A trip to Lourdes, France.
A town called Lourdes
In the South of France lies a town called Lourdes. If you grew up in a Catholic household, you may be familiar with the story of a little girl names Bernadette who saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary at a spring in the town of Lourdes. The spring at Lourdes is thought to have healing powers and many Catholics from all over the world make pilgrimages to the small town.
My grandmother, a devout Catholic, has been telling me about Lourdes ever since I can remember. She would always bless me with Lourdes water that she would order and tell me the story of little Bernadette.
Fast forward to 2018. My grandmother has dementia due to a stroke she had in 2014 and is in a nursing home in Pennsylvania. I travel out to PA just about every other weekend to visit her. She is my heart and means the world to me. When Nick and I decided to make the trip to France and Switzerland, I knew we had to make a stop in Lourdes for gram.
I wanted her to be able to see photos that I took and talk to her on the phone while near the grotto.
Train ride to Lourdes
We booked our tickets in advance and when we made it to the train station in Paris, something awful happened. We had no idea which train to get on since there were different floors and no one spoke English. The train attendants then told us to get on the WRONG train. We made our way off, realizing this, and went RUNNING to make it before the train closed all of its doors.
We didn’t make it. The SNCF attendant simply said it was impossible for the train to open its doors again and 2 minutes later, the train left.
I started bawling my eyes out because this was something I wanted to do so very badly for gram. I felt so defeated. We made our way to the ticket station on another level and explained the situation.
They would not give us a refund. Nick was determined that we would make it to Lourdes that day. We bought another pair of tickets that would get us in a few hours later than we originally planned for. While we would only end up with about 2 hours in Lourdes before heading back to Paris (including a 20 minute walk each way from the train station to the grotto) but we would make it there for gram nevertheless.
After a few hours of waiting in the train station, we boarded the right train. Then began a 5 hour trip to Lourdes.
We made it!
When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was that the basilica looked exactly like it did in the photos. It was simply amazing.
We ended up walking all around and into the Rosary Basilica. I decided to light a candle for gram and shed a few tears, wishing gram could have been there with me. Nevertheless, I knew I was going to talk to her soon and would be able to tell her I lit a special candle, just for her.
We then made our way to the Grotto. Hundreds of people in line to touch the grotto were praying the “Our Father” in French. Soon, it was our turn to touch and walk near the grotto. Then the weirdest thing happened. I was instantly overcome with emotion and started crying. I have no clue why. Maybe it was just the fact that my gram has always talked about this very special place throughout my life and I was finally there. It was surreal, in a way.
Mass was starting so we listened to the priests in French and took a look at the Grotto again from afar.
We then made our way to the springs to get water, as I promised all of the practicing Catholics in my family that I’d bring back Lourdes water from the spring. The were about 10-12 taps and lines at every single tap. The lines moved quickly, despite some people having many jugs they wanted to fill. Everyone was so patient and courteous.
The words engraved in the below image mean “Go and drink at the fountain” as the story goes that the apparition of the Virgin Mary told little Bernadette to “Go and drink at the fountain and wash yourself there.”
Video chatting with Gram
My best friend’s mom offered to help gram answer the phone so I messaged her to see if she arrived yet. She did and we decided to try to video chat (as the day before she offered that as a great idea.) I got on the phone with gram and told her where I was. The connection cut out a little but so we switched to Facebook Messenger video chat (best use of Verizon’s Travel Pass, ever!) I could see gram! I showed her the grotto, basilica, springs, and everything around Lourdes.
She was so happy and I was beyond elated to show her the place she has always talked so dearly about. So excited that I got shhhh’d by someone (whoops) but I was just SO happy that I just made my grandma’s day.
After about half an hour, I let her go and told her I loved her and would see her after I returned from Europe as I wanted to get some Rosaries before we had to head back to the train station.
A bloody knee…
I decided that I wanted to put the rosaries I just purchased under the spring water for gram, as I knew she would find that special. So I ran. And I mean ran…directly followed by the worst fall I have had in a long time. I scraped my knee badly and a guy asked in a worried tone, “Ça Va?”
Remembering a little bit of French, I responded, “Oui, merci beaucoup!”
Bloody knee and all I continued and hobbled my way to the spring taps and put the rosaries under. I made it back through the masses of people and found Nick. I did my best by washing my knee in the bathroom with some soap and water and we made our way back to the station.
Note: I ended up getting a bandage the next day from a pharmacy and the pharmacist said that it was pretty bad and gave me some fancy antiseptic with a huge bandage and instructed me not to take it off for 48 hours then change daily. I thought I was going to have a nasty scar but surprisingly the bandages worked and within a week, it was all healed up. Nick and I think they were magic bandages.
Back to Paris, we go…
Thankfully, we had no issues making the train on the way back to Paris and around midnight we got back to our hotel, to spend one last night in Paris.
While we spent 5x the time traveling to and from Lourdes as opposed to the amount of time we were actually in this small city, I was able to share this special moment with my grandma and will forever cherish that. It was beyond worth it and certainly one of the highlights of my trip!
The next day we would spend our morning in Paris before heading off to Switzerland for the remainder of the trip…