Tuesday, July 2, 2013

vacation 5: Lourdes

 To get to Lourdes we drove 130 km an hour through high winds along the mountains separating France and Spain. I wanted to visit Andorra along the way, but it would've been another two hours. There's a castle on every third hill. Note: GPS spedometers are highly inaccurate in mountains as they only measure horizontal speed. The only glitch is that French toll booths don't accept our Visa card or any of our cards like Spain did. It burns through a lot of cash--$25-$75 a day in tolls.

Nestled in gorgeous misted, green mountains, the city of Lourdes is a multilevel maze of one-way streets, hotels, and souvenir shops. Talk about money changers in the temple! People sell everything here to the tens of thousand of pilgrims who come to visit the grotto every day.

There's only one attraction in the city and they hide it! I spotted the very top of a cathedral on a side street, but the church website said that the baths were separate. I wanted to go to the baths, which is Piscene in French. A little pictionary and watching "Life of Pi" reminded me of this. Once you feed the parking meters (the nearest ramp is 15 minutes walk away) and find one of the two entrances, the whole labelled campus opens up. They even have a building dedicated to confession beforehand.
Pierce, Tammy, and Emily were all immersed. Like bathrooms, there was no line at the men's, but Pierce and I had to wait for the ladies. Next we waited in line to touch the grotto. The guard skipped us to the front of the line, probably because of the children. Then we visited the shrine that had a plaque for each healing since it was built. Not a surface was uncovered. Emily posed under the crown so it would look like she was wearing it.

On the way out, we found the main entrance with the carved angels--beautiful. But the beggars congregate here. One in training followed us back to our car.
The kids, with all the choices in French food, wanted McDonalds. At Sagrada Familia yesterday, we had KFC, so it's a theme. Last time I was here, France would've gone to war at the mention of Walmart or fast food. Things had changed in a few decades.

We plowed through hundreds of souvenir stalls. What does a stuffed cat have to do with healing waters? The GPS said 750 meters to the restaurant until the first intersection and then wigged out... so we asked strangers where it was. They looked at me funny until I drew the arches. "Oh! Mac Donals" The French people eat at a second counter with quiche, croissants, and latte. At the tourist counter, I order a number duex, sans onion. Tammy gives her typical detailed order. My wife knows what she wants, and I benefited from that, so I can't complain. But the woman at the register is dumbstruck. She calls for emergency backup from the woman who allegedly speaks English, the one I just saw beat a two foot garbage bag down a one foot chute. I back away from the register. Expert Clerk is stumped for a while, too. Tammy decides to simplify. No onion, no mustard. Huh? Tammy gets access to their register, and finds the button for mustard. "Oh. Moussard!" Really? We gave up on Ranch dressing for the kids' nuggets, and used ketchup. Tammy's burger didn't come with the rest of the food. You have to walk up and get your own special orders when your psychic sense tells you its ready, which also require the receipt even if you're the only customer in the restaurant. When we're done, I find there is an automated ordering screen in four languages near the entrance.

Leaving the tiny village was like the hotel California. I shut off the GPS and went back the way we came until I saw a roundabout sign that said Toulouse.

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