The Thirteenth was mostly spent in traveling to Lourdes, where we arrived sans hotel reservations at about 11:15 PM. We wandered from hotel to hotel to hotel which were all "complet" (full), until our tenth or so try... it was a busy weekend for them because of World Youth Day. We stayed at a shady rundown joint operated by a friendly no-English-speaking older gentleman. After dropping our stuff in the room, we decided to go on a walk to the Grotto.
Unbeknownst to us, visiting the Grotto at night is the perfect time to go - the line is infinitely shorter and the temperature cooler. While there, we got some holy water, met two girls from Colorado, visited the well and altar, and lit candles to add to the display left by countless pilgrims before us.
The next day, we moved to St. Jean Baptiste, run by the sweetest family in Lourdes. We visited the Basilica, but weren't able to do the Lourdes water bath because of a several hours long line. Perhaps we would have waited, but we had to deal with train ticket issues.
Raileurope, the company through which we booked our train tickets, made a severe error with our reservations. Our plan to get to Madrid was to leave on 15 August from Lourdes to Dax to Irun (the border) to Valladolid Campo to Madrid, and that's what we booked. Our so we thought. Luckily, Damian noticed that from Irun to Valladolid Campo to Madrid was booked for 7 September (their fault, not mine). I had to call Raileurope several times over the last week, and talked to the ticketing people in Paris, but the company couldn't send me the paper tickets and don't do e-tickets, and the train station said everything was booked for days. The suggested option was to go from Lourdes to Dax to Irun, and then hope there are openings on either the train or bus, but we were nervous about doing that. The only other option we could think of was to find other English speaking groups with extra room on their buses. We spoke to a group from Philly, Chicago, and Texas - all of whom led us on, made us wait for hours, only to decline us citing liabilities. So much for Christian charity. I doubt Jesus ever cared about liabilities. Three groups left us without hope...
Disappointed, the only thing that managed to cheer us up was the hotel's puppy, whom we named Mr. Scruffums. Damian was also put in a better mood after conversing in ASL with a group of deaf French people.
We went to bed nervous about how/when/if we would get to Madrid, made more difficult by the need to inform our host family of our arrival information.
What a stressful day... we didn't even really get to capitalize on all Lourdes had to offer, although we did see enough - including witnessing a candle light vigil and late night Grotto mass.
On a totally random note, I feel like I should mention how incredibly blown away I have been by how kind the French are. I've heard so many horror stories about visiting France, but our experience was totally different. Perhaps our sad attempts at speaking French, asking in French if someone speaks English, and being extremely polite was all it takes to win over their hearts. I apologize to the French for always assuming that to some degree most of y'all would be really rude to us.