressed by France and Spain are feeling good under the EU. a famous historical incident came when Franco offered the town of Guernica to the Luftwaffe for target practice, resulting in much loss of life. This was immortalized by Picasso's mural Guernica

Basques are supposed to have a unique bodily appearance, attitude, and culture. Long noses, heavy eyebrows, floppy ears, stout bodies? We don't know about that. And in fact we know little more than what we wrote and will picture here. Give us some more days, maybe we will smarten up!

Basque hats
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Examples of the Basques cross
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If you zoom on this you will see the seven Basque provinces
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Basques hams
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Basque ham. You may be able to see a price tag on one of those chunks - about 65 euros
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Basque cake - good!
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Today's ride: 3 km (2 miles)
Total: 1,416 km (879 miles)

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