Trip Start Jan 31, 2011
71Trip End Jul 10, 2011
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We rode by some spectacular mountain scenery on entering Spain and morning tea we stopped at the small village of Sort and kept cracking the old joke who can spot the best looking 'sort.'
Kerrie spied some ominous looking clouds and suggested we suit up with our wet weather gear just in case. Wise decision as we soon got bucketed on. We reached Lourdes by mid afternoon and checked into our hotel for the next two nights, the Hotel Residence des Soleil. After parking the P-D, who was now wet and less then looking her best due to the rain, we went for a stroll and to do some exploring.
We were struck by the number of hotels in a town of about 10-15,000 people. Lourdes has the most number of hotels per square kilometer of any town or city in France after Paris. ‘Tom’, our sometimes frustrating GPS (who tells you to turn right in 200 metres straight off a cliff!) showed in its Points of Interest, over 60 hotels, when normally it will only show a max of 24. Apparently there are over 340 hotels in Lourdes!
After walking around for about half an hour it became obvious why so many hotels exist in this relatively small town. Tourist coach after tourist coach kept arriving and dumping the multitude of tourists at these hotels. We saw coaches off loading their cargo even after 9.00 pm at night!
For those who are not up on their scriptures, Lourdes is famous for a 14 year old peasant girl, Bernadette (later Saint), who had 18 visions of Mary Mother of Jesus in 1858 in a grotto beside the river when searching for firewood.
She later told the local priest that Mary said to build a church near the grotto
so that people can come in procession to pray. She also said the waters of Lourdes had healing powers hence why millions of people a year visit the site hoping for a miracle cure.
Of course now, above the grotto is a magnificent church and daily the faithful gather to form 'The Procession of Candles' from the form up place in the park across the river and opposite the grotto.
On the first evening in town we both participated in the procession and Kerrie the second while Greg took a video and still shots.
Lourdes is a conundrum. It is a mixture of the gaudy and the crass that clearly aims to maximize the tourist dollar as the town seems to have hotels, tourist shops and restaurants and little else.
It is however, a place of worship that offers hope to the faithful and true believers. The town may have a high proportion of hotels but we reckon its tourist shops are just as many and just as packed into such a small confine. Most tourist shops are the same the world over, except these shops offer tourist trinkets with the sole theme of religion.
Two other things struck us as well. The first, is the number of people in wheel chairs who have come to Lourdes in the hope of a miracle cure or to make their peace. These people seemed to be pushed every where in their wheel chairs by able bodied volunteers who are members of the Order of Malta, women dressed up looking like Florence Nightingale and men wearing a uniform looking like St Johns Ambulance and all sporting a medal called ‘The Medal of the Order of Malta’ with of course, the Maltese Cross and for women, on their capes and emblazoned on their sleeves the flag of their country of origin. We saw a photo of the members of Order of Malta at Lourdes for their 2011 visit and they looked around 500 in number.
The second peculiarity was the high number of beggars on the streets, from children aged about 8 begging alone, to adults. All were Romany extraction; we refer to as 'Gyspys'.
We spoke to a local restauranteer who said with the opening of all borders with the advent of the EEC, Romany people arrived enmass at Lourdes and have never left. They see it as an easy touch because of the kind of generous spirited people who visit Lourdes. He said they are well organised with select begging spots and a man that drives around periodically during the day and collects their takings. They also arrive daily for "work" as he described it, in a modern and well maintained car. He said he has seen people give them food which they dump in the bin when the donor leaves. They only want money. He said he believes a good begger earns more in a day than he does!
Armed with this knowledge that the Lourdes Romany people were not poverty stricken but really people on the 'take' we started making jokes about the different grades of beggers. We reckon the kids are grade 1 & 2 with the top notch adult a Grade 10 Begger with First Class Honours.
We don't wish to make light of what Lourdes is all about. Whilst it is out for the tourist dollar it meets the needs of the faithful. Kerrie reckons the true miracle of Lourdes is the number of people who volunteer to look after the sick and handicapped.
We left Lourdes after two days glad that we had visited a town where we really did not know what to expect but enriched for what we found.
My Review Of The Place I Stayed