Katie' Pau Life En France

Ma vie En France

Last day in Pau April 20, 2010

Filed under: Pau — katiespaulife @ 9:04 am
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Woot! Last day in Pau!

 

I have been restless this past week, Pau is alright, but I am excited to see Paris again!

 

I was supposed to go to Nice last Thursday, but when I went to the train station to buy my ticket I waited in line for an hour to be told me there was no way I could get there. No trains are going to Nice, because of…..well you know why.

I was so disappointed. Aside from Paris, La Cote D’Azur was top on my list of places to see. Saved it for April so I could go to the beaches when it was warm outside.  Oh well…..guess I’ll just have to come back  ; )

 

I decided at the station that even if I couldn’t get to Nice, I had to escape Pau. What would I do here for a week?  I had already seen all of what little there is in this town, aside from a mall and a forest with trails I had yet to explore. So I bought a ticket to Marseille and my train was set to leave at 8:30 am the next morning.

It seems that I was destined to stay in Pau though, because for the second time in my life I slept through an alarm. I’d gone to bed at 8 pm the night before and set my alarm for 5am so I could finish packing, clean my room and shower before I left for the train station.

 

I woke up at 7:25!

 

I packed for a week in Spain in a rushed 10 minutes, but even if I pulled that off again I still wouldn’t have had time for the 10 min walk to the bus stop, the 20 minute ride to downtown and the 15 min walk to the train station. I was so angry at myself. Sleeping through that alarm = 80 euros down the drain.

 

Realizing I wasn’t going anywhere I skyped Elly and have been hanging out with her all week. It’s reminiscent of being a kid; I have no phone and set up a time and a corner to meet my friend at every day. Not to mention, I haven’t had this much free time since elementary school.

 

My bus pass expired in Ireland and we’re too cheap to pay for the buses, so we always walk wherever we need to go. I’m glad I got new shoes. I spend at least 3 hours walking each day and one day it had to have been more like 4-5. My legs felt like jelly by the end of it, but it is a good way to walk off the yummy French food. Speaking of which, for my last day here I decided to walk to a bakery to get a pastry for breakfast. Settled on this guy:

 

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Oh and I feel like I’ve mentioned Elly in every blog lately! I haven’t forgotten my old friends. I walked to the univeristy to have lunch with Ravid and Sarah yesterday. I will miss them! Ravid said if I ever come back to France, to call her, even if we haven’t talked in 10 years. She also gave me a bracelet she bought in Israel! She went back to visit these past 2 weeks.

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These 2 ladies bid me adieu and told me to be young and crazy while I can! I am pretty certain they will be young and crazy their entire lives….they are both 5 years older than me and much crazier!

 

Last night I went to Kawita’s for dinner. One final delicious Thai meal….

 

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There were 11 people there and afterwards they all went to a goodbye party for another USAC student afterwards.

I thought it would be a but awkward if I tagged along for that so I went home, I needed to ask my host mom for a ride to the school Wednesday morning…something I had been dreading all week. I hate asking for rides, but the walk is an hour, there are no buses and I will have my giant suitcase with me.

 

The sky was so beautiful last night – so clear!

 

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Today I am going to finish packing, clean and say goodbye to Elly, then Kawita, Rebecca and Hiroka. I leave at 7 am tomorrow for Paris!

 

Carcassonne! April 12, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 7:26 pm
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I wrote this blog last week, but I haven’t had time to post it until now. Just got home from Spain today, the specific blog entry was about Friday, April 2nd:

 

Had my final USAC excursion (aside from the upcoming Paris finale). It was to the medieval city of Carcassonne and la ville rose, AKA Toulouse. My main goal for the weekend was to get in contact with my French family. My dad sent me an email with more names and after searching online once more I discovered I have a relative in Toulouse! I used Elly’s phone to call him from Carcassonne and I got an answer so I eagerly/nervously asked for Renee. This guy said he wasn’t Renee and I had the wrong #. Followed this up, by trying to call my other relative who lives in Moissac, and the phone just kept ringing, ringing and ringing with no answer. One more attempt was made (without success) again later that day in Toulouse. I think I’m going to give it another shot from a phone in Pau, but it looks as if I will not be reaching my family.

Luckily, that was the only disappointing part of my day (well that and an unsuccessful hunt for ice cream). I hung out with Elly for most of the trip and (considering this was the day after our week long trip to Ireland and we still aren’t sick of each other) I think I’ve made an awesome friend through USAC. She rocks!

 

DSC02545 Out of all the cities from the middle ages, Carcassonne is the most intact (according to my program director). I loved the fact that people still live inside the fortress, but the outrageous number of souvenir shops and over-priced restaurants made me feel more as if I was in a counterfeit world of Disneyland than a medieval city. Because of this, I think prefer St Malo to Carcassonne, the history felt more authentic there and it is right on the Atlantic!

 

 

 

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And as with every USAC excursion, we were given a 3-course lunch! The starter was one of the best salads I have ever had:

 

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*stole this pic from Kim

 

The bread was delicious!! In the middle was a toasted slice with warm goat cheese on top. A lot of cheese for a salad, but it was soooooo goooood!

 

The entree was Cassoulet, but since it was Good Friday I ate with the vegetarians and we got a horrible entree. It was boring and bland, luckily I wasn’t hungry after that salad.

 

And dessert was pretty good….not sure what to call this though, some sort of cake with a pear inside:

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*also stolen from Kim

 

After lunch Elly and I walked around the city and we ran into some USAC kids talking to a man who called himself, “The Golden Elf”. Definitely an insane dude dressed in a very bizarre outfit. He claimed to come from the North Pole and drew the group a map, which was solely a penciled X on a blank piece of paper.

 

It was amusing at first, until I realized he was completely serious and this USAC group was videotaping him and clearly mocking him with their questions. And I got the feeling he knew he was being mocked. Elly looked pretty upset by the whole situation, so we left the group and went to the bus a bit early.

 

Then we went to Toulouse and spent the night there, but I’ll write about that in a separate blog – don’t want to make this one too long! Kind of an awkward ending here, but I’m lazy

 

 

Oh yeah! Forgot to mention this place was filled with creepy mannequins everywhere!!

 

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(that was another reason I preferred St Malo! )

 

Oh and when I skyped my mom later that weekend, she said this was my 2nd trip to Carcassonne. So I must have gone when I was either one or four years old…

 

Medieval Normandy! April 3, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 11:56 pm
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I mentioned in an older blog that I visited Mont St Michel. Thought I should share some more pics and info with you all before I write about my recent trips to Ireland, Toulouse and Carcassonne.

 

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My friend and classmate Renee accompanied me on an overnight train to Normandy France after our last Friday of school. Because of delays, total travelling time amounted to about 12 hours. To make the journey even more intolerable, I apparently didn’t book the reclining seats, so my night was very uncomfortable. They leave the lights on and people are noisy until about 2 am. I got about 4 hours of sleep on the way there, zero coming back. I’ve learned my lesson for future overnight trips.

 

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Have I told you people are allowed to take their dogs everywhere in France?

He was so cute and well behaved on the train.

 

When I finally arrived in Normandy it was exactly as I had pictured France before my journey abroad. (I think it must be from playing so much Medal of Honor on my xbox in high school)

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Renee and I stayed at a really quaint hostel that was in a 200 year old house owned by an old British couple. They were very anti-England and I didn’t want to press them with questions about what made them move to France, but if anyone has any ideas as to why they would hate England let me know! I’m really curious!

 

A great bonus to the hostel was a free breakfast and free transportation to Mont St Michel and the train station! We arrived in town at 12:30 and were at the abbey by 1:30!

 

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The first chapel was built here in 702 AD, but since then it has been built and rebuilt upon, along with many additions to the site that have now nearly covered the rocky island!

 

I love being somewhere with a rich history – Mont St Michel was amazing to learn about. If you are interested in this monument, leave a comment and I’ll add more about the construction, what wars it went through, when it was an abbey of monks, when it became a prison, ect.

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Renee and I walked around the ramparts a bit and then climbed to the very top to see the old Abbey!

 

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The main part has turned green over the centuries, but I thought it added a mystical look to the inside. Plus, it was windy and rainy that day so hearing the elements beat against the top of this church on a mountain made for an incredible experience!

 

The cloisters, just outside this Abbey, were equally beautiful!

 

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After about 5 hours exploring Mont St Michel, we returned to the hostel for the night. We went out for dinner and a drink at a local bar which happened to also be owned by English people from the same family!

They were very friendly and gave great service (unlike most French restaurants). I asked them what there was to see in the village and the bartender told me of a couple small sites. I woke up at 7 am out of habit the next morning and spent an hour and a half walking around the countryside. What a great way to start a gorgeous day!

 

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The bartender also advised us to spend the next day exploring the nearby coastal town of St Malo. I’m so glad we took his advice, because this is the prettiest French city I’ve been too! Even more beautiful than Biarritz!

 

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It is an old medieval walled city right on the coast of the Brittany border!

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And there are a few islands you can walk to when the tide goes out. Renee and I walked to one with a fort on it! We couldn’t go inside, but just outside the gate I found a wicked rock formation you would have loved to see dad!

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We walked around the old part of the city all day and stopped at a fancy creperie for lunch. I had a Galette for the first time, specifically a “Galette Bretagne”.

Bretagne = Brittany, a region known for it’s seafood, and a “Galette” is a savory crepe made with buckwheat flour. …..mmmmmmm……

 

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What a perfect weekend away. This was my only chance to see the North of France; I’ll have to come back another time to see Lille and Strasbourg!

 

I’ll post a blog on Ireland soon! Happy Easter!

 

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Skiing in the Pyrenees!!! March 14, 2010

Filed under: Pau,Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 9:05 pm
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I finally made it to the mountains!!

 

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Beautiful isn’t it?!

I’m actually quite close to several ski stations, I think the drive was about 1.5 hours, but I know there is one just 20 min outside of Pau. Most of the length of the drive to this station was due to the windy roads at the end.

 

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My dad looked up the height of the peak I was on and I guess it is about as high up as the top of Whistler (So guess my estimation was way off on IM yesterday David…)

 

As you can see, there aren’t any trees on the slopes =( But just off to the side is a little forest at the same elevation as the ski lodge.

 

 

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The view was absolutely breathtaking! I can’t believe I skied in the Pyrenees!

 

And, making my Saturday even better, I discovered half my class wanted to go on the same day!

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Here I am with Sara (the Australian). I skied with her for most of the afternoon, but I spent the morning solo, because everyone else was taking a lesson.

 

I felt a bit apprehensive going up this chair alone….

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Curiosity overcame that though, because I really wanted to see if the mountain had a backside. Most of the runs on the front were pretty easy and I was hoping to find some challenging slopes like the runs at the top of Alpental.

And luckily it did!

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The back was awesome! The fresh powder was hiding here, but unfortunately a cloud settled right in the bowl in the afternoon – the air became thick, cold fog and my lovely powder got scrapped down to ice.

 

The front was very icy too! I hate going over moguls when I can feel a ski slipping, it is so unnerving!

 

Face of the mountain:

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And the backside:

 

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Plus I haven’t skied much since high school – so my form is horrible! I tried to keep your voice in the back of my head dad = ) Thanks for all the years of patiently re-teaching me how to keep in form.

 

Here is the very top:

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And a couple of my favorite pictures are from my very first run, which I later figured out was out-of bounds, but many people went down it anyway. They don’t mark the “out-of-bounds” areas as well here in France, but after skiing Alpental I’ve learned to be wary when I don’t know the slope.

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Oh and last, but not least, I saw “une source de l’eau chaude” for the first time! The chair went over the crest of a hill and it just popped out of nowhere!

 

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Heard the skiing back home in the Cascades was good too! The Pyrenees were beautiful and so different than what I’m used to! I noticed the French have some amusing ski habits. One being if you fall under a chair, every French person who sees you from the lift will yell, “Woah!!!” as they pass over you. And if you are standing in line for a lift while another lift goes over you, the skiers will tap their skis as they pass overhead to give you a nice snow shower.

I skied all day and returned home completely exhausted last night. Had a nice bowl of soup for dinner with my host mom and I could barely speak French. I went to bed at 9:30 and woke up hurting, especially my neck, caused by a rather painful, but amusing fall. Felt great to get some exercise other than walking. Spent all day skiing in the sun =) Oh yeah, I’m sunburned too – judging from the facebook news feed, my classmates feel the same. This has been an excellent weekend!

 

St Jean Pied de Port et Biarritz March 6, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 10:00 pm
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Had my second USAC excursion today!! We went to two towns; the first a Basque town named St Jean Pied de Port and afterwards Biarritz (same town I went to alone during the nasty windstorm)

 

The USAC students gathered at the University at 8:30 am to get on our charter buses for the trip.

 

About 45 minutes into the ride we stopped for a great view and got free Chocolatines for breakfast! Nothing starts my day off better than a perfectly flaky and buttery croissant filled with chocolate. Plus I got to eat it while enjoying this view!

 

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I can’t remember the name of the little village –or the history, but there was some story, told to me in French, about a Princess who lived here and was accused of murdering her kids and thrown into the river…from this point possibly….and somehow she lived…wish I remembered more than the vague details, but that is about all I know of this place. We only stopped for 20 minutes or so.

 

After breakfast I was a bit more alert and paid attention to the Basque history lesson on the bus. We were told we would be given a quiz in St Jean Pied de Port to fill out from memory and were allowed to get help from the locals. There were several “Basque” prizes we could win. My greedy ears perked up and I learned quite a lot about the Basque country in France for that quiz:

  • Basque country has 7 provinces – 4 large ones in Spain and 3 small provinces in France
  • Only 30% of French school kids in the provinces learn the Basque language in school, but 99% of the Spanish kids do. (The language is nothing like French, not sure how close it is to Spanish)
  • The Basque houses typical of France are white with red, blue or green shutters and roofs. The region we visited had red, but as you travel closer to the Ocean, green and blue become more prominent.
  • The red was originally painted with ox blood

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  • A typical Basque house would have 3 stories. The bottom floor is for the animals, who help heat the house. Middle level is for the family and the top is where the hay and straw would be kept as insulation.
  • I think I mentioned St Jacques Chemin in an earlier blog. It is a religious pilgrimage that passes through St Jean Pied de Port. There were many clam shells on doors signifying free shelter for pilgrims
  • St Jean Pied de Port actually got its name because it is the crossroads of two important trails. In addition to St Jacques, there is also a trail that goes from Hendaye (coastal town just outside of Spain), over the Pyrenees and to the Mediterranean! If you walk it 8 hours a day, the journey lasts about 2.5 months! How epic would that hike be! My USAC director Robinna hiked it for 5 days, from Hendaye to St Jean Pied de Port

 

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St Jean Pied de Port had a fortress, which we entered and climbed to the top of (picture of Vanessa above is taken at there) and the view was beautiful! This was the first village I have been to that is truly in the heart of the Basque country.

After the fortress, there was an hour or so of free time, during which I asked some tourists and locals for help with my quiz answers and researched Basque food and the provinces in a souvenir shop for more info. I added more than was required on the paper, mainly because the answers were easy to find and there wasn’t much to see in the town. After our free time USAC went to a ciderie for lunch!

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Above: Zaid getting seconds on the cider!

Our Basque meal the following courses:

1) Jambon de Bayonne – kind of like a thick prosciutto, served on top of a dish that you don’t find in the US. Best comparison is chili.

2) Confit du Canard avec pommes des terres – A fried duck dish my host mom has made a couple of times with fried potatoes on the side. It is too greasy for me, but everyone else loved it!

3) Salad – Lettuce leaves with vinaigrette. Simple.

4) Fromage and Gateau Basque – The cheese was okay. The cake was delicious!! It has an almond paste inside =)

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Oddly I didn’t like the cider. It wasn’t sweet like others I’ve had and  I prefer Apple Frost to the Basque cider.

 

Did I mention there was one waitress for our group of 80 people? Bussing and serving a multi-course meal was definitely a chore for her and lunch lasted a good 2 hours. I was very impatient by the end and ready to get to Biarritz.

It was beautiful the last time I went, but absolutely incredible today!

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I once again didn’t have time to get to that Museum of Chocolate, but I did go inside the Musee de la Mer (Sea Museum/aquarium). The seals were hilarious! This one had a rude awakening when his friend nudged him in the belly. His bark and panicked reaction reminded me of when you wake Roux up from a nap.

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Afterwards Elly and I walked around the beaches for an hour and a half, saw the rock of the virgin and went inside a Catholic church where Saint Eugene’s crypt is. All in all my day was perfect, but I’m about to go to bed and can’t wait to catch up on my zzzzzzzs!

 

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Oh, and forgot to add I got first place on the quiz and thus first dibs on the prize. Score! I now have a sweet Basque souvenir to bring home, but I’m not going to say what it is on my blog because I think it will be someone’s gift. I’ll put it in my FB album though.

 

 

 

 

Happy weekend!

 

~Katie

 

D’ou viens-tu Cotton Eyed Joe? February 15, 2010

Filed under: Pau — katiespaulife @ 10:00 pm
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There is a 2 week long carnival taking place in Pau right now. It’s actually almost over and I only saw a small sample of it, but my goodness the French are crazy!

The carnival here takes place right before Lent and it is basically an excuse for everyone to be sinful before the fast. The king of the Carnival is a jolly, huge fat man who eats and drinks excessively. He has a doppelganger mistress and a very thin, unhappy wife who is basically his opposite. There are a many other characters, but when I went to the carnival none of them were present.

I heard the most interesting stories about the Carnival from my bus buddy Angie who went the weekend before. While she was talking on her phone at a parade, some men put a burlap sack on her head, kidnapped her and set her on the kings throne where she was screamed at in French by the king’s wife. She also was spanked by a man dressed as a priest with a cross and the poor girl definitely left  a little traumatized.

 

If you are wondering about the sacrilegious aspect of it, the priest was there because everything is inversed for the carnival. Good becomes evil and everything sinful is good. Also men dress as women and vice versa; it is quite the spectacle. There is one other element/celebration that is even more disturbing than this, but I’m not going to share on my blog since everyone in my family reads this. It is very very disgusting, but if you’re curious as to what could be worse than a priest spanking a tourist with a sacred symbol, ask me on FB and I’ll tell you

There have been many celebrations, but unfortunately I have only been to one of the three balls, which took place Friday night. So many people were dressed as freaks – I loved it!! I went with my classmates and we danced for 2 hours to the live band there (which played way too much American music).  I saw an old guy dressed as a bloody butcher, a nun, priest, 2 trannys (maybe 3…wasn’t sure) and a ton of unidentifiable freaks. One guy had a backpack that was a stuffed animal raccoon- coolest accessory ever!

While we were dancing poor Jessica had a random French guy sneak up behind her and cover her eyes. She flipped out, but he moved on to creep on other girls and was later attacked by the “maybe tranny”. He took a lot of kicks where it hurts and slaps to the face before that was broken up. Considering his alcohol intake in addition to this, that man probably had a terrible Saturday!

That fight in itself was worth going to the carnival to see, but the real highlight of the night occurred just as we were about to walk out the door. Everyone had just put their coats on when “Cotton-Eyed Joe” came on. Cooper and Jessica were the only other Americans there and we all threw are stuff down and ran back out to the floor. I don’t think I have danced the “Cotton-Eyed Joe” since 6th grade, but Cooper has it mastered! A few French people tried to copy us and this one nasty wasted guy got way to close to Jessica and I. I think he was trying to do the dance, but all he did was stumble and get in the way of my lasso space!

 

As soon as our American line dance was over, we called it a night and went home. I had a 3 hour test the next day, so I was relieved to get to bed at a decent hour. I’m going to the Carnival again tomorrow…stay tuned for more craziness!

 

Lourdes February 14, 2010

Filed under: Travels in France — katiespaulife @ 7:00 am
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Okay, finally going to finish writing about my weekend….

 

Lourdes was the highlight – so beautiful!

My friend Kim told me the city was tacky, but I don’t know what she was talking about….c’etait magnifique!

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I don’t know if I have written this on my blog yet, but I actually have family in Lourdes, or at least I did at one point. Grandma Simone gave me the names of her sister and brother-in-law before I left, but I looked them up online in the yellow pages, within a 50 mile radius of Lourdes and they are no longer in this region. This was a must see on my list for the vacation because of that and I’m glad I went!  Lourdes is definitely different than any other town I have visited thus far.

 

This Basilica was incredible!!! And I just found out there is another one underground near this that I missed. How cool would that be to see?!

 

What makes Lourdes so sacred is the story of Bernadette, a young girl who claimed to see the virgin Mary 14 times in a grotto. Apparently she was poor and the grotto the virgin appeared in was in a place looked down upon for being ugly. You can still visit the grotto today and I was expecting to have to walk a mile into the woods to find it, but much to my surprise the church is actually built on top of it:

 

 

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The story of Bernadette was pretty interesting, because she was interrogated for 3 years in her late teens before the church confirmed the visions were real.

 

Also when she was 14 (I think), there was a day she went down to the grotto and flipped out. She started eating grass and smearing mud on her face, screaming at people she was doing it for the sinners…kind of an interesting mental image…uhhh….God works in mysterious ways??

 

The church has confirmed many miracles at the grotto since Bernadette and while I was there, people were walking up to the grotto, rubbing their hands on the wet stone and then on their faces and clothing.

 

Honestly, I’m skeptical about Bernadette’s story, but I went up to get a closer view and feel the grotto for myself. The rock was very smooth from being worn down with so many people touching it over the centuries; felt pretty awesome actually!

 

Ravid and I also wanted to see the chateau, but it wasn’t open on Sundays. We hopped a small fence and ran up a staircase to get a better view of it, but it just led to a locked door. As we were about to descend some people came around the street corner and we could hear voices below. Immediately we hid in the shadowy corners opposite of each other. She was across the entrance from me and as the voices disappeared she put her hands up in gun form and looked at me for permission. For a 25 year old she is so playful, ha-ha, I love it! I armed myself with my umbrella and we snuck down the staircase James Bond style. A car came around the corner right as I was getting over the fence and I got some nasty looks from the driver, but otherwise it was a successful mission.

 

I would love to go back to Lourdes one Sunday night to see the candle procession to the Basilica and check out the underground one!

 

 
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