Rachel and I are having a very hard time realizing that we've only been in France for two days, because it feels like about a week -- I say that in a good way! Today our faithful Parisian tour guide/host/friend Christine brought us on an early morning jaunt to the Eiffel Tower up close. On our way we stopped to get some coffee, and as we were standing on the sidewalk (two blondes with crazy blue backpacks, and Christine) an older man walked up to us, specifically to Rachel and I, with a little Eiffel Tower keychain in each hand, and started speaking rapid French. We both started saying, "Non, merci! Non, merci! NON MERCI!!" because we're so used to the gypsy population trying to force sale items (their current item of choice is selfie sticks, go figure). He finally looked at Christine, and said (in French), "Free! Gifts for them!" at which point we accepted them, and he went off smiling. Good morning, Paris - and thank you sir!
We departed for Bayonne via train around noon, and spent the afternoon and evening riding through the beautiful countryside. This was made humorous by the fact that we waited until we were in Paris to book our train tickets (it's cheaper to buy them in Europe), which means we waited until yesterday, which means we waited until last minute. There were still seats available! In the car specifically set aside for children. Yep. That happened. We were on aisle seats, directly across from each other, and every couple minutes some French boys would slide the door behind us open from their car and yell, "BONJOUR, MADAME!!! BONJOUR, MONSIEUR!!!" at the top of their lungs, and then giggle hysterically as the door slid shut, only to amp up for another "hello" attack. The other adults (ie, mostly French grandparents) in our car were probably about to tape the door shut, but something about these small kids yelling in French (and our lack of sleep) made us giggle, and we just couldn't stop laughing. This probably made the French grandparents greatly dislike us (we apologize).
We finally arrived at Bayonne, where we transferred to a train on which 99% of the people on board were carrying heavy duty backpacks, wearing boots, and looking distinctly outdoorsy. We made quite an impression as we hopped on at the last minute, had to climb over bags and packs and legs, and as we found our seats the plastic bag of food I was carrying ripped open and a sausage and an orange fell out. (RIP orange -- I never saw it again.) A big, tall, bearded lumberjack looking man tossed my pack onto the overhead rack and then Rachel's, opening up room for us -- which we took while Rachel gave me an intense look with her eyes that distinctly said, "Oh my gosh, I am so intimidated right now!" I was too ... until sometime in this ride the girl next to me asked if we were walking the Camino like her, and the lumberjack man (obviously) is too, and probably everyone else on the train. She was from Nova Scotia, and the lumberjack guy from Sweden. We chatted a bit, until Rachel suddenly asked, "Guys, do you know what those are?!" She pointed, but by the time we turned the thing was obscured and Sweden and Novia Scotia both said slowly, "... trees ..." Sweden added, "New York, this will be good for you." Somehow this moment struck all of us as hilarious (even though it seemed ridiculous at the time), and we all laughed until it hurt, and I had tears streaming down my face. That moment was huge for all of us -- all of these fears we were feeling, intimidation, anticipation, worry -- all melted away as this bonding happened. It felt like family -- so friendly, bonded in one common goal. Neither Sweden nor Novia Scotia are religious -- but they are also walking to seek deeper truth and deeper understanding of themselves. We shared our purposes with them, and laughed and talked until we got herded off the train into a bus to our final stop, St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, a tiny town at the foothills of the Pyranees.
As we arrived, Rachel and I walked off to our lodging -- our last night before we begin staying in "albergue's" or pilgrim hostels along the route. We are staying in a small guest house down a road that passes several farms in rolling hills at the base of a mountain. We set off, half heartedly, to find food (everything here closes early, and we didn't arrive until nearly 8 PM), and we're also mostly in the middle of farms, and were just about to give up when Rachel shouted, "PIZZA!!!" I thought she was hallucinating out of desperation, but just in front of us was a pizza truck -- there you go, Portland, small towns in the south of France have food trucks, too! So we sat and discussed our route for tomorrow, in the shadows of gorgeous mountains, eating delicious pizza outdoors in late evening sunshine (it gets dark in France around 10 PM). It was glorious.
And tomorrow we begin! The toughest part of the whole Camino is the first day -- 15 miles of heavy ascent and descent. We also hear it's the most beautiful! We're off at sunrise - pray for us!