Sunday, October 19, 2014

St. Jean Pied-de-Port and Pamplona, Spain

The last two days have been pretty wonderful.....walking on Friday could not have been more perfect. There was some hill climbing, and the weather was sunny and hot, but nothing could dampen our spirits! We had a couple of close encounters with sheep on the road which was great fun, and also met a few more pilgrims along the way. One of them was a young Dutch fellow who had finished university and was walking to Santiago from Holland, to spend time thinking about his future.

Leaving Ostabat
Russ found me the most perfect fig!!
Sheep on the move
We arrived at SJPDP mid-afternoon, and went to the pilgrim office first, which was across the street from our gite. It wasn't too busy at that time, so we enjoyed chatting with the volunteer, who happened to be from Ontario. She added us to her list of pilgrims arriving in town, and we were the fourth Canadians that day, so were ahead of all the other countries at that point! Some tourists took our photos, which we thought was quite amusing, as we were sweaty and tired, so not looking our best!

Gate into SJPDP on Chemin Le Puy
Beilari, our gite
River in SJPDP
Our gite,"Beilari", was formerly "L'Esprit du Chemin", and we had spent one night there in 2012 before starting our Camino. We found that not much had changed in two years, and it is still being run very efficiently. There were twelve guests, and the countries represented were England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Germany and Canada. We had a social time before dinner, with little games to break the ice and get to know each other. Several of us had completed our walks, so we were asked to give tips to the people about to head out. Dinner was vegetarian and very good. Russ and I were in a room with three beds, and our roommate was a young Spanish lady from Pamplona. She was only going to walk for two days....easy to do when you live so close to the Camino! When we got up yesterday morning (Saturday) it was such a great atmosphere in the gite, with people eating their breakfast and preparing to start their Caminos. Soft music was playing, and there was laughter coming from downstairs. We remembered so well how we felt two years ago, excited and also a bit apprehensive. We were thinking of our friends Caroline, Brenda and Brian, who had been our roommates there. Both of us felt envious and quite emotional when we peeked out into the street and saw all the pilgrims heading out. It will always be a special place for us.

Early morning in SJPDP
We had made contact by email with an Aussie couple that we had met in Cahors, and were surprised to hear that they were also in town, as she had pulled a back muscle and they had been forced to stop walking. We felt badly for them, but were happy we had the chance to spend more time together. They had mentioned that they were going to Pamplona by taxi later that morning. To make a long story short, we tagged along and shared the cost of the taxi. We had always regretted not spending time in Pamplona on our Camino, so this was an exciting opportunity!

The drive to Pamplona was along the Valcarlos route, which is the route walkers take on the Camino if the weather is not good enough on the higher Napoleon route. The road was very windy and hilly, and there were a few pilgrims walking right on the side of the road, which had no shoulder. There were many pilgrims on bicycles also. I was thankful that we had been able to do the higher route, as the highway route did not look particularly safe nor enjoyable to me. We were so excited when we drove through Roncesvalles, then Zubiri, and saw the Camino several times where it crosses the highway, until we finally reached Pamplona.

We agreed to meet our friends later on for a tapas bar crawl, and after checking into our hotel we headed out to do some sightseeing, and also deal with the logistics of taking the bus back to France. On a Saturday afternoon Pamplona was the main square we watched some folk dancing by men and women in their ethnic costumes, and the square was packed with families enjoying the nice weather. A bit later we heard music and came across more dancing, but this time it was just anyone doing it, adults and children, and there was a live band accompanying them. It looked a bit like line dancing except they were doing it in a circle, but they had certain steps that they all knew. It was wonderful to see everyone having a good time, and obviously the children were learning the steps too. Apparently they do this dancing in a huge circle in the main plaza during the week, but on weekends it is in a smaller square. I can't explain how happy we were to be back here, and finally spend time seeing this city. It is so vibrant!

Circle dancing
This bar has ham on the menu!
Linda, Margo, Ian
Our tapas later on were so much fun. We went to three different bars and just picked out a variety of items. Tried some red wine from this province, Navarre, as well as some good Rioja. The streets were packed as we headed back to our hotel around 9:30. Their evening was just beginning! We certainly noticed the liveliness of this town, after the sleepy little French villages we have been spending our last month in! We felt like we had been transported to a different universe.

Pamplona street in the evening
Little girls having fun
Town Hall
This morning we met our friends at the famous Cafe Iruna, which has been in the main square since 1888. It is very ornate inside, and we enjoyed our cafe con leches and scrambled egg bocadillas. Russ and I then did some sightseeing, walking the route of the Running of the Bulls, and visiting the museum. It's now siesta time, and I am hoping to get this blog entry posted.

Interior of cafe
The men pray to this saint for their safety before the bulls are released.
Entrance to the bullring, where all the bulls are corralled.
We will leave here tomorrow morning (Monday) and take the bus to San Sebastian where we switch to another bus to Bayonne. From there we take a train to Paris on Tuesday.

Oh, one more thing. Russ's boots are now on their way to Santiago.......the young Dutch fellow needed to replace his boots, and Russ offered them to him. He tried them on and they fit perfectly. The Camino does provide!




Thursday, October 16, 2014

Maslacq to Ostabat

Yesterday was a good day! We only had to walk 15 km, plus there weren't a lot of hills to climb, so we could just enjoy the scenery. A lot of our walking in the morning was in forests, and at one point we met a local couple who were out mushroom hunting, specifically for Cepes. Despite our challenge with speaking French, we managed to have a conversation with them, and they were anxious to show us the two Cepe mushrooms they had found earlier. We have since read up on them, and they are related to the porcini mushrooms in Italy, and are highly valued for cooking. They grow in pine forests, and are very hard to spot as they are usually under the dead pine needles. We have noticed many vehicles parked in the forests we have passed through, and assumed they were hunting animals, but now realize they could have been after the Cepes. Recently we were in a nice restaurant for lunch and had Cepe mushroom omelettes, and they were wonderful.

Cepes mushrooms
We also saw some interesting "treehouses" in the forest, and assume they are for hunters. There were some signs posted on the trees about being silent, but of course we didn't understand the entire message on the signs. We saw a man climbing down the long ladder from one of these treehouses, and he was carrying both a shotgun and a basket.

Long way down
Last night we stayed in a "farm" gite that had been recommended to us, and it was very interesting. It is a "purpose-built" gite, a renovated farmhouse that is now spacious and bright, with all the things that a pilgrim needs. The communal areas included a large dining room, a lounge area with nice leather furniture as well as laundry facilities, bathroom area with multiple shower stalls, toilets and sinks (with soap!!), and about ten dorm rooms with 2-6 beds in each one. The gite was located on a hill that had great views of the countryside, and there were decks and outside areas to sit as well. There was food available to purchase, so Russ and I had a nice little bottle of wine along with some bread and cheese for a late lunch after we arrived. There were ten guests last night, a group of French people, a German couple, and us. Dinner was wonderful....we started with an aperitif, which was cassis wine and a small dish of peanuts. The appetizer was a wonderful smooth mixed vegetable soup, main course was roast pork, green salad and creamed carrots. A huge cheese platter followed, with probably ten different cheeses on it - too bad we were full by then! Following that was dessert, a tiny chocolate cupcake and a slice of fruit tart. The owner is obviously a very good cook, and manages to look after her two small children while working in the kitchen baking goodies or preparing meals. I was impressed!

Today was a more challenging day, longer, with more hills, and warmer (high of 26 degrees). When we left the gite this morning, we followed the regular GR65, and realized sometime later that our distance would have been much shorter if we had taken the alternate route that starts in the town of Aroue, but it would have meant some additional highway walking to get to the town. The scenery and views were beautiful however, so it was worth the extra effort I think. We are definitely in sheep country, so it is already reminding us of the scenery around St. Jean Pied-de-Port, and the beginning of our Camino. Further down the trail we opted to take the Uhart-Mixe route, so that saved us a few kilometres, plus we were able to have lunch there, where we reconnected with our German friends from the night before. We will see them again tomorrow in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

Sunrise from the gite
Pyrenees getting closer
These two were very friendly and were sporting cowbells!
Spectacular countryside
Entrance to Uhart-Mixe
Interesting clouds just before Ostabat
Tonight we are in the village of Ostabat, in a Chambre d'hôtes called Auberge Ametzanea. So far it seems pretty rustic, but we will see what dinner is like tonight. As far as we know, we are the only guests. Cows are mooing outside, and the church is chiming nearby. Hopefully both will be quiet tonight!

Tomorrow we will enjoy the final day of walking, and perhaps do a bit of celebrating with some of the people we have met recently. Bon nuit from the foothills of the Pyrenees.