The plan was to leave around lunchtime…as usual we were running late and finally left just after 3pm.
Well, we had hoped to get to Lourdes but as the night drew in we finally stopped just outside Foix. Our route along the D18 past Limoux, the D63 past Mirepoix, and finally onto the main N20 to Foix has been a wonderful return to biking after so many fun days stationed at Chris’s.
Emerald green French valley forests swapped quickly for drier earthier hilltop vistas at higher altitudes as we carved our way down to our first night under canvas since leaving our friend and his party-loving neighbours!
Dinner was courtesy of the local pizza van with after dinner drinks supplied by our new Bavarian neighbours - Ruprecht and Ingeborg Quast.
Ruprecht had introduced himself with a smile and a host of questions about the bikes and BMW. Later his interest in the BMW bikes became apparent as for the last 20 years Ruprecht had been intricately involved with BMW’s fuel injection systems, most recently working on the Formula 1 circuit!! You meet the most interesting of people in the strangest of places!
A lunchtime start was in order today as Lourdes was our destination and only a short 60-mile ride.
Opting to use only the GPS to guide us and having selected to use back roads only in order to avoid the main highways we zigzagged across country passing countless hamlets and villages each more picturesque than the last. The day was beautifully warm as opposed to the stinking hot temps we'd become used to. Our route was a surprise, as until we reached Lourdes we had no idea where the GPS was taking us!
Both Lisa and I had quickly found our biking equilibrium again after our stationary stint at Chris’s and both enjoy the special kind of buzz that only travel on two wheels can provide. I spent the afternoon grinning to myself as I rode,listening to Lisa through the Autocom and every so often all I heard was….”Wheeee, wheee” as she pushed her F650GS through tighter and tighter bends at speed and enjoying the empty roads.
Not for the first time on this trip I realised how proud I was of my wife and how well she’d done through the 16 countries to date.
God knows how we finally got into Lourdes (Opps! Shouldn’t say that should I?) but the road was unmarked and became very narrow before finally broadening onto one of the main streets, as we entered the town.
Opting to stay in the smaller town centre campsite, it was ideal and only a 5 min walk from the main area. Arriving at a ‘normal time’ we headed straight for the town centre and were almost immediately overwhelmed by the ‘religion on sale’. Shop upon shop upon shop selling everything from candles to crucifixes to little plastic bottles in the shape of the ‘Virgin Mary with Child’ for you to collect your healing water in.
Religious icons and trinkets of every description are here for your buying pleasure. We’d gone without food for too long and so plonked ourselves down at one of the town centres Bistro’s where we were served overpriced and poorly cooked grub for the tourist.
A little ‘down in the mouth’ but with hunger pangs subsiding we headed back to the tent and formulated our plan for the late afternoon and evening.
Our return in the late afternoon saw Lourdes transformed. The excitement in the air was tangible and the trinket shops which earlier seemed gordy, now seemed appropriate even necessary as people on the way to the Cathedral Basilique du Rosaire shopped for mementos. Making our way down to the Cathedral and noting there were almost as many wheelchair users as able bodied, we strolled down the main promenade towards the Cathedral doors only to be staggered by the artistry and splendour of the interior.
The inner Cathedral area is undergoing a complete renovation with 5.5 million Euros already spent they are half way through, but the work is pain staking and what has been finished is quite incredible. Of the many fine building we have been lucky enough to see around the world these mosaics and design are amongst our favourites, and worthy of any visit for the religiously inclined or not, on this merit alone.
For more information on the area why not visit: www.lourdes-france.org or call the office de tourisme on Tel: 0033 562 4277 40.
A little weary we headed back up the hill and once again were in need of grub. With our expectations low we popped into one of the smaller restaurants at the Cathedral end of the high street only to be surprised and delighted at great home cooked French cuisine at prices that didn’t damage the budget.
As we ate we watched hundreds people, all with small candles gently make their way down to the cathedral. A little tired but curious we followed suit. The candlelight Mass and procession was getting underway. Thousands of Pilgrims from all over the World, including several hundred from the Dublin diocese were setting a scene fit for a fairy-tale. The atmosphere was joyous but respectful as thousands of candles lit every balcony, alcove and staircase, as well as covering the complete promenade. A sea of moving light that no camera could really do justice to, and all very much in contrast to our earlier impression of Lourdes. Quite simply magical- the evening was one to be remembered.