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Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Latvia, Lithhuania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, U.A.E. and Denmark.

Panama, Colombia, Ecuador (inc. Galapagos), Peru, Bolivia, Chile (inc. Easter Island), Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico.

France (Paris and Lourdes), Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Spain, Andorra, Morocco (Tangier), Portugal and the Netherlands (Amsterdam).

Thursday, December 13

11/3: Drive thru Pyrenees to Lourdes, Home of St. Bernadette

Our last morning in Andorra, we were greeted with this spectacular view from our hotel window in Arinsal, located north of the principality's capital of Andorra la Vella. 

Another cute roundabout representing all the Tour de France bike races in Andorra:

I joked in the previous post that tiny Andorra should be nicknamed 'The Land of the Switchbacks.'  A close runner up should be 'The Land of Tunnels' because of all the tunnels through the Pyrenees Mountains, but wow, did those tunnel fees add up quickly! The Envalira Tunnel was the easiest transport link between the north of Andorra and southern France which worked out for us as we were heading to the Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes.

We were blessed with gloriously sunny weather through the mountains which made for some of the most beautiful views with a bright blue sky against the newly snowcapped Col de Puymonens in the Eastern Pyrenees. 

Once again, there had been no customs or immigration when we left Andorra and entered France even though the former wasn't part of the European Union. Instead, there were four Customs Officers standing on the side of the road looking at cars as they passed. I would have loved to have known what type of vehicle, driver or passengers would have piqued their interest and caused them to wave a car over for further attention. 

Zachary: I would have liked to surprise you with the cute 'AND' bumper sticker but unfortunately I didn't see any when we were in Andorra la Vella. 

We were in no particular rush to get to Lourdes so didn't mind the stop and go traffic once we got through the tunnel. We just felt badly for all the people traveling up the mountain going toward Andorra because it would take them hours because of the volume of traffic on the two lane road.

It looked like this fellow made a good decision, rather than waiting to ski at one of the resorts!

All too soon, the snow was just a memory and it looked like we were in a Colorado fall with trees changing to a striking yellow.

As we drove through the picturesque French village of Daumazan- sur-Arize, we heard church bells pealing and decided to look for the church.

The St. Sernin Church was built at the beginning of the 12th century as the date it was consecrated was marked on a stone under the bell tower porch. The church was named for St. Sernin, also called St. Saturnin, the first bishop and later martyr of Toulouse, a major nearby city. Guess I now know the origins of the word 'saturnine' meaning gloomy or melancholy. 

Steven and I both agreed this was the first fall since we started  traveling overseas in 2013 that we've not missed seeing the lovely fall colors back home because of the spectacular trees we saw in Andorra and France.

We both thought we'd be on major roads most of the way to Lourdes in southwest France but it turned out that we were on back roads and narrow lanes almost the entire way. The route took us through old stone villages, each one as charming and cutesy as can be, at least from the outside. Reading about five weeks later so much about the 'yellow vest' movement, especially in rural France, I have a better appreciation how it was easy for outsiders with easy access to a car and money to romanticize life in the small towns.

In case you don't know, Lourdes has been one of the world's most important pilgrimage sites since 1858 when 14-year old Bernadette Soubiros (1844-1879) is believed to have been visited 18 times in a rocky grotto by the Virgin Mary. The visions were later acknowledged by the Vatican  and Bernadette was beatified in 1933.  

As we drove toward our hotel,we noticed Lourdes' imposing castle, a stronghold here since Roman times, standing on a sheer hill just above the town. 

Since it was already mid afternoon, we only had a couple of hours to see the sights associated with Bernadette's early years. As we walked through town, it was impossible to miss all the souvenir shops, one after another another, all selling candles, medals and all manner of religious items. 

Lourdes' marketing department had done a masterful job linking all the important sights in Bernadette's life together by painting a blue stripe through town so all we needed to do was to follow the 'blue brick road.' 

The first stop was Moulin Gras, the Soubirous family home after the Apparitions. There was simply a plaque by the yellow door indicating their home had been there but there was nothing to see. When the family moved there in 1859, thanks to the financial assistance of Abbot Peyramale, Bernardette had her own small bedroom.

Bernadette was born at Moulin de Moly, a mill house on January 7th, 1844. She lived there for the first ten years of her life before the family fell on very hard times. It was amazing that we were able to visit the home of one of the greatest saints. I could not believe I was standing in the birthplace of St. Bernadette. 

Seeing some family photos, her room and other artifacts from her childhood made Bernadette come to life and not just be someone I'd read about long ago. 

An undated painting of Bernadette: 

Her father worked in the mill in the basement until he could no longer make a go of it and the family was evicted when Bernadette was ten. 

I read that Lourdes hosts around six million visitors every year from all corners of the world. This constant stream of pilgrims and tourists transformed quiet Lourdes into the second most important center of tourism in France, second only to Paris, and the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Rome and the Holy Land. 

We were obviously visiting Lourdes in the off season but was still flabbergasted to learn that there were as many hotel rooms here as in all of Paris! This was one of the main streets and it was hotel after hotel, all up and down the street and all adjacent streets. 

We almost had the streets to ourselves as there were so few tourists or locals about. I imagine the gloomy weather may also have had something to do with that. 

From the shop filled streets we wandered through the historic quarter which, if possible, were even quieter. 

Because people come from all over the world to pay their respects at Lourdes, there were restaurants catering to every ethnic taste, too. However, because it wasn't the busy summer season, there were almost none open and we had a tough time finding some place to eat. 

I think this was probably the most beautiful tree I've ever seen - it was so red, it seemed to be on fire. My apologies to family and friends in my old home of Ottawa where I do recall the trees turning lovely shades of red each fall! 

In May of 1856, Bernadette's family, who was in dire straits, was forced to move to this former dungeon, Le Cachot, that had been abandoned in 1824. The family of six, including her sister, brothers and parents, lived in one room that measured just 175 square feet until mid-September of 1858. 

This was a hallway before the room where the Soubirous family stayed.

Outside the room were information sheets in more languages than I have ever seen information on anywhere else in the world!

The furniture in the room consisted of a table, a few chairs, a trunk for the linen and two beds. The Soubirous family were able to live here rent free, and even though in squalor, they were grateful and never lost their inner joy from what I read. 

It was from here that Bernadette, on February 11th, 1858, set out with her 11-year-old sister and a friend to collect wood at Massabielle. It was on that day the first apparition took place. 

It's not an understatement to say it was a humble dwelling. How so many people lived in a small single room with almost no facilities is almost beyond belief. The simple abodes the Soubirous family had to live in also illustrated the many hardships the French lower classes endured in the late 19th century. 

More of downtown Lourdes:

In a large square was the 1927 Monument to the Dead dedicated to the memory of the citizens of Lourdes who perished in various conflicts. 

It wasn't until we saw this sign that we realized why there had been so many 'Emotions' signs throughout the town: to commemorate the 160th anniversary of Bernadette's birth. 

The Sacre Coeur or Sacred Heart Parish Church was built between 1875 and 1936 and replaced the old St. Pierre Church where Bernadette's family prayed. It was undergoing renovations so the only item we were able to see was the marble baptismal basin over which Bernadette was baptized.  

Walking back to our hotel, we had a sneak peak of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes where we'd be heading in the morning. 

I guess this was the day for unusual bumper stickers! We liked seeing this one because Steven and I have reservations to go to Patagonia next November!

A pretty shot of Le Gave de Pau River that runs through Lourdes:

Next post: Visiting the Grotte de Massabielle and the two basilicas.

Posted on December 13th, 2018, from Coimbra, Portugal.