Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Photo notes: Mary’s not pregnant…that’s her purse under her coat!
Monday, March 9, 2009 Traveling to France
Up at 6 am we had breakfast and easily made it to the bus station by 8 am. The weather was very overcast; we must be taking the rays of sunshine with us! Everyone on the bus had their own two seats so it was a very comfortable ride. We drove through the city of Girona just south of the border. That’s the city that the bicycle racer Lance Armstrong lives in when racing in Europe. Much of the route today takes us along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and gave us some glorious views with the overcast skies.
As we neared the boarder of Spain and France we could see the Pyrenees Mountains, the tallest ones capped with snow. At 12:30 pm we were in FRANCE. The sun came out for our crossing over the border but continued to disappear regularly behind the fast moving clouds. We headed towards Narbonne where we were all required to leave the bus for half an hour while the bus driver had some lunch; many of the passengers also ate at the restaurant.
Along the route we saw the walled city of Carcassonne from a distance, and soon we were driving along the Canal du Midi; this is the canal that we spent a week cruising in 1999 with two other couples. When we arrived in Toulouse we found that our Etap Hotel for the night is right next to the canal. A new one star hotel in the Accor System in a great area and has all the amenities.
Turned out the lights before 10 pm and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. We’ve watch CNN on the television all evening; the same program over and over and over…much like my 1992 experience except that the segment last longer before it repeats. The other alternatives are all in French.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009 Travel to Lourdes
Slept beautifully and awoke about 6 am. By 6:30 we were off to breakfast downstairs. We’d decided to pay the extra five euros each. Good decision, we had coffee, juice, bread, cereal, yogurt, jams, etc.; as much as we wanted.
Back to the room we spent the next hour or so working on our computers before heading out to walk ten minutes along the canal to the train station for our 10 am train to Lourdes.
It was a two hour train trip with a delightful French couple who knew just enough English with our broken French to communicate. My French class last summer is finally paying off. I pronounce words better, I understand more of what they are saying and I’m better about speaking the language when asking for help. The views of the snow covered Pyrenees Mountain just got better and better the closer we came to Lourdes.
We’ve got a nice studio apartment in a residential complex for two nights; complete with cooking facilities we’ll be able to make our own meals. And, it’s an easy walk to the Lourdes Sanctuary and that’s our main purpose for being here. We walked all over the complex today, lit candles, visited the Grotto and investigated everything. Tomorrow we’ll return for an English language Mass at 9 am and then do the healing baths together. There is also a Rosary at 3:30 pm that we’re attending. We’re here in the off season so many of the hotels, stores and restaurants are closed. Actually that is good as it’s not so hectic with hordes of people. I am sorry that they don’t have the candlelight vigil this time of year as that was a beautiful sight we enjoyed on my last visit in 1999.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 Mass and the baths in Lourdes
Fixed our breakfast in our room, coffee was in bowls as the cups they provide are the very tiny ones for Espresso. We purchased instant coffee yesterday at the grocery store along with food supplies for three days…all for thirty euros. Left about 8 am and used the extra time to locate and see the huge underground Basilica of St. Pius X that was completed in 1958. Larger than a football field with an altar in the center for use in bad weather; something else I missed on previous trips.
We arrived early for the 9 am Mass in English that was held in the small St. Gabriel Chapel on the side of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception; the original church built over the Grotto. The priest was delightful and with a wonderful accent that was easy to understand, the chapel was full by the time Mass began. Communion was distributed by the priest walking down the single aisle as we stayed in our pews.
After Mass Mary and I walked over to the Baths which opened at 10 am. We were in the first group of eight that entered. We had no ideal of what would happen. There were three women to assist us; we were asked to disrobe completely as they held a cape around us for privacy. IT WAS COLD! Before I knew it I was in and out and getting dressed again. I was so cold and it was so fast I hardly knew what was happening. Mary followed me in and all I could say was “it’s very cold”! Those of you getting the full journals will enjoy a blow by blow description!
So, if you ever go to Lourdes and want to experience the baths…go for it….it was a wonderful experience and we’re both very glad that we went in. Afterwards we walked over to the water spigots from the Grotto and filled our bottles after drinking some of the water. I filled both of the small bottles that I’d purchased yesterday to take home.
From there we walked very fast back to our apartment, took some Airborne and fixed hot coffee for ourselves. This afternoon will be computer time until about three when we plan to go back for our final visit and the Rosary at the Grotto.
About 2 pm we dressed warmly and headed back to the Sanctuary for our final visit. We went back to the underground Basilica of St. Pius X to take photos first. We are still amazed by the size; we walked from end to end and counted 250 strides, about two and a half to three feet each. Then we went to the Bookstore and found that it holds twenty five thousand people for Mass; we found a bit of irony in our number of strides and the number of people it will hold.
Then we revisited the three churches in the original buildings over the Grotto before heading over to the actual Grotto for a seat for the 3:30 pm Rosary. The Rosary was said in French so a little difficult for us to follow but we said our own version of the Glorious Mysteries in English.
Walked over to the Baths afterwards for some photos of the outside; and then walked back to the hotel and commented that it was great that it is only cold and not raining nor is there any wind today. But, it is definitely cold outside. Hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to Lourdes with us. Tomorrow we travel by train all day to Arles.