Saturday, May 2, 2015

Day 2: Arrival in Lourdes

* Note...between spotty Internet and a new IPad...I am not able to upload photos...will add them when we get home.

Day 2: The Arrival

Our excitement grew as we flew closer to France. Hank kept a sharp eye on the map showing our progress and nudged me as we neared Ireland. "Mom, look out the window!" he said as I raised myself up to see. As I looked down...there it was...the coastline of Ireland! Hank looked at me with a big tired grin. "This is going to be quite an adventure," I thought to myself.

Pyrenees Mountains

He continued to update me on our progress as we got closer and finally as we begun our descent into the Pyrenees airport, we could see the French countryside...just as we had imagined! We landed safely with a buzz of excitement...and as the wheels touched down, applause and hurrays broke out. This group was ready to go!

We disembarked and got our first look at our surroundings. What a beautiful site! The airport is situated just outside of Lourdes, at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains, which separates France from Spain. Their snow covered caps were jutting up to the sky...a magnificient site that I have only seen in movies and magazines. (I hope to get up to the Fort that sits above Lourdes to really capture the view) We were quickly brought to the luggage area to identify our bags and then told to leave them and board the bus to Lourdes, as the Order of Malta would deliver our bags to our rooms. The buses filled with weary pilgrims headed into town on a country road with fields, farmhouses and the Pyrenees as our view.

As we neared Lourdes and started seeing the signs, the voices started to raise in excitement. Our team captain (we are the Red Team), Rick, gave us information as we drove into town...a village really...of narrow streets and pedestrians who aren't afraid to stand in front of a bus and a bus driver who is not afraid to run them over! We pulled up to our hotel and disembarked, with direction to go up to our floor, get our keys, freshen up and wait for our bags. Doing as told, Hank and I made our way to the 2nd floor and received our keys. We entered our room to find a clean, sparsely decorated room with two twin beds side by side. "Why are the beds so close together? Hank asked with some alarm. I walked over and pushed each bed to the wall. "Better?" He smiled and nodded. (Sheesh...such a teenager!)

Lourdes, at the edge of the Gave River
After we got our bags, we had some downtime  rest, unpack and unwind. Hank took a nap as I
unpacked. He was quite frusterated that he could not connect to the Internet and gave up and slept. We were told to not sleep more than an hour, as we needed to reset our body clocks for the time change. Since we tend to be rule followers, Hank and I did as told and took brief naps and then   prepared for dinner. Dinner was held on the first floor of the hotel, set up in buffet style with numerous stations set around the room to accommodate the 300 people in our group. We were seated with our teams and Hank and I took seats at at empty table for four, not wanting to interfere in anyone's table arrangements. A couple seated at another table looked over and saw us, got up and immediately came over to us. "May we join you?" they asked. We nodded. They were a couple from the San Francisco Bay area and explained that they had come to Lourdes many years ago with their daughter who was a "Malade". (this is the name for the sick that the Order of Malta uses). Their daughter had blood cancer and was quite ill. They brought her here and she was better when she returned home. She was ultimately cancer free through treatment, etc. and they joined the Order of Malta and have returned every year since. We continued to have wonderful conversation as I told them of how Hank was chosed and the belief that his journey to Lourdes started long before the letter was sent to Fr. Russ, asking for a nomination to Lourdes.

A walk in the village.
After dinner, we met with our team leaders, and given direction for the next day. We were excused and had free time to do whatever we like...walk around the town, go to the grotto, go to bed...lots of options. Hank and I decided to take a walk and were met by a Dame of Malta and a whole group of kids. "Hank, join us for gelato!" she said, and introduced Hank to the other kids. As I reached in my purse to grab my wallet, she stopped me. "I've got it!" she said and paid the man. 
As Hank got acquainted with a couple of teenagers I had time to walk around and take some pictures. The village is hilly, with narrow streets and three and four story buildings on either side of the street. Some taller buildings as Lourdes is only second to Paris in terms of hotel rooms per capita. We walked around a bit more and headed back to the hotel to get the much desired sleep we needed.

We got ready for bed and Hank sat down with his phone. "I'm connected! He exclaimed. And as I laid down to sleep, Hank was happily chuckling over some funny video on his phone. "I wonder if he will get anything out of this trip?" I thought as I fell asleep. I should have known that Our Lady had big plans for Hank...

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