10 June 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 1: London - Bordeaux - Gradignan

We woke up on the floor of Gatwick Airport, having traveled with our bike boxes the night before in order to arrive in time for our 7am flight to Bordeaux. After some last minute taping of the bike boxes (which each weighed 20-21 kg) we were on our way! Looking out the window before takeoff, we were happy to see our bike boxes being loaded onto the plane. At least we knew they'd get to Bordeaux with us!

Bikes being loaded onto the plane

We assembled our bikes under the watchful eye of the French army who seemed to find something suspicious about two people spending over an hour fidgeting with large packages... but about 90 minutes later we were ready to start our journey.

We cycled out of the airport and were surprised by cycle lanes pretty much all the way into Bordeaux. We had targeted the train station (Gare de St Jean) as our destination as we knew there was a tourist information office there. After grabbing a quick bite we went to the tourist office as we had read online that we might be able to buy our pilgrim's credencial (needed to sleep in all the albergues, or pilgrim's refuges, on the route) there. This did not prove to be accurate, but the woman at the office did confirm the existence of the Priory du Cayac in Gradignan which we had also read about online. That was reassuring as we hadn't been able to see anything looking like a pilgrim's hostel on google street view! She said we'd be able to get our credencial there but that no one would be in before 3:30. As it was only abut 1:00 we headed into the old town of Bordeaux to do a bit of sightseeing under rainy skies.

We entered historic Bordeaux through the gate of St Jacques (aka St James aka Santiago) and saw our first signs about the Camino. After snacking on some macaroons we decided to head south to Gradignan, about 10km away, as the rain began to pick up. We never quite relaxed while in Bordeaux, I think we were kind of on edge until we found the albergue and confirmed we could sleep there.

St Jacques Gate
Information about the Camino in Bordeaux
Despite not having seen it on street view, the Priory was actually quite obvious when we arrived in Gradignan. It's a massive group of buildings from the 1200s - some of the buildings are in ruins while others are still going strong. The refuge was located in a building that had been redone on the inside - it featured a large main room with a large table and a kitchenette, a bedroom with bunkbeds to sleep 10 or 12 people, and rooms with toilets / showers / sinks.

The Priory du Cayac at Gradignan
Statue of St James outside the priory
On arrival, we were greeted by two members of the Amis de St Jacques who issued us with a credencial (5 euros) and showed us around the accommodation (10 euros). We had read that this was a donation-based refuge so were surprised at the price - but the place was very clean and nice, and our hosts were extraordinarily kind. They spoke only very basic English but still made the effort to engage with us, and when they were leaving they offered to drive us to the supermarket so that we wouldn't have to walk in the rain (and lent us an umbrella for the way back!). They are volunteers so left to go home at about 6pm - leaving us and our fellow pilgrims with instructions on how to lock up in the morning. When they left they gave us two kisses on the cheek as if they were saying goodbye to good friends.

We shared the refuge with a french couple, Gerard and Maripol, who really only know a few works of English. We managed to get by with hand gestures and a few words of French and English. It helps when there are really only so many things you could be asking about! They were from a small town between Paris and Bordeaux and had already been walking for two weeks when we met them. They had planned for the whole journey to take about 2 months. We each cooked separate meals of pasta, and later they did our dishes as well as their own! I tried to get up from writing in the journal to do some of the cleaning but the woman told me to keep writing. I had seen earlier that she takes her journalling very seriously, so I guess that's why she felt so strongly about it for me.

We headed to bed at about 9pm, tired from our airport adventure the night before and looking forward to what the rest of the trip had in store for us.

The stats for the day:
Odometer: 28.97 km
Moving average: 14.7 kph
Overall average: 10.6 kph
Time on bike: 1h58m
Max speed: 36.4 kph

1 comment:

  1. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step......... Looking forward to future episodes.