Our Journey to Santiago was finally feeling like it might be underway as we got off the train in Saint Jean Pied de port, the most famous start point of El Camino Frances. Getting to saint Jean was not so straight forward however. So lets back track a little to where you left us, soaking up some French sun on the coastline of Brittany Approximately 760 kilometers (470ish miles) from Saint Jean…
We had decided we didn’t have enough time to walk from Nantes (though this is totally a do able thing!) So instead were umming and ahhing over how was the best way to travel across France to get to our official start point. Our friend Laura made a valid point that flying was the quickest option and could end up being pretty cheap. One small problem, Saint Jean pied de port doesn’t have an airport. So next idea.. why don’t we say, fly to Toulouse then train/bus to Saint Jean from there. A quick Google search and flight scanner said this was a much more do-able option. We jumped on Easy Jet and booked a cheap flight and some accommodation for one night in Toulouse then a bus to Bayonne so we could train into Saint jean. … Right sorted.. Nothing with that could possibly go wrong could it … if only.
The day of our flight arrived, an evening flight so Erwan kindly dropped us off at Nantes airport. We only had our carry on bags, which through Easy Jet we could pay 7 pound/ 8 euro and get them checked in as long as they fit the size requirements. We were plenty early and headed over to the bag drop as I had checked in online. We handed over our bags and the flight attended asked for our boarding passes. Standard procedure.
“Do you have today’s boarding pass?” she hands me back my phone, I frown I was sure I had opened the right attachment.
“No this is it.” I say, its got the right time on it, it has to be it…
“No sorry Mam this is for next month, do you have a booking for today.”
My face drops and I go white, Royce is looking no better then I am as he had booked the flight. I took back my phone and looked at the boarding pass, sure enough its the right date, wrong month. Royce apologizes, I start swearing internally,
“No not your fault.” I say, “I booked us in I didn’t double check it either.” We head over to the help desk as my anxiety kicked in and I started to panic. The flight desk couldn’t help. What was a 60 Euro flight for two people had become a 400 euro flight. By this point we are both not doing so good and battery life on phones weren’t either. (Thank goodness for battery packs!) We searched our options, we had accommodation booked in Toulouse and a bus. I checked out our bookings there was no way we would make it to Toulouse tonight we had lost the accommodation, but..
“Oh Shit!” I say. “What now???” Royce is scrolling the limited airport WiFi for other options. The bus I had booked is also the wrong day. (Clearly we weren’t having a good day when we booked all of this!) But on the upside I could get a refund because it was booked for more then two days in advance.. By accident. (Thanks Flixbus!) So I canceled those and Royce sorted us out a Bus. We decided to instead bus from Nantes to Bayonne overnight, then catch a train to Saint Jean pied de port first thing. Sorted, Right…? Or so we thought.
We took the bus from Nantes airport to Nantes city, easy enough, even with limited French. This is where things got complicated.. How do we get to the bus stop. Shit! Where is the bus stop..? thinking.. thinking…
Lets try Uber.. Yes! Uber works in France.. Problem. My French is zilch, Royce’s French is marginal…We managed (with a little help) to order the Uber. Tick. Next problem. The Uber couldn’t find us!!! The clock was ticking away, our bus left at 10.30 and it was already 9.45. The bus stop was 30 mins away…
Finally after tooing and froing, a strange man in a car we ordered off the internet got to us. Off we went at a very at a very reasonable law abiding pace. This wasn’t going to work.. Royce managed to convey to our Uber driver in broken French that we were running late. We got to the next set of traffic lights and our driver finally gathered our rising panic and revved the engine.
“Oui! Fast, S’il vous Plait!”
He got the message, said man now drove at gawdnoswhat speed through the back streets of town. Like a race hound with the fires of hell burning its way up his tail, and got us to the bus stop with time to spear! He turned a 35 min journey into 15! Our driver may have been a rally driver in past life.. For the safety of our driver we won’t mention his name, but he definitely got a tip! Phew we made it! it was now only 10 o’clock at night having had no dinner we only had a packet of biscuits to sustain two very stressed, tired travellers in a foreign country… No biggie… 😫😫
Roughly 6 hours later we were awoken from our patchy slumber, it was 4 am and we had arrived in Bayonne. Yaaay…😴 We found our way to the train station which thankfully was open, as it had started to rain. We sat down, plugged in our phones and Royce went over to the ticket booth to order our ticket for the first train to Saint Jean. Only what we didn’t know was there is more then one Saint Jean… I had sat down with the intention of continuing to nap, but glanced briefly at the screen showing destinations.
“That’s odd” I thought to myself. There’s two trains going to saint Jean, almost at the same time .. The dots slowly connected. I fumbled for our tickets. Oh no! Not again, surely!
“Royce?” “yes.” “Which Saint Jean did you book our tickets for?”
Needles to say this trip was not going in our favor, I managed to at 5 am, (when a train attendant arrived) sort this ticket problem out. And managed, thanks to a faulty ticket refund booth, not have to pay anything extra to get on the right train. The staff member was extremely helpful at such an early hour, but we were both very glad to finally board the train to Saint Jean PIED DE PORT and arrive at our start point! Of course once we were on the right train, there was no way we could have mistaken it for the wrong train. Not with the hoard of backpack wielding hikers crowding the carriages.
We had booked an Albergue for that night, as neither of us were in a state to start walking that day. We decided to instead explore the beautiful little town. We walked up to the castle ruins and collected our credentials from the pilgrim office in the main street. We walked along the cobbled footpaths taking photos and generally just being tourists. We were finally here, finally about to begin.
Our Albergue (pilgrim hostel) Gîte BIDEAN was a small 8 bed place, which for a bit extra served a fantastic three course meal and breakfast. We opted for a hearty meal to start our journey, and were not disappointed in taste, flavour or banter from the exuberant middle aged couple that ran the place. They gave us a detailed guide to the following day, and we were able to meet our first fellow pilgrims. Including Yin, our first walking buddy who; hilariously (being Chinese by birth so English was not a first language.) Had learnt to speak English properly in New Zealand, and had a rural New Zealand twang to her English. To anyone who has travelled to New Zealand, you can understand why we thought this strange, and funny, but fantastic, she agreed to leave before first light after breakfast with us.
And so it began..
Thanks everyone for putting up with this long winded beginning to our Camino journey. I hope you will find it worth the wait! To our other loyal followers, as always thanks for tuning in. And if you want to see more head over to Insta. Don’t forget to leave a like and a comment, and get out the gate and get adventuring!