We did not make it to the hotel last night until midnight. Cabs were coming at 5:30 am for the 6:30 train so I decided to hang at the hotel and enjoy what looked to be (and was) an amazing shower and the teapot in the room and the extra large, soft bed, multiple pillows and wifi. Even the kids who had been claiming they were going to pull an all nighter in Paris came back to enjoy the fanciest hotel we have been at yet.
Needless to say the alarm rang bright and early. We somehow managed to get everyone up and in a cab. When my cab arrived we could not find the group and I had the tickets. I had the boys go down to the track and see if they saw anyone and was told they had not. But it was almost time to go and I said we need to get on the train and hope we find them on it. After a quick sprint found everyone and got on the train as the doors were closing. That will wake you up! The rest of the ride was uneventful. The train was supposed to go all the way to Lourdes but portions of the track between the city of Pau and Lourdes are damanged by the recent flooding so we had to get off at Pau and take a bus the rest of the way. That was not fun but we finally made it. The scenery is spectacular once you hit the Pyrennees. Just beautiful!
Our hotel was actually only a 5 minute walk from the hotel and this very nice French lady owned the place and we were able to go straight to our rooms. We dropped our stuff then grabbed a quick lunch before taking a short time for siesta (told you I was really getting into this – returning to the states will be hard…) After siesta we walked to the shirne of Lourdes.
It was also a 5 minute walk. Our hotel (Hotel Helios) was ideally located. The church just arises out of the mountainside, more like a castle. On the way in the streets are crowded with souvenier stores, hotels and restaurants but once you enter the gates they all go away. There is a quiet solemnity once you enter the grounds.
We headed up the steps to visit the church built on the rock which was the site of the visitations. I noticed across the river the modified Eucharistic Procession was taking place. It was modified due to the recent flooding of the river Gave that runs through the middle of the sanctuary. (Side note: the destruction was still very evident 3 weeks later and was very sad. The main church which is entirely underground was still closed and there were piles of debris all along the river.) The procession involves the volunteers wheeling out all the sick in wheelchairs and on stretchers. It is quite a moving thing to witness.
There is not much to say about the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It looks like a castle from the outside but that is about it. It does take long once at the shrine to realize that it is not about the buildings here, it is about the sick seeking healing.
We took a quick break for dinner and returned in time to participate in the candlight procession which is the event at the shrine. It again starts with the sick being wheeled out first while there is signing and a rosary being said. Everyone prays and carries a torch candle. Once the sick go, anyone can join in. The procession goes all the way down the main road and then comes back up the other side which makes it look like a human rosary. Between the sick, the candlelight and the praying/singing it is one of the most moving events to watch or partake in. It was one crazy long day but there is no way I would have missed that.