September 8, 2018. Over 1000 kilometers across France. Instead of owls to Athens we involuntarily carried a baguette to Paris. The French police recognized and accepted us as pilgrims right from the start.
Punctually at 5:30 a.m. the alarm clock rang on September 8, 2018. I was actually awake a few minutes earlier – just like Vasek, who had slept on the sofa bed in the living room. After all, we had taken it easy the night before and had only allowed ourselves one can of Oktoberfest beer from the Hofbräuhaus. In the days before I had already wasted a thought or two on how to serve a demanding Czech a delicious barley juice. So it was quite a challenge, but the refreshing bavarian drink fulfilled its purpose with ease.
Early in the morning and fresh in the morning dew we did not go up the mountains but went to Irun in the Pyrenees. For this purpose we were on the road in Vasek’s PEUGEOT 5008, his company car, which he had been given as team leader of a development team in one of the Czech offices of my ex-company. So it was a convenient way to get to Irun and back with it.
Vasek’s name is actually “Vaclav” according to his passport, just like the well-known Czech ex-president Havel, but it would be too formal to address him by this first name. In the Czech Republic the first names have several variants, which are used depending on the social bond.
But before we got on the motorway, we wanted to get some food for the journey, so we quickly drove in the dark to the factory branch of Schröer, a bakery chain from Mainz and Wiesbaden. There we bought some Russian pluck cake and an original French baguette. Since I had baked a Russian pluck cake in my study times many years ago in my flat share in Bochum, this pastry has something special for me. I have never experienced the taste of the cake achieved at that time again, but we had also replaced most of the conventional liquids required by the recipe, such as milk, with vodka and therefore, as a precaution, we had forbidden fire and open light in the kitchen during baking.
Just behind the German-French border at the first tollgate, a policeman with a machine gun jumped in front of the car and spoke to us in French. But we agreed relatively quickly on the English language, which then made the further communication a bit more monosyllabic. So the policeman only asked “Passport?” and “Where you go?”. I gave him my identity card, Vasek referred to his passport in the backpack. I said, “We are pilgrims!” and Vasek said, “On the way to Santiago de Compostella…” The policeman gave my ID card back with a rather sparing look, peeked briefly at the back seat and the box of Czech apples on it and said: “OK, go!” It’s a pity that we didn’t wear black suits, hats and sunglasses that day, but this bluesbrotheresque dialogue made me smile for a long way through Lorraine and beyond Paris.
Paris? Yes, our French sat nav was obviously homesick and led us along the Seine until we saw the UNESCO building. After all, the Camino is a world heritage site registered in this huge complex. But actually we did not want to muddle through the city traffic of the metropolis and adjusted our navigation with two more smartphones in a new and successful way.
Soon it became very boring. Only interrupted by toll booths, one drives between Paris and Hendaye, respecting the speed limit, through flat land that is dominated by agriculture. So every now and then you see a farmer in the field rattling around in his tractor. To distract ourselves, we imagined two French farmers named Pierre and François living in this wasteland and we had several dialogues in Frenglish. “Whee in Frohngze eff our own Bombe Nucleaire!”
At last, finally, before the onset of worse stages of stupefaction, the first mountains came into view on the horizon. Spain was no longer far away! Then we arrived in Irun and searched for the Albuerge de Peregrinos according to my travel guide, avoiding a roadblock of the Guardia Civil. Actually we found a parking lot directly opposite and then saw this hint in the entrance of the house:
So we unpacked our backpacks from the car and made a tiny pilgrimage with jingling scallops the few meters to the new hostel, without being able to resist the friendly hints of some nice local residents where it was currently located. The first slight incline and the still over 30 degrees temperature in the late afternoon in Irun let us arrive authentically sweaty at the hostel.
So we were very happy about the first stamp in our pilgrim passports and a little less about the remark that there would be no warm water in the showers. Despite this unpleasantness the hostel was well occupied and I was assigned one of the last beds, more precisely the upper level of a very narrow red bunk bed. Right at the window with a good view to the nearby and well used roundabout. Since the bed did not offer any protection against falling out to the side, I grabbed a piece of equipment that was probably unusual for pilgrims, my rope. I expertly tied a railing around the bed with bowline and guy knots.
The night was warm and loud. The gas, which was missing in the hostel for the hot water supply, the car and motorbike drivers gave all the more when leaving the roundabout. And that through the whole night. This background noise was naturally accompanied by snoring pilgrims in our room. My Oropax had to give their best and finally did it. I imagined the swaying of the bed into the nautical realm, I simply imagined going to Santiago in an old sailing boat. So I finally fell asleep.
Conclusion of the day: We are pilgrims!