September 16, 2012

St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port

I have thus far neglected telling you about the chambres d'hote where I will have spent three nights before going on to Larrau tomorrow. The house (pictured below) is located just a few hundred feet outside the Porte-Saint Jacques, at the foot of the steps to the Citadelle.


The building dates from1673, and was the first built outside the walled city. This was only about 10 years after King Louis XIV married Maria-Theresa, of Spanish and Austrian royalty. Their marriage put a halt to the seemingly endless French-Spanish wars, and probably brought some security to the people of the Basque lands, who may have felt it was safer then to build outside the fortifications.



 


There are these days a lot of pilgrims: over 40,000 pass through this village every year, during a 6-month period. Voices on the streets speak many many languages, people wear all kinds of attire, carry their possesions in backpacks, and more than a few feet reveal  plasters over blisters.




The chambres d'hote is lovely, very comfortable, quite perfect. Tim, my host, is an English expat who came here about ten years ago. He is quite knowledgeable about cycling in the area, and has offered me valuable suggestions, lent his maps, and today suggested an entire route, complete with cue sheet! The route travelled through the foothills, all farmland, and was quite pretty.



Before leaving town this morning, I stopped at MayaSports, a sporting goods store with a bike shop included. The very kind mechanic not only replaced my rear brake pads, but adjusted the derailleur a bit, oiled the chain, tightened the front brake cable and sent me on my way, a more secure-feeling cyclist. I should have had those brakes replaced before leaving home, but it escaped me. While waiting, I walked up to the Citadelle. The contrast between the arrow slits and the blooming hydrangea amused me.

The ride took me past the Col des Palombières, which at 337m is another low one. It is known for the towers at the top, used for shooting pigeons during La Chasse, in the fall. And La Chasse is here now. As I was riding, 3 cars zoomed up, stopped on the side of the road, and out jumped several groups of men in sporting orange or camouflage (done in the US also, seems like diametrically opposed attire to me) who quickly grabbed their rifles, closed the doors and hurried off after game. 




The entire ride was very pretty, enjoyable, little traffic. In the mob of sheep, all packed together, only the one kept its head up. If this was guard duty, it was a pretty lackadaisical guard!




After dinner (delicious, and very fairly priced) in the medieval city,  I saw activity in L'Eglise Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, the 13th century church, went in to discover what was going on, and was thrilled to have happened upon an a capella choir of 8 male voices. The church was packed with an enthusiastic crowd, but after a break I was offered a seat near the center aisle, in the 5th row. The music was extraordinarily, heartbreakingly beautiful. Each song was introduced in  French, but I believe the singing was only in Basque. It was modern, by which I mean only that the tonality was not medieval or renaissance, and each song seemed to tell a story. One was about the Basque city Guernica, immortalized by Picasso's painting. If at all possible I think it a good strategy when travelling to see what crowds of people are paying attention to. It can be an effective way to discover local events.



By the way, I figured out why my statistics were weird yesterday. The computer switched from miles to km midstream, so totals were whacky. Don't ask me to explain that, I didn't knowingly change anything, and can only tell you that I have a difficult relationship with many small modern things technological. Tomorrow I head to Larrau, not far, but with some substantial climbing along the way.
















4 comments:

  1. The sheep mass is an incredible photo!!!

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  2. Yes, I agree with greyhairedmomlady, that is a great photo! Easy to see why the world needs sheepdogs, clearly the sheep are not going to look out for themselves.

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  3. Ahh thanks! ... you, the ghml and I do happily agree a lot! I hope for a trip together one day, perhaps somewhere a bit flatter! TOS

    And I saw your comments in the reverse order ...

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