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Europe » France » Languedoc-Roussillon » Carcassonne
June 15th 2008
Published: June 30th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

The trip to Carcassonne was quite an adventure. We headed out at around 5pm from Avignon, and found that the French trains were having another of their wonderfully selective (read: only us) strikes so the train we wanted wasn’t running. So, we had to take a bus to the high-speed train lines to catch a train that didn’t arrive until 3 hours later. Great. At least the station was nifty, all futuristic and such. And we somehow met the same honest peddler-- “can you give me… three, five, seven euro for beer tonight?”—we met on the train from Nice.

The train had no empty seats, even though we paid extra to reserve seats (I couldn’t bring myself to kick the old lady in my seat out). It did thin out after we went through Marseilles, thankfully, because it was a long train and it didn’t get us into Carcassonne until around 11 at night. Since we didn’t book this hostel until the same morning, I had to settle for one that didn’t have an English website. Ergo, the only directions I had were a picture on my camera of the flash-based, blurry-as-all-get-out map on the French website.

We matched the map up to one posted on a bus stop near the train station, and began walking towards what we thought was the right direction. After walking about an hour into areas looking more and more like downtown Los Angeles, we got to where the map told us to go. Nothing. And it was after midnight. We wandered a bit, trying to find a payphone to call the hostel. Once we did, we couldn’t get connected to the number, which I know was correct as I had called it hours earlier to book the place. Even an international operator couldn’t get us through.

So, we had two choices—try to find a taxi, which at 1AM may not have been possible, or to just bite the bullet and get a real hotel. I cracked open my Let’s Go guide to try to find a number for the first or directions for the second, and what do you know—it listed our hostel, with rudimentary directions. This saved our lives (only somewhat figuratively). We were able to see that the hostel was smack-dab in the middle of the area called “La Cite”, for which we had seen signs posted all over on our random way. We followed the signs for another hour or so (since had apparently gone the very wrong way) and the place gradually got more acceptably interesting. After asking some locals for direction a few times, we finally rounded a corner and light shone angels sang burdens lifted etcetc the place was brazenly visible. Carcassonne the old city is literally a huge castle on a hill—everything you could think from Disney’s Sword in the Stone or Monty Python or somethingsuch. I’ll admit, it looked beautiful, especially to us knowing the end was in sight. But having the place lit all up from what looked still like miles away was taunting and daunting. Luckily it was closer than it seemed, albeit further uphill—I swear the only time you go downhill in Europe is on the trains—and we made it to our hostel at about 2AM. Exhausted, of course. But, being in a rush, we decided to start our day at 9AM.

The city, as I mentioned before, is incredible. It’s more “authentically medieval” than I could have wished for. While we couldn’t properly appreciate the walk through the wall, on the drawbridge and around old fortifications and streets the night before, we certainly could the next day. The view from our hostel window showed blue and red towers with the inner wall, like we were inside one of those Lego sets you might have made as a kid. We started the day by walking around the entire perimeter of the outer walls. Again, I could babble about how real it felt, but the pictures should do a better job. We had to wonder how people navigated the place before it was touristized, as there were very few steps that were not obviously new. I guess they used ladders. We also saw a bunch of big round flat places where we guessed cannons and such would have gone. The view was also nice, as we could still see the remnants of the old city and its boundaries hidden amongst the new stuff, which extended far beyond what we could see (including the stuff we wondered lostly the night before).

We then headed to the main castle. It was basically a collection of connected walls and towers, as most of the internals had long lost their furnishings. It did, however, effectively illustrate how the tower had evolved since its initial building in 400AD by the Romans. Every time it changed hands (which was pretty often, every 100 years or so), the new owners would add stuff—a tower here, a wall there, some barracks over there. All of this was visible from the top of the castle walls, and was illustrated in color coding in videos and drawings every so often. It’s really cool stuff, I think. Some of it comes out in the pictures, as the styles were distinct enough. For example, the Roman towers would often have thin bands of red brick placed in the midst of the larger crude stone, in order to keep them level. There were also a few rooms of things recovered that belonged in the castle or the nearby cathedral. The cathedral was closed this day, unfortunately, but I have to say I’m already getting a bit tired of churches on this trip. It’s starting to recall the overdose of temples I had in Japan. I’ll have to slow down on them as I know there are a few more I’ll have to see before I’m done with this trip 

We spent a few hours wandering the market district of the old town. The place certainly knows and embraces its identity, since all the shops had dragons, swords, princess dresses, and the like. Some were very nice, and while I don’t know for certain, I believe the prices were pretty good too. I almost bought a dagger but decided against carrying one around for the next 3 weeks. I’ll get one in England instead. We grabbed a bite to eat and headed out for the train station to Barcelona. On the way, we got a great daytime view of the city to complement to great nighttime view we had the night before. We also got to appreciate the more modern area around more since we weren’t in any sort of rush.

To end this post, a quick rant. When we stopped to take a photo of ourselves, we had a couple of older men come and ask if we were from Canada or the States. When we said we were American, they silently kept walking, and asked the next group behind us the same thing. That group replied that they were Canadian, so they stayed and talked. Good to know we’re too dirty to talk to, thanks (this is the first and only time we’ve been treated like that, by the way). Another thing we’ve noticed—why does every Canadian travelling abroad wear their Maple Leaf Flag™ as conspicuously as possible? Are they trying to stand out? It’s like they’re required to be branded as “Property of the Canadian government’ before they can leave the country. No other country in the world has this habit, as far as I’ve seen (and I’d like to think I’ve seen enough to know). Maybe some nice Canadian could educate me on this phenomenon? I can understand being proud of where you’re from—heck, I’m just about as nationalistic of an American as anybody is for any country—but I’d never thought about flaunting myself by putting a flag on all my luggage. Everyone loves Canada, but this isn’t helping.

Anyways, back to the trip! We headed from Carcassonne directly to Barcelona, and made it to our hostel just fine with time to spare. And we successfully met up with Kevin here, who had already had a full day to check the city, which looks immense and jam-packed with stuff. The Eurotrip group is finally complete, which is why posts have been so far in-between as of late. This post is actually almost two weeks late, in fact. Sorry about that  More is definitely to come!

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