France: First Night and Day One in Carcassonne
Plane trip was fine and we arrived in Carcassonne via train from Toulouse just before noon. At the layover in Dusseldorf it was about 2am Canada time and we were a little punchy so we amused ourselves with people-watching. Melle spotted a table full of her Dad’s clones and one was enjoying a paper spread with a scantily clad woman.
Carcassonne is a wonderful little city. Very walkable. Our hotel, Hotel Pont Vieux, booked on the Interwebs, was across the Pont Vieux in the old city just outside of the Cite walls (the actual walled city). There was a terrace on the third floor with a view of the walls of the Cite and I was hard pressed to want to leave.
We decided the best course of action was to stay up until bedtime and get our clocks adjusted, so we beelined to the Cite for a bit. Feeling cocky, we even scaled the side of a hill on the way up. The flocks of old people in the caravan park were suitably impressed.
Went into town to a square where there was supposed to be a wine festival going on but there really wasn’t. So, we had some food and drank some wine open air (where we did most of our eating – we need more patio dining here). Two gentlemen at the next table heard us speaking English so we got to talking. Turns out they were .com first gens. We traded bon mots on corporate types and parried on the vagaries of software sales. They thought we were firecrackers, and we did our part to extend the Canadian reputation for smarts (and smartasses). They were wandering around buying Old Masters art, so they did okay out of the .com boom.
The wine we had was a Minervois, and I’m making a big recommendation – love them. We ended up having quite a few of them during the week. In fact, I’m now going through withdrawal since my wine consumption is no longer about a bottle a day.
Anyway, we got back to the hotel and went back up to the terrace and hung out there for a bit before heading to bed. The view at night is just unbelievable. Just like the postcards promise. Considering we’d been up for about 36 hours by then, we did well to go to bed.
This hotel offered the breakfast of French champions: eggs, meat, cheese, croissants, chocolate cereal and they even had decaf! The girl who ran things in the mornings was a very hyper curly-haired kind of maid. She was very flustered that we fed ourselves without first getting a tour of the breakfast room, which, apparently, was a necessary part of her duties for each and every guest.
Back to the Cite for a tour and it was great to be there early in the morning on a Sunday. We had the place to ourselves for the most part and got some great pictures sans peoples. Line-ups did start for the Ramparts tour. Some Taiwanese ladies from a tour were in front of us. They chattered away to each other quite a bit, but when they wanted to complain about the wait, they switched to English :) It was quite amusing to watch them talk to the ticket girl who spoke in French, and Lady 1 answered her in English and then translated the whole lot to her friend.
We took the French tour since the English one wasn’t until the afternoon. The guide knew his history and there was an older man there that must have been a retired history teacher or something, cuz he was asking all of the great historical/archeological/conspiracy theorist questions that I would have asked if I could speak French fast enough. I had no problem understanding what they were saying though – I’m sure it helped that I knew quite a bit of the history already.
And we got to walk Des Ramparts!!! (that is the way that it must be said, at all times). Pretty awesome about the towers we went through too – first one was of military importance, built for Trenceval, yadda yadda. By the time you get to the last one, he tells it was built by a Duke for a fun place to hang out and look over the city. There’s an ampitheater too – they still use it for opera and such.
For lunch, we had the very traditional Cassoulet. Basically, you take some meat. Specifically duck parts, sausage and about 3 pounds of fat. Bake it with some beans. Throw in some toast. Awesome stuff and you can see how it would have been good “stick to your ribs” fare in the day. My Dad would love this stuff. The fat though? Just gross. Most sane people just put it off to the side but I saw one French guy across from us scoop it up in a big forkful and wolf it down. I swear I spit up a bit in my mouth. We had a bottle of wine with lunch (another Minervois) and the bestest homemade vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had. You can tell I was on the vacation diet.
Then we wondered over to the other side of the Cite to the Museum of Torture, which was not worth the price of admission. Kinda soft S&M and misogyny thrown in with torture machine reproductions and models of castles. There werw a few that stayed with me though – the Pear comes to mind.
After another walk around town we walked out of the walls over to the cemetary to see what’s what. I like visiting cemetaries – I think they tell you a lot about a culture. What we saw is that Languedocians all have family crypts and they’re big on not pissing off the dead. Every one had memorial plaques, ceramic and real flowers, gratitude plaques, gifts… and if you’re interested, they still have some space.
Went for a short stroll on the Aude (the river that runs through the city). Story there is that Aude was the beautiful daughter of the local count. She was murdered (hacked to death according to the Torture Museum) and then they named the river. We did find the cathedral in town as well, but it was closed. The big front doors were being used as a goal by some boys playing football.
Then we went to the train station to see if a daytrip to Rennes-le-Chateau would be possible for the next day, cuz, being that close to crazy mecca? However, it was a logistical nightmare and we’d get all of half an hour once we got there, so I had to give up my dream. Next time, I swear. Instead, we decided to go to Limoux but that turned out differently (as I’ll tell you about on Day 2).
We went back up the Cite for dinner in the square. Salad with turkey gizzards were offered, but I went with goat cheese salad and pizza instead. Yes, pizza. They loves them some thincrust pizza in Languedoc, and they do it very well. Mine was reasonable, but Melle had this “4 cheese” one that shimmered like a lake of fat in the soft amber lights. Wine this night was a Corbieres, I think. Another vin de pays. Not as good as the Minervois.
One thing we noticed: guy fashions include headbands, manscarves and man purses. Sometimes all 3 at once. And believe it or not, there were a few that could pull it off.
We got back to the hotel and a youngish Aussie couple had put the security code in the door to get in but couldn’t get it to lock again. We tried every which way to get it locked again but had to rely on the goodwill of the public in the end to not come in and rob the place blind. No frantic French in the morning, so we assumed it was fine.
Nothing walk-up to the terrace for a look, and then off to bed.