My interest in Cathedrals came from having lived with Kit, an Irish Catholic from South Boston who had married Jack [the man who'd never adopted me]. I think it was due to her that I'd seen the 1940 move, The Song of Bernadette. With that in mind, my next destination was Lourdes, in the northern foothills of the Pyrenees.
I'd quickly become enamored with the Continental Breakfast and the hotel in Candanchú, France did not let me down. The crescent rolls still smelled and felt fresh from the oven. Topped with unsalted butter and marmalade, they went well with everything else.
An ESSO station near the hotel allowed me to top off the tank of my peppy little Lambretta. An aside, the current popularity of these nifty little things always make me smile and remember the one I had back then. I doubt very few Americans truly realize how much Europeans rely upon them to get around. I checked the map to ensure I knew how to get to my next destination. Some figuring told me it was about 120 kilometers or just about 75 miles.
No helmet. Actually having to back off the accelerator to keep the speed down. Riding the very edge of the highway while monster trucks roared past. What a great way to enjoy some spectacular vistas. Rivers and streams joined mountain lakes. Green ever greens covered the slopes.
I did not take long until I reached the village of Escot where the two lane highway wended its way east through the rugged foothills. It took a bit over an hour to reach Bilhères where I encountered an awesome switchback road over a mountain pass.
I reached Lourdes around eleven in the morning.
The town itself was quaint and the people did not seem all that upset by having an obvious American GI in their midst. I found a small café and settled in for a bottle of soda pop, a soup and a ham sandwich. It took but a brief look around to tell me the town had one main industry – tourism. Every where one looked were shops and stores announcing the grotto and the miracle of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a poor, peasant girl.
Every sign pointed to The Grotto. I found a parking lot and secured the motor scooter, although an old man missing a leg with a patch over his eye clearly tried to tell me he would guard it with his life for a mere sou or two.
The story of Jesus and the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem instantly came to mind as I neared the grotto.
Everywhere I looked, some poor, cripple soul in ragged clothing held out relics and souvenirs for the faithful. Tiny vials of water offering miracle cures. I don't want to sound cynical here [which I am by the way[ but, it the water miraculously cured all ills, why where there so many sick and disabled? While I had often felt at peace while sitting in old churches and cathedrals, I left filled with disappointment – and even anger.
I could get away from there fast enough.
My next destination was a town I had read about that supposedly still had walls surrounding it – Carcassonne. It had been been originally built by the Romans and expanded into s city by the Visigoths. The map told me it was a little over two hours from Lourdes and I happily marked out side roads so I did not have to go through the city of Tolouse.
The view from a distance was awesome. But, what would it look like up close?
I had to remember that this part of the country had been controlled by the Vichy Government and thus escaped the bombing and fighting of the recent World War.
The first thing I did was find a small inn not far from the city itself and checked in. It had a courtyard for the motor scooter and I made certain breakfast came with the room. I would learn asking that question was unnecessary as breakfast ALWAYS came with similar rooms. It was still early so I walked into the city.
It didn't take long to learn one had to pay to enter the walled city itself. In 1958, the entry price was very cheap for an American. I think the conversion came to something like thirty cents.
It was worth the price.
They had done an outstanding job of hiding modern amenities like electric lights. I found a small bar and sat at an outside table to drink a glass of red wine. After an hour of watching the people – all clearly tourists – passing by, I got up and climbed up onto the parapets of the old fortress.
What a great view of the countryside.
Neatly maintained farms, appearing like sculptures far below. Here and there, wagons drawn by horses or mules. Lights showing here and there as the sun set over the hills to the west, head and tail lights marking roads. An old man came by with a strange instrument shaped like a long hook at the end of a pole. I quickly saw he was using it to light scones on the stone walls. I had already learned that visitors were to leave the inner city by ten o'clock, unless they had a room in one of the expensive hotels there.
I made it back to the inn, my stomach telling me I was going to regret having something to eat for dinner. Much to my happy surprise, the wife of the proprietor ran a kitchen for guests and was still open. Another discovery was that only we uncivilized Americans dined before eight or nine in the evening. The tables were covered in snowy linen and they served a very nice red wine. The opening course was a fresh salad followed by soup and the main entrée like the picture above. And, there was of course, coffee with thick cream and a very tasty pastry.
I took a walking tour of the area for an hour before returning to my room and collapsing into the atrociously warm and comfortable bed.