Saturday, May 1:  Carcasonne

May Day, and all the ladies received Lily of the Valley flowers. National Holiday also, the equivalent of Labor Day. We packed up our bags and went out for our last breakfast. A second round of sirop for the boys, and two extra noizettes, courtesy of our best friend in town, the barman who never takes a day off. (Photo 78) I told him the remainder of our itinerary and he rolled his eyes. Most substantial conversation we’d had with him all week. Another bakery stop and Robert had the pink pastry shaped as a pig that he’s been coveting since yesterday, when he had opted for the lemon tart. Turned out to be mostly an eclair with an extravagant covering.

Veronique showed up to run us through her check-out, such as it was. She cut some flowers for Pat from the garden and warned us about the heavy holiday traffic. We left a sunny day in Vaison-la-Romaine, then drove through fog in the vineyards, and eventually found a sunny day as we returned to the coast. The driving was easy, owing mostly to a lack of slow trucks, and we arrived in Carcasonne a little after 1 PM. Lunchtime, and we took Rick’s suggestion to pass through the main gate and find a small square with multiple options for an outdoor meal. We choose one and were then disappointed by extremely slow service. I had a traditional local meal with white beans and sausage, delivered still bubbling hot in a large bowl. Pat and the boys had set menus, and each subsequent course seemed to take ever longer to appear. We wanted to sit and eat after the car ride, but soon we were anxious to get out and see the city.

Carcasonne is an extremely well-preserved example of a walled medieval city. (Photo 83) It was restored some in 1844, but most of it is original. We began by walking the top of the outer wall, eventually being forced down to walk the grassy area between the outer and inner walls. We made a full circuit and returned to the main gate with its faux drawbridge. Then we plunged back inside with all our fellow tourists. The Basillica was an excellent example of Gothic architecture, built on the remnants of a Roman style portion that was partially demolished when France came to power in this region. Both boys were able to answer the architecture question correctly -- Robert noticed the Gothic arches on the windows, while David saw the Roman arch and columns around one of the doors. I enjoyed the interior for a change of pace from Italy, and enjoyed the colorful stained glass on a sunny day.

Since the castle was closed, there was not much else to do inside the city, and it was crowded, so we called it a day. The boys really had a good time here, as it took little imagination to see how medieval life and battle might be conducted.

The quick route out of the new town of Carcasonne could not be discerned from our maps, one was too big and one was too small. So we opted for the longer, more surefire route. Passed a canal along the back roads and saw our first canal barges. Lots and lots of vineyards -- Robert’s been playfully vocal about how he’s tired of seeing vineyards. For some reason, he doesn’t like the small French villages, either. In the small village of Auiges-Vives, we ended up following a detour (“Deviation”) sign and almost got lost. Fortunately, the road was blocked by an oncoming parade. (Photo 85) We’d been wondering a bit about the high concentration of senior citizens hanging out on the street corners. I whipped into a side street and found a parking spot and we hopped out. Small floats were being pulled by farm tractors. The theme appeared to be “Martians,” and several of the floats were full of small children. There was a small ragtag group of musicians. Confetti everywhere, including out the back of one tractor, being spewed high by some sort of rotary farm implement. Then the whole procession came to a halt right by where we parked the car. For a moment, I feared our car would be trapped by Martians for some indeterminate time. However, after a stirring number from the musicians for the collected group of twenty or so senior citizens, they all got rolling again. We hopped in the car, and Robert declared, “That was unexpected!”

We reached Caunes-Minervois directly, but had to hunt around some in town for our B&B. Eventually found l’Ancienne Boulangerie down a very narrow street. We have a large room on the third floor, with a third bed in a loft above the bathroom. The fourth bed is in a small room across the hall, with a private terrace. The ceiling of our room has wooden beams, none of which is straight. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a square corner anywhere in sight.

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Photo 83  Carcasonne Entrance
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Photo 84  Carcasonne Archway

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Photo 85  Aigeus-Vives Parade
For dinner, we headed off to the pizzeria, one of the few locations open. Pat ordered a three cheese pizza, but wanted to swap out the goat cheese (a very strong personal dislike) and replace it with mozzarella. Her request to ax the goat cheese was taken as her saying she didn’t know what it was. So the waiter, with very limited English, tried to explain it to her. And she said, “No!” all the more emphatically. So he tried even harder to explain what it was, working the goat udders with his hands, the whole bit. And so on. Eventually, the vicious circle was broken.

The table next to us was taken later by a Dutch gentleman making his home alone in the nearby mountains for health reasons (bad lungs and there is little pollution here, in addition to good weather). He commented on the white cats that had jumped up into the boys’ laps, using good English, and eventually we had an interesting conversation. Pat suggested it was time to try Armagnac (cognac not from Cognac), and the fellow mentioned a variant made from apples rather than grapes. So we ordered one of each to sample. I preferred the grape and Pat preferred the apple.

Returning home, we chatted more with our hosts, Terry and Lois Link, as Terry’s birthday party broke up. The boys enjoyed petting their mutt dog, Rick (named after Rick Steves perhaps?).