Friday, February 11, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Getting There - Part Two

Back in November I posted about getting to Spain. back then I deferred the discussion of getting from the Madrid airport to Saint Jean Pied De Port, France, the start of the Camino Frances.  I returned to that discussion this week when I stopped by the AAA office.

I talked to the same travel agent, Roni, who helped us book last year's Jordan vacation.  She saw me come in and the first thing she said was "Don't tell me you want to go to Egypt."  I was impressed that she remember me as we hadn't seen or talked to each other in almost a year.  I told her that I had an easy task for her.  Turned out I was a little wrong.

We started going over my options.  My main criteria was that I wanted to arrive in Saint Jean the same day I arrived in Spain.  My flight arrives at 7:40 AM so I thought that was a reasonable request.  I suggested that a train from Madrid to Saint Jean was the best option.  Unfortunately the only train she could find left less than an hour after I was scheduled to land and there was only one train per day.  I then suggested a train to Pamplona and a bus the rest of the way.  No dice.  There was only one bus out of Pamplona and that left before the train arrived in Pamplona.

We kept going through different scenarios but they kept requiring an overnight stay somewhere getting me in to St Jean in the late afternoon on the 13th.  I really believe I need time in Saint Jean to visit the Pilgrimage office and to just relax before I started my Camino walk on the 14th.

The options started getting more expensive.  How about renting a car in Madrid and dropping it off in Bayonne, FR where I could catch a train to Saint Jean?  Wow, that was a wrong answer.  First they didn't offer cars with automatic transmissions.  I can drive a stick but, by the time I got to Bayonne, both me and the transmission would probably be having a breakdown.  The second reason, cost for a one day rental, pickup in Madrid, drop off at the corner ESSO station in Bayonne, $1,483.58!  That's $570+ dollars more than my round trip airfare.  Ridiculous!

How about flying from Madrid to some city/town closer to Bayonne/Saint Jean?  $400.00 for the airfare plus another $100.00+ for the train connections ... and I still got to Saint Jean late on the 13th.

Our final option was me changing my outbound flight to Paris where it would have been easy to catch a train to Saint Jean.  I would have even made it there on the 12th like I wanted.  Since I'd made the airline reservations, it was up to me to change the tickets.  Roni thought it shouldn't cost me more than $500.00 to change my flight.  I went home and called American Airlines.  How much would it cost?  $1,300.00.  Are you out of your F-ing mind!?!  What I thought  would be the easy part, the trip from Madrid to Saint Jean, was turning into a nightmare.

I sat at the computer and did a Google search.  I don't even remember what search terms I used but it gave me a link to this AllExperts page.  The person who answered this guy's question was my sanity's savior.  He walked him through all the ways to get from Madrid to Bayonne including links to the Spanish and French train lines.

After I got over my excitement, I called up the Spanish train line and did a search.  Turns out the Spanish trains stop at the border and you have to change over to a French train (The answer dude included this info in his response, bless him).  There were two trains, one at 8:00 AM (too early for me) and another at 16:15.  Yeah!!!  I can make that second train.  This train dumps you off  at 22:05 in the town of Hendaye.

Next I called up the French train schedule and found a train leaving Hendaye to Bayonne at 5:17 AM.  It arrives thirty-eight minutes later.  This could work.

Next came a search for the train from Bayonne to Saint Jean.  8:15 AM arriving at Saint Jean an hour and eighteen minutes later.  I could get to Saint Jean before 10:00 AM.  Not the same day arrival I was hoping for but early enough that it would work.

The only major question I have is what to do in Hendaye.  I'm thinking I'll just try to sleep at the train station instead of trying to find a hotel for the five to six hours I'll be there.  If I can doze at the station it would save me the cost of a night in a hotel room.  Of course I may be pretty rank by the time I arrive in Saint Jean.

There are three or four historic hotel in Saint Jean along with a half dozen or so pilgrim albergues.  I think I will treat myself to a hotel room.  One last good night's sleep and a real shower will be nice before I start the Camino.

These plans bring up a question about Madrid.  I'll be there for almost nine hours.  It's an hour metro trip from the airport to the train station.  Figure no more than two hours to get off the plane, pick up my bag, and go through customs, I should have almost six hours to kill in Madrid.  I do have some restrictions.  I will be carrying my backpack everywhere I go.  I have to have enough time to get to where ever I want to go and then to the train station afterward so I can't go too far or to too many different places.  I also will have to get some lunch in there as well.  I guess I would prefer to go to one interesting place where I can eat and wonder around being the tourist.  Any suggests?

I haven't bought any of these tickets yet.  Most can't be purchased until you are less than sixty days from the travel date so I'll have to wait for mid March before I can buy.

Now, a minor ethical dilemma.  It turns out that I really didn't need to go to Roni at AAA.  I discovered all the train information by myself after I talked to her.  Unfortunately I went to her after several early unsuccessful searches for the train information I needed.  We worked together for an hour before we decided to defer the search until mid March when we could actually buy tickets.  Who would have guessed that I would find the solution about an hour later.  So, my dilemma is: Should I go ahead and make the reservations myself, thus cutting Roni's booking fees (approximately $10), or should I have Roni do the booking and thus pay her for her hour's worth of intense, though unsuccessful, searching?  What do you people think?

8 comments:

  1. I don't think you owe Roni anything. Its her job and while she may get commissions on bookings, $10 is hardly going to help her much and she was unsuccessful in getting the info you needed anyway.

    As of what to do in Madrid, you can leave your backpack at the train station. If you are talking about the Atoche station. (there are two stations in Madrid) Its huge, so make sure you leave plenty of time to check out where your train departs. They have lockers as well as a baggage check facility.

    Plaza Mayor and Plaza Puerto del Sol are close to the station and nice for strolling and soaking up the feel of Madrid.

    Our favorite is the Prado, which is fantastic if you are into art.

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  3. hope you have so much fun! And how awesome is it that you found an expert answer to help you figure out how to work out your dilemma?

    I've been thinking about this for a while, and I think Roni is super nice, but she's there to provide a service. You've already done all the work. Is there any other added benefit to working through Roni that I'm unaware of? Otherwise, thank her and go on your merry way! :D

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  4. I agree with the other commenters. If you found all of the information yourself, you don't owe her anything.

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  5. In this case, I don't think you need to book with her. What I would do, to show your appreciation for her efforts, is to make sure you request her to work with the next time you're putting a trip together. That way you're not paying her for services she wasn't able to provide for this particular trip, but you are rewarding her for the effort that she made to bring you those services.

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  6. MoH: I will be leaving from Chamartin, not Atoche. Since the station is sort of out of the way it will make planning a little more difficult. I'll have to shoot you an e-mail later.

    MMC: Thank you! I was lucky to find the perfect post.

    All: Well, it seems pretty clear that I should just book the tickets myself since I found them myself. I agree. I pay an annual membership to AAA so they get enough of my money. Roni will get more of our business in the future.

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  7. I agree with the others, you owe her nothing for her doing her job.

    If you want to stay on her radar and have her work hard for future trips? A wee flowering plant as a thank you could do the trick :)

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  8. JaG: A very good idea. I will consider doing something like that.

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