The next steps of the journey to Santiago de Compostela took me through Paris to visit a dear friend. We have known each other since 1985. She is a cellist who teaches at several of the most important conservatoires in Paris and lives in a nearby suburb. Here is a photo of Marly le Rois, a historic French town where the king once had a residence – it was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the town is still intact and well worth seeing. On my first evening, we enjoyed a meal of French crepes with hard cider in Marly.
The next day, July 14th, was Bastille Day in France. To celebrate, we drove to St. Germain, where we visited all of the French specialty shops and had lunch at a lovely little bistro that we discovered quite by accident.
It was a short visit, because I was meeting a college friend in Pamplona the next day to begin our trip on the Camino. The train ride from Montparnasse to Pamplona will probably stay in my mind for the rest of my life, because it was a real adventure! In brief, the train schedule that I downloaded from the Deutsche Bahn website, which is supposed to be the most reliable in all of Europe, turned out to be wrong. I was supposed to arrive at the French-Spanish border to change trains in Irun, but my regional train stopped several kilometers short of that destination. In my best French and Spanish, I managed to find out how to get to Irun from Hendaye within an hour, to find the Renfe (Spanish Rail) station, to get my reserved seat and make the train just before it departed for Pamplona.
My guess is that much of this actually has to do with the fact that the Basque areas of France and Spain are in the process of establishing their own national identity. Truth be told, I was never so grateful for having studied several foreign languages and for being able to communicate with people in languages we both know!
Having managed to arrive in Pamplona with the right train, my friend met me at the station with our rental car. We planned to spend the first week visiting places along the Camino in the Meseta Central (Castilla y León) – where it was too hot to travel entirely on foot in July – as well as several cities in the Basque Region and La Rioja. On our first evening in Spain, we had a dinner of jamón serrano at a tapas bar. It was as good as Rick Steves says it is! Here is a photo of Old Pamplona.
The next day we traveled to Bilbao, which is a fascinating city and well worth visiting. From there, we headed along the Atlantic Coast of Spain via San Sebastián to Comillas. We lucked out and found a parking space in San Sebastián near the beach, which is beautiful. There is a historic Casino right alongside the beach: it has been re-purposed as a library, but the architecture has been preserved, and the adjoining park makes for a wonderful stroll by the beach. It was also great to wade into the ocean for the first time in some years.
That same day we visited the Altamira Caves near Santilla del Mar. It was a Sunday, so we enjoyed a complimentary tour of the caves and museum. They are every bit as fascinating as the possibly more famous prehistoric Lascaux caves in France. We ended up in the neighboring city of Comillas, also on the Atlantic Coast with a wonderful beach. This small city has many incredible and historic sites dating back to the Middle Ages. The photo below is of Antoni Gaudi’s Capricho, a private home and one of the few examples of his work outside of Catalonia. After our visit, we had dinner at El Pirata, a great restaurant in Comillas that our hotel owner recommended. We had fish, of course!
The next day took us to the very beautiful city of Burgos, the historic capital of Castilla. We’ll begin there in Part III. But I will close by mentioning that our hotel was across the plaza from the Burgos Cathedral. We ate breakfast in a lovely room on the second floor of the hotel with a view of the facade. It was very special.