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Published: February 10th 2012
Have you ever had your exhaled breath pushed back into your lungs and up your nose? No? Well let me tell you, it's no treat.
And why, you might ask, do I pose this question to all you faithful readers? Well here in Narbonne the views won't take your breath away, but the wind will slap your face with it and then proceed to ram it back down your throat, almost as if Mother Nature is giving us a taste of our own medicine, and sans
the spoonul of sugar. Even locals are bundled up so that only their eyes peek out and café owners grudgingly serve you with fingerless gloves then scramble back in front of their personal heaters after the money has been passed over. Streets are nearly empty and those brave enough to venture out walk fast, heads down so that collisions are inevitable.
Narbonne is situated in the Languedoc region (I am back in France) just a little south of Beziers. Though I mostly chose it as a transition city, it definitely has a character all its own. Once an important city for trade due to its access to the river, the Narbonnaise lost
their importance and a little bit of gusto when the river, as rivers often do, decided to alter its course and thus by-pass the city. Not to be outdone by the mother of all mothers, citizens funded a rather expensive canal project that connected those now-distant temperamental waters to the sea, via Narbonne. You've got to love the French: when your pushed down, there's nothing for it but to tunnel your way to the other side!
Its main square is dominated by the Archbishop's Palace, which contains a rooftop offering panoramic views via 60-some winding cramped steps. I was discouraged by a local French mother from making the ascent (she was genuinely concerned I'd slip on some ice and break my back) but I put on my stubborn face and, in the humblest French I could muster, promised I would indeed take the stairs "très doucement". Luckily for me there was no checking of footwear, for at this point my boots have no traction, and I was allowed passage. Though there wasn't any ice, at the top the most I could do was take a deep breath, snap a photo, and then duck down for a brief moment
of shelter from the howling wind. Upon descending another French woman seemed disappointed at my lack of injury, perhaps hoping that the elements would rid the world of one more American. Desolée, Madame.
The Archbishop's Palace merges with the Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur Cathedral, creating a melange of architecture that is pleasing to the eye. Inside, the large arched columns remind me of the Mines of Moria and the screams of the wailing wind outside, almost as if the orcs were pressing in, only increase the eeriness, making one suddenly have an urge to pray for protection against the mysterious elements.
Last, but certainly not least, is the market (Les Halles). Though this is neither more grandiose nor less impressive than other markets I've seen, it was the first time I picnicked my way through the stalls. I bought olives (a local crop), cheese and bread (of course), grapes, tomatoes, and a bottle of wine. Not such a bad way to live, if I do say so myself.
The rest of my time was spent either in bars and cafes, huddled away from the freezing winds that swept through the door, or in bed wearing nearly every
layer I packed plus all the blankets in the empty dorm room. And I still slept in hat and gloves! I was only too happy to be pushed out of Narbonne, literally by the wind....
...and into Toulouse, where there is snow. Curse you Father Winter!! But at least now it's a cold I am used to: it's freezing but it stays on the outside of all your layers. I plan on spending three days here and already I love the city. But that's for next time!
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