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Expat Vagabonds "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness." Mark Twain

Lourdes and Andorra

ANDORRA | Monday, 13 June 2011 | Views [2498]

From the Basilica, Lourdes

From the Basilica, Lourdes

I am of two minds when it comes to rental cars.  They are expensive and driving in a foreign country can be stressful.  The roads are narrow and winding, the signs are difficult to understand and parking can be a nightmare.  Traveling by bus and train is relaxing and stress free - you just have to show up on time and get off at the correct stop.

But having a car gives you the freedom to explore.  When you see something of interest, you stop.  You can take time to smell – and photograph – the flowers.  And a car is the easiest way to get to some of the more out-of-the-way places.  Like Lourdes and Andorra.

So when we arrived from Bilbao in Biarritz, France, we decided to rent a Fiat Punto diesel for a week.  It is tiny and barely holds our luggage but it is supposed to get 55 mpg.  As usual we started out in the wrong direction but quickly got back on track.  The difference between Spain and France is palpable.  France is just so . . . French.  Connie navigated us on back roads where we could see something other than the freeway and we didn’t have to pay the high tolls so it took us most of the day to reach the town of Lourdes.  Lourdes was booked to capacity and we were lucky to find a hotel.  It was quiet and simple, no WIFI or TV but it had secure parking and it was only a short walk from the Basilica via the “secret” stairway.   

Once one accepts the basic supernatural premise of religion, everything else can be made to seem logical.  So when the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette in a grotto in Lourdes in 1858, the faithful became instant believers.  After seventeen additional sightings, Lourdes became a major religious site.  One hundred and fifty years later pilgrims still flock to Lourdes to touch the rock where Mary appeared.  Over the years miraculous healings were attributed to the water that flows from the grotto and today the Hospital of Notre Dame de Lourdes tends to the invalids.

Every evening the invalids and mobile pilgrims gather for the Torchlight Marian Procession and mass in front of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  The invalids are wheeled out in their wheelchairs and reclining carts by volunteers.  An average of 5000 people cheer them on, while the invalids wave and smile in their moment of celebrity.  Last night was special, the eve of the Pentecost.  Connie and I estimated there were 20,000 participants.  The last members of the candlelight procession were crossing the bridge an hour after the first.

One of our goals is to visit every country in Europe, the large and the small.  Andorra is one of the smaller ones.  It is nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France in the heart of Catalan country.  It is not on the way to anywhere and is known mainly as a ski resort and a source of tax-free cigarettes and gas.  It was a long, winding drive from Lourdes but the scenery was spectacular, much like parts of Colorado.  We had trouble finding a hotel – many are closed for the summer – and even more trouble finding a place to park.  But we have both BBC and CNN, a first on the trip!





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