Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lourdes 2018 - Pilgrimage by old HCPT hands.

Three of us who had retired after many years fulfilling pilgrimages with HCPT - The Pilgrimage Trust, decided to make our own pilgrimage this year in Low Week, after the HCPT Easter Week pilgrimage had finished.

The decision was to travel from London St Pancras to Lourdes by train given that most of  our HCPT pilgrimages to Lourdes had also been by train, mainly using, the now largely defunct couchette trains from Boulogne, Dunkirke  and more recently, Calais.

The first obstacle was overcome by selecting travel dates that did not coincide with the the series of strikes planned by the French SNCF railway unions from between April and June. The next obstacle was the difficulty caused by the closure of Metro Line 4 at Gare du Nord. Nonetheless after some unexpected walking through the lovely streets of Paris and taking a different metro line we duly arrived at Gare Montparnasse in the south of Paris. The travel down to Lourdes was then straightforward and provided ample time for the three of us to catch up on news and to take some French refreshment.

Lourdes seemed much less crowded than usual probably because  both the large HCPT pilgrimage  had departed and many French schools had not quite started their holidays. In any event we were warmly greeted at The Hotel Alba the MD of which had kindly reduced their full board charge by almost 50% upon recognising us, The Alba was also hosting a three day French mountain bike rally in  the surrounding  Lourdes hills and countryside.

Otherwise the beauty of Lourdes, peace, prayer, and song were happily unaltered.  Nonetheless some photos of sights that I had not seen before in Lourdes included;
The sewing of a cooking apron for my 4 year old grand daughter and a few mountain bike competitors;

The cite au secours made for an energetic walk in the Lourdes countryside. Beautifully quiet and with a cafe au lait priced at an amazingly low 40 cents, it was of course my turn to pay. A rather longer energetic walk to Bartres where Bernadette had spent time while recovering from her asthma as girl was also worth the effort as indeed was the walk back to Lourdes - downhill.

The Blessing of the sick, torchlight procession and high stations were all beautiful. Mass in the highest of the three basilicas late on Saturday night was a fitting end to the main part of our pilgrimage.

The journey home by train from Gare de Lourdes we assumed would be uneventful as Sunday was  a SNCF non-strike day. However upon arriving at the station notification was given that the TGV to Paris had been cancelled. There was a chance of finding a train to Paris from Dax so we took a local train to Dax. Over coffee there while we waited many people  French and others mentioned  Mrs Thatcher's union fights which they hoped President Macron would emulate. 

A TGV was eventually found but given the metro difficulties at Gare du Nord, added to which there were huge crowds of English holiday makers seeking to return to the UK for the start of the school summer term, room was offered to us to sleep overnight on the floor of a friend of Bernie living in Paris, as we had missed our return Eurostar home.

However that kind offer was not needed as a lady in the Eurostar ticket office upon learning of our trek from Lourdes found us two seats (Bernie was staying on in Paris and Nevers for a few days) on the next Eurostar to London, free of further payment, despite a public  announcement that all remaining trains to London were full.

A miracle indeed.

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