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Getting a coffee around here is tricky and not a little expensive. When one says ‘Je veux un cafe, sil vous plait’, an (expensive) shot of very dark coffee is served. I can’t believe I’ve made that mistake again. You need to specify coffee and milk: ‘Je veux un cafe et latte’, or more often a cursory ‘cafe au lait’.
Drinks are so damn expensive in France: 6 Euros for a double JD and Coke at the bar across the road, and 5 Euros for a much smaller one at the Jeanne d’Arc (the Pound-Euro ratio is roughly 1:1 at the moment). And I still have most the £7 bottle of rum in the hotel room, which mixes very well indeed with Coke.

Curiosities at the Chemin de Croix
From the Franciscan Order, who brought you the Nativity scene comes the outdoor Stations of the Cross. A recurring theme in Christianity is that God came to us as a human, and someone who interacted with people around Him as a man who knew what it was to be human. The Stations of the Cross and the Nativity scene are therefore equally important because they tell the story of Jesus at his weakest and most vulnerable, at times when he physically struggled and relied on the kindness of others. They were burdens He faced to become closer to us.

Each figure at the Chemin de Croix has been given a personality, as the Stations tell their story. For example, the Centurion on the left is always expressionless, while the soldier third to the right looks troubled and a little horrified looking at Veronica’s Veil. And throughout, you’ll notice that Our Lady is the one person who stays with Jesus throughout – the Apostles are nowhere to be seen.
The crucifixion scene looks decidedly brutal, not because of the way it was made, but the rain marks on the cross give the appearance of Jesus being crucified on rusted iron.

Something near the last Station caught my eye – a secret entrance to the ‘tomb’, about four foot wide, that’s been filled in with rocks. Nobody else seemed to have noticed it.

Further on there’s a cave, also largely un-noticed, with a statue of Mary Magdalene. Three of us entered and left an offering after the others had gone.

A Passage Through the Grotto
This was on the itinerary today, but I’ve already been Sunday night, and I’m not exactly 100% into the miracles/apparition thing anyway. However, finishing up my coffee at the hotel, I noticed the disabled lady was struggling to get her wheelchair thing ready to go there – she was left behind again, despite a visit to the Grotto being very important to her. Half an hour later, we arrived there to discover ‘our group’, such that it is, had already been through, but I managed to pull a few strings and get her into another queue manned by official volunteers before I continued my explorations.

I had a look through the upper levels of the Notre Dame. It appears big from the outside, but the interior is quite cramped. Mass there would be awkward with tourists filing in and out. I also went into the Notre Dame’s crypt, and saw a chest containing some of St. Bernadette’s remains, plus every square inch of the walls covered with plaques inscribed with ‘Merci’ and suchlike.

Chateau Fort de Lourdes
Now, the fortress-like building on the large rock near the Basilica. This is the Chateau Fort de Lourdes. Situated in a very strategic position, from which occupants could easily spot adversaries coming from any of the valleys, parts of it date from the late-8th century.

It took a good ten minutes’ fairly arduous climbing to reach the top from the entrance, and the circular steps inside the tower were very narrow. Unfortunately the view from up there was slightly obscured by the scratched perspex windows, and the rest of the Pyrenees range couldn’t be seen from that position anyway. I still managed to get some decent shots from slightly lower down, as it overlooks the Basilica.

The Chateau also has a small museum, with various random items and clothing from the 18th century, and there are other curiosities like several miniature buildings.

Went to the Basilica this evening with the intention of watching the procession again. I’d forgotten my lighter (as I typically do), and since I couldn’t cross the Basilica to get another one, wandered off to the Grotto to light my candle there, offer my prayers and have a cigarette while nobody’s watching.
On this occasion I witnessed something very odd, right where the statue is. I could see it at different angles and from across the river. Why didn’t I notice it last night? Figuring it can’t be anything other than an optical illusion because the camera’s not picking it up, I went through the Grotto twice trying to figure out what’s causing it. The candles aren’t lit and the lighting definitely isn’t faulty. I’ll investigate this further.