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Fifty shades of grey nomad- part 7

Mavis Davis and the Princess leave flooded Montpellier- onward to Lourdes hoping for a miracle

Our group of pious pilgrims had been travelling together for two weeks now and it was near the end of September. Things were getting a bit tense and the cliques were well and truly formed. There was little evidence of camaraderie evolving out of the recent flood disaster situation at Montpellier.

Again our group of 60, 70 and 80 somethings wheeled our suitcases to the bus, this time in the rain, with promises of a truly spiritual experience at Lourdes. Settling back in the bus, with only the brave sitting up the back with ‘Stinky’ who, mercifully, realising his antisocial assault on the olfactory senses of others, relegated himself to his usual seat at the back of the bus.

From time to time, ‘Chatty’ would dart to the back of the bus to chat to ‘Stinky’, risking life and limb, as the bus hurtled at breakneck speeds to the next destination. The ‘Principal’ enjoyed reigning over her empire consisting of three ladies of a certain age. ‘The Quite Achiever’ had experienced one too many cold shoulders from the ‘Principal’s’ group and was freelancing the different cliques, to find her niche.

Roberto, our Swiss bus driver carefully navigated our way out of soggy Montpellier, the view consisting of many grapevines barely visible above the deep water.  There was plenty of evidence of windfarms in France, unlike Italy that prefers a plethora of solar panels.

Medieval ramparts of Carcassonne, five million supplicants prefer Lourdes

Next stop was Carcassonne. If one is able to see only one fort in their life, Carcassonne is the one to see.  It is a magnificent example of a medieval fort with mighty ramparts, the view of which transports the imagination back a thousand years.

I was the only one who went in to the castle as the others, especially ‘Shop-til-you-drop’ preferred souvenir shopping, oblivious to the historical significance of this magnificent edifice.

On arrival at Lourdes, the Princess was in full voice about our tiny room and miniscule and tepid shower, clingy shower curtain, and bedding with a pervading odour of mothballs, in this packed-to-the-rafters pilgrimage town. The Princess was temporarily placated by the beautiful view from the window and the magnificent buffet dinner at the Hotel.

September is the height of pilgrimage season and the pilgrims hailed from far and wide. There were traffic jams of white-gowned volunteer nurses pushing stretchers and wheel chairs. Apparently, 5 million tourists or pilgrims visit Lourdes annually. It looked like at least half of them were visiting that week.

Lourdes was an incredible experience that started with a comprehensive tour by local tour guide Christiane, elegant in Chanel and completely knowledgeable about St Bernadette’s story, family life, home and the miracles attributed to the spring and Lourdes water. I am not saying that some of our devout pilgrims can be a bit vague but this is how one conversation went:

Christiane (imagine an exquisite French accent): “So far there are 69 miracles from the waters of Lourdes”

‘The Principal’: “Oh as late as ‘69”

‘Chatty’: “Yes, that’s right 6 to 9 are the hours for breakfast.”

We were all extremely impressed by the magnificent cathedral set against a backdrop of the Pyrenees. Hidden was the underground cathedral with a capacity of 25,000. Mass was in progress and at least 50 priests were giving communion. It was bedlam.

Lost and found

At this point we lost one of the more elderly in our group, ‘Pollyanna’. To his credit, FIGJAM searched high and low and was not happy until she was found.

The grotto area was packed with queues of the sick and the lame, families with severely disabled children strapped to beds, the aged in wheelchairs, people barely mobile, hampered by clubbed feet.

The Princess (at this point very emotional) and I experienced mixed feelings. There was the poignancy of the thousands of chronically ill, lame, disabled and terminally ill desperate for a miraculous cure from the spring at the Grotto – juxtaposed against the blatant commercialism.

Our hopes to view St Bernadette’s intact remains were quashed as they have been exhumed and are on display at Nevers Cathedral, some distance away and not on our itinerary.

The day ended on a much happier note with the rescue of ‘Pollyanna’ by some kindly locals; and the experience of being hit on by a couple of mad Irishmen during a bus tour.

These silver foxes are high fliers at a large solicitor’s firm who, annually do a five day volunteer bootcamp of pushing wheelchairs and beds with a truly charitable motivation.  There was no evidence of their deep-rooted altruism in their suggestions to the Princess and myself to accompany them for some ‘fun’ during the remainder of their limited leisure time.

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