|Well, surprise, surprise, here I am in a very Catholic place - Lourdes! I had a lovely train trip here with good views through the windows. At Toulouse the landscape changed from vineyards to hills with trees on them, as well as rural sights like cows and calves.|
I was expecting it to be cooler in Lourdes, but it was the warmest day yet and I wished I had my skirt on for the first time! ( My friend in Paris says it has been warm there too and she has been out cycling a bit.)
I do have a story from my youth about coming to Lourdes. Almost unbelievable but true. I had left a friend's place in Germany with my train pass, aiming for Brussels. For some reason when I got to Brussels I took an aversion to it and hopped on a train for Paris. I then arrived in Paris at midnight and realised I had been pretty silly as I had no intention of looking for a bed then! So I hopped on the next train out which was to Toulouse. I sat up all night hardly sleeping in the train seat and we got to Toulouse at 7am and I felt grotty so I looked for the next train out. It was to Lourdes. I arrived there on a grey morning with hardly anyone about, wandered around for a few hours with my pack on then left!
Anyhow, this time I arrived soon after 2pm on a very sunny warm day with gorgeous views of the Pyrenees. I quickly found a simple hotel near the station and they gave me a mountain view room, impressed by my New Zealand passport I am sure. Interestingly, this two star room was nowhere near as nice as my no star room in Arles, but with a view to die for I am very happy!
Being a very slack Catholic I wasn't sure how I would find being in Lourdes. But amazingly I am relaxing into it quite well. The complex is far bigger than I remembered with different churches and chapels all over the place. I found it a bit overwhelming at first, especially as so many people are in huge pilgrimage groups from dioceses, especially French ones, and they all seem to know what they are about.
I was nearly ready to leave when I realised a procession was about to begin (5pm). These big pilgrimage groups all walk along to the huge underground church. The sick and disabled go first in each group, with those who are pushing their carriages. Most of the sick are elderly. There was also a group of disabled children. The priests come later in the procession with the Blessed Sacrament. After about half an hour, they have Benediction in the church. You would think a slack Catholic like myself would find this all too much. But there is something special about the atmosphere of this place where so many are caring for so many others.
I returned to my hotel room for the evening with its mountain view, and this morning went to the 9am English speakers Mass. People from just about every continent in the chapel. Had a brief talk with a priest from the US afterwards outside in the sunshine which I appreciated.
Spent the rest of the morning just cruising and people-watching and sitting by the river watching it flow by. I could relax and enjoy this pace for a few days! Had lunch with the French for a change. Maybe half the reason the French are healthy is just that they stop for two hours and have a relaxing time in the middle of the day!
Ok time to go. Stay well as the winter approaches in New Zealand!