Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Lourdes, France is a one-of-a-kind kind of place.  For me, that is for two good reasons:

  1. It is the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette, a country girl with no education but a lot of faith.
  2. My mother and sister are both named after that site, where the “Virgin of Lourdes” appeared to Bernadette.

    grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

    The lower and upper basilicas from the Information Center

I suspect both my mom and sister have always wondered if they would ever go to that town in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.  Wouldn’t you want to go to the town where your name came from or is related to?  In their case, maybe more than just for the curiosity of being namesakes with the town but also on account of what happened there in the mid 19th century.

The apparition happened multiple times and the local clergy had initially been skeptical but, over time, became convinced of the validity of what Bernadette shared.  I will leave to other sources to explain the whole story but the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette on a grotto near the river.  Out of these events, water sprung from the site and waters of Lourdes are, to believers, holy waters.  People from all over the world come seeking healing or just a spiritual encounter.  Many drink the waters from the spring, bottle some to take home, or even immerse themselves in special pools set up near the grotto (we did all three).

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The grotto

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage, holy waters

Fountains where bottles can be filled

When we first arrived in Lourdes from San Sebastian via Biarritz and Bayonne, I was expecting the narrow streets, crowded and me driving this larger vehicle through it all.  I knew I was near the hotel, the Grand Hotel Gallia & Londres, which I had picked due to its proximity to the Sanctuary of Lourdes to make all the walking to and fro easier for everyone, when all of a sudden I saw a parking sign for it, not where the GPS was indicating I needed to go.  Miraculously (pardon the pun), I caught a passing glimpse of the sign before I would have hit the heart of the crowded part of town!

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The back of our hotel

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Right outside of the Sanctuary – tourist shop chaos

The hotel was in the old style of a grand hotel.  It was nice enough but, unfortunately, the A/C was not working on our floor.  Hard to tell with French hotels whether they are just being stingy or whether it was true.  Certainly, at night the air cooled enough to be comfortable in the room but the noise from the street did not subside until the very wee hours of the morning – not the faithful partying, I am sure.  So that made the hotel not perfect.  But other than that, it did the job nicely enough.

We had dinner before heading in the early evening to the Sanctuary, the site with the grotto and several churches/basilicas, almost across the street from the hotel.  We knew there would be a torchlight procession at 9PM where the Holy Rosary is recited but we did not quite know the ‘mechanics’ of it.  So we sat on a bench to wait and what we missed was that we were supposed to walk towards the grotto and join the procession line.  But we witnessed the procession which brought a statue of the Virgin to the front steps of the Rosary Basilica (the lower one; the upper one that one sees more evidently is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, or the Upper Basilica).  In the meantime, we did walk to the grotto for our first visit to the spot where the apparition took place.  The line was very short and it was always moving so it did not take long before we got to visit and say our prayers and intentions…

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The front of the lower basilica during the torchlight procession

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Grotto at night

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Statue of the Virgin carried during the torchlight procession

The next day, we had found out at the information center (located by one of the entrances to the complex) that there would be a Spanish Mass at 11 AM down the Esplanade at St. Joseph’s Chapel.  After attending that Mass we went into the underground Basilica of St. Pius X, a massive modern space completed in 1958 (it can hold 25,000 folk!).  I am not sure it is the type of church I feel most spiritual in but I suppose there is a need for it in this site?

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Information Center

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The Basilica of St. Pius X

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The lower and upper basilicas from across the Esplanade

We finished our exploring by visiting the Rosary Basilica and the Upper Basilica.  After that we went to the baths (or piscines) where one can immerse him- or herself in the holy spring waters.  The water was absolutely frigid so the miracle may be that my legs regained normal body temperature!  All joking aside, it was a very moving experience and we are grateful to the kind and helpful volunteers who give of themselves to help pilgrims…

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Detail of the facade of the lower basilica

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The inside of the lower basilica

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Looking towards the Esplanade from the Upper Basilica

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Entrance to the baths or piscines

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Amazing to see all the people helping the sick, or malade, move around

Witnessing so many people wearing their faith ‘on their sleeve’ was powerful.  Our trip was actually not just due to curiosity, or even strictly to see a place where an important event in our faith took place.  Our trip was a real pilgrimage of thanksgiving and prayer for continued health in my family after a year-and-a-half of dealing with cancer…  The grotto and the holy waters of Lourdes carry a very special meaning for us, even more now that we have been so fortunate to visit this place…

 


 

Photo of the Week – The Basilica of a Tiny State (NOT The Vatican!)

Cathedral, basilica, San Marino, photo, travel, St. Marinus, Church of St. Peter, church, architecture

Ah, yes, there is another tiny state within what we think of as ItalySan Marino.  No more than 24 sq. mi. (64 sq km) and about 30,000 inhabitants, this tiny state which claims to have been founded in the year 301 AD has been known for duty free shopping more than anything else.  While I am not claiming to have explored every corner of this state, there was not much to it for me to recommend a visit – unless you are checking states of the world 🙂

The basilica of the city of San Marino, capital of the state of San Marino (!), is a simple classical (or neoclassical) style structure dating from the 1830s.  A church has been located at this site since the founding of the state in the 4th century and the remains of St. Marinus (after which the state is named) are buried under the basilica.

Cathedral, basilica, San Marino, photo, travel, St. Marinus, Church of St. Peter, church, architecture

To the right of the photo, you see part of the Church of St. Peters which pre-dates the Basilica

 

Top 8 Climbs for a Great City View in Europe

St. Paul's, Cathedral, London, England, United Kingdom, dome, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

There are so many ways to see and experience a city.  But one of my top ways to get to “know” a city is by getting up high and looking down at it.  Of course, this is not hard to do as there are usually man-made or natural high points.  While I like getting a view more than anything else, the view is even more appreciated when I have had to climb my way to get it.  I will only list here places that I have actually climbed as opposed to places where I rode up when there was a way to climb it – the ones I rode up will be the subject of another post…   So, here are eight (in no particular order) of my favorite climbs to get a city view in Europe!

Paris’ Eiffel Tower

Yes, I may be stating the obvious but most people ride the elevator on this one.  I have been up the Eiffel Tower two times and both times I climbed it up to the point at which there is no other way open to the public to get to the very top (and then you are required to take an elevator).  I love the freedom of walking up the tower, seeing its beams and bolts up close, and pausing a lot along the way (yea, for the view, that’s the ticket!).  It may not be for everyone but if you are able to do experience the tower this way, do it!  Regardless of how you go up, the altitude and the view of Paris combine to give one a great experience!

Paris, France, Eiffel Tower, climb, stairs, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Up close and personal

Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre

You can walk up or ride up to Montmartre (I have done both) but the best view is from climbing the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur itself.  Of course, this is a better view in some ways than the Eiffel Tower since this view includes the Eiffel Tower.  But not only are you rewarded by looking at Paris from this angle, but you get to see the many gargoyles and other details of the church up close and personal – which makes for good photo opps!

Sacré-Coeur, Paris, France, architecture, gargoyle, photo Canon EOS Rebel, view, vista

One of the gargoyles keeping watch over a park

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

When I went up St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was the first time I had gone to the top of any church.  St. Paul’s, built in the 17th century, is 111 m high (365 ft) so you really are high up when you climb it.  I enjoyed not only the view but seeing the “innards” of the structure as I made my way up to get a glimpse of London (pre-London Eye!).

St. Paul's, Cathedral, London, England, United Kingdom, dome, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Looking down towards the front of the Cathedral

Bologna’s Medieval Towers

Bologna is a city of arcades (or porticoes):  it is great to be able to walk around the city whether it is raining or not thanks to this feature of this unique Italian city (home of the world’s oldest university!).  But perhaps a lesser known secret of this town, former possessor of many medieval towers (estimated at 180 towers!), is that you can go up one of the remaining towers (one of the pair called the Due Torri).  It will not be the one with the serious tilt but the other one (which is taller).  I recommend putting out the effort and going up!

Bologna, medieval tower, Due Torri, Italy, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The lower of the Due Torri (the tilted one)

St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican

OK, to get to the first viewing point, you do take an elevator but to get to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, you walk it up.  Not only do you get to look down across the Tiber to Rome but you get to look down onto St. Peter’s Square (where I have participated in a papal audience (as a VIP!) and an Easter Mass) from a great vantage point.  What I enjoyed (besides getting to the top) was walking inside the dome’s inner and outer walls in the passageways – the higher you got, the more you noticed the curvature of the walls and sometimes had to tilt the head a little bit to adjust to it!  When you come down, you are deposited right inside the basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, Rome, Roma, Italy, Italia, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

St. Peter’s Square from the top of the dome

La Giralda in Sevilla (Seville), Spain

La Giralda, Seville’s famous tower is part of which is a former minaret built in 1198 during the Moors’ occupation of Spain.  It sits in the center of the city right next to the amazing Cathedral of Seville (3rd largest church in the world).  To go up this 100m+ tower, you do not walk up stairs.  So how do you go up if it is a “climb” and there are no stairs?  Well, it actually has ramps!  Why?  So horses could go up!  So, do like the horses and go up the ramps to enjoy views of the city center of Sevilla.

Sevilla, Spain, Sevilla, La Giralda, Cathedral of Seville, view, vista, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Composite picture looking down onto the Cathedral of Seville

Galata Tower in Istanbul

Where else, other than Istanbul, can you look at a city laid across two continents with a great bird’s eye view?   Besides learning about its history, it was a great climb.  Once at the top, I looked at Asia across the busy Bosphorus with all its maritime traffic and then with a slight turn of the head, I was looking at Europe.  Across the Golden Horn, I could see the “skyline” of Seraglio Point where the eye quickly focused on Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking towards the Asian side of Istanbul

The city walls of Dubrovnik

Though there are higher vantage points from which to admire the tiled roofs and setting of Dubrovnik, the city walls allowed me to look down but yet be close enough to feel the city.  It was more of a walk than a climb but, since I had to use stairs to get to them, I will call them a “climb” – but don’t be scared, it is pretty easy to walk along these walls!

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho


 

Going Under in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, cistern, Basilica Cistern, columns, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I have shared in other posts about the incredible Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, and the beautiful mosques of Istanbul – definite must-sees in that great city.  But be aware, right under your feet could be some of the remnants of good ole Roman engineering:  the cisterns of Istanbul.

Old cities tend to have lots of hidden secrets.  Many of them are hidden simply because they are underground.  Istanbul is no different except most cities’ hidden structures are not even close to being around 1,500 years old.  Istanbul’s cisterns are.  The best known and largest of the underground cisterns in Istanbul is called the Basilica Cistern because a basilica had stood at that location.  The cisterns in Istanbul are part of a system that brings water from outside the city via aqueducts – all evidence of the well-known Roman engineering.

Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, cistern, Basilica Cistern, columns, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is not far from the Hagia Sophia and is well worth a visit.  I felt like I had walked into a flooded underground church.  The cisterns used to be visited by boat but at some point, platforms were built for the visitors to explore them.  Most of the materials used in the cistern, including the 300-odd columns holding up the ceiling, were re-used from structures elsewhere.  That includes the bases of two columns carved with the image of Medusa.  Of course, everyone knows not to look at Medusa in the eyes so the builders placed the bases sideways or upside down to protect innocent visitors who may dare gaze into her eyes…

Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, cistern, Basilica Cistern, Medusa, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I rotated this photo so you wouldn’t have to rotate your device 🙂

Photo of the Week – A Church on Rome’s Tiber Island

San Bartolomeo, St. Bartholomew, Tiber Island, Rome, Italy, Roma, basilica, church, ponte cestio, ponte cistio, photo, travel, Olympus, religion

Last year during my one week in Rome, I did the usual when in cities as incredible as eternal Rome:  walk, walk, and walk.  Sometimes with a clear objective, sometimes just meandering and seeing what the walking will uncover.  On this gray day, we found ourselves crossing the Ponte Cestio into Tiber Island as we aimed generally speaking for the Trastevere district (south of The Vatican) where we knew we would find awesome food (and sure did!).
On Tiber Island we walked past the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola (St. Bartholomew of the Island).  The tower on the back dates from the 12th century, its current facade and the overall church were reconstructed in 1624 after many decades (and likely centuries) of damage, wear, and tear, as any old respectable structure may be allow to suffer from…  But the original church dated from the 10th century!

In any case, the gray skies made for a phenomenal backdrop and contrast to the basilica making it a favorite pic of mine!

San Bartolomeo, St. Bartholomew, Tiber Island, Rome, Italy, Roma, basilica, church, ponte cestio, ponte cistio, photo, travel, Olympus, religion

Photo of the Week: The Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

The title of this post seems like a mouthful:  Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Basilica of our Lady of Altagracia).

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

This massive structure in Higüey, Dominican Republic is to honor the Virgin of Altagracia, national patron saint of the country.  It was inaugurated in the 1970s and is within reach of many tourist centers in the DR, like Punta Cana.  Its design is very original and it is worth checking out whenever you are ready to take a break from the beach!  While you are at it, maybe meander around town – who knows what hole-in-the-wall delicious food you may find!  A few more photos to wrap this post!

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

Detail of the front door

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

 

Photo Essay: Bucharest, Romania

Calea Victoriei, one of the main streets in Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest was my gateway into Romania and I was eager to see this city that has always -for some strange reason- been an object of my curiosity.  The capital of Romania has been called the “Paris of the east” due to French architecture influence  – but perhaps also because the pre-communist elite had the airs?  I am not really sure but it definitelyhas  architecture reminiscent of the French capital.  In any case, Bucharest is a relative newcomer as a capital city having been picked as capital of Romania only in 1862.  It is a city of over 1.6 million inhabitants – and it feels that way:  a city with the weight of any capital city, with all the attributes of a European city, yet not quite a megalopolis or an international center.

There are too many photos to share so I will place them here in a gallery at the end so you can see some of what caught my eye in terms of architecture, monuments (especially to the 1989 revolution), streets, etc.  Just click on the images to enlarge them!  But first some thoughts on the city…

Architectural potpourri

It is very interesting to see this architecture in Bucharest because it usually is mixed in with very different styles. It almost feels that either construction in the city skipped a few periods or styles as some parts have very different styled buildings next to each other.  Maybe that is what some communism legacy does and what a deliberate demolition of old portions of a city will do (Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator, razed parts of the city for his grandiose building, now the Parliament).  I don’t know as I am not an expert either in architecture or Romania!   This cacophony of styles gives it an interesting air…  And/or perhaps, I needed to see more of the city than I got to?

Old Town Bucharest

Old Town Bucharest is charming like the older part of a any city and, at night, is very lively and a great place to go to have dinner, watching folks go by, and then stay for drinks and more people watching.  We enjoyed a night out on a nice summer evening the night before our return home – good food, good wine, and lots of good laughs.

Not far from Old Town you encounter the grandiose communist buildings sponsored by Ceausescu – a madman of sorts yet independent enough to say no to the USSR whenever he felt like it.  (How DID he get away with it??!!)  In any case as I mentioned earlier, much of the older city was destroyed by him to pave way for these new buildings.  It is sad to think that, until the early 1980s, the old district was much larger and probably containing some gems that are now lost.

Sights around Bucharest

Bucharest has a canal going through it (the Dâmboviţa river that goes through town was channelized in the late 1800s to prevent the flooding that the city suffered periodically) and nice parks, especially near the Romanian Arc de Triomphe.  In that area you will tend to see foreign embassies and it seems a nice place to be if you live in Bucharest.  The most grandiose building of the communist period already has an entire post to itself here so I will not add those pictures to the gallery here.  Just know that around it are similar though slightly smaller buildings also built as part of Ceausescu’s grand plan.  One of those was built to house guests of Mr. Ceausescu and now serves as a magnificent J.W. Marriott!

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time in Bucharest as the focus of my trip was elsewhere.  However, I did get to see some of the key places around town, such as the former royal palace, a few churches, the monument to the revolution (eerie), and the balcony where Ceausescu stood in his final days trying to give a speech but, in a crucial moment in history, the crowd turned on him and the whole thing unraveled for Nicky  (I remember watching that in the US in the news the day it happened!).  I will end the post with the gallery of sights around Bucharest – enjoy!

(Click on the thumbnail to see the entire photo!)