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Published: February 2nd 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now ushering in the second month of the new year and all that it holds in ways of travelling. I haven´t quite hit the two month exactly
but it´s coming around the corner and I feel a resurgence of energetic spirit and can I just say it? I´m hella excited!!! Thus far my February has been cold and grey but fun nonetheless. I spent a day at the coldest beach I´ve ever seen, nearly drove myself off a mountain, navigated through a snowstorm on back country roads in the dark, and crossed the border into the much-more-foreign land of Spain. All in a week´s work!
But I suppose that is getting a little ahead of myself. I will backtrack.
After my disappointing, or rather anticlimactic experience in Provence, I chose to go off the map. Perhaps it was a need to throw my guidebook out the window (sorry Ricky Baby), or maybe the need to avoid yet another camp-like hostel that I chose to spend five days in Beziers, just off the coast in the Languedoc-Rousillon region. I´ve dreamed of this area for years: the history of the Cathars, both their reign and
View from old bridge leading up to town center
downfall, created deep furrows in land and culture; conspiracy theories that border on a new religion peer out from ruins and churches, the name of the Magdalene just on the tip of everyone´s tongue; rolling hills resting in the shadows of the snow-capped Pyrenees, and a land covered in vineyards all hold a special place in my heart and perhaps may be the very reason I wanted to learn French in the first place.
Beziers itself holds none of this charm, though in its own way it became a sort of home. The hotel I chose was definitely in its off-season mode, with construction starting as early as 6am and I believe three generations of a family occuppied all but two rooms, the latter of which was myself and a very surly drunk. The building always smelled of spices (onions predominating) and chattering Arabic-mixed-French echoed down the halls and through the walls. Honestly, when the children got scolded I felt as if I was right in the middle of their lecture, so thin were the walls. Several times upon leaving the building, I had one family member or another chase after me, wondering what a white woman was doing
View from across the river, where the town was sent after being kicked out of the walled city.
in the building, figuring maybe I had been pilfering their rooms. The owner came to my rescue each time luckily, and I wasn´t thrown out onto the cold streets.
Exploring the town itself took no more than a day. Definitely not a place you'd want to get lost in. Nothing really of import to mention: some churches, governmental buildings, and I think I counted over 10 burned down buildings. Not the most uplifiting of places, but I was away from tourists and the like, which was what I was looking for.
A day trip took me to Carcassonne, an old walled town with castle included. Picture Maid Marian, Robin Hood, and stealing away from the castle at Nottingham, and you´ve got the image of Carcassonne. And indeed, the movie was filmed here (the Kevin Costner version). I got to walk the ramparts of old Roman walls, feel diminished in the nave of a Gothic/Romanesque church lit only by candle light, and climb the tower of a keep that looked down on the river and the new city beyond and in every direction. Finished off the day with a walk on des lices
, the avenues between the inner and
outer walls, the place of in-between, and I couldn´t help but feel like it was all just a microcosm of my life. Oh my, those hippie moments just come up out of the blue!
And back in Beziers I had a first: I rented a car!!!! The fiasco of that whole experience began when I somehow missed the information pertaining to the company I had reserved the car with, so I had to walk around to seven different companies asking if they had an "Aubrey White" on file, desperately showing them my rather vague confirmation number. Mistake #1. Though tedious, my French worked very well and I only had to speak English once...ironically where I rented the car. Here I learned that either I should speak entirely in French and suffer through it or entirely in English, not a mixture of both. Combining the languages only gets me confused and I´m pretty sure I signed half my funds away for the car. Mistake #2. Keys in hand I find my little silver Ibizia, which I dubbed Genevieve for our short time together, and getting in realized that indeed she was a manual. I don´t quite call this Mistake #3,
but let´s just say it didn´t make matters easier. A few circuits around the parking lot and I felt my driving legs returning and so I set off on my drive through the Languedoc.
And what a drive it was too! Honestly I don't have the words to describe what I saw. Vineyards in every direction, hugging hillsides and valleys alike; foothills dark beneath the cloud-covered sky would burst into green as rich as an emerald when the sun peeked out for a moment; and all backed by the snow-covered teeth of the peaks in the distance. That is a poor representation!!! And it doesn't even mention the Cathar castles that appear to literally grow out of the mountain, their walls protected by the heights and countless arrow slits. High winds threaten to push you over the edge if you get too close, and the views quite literally make your heart skip a beat. Around 2 in the afternoon the weather turned real sour, moving from rain (which Genevieve conveniently detected on her own, starting up her windshield wipers) into snow, and back and forth. I was stubborn and refused to turn around, wanting to see the Montsegur castle
of legend and so by the time I reached the parking lot where you turn off to start the slight hike up to the ruins, I found myself in a whiteout. Hikers returning down from the summit were bundled up like they´d just avoided a blizzard at the top of Mount Evans, their noses bright red and their jackets dusted with a fine layer of white. My stubborness didn´t extend as far as all that and though I waited in the car for the storm to pass, no such luck. The castle remained out of reach and continues to be shrouded in mystery. C´est la vie.
The next day, having only about 70 kilometers left on my rental contract, I drove to the Valgras Beach. It was a little like Padre Island, Texas in the middle of winter: the charming facade is left in disrepair in the off-season months though you can tell that it puts on a show in the summer. I walked along the beach, found a sea shell to add to the pile, huddled near the heater in a cafe, nursing my coffee down to its last drop, then finally folded and turned for home and
my family-filled hotel.
Now here is where my routine gets interrupted and I find myself adventuring again off the grid. This time, however, it´s off the French and unto the Spanish grid. I am now in Barcelona, which is a city I know nothing about and let me tell you people, I can feel the frustration. Some might say French and Spanish are similar, and to them I can only say "Bull" because I can´t even be sure that I´m ordering vegetarian food, and what´s more I´m pretty sure several people have spit in the dishes. Honestly, I don´t blame them. My doe-eyed look has returned in full force and the shame of my limitations is painted in bright red on my blushing face. It has rained and snowed here the past two days, but I am determined to get out there and see the sights. Thus far it´s been primarily architecture that I´ve seen...and big cups of coffee. Grace à dieu for Starbucks; though it´s taste is mediocre at best, at least they don´t openly judge me for getting a cup larger than an espresso.
Tomorrow I´m going to bite the bullet and hop on a tourist
bus and see the sights that way. I am a little embarrassed at the cliché, but sometimes it´s the only way to fully understand what your seeing and why it should interest you at all.
Ok, thus ends yet another long post. I hopefully will be writing again soon, at least before I leave good old Spain. Much love to you all, and wishing you a wonderful beginning to February.
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