France: It is a rainy day as we cross a bridge, looking down over the side, we see a wedding photographer shooting a bride and groom against the backdrop of an ancient Roman bridge. The rain will add to their experience, as it does to ours. Regardless of the weather life goes on. I have found that while hiking, the foul weather routine doesn’t differ from the dry routine. We may or may not put on rain gear, but in the end it is the same – just keep walking. Step by step, and in time you will have gone someplace.
We dropped off the rental car at the airport in Irun, Spain. We then took a cab across the bridge to the train station in Irun, France, a short 5 euro ride. We asked the Cabbie if he was French Basque or Spanish Basque? He answered,”we aren’t French or Spanish, we were here with the Romans, we are Basque. Our language is from Roman times.” At the train station, I had a brief conversation with the two police officers assigned there, and gave them a OPD shoulder patch. I said Oakland was by San Francisco, and the older officer said,” yes, I know you have a great sports team, the Warriors.” He was a Curry fan – small world. It was a uneventful train trip to Paris, except that out of boredom, my inner James Bond surfaced, and built a case of foreign intrigue about the man sitting across the aisle from me. He had an IPad and two cellphones, one black and one pink (obviously untraceable.) He answered the pink phone when it rang, but just appeared to listen, never spoke. Went to the IPad then back to make a call on the pink phone, but again never spoke. In Paris, the woman seated next to him, who we assumed were a couple, got off the train through the same door we did, but the man walked back through the train to get off from another car – Ahh-Haa! Verrrrry interesting. The train station was in the Montparnessa district of Paris, and our hotel, that Monica had picked from Booking.com was only a block away. The hotel was only two stars, but was very nice. The next day as we had been on a trekking trip, we decided on a walking tour of Paris. We started at 9:30 in the AM, and returned to the hotel at 7:30 PM, a coffee stop in the morning, lunch, and head calls aside, we were steady walking for eight hours. We had previously visited all the main tourist attractions, but this time added Sant Chappell, and entered Notre Dame Cathedral through the “Year of Mercy Door,” where we also attended the Vespers service. Along the way there was also noon Mass at another church. A couple of times we stopped to confirm directions to a particular site, and they would tell us where and which metro station & train to take. We said no metro, we were walking. They would point the way, but add that it was too far to walk. We scoff at taking the metro – Scoff! Scoff!
well, by 10 o’clock we were finally dining at our hotel, the Hotel Rio Bubly. Honestly that was the name of the hotel. Hey! It is just across the street from the Rio Bubly, we are not talking the Nile or the Amazon here, but the Rio Bubly. We both agreed the meal was perfectly cooked and very nice. This morning we went down for coffee, just minutes ahead of a herd of seniors from two tour buses. It was like the grasshoppers descending on Utah; as there was only one young woman hotel employee, who had to deal with the people checking out of the hotel, answer the phone for new reservations, glad hand the local morning crowd, while making 200 espresso coffees for the tour bus crowd. She did it all admirably. She must stay heavily sedated.
Then we were off for a coasr drive along almost the whole Atlantic coast of Spain. The car has to stay in Spain and the San Sebastián airport is as close to France as we can take it. The airport is actually in Hondarriba. This is totally Basque Country. We were in Handarriba a number of years ago, and the story at the time is a book unto itself. So, how romantic to rekindle the memory. Can you believe I got a room,not just a room, but the same room from the past, with a view looking out to the sea. Since our last visit the hotel has been remodeled and updated. Now with an elevator – how gosh! The staff is bored to tears. The recommended restaurant was an overpriced dog & pony show. As the saying goes, you have to live in the now, you can’t go back to the past.
Walk to Santiago but how do you ESCAPE?.. Tunnel out?… We have to leave today Saturday, and there appears to be no way to get out of town other than walking. First, we walked to the bus station – no bus; so on to the train station. The lady at the train information said we were too late, we had missed all of the trains. Then she began talking to her computer, interrupting her conversation with her computer to bless herself and mutter a pray. Success, she could get us on a train to Barcelona, early tomorrow morning. No, we don’t want to go to Barcelona, our return plane is in Paris. No problem, more conversation with her computer, and a few more prayers – Success, she has once again performed a miracle, and got us on the train to Barcelona. Forget Barcelona, where else can I go right now by train? Her response,”No where, it is too late, no more trains. Thanking her for all her effort and one hell of a good job; we walked out on to the train platform, where a number of people were obviously waiting – for what? We asked the first two we came to, who were Irish Pilgrims on their way home to Dublin. How are you getting to Dublin? The train to Vigo, Spain and fly from there. The TRAIN? When in just a few minutes,today of course. I ran back into the info office – they are taking a train to Vigo, I want to go to Vigo! Of course, just go buy a ticket the train arrives in 15 mins. So simple, what was all that about Barcelona? The train arrived , and we were off to VIGO. Then we were in Vigo, but we want to be in France. There is no train today, but you could go to Barcelona tomorrow. This has become an Abbott & Costello routine. Every time I hear Barcelona, “slowl
y I turn and step by step,”. No Barcelona,so we are off to the Vigo bus station. The bus to France is $175. A person. So, we are off to the airport, but you have to go to another location to get a bus to the airport. We start walking to the airport bus stop, but are accosted by a a young man and his parents; seeing our backpacks, the quickly stepped into a phone booth and in a flash reappeared as Super Angels, ready to escort Camino Pilgrims to the proper bus stop. A bit of language distortion had them originally taking us to get a Compostela stamp. That corrected they eventually got us to the correct bus stop, and we were on our way to the airport. At the airport, you guessed it the only flight was too Barcelona. Sorry, Senor, but what a relief the flight was full. I need a flight to Paris. We don’t fly to Paris. End of flight plan, no problem, we will rent a car and drive, our friends at Avis will take care of us. The Avis agent,”It is $400 euros for the car and another $2,000 euros to take it to France. Forget it Avis. We now have a Eurocar are at a hotel in an unknown area of Spain. We haven’t eaten since breakfast, it is now after 9 PM, and our host has assured us they will have dinner, but no indication that it is going to happen…
It is now 9:30PM and no sign of dinner service. They set all the tables in the dining room, the closed the doors. There are now about 30 Hungry people milling about. I think I’ll go cot down a tree for a battering ram and attack the dining room door – we shall overcome. . .
Low and behold the Pilgrims landed yesterday in Santiago de Compostela. It was a long up and down,a lot of it was quiet backroad country paths, but again a section that is quite long with Pilgrim against high speed traffic. A bicyclist was knocked down by a truck, the referee called it a draw, nobody hurt. But, with a backpack you are the turtle on the road. At one point in the Santiago suburbs, you walk for about 20 mins.around and about under the freeway, and all you have really advanced is to cross a roundabout. That is all history, we arrived intact. We went to check- in at the relocated Pilgrim office (it relocated to a very much larger building and definitely required as there are some 275,000 Pilgrims checking in this year), apparently some 200,000 must have just arrived before us, as we had stood in line for quite awhile when they told us the average wait would be over two and a half hours. How long? Forget it we will come back tomorrow morning when they first open. HEY! We didn’t just fall off the pumpkin truck, we are smart enough to figure out how to avoid long lines. We get there early this morning and the line already has 100,000 people in it. So, we still spent hours in line, but we got acquainted with the Australian couple (walked the minimum 62.2 miles from Tui on the Portuguese route) in front of us, and the German couple (walked the 62.2 miles from Saria, on the French route) right behind us. When we finally made it to the desk and got our Compostela, we found we were the oldest couple of the day to check in, and we had walked about 225 miles? Santiago is a hustle bustle of Pilgrims and tourist, we did get to attend Mass when they have 6 or 7 men swinging the huge incense burner, but much of the cathedral is under restoration.
We only made reservations for two days here in Santiago, and the whole town is completo tomorrow, so we are on our way. As we don’t have a definite plan we are on our way to somewhere??? By the way, you can get very hungry standing in lines, so for lunch we had; a double order of Chorizo, an order of pork ribs, an order of mussels, an order of sardines, and of course white wine. The waiter seeing how famished we ere brought us a basket of small anise flavored doughnuts. It had been such a trying line standing day, we had to stop for ice cream on the way back to our pension.
We are now in The town of Padron, home of the Padron pepper. Before we even got to our hotel room we had a platter of Padron peppers and a platter of Pulpo Galician style; well of course you can’t have that without a nice white wine – it was all delicious.
This has been a nice day, overcast, cool with a breeze, most of the time away from the highways, on a quiet trail/tractor road, and with a couple of cafe stops along the way. It doesn’t get much better than that.
There were a lot of Pilgrims??? Well, a number of them, including a couple from San Jose were part of a tour, so they don’t carry much and have a support van chaperoning them along the way. “Why isn’t our bus here? I want a banana.
Please, but another issue we were discussing at inner with a Pilgrim from Denmark, he has done all the major Camino routes, over 6600 Kms, hey, that is something over 4,000 miles – and no assistance or any bananas. Anyway, we all were wondering what registers with the average Pilgrim? They go along in continuous animated conversation, they don’t stop or even turn their heads as they pass by points of interest. In the 4 – 5 weeks we have been walking, we have started conversations with many people, but have yet to have anyone initiate a conversation with us. The definition of Pilgrimage has obviously gotten distorted, but few we have met have any interest or concern for any form of spiritually. Sadly, for most this is a walking holiday. The Camino has lessons for living, and maybe more importantly it can give you the opportunity to meet your inner- self.
Tomorrow we should be in Santiago de Compostela.
We ended yesterday in a town, named Arcade. It had been a hard day ending with a hill, and the first hotel we come to is completo -sold out. They called the only other place to stay, and luckily they had one room left.
This morning we walked down to sea level, and then started a long rugged climb, first along skinny cobble stone town streets and then continued up a rock strewn trail. There were dozens of Pilgrims along the way, one couple from Redwood City who had a vacation home in Truckee; and another couple from Washington. Both couples were in their 60’s, so we had ahold timers get together. After we conquered the hill, it was back to mostly road walking. Interesting, all the area accommodations are taken up by people from all around the world attending a Frozen Food conference. Funny, no Eskimos.
We are now in Caldas de Reis, formerly known for it’s hot springs, but looking very Industrial now.
We went to rosary & Mass tonight, and met 6 Pilgrims from Brazil, who started the pilgrimage to Santiago from the shrine at Fatima, Portugal. They have been walking 17 days.
Today was a test of legs, back, and probably brain, there were two serious hills, and the climbs were definitely a workout, while they were a long steady up, the backside was a very steep down and very trying on the knees. Added to todays trials, were several ‘Do or Die’ crossings of several high speed roads (135 Kms).
We did meet a honeymooning couple from Poland, a single woman from Russia, a Canadian, and finally two USA – Seattle & New York.
We got to Valanca, Portugal and had thought if we can make it across the border to Tui, Spain we will be doing well. Starting in Valanca, we became caught up in a group of fifteen or so Pilgrims, and we followed in their wake across the river into Tui, Spain. The number of Pilgrims on foot and on bicycle, all wishing a Buen Camino just caught us up into the excitement of the Camino; filled with the Spirit we just kept walking. It was the Camino of old – in about 14 Kms we came to a bar, that became crowded with Pilgrims, German, Brazilian, Spanish, Austrian, and us, take off the boots, have a beer and a sandwich, fill the water bottles – the perfect Camino experience.
There were many photo ops and we arrived in Porrino, Spain, which had been having a month long festival, which was ending today. HEY! It is a petty day. We find a 3star hotel, clean up our act and join the town fiesta. We find a very busy restaurant to watch the festivities from and enjoy dinner, calimari, pulpo, and a chickpea/chorizo and meat dish, and a bottle of wine. We get back to our hotel opting for a final/final. Monica orders a sherry. A perfect choice, I order an expresso and a brandy. I get the coffee, the bartender set up a large brandy snifter, and commences to fill it to the brim. Good night Pilgrims. . .