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Lourdes and Gavarnie

By Hannah and Ben

overcast 15 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Lourdes

Lourdes

We arrived in Lourdes yesterday in the late afternoon. The town has no real layout and there are not many buildings with a long history except for the fortress. The real focal point is the complex of churches and shrines in the centre of town. Our hotel was a mere stone's throw away. Lourdes is only second to Paris in the number of hotel rooms available per square kilometer. Because it is is off season you can get a hotel room with Kitchenette a queen bed a single and bunkbeds with a large bathroom and a couple of closets for 49 Euros a night with all taxes included.

Hannah has provided some facts about Lourdes in the next paragraph.

The church Our Lady of Lourdes, is a church constructed in honour of Saint Bernadette Soubirous. The church is located on top of a grotto where it is reported that Bernadette had some of her 18 apparitions. The water here is highly revered and it is said to have healing properties if the person who drinks it does so with faith. While the grotto is small and sparsely decorated, the church is sizeable and ornate. Since 1860, approximately 200 million people have visited the sanctuary and shrine. Many people light devotional candles while there, and consequently about 800 tonnes of wax are burnt there each year.

Ben, here again. We thought we would be spending a bit of time attending mass and working our way through the sites in the morning. It turned out that it did not take all that long. One reason was that we chose not to attend mass when we found the mass was not to be held in the Cathedral but was to be held by the grotto itself. A mass totally focussed on Bernadette was not really the kind of church service we were ready for so we chose to wander the sites and then take a peek at all the religious paraphanelia that was on sale in the dozens if not hundreds of stores surrounding the religious site. We spotted glow in the dark Virgin Marys and a Mary that changed colour according to the differences in barometric pressure. There were all sorts of containers that could be purchased to take home the water of Lourdes from the size of a 50 ml bottle to 25 litre jugs.

Gavarnie

Gavarnie

After our experience of the religious sites of Lourdes, Abby, Muriel and I (Hannah wanted to be spared another stomach churning experience of the winding backroads of Europe) went to Gavarnie which is located 55 kilometers from Lourdes and a 1000 meters higher in the French Pyrenees. The small town of Gavarnie is the start of a 4 km path to the cirque de Gavarnie which is a large rock amphitheater, situated at the border of France and Spain. The main valley is on the French side, with most of the peaks on the French/Spanish border. The large limestone walls rise 1500m vertically from the bottom of the cirque which is around 800m across at the bottom and 3000m across the top. On the right side is a 400m waterfall. The view was quite spectacular althought the colours will appear muted in the photographs due to the overcast skies.

In the morning when we left Lourdes it felt like it was no warmer than 8 degrees Celsius. When were were half way up to Gavarnie we stopped to look at a magnificent arched bridge and couldn't believe how warm it felt when we stepped out of the car. The car thermometer showed an incredible 19 degrees. It was overcast but there was a chinook-like breeze moving through the valley. Even when we arrived at Gavarnie the thermometer still read a balmy 15 degrees even though the surrounding mountains were dusted in snow. At the very base of the cirque it was no colder than 12 degreees and yet the face of the cliffs were covered in ice and the waterfall was shedding small avalanches of ice every half hour. We felt that the the natural setting we experienced was more conducive to the worship of the divine then what we encountered in the rather kitchy setting of Lourdes.

There were about 20 or 30 people that we came across during our walk which is a pretty small number when you consider that the cirque de Gavarnie has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and the town of Lourdes which attracts 5 million visitors a year is less than an hour drive away. We have found that Lourdes and Gavarnie are basically ghost towns this time of year. The only locals you see are in the supermarket and the few who still have their businesses open this time of year. Many hotels are closed but most things a tourist would like to see are still open.
It was interesting to see a pilgrimage site for Catholicism and we could see it was quite meaningful and important to the pilgrims that were there (few tourists are in Lourdes this time of year more are devout pilgrims and even they are somewhat sparse) but it was not really our cup of tea in terms of what we feel is central in Christianity or how we would choose to express our faith. The nature around Lourdes was what we appreciated most, but we are still glad we came to see.

Posted by KZFamily 12:32 Archived in France Tagged lourdes gavarnie Comments (2)

Travel Days

By Hannah

semi-overcast 13 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Sarlat: Medieval City

Sarlat: Medieval City

These past two days have been spent travelling from St-Clément-des-Levées to Sarlat-la-Canéda to Loudres. Along the way, we've toured a medieval village, visited a castle and driven down the windiest roads in France. It hasn't exactly been as exciting or interesting as Paris, but that's what travel is, I suppose. It's taking the time to get to the best of places, and enjoying the journey there.

Our first day of travelling started early, as always, and we left our country house for a cramped hotel room. It was a long drive, about five hours altogether, but a picnic in between and the use of our extensive collection of devices helped the time pass more quickly. When we arrived in Sarlat-la-Canéda, we found that our hotel did not open for another hour. So we headed for the heart of the small town to explore what we could. After a bit of stressful traffic circle manoeuvring (which involved our GPS chanting "turn around when possible" every minute or so), we came to the medieval village at the heart of Sarlat. With the help of a map from the tourism office, we walked streets and saw buildings that had been built as far back as the 12th century. I was chosen to lead us, and spent as much time looking at the map as I did anything else. I'll give it to Dad next time. At the end of our small adventure, we ducked into a couple specialty shops and took a look at some of the local wares. We discovered that we were in the town of foie gras and black truffles. Neither looked very good and both were incredibly expensive, but someone must buy them as it seems to be Sarlat's main source of income. Perhaps I'll have to cook with them sometime.

Castelnaud

Castelnaud

Today we visited Château de Castelnaud, which is located in the Dordogne Valley. It's perched on top of a hill, which is dotted with old stone cottages. We drove up to it on an increasingly windy road, and then walked a short distance to see a foggy but spectacular view of the valley below. The château itself is a castle with classic French turrets. It dates back to the 1100s, and its ownership has been passed around quite a bit through the centuries. Behind it are a few catapults, still at the ready with boulders beside them. We spent quite a bit of time trying to take pictures that would do justice to the castle, valley and surrounding forest, but I'm afraid you'll just have to go there yourself if you want the whole experience.

We arrived in Lourdes this afternoon, quickly settling in to our relatively large hotel room. Abby and I are in bunk beds. She's on top, but at least I can kick her from below if she snores too loudly. After the grocery shopping, dinner and collective crash that takes place after two days of travelling were over with, I was told to write about these past two comparatively dull days. Personally, I wasn't sure if they deserved the recognition that an entire blog post brings. However, I'm told that documentation is necessary and generally appreciated. Hopefully I've portrayed it as interesting enough. And hey, a dull day in France is an exciting one back home, right?

Posted by KZFamily 13:46 Archived in France Tagged lourdes dordogne st-clément-des-levées sarlat-la-canéda castlenaud Comments (3)

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