Friday, May 23, 2008

Lourdes - Part 1

Getting back to Tourope, I've decided to start at the end rather than the beginning. The little town of Lourdes in the south of France was not part of the package tour, but is renowned as a Christian pilgrimage destination due to the appearance of Mother Mary to a young girl (St. Bernadette) and the consequent miraculous powers of the river that runs through Lourdes. Our tour ended in Paris, and so my parents felt that we should make the extra effort and visit Lourdes.

We'd had an extraordinarily wonderful three weeks in Europe, but all that changed the morning we were to depart for Lourdes. Our tour guide had told us we would have no problem getting a taxi to the train station from our hotel in Paris. Just to make sure we wouldn't be delayed, we stepped out nearly 2 hours in advance and waited out front.....and kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the surprisingly elusive taxis. Repeated visits to the concierge proved fruitless as they kept saying that we would get taxis. The only other option was to take the subway train which was not tempting as we were loaded down with four heavy suitcases plus hand baggage and as anyone who's travelled through these systems knows that while they're great for daily commutes, the never-ending staircases and winding corridors aren't easy navigation with luggage.

Finally, my frustrated father insisted they call for a taxi, which they did only to stay on hold for like half an hour. When we were about 45 minutes from the train departure time, it dawned on the hotel staff that since the airshow was going on, the rest of the city would likely be facing a taxi shortage. We were mad enough to get into a fight.....I mean, come on, this is the world famous Paris airshow, its been going on in their city for years and they only tell us about the taxis after 2 hours????

We were then left with no choice but to take the subway. And what a nightmarish trip that was!!! I'm not going to dwell on the details now. Of course we ended up missing our train, had to cough up some more Euros for tickets on a later train and then cooled our heels for a few hours at the station. Needless to say, we weren't in the best of moods. We weren't left with a favourable impression of the Parisians at the hotel and didn't know what to expect ahead at Lourdes.

However, the 5-hour train ride went smoothly. We arrived at the sleepy little station at Lourdes and thankfully, stepped into a taxi right outside. We drove through quaint roads, got a passing glimpse of the main shrine before turning onto a street lined with narrow buildings practically sticking to each other - all hotels to accomodate the millions of pilgrims and tourists who arrive every year. I was a bit apprehensive as I was the one who'd chosen the hotel and all I'd had to guide me were Internet reviews. But it turned out to be quite nice - cozy, warm interiors bustling with cheerful groups of pilgrims from all over the world. The staff at reception were friendly too, a welcome change from those at the Paris hotel. In fact, the man who checked us in was an Arab who'd recently moved to Lourdes from Dubai! He was delighted when we said we'd come from Abu Dhabi.

After that pleasant welcome, we went up to our rooms. I did a cursory neatness-cleanliness check and then headed straight to that which for me, determines the worth of a room - its view. All I'll write now is that my jaw dropped. I'll let the pictures speak the rest of it.

The River Gave that runs through Lourdes flowed right next to our hotel and all those other buildings you see, also hotels. Our hotel had hanging balconies, so I was quite literally standing over the river!


The 1000 year old Chateau Fort atop a hill overlooking River Gave.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Revisiting Europe

May 2007 - not only was I frantically struggling to complete my dissertation for that one piece of paper which would deem me a 'Master', I was also accompanying my mother on an equally frantic round of trips to apply for & collect visas for our family's dream European vacation. Everything went off smoothly and we left on June 3rd 2007 for one of the best times we've ever had. I started to blog the experience here, but didn't get around to completing it (yes, procrastination is one of my weaknesses).

Europe has never been far from my mind since, but it was only recently when I was showing the pictures to my husband, that the tremendous beauty of all the big things and the small things that made up our trip, hit me all over again. And this time round, I will do full justice to Tourope.