Today was a day off from the Chemin, so we made arrangements to go to Rocamadour, a major catholic pilgrimage destination, by train. It is about a half hour trip from Figeac. We met our friends from Iceland outside our hotel and walked ten minutes to the train station, and by 9:40 we were all on our way. We disembarked to an empty platform with no indication as to the location of the purported wonders of Rocamadour. We crossed the tracks, walked out of the empty station, crossed the street, and saw a small sign that said Rocamadour 4 kms. This was to be a day off from walking so we glanced around looking for options, and spotted a solitary taxi parked in front of a kind of rundown hotel. The car door was emblazoned with sign advertising Pat’s taxi. Into the hotel I went and soon found Pat at the bar. She was easy to spot as she was the only person in there, and in accordance with the hour she was still on her coffee. Soon thereafter we were bumping down the road to Rocamadour. We asked Pat to take us to the highest point, and she did just that, dropping us off above the basilica at the chateau. So began our exploration of this remarkable place. The history of pilgrimage here is quite rich with kings and queens of France having made the journey. The setting is stunning as the entire complex is affixed to an almost vertical hillside. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to construct all this. But, by the very fact that today it still endures speaks to the skill of the architects, and builders. It seems there are two parts to this story.
One is the religious, and the other is the economic. As with any major attraction all the businesses that exist to cater to and extract tourist dollars from visiting pilgrims or tourists are flourishing. The streets are not filled with penitents (I am actually not sure what one would look like), and there are more visitors piling off tour buses than trodding the cobblestones with rucksacks, but allowing for that it is still a very moving place. Once you make your way past the shops, and restaurants, and enter the church, you enter a different world where you find yourself compelled to kneel, and pray. We spent About 12 hours visiting, including a swing through the shops (I lost my hat and needed a replacement), and a nice lunch. We all took God only knows how many photos. It is almost impossible to put your camera down. The day slipped past as we drank in all the wonders of this special place, and before we knew it we were back in Pat’s cab heading for the train station for the return trip to Figeac. During some breaks today I had been trying organize some lodging and backpack transport (Robin will walk with me tomorrow, but will keep a shipping her backpack ahead for a few more days), and it turned out to be hilarious. The baggage transport guy would get to a point in the conversation where I thought we had reached an understanding, and then he would ask me to confirm it was two bags from our hotel (part of the problem was that I was trying to arrange a bag to be moved for a friend from a different hotel), I would say no, and we would start the entire conversation again. Well we had about 6-8 iterations of this conversation, when the owner of the hotel (the one across from the station where we waiting for the train) who was sitting at a table nursing a glass of red wine, offered to help. He is Dutch and spoke good French, and excellent English. However, even he had to struggle a bit to unwind the guy on the other end of the phone. In the end it became an act of faith as the final, mais oui, was croaked into the phone. I have no idea how all this going to work out. Stay tuned. I am currently sitting at terrace bar alongside the Célé River finishing this post. It is a still night with a clear sky. Tomorrow promises to be another fine day as we set out for St. Eulalie. Our stay here has been just what we needed, but the pilgrim road is always there, reminding us that we still have along way to go. In the morning we will answer that call, and set out down the Célé River valley, inching our way, once again, towards Santiago.
|The black Madonna|