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DAY 21: from SALLENT DE GALLIEGO to LOURDES, 95 km

A sleepless night. it was the village festival and from 5 pm there was a lot of noise because our hotel was near the village square. Normally a super location but super noisy at a village festival. Around 10 pm performances on a stage started and lasted until 2:30 am. Then I thought it was over, but at 3:00 am the big performance of a Spanish group started till 5:30 am. So I slept very little but still felt rested. At 8 o'clock we drive to the bakery where we buy a full breakfast plus two pieces of pizza for Floky's lunch. A piece of bread for me with some of the cheese that was left from our lunch yesterday.


On our way to the de col de Pourtalet


Around 8:30 am we leave the village towards the Col de Pourtalet (1794) meters. We have already climbed to 1300 meters in Sallent de Galliego, but now we have to add another 500 meters and we immediately feel it. I have to do several parts on foot, but after an hour and a half and cycling 15 km with a lot of efforts we reach the Col de Pourtalet. We are rewarded with amazing views.


On the col du Pourtalet


We zitten een heel stuk boven de boomgrens en achter elke bocht wacht ons een nieuw nog mooier adembenemend landschap. Het is hard zwoegen tot boven maar het loont ongelooflijk de moeite. Veel mooier dan de Col du Somport gisteren. Eenmaal boven rijden we een 30 km snel naar beneden. toch stop ik geregeld om foto’s te nemen waarvan ik er een deel met jullie deel.


Lunch after climbing the Col du Pourtalet


An hour later we are already at an altitude of 350 meters and it becomes a lot less steep. We stop on a voie verte and have lunch in a radiant sun. Satisfied that we have conquered our second pass and a very high and steep one. After that it is slightly sloping with sometimes a small rise, but we easily reach Lourdes.


We stay at an Italian hotel, Lutetia, with beautiful renovated rooms and everything very neat. 45 euros for a room with two beds and a bathroom. I go to the center of Lourdes and the Grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirou in the 19th century. Since these apparitions and some miraculous healings, the city grew into a major pilgrimage site at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. At the top of the city is a very remarkable building, the old fortress of Lourdes.


The basiica of Lourdes, the fortress of Lourdes


Towards the end of the 20th century, the devotion to Mary had diminished considerably and there are fewer pilgrims. As a student I worked between 1964 and 1968 as a travel guide for the Kortrijk company CAROV. The summer of 1964, between the end of June and the end of September, I accompanied 7 or 8 pilgrimages by bus to Lourdes. Buses with many old and young people. Young couples went there to thank Maria for finding each other and being happily married. The following year I was also allowed to lead tours to other places especially in France and Italy and a little bit to Spain. Beautiful memories. I last visited Lourdes in 1982, which is more than 40 years ago. I suggest Floris going together to the center, but he thanks kindly. I understand that. A religious pilgrimage is not his goal at all. He doesn't even know what it is.


Worshippers touching the grotto and praying


From my hotel, near Lourdes station, I follow the copper nails that indicate the path to the grotto. Closer to the cave there are all kinds of people, healthy and sick, many in wheelchairs, many parents with children, many clerics (men and women). Lots of religious chants. In the shopping streets near the grotto there are plenty of shops with religious items and souvenirs. They sell candles, paternosters, prayer books and pictures, sweets, clothes, jewels, etc. It is all about commerce around the Marian devotion: too much and too exaggerated. I think the Holy Mary doesn't like that very much. She would like it all simpler and Jesus would probably drive many of the merchants away. I prefer a quiet Romanesque church where I can reflect for a while and try to communicate with God or with Mary and tell them what we have been through in the last two years.



The commerce near the grotto


That dramatic Sunday when our Rientje had his accident we prayed for a miracle and got none but we have experienced many small miracles in the following weeks and months in the form of support and solidarity from friends, relatives and acquaintances to support Tim, Yasmine, their children, us and Dédé and her family. We are very much indebted to all those lovely people for everything they did for us and the family. THANK YOU. Thank you also to those who financially support our hikes to help others. I think about that as I walk to the last meters to the grotto in silence. At the grotto you have to queue to walk under the statue of Mary and touch the rock with your hand. Everyone does. I also touch the rock for Rientje.


The copper nails indicating the way to the grotto, worshippers on their way to the grotto and tapping the miraculous water


You can also sit nearby to pray and the benches are full. To the left of the grotto you can buy candles to burn. There are small and super large candles, costing between 10 euros and 750 euros each. You can also have masses read and pay for them in a special office. To the left of the grotto are dozens of taps where you can drink the miraculous water of Lourdes. Many fill kegs and plastic statues of the Virgin Mary to take home as a gift or memento. I walk on and briefly enter the basilica that is built on top of the grotto, but the whole thing bothers me. I calmly walk back to our hotel and just think about our Rientje and how much we miss him. As I walk, I pray some Our Fathers and Hail Marys that I learned as a child especially for some family members who asked me to do so. So I calmly reach the hotel.


View of the fortress of Lourdes, our delicious evening meal


Together with Floky we have a pleasant and delicious meal. The hotel has an Italian owner and cook and it serves very tasty Italian food. After that we will rest because tomorrow will be our last trip, the 22nd day, from Lourdes to St Gaudens or somewhere around that place, 150 km from Serviès-en-Val. Our eldest son will pick us up there with our two bicycles, otherwise we will miss Tim who will pick up Floky to go on holiday to the Landes and Brittany with his children.


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