The Curse of Jim Bowen struck my trip today.
Quick reference guide: Host of a UK (possibly only in the North of England) gameshow on television in the 1980s where contestants played darts (a pub game where sharp, pointed stucks are hurled at a small board usually while players are drunk because that’s when you become convinced you are good at this… despite the need to squint to focus) to win prizes. Generally people only ever won speedboats on this game – when they lived in a terraced street without a back garden in a landlocked town.
On occasion, it wouldn’t be a speedboat. It would be a cool/useful prize (as opposed to shifting a job-lot speedboats from a company that had gone bust) but on those weeks, the contestants DIDN’T win. Jim would dutifully console them with the sadistic phrase: “Let’s have a look at what you COULD have won.”
How evil is that?
So the Curse of Jim Bowen struck me and therefore you, dear reader, because this blog COULD have been about a ride up a cable car into the Pyrenees to visit an observatory. But it’s not.
Picture No 1 (over on Instagram @phileasfiona) is the view from the bus stop to catch a bus to La Mongie in order to get the cable car up to Pic du Midi. Picture No 2 is the walk BACK into town…
…after the bus proved to be one with a broken card machine and the driver wouldn’t wait for me to get cash from the cashpoint NEXT to the bus stop. (The bus was early – I would have had time – and the Tourist Information Office had told me the buses take plastic… and so far, they have). Rookie error: I still should have had cash. C’est la vie!
I thought I would take a taxi (even though it would be substantially more expensive) but the driver showed me the weather forecast for today. Far from great. So, it would have been a wasted journey after all.
Now I had to work out what I was going to do in Lourdes until 4pm. An afternoon had been fine. I had eight hours left and was fairly confident that there wasn’t much left to exhaust.
A walk back to the Basilica for some early morning pictures was my first action. I expected it to be quiet. I should have known better having counted five Shuttle Buses to the Shrine while I was waiting for my bus.
From here I headed uphill to Pic du Jer – a funicular ride up the hill. I might not have been heading up Pic du Midi but I could go and see the local hills.
There were four older people in front of me in the queue – retired and off for a hike up in the hills. They turned and looked at me. I was dressed for walking in the hills so it couldn’t be that.
“Vous etes seul?” one of them asked. (“Are you alone?”)
One on each side of me, two of them grabbed me by my elbows and hauled me in front of them: “We are seven. You don’t want to be stuck behind us.”
The first train of the day ran at 10am.
The summit of Pic de Jer is 951m above sealevel and has been served by the funicular since 1900. Have I even been travelling if I haven’t ridden at least one.
The ride took around ten minutes and, as expected, it was considerably cooler at the top of the hill. One hot chocolate and a Basque Tart later… the chap in the cafe pointed out of the window to show me where the Basque region lies in relation to Lourdes… I set off, heading first for the summit where I watched the circling birds of prey. It was mesmerising.
(https://www.instagram.com/p/CjsBS86NVz1/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y= and https://www.instagram.com/p/CjsSMqsN7Px/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=)
It was only an hour’s walk back down the hill, aiming for lunch in Les Halles. It is an excellent market – lots of fresh produce whether bread, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish – but, unlike Narbonne, no cafes or bars to eat at.
So I wandered across the road for a leisurely lunch looking at the market hall, if not actually in the market hall.
After a last walk around Lourdes, I headed for the railway station (having first collected my luggage from the hotel) to catch the train.
Lourdes railway station seems to receive only two or three trains an hour – it’s hardly a bustling transport hub. However, the architecture shows how important this station used to be.
Once the Shrine and the Basilica were endorsed by the Pope, pilgrims and travellers would be on their way and the infrastructure had to be created to cater for them. The railway station is a very visible indicator of how popular this site was.
Today, people arrive by plane or coach – the Shrine’s coach park contained at least one hundred vehicles (many of which idling their engines) yesterday. In the late 19th Century and 20th Century, the vast majority of visitors would be arriving by train and the station had to be big enough to cater for them. There are still seven platforms and these can clearly cope with trains that are twenty to thirty carriages long.
It must have been an incredibly busy and possibly chaotic scene with trains arriving and departing filled with travellers seeking a miracle or coming to pay their respects.
It wasn’t nearly so busy today but it was fortunate the train arrived 30 minutes early to allow passengers to board (with all of their luggage). However, with ten minutes before departure, the carriage I was riding in was barely a quarter full so we weren’t going to be experiencing the same game of collective Tetris.
The game was delayed for 15 minutes until we reached Tarbes and the carriage filled up.
The train was travelling through the same countryside, back to Toulouse which was my next base on this trip and where I ended the day with a glass of “La Resistance”.
Considering how this day utterly failed to go according to plan, it has been highly enjoyable.
You can’t beat a bit of Bully ….
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Or Bully’s SPECIAL PRRRIZE!
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