Saturday, 7 February 2009

Bayonne;The river and town

After an hour and a half I land at Bierritz. Transfer bus to Bayonne. A public service bus really which takes for ever or so it seemed at the time. Get off on the wrong side of the river from the railway station; walk across the bridge to the square in front of the railway. Pause and look at the timetable. Last train at 6pm, I am not ready for that and I've been expecting to stray in Bayonne. I stick to the plan noting that there is a train 8mm tomorrow. As I am looking and planning a man who has been on the bus rushes up, tries to buy a ticket, is told that it is too late, although the train is standing in the station. I watch as I can see that he is boiling with frustration. Alongside is another man. I can see that there is no connection between them. They both have sticks and rucksacks so they are linked, they just don't know it yet. They are pilgrims. Neither is able to get to St Jean tonight. All three of us will stay in Bayonne tonight. I go to the Hotel Ibis which is as disappointingly standard as very other chain hotel I have ever been in. It is cheap, but not cheap as in hostals in Spain. This I do not know yet. If the Hotel was very bland the restaurant is not. After a walk up and down the town, during which I discover a good butcher who sells great sausage.I find a small bar by the river in the upper part of the town that looks as though it will be cheap. Outside they display a plate de jour. It is an interesting menu. I order and get a simple meal beautifully cooked that was delightful. I am somewhat surprised. I am also happy and grateful. I feel that God is in control of this adventure. Back to the Hotel and so to bed. Next morning I get up early or as it will be for the foreseeable future the normal time of 5:45am. To me this is a strain. The strain is devalued by the excitement that I feel. Today I start walking. I am at the station by 7:30am. Ticket in hand I go onto the platform. After a few short minutes, first one pilgrim, then the other arrives, from wherever they have stayed all night. I have seen nothing of them all night, or this morning, except I did see the Italian, who I knew to be Italian at that moment because I saw a small flag on his bag, as I walked around the town last night. The Italian stands well down the platform. He is out of conversation range. The other is next to me. I asked if he is going to Santiago.It seems a strange question to be asking on a railway station that is not on a direct line or even the same size tracks as Santiago, to a person who is not going to use the train to get there. He tells that he is and that he is German. This is his second pilgrimage. Bingo! Someone to show me the ropes. He is meeting a friend in three weeks time and wonders if he will get to the agreed meeting point in time. The train comes and we get on it. Now railways are one on my 'things'. I have always been interested in them. This journey then is the icing on the cake for me as we wind our way up the valley towards the start of the walk. It is a bright and clear morning. The French Pyrenees are beautiful. And what is that in the distance. High peaks.That's where we are going. Now! Today!. The heart swells again. After one hour we are there! St Jean station is the end of the line. The platform is full of people pushing and shoving to get on the train back to Bayonne. I am somewhat amused and puzzled. I had thought that this would be a one way trip. Pilgrims to the mountain, thence to Santiago. So why are there so many coming back. Have they started a pilgrimage only to give it up in the light of the first days experience? I never find an answer to this question. So I guess that they were ramblers. Returning home after a few days walking the mountains around St Jean. My thoughts are broken by Hans, the German pilgrim,to me guide, telling me we must get off and hurry. We have to get to the pilgrim office before the crowd or we will be in the office for ever. We need to start walking as soon as possible. I have my pilgrim passport already. It was issued by the British Confraternity. I go along for the ride anyway. He knows what he is doing. I do not.

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