Lourdes was wonderful: glorious sunshine, great food, good wine, congenial company...
The atmosphere is really special. Everyone is there for a common purpose. No-one bats an eyelid if you put on a mantilla (actually, most of the shops sell lots of different types!) Everyone prays. Actually, one of the most incongruous sights was on the last day in the Rosary Basilica: a woman proceded to make her way up the centre aisle on her knees... with a camera clasped in her right hand. And why not!
The queues for the women's baths are renowned for their length. One year I queued from 8:15am (the baths open at 9am) and at 11:15am I reached the outer vestibule. Realising that I would be late for the coach to the airport, I reluctantly had to leave.
This year, the queues have been more variable. I went on Tuesday morning at about 10:30am, fully expecting the queue to have been closed, but wanting to give it a go. To my surprise, the place was empty, and on my hesitation (I thought maybe it was completely finished) a brancardier shot out and practically dragged me to the door. The rest of the week I had longer to wait, but 2 hours was the longest. At least it gave me time to pray - although you are encouraged to compose your thoughts just before you get down into the water, the combination of a cold wet towel applied to your body just beforehand and water which is so cold you half expect to see icecubes floating in it often leaves you breathless and unable to say more than "Oh God!"
Despite that, it is one of the most moving experiences in Lourdes. It is daunting the first time (and never an "easy" experience, no matter how often you go) and there is a distinct element of penance involved in the mechanics, so to speak, but the feeling you get afterwards is truly indescribable.