I just recently came across a description of my trip to Europe to tour the Marian shrines and was so taken with the refreshing of  memories that I thought others might be inspired to take such a marvelous trip.   In 1997 I had signed up and paid for the tour when, only six weeks before the scheduled departure, I fractured a thoracic vertebra.  My doctor told me I could go if I took it easy.   Even though I did “take it easy,” opting out of several excursions, it is clear that this was a very busy and active ten days!  You can’t possibly enjoy this little vacation as much as I did, but please enjoy.  And GO, if ever you can!


Well, here goes:  Orthopedist said I could go if I rested ad lib and didn’t lift anthing.  Father Carew (St. Joseph priest and trip chaplain) asked Dr. Coleman’s  son John to help me with luggage en route. (one nice thing was that Dr. Coleman had been my very own internist for nigh onto 30 years, now retired, and he and his wife were going on the tour also. That offered a a degree of comfort).

Took the limo to JFK and met Unitours state-side guide there who shepherded us through tickets and boarding passes and customs and security.  We were allowed one bag to check through, which was all I had, and one carry on (I had a big purse).  We turned out to be seated thither and yon throughout the plane (Air France 747).  Seats narrow – plane crowded with youngsters – but on the whole not much different than other planes.  Took off about 8 PM, scheduled to arrive about 8 AM (Paris time).  Soon flying over the ocean and they started to feed us.  Air France food is fabulous!  Lots of it, choice of fish or meat, gourmet stuff, and free wine!  About 1 AM our time, 7 o’clock Paris time, it was broad daylight and they thought we should have breakfast!  More fine food, coffee, no wine.  Arrived at Paris only to change planes (after taking a bus) for an Air Inter to Lisbon, less than a two hour flight. (They gave us lunch.) Again went through the whole deal with the passports, etc., etc., then onto OUR OWN yellow bus for a trip to see the Lisbon sights and thence to the Cinquentenaro Hotel in Fatima – lovely, old world hotel.  On the way we stopped at some holy place which I have actually forgotten called Santerem (maybe that’s where I didn’t get off the bus.)  A Eucharistic miracle occurred there which I only heard about second-hand.  You could say we arrived at Fatima exhausted but had to get ready for supper.  They had a procession that night.  I didn’t go.

Next day up bright and early to walk to private mass said by Fr. Carew in the chapel  at Fatima where the children stood when they saw the virgin.  On the way  we saw a rainbow.  It was about 8 AM.  The tree Mary stood over is still  there (but bigger) and there has also been built a huge basilica which we visited after the mass.  Peg McKerrow, with whom I went to the Holy Land, (a  coloratura),  sang an Ave Maria during our mass and we lit candles and saw pilgrims walking on their knees,  We had a day to see the sights of Fatima, the homes of the children – beautiful, beautiful countryside, and another wonderful dinner.  I did not go to the candlelight procession again.  They  tell me it stopped raining for the procession.

Next day after walking to mass at the Fatima chapel and continental breakfast at the hotel, we were back on the yellow bus heading northward to Santiago  de Compostela where we stayed overnight in Spain at hotel Gilmerez.  We  had to exchange our Portuguese money for Spanish pesetas,  of  course.   Here St. James evamgelized and we visited an old, old (about  12th  century) very beautiful cathedral.  The town is gorgeous.  Had asparagus  soup for dinner, beef with peppers, wine, dessert.  Interesting room where the electricity would not go on until you put your card “key” into a little slot in the room.

Mass next morning at St. James Cathedral and onto yellow bus northward to  Santander, a seaside resort town.  Had lunch at Ribadero where I had fish soup  with seashells and a squid head with eyes in it. Tasted fine if you eat the software and leave the hardware.  Over Cantabrian mountains and to the Sardinero hotel in Santander located between a casino and the beach.  Too bad  we couldn’t stay awhile and a good thing I tried the bidet there because it was  the last one I saw.  (Parenthetically, we had quite a variety of bath accommodations  accommodations on the trip and you cannot imagine how many different ways those Europeans  have devised to flush a toilet!)  Dinner, of course.  All but one hotel had a TV but I had no trouble at all falling  asleep from sheer exhaustion.

Next day after breakfast back to the bus and en route to Lourdes and for the  first time slept a little on the bus. Stopped for lunch on the way (all I wanted  was ice cream) and spent the last of our pesetas which would be no good  in France.  Need I say that buying lunches and souvenirs was all done with  these strange currencies.  Sometimes I would just hold out my hand and let them take what they wanted!  Had dinner at Hotel D’Espagne.  This was the room without the TV, overlooking the Gave river.  Lourdes has 400 hotels  and the stores contain, according to our guide, Janine,  “the most beautiful and the most ugly” souvenirs. We had mass in a private chapel on arrival and dinner of veal, french beans, potato puffs, good soup, peach with ice cream, and wine.  Did not go to the torchlight procession at night.   It rained.

Next day we had breakfast and then walked to the basilica up to the second level  for mass in the chapel of St. Michael, where Peg sang a song by Mary  Russo, an old friend of ours.  Took a walking tour of the city and visited the original  original home of Bernadette (her father was a miller) and the one room cell  in a prison where the whole family lived after father lost his sight and  his home.  Perhaps if I had known I was going to walk up as high as the castle  on the hill that I had seen previously, I would not have done it.  Lunch  at McDonald’s where you can order special #2 and know what you will  get.  Then down to the “baths” in the waters from the spring that sprang up  where Bernadette dug.   You are not allowed to just visit them but may only go in if you plan to get dunked.  You have to take off  ALL your clothes (it is all done very modestly, and men and woman have different baths) and they wrap a soaking wet shroud around you.  You pray for your intentions, , whatever they may be, and then they dunk you in this freezing water.  I had heard  that you come out of the water dry, which I would not say in exactly the  case, but you do not dry yourself and just proceed to get dressed and are dry.  It’s a little strange.  I tried to take a snapshot as I left the baths but I guess it’s forbidden as all I have in this picture with two big hands in front of it belonging  to someone saying, “Non!”  This was the first day I did not take any pain pills.   Took a nap, then dinner at 7 PM, and a wee bit of  shopping.  Skipped the torchlight procession.

Next day still at Lourdes, mass at a different chapel of Mt. Carmel.  Peg sang the  Ave Maria from Cavaleria Rusticana.  Onto our bus and off to the Tarbes  airport to head for Orly airport in Paris.  Lunch was two Snickers bars at the airport – red wine on the plane and a rather bumpy ride.  Another bus took  us to our Paris hotel, the Frantour Suffren.   It’s a chain of hotels and this one was lovely with over 400 rooms.  Some people went on the nighttime boat ride down the Seine.  Not me.  After dinner went to our  room and programmed the TV to wake us up.  It could also be programmed to reveal your hotel bill at that time. Thank God we didn’t have to pay any bills at the hotels for rooms or meals  or tip anyone for baggage carrying, and all that stuff.  Nor did we have to handle our luggage which was left outside our doors at  each hotel and loaded onto the buses by someone else.

Breakfast at the Frantour is super with fresh fruit, yogurt, sausages, scrambled  eggs, cheeses and cold cuts, rolls and butter, grapefruit and orange  juice, and the usual strong coffee with hot milk added.

Had mass at the shrine of Catherine de Laboure who was given the miraculous  medal.  Fr. Carew concelebrated with another priest from New Jersey and  they honored a couple in our group who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.  Their honeymoon had been in Paris, also.   Then  went on a bus tour of Paris and saw where all the world’s rich people  – Onassis, Aga Khan, etc., have their apartments, the Arc deTriomphe, Eiffel  tower, Statue of Liberty (France gave it to the US, you know)  Champs Elysses (? sp) government buildings, embassies, museums, statues, et al.  Stopped  a souvenir shop known for its four clean bathrooms (sometimes its not easy to accommodate an influx of 30 people wanting to use the bathroom).  Stopped to see something else and I didn’t even get off the bus but lay down for an hour because I knew the next stop was the Louvre.  So I toured the Louvre (no one goes there without personally visiting Mona Lisa) up and down and around Venus de Milo and massive paintings and naked Adonises with paresthesias in my feet but still glad I went.  (It was at the Louvre that for the first time I felt like I was walking on tingly cotton!)   Home to hotel and dinner and bed.

May 1, a holiday in France, everything (most things) closed.  Printemps day!   The hotel gave us lilies of the valley in our rooms.  Bus took us north  through beautiful Normandy (you must see it in springtime!) Norman archiecture, thatched  or slate roofs, not so much the tiles of the more southern countries, 2-1/2 hours to the home of St. Therese, the Little Flower,  who died of tb at 24.  She, too, has a beautiful basilica and we
had a private mass in the crypt under the basilica which is as big as St.
Joseph’s Church with  ceiling  and walls entirely covered with mosaics –
breathtaking.  I finally got my wish and Peg sang Panis Angelicus there. It is so beautiful and her voice is so beautiful and I couldn’t find a Kleenex. We had a group picture taken in front of the basilica by some of those guys who do that and it turned out really well.  Lunch at a little self-serve place.  Saw St. Therese’s home, and her hair which was cut off when she entered the convent, her toys.  She was not poor like Bernadette; her father was a jeweler.  On the way home we stopped at the famous resort town of Deauville and later at Honfleur, an old harbor town.  Home to hotel for our only dinner out – we walked a block to an Italiana restaurant and I had pizza and beer at a sidewalk cafe table. Some of the young ones got dressed up and hit the night spots.  Not for us.

Last day (the one morning we could “sleep in”) I was awake at 4 AM.   Breakfast at 7  and on the bus by 10 to reach Orly and the flight home by
1:30.  Again Air France fed us royally and after the wine asked if we wanted cognac.    Of course we said yes because we hadn’t done that before, but it is like fire  in your gullet (or at least in mine.)  Peg drank hers and mine, too.   It was a  very turbulent flight and arrived at 2 PM at JFK  (8 PM Paris  time).  Do you know how far it is from the International Gates to ground transportation???  It’s FAR.  Anyway we didn’t have long to wait for the Limo to Danbury and Peg’s daughter, Heather, was there to take us home.  Now that was a REALLY long day, much of it pulling my suitcase behind me after snatching if off the carousel.  They had a sniffing dog that located an orange in the baggage of one of our gals and they made her open it and took her orange away.

Now you may think this is a long story.  Actually it is quite sketchy.  Forgot  to tell you a tooth crown fell off my second day in Portugal.  (Fortunately, it didn’t hurt and I have an appointment tomorrow to see about getting it  fixed.)   You have heard nothing of the people I went with, conversations, all the things our tour guide, Janine, told us on the buses.  She met us in Paris and didn’t leave us until we boarded the Paris flight home.  You don’t know what clothes I took or about the peanut butter I carried but never used because Harry told me food in Paris was expensive –  “take peanut butter and buy baguettes – they are price-controlled.”

IT WAS A TRIP!  Go, if ever you can.