Wednesday 20/5/15 – Had breaky at the hotel Before we headed off to Lourdes. It was cool (12 degrees) when we left at around 9.30am but we had blue skies, so all good. It is about a 3 hour ride, or 160km to Lourdes, on more lovely twisting roads, that will take us up and over the Pyrenees of Spain into France, then to Lourdes. All being good, we should be there by 12.30pm.. Just in time for lunch!!!
Well, as the saying goes…… the best laid plans of mice and men….
We were about to leave Bronto, when we saw an old church and other buildings… Diversion number one.. Such character these old stone buildings have; always worth a quick look and a pic.
On our way again, when we saw a sign for Valle de Ordesa…. diversion number 2. Well how spectacular was this Valley! The walls so high, the colours so beautiful. the green so very green. There were lots of people there, all about to go hiking, perfect conditions for them.
Off we go again, and diversion number 3 was at the end of the road, after we had turned back to leave Valle de Ordesa.
Yet another valley, Valle de Bujaruelo. They were like matching bookends! This one more spectacular than the last.
The road into the valley was dirt and cut into the rock in parts. The river Ara that ran through the valley was just magnificent, a beautiful glacial opaque Aqua colour and so fast flowing. The mountainous sides had waterfalls dotted here and there between the trees and rocks, so beautiful. It was very windy, and the bike was buffeted severely, making very tricky riding indeed. As we went deeper into the gorge, it became even more beautiful. It was so green and so deep. The power lines seemed to go on forever!
We stopped at the meadow of San Nicholas de Bujaruelo. There was an old Roman bridge over the river….. Perfect picture opportunity.
Headed out of the valley with a tail wind, which is always good. There are so many tunnels through the mountains, some make for an interesting pic inside!
Off we go, heading to Lourdes again…. The scenery …..was just amazing…. Spectacular… Awesome… Picturesque etc, etc, etc! The camera just does not do it justice! Needless to say we had diversion after diversion, stop after stop, turning back many times for another great pic! More lovely twisty roads lay ahead of us, as we made our way through yet another beautiful valley – Valle de Tena. The aqua lake and village of Panticosa nestled in idyllic green surroundings, with the backdrop of the grey stone mountains, some with a little snow remaining to add to this stunning spectacle.
The weather was turning cool, well downright freezing actually. It had dropped to 6 degrees, and add the wind chill factor to that, and we reckon it was around 1 or 2 degrees, and that is probably being generous.
Span stopped for some photos, while I opted to remain huddled on the bike, to try to keep warm… getting soft in the old age I guess!
Just before we crossed the border into France, we stopped to get a sticker for the pass – Col du Pourtalet, which straddles the border between France and Spain.
This souvenir shop also sold knives, hand guns and rifles…. Crikey! We didn’t buy any armoury, rather just settled for some stickers. Off across the border into France, still 6 degrees.
Safely in France, The French Pyrenees were equally breathtakingly spectacular, and begged to be photographed.
The roads of the French Pyrenees certainly did not disappoint. More sensational twisty roads, with tunnels cut through the mountains so we may pass.
It was now quite wet, and we were lucky enough to find a works shelter, where could change into our wet weather gear, and yes it was still very chilly!
As we made our way from the Pyrenees and closer to Lourdes, the countryside changed and we had a little sunshine, but it was still generally overcast and rainy.
Again there was so much eye candy for us to see, always something to delight.
One old fellow we passed in the town of Lestelle-Betharram, looked very intent as he walked briskly down the road. Such a face of character. (pic not as clear as we would like, however we were on the move).
Arrived at Lourdes at 3.30pm, only 2 hours behind schedule, which was quite good given the number of diversions we made. Sun shining (for the time being), and temp a balmy 13 degrees.
Went past the famous Hotel de Ville. Very impressive, but no we did not stay there as we had already booked our accommodation at a swanky 3 star hotel!
The Hotel Acropolis reminded us somewhat of Faulty towers… Allegedly 3 stars, but more like one and a half. No probs, the sheets should be fresh and clean, and it was only a five minute walk to the Lourdes grotto and Basilica. The outside looked very promising, but as for the inside???????
The hotel Acrpolis was ‘supposed’ to have garage parking… Oops, ‘so sorry…the key was broken in the lock just yesterday (yah right), and had not yet been fixed!’ The wifi, was ‘advertised’ for all areas. Mmmm… No….. simply does not work. Span got it momentarily in the foyer, then we gave up.
The first room they showed us had broken shelves with nails sticking out… Don’t think so! The next room was a little better, but still old, small and shabby. At least the sheets and bathroom were clean. The day was getting on, we wanted to do some sight seeing in Lourdes, and we had already booked on booking.com, so we decided to stay.
Our hosts were friendly enough, and by way of ‘compensating’ for no garage, let us park the bike by the front door, and gave us umbrellas to go walking, because the rain had again started to pour down… again. Looks like it is settling in for the afternoon.
Off we go to see Lourdes. The street leading towards the grotto is lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, shops selling all/ any religious statues etc and gold shops (run by Indians). Of note in the souvenir shops were all the water containers from as small as 10ml to 5+ litres. They had a picture of the grotto or Lourdes printed on them, some were in the same of a statue of Our Lady. They were for people to collect the Lourdes water. We bought 2 tiny glass bottles, that have small figures of our lady on them. Into the pocket they go… Just in case.
The rain is certainly persistent, and gives a grey hue to the scene before us, yet there are still plenty of people about. Have never seen so many wheelchairs in one place. People are even brought to the grotto by stretcher. The hospice is right beside the Basilica and the grotto, which is nestled into one side of the rock and behind the Basilica.
There were many blue rickshaw type carts, that were being used to bring sick people to the grotto. Many being wheeled by nuns and nurses, as well as family and friends.
We visited the Basilica first, and it was indeed awesome, so very beautiful; the the grey walls in stark contrast to the brightly coloured ceramic tiled pictures both inside and outside the Basilica. There were so many of them and we took so many pictures. here is a small sample.
We are amazed and delighted by the beauty, colour, depth and complexity of the pictures created by the thousands and thousands of tiny, brightly coloured mosaic tiles. We can only wonder at the skill of theses artists and the time it must have taken to complete each one.
We are told that the guided crown and cross (featured pic for this blog) which sits high on the dome of the Basilica was donated by Irish pilgrims many years ago. The crown symbolises the power and glory of God.
As we rounded the side of the basilica, heading to the grotto, there were people lined up at the taps that have been installed to freely share the precious Lourdes water, that is said to have healing qualities, and there are many recorded healing miracles attributed to Lourdes.
We continued on to the grotto. Just as we arrived, so did 3 priests in white vestments. We were lucky to be there for 5 decades of the rosary.
At the conclusion of the rosary, the crowd sang ‘Ave Maria’, while the rain continued to fall heavily. The church bells chimed Ave Maria, which also added to the moment, despite the rain.
After the rosary, we were able to walk into the grotto. I was able to collect some water as it dripped through the rock, to send home to a very special person who we hope it will help. It was literally caught drop by drop, and one old man when he saw what I was trying to do, smiled warmly at me, and held his hands to the rock, so as to direct a few more drops my way. What a lovely moment that was, and how gentle and warm was his smile.
People are able to light candles for loved ones near the grotto. The candles come in so many sizes, some burn for several days they are so big. Of course we lit a candle for the boys.
We also lit a candle for a very special young gal back home.
All in all, the Lourdes experience was something very special indeed, and the rain kind of added to it…..Go figure!
Thursday 21/5/15 – Had a big day ahead of us today, so up early. Declined the €7.50 each for breaky from our host. Paid our bill, only to find the had added .95c for a cup of hot water I had the night before. ‘Not happy Jan!’ Reminded our host that there was no garage … As promised.. And that’s the Internet did not work… As promised…. He countered with the fact at he usually charges €55 for a double room, and that we had paid less through Bookin.Com. Smiled sweetly at him… Paid the bill in full.. Not worth the argument, but, as the saying goes…. ‘every dog has it’s day’. We gave him a ripper review on booking.coM! More than one way to skin a cat!
It was looking cloudy, so donned some some warm gear and wet weather gear and off we headed. It had started to drizzle again. The helmet communicators have decided to stop workin too, so we will need to look at that when we stop next.
Stopped at a little cafe for breaky, which was uninspiring to say the least. Note to self… do not look for food at a cafe before 10am (opening time), as you just get left overs. We had very average coffee and a stale tomato and cheese baguette. Ate it cause there was nothing else and we wanted to be on our way.. €11 for the pleasure.. Ahh well chalk that one up to experience.
We had planned a longish day of around 600km today, most of this on freeways. Not Our favourite roads at all, very boring and tedious, Like all ‘good bikers’, we like the twisty, windy, curly roads better. Stopped for coffees and fuel at one stop, only to find it was all self serve coffees. Worked out the machines, had our coffee and a Twix. Did not initially pay for the Twix, as the queue was too long. Finished our drinks and Twix, and before I could blink, Span had cleaned up and chucked everything in the bin…. including the Twix wrapper that needed to be scanned for payment!
No probs… Simply picked up another Twix from the counter and had that scanned. Paid for it, and put it back on the counter. Out to the bike we go. Problem was, the lad behind the counter had NO English, and looked a little perplexed when I put the Twix back. Next thing, the lady comes out, rather excited, wanting to know if we had paid for the Twix… There were security cameras everywhere inside. Tried to explain we had paid…. pulled out the receipt.. She smiled broadly, nodded and handed us the Twix!!!! They must have thought we forgot it. We gestured that we had eaten it inside… She got it.. Giggled and went back in to explain to the young lad, who now looked very relieved. Bless!!!!
Next stop was further along the road, about 2 hrs on, at a lovely road side stop that was a huge wooded parkland, with amenities and snack bar. Stopped for a coffee and Fritz (fries) and our apple and orange. The sun was now out, and we were beginning to warm at last.
Span was getting tired, so we headed for the nearest McDonalds to get wifi and look for some accommodation. Long straight roads and no coms, makes for a boring, tiring day, however it is ‘a necessary evil’ sometimes.
Found some great digs at the ACE hotel group €48, and so much better that ‘Faulty Towers” last night. Not quite sure how they do the star rating, because “faulty Towers” had a 3 star rating (well it did before our review), when it should have been 1, and ace has a 2 star rating, when it should be at least 3 or 4……. Go figure.
Span came in from locking the bike up (secure parking too), and with a wry grin and chuckle, said we needed new tyres! The rear had abnormal wear patterns, with the left half of the tyre near bald; the right side still with a little tread. Not sure if it is from above average left cornering, or the weight distribution on the bike! We did 22,500km in 2011 on one set of tyres (Anakee 2s), and we have only done 10,300 km since picking the bike up in Athens, so these tyres (Pirelli trails) have not lasted as well. Not too sure why??? Perhaps because this trip has been different, the roads are different, more weight on the bike (and not just the luggage), the quick chase after an Austrian couple yesterday down one pass or simply because the Pirelli Trails are not as good wearing as Anakee 2s. So, decided to stay at ACE another night to enable us to (hopefully) get 2 new tyres tomorrow.
One last, very special pic from Lourdes…….