Train journey- 820 km Paris to St Jean Pied de Port

Salut! to the efficient public transport system in Paris! We would soon learn that this efficiency extends to the train network too. A quick metro ride from Passey to Gare Montparnasse and we enter the train station.

We book our tickets to SJPDP at a computerised kiosk & then spend time understanding the ticket printed in French. A very nice gentleman from Bordeaux noticed our anxious faces and calmly explained how we find the platform and which numbers indicated the cabin number, etc. He insisted on showing us the way to the platform and helped get our tickets validated.

The train was a high speed train to Bordeaux and then slowed down between Bordeaux and Bayonne. We covered 800k in 5hours and 30 min. A quick change at Bayonne to a small train that took us to Cambo. The occupants of this train all had the same fashion sense – far removed from the fashion of Paris!! Quick dry pants, shirts and shorts, backpacks, sun caps and walking sticks! This group then shifted to a bus from Cambo to SJPDP.

The bus ride was about 40 min, into the hills. We were dropped off at the bus stop in SJPDP. A small trek then, up the hill to the Pilgrim Office in the centre of town to collect our pilgrim passports. We soon learned that every time we say we’re from India, people go ‘awww, or clap or exclaim ‘how wonderful’. Maddie at the Pilgrims office told us that they hardly get any folk from India & she welcomed us warmly!

A pilgrim passport is a little book that a pilgrim carries on the Camino and gets stamped at every albergue/ hostel or hotel you stay at along the way. We collected our first stamp too at the office as well as some maps and advice on routes for the first couple of days.

We then headed to our Gite for the night. Gite de la Porte St Jacques. Owned by a wonderful gentleman from Australia, the gite is lovely. We shared our dorm with a pilgrims from the US, Guatemala and Belgium. We are the first Indians to stay here!

After putting our bags down and settling in, we set off to see the little town. Pretty cobbled street with neatly laid out buildings that were either hostels or cafés or stores selling Camino related stuff.

At 7pm we went to the ancient church Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont. A couple of very old priests con-celebrated mass. The congregation was largely pilgrim crowd. At the end of mass, Father blessed the pilgrims and tried guessing nationalities – French, Italian, German, Hungarian, Belgian, American, Mexican, Guatemalan, Australian, NZ, UK. He didn’t get Indian and Hong Kong. A round of clapping and aaahs for us!! We’d come all the way!

After mass we went looking for a place for dinner. Places close early in this little town. By 8pm, it’s shutters down. We found a nice place near our gite and shared a table with two very talented artists. While one of them lives in the Pyrenees and paints, the other drives her van across countries and paints. Two fascinating women, so warm and friendly! Both of them had watched Bollywood movies and claimed to be fans! The movies had led them to try Indian cuisine which they loved. Their impressions of India though, were still largely influenced by Slumdog Millionaire!

Notice the lovely stripped table cloth- typical of the Basque region of France.

A lovely start to our walk! Tomorrow we start our climb! Buen Camino!

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