When I was planning our Camino trip, I knew that I wanted to go to Lourdes before starting the 500 mile Camino walking pilgrimage. Although Lourdes is only a short distance from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port (the official start of the French Way of the Camino), there is no public transportation that goes directly from Lourdes to St. Jean. Instead you have to take the train from Lourdes to Bayonne and from Bayonne you take a bus to St Jean-Pied-de-Port. Originally, I had no intention of staying overnight in Bayonne, but then I saw someone post pictures from a trip to Bayonne on Instagram and the unique colorful shutters and architecture won me over. So we ended up staying in Bayonne for just over 24 hours. We arrived by train late Monday morning and we left by an afternoon bus the very next day. We stayed in this airbnb, which I did not realize was just a private room and not the whole apartment…oops…but it turned out fine, the host was very nice and even though it was a little weird to share her apartment we were barely in it and it was only one night so it was ok.
After dropping off our heavy backpacks at our airbnb we crossed the Pont Marengo bridge and headed up Rue Port de Castets. We grabbed sandwiches to go from one of the cafes that lined the street and ate them in the garden square across from the Sainte-Marie de Bayonne Cathedral. The next morning we made it to morning Mass in the Cathedral (and accidentally arrived early enough to join the priests for Liturgy of Hours, I had the English version on my phone so we were able to pray along and it was an amazing experience), explored the streets some more, ate a delicious breakfast, spent a few hours in the Jardin Botanique ,and then made it to the bus station in plenty of time to wait for our bus to take us to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port.
To be honest, I don’t know if we were able to truly appreciate Bayonne because we were worn out from traveling (we had been in France for a week at this point) and we were both anxious and eager to actually start the Camino de Santiago. So while this extra day was intended to be a nice sightseeing pit-stop, it kind of felt like we were just delaying the inevitable start of the Camino. It was so strange that last day, walking around and exploring and knowing that when we stepped off the bus in St. Jean we would not be setting foot in a bus, car, or train for 35 days as we walked 500 miles. It felt like “the last day of normal life” and yet it was still so not normal because, um, we were walking around an ancient French city with heavy backpacks and no idea how the next several weeks were going to unfold. But enough Camino talk, there are plenty of blog posts coming all about that. 😉
The photo on the left below is the view out the window of the airbnb we were staying in. You can just make out the spires of the Cathedral across the river.
This was the view out the window in the other direction. Bayonne is very close to the coast (only about four miles) and the air had a distinctly coastal scent, especially in the evening as we stood by this window and felt the coastal breeze gently hit our faces in the evening sunlight.
Hands down, our favorite part of Bayonne was the stunning 13th century Cathedral. We visited it both days and were disappointed that the Cloister was closed on Monday, but to our delight it was open on Tuesday and it was incredible. It is apparently one of the largest Cloisters in France and was built in the 13th-14th centuries.
There are seven chapels around the apse of the Cathedral, however, most of them were under renovation when we were there so we only got a tiny glimpse of the stunning magnificence of these chapels (the little we could see is the picture below on the left).
The photo below on the left is one of the side chapels of the Cathedral, it is where the Tabernacle is kept and where daily Mass and the Liturgy of hours took place. The painting is a massive painting depicting the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt and it was my absolute favorite piece of artwork I saw on the entire 8-week trip.
The photos below are from the morning when we accidentally came early enough for Liturgy of Hours. We were the only people in the chapel besides the four or five monks (or probably just priests, I’m not sure what religious order/title they were). They were excited to see us and indicated that we should take the prayer books so we did, although neither of us can understand a lick of French. I pulled up the English Liturgy of Hours on my phone and we quietly prayed along in our own language.
Coffee, coffee, coffee. The thing I probably miss the most about Europe.
The architecture was so unique and beautiful. Just look how narrow so many of those buildings are!!
Our last stop before the bus station was Bayonne’s Jardin Botanique. We had seen it the night before after it had already closed for the day and not only did it look like a peaceful and beautiful resting spot, but it also was completely free (huge bonus as we were very hesitant to do anything that cost money since we had 8 weeks of traveling to carefully budget for). It wasn’t huge by any degree, but John Paul chose to stay here at this bench and read, which meant I got to leave my backpack with him (a very welcome relief) while I walked around the garden with my camera. Besides a couple other people, we basically had the garden to ourselves and it was a really beautiful place to rewind for a bit.
And there you have it, I have now successfully blogged our entire pre-camino week in France which means……..the next travel blog post starts the Camino! (About time, right? haha).