Our Day Trip to Lourdes
Each week we are here, we try to take a full day off to venture further afield to a larger city, or a point of interest. Lourdes is only an hour and fifteen minutes away so while we were not anxious to cure any ills, or request divine intervention, we felt it was a place we should visit while we were so close.
We set off with coats and umbrellas in case of inclement weather. The journey down was uneventful, but the scenery was lovely, with the rolling hills and pretty villages and bastide towns perched atop the ridges that run parallel to the Pyrenees. There had been rain and cool weather the preceding week so there were now snowy peaks in front of us for most of the way.
Once we arrived at Lourdes, the polite English voice on the SatNav guided us to the ‘Centre Ville’ which is always a good place to start. One word on the SatNav; this was loaded into the car before we obtained it and was programmed to this particular voice and while we are pleased to be listening to a English voice for a change, and not an American one, her French pronunciation of the street names is dismal. We changed to the American version, whose French pronunciation is surprisingly better, but after a while, she became too boring and we decided the posh English lady was so much more entertaining. So now whenever there is a turn or a direction coming up, we listen in eager anticipation to see how badly she is going to mess up the street name, as if we expect that she will improve with time!
We parked close to the centre, where the Basilica and the ‘Grotte’ are situated. The day turned out to be bright and hot, so no coats or umbrella needed. We were right on the River Ousse and at the very bottom of the Pyrenees, surrounded by high steep hills reaching up above us, with grassy meadows and rocky paths – a childhood recollection of reading Heidi came to mind and I imagined Grandpa, the goats and could visualize them both sitting watching their herd, eating the crusty bread and cheese that always sounded so lovely in the story. The river Ousse was lovely to listen to as it rushed through the town, and out to a lake. After parking, and figuring out the parking machine, which took some considerable time, we walked to the Basilica and up the stairs to other chapels and statues and overlooked the town and surrounding area. We saw numerous nuns going about their daily rituals, all dressed in white and many nurses, clad in their smart navy uniforms and paper caps, who attended the sick and infirm in the hospitals close by. While we enjoy the old churches and cathedrals and are always amazed that they were ever built without the machinery and technology we have today, and have stood for so long, we tend not to stay too long – we don’t really want a college course on the whole history of a particular place, but want to see enough to appreciate the effort, skill and cultural beliefs that make a place important to many people, and to recognize that these places are very special and have very particular meaning for many. We were more interested in seeing the natural surroundings, so we decided to take the funicular railway to Haut Pic du Jer to survey the landscape we had just crossed.
We stopped for a quick lunch of ‘jambon beurre’ and an orangina in a local tabac and watched people go about the town. All along the river were hotels of all different sizes, some large, chain hotels, and some smaller privately-owned hotels. There were a lot of rooms! And, as we could smell on this very warm day, a lot of bathrooms. We weren’t yet in the busy tourist season, and the sewers were already quite odorous. Staying in a hotel by the river may not be the best place for a vacation, especially in the summertime, and somewhere outside the town would likely be easier on the nostrils.
The funicular railway was just outside of the town, and rather than collect the car and battle with yet another pay and display machine, we decided to walk there. It was a good 25-minute walk, uphill, but once we were on the train and saw the amazing views, we felt it was worth it. As we boarded the train, some young men with mountain bikes also boarded, all geared up for what Marcel thought would be a thrilling ride down – something I would not enjoy at all, but had someone given him a bike, he would have been off! We spent some time at the top, looking out over the valley on one side and down into picturesque little villages nestled between grassy hills and rocky peaks on the other, and then headed down again and back into the town.
After our trek, we wandered through the narrow streets and stopped for a coffee and cake to recharge out batteries, ready for the drive home. While we like to take a souvenir from places we visit, we usually try to choose something that is quite useful, like a corkscrew, or a dish, at tea towel or a scarf. There were many rosaries on offer, statues of the Virgin Mary, candles, crosses and religious artefacts, all of which would not feel at home with us. So, we tried to decide what to take home that was meaningful and useful to us, from out visit to this famous town. After some wandering and perusing, we saw it! Of course, this would come in very useful. A one-liter plastic container, with the word Lourdes printed on the side… one that could be taken to the ‘grotte’ and filled with the holy water of Lourdes, which people claimed cured all ills and performed miracles. Except, Marcel and I, being quite fit and healthy and thinking we were long past redemption of any kind, saw this vessel as something to take to the wine cave back at Castelnavet and fill with the cheap, cheerful and tasty wine, from the pump! In fact, we thought it was such a good idea, we bought two! After all, Jesus turned his water into wine, I didn’t see why we couldn’t! Our own little miracle!
After a quiet drive home, a walk with the dogs, and a glass of wine and dinner, we looked back on our day at Lourdes; a day that was peaceful, both in the quiet hush of prayers in the basilica, surrounded by the mournful statues and intricate stained glass windows and at the top of the Pic Du Jer, surrounded by the beautiful rolling countryside of the Gers valley and the towering snowy capped mountains of the Pyrenees. Heaven….
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