Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Day 148: Orthez to Lourdes - Tues 30 Sept, 2014

Day 148: Orthez to Lourdes - Tues 30 Sept, 2014
An hour and a couple of tolls down the road, came to edge of Pyrenees once again in pretty Lourdes. 

Overcast all day, made it more pleasant to walk to town once settled in Camp de Loup against mountain. Walked past Petit Couvert, and Grand Couvert of Immaculate Conception (where a woman was pushing a baby in pram - hmmm...) and on to Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Lourdes, the religious precinct. 

Grand Couvert of Immaculate Conception

Le Chateau Fort

Basilica of Immaculate Conception

Went into Basilica of Immaculate Conception, homage to Mary in abundance. In chapel holding Saint Bernadette's reliquary/bone (little shepherdess of Barthes), lit votive candle for each of our grandbabies due this year and their mothers. Walls were covered in plaques from people seeking or thanking personal miracles. Went quietly into La Crypte, as an African priest was delivering a homily. Outside again on mid level, was a massive gilt crown on cupola (just HAD to get photo of “Queen Ann” underneath!!). 

Saint Bernadette's chapel

Descended one of the sweeping flanking staircases, to the Basilica du Rosaire underneath – the crypts along the sides were spectacular in tiles and gilt. Inside had beautiful frescoes and a calm, meditative ambiance.

Basilica du Rosaire 

Finally walked along to the Grotto and joined procession of people walking through touching the worn rocks and blessing themselves with seeping water. Huge candles left burning along external corridor by pilgrims. Bought bottle and filled with holy water from Lourdes spring, but declined to join the group disrobing totally for their full immersion experience.

Exited grounds through the Door of Mercy, across bridge into town and found place for lunch of salad and real French onion soup containing bread chunks and covered in grilled cheese. Took photos of Le Chateau Fort on hill above town. Window shopped religious icons from glow in dark Virgin statues, papal blessings, and car deodorants labelled "Faith Fresheners". Found some fun items for tonight's celebration of Ann's formal retirement date as a doctor. 

Went underground again into enormous Basilica of Pious 10th, joined hundreds and hundreds of people - including elderly, infirm, disabled and their carers (disconcertingly dressed as nuns) in massive underground church for the Eucharist procession and taking of communion (Lourdes is city with 2nd highest number of hotels in France after Paris - if there’s no lift for the infirm, there’s no business!) Way of the Cross circled the inner cavern - graphic art on glass lit from behind, marking each station. We noted pilgrimage groups from different countries, including Italy and Ireland. 

Mary McKillop, St Mary of the Cross

Took High Stations road back to camping ground to do a load of washing, strewing damp items around to begin laborious drying process…. Walked back into town via the Low Stations road along riverbank past St Margaret’s statue, in time for dinner at hotel (fatty lamb and garlic beans). Joined fabled torchlight "Procession Mariale" commencing at 9pm. Massive numbers of people with candle lanterns lined up in the dark, shuffling up one side of long avenue and back, following Madonna in glass case borne aloft by (real) nuns, everyone chanting 5 Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in many different languages, and singing Ave Maria, holding lanterns high during rousing chorus. Crowd received a universal blessing before dispersing. A very special and moving experience. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

Day 147: Bilbao, Spain to Orthez, France - Mon 29 Sept, 2014

Day 147: Bilbao, Spain to Orthez, France - Mon 29 Sept, 2014
Bye bye Bilbao - nice visit! Overcast, took turnoff to Guenica, heart of Basque Country, looking for tree memorial, but again streets too narrow and no parking. Drove picturesque route through Ondorroa and Itzear, looping up coast road through pine and eucalypt forest, with glimpses of ocean and rocks below. Hazy day, hard to tell sea from sky. 

Basque architecture more like France and Germany than rest of Spain. Amazed to see so many signs, banners and graffiti to "Return Basques Home" (some with guns). Followed coast road to Getaria, lunched leaning on lookout rails next to Hitchcock Hotel, before joining highways and myriad of tolls (we paid them back with handfuls of brown coins...) 

Pretty Getaria


Welcome to France, to rain and to plump hawks on fences. On towards Zarautz, along pretty coastline and through interesting tunnels.

Arrived Orthez, drove past seedy overcrowded Aires to more civilised looking campground €15 - but no hot water in ladies, no seats on toilets, no paper.... Sigh...