The City of Lourdes hit the big time in 1858 when a peasant girl of 14, one Bernadette Soubirous, experienced visions (appearances?) of Our Lady of Lourdes in a cave alongside the River Gave de Pau. From that auspicious beginning of an eventual 18 appearances came the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, the church that the Virgin Mary asked to be built. And indeed it was, right over that humble cave…
In 2022, at the city of Lourdes, CrossCountry Bob had a vision of his own. It wasn’t in the same elite category as that of Saint Bernadette (canonized after her death in 1879), but it was significant to CrossCountry Bob just the same. It happened simply enough. There was a procession on the grounds in front of the church (for what CrossCountry Bob wasn’t sure) and in that procession was CrossCountry Bob 60 years ago. Well, not CrossCountry Bob exactly, but an altar boy just like CrossCountry Bob was all those many years ago,
Way back then, CrossCountry Bob didn’t get to swing the incense lamp. No sir, that was reserved for the priest. And the priest in Ocean Falls was the man. And when CrossCountry Bob, during a Mass, zoned out a bit, forcing the priest to rap his knuckles on the altar to get CrossCountry Bob’s attention to get off his knees and light some candles or open a prayer book (CrossCountry Bob’s memory is vague on exactly what), well, that was the beginning of the end of the altar boy career of CrossCountry Bob. He was changing. A chewing out after the Mass by the priest sped things along (being nice is not a requisite personality trait for a priest, as young CrossCountry Bob learned right then).
So now, after sixty years, CrossCountry Bob had a faint smile for that altar boy in the procession at Lourdes, wondering how his journey would turn out. He seemed to exhibit the same fading enthusiasm that CrossCountry Bob once had on his transition from altar boy to, well, someone with a more practical view of us humans
And that is all CrossCountry Bob has to say about Lourdes…oh, other than the place (population 14,000 give or take) somehow handles more than 6 million visitors every year. It has been said that Lourdes has more hotel rooms that any other city in France except for Paris. That tells you something.
While all this was happening, CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie were staying at a cabin in a small village called Omex about five kilometres outside Lourdes. The French countryside in the shadow of the Pyrenees was a fine place to be (once you found out where you were as CrossCountry Bob got entirely lost finding the AirB&B cabin and ended up on a goat trail halfway up a mountain. The GPS was as lost in the narrow jigsaw puzzle of lanes as CrossCountry Bob. Now picture CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie knocking on a village door and having a nice French lady try to give directions when she didn’t speak a word of English. Small wonders occurred as CrossCountry Bob’s brain dredged up a few French words from high school French and figured out it was the beige colored house with the black roof that we could just see from where we stood while the French lady motored on in French, gesticulating, trying to be as helpful as she could. Eventually, a cousin of our host, who spoke some English, found and rescued us from the medieval maze that is a feature (flaw) of so many French villages.
After settling in at Omex, the Pyrenees came up Aces, especially when CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie hiked into the Cirque de Gavarnie. The Pyrenees may not have the vastness of the Coast Mountains or the Rockies but certainly have their own cachet.
And then it was time to turn towards Spain. Up and more up on a winding secondary French road towards a high pass through the Pyrenees pass. But one last thing about France… there is an unlimited supply of fascinating secondary roads, many seemingly descended from the wagon tracks of the medieval days (so figures CrossCountry Bob based on all the stone bridges still in use).
Bye, bye to the (insane) bungee jumper and France. CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie drove up, up and….up, and then there was the “frontera de España”. El Portalet Pass, elevation 1,798 meters (5,898 feet).
Notice there is no snow yet. Every day so far has been over 20 degrees with just the odd shower (Paintin’ Peggie is a good luck charm when it comes to weather).
Then, at last, CrossCountry Bob and Paintin’ Peggie were sliding down into Spain and CrossCountry Bob was sure happy to see those highway signs in Spanish that he could actually understand.
“Bienvenidos a España” says CrossCountry Bob.
“What?” says Paintin’ Peggie.
“Welcome to Spain”, says CrossCountry Bob.