Winter is coming – at least it felt like it back up the top of the Pyrenees!

I know I know, you thought I’d hurt my foot didn’t you?  I did I did – but does that mean I have to sit at home and live life through the television or a book?  No of course not (although I have come to like Game of Thrones immensely).  I had undertaken all the rehab I was told, I had been swimming every day for a couple of months, I had purchased every podiatrist invention possible (and more) to ensure my foot could handle a few kilometres up and down a hill.  

With that in mind, and knowing that Michelle had headed back to Spain in order to hike from Saint Jean to Pamplona because she had missed that section last year, I thought I might suggest to her that I had a personal interest in the first two days of that section also.  You see last year I had been quite unwell in the weeks leading up to our Camino.  I had also suffered a gastro bug on the first two days out of Saint Jean and had seemingly tortured myself by taking the necessary drugs and then dragging my pack up and over the Pyrenees at the start in order to meet the deadlines only I had given myself.  I, for some reason, wanted to know what it felt like for a normal person in good health to undertake the crossing from France into Spain across the Pyerenees.  I wanted to feel a sense of achievement in arriving at Roncesvalles after walking from France, and not be so overwhelmed with pain that walking to the shower was near torture.  

So here I sit in the front lounge of the hostel in Pamplona with a magnificent view of the Cathedral out the window beside me.  This hostel wasn’t even here last year and it’s the perfect place to catch up my blogging and reflect on an amazing few days. This is how the story goes….

Michelle you may remember is a super hiker.  Yes that’s right, this is the lady who hiked back a few k’s to help carry a friends pack one day after reaching her destination and dumping her own stuff – among other amazing feats this is the lady who also broke the 50km barrier to catch us up near Santiago, I did not want to hold her back over an area that some say is the hardest part of the Camino, but I so wanted to go back to the beginning and enjoy the experience, do it properly.  As luck would have it Michelle was happy to have my company as she set out again and was as excited as I was at the thought of heading out together.  So we bought bus tickets in San Sebastián and headed to Bayonne to catch the train up to Saint Jean Pied de Port.  Woo hoo – back to the camino and more importantly, back to the Pyrenees.

Passing through Bayonne brought some memories to us both – for me they were memories of the start of a gastro bug and my husband breaking our selfish stick;  for Michelle however the memories were tugging at her heartstrings and reminding her of the dashing Frenchman who had once lived there.  Either way we both were pleased to move on to Saint Jean Pied de Porte.  

Initially our arrival frustrated us as we had just missed the Pilgrim office and had nowhere to leave our packs.  We settled on the little cafe opposite and enjoyed a beautiful salad and slice while we googled and booked a bed in an Alburge (or however the French spell hostel).  
We took turns at ducking down to see if it was opened until a knowledgeable local suggested we open the door as others had been leaving their packs.  Oops – bad move – Mr Hostelier may have just been in the midst of a marital row, he told us to look at the door – “if it is closed you don’t come in – when it is open you come in!” With that he chased us down the corridor without any information on exactly when it would open.  Unfortunately we had already paid online — clearly not always the best choice – but you never know when you are going to miss out on a bed.  

After wandering around town we returned to find the door open – at this point a very friendly wife and husband greeted us and showed us to a lovely clean room with a beautiful view over the village and the Pyrenees.  Same man – different time.  As it turned out he was not the main receptionist.  He was the chef and the resident comedian of all things! The Moroccon lemon chicken was delicious.  We had spent an hour or so plotting our next move had he still been grumpy on our eventual checkin.  Proof that first impressions are not always right.  We had a great nights sleep and prepared ourselves for the first 8km and 800m up the mountain.  Buen camino!

Hablar espanol o no hablar espanol? Este es la pregunta!

What can I say?  I apologise.  I was supposed to keep blogging as I kept travelling. Forgive me –  I became immersed in the travel experience and failed in my promise to blog.  I am back now.   No te preocupa!   Have I learned how to speak Spanish? Well if I keep practising I’m sure I am going to find myself fluent eventually.  For now I am pleased with my ability to communicate at a higher level than last year but it has been a hard slog.  

Where have I been and what have I done? 

I have left my beloved on guard at home and flown to Copenhagen to visit son number 1 as he undertakes a university exchange program. 

Then I left son number 1 and flew to Valencia in Spain to undertake a two week language course and immerse myself in Spanish culture. And immerse myself I did! I stayed at the college dormitory above the school and found out how poorly the young are fed. (And how uncomfortable the Spanish dorm beds are!) They offered bread, sugar cereals and coffee for breakfast and the same old limited vegetable servings in the evening. I purchased some muesli form a health food store for breakfast and, as a treat I took myself off to a paella class and had the best experience of my time in Valencia. I also managed a bus trip out to the lakes and the area where the rice grows. I learnt that chicken rabbit and snails are the traditional meats in the paella and that only the poor throw the seafood into the mix. It’s odd to think of rice growing in Spain and yet paella is not odd at all. 


I also did some site seeing with a nice Dutch lady and had a beautiful tapas meal with another Dutch lady – it seemed that Valencia was a Mecca for those from holland and at times I thought it would have been useful to learn Dutch as well!   There were 4 in our class the first week and I was the only non-Dutch student.  It was nice none the less to learn a little from those from another country even though I was in Spain.  The diversity of people was the appeal of the Camino last year and that is probably what had dragged me back.

After graduating with my two week language certificate I headed to Madrid and waited for our friend Michelle to arrive after  she had been  hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland and visiting another Camino friend in the Czech Republic. For my first two days I jumped on the sightseeing buses and saw a flamenco ballet and also visited a bull fight.  Before you get too concerned about my judgment here I will say it was definitely a disturbing experience and if I could have left early I would have but once you are jammed into a bullfighting stadium it’s no easy task to hop over the masses on the same row. Especially when three of the most famous bull fighters are up against each other.   As it turned out I learned how passionate the Spaniards are about these bullfights – shouting out “Muy bien, Muy bien!”  in support of the fighter and “OLE OLE OLE” when the bullfighter lanced the neck of the bull – distressing for me and I had to remind myself I was witnessing a cultural norm that has been undertaken for centuries.  It seems the bullfight would equate to our Footy Season, at least for the older people in Madrid – gladiator type voyeurism to the extreme!  I had arrived in the middle of the frenzy.

It was called the corridor of rejoneses where the bullfighters are on horseback and the horsemanship and the horses were truly  unbelievable.  It was apparently the traditional way the royalty started bullfighting and when the poor people took it up they had no money for horses and hence fought on foot.  

I was mesmerised by the dances the horses were undertaking as they bounced around the stadium and the ballet like performance of the fighters.  I flinched more than once when the Bulls horns were a little too close to the horses.  I could not in all good conscience see how the bulls had a hope in hell of winning the fight and I was equally worried for the horses ridden by the bullfighters and I left there a little shaken learning that it is not if the bull dies that determines the winner, but rather how the bull dies.  Another disturbing fact I later discovered was what happened when the white handkerchief was waved after a fight.  I seems the fighter has impressed everyone so much he gets one of the Bulls ears. Not sure what happens with those now – soup? Trophy cabinet?

I then decided on a more sedate evening and went to a flamenco ballet which was admittedly more flamenco than ballet but quite an enjoyable evening after the trauma of the night before.

When Michelle arrived we had a whirlwind trip of Toledo and the Prado and hightailed it out of Madrid.  Sometimes more than a day or two in a big city is too much!  We checked in to a hostel and did some serious bar hopping in San Sebastián, which is a rather appealing surf city in the north of Spain known for its pinchos bars. Pinchos are tapas for the Basque people – most of which are served on bread (the pinchos not the basque people).  Here again being either vegetarian or gluten free would be a problem as most pinchos are some form of meat or fish served on bread.  Hence the bar hopping was really an opportunity to eat every different type of pincho on offer – as long as it didn’t frighten us!   

It seems there’s always a statue looking down on us.

Buenos noches!