It was an early start. Nick and Charmayne needed to get to Gare De Nord and we had a train to catch at Gare Montparnasse, so we made our farewells at Chatelet where we both had to change Metro lines. We got to the station with plenty of time for a croissant and a latte, then found the train. One good thing about a Eurail pass is that you travel first class, so it was all carpets, electric recliners and smoked glass partitions as we settled in to watch France whizz past the window. Not that you see much from the TGV. The French being quite sensitive about noise and visual pollution (except of course around Mururoa) the tracks are often banked high on either side and all you see, especially near towns, is a high green slope of earth.
It rained near Orleans but as we got further south the sun came out. It was a little over 4 hours from one end of France to the other, and when we disembarked at the beautiful little city of Bayonne it was mid afternoon. Stepping out of the air conditioned train was like stepping into an oven. We were grossly overdressed and grossly overheated as we charged around looking for platform E to catch the train to St. Jean Pied de Port. We found it with a minute to spare: an odd cubic little railcar with only two carriages and definitely no smoked glass partitions. We found seats, opened a window and this time we did see France go by, although the railcar's best friends would not say that it whizzed. Clanked, rattled, chugged, bumped: yes. We wound slowly up through hills that became increasingly steep, past small sheep farms and through beech forest beside a rocky fast flowing river until an hour and twenty minutes later we arrived at St John,s at the Foot of the Pass. This town is seriously picture postcard stuff. A tiny medieval walled town in pretty much pristine condition. There are quaint buildings, a river, bridges, a dark old church and pilgrims pilgrims everywhere. We followed the crowd to the Camino office and for two Euros got our pilgrim's passports. For another 8 euros we got a bunk in a bunkroom, all clean and neat. One small problem was that my bunk was double booked, which sounds like the start of one of those stories you hear in a pub, but this is a boring pub story, sorry. Clemency and I elected for a divan bed in a corridor instead, which is a lot better than it sounds. We have been out into the village, found the most delicious Pain Rustique to form the basis of dinner, had a shower and hand washed our spare set of clothing under a tap outside. As this is our last night in France we need to decide tonight which of the three routes over the Pyrenees we will take but at the moment I am leaning towards the Route Napoleon: the route the little General used to get his soldiers over the mountains to surprise the Spanish. It's the toughest but therefore the most rewarding. That's the way the world works and that's, I guess, what pilgrimage is all about. We will cross into Spain somewhere around mid day and goodness knows where we'll spend tomorrow night, but I hope it's an auberge in Roncesvalles. I'll keep you posted.