le Tour de France – Stage 13
Well, after 27 years of following the Tour de France, I have actually seen a stage finish in person!
We were on the road to Lourdes this morning at about 08:00. It was about a 55 minute drive. When we arrived we were in the city center. We found ourselves in between the barriers in which the racers would be in several hours.
After finding a place to park, we walked to the tourism office and got a map of Lourdes. As we left the tourism office, we found a kiosk selling race souvenirs. Between the four of us, we ended up buying 208 Euros worth of Official Tour de France merchandise!
We began walking to the Immaculate Conception Basilica. When we got to the main street, Boulevard de la Grotte, we stopped and had a croissant and coffee. After we finished our coffee, we continued to walk along the main street toward the Basilica. The Boulevard de la Grotte is an interesting street. Both sides of the street are packed with Lourdes souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels. Everyone of the shops sells all sorts of religious mementos of ones’ pilgrimage to Lourdes, including various sizes of bottles and water containers. Many pilgrims, ourselves included, leave Lourdes with some of the Holy Water.
Walking along the main street, we came across a museum purported to be the birthplace home of St. Bernadette. It was a few Euros apiece to enter. On the upper floor of the house, I was amazed at the number of small marble tiles that were attached to the wall, on each one was written merci (thanks). I assume for those that have experienced a miracle as a result of their pilgrimage.
As one approaches the end of Boulevard de la Grotte, one can see the main Basilica at a distance. We crossed the Gave de Pau, a beautiful river, and began our walk to the Basilica. At the entry to the property were placed angel sculptures. After actually entering the shrines property, the first thing one sees is a grassy area with a large crucifix in the center. This is known as the Breton Calvary Cross. When we were there, there were numerous crosses in the grass. Each cross was left by a pilgrim or a group of pilgrims. There were at least 100 crosses there. Each cross was handmade and individually unique. Written on each one was the name of the parish, or group, or diocese that had brought the cross to the site; for example, Dunkeld Ecosse; Diocese of Digne; Church of the Annunciation, Dublin, Ireland; Diocesi Tortona; and some in both Japanese and Korean.
From the Breton Calvary Cross to the Basilica is easily 500 meters. It was fascinating to me to make that walk and watch the Basilica looming ever larger.
As we walked, our first objective was to see the Grotto where St. Bernadette had experienced her apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The Grotto is on the north side and below the Immaculate Conception Basilica. There is about 100 meters of land between the Grotto and the Gave de Pau. When we were there, that entire area was jam packed with pilgrims participating in a mass at the Grotto. It sounded to me like the mass was being said in Italian. Many of the pilgrims in the crowd were in various types of wheel chairs. One of the more unique wheel chair models is one that is available at the shrines. It is a three-wheeled bench seat for one. The single wheel is at the front. That wheel is connected to a pull handle like one would see on a wagon. The bench seat has a sun roof that one can raise or lower depending on the weather.
We made our way to the Upper Basilica. We did go in to look around. This was the only space we entered in which no mass was in progress. After looking around, we went to the Lower Basilica. As the name implies, it is directly below the Upper Basilica. We entered and found a mass in progress.
We departed the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes at about noon. We walked back up the Boulevard de la Grotte. We sat at one of the sidewalk tables of a cafe not far from the one we had stopped at earlier in the morning. We had lunch and a drink and sat and relaxed for a while.
After lunch we walked to the finish line. We did not stay there because there was no place from which to see the race, it was all VIP seating. So we backtracked to the 200 meter mark and staked out our place along the barricade. That was at about 13:45. Unfortunately, the winning rider, Thor Hushovd, did not come by until about 17:05! It was a long three-plus hours! To help pass the time, there was all sorts of activities on the road in front of us. Various companies were handing out samples of beer, bottled water, Bic pens, candy, newspapers, hats, noise-makers, etc. It was a carnival atmosphere. The Nesquik marching band marched by us a couple of times. There were several amateur bike riders that went back and forth several times. Lastly, as time for the riders to arrive got closer, there was a parade of vehicles. These vehicles were sort of like floats in a parade; although they were not completely covered and decorated like one would see in a United States parade. There were just over 160 vehicles in the parade.
In addition to all of that activity, there was plenty of people watching too. On the other side of the road, a man and a woman picked a spot along the barricade almost exactly opposite our position. They unfurled a banner touting Mark Cavendish, an Australian rider. They taped it onto the barricade. Within minutes, a police officer came by and made them take it down. Apparently nothing can cover the advertisements that were already in place with the sponsor’s name. However, directly above them on the roof of a garage, several people had gathered to watch the end of the stage. They had a Norwegian flag draped over the side. They were not required to remove it. They were obviously fans of Thor Hushovd.
After watching about the first 100 or so riders (out of 198) ride by, we began to walk back to the main street. We found another cafe, sat down and had a drink. Once again, the people watching was enjoyable. From there we walked back to the car and drove back to our apartment in Pau.