We managed to fluke our trip to Spain, catching a flight on the last afternoon that planes were allowed to fly in Europe due to the volcanic ash. We were completely oblivious to this for a few days because we weren’t reading newspapers or hearing stories from people who got held up by it yet. We flew into Bilbao on a sunny afternoon, without a care in the world. Ignorance can be bliss. We were just excited to be back in Spain again!
I had been to Bilbao when I travelled through Spain with Liz (in 2006) and remembered it being a dreary grey city with not much more than the Guggenheim museum going for it. What a difference a blue sky makes! I have to remember not to judge cities by the weather as I’m sure people would not like Auckland if they went there in the middle of winter either.
We decided the 30 minute walk from the bus station to our hotel would be good practice for the 800km walk we were planning on starting in the next few days. As we wandered through parks, across old bridges, between new and old buildings, the sun began setting over the city, illuminating the Guggenheim and its surrounding sculptures with brilliant colours.
The point of us going to Bilbao was to get to St Jean Pied-de-Port to start the Camino de Santiago – the walk across Spain. We weren’t really sure how to do this, but my Spanish guidebook said to bus to San Sebastian, train to Bayona, then bus to St Jean PdP. Sounds pretty easy? After walking about an hour through the city (due to an unintentional detour), we made it to the bus station where I saw a direct bus to Bayona, leaving in 4 minutes. We bought tickets and jumped on not even thinking. And that is how we ended up in France without realising that was our destination! It turns out Bayona is Spanish for Bayonne, a lovely town on a river, in FRANCE.
So after a four hour bus ride, along the Spanish and French coast (I can imagine in summer these places would be so crowded with people from all over Europe), we got off the bus in a country where we didn’t speak the language, had no accommodation and didn’t even know where in France it was. But that’s part of the fun of travelling. A coffee helped me remember my high school French and we ended up getting a map of the city with hotels/hostels marked on it. Phew.
The next morning we caught a bus to St Jean from Bayonne (we didn’t realise that there were also train strikes in France – they sure knew how to time things well with planes out of the sky now too), the beginning point of our walk. It is very touristy and accordingly prices were high for food, accommodation, anything really. We spent the afternoon enjoying the sun as we wandered around this picturesque village. Never far from my mind were the dauntingly high Pyrenees in the background which we would be walking up and over the next day.