Europe | France | Aquitaine | Pyrenees | Lourdes – Lourdes, the City
When we took our train to Aix-En-Provence, we didn’t know how much harder it was to get from Aix-En-Provence to Lourdes than it is to get from Bordeaux to Lourdes. There are trains almost once an hour from Paris, through Bordeaux, to Lourdes. Not the same from the opposite direction.
Lourdes the city is very interesting. I wouldn’t call it ‘modern’, but I sure wouldn’t call it ‘old’. It seems as the religious tourism industry grew, so did Lourdes. As you look around, the first floor of every building is either a restaurant or a souvenir shop, while all the upstairs are hotels. ALL the upstairs are hotels. Lourdes has 18,000 hotel rooms, second only to Paris for the amount of hotel rooms available in a town in France. Every building you look at – and there are plenty – have a hotel sign showing when you look up from the first floor.
It is mind boggling to walk through a town and KNOW that its economy is based on religion. It is even stranger to walk through it when it is empty. We are here in the ‘off-season’ so there are very few people here. Some (Most) hotels seem to be closed. A few shops are open, and a couple of restaurants. When we ventured over to the South side of town, we found more of a ‘city’, because we were getting farther from the religious site. The closer you got to the shrine, the higher the hotels were stacked, and the fewer ‘other’ establishments were between the souvenir shops.
Being the off-season, the hotel Mary Helen had picked out was closed due to remodeling. The biggest building in town (not counting the shrine) is the tourism office, and we were in and out of there three or four times this day trying to find out where things were that were open. Like there is an Internet cafe in town, but we had to get directions three times before we found that.
The tourism office guided us to some family owned hotels that were open in town. We chose the one across the street from the post office because 1) We knew we could find it since we had passed it once and 2) We knew we would be going to the post office the next day. The housemother was very kind and told us the rules along with showing us a map of the town and the sites. She also told us she locked the doors at 10 PM, and we should be home by then. OK, we agreed. THEN she gave us a room key.
The room is small, but it has a bed, a radiator, a toilet, sink and shower. We’re happy. The bed is a full/double bed, but it only has one pillow (in my opinion). The pillow is a round tube, about eight or twelve inches in diameter, and the length of the head of the bed. I don’t mind sharing a bed with someone, but sharing a pillow is a different problem. It was like this last night in Aix-En-Provence as well, but I thought that it was a one-night thing. Maybe not. Maybe this is just another strange French thing I have to learn about.
We read through the literature and find that there is a movie about Bernadette that shows every night at 8:30 PM down by the shrine. But it takes two hours and we wouldn’t get home until 10:30. So on our way out for dinner, we ask the housemother if we go out for a movie would it be OK if we come back at 10:30. She looks at us sideways for a minute, than she asks if we mean the movie about Bernadette. We say yes, and suddenly she is all smiles again. Of Course we can go see the movie about Bernadette! But just don’t go out clubbing afterwards! (Somehow, I doubt we could find a club in this town even if we tried.)
She gives us directions, and we start off towards the theatre. On the way, we pass a couple of souvenir shops, and I start pricing postcards. I am very postcard prolific, and I have decided that everyone on my list should get one from here, so value is important. We are also shopping for other gifts, like a rosary, a book about the Marion Society, and jugs for our holy water. Every souvenir shop sells all different kinds of thimbles, vials, jugs, and some huge buckets to put your water in. The other common souvenirs are postcards, rosaries, crosses, and anything that you can put Mary’s image on.
We find a little store we like, and start collecting our purchases. When we went to buy our trinkets, the sales man was so friendly! I think he would have been happy to talk with us all day. He even mentioned us to his wife when she called – I thought we were going to get invited home for dinner! It is the off-season, and I guess he doesn’t see so many people this time of year. We talk with him for a while and tell him of our plans to go to the movie tonight. He tells us that it is the off-season – ya, we’re started to learn that – and the movie only shows once a day at 2:30 PM right now. So, he gives us directions to a couple of restaurants and we wander along.
While we were walking the streets of Lourdes, a car pulled alongside us and asked for directions. We told them we couldn’t help them, sorry. So we had to smile when they ended up finding the same restaurant we had found for dinner. Of course, it is the off-season, and there arent that many open right now.
We made it home by curfew to pet the resident cat and see our housemother playing cards with her friends in the dining area. And the round pillow? I slept like a board, afraid to move or to disturb the pillow.