Just like that– I’ve been in Europe for two weeks (and a whirlwind of two weeks at that).Between bus rides, trains, and a lot of time in the air, so much has happened in the past two weeks that I myself am even having a hard time remembering. So let’s start at the beginning?
For what I can only chalk up to having Jacinta with me, my rock of a friend who doesn’t get wound up over travel mistakes and is also familiar with flying across the globe, & the consolation and excitement over this trip finally happening (& just God), the whole process of getting here was weirdly smooth. On our flight over, I found my seat in the middle of the sweetest French/American married couple who then offered me their window seat (um, I’ll take it) & also lent me a charger when they realized I wasn’t prepared to already not have an American outlet (oops). I then watched Belfast, slept for 4-hours, and before I knew it, we were in Paris. After getting through customs, while looking for the way to our next stop, an English speaker approached us and pointed us in the right direction. Eventually we found our bus & walked a couple blocks to sit under the Eiffel tower, where we took a selfie and sat down for 15 minutes, before needing to start heading towards the train station we learned was maybe a bit longer walk than we thought it was. However, under Jacinta’s navigation with downloaded Google maps (yay), and the help of *another* stranger who reached out and affirmed we were on the right path, though feeling slightly traumatized by carrying all my luggage, we made it there without getting lost. As this was now the second person that approached us without asking, this was also when I decided I like French people—And when we realized it must have been blatantly obvious that the two of us were foreigners who didn’t completely know what we were doing.
Maybe it was jet lag, or the fact that I have thought about this trip for so long, but our entire train ride out of Paris felt somewhat surreal. Is this happening? Or am I on hwy 41? The massive green fields full of windmills definitely had me questioning my sanity, but eventually, cute little French towns & stunning mountains peaking through the clouds made it clear that I was not in Wisco anymore. Four delirious hours later, cool temps, Mountain views, & working wifi greeted us in Lourdes for what felt like a literal breath of fresh air.
After looking up directions and making a lot shorter but still a little traumatizing walk with all my luggage, we found our air bnb and attempted to sleep.
The rest of this first week was such a gift. In the middle of this charming mountain town (have I mentioned the mountains enough? I love them) is a massive green stretch of land called the Sanctuary, containing a turquoise river, the basilica, a zillion chapels, the grotto, the spring, and the “pools” where all of the baths take place (currently a hands and face washing due to Covid). I may or may not have gotten lost while trying to find the place (pre- phone data) to meet up with Jacinta on our first day, but when I did, there was a strange sense of awe combined with feeling right at home.
And, from it’s natural beauty, to witnessing the mouth of a spring no one knew was there until Bernadette uncovered it, to standing underneath & touching the rock Mary actually appeared, to the way you can walk right up to one of the many fountains on site and fill your water bottle with this incredibly delicious, actually miraculous, mineral-packed spring water, to the spirit of the place in general–that feeling has yet to go away.
It’s hard to say what was most influential in those first few days here for me, but there is one moment in particular that certainly feels most striking. At 5pm every day here, there is a Eucharistic procession, when priests carry Jesus to a massive underground chapel for adoration, and pilgrims follow while singing praise. The first time we went to this, I almost immediately teared up at the sight of these priests from all over the world, processing together in love for Jesus. Then, you know, there was the Eucharist, raised up under a canopy while trumpets sound as in a true procession for a King. And directly following? The wheelchairs–the first in line of all processions here. It takes a lot for me to sob, but while watching what felt like hundreds of pilgrims follow Jesus in this way, all with physical disabilities of some form—-I was completely wrecked, & felt privileged to join.
In the midst of figuring out a phone plan, finding the grocery store, learning how to get to the Sanctuary from all places, and how to trim my luggage down for some Europe to Europe traveling, the rest of the week was navigating a number of logistical things that are not always very fun. But again, from the initial presence of a friend alongside these deep moments of confirmation, it seems that somehow, I’ve been sustained in a way throughout this cross-country move that, at least not yet, doesn’t in any way feel foreign. (( I also flew to Italy to meet up with my family last week. but that’s all I have energy to write about it 😉 )