We arrived at St. Jean around 230 ish. Found “Villa Esponda” easily.
First things first – laundry – shower – food. Always check what you’re paying for your room!! We booked on Booking.com which has always been great. Got to the Villa Esponda and checked in. I was reading the amount they were charging us upside down. It looked to me like they were charging us half of what booking.com and said the room was worth. Signed the charge card and went up to our room only to discover they had charged us one half more! We had a copy of the receipt on our iPads and were able to show what we had agreed to pay. No problem but they couldn’t credit the card and couldn’t give us the refund in cash until the banks opened tomorrow – or at least, that was what we understood from the conversation in French. We liked the room, were exhausted, and decided to stay a second night so that took care of the refund. It was a beautiful room with a marvellous view of the mountains from the windows.
Next order of business was dinner. We didn’t want to walk too far and soon found a nice little outdoor restaurant which had been recommended. After 2 sips of wine, I was almost cross-eyed! By this time we’d been travelling and awake for 30 hours and so were pretty tired but wired with excitement about finally being in St. Jean, which we’d talked about for so long. While we were at dinner we started a conversation with a couple sitting at a table close by. They spotted our “Brierly” book which started the conversation. They were celebrating their tenth anniversary of doing the Camino by doing a one week trip this time. They told us that the first time they’d done the Camino, they’d reached the top and then sat down and couldn’t go any farther. Of course, eventually, after a rest, they made it but didn’t get into Roncesvalles until 10pm! We staggered home and were in bed by 8 and asleep by 8:01!
We were woken up by a particularly persistent insurance agent (Medicare Supplement) who called to see if we’d gotten our insurance cards etc. I can barely remember answering the call and can only hope I tried to be polite but…the good thing was it woke us up enough to turn down the heater which I had turned on earlier – we were swelteringly hot. After that we slept like the dead until 1030 am the next day. There’s nothing more sleep-inducing than knowing you have nothing pressing to take care of that day. Every time I woke up, I fell back to sleep again.
The Villa Esponda was a bit pricey for the budget we’d set ourselves but we are so glad we chose to stay a second night. In all of the hostels and alburgues, you have to be out by 8 or 9 in the morning. Here, we could come and go as we pleased. We saw so many people wandering carrying their packs today all over town – we were happily pack free.
We are just across the stree from the old citadel, an old fort dating back to before the 16th century. It was fortified in the 1600’s. The Camino goes right through the heart of the citadel, the Rue Citadelle. This street is lined with tourist shops and pilgrim boutiques. Later in the day it was teeming with tourists and even had an old auto/train loaded with elderly & juvenile passengers, giving guided tours of the old city. Very entertaining.
We explored the citadelle and environs, took pics, wandered into and out of shops until we found the Pilgrim Welcome Office where we got the first stamp in our credential for this trip. Next stop was a deli to get sandwiches for the walk tomorrow – the toughest day apparently as we climb the Pyrenees from France into Spain. In the deli where we bought our sandwiches, the proprietor declared, “[the hike over the Pyrenees] – EASY …. 6 maybe 7 hours!” We are hoping she’s right.