Monthly Archives: July 2013

Getting to Saint Jean Pied de Port

Chapter 5 – Planes, Trains & Automobiles (Buses & Taxis) to Saint Jean Pied de Port

Adventure is worthwhile – Amelia Earhart

Getting to St Jean PP (SJPP) is not easy – it’s a tiny town in the French border at the foot of the Pyrenees. When we did the research for SJPP – there were many forums that talked about how tricky it was to get there. Not a single time I found an easy or a consistant answer. Everyone had a different path and link to get there – but none I found easy. It involves many switches, combination of buses and trains. There were forums about a special schedule for the summer with more trains and buses – but again none I found fruitful.

San Sebastian station (Amara)

San Sebastian station (Amara)

Getting to Stockholm was easy (Zurich to Stockholme) but getting to our starting destination for my Camino was still a question mark. We knew the easiest way to approach this was by getting to Spain since we have been to Bilbao and San Sebastian in February so we are putting all our attempts with getting to SJPP from Spain.

We got to Bilbao airport from Stockholm then took an airport bus directly from to San Sebastian right away – ok not right away since the first bus from Bilbao was full not too many people from the plane were able to get on. So we had to wait for the next bus an hour later at 2:45pm so we waited an hour but we knew we would be first one to get in since were the first in line. Not bad we had to pay 16 euro one way to San Sebastian – being exhausted we slept the whole way since we were up at 5am in Stockholm to get to the airport for 6:30pm.

 

Spanish & French border (Blue & Pink train stations)

Spanish & French border (Blue & Pink train stations)

Bayonne Station

Bayonne Station

St. Jean Pied de Port station

St. Jean Pied de Port station

 

 

 

 

 

 

We tried to book a hotel by the main bus terminal at San Sebastian a month ago – where we would catch the bus to Bayonne, France but the hotel was full so we found a hotel 2 km away inside the city.

The hotel was right across from the river Urumea and it had WIFI so we took it. Getting to Bayonne was the mystery – a French border town where we would catch the train to SJPP – even though our Pension was next to the local train station we needed the commuter train station since we needed to go to France. Train seemed like a good option for us as the bus system is unreliable in Spain. You can’t buy tickets in advance, if your bus leaves at 9pm, you can only buy ticket at 8pm – its first come first served and no online purchasing. I also heard the ticket is only good for 2 hours and if you don’t use it then its voided so you have to be careful not to buy it advance, totally different from our system where you can buy tickets in advanced or online.

We asked the hotel by the bus terminal if they have seen lot of Camino travellers or backpackers and they couldn’t give an answer but the bus would leave San Sebastian at 9am and reach Bayonne at 10:30 am. Unfortunately that was not a good option since the train to SJPP leaves Bayonne at 10:48 am you could miss the train if the bus was late and you are stuck for 4 hrs until the next one at 2:30 pm. The train and bus station were not close to each other so you could miss the train to SJPP. So it was pota-to or pot-tato and since would need to line up at 8 am at the bus terminal or earlier to get a ticket given out at 8:45 to catch the 9am bus to Bayonne.

We didn’t think it was an option since we wanted to be in SJPP by 1pm so we could have a lunch and get our things together for the Camino the next day and to enjoy SJPP a little since we won’t have any time since we would be leaving for the Camino at 7 am. After talking to many people we found out that the commuter train station (not the station beside our hotel) but the one 2 km away goes to Handaia everyday every 30 minutes, the French border town where we could take a train to Bayonne.

No, this is not possible?? Fantastic to investigate it further we went to the train station from our hotel. Yup every 30 minutes in the morning it leaves for Handaia and we could reach Bayonne but if we took it early enough we could catch the train to SJPP at 10:48 from Bayonne, this would make all the connections possible. That seemed to be the perfect solution for us.  Instead of waiting for an hour by the bus station where it might be crowded with pilgrims going to Bayonne and possibly miss the connection in Bayonne (if the bus was late) didn’t seem like a solution for us.

Once we figured it out – we celebrated our victory in San Sebastian with a lovely around the beach and old town with various Pintoxs and got to our room to get an early rise.

Next morning we caught the train from San Sebastian (Donostia-Amara) to Hendaia at 7:15 am and that got us in Bayonne at 8:05am. This train station at Hendaia at the Spanish and French border is very famous. This is the train station Hitler and Franco had a meeting and Franco decided not to participate in the war but to be a sympathizer instead. The old station doesn’t exist as new one is built but it’s the same place – the Spanish and French train station are side by side at the same parking lot sharing the border so you just take you baggage and cross the parking lot to get to the French side.

We were so happy to get to Handaia early and bought tickets to Bayonne and SJPP ad were able to make the connection by 45 min apart where we had ample time in Bayonne to change platform to catch the train to SJPP.

St. Jean Pied de Port - Pyrenees view from my room

St. Jean Pied de Port – Pyrenees view from my room

We expected a lot of people in the train station but were surprised to see very little packers. When you get to Bayonne make sure you have all your papers (passport with you), if you are non-white chances are you are going to be asked for documentation as I was surprised to see the police asking only non-white passengers in the train station. If you need to use the washroom use the washroom from the café across the street as the washrooms are not clean at the train station or in the train.

St. Jean Pied de Port is a beautiful small town and as it deserves its own blog as our journey continues..

Buen Camino!

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Camino Fitness Notes from Bodensee

Chapter 4 – Diabetes Blood-glucose planning from Germany

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu

While I was describing the beauty of Singen Hohentwiel in chapter 2 I forgot to talk about my diabetes blood sugar prep work for my hike for the hilly 23 km walk. There is a lot of prep work involved before taking such task as walking for more than 4 hours since blood sugar really depends on the energy available, insulin taken and the difficulty of the path (hilly terrain).

Wild forest

Wild forest

I had a good German breakfast – muesli w/ low fat milk (complex carb) cold cuts, cheese and a boiled egg (protein, fat) and low fat yogurt – about 60 g CHO (carb) and I Bolused for 50% of CHO and set temp Basel for 8 hrs in case I run out as I have in the past. Average walk for me is about 5 km for an hour and 23 km shouldn’t take me long but then again we are talking about walking around Hohentwiel with steep hills and the beauty of the wild forest and the native animals that come to say hello, so it took longer.

We started at 10 am and we got back at 4pm – that’s 6 hrs and we took two long breaks each being over 30 min plus stopping to take pictures, just stopping to enjoy the beauty of the land. So 6 hours for as predicted.

Many snails crossing

Many snails crossing

Young Deer

Young Deer

Rabbit enjoying grass

Rabbit enjoying grass

 

 

 

 

 

 

My blood sugar was perfect the whole trip as I sipped mostly Gatorade and water every half hour as I was sweating a lot to replenish my salt (electrolytes) and hydration. I also found fruit bars in Singen as they didn’t have granola bars and they were good without too much sugar as each piece was about 6g CHO. Gatorade, fruit bars substituted as my fuel for every hour – since there were few parts of the path that were very steep and challenging. Bigger snack – here it goes pretzel broken into 4 pieces and I ate it throughout, couple of apples, and a sandwich filled with ham and cheese. So all in all it was a true Camino training walk – walking through the forest covered in mosquitos, ticks, snails, deers, rabbits and wild birds – beauty all around.

Frog crossing sign (during migration)

Frog crossing sign (during migration)

When I finished my walk my blood sugar was 7.2 mmol – perfect and my temp Basel was almost running out. I had to be careful that I wouldn’t have a low sugar within the next hour so it was important for me to have a protein, sugar drink after I got back to the room so had something similar to Boost. I had a lake pickerel with roast potatoes and a large salad and I Bolused only 90% and my blood sugar was perfect before bed as it was 7.6

Awesome day indeed and looking forward to the Camino doing this every day and hope my blood sugar will be okay as it was this day but testing is key for every hour if possible and not push but taking the time. Camino is not about how quick you can do the walk but the quality of the walk – indeed it’s the Camino after all.

Buen Camino!

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Camino Training in Germany

Chapter 3 – My Camino continues in Bodensee …

I’ve been coming to Bodensee for almost 12 years as I started my chef training (practical) here in the Southern part of Germany at the border of Switzerland. The area is called Bodensee (in German) or Lake of Constance in English, where one of the largest lake in Europe is surrounded by Germany, Austria and Switzerland and one of the most picturesque places in the world – Grimm Brothers who lived in the next state (Essen) got lot of their inspiration from this enchanting lake and gingerbread homes that influenced his fairy tales.

If you would know the road ahead, ask someone who has traveled it – Chinese Proverb

 

Hohentwiel

Hohentwiel

 

History of Singen Hohentwiel

When I visit Bodensee every year I usually stay in a small city called Singen (in the sate of Baden-Wuerttemberg) where most of my friends live including my godchild. It’s an industrial town surrounded by many pretty villages, the Lake of Constance and unique volcanic mountains that were formed 70 million years ago and one of them is called Hohentwiel.

Hohentwiel is unique as it has a large castle on top which was built in 10th century by Duke of Swabia (Stuttgart) Burchard III and in the middle ages many royal families lived here including the family of Von Singen-Tweil and also invaded by Napoleon where he kept his army. Today Hohentwiel is the largest castle ruin in Germany.

Whether you arrive by car or train you won’t miss the sight of Hohentwiel as its huge presence will dominate as it will greet you. There is a restaurant and a winery on the mountain as grape varieties Weissburgunder (White Burgundy) Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Grauburgunder (Gray Burgundy) and Müller-Thurgau grows on the mountain. The wines are outstanding and made in small quantity as they are rare and sell out quickly.

3 of the 5 volcanic mountains behind me

3 of the 5 volcanic mountains behind me

Hegau Cross

Hegau Cross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made only sense that I also train for my Camino here (my 2nd home) before I set sail to Spain. So I found a great hiking path that would combine all 5 volcanic mountains near Singen on a long hike including trekking to the Hegau Cross – large stone cross near one of the volcanic mountain Maegdeberg.

Over looking at wheat fields

Over looking at wheat fields

My friend and I hiked by all 5 mountains (Hoehntwiel, Hohenkraehen, Hohenhwen, Maegdeberg, and Hohenstoffeln) as it was enchanting going through many farms, apple orchards, wild forest sighing deer, rabbits and hawks. I will never forget this day as we sat over the ridge of one of the mountain eating our lunch and looking at the land formed by volcanos and glacier millions of years ago.

 

Next day I got my first Camino stamp – I am not kidding, I will talk in detail about the Camino stamp, passport and certificate on my next post. Coincidently I was in Konstanz (head of Baden-Wuerttemberg) Cathedral listing to the choir practice and as I walked past the pews I saw a sign that said Camino Stamps – it was a unique rubber stamp printed paper from Konstanz Cathedral that was for the pilgrims to take for the Camino.

Konstanz Camino Stamp

Konstanz Camino Stamp

This looks like a good luck sign to me – not only I did the Camino training walk in Singen for 22 km but I also earned a Camino stamp for my walk the next day in Konstanz all in serendipity for my big trip.

Buen Camino!

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