Day -1: Paris to SJPP

We checked out of Sacre Couer and I got my first stamp of the trip. It seems that most Catholic churches will have a ‘pilgrim’ stamp, so out it came (eventually – they struggled to find it) and I am now the proud bearer of an almost incomprehensible addition to my pilgrim passport.

Note that I’m still using the pilgrim passport from the 2019 trip. I have unfinished business and it seemed good to just carry on using the old one. More on this later…

Off to Montmattre to sort out the train. I had a message yesterday from SNCF telling me that the Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port (hereafter referred to as SJPP) had been cancelled. It looked like the best idea was to change our Paris-Bayonne tickets from 14:06 to 12:11. Off we go to the ticket office. After a bit of explaining we got the new tickets.

Now, one of the things I felt I had to do to, ahem, justify taking 30+ days off work was to be kinda-sorta available should Very Bad Things happen at work. Thus my red backpack contains a Microsoft Surface Go which I could use to access the corporate VPN and fiddle with stuff should it be required (and write this blog, come to think of it…). Trouble is I’m struggling to charge the wretched thing. I bought a 65W USB-C charge yesterday on the assumption that this would work. Sadly not. The Surface would charge for 20 mins maybe and then just stop. So, my task this morning was to find a ‘proper’ MS branded charger. I went to the Darty store in Montparnasse station. They didn’t have one, so they sent me to a FNAC store a 20 min walk away. They didn’t have one either, but they assured me that the FNAC in Gare St Lazare did, so off I went tp that on the Metro. Turns out they were lying and no charger could be found. By this time it was 11:30 and I was in a panic. I returned to Montparnasse and discovered that a very large Darty store was about 3 mins walk from where I started. They did have one. I bought it in a great hurry and slightly panicked as the sales assistant took her time extracting the charger from the protective security case. 35EUR lighter I ran, pack and all, and made the train with minutes to spare.

What with staying up all night being religious and philosophical, and then running around town for 90 mins I was completely knackered.

I got out all my electronics and charged everything I could think off and eventually had a small sleep whilst the magnificent TGV whisked me through the countryside at a fantastic pace.

We arrived in Bayonne and sought out a cash machine and some coffee and cake, like you do. The train to SJPP turned out to be completely full so an additional bus was laid on. We were about to board the bus when Jonathan, the 4th member of our group, came into view. He’d flown out that afternoon to Biarritz and was on the same train/bus as us.

Off to SJPP – the start of the trip!

It’s a lovely little town,more or less completely given over to the Camino.

The queue outside the Pilgrim Office

Hordes of peregrinos (aka pilgrims) exited the bus, and the train, which arrived at the same time, and we all raced into town to find the Pilgrim Office to pick up the pilgrim passports. Without these very important pieces of paper it isn’t possible to stay in the albergues. The albergue system of very cheap accomodation and carbohydrate-heavy meals seems to me to be a bit of a labour of love for those involved. Imposters, who try and stay at the albergues without putting in the effort are usually turned away. Note that ‘effort’ could be pretty much anything. Most folks walk, a fair number cycle. There are blokes on donkeys and people who take the bus. It all counts.

Sorting us out at the Pilgrim Office

And now the all-important first step pictures.

This is us. Step #1. Roughly 1,250,000 to go… I am simultaneously sick with worry that I won’t make it and as excited as a 10 year old at the Lego store. Bring it on…