My flight to France was about 7:00am in Edinburgh. After looking over options, I decided that taking a cab would be the best due to me having to be at the airport by 5:00am, and because it looked like the trip would take perhaps an hour to get there.
Boy was I wrong.
It turns out, another similarity of Minnesota and Scotland is their road construction. The driver himself came with two separate plans to get to the airport since he knew one way was closed, and we had to use both of them. We bitched about construction for a while, but we mostly talked about life and where it leads us. I also admit that it took a good ten minutes for me to get used to his accent as his was thicker than most. I was glad those first minutes were pleasantries as we shared a good many opinion about living life and that karaoke was a good form on entertainment. I didn’t want to miss any of it.
Once in the airport, I immediately realized how thankful I am for the procedures of an American airport. While it seems there is a lot of red tape, at least you know what you’re doing. Signs are posted, the counters are clear to where you should go… At Edinburgh? I came in to see an every growing line of chaos that airport clerks were desperately trying to control by via tether. In the few moments I took to look up to find whether Ryanair (the cheap company I used for my flight) was around that area, the line grew another three feet. I made a hasty decision after seeing one monitor with the name to jump in or forever hold my piece.
I’d made the right decision. I know because I asked the Scottish couple in front of me. We made small talk about American airport security, and then I felt right at home because I looked up to see two police officers with AK-47s roaming around nonchalantly. They were chatting about something of tea. I thought about the drug cartel and how this was probably the closest I would ever get to such a situation, and that I was lucky to have such a polite people holding AK-47s near me discussing morning tea.
Soon, I was turning the corner to type in my information on a self-bag-check-in kiosk because THAT IS HOW THIS AIRPORT WORKS. The kiosk gave me step-by-step instructions that I was disappointed weren’t in a numerical order as he last step was left on a questioning note. I cautiously picked up my bag after placing the tag to the handle and it reset for the next person.
Of course, after standing in line for a bag drop off, a man in a fancy suit with a fancy ear piece stepped up to me to ask where I was going, what airline I was taking, and whether he could see my boarding pass/passport. While I was wondering about whether I was going to be taken aside to have a stern talking to about my luggage weighing capabilities, he explained that I needed to go to the most desolate part of the airport at the other end of where we were to finish the process.
There was an AK-47 guard at the start of the non-existent line.
He had tattoos along his bicep.
He had his hand propped against the gun, ready for action.
He looked very calm with his hand propped up against the gun, ready for action.
To prove I wasn’t afraid, I gave a friendly smile and said, “Good morning!”
He nodded and said, “Hello.” back.
As you do, mum.
The line I had been directed to was for those with oddly shaped luggage, like my oblong pack, rather than the nice square luggage most travel with.
When I landed in Marseilles, the customs was baffling to me. Or, should I say, lack there of.
The airport had signed that separated the residents from non-residents, but it was rendered pointless we were merged back together in the end. When I finally got to one of the police officers, she barely glanced at my passport before stamping it and saying, “Merci!”
I felt like I was being tricked.
Then the heat hit me like a wave. Marsielle is hot. Mostly because it is a desert. And if it wasn’t the heat that got my attention, it was the fact that I was finally in an area with a full blown language barrier.
This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except that I hadn’t been able to purchase my train ticket to get to Le Puy en Velay due to me not having a UK residency for my bank card. A bit of research led me to believe I would be fine, that I could just speak with someone at the train station to purchase my three-stop ticket, but when I went to the ticket booth, thewoman refused to believe that the option existed.
“There is no train,” she would say sternly.
“Except that there is,” I wanted to reply, but said, “Are you certain? I am pretty sure the bus can take me to the train,” instead.
She, instead, charged me a bus ticket, pawning me off in lieu of my outrageous accent.
Frustrated that she would barely humor me, I made my way to the bus, where there was no bus driver. Many French people seemed to think this as normal as they came to ride and sighed, then moved on.
Meanwhile, I refused to think one of the buses wouldn’t take me to the actual train station. So, I asked one of the many cab drivers around my area. He pulled his phone out while we worked our way around what we knew of each other’s language (I am pretty sure I butchered French way more than he did English), and then he pulled in a friend of his, who then had a friend of his who knew English to help. We discovered that the bus would take me to the bullet train, which would take me to Lyon, which in turn took me to Le Puy en Velay. We shook hands, and I got on the bus feeling much like I was going to Hulk Smash. Ten minutes after that, and I was dropped off at the station where I paid forty euro more than I could have if I’d been able to pay online for the convenience to never have to discuss how to get to Le Puy again.
Worth every penny.
I fell asleep several times on the train, in a place where, had the conductor stopped by to check tickets, I would have been escorted off as the prices for those comfy seats were twice what I paid, and had the comfiest of seats.
Finally, after five hours of riding trains and waiting for trains, and refusing to pay to go to the bathroom, I made it to Le Puy. Wherein the train seemed to be desolate and broken down. There weren’t any taxis by the taxi signs. And everybody scattered to the wind to their own homes since Le Puy was the last stop of the night.
So, I looked up. And there was the church with a large statue of Mary. So, I started to walk.
This is where I begin to feel incredibly terrible. You see, I planned my trip, but I didn’t realize I needed to have been versed in everything that there was to know. I had hoped to learn more about it on my trek as I went. I mostly didn’t think this was a problem due to the fact that whenever I tried to look anything up about the trek, there was never any information anyway. It seemed to be one of those things that people loved to talk about, yet never wanted to get into details beyond what to bring, and that you get an elated feeling for doing the trek.
Full disclosure, I also only looked at random blogs, the wikipedia page, and an official page for Le Puy Camino.
Of course, the church was on a hill, because anything you really want is dangled in front of you like a carrot on a stick. Once I got to the church, it was closed. I had heard this happened earlier than anticipated by other pilgrimage people, so I wasn’t surprised…but they did have to explain to me about getting accommodations.
My directions from a non-native English speaking wonderful man:
Go to the steps until you find the place. When you see number twenty-seven, go in and ask if they have room and go from there.
Needless to say, I was lost as soon as my foot took that last step off of those stairs.
This is when I met Xavier and his two friends. They were French, but spoke decent English, enough so that, between the three of us, we got a good conversation going to find where N27 was hiding. I got the best end of our new friendship as they were able to translate anything our hosts told us.
By the end of our hostel tour, we had quickly discussed what their plans were, and my own.
This is where I learned that the El Camino de Santiago is much like our own trail system. In the sense that people come and go as they please, and walk as far as they want in their own timeline. When asked how long I was going, their eyes would widen and say, “Oh, bon oui, vous allez tout le chemin!” which more or less started to get me worried because…it was six weeks. What was the big deal?
And this is when I found out that six weeks of trekking would get me to the border of France, which is considered the Le Puy ven Velay part of the trek. The rest of the trek was considered Spain, and takes closer to another four weeks to finish.
I recalculated my journey with the new milage: 952.562038 miles.
Have you guys ever heard of The Proclaimers? Because it looks like I’m going to be making this song more true than it has ever been.