Since it was my second last weekend before going back to Paris to come home, I decided to take a day trip to Lourdes - the second most visited city in France after Paris. I went by myself this time and made an afternoon of it (It is only a half hour there and 12 euros roundtrip from Pau).
The major draw of this town is the grotto. Here, Bernadette claimed to have seen the Virgin Saint 18 times in the late 1800s. One of these times, in front of everyone, Bernadette got on her hands and knees and ate grass and drank the water from the filthy stream saying she was doing it for the sinners in the world. After a long and rough life amongst the towns people, Bernadette was examined by many doctors and psychiatrists who ultimitely decided she was not lying and that she really did see the saint.
A strong catholic community has built itself around this grotto. In Lourdes you can find the large church built around the grotto where literally thousands of people go each year to pray and drink from the holy water. You can follow the steps of St Bernadette herself or you can visit one of the many other churches around.
As a result of so many visitors, you can also see just how commercialized it has all become. The little town in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains still retains it's charming atmosphere, but you can still find souvenir shops everywhere. They draw you in with their flashing signs and sell you the same things at each one: memorobilia depicting Bernadette and the Virgin Saint, rosary beads, prayer candles, and various shapes and sizes of containers in order to bring back some of the holy water. People believe the water has miraculous healing powers- in fact the town keeps tracks of its miracles to date. If you look on the town website, you can read all about them.
I decided to head to the grotto first. I spent a good two hours just wandering around the church and the grotto along the river. It was absolutely breathtaking. Sure it has become quite a tourist attraction, but you can't help but marvel at the feeling you get when you are there amongst all those who are praying for their miracles.
I really had no planned itinerary, and so after visiting the church, I decided to find my way to the castle overlooking the town. It was easy to do as there are walking path signs everywhere. The castle was interesting too. It has been converted into a museum depicting the typical life of the people in the Pyrenees mountains. They have all sorts of rooms set up to show the lifestyle and dress along with small models which compare the different types of farms from other regions. It was well worth the trip up there.
finally, I grabbed a bite to head and headed back to the train station. What I didn't realize was how lost I could get. I took a route that I thought was the way back but really took me to the other end of town. I still saw walking path signs everywhere, yet none of them led to the train. They even had electronic tourist help points, but they didn't even have maps! Eventually I found the signs leading back to the grotto (and following them I realized just how lost I had been!). It was nice to see the church lit up at night at least. In the end I made it back to the station and back to Pau safe and sound :)