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Friday 26th July 2019

Toulouse is even more beautiful this morning. I am annoyed to find that the bathroom door in the hotel doesn’t even shut, let alone lock. After a rather disappointing breakfast we head out to find the station and take the train to Bayonne. On the street corner we pull out a map and an old French gentleman immediately stops and offers to help us. “You are on your way to Santiago, I presume,” he says. He speaks in a wonderfully clear French and we understand every word. What’s more, I manage to reply!  

A girl steps in to join the conversation. She is going to the station herself and we can go with her if we like. The man is put out and they bicker about the best way to get there. The girl wants to take the scenic route and the man is insistent that such a route would be foolish with heavy rucksacks. Frankly, with 800km ahead of us, I do not see that a few hundred metres extra is going to hurt us too much. A heated argument ensues and the result is that the man stomps off in a huff. “Merci Monsieur!” I shout after him. He shrugs without turning round. I am sorry that he is offended. We go with the girl and arrive at Toulouse’s airy, modern station. I buy a copy of “Le Figaro” – I am now determined that I will improve my French – and  we travel first class to Bayonne. I am much taken with the stunning female conductor with her smart uniform, worn with great pride, and her scarlet beret with glossy dark hair in a pony tail down to her waist. The train arrives in Bayonne and we transfer to the packed shuttle to St. Jean Pied de Port. Thankfully we find a seat. A hippily dressed German girl sits opposite us. “Would you have a sticking plaster?” she pleads. “I’ve cut my finger and I don’t have one.” Clearly not overly prepared for her camino, I smile to myself and feel smug as Mrs. Asinello pulls out our first-aid kit. 

It is raining when we get to St. Jean but fortunately it does not last. We make the acquaintance of a friendly Frenchman starting his third camino and he accompanies us to the pilgrims’ office, where another friendly Frenchman, Christophe, tells us all we need to know about the camino and kits us out with our pilgrims’ passports and “conchas” to attach to our rucksacks. He tells us where to find a hotel – I do not yet feel ready to face a hostel – and where to eat. “Truite” is apparently the thing to have here and, as it is Friday, we are pleased to hear it. We find a vacancy in the Hotel des Remparts and a sweet French girl shows us up to our room. “Have you ever done the camino yourself?” I ask the girl. “No. It’s not my scene,” she replies. I am shocked to find that the bathroom door which, of course, does not lock, also has a porthole with a front-row-centre view of the toilet itself, so that you could stand outside and watch your partner having a bowel movement if that were the sort of thing that floated your boat. Apart from that, the room and the hotel are fine and we head off to find some grilled trout. We find some at a place called “Chez Dede”, accompanied by pilau rice and a bottle of crisp white wine, and we decide that the first day really has gone rather well indeed. Back at the hotel, we decide to ease ourselves gently into the camino by having our rucksacks sent ahead to Roncesvalles, just for the first day. I feel a little guilty but I promise myself that I will not do it again. The friendly girl calls the service for us and tells us where to leave our bags the next morning. We turn in for an early night. 

Music: The Temperance Movement – A Deeper Cut

The Wonder Stuff – Never Loved Elvis 

Audiobook: Charles Dickens – Pictures from Italy

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