Today we left at 9.30am-which is so far a holiday record for us getting up and out this early!-it was a two hour drive into Lourdes, mainly motorway but the last half an hour of the drive was really beautiful through lots of little, picturesque villages. The kids thought the Pyrenees in the distance were very foreboding and looked like we were heading into Mordor. Driving into Lourdes and finding a car park was a bit stressful but we managed to find a multi storey car park, it was the smallest car park ever and I was glad not to be driving! There was classical music blasting out which I think was to counter the stress of getting round the corners and parking!
It took us a while to find our bearings as its a much bigger place than what we had anticipated, so we ended up walking through the market and came out at a little park square where we sat and had lunch in the sunshine :) Then we headed towards the "Our Lady of Lourdes" Church, the week before we came to France I had watched the French film "Lourdes" so was excited to be walking in the same steps of the film. What I din't expect though, to be honest was the sheer amount of slightly gaudy gift shops selling everything from rosary beads, figurines, candles, scarves etc. We knew we were on the right path at least though.
Our Lady of Lourdes was even more stunning than I had imagined, it was so big and grand and there was a long walk up to it which only built the atmosphere for us. The children were really amazed at the sheer size of the building and the stunning paintings that were outside and asked lots of questions-"Is it real gold?" being one of their main questions. We heard so many different languages and accents and there were priests and nuns walking around, people being pushed in wheelchairs by nurses-just a real hub of activity.
We went inside the church and I took some photos but to be honest none of my photos can begin to do it any justice. I loved the ceiling though so tried to get a photo of that. There were these amazing mosaics which were dated 1903 depicting the life of Jesus, they were so intricate and Ruben asked so many questions. It was such an experience for all of us, even though we are not religious it was really hard not to be moved by them.
We walked up the steep steps at the sides of the church to go to the smaller part of the church, it was only when we looked down from the balcony we realised how high we were and could see the grotto. The stained glass windows in this part of the church were so colourful and it was such a welcoming, open place to be. We walked back down the ramp and around to the grotto.
This is where crowds of people passed us on their way to get bottles of Lourdes water. If you don't know the story of the Lourdes here is a link to the Lourdes Story. Its a really fascinating story about an ordinary girl called Bernadette, amazing to think that only 150 years ago and Lourdes would have looked completely different. For a donation of 1 euro you can purchase a tiny bottle to take home some water and I have to admit to getting some, people were filling up huge 5 litre bottles to take home so our tiny bottle seemed a little meager but its a nice reminder of a very special place.
We walked around the grotto, touching the wall as everyone does, it was so smooth and cold to touch. Hubby and I both felt a little spiritual, sound silly I know but its such experience that its really hard to describe you have to have been there. We could see where the source of water came from, sadly it had been smashed which was such a shame. We walked on to see all the candles that had been lit for people in these special metal trollies, the girls were upset to see that some of the candles had been blown out by the wind before fully burning down. I told them about the film I'd watched and how every year there are a few cases of people being cured by the water of Lourdes, maybe that is something we will look at more when we get home. I can't think that I have ever been anywhere so special before, I felt so quiet the whole time we were there, can't explain why but I know its an experience that for us as a family, we won't forget.
Back into town and out of the super tight car park we drove up to the Pic Du Jer Funicular railway, which is a hundred years old. For 47 euros we got to climb over 900 metres without taking a step-much to the relief of all the children :) They were a little nervous as it climbed so high but when I said it was better than walking they all agreed! This was our first trip into the Pyrenees and we were seriously impressed. Just WOW!!!
We walked up for another 15 minutes passing lots of beautiful flora and fauna, tiny lizards basking in the sun, crickets, grasshopper,s colourful bugs and bettles, butterflies and even 4 vultures circling overhead!! The panoramic views were stunning and has sealed our love for the Pyrenees.
No idea what this butterfly is but Cordelia made me take a photo of it so we could check when we got home.
You can see the beautiful turquoise waters of the River Gave Du Pau.
In the train cab on the way down there was even a Catholic Bishop in our cab. Was interesting overhearing his conversation with two American ladies.. Back to the bottom and from the coffee machine hubby and I had the best cappuccino I've ever had and it cost a total of 70 cents. No Starbucks in France.
We headed out of Lourdes to visit Pau (so lovely it deserves a post all by itself) on our way back to camp..