My mum and I booked to go to Lourdes some months ago although some wise crack wondered if I was going to have my ankle healed, sustained during the recent visit to Liechtenstein. I wasn't and was walking much better by the time we left.
Our trip to Lourdes went well and comfortably. We spent the night in the Travelodge at Gatwick after taking the train down and checking in our bag with easyJet thus saving time in the morning. A taxi to the airport and a perfectly satisfactory flight to Toulouse saw us arrive at 11 a.m.
We had a wait before the train to Lourdes but found Toulouse pleasant and enjoyed a glass of wine with lunch and watching the world go by. (As well as having to deal with requests for money as we were sitting close to the station). The only slight hitch was trying to validate the train tickets in the ticket machines which were obstinate for everyone. It seemed that one has to hold the ticket in rather than believe the error message given and this usually resulted in success.

The train we took was a stopping train which took just under two-and-a-half hours. It was comfortable but some of the stops were bizarre: no-one joined usually and there seemed little evidence of a platform or, at least, a short one. Some were situated by people's houses, others in fields but it was idyllic and the view of the Pyrenees was spectacular. It reminded me of how much I had enjoyed France many years ago.
Tarbes Airport provided the odd sight of lots of large, passenger aircraft of various airlines parked on the tarmac almost in formation. I would have loved to have stopped. Tarbes is just a few minutes from Lourdes so we were in pretty much on time. The train started in Toulouse, arrived ten minutes or so before its scheduled departure but we had already been advised of a delay. We never found out why.
My parents had been to Lourdes on at least three occasions so this was Mum's fourth visit but my first. I hadn't appreciated the beauty of this area before leaving and was much taken by it. We put up in the modest Hotel Saint Christoph but it was a friendly place and the rooms, whilst small, were adequate. I won't say that, after struggling to find the place, Mum's eyes lit up at the sight of the lift but, at 1.50 euros to use it, I, with the purse-strings, insisted that she struggle up one flight of stairs. It was probably quicker.
One of the joys of eating out in France is, okay like other countries, sitting outside and we found a place in the main street. It may not have been the greatest culinary experience but was nonetheless lovely as the weather was good also. It fortified us as we later joined the processions which take place during the summer. First, though, the array of souvenir shops had to be visited and, at very cheap rates, I don't mind admitting to feeling in seventh heaven!
Aircraft at Tarbes Airport with the Pyrenees in the background
The Lourdes grotto

Notre Dame de Lourdes

The procession, with candles, meets at the basilica

Notre Dame de Lourdes by day

View of Lourdes and its fort from the basilica
It is a remarkable sight seeing the vast number of people joining in the processions and singing Ave Maria. Lourdes came to prominence when a young lady, Bernadette Soubirous, saw the vision of the Virgin Mary in the grotto in 1858. The cathedral was later built above it and became a most significant place of pilgrimage. It was moving too although seeing and hearing some of the ill people was equally sad. Nurses help push the ill and infirm in wheelchairs etc and groups of people from all over the world come displaying their flags. Hundreds of people attend these daily processions.
We visited the basilica on Sunday and went into four services. Again, all the services were extremely popular and there were also plenty of visitors outside. We had a fairly long wait in the queue to enter the grotto where, in keeping with others, we rubbed the walls. I also dutifully took some of the water. Shops sell bottles, lanterns and candles at very reasonable rates and our afternoon was spent buying an array of different souvenirs.
A deluge took place after our return and our evening meal had therefore to be spent inside a restaurant. Mum was keen to see if the procession was again taking place despite the wet weather. I was also but suggested we wait until nearer the time. I hadn't realised that Mum's hesitancy was over my foot which was much better but undoubtedly the damp and a possible wet shoe were unlikely to help so, realising her concern, I put a couple of Asda bags over the shoes and off we went... In the event, there was ample shelter but we were not surprised to find that the procession, at least outside, was not taking place.
That was because it was held inside in the Basilica of Pius X which is underground and close to the entrance of the holy site. It wasn't especially well signposted but, given the large numbers already there, probably others were better informed than us! We were very pleased to spend time there listening to Ave Maria and watching the statue of Mary being processed around the vast area before being placed by the altar. In a different way to the night before, the service had been moving.
We made our way back to England on the Monday morning. We took a quicker train back to Toulouse but, being one of the main holidays of the year, there was absolutely no public transport. The only way was an expensive taxi to the airport where we did no more than window-shop. The flight left slightly early but arrived into Gatwick just early enough for us to be able to take an earlier than anticipated train back to Swindon after a wonderful break.