The French Connection: Day 7 – Au Revoir, Carcassonne

A day to move on and with a leisurely start… caveat: I’m usually awake and out of the house by 6.15am for a morning walk so ANYTHING after 6.30am is leisurely… courtesy of the birds.

NB Picture posting is going to be a problem until I sort out a data issue so links to Instagram are provided.

Here, there is no need for an alarm clock if you don’t need to be up much before 8am. As soon as the first signs of daylight appear, the birds start clamouring overhead.

It’s quite the din and, about ten minutes after they start, the woman who lives in the house across the road will open her shutters to shout at them. The birds, briefly shocked into silence (backfiring car exhausts have the same effect) for around five seconds, will continue their squawking. I was not sure if she was annoyed with the birds or treating this as a ‘snooze’ button.

For my last breakfast in Carcassonne, my landlady had excelled… tarte au pomme and blueberry with banana pancakes.  (

A train ride wasn’t going to be comfortable so I had a brief sunrise walk around the town. Of course I went to the Old City but the views of the sun above Place Gambetta and over the Old Bridge were much prettier. (


The train pulled out of Carcassonne on time and, this time, I was heading North. The scenery was fairly similar as on the Southbound journeys: rolling fields, some ploughed for Autumn, others filled with sunflowers, vineyards (possibly not as many), woodland and small fields filled with solar panels, being tended by the farmer in his tractor. (

We passed farmhouses built of sandy coloured bricks and topped with red tiled rooves. The occasional hamlet appeared: the houses rendered in mustard-yellow, the scarlet window-shutters complementing the roofing.

As we approached Toulouse, the rails travelled through small towns, the modern houses built in a similar colour scheme to the rural villages. These were not the appartment buildings of Carcassonne, Narbonne or Béziers.

I changed trains at Toulouse Matabiau, only 45 minutes away (on this long distance, non stopping train) for the train that would take me to my next destination.

The train calling at Lourdes was already standing at the platform though it wouldn’t depart for another 25 minutes. This was fortunate.

The time it took for everyone to board, (but refuse to put their huge suitcases in the luggage racks by the doors; then trundle these small tanks along the aisle to their seat; only to discover that they had neither the height not the strength (nor the space) to lift them into the overhead racks; attempt to leave them in the aisle by their seat (because obviously that was unlikelyto cause an obstruction); to then be cowed into shamefacedly going back to the luggage racks by the irritated glares of fellow passengers trying to reach THEIR seats) meant every second of this 25 minute boarding time was necessary.

My rucksack? It’s cabin sized. It’s only on English trains that I struggle to fit it into the overhead storage. If they didn’t get off at Lourdes with me I’d have to rethink that theory.

Me? I was not carrying empty bottles to fill up at Lourdes.

I may have been leaping to conclusions but I reckoned this lot had brought sufficient baggage to ship bottles of holy water home from Lourdes.


Once out of Toulouse, the train passed through flat countryside, edged by hills at the horizon. On the plain, the landscape was a mixture of waterways, ploughed fields and woodland.

On board, there were a few people wearing face masks. I’ve been using one on public transport for a few weeks – as it will be four years before I can get my Covid booster vaccination.

It’s only about 90-100 miles to Lourdes from Toulouse but it’s a pretty slow train ride taking two hours. As the route skirts the Pyrenees National Parks, the scenery becomes more mountainous. The wooded hills were mostly evergreen but Autumn shades of gold and orange appeared here and there. The mountains loomed behind them.

The conductor appeared – a rare sight I was beginning to notice on French trains so far. He was a cheerful chap, wishing everyone a good day as he inspected our tickets.

As the train approached Tarbes, the line had to pass through tunnels as we moved deeper into the more mountainous landscape.

While we waited in the station, people started gesturing to eachother – indicating on their fingers how many minutes it was going to take to reach Lourdes. Considering how long it had taken to get them on board at Toulouse, I wondered if it would be worth spending the remaining ten minutes of the journey standing.

As I watched a woman shift two white sacks of what looked like empty plastic bottles… remember, for the holy water… I decided that early preparation for departure was a damn fine idea. I wanted to avoid the moving of the tank sized suitcases.

I was wrong about the two white sacks… there were four.

While I wasn’t in Lourdes for religious reasons, it seemed daft not to have a look at the main reason why the town is famous. SPOILER: I didn’t visit the site of Our Lady of Lourdes. The queue was massive.

I did go and have a look at the Basilica of the Rosary which is within the sanctuary complex.

The Rosary Basilica is the third of the churches to be completed on the site (after the Crypt and the Upper Basilica and was designed by architect Leopold Hardy. Completed in 1899, it was consecrated in 1901 and has a capacity of 1,500 worshippers. And if there isn’t room inside, the Mass is broadcast to anybody sitting outside.

Its style is influenced by Byzantine architecture and, looking at the mosaics, it definitely reminded me of my trip to Ravenna earlier this year. In 2006-7 the interior and exterior of the basilica were extensively renovated and the mosaics (many of which were deteriorating) were restored. (

The first reported apparition the Lady of Lourdes was on the 11th February 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous (age 14) told her mother that a “Lady” spoke to her in the cave of Massabielle (1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) from the town) while she was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. There were a further 18 or 19 sightings and, following investigation by the Church, Pope Pius IX approved the veneration in Lourdes and supported the building of the Cathedral in 1870.


Away from the souvenir shops filled with effigies of Mary, Lourdes is a pretty town – the (now) usual painted shuttered houses and a pleasant town centre. The market hall (les halles) is twice the size of the one in Narbonne and it doesn’t seem to be a big enough town to sustain it. On closer inspection, I realised that half of it is being used as a library. (

Chocolaterie Palhasson claims to be the oldest chocolatier in the Pyrenees, possibly France (?), going into business in 1729 when chocolate began to be imported to the port of Bayonne.

They’ve certainly had time to practice.

This afternoon… I sampled the chocolate cake in creme anglaise (i.e. custard but cool and lighter than Birds) alongside a hot chocolate and a few chocolates on the side. Well, evidence-based cake eating and all of that. (

And it is my birthday. 😊

Categories: Cake, Carcassone, France, Lourdes, The French Connection, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I’ve never been to Lourdes before, but I have heard of it and especially of its religious tourism…I can imagine it’s a beautiful place, though! Even with travel opening up freely, I’m still with you in that I’ll still keep wearing masks in enclosed, public places like trains, shops, etc. And curious, but why would you need to wait four years to get the booster? Is it not accessible where you are? Happy (and safe) travels!


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