I feel like I cheated by taking the bus the first leg of the walk but I was not alone. Along with my Achilles tendinitis, there were walkers with hip, knee, shoulder and leg problems. We're all determined to go on, though. We just couldn't face the initial 15 miles with 4,500 feet elevation gain. One person on the bus was an Italian cyclist who thought he could rent a bike in St Jean but there were none to be had. A lucky escape, I say. He has to go all the way to Pamplona to get a bike.
It took about 45 minutes by bus to get to Roncesvalles, which consists mainly of an old Medieval hospital made into a 400 bed hostel, a couple of hotels, and restaurants. It sounds like a lot, but they were full and turning people away by late afternoon. So the people who were late getting over the Pyrenees had to struggle on to the next hostel up the road.
I had time to take a tour of the Church of St Mary (1219) and the crypt where thousands of Charlemagne's rear guard are supposedly buried in a mass grave.
In the winter the snow can get to the upper windows. Some of the pathways are beautiful old stone mosaic.
We were all served a Pilgrim's meal for 8 Euros. They are a custom along the way and are supposed to sustain us through the next day of walking. This one consisted of salad, fish in white sauce and fries, wine, bread, and ice cream. My three tablemates were a German family that spoke no English or Spanish, but we managed to communicate in the universal language of hands and grunts. The daughter is vegetarian and ended up with a plate of French fries for dinner. We are supposed to pass a market in the next town, so hopefully she can get some healthy snacks.
After dinner we attended a pilgrim's mass in the church and we're all blessed. There were five older priests. One of them looked like he was a hundred years old. This must be a retirement posting for Catholic priests.
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