Friday 23rd of July 2004 I caught a plane to Paris from Dublin. It was summer, I was happy as I had just finished my first year of university. I was a mature student and loved the opportunity I had to study full time, something I had avoided when I was younger. I was setting out to walk along a route that I have never heard of till earlier that year. One of my flat mates, fellow students, and friend, went on and on about this trip he had done a couple of times. Once he had even walked from Amsterdam to Santiago, quite something.
So after all his persuasion had worked. There I was in Paris for an over night stop, meeting a friend the next day for lunch and then getting an overnight train to St Jean Pied de Port, way down south, just inside the French boarder in the Pyrenees.
I had my rucksack stuffed full, I thought I was ready for any eventuality. I wasn’t but it was not all to do with my rucksack.
On the 24th July I walked around Paris, sightseeing. I had been in Paris many times before, but had never taken any time to walk and just admire the city. It was a hot July day, I walked around in my sandals all day. By the end of the day I had blisters on both my feet. Blisters were going to be my nightmare for a while. My boots were cheap walking boots I had bought a couple of years before for walking in the hills of Wicklow. They were fine for the odd day wandering around the hills, but not for what lay ahead. My training for the Camino de Santiago, had consisted of two days walking along the tow path at the side of the canal from Maynooth towards Dublin for a few hours, then getting the train back to Maynooth. These two training walks had caused blisters on both of my heals, which I though were now fine as the skin had now become hard, and I though that would protect me from getting more blisters – Ha, I had no idea.
I say on my web site “spent as much as you can afford on good boots, break them in well.” I know this very well, from not doing it the first time.
So I left Paris that night on the SNCF overnight train, with some new blisters on the soles of my feet and the old ones, hiding their potential for pain, on my heals. I slept okay. I arrived in Bayonne very early the next morning. (The same train runs all the way to Pamplona, so if you have less time it is an easy way to get from Paris to a week into the Camino.)
There is a local connection from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port. If you don’t know where you are going follow the other people who have rucksacks and walking sticks. The easy way to spot the pilgrims is by a scallop shell on their rucksack somewhere. The journey to St Jean is not far, but I don’t remember much of it. I was just awake, I hadn’t a shower yet (more later on this), and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into…