Carcasonne’s Medieval Treasure

Carcassonne, a hilltop town in southern France’s Languedoc area, is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, which has numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman times, with major additions made in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Carcasonne is an easy 90-minutes east of Toulouse

We had an easy drive to Carcasonne, which loomed dramatically above us as we approached. We installed ourselves in our Airbnb rental and walked to the nearest restaurant for lunch. Which turned put to be a real jewel: tables in a large shaded garden, with a modest number of customers and friendly waiters.

L’Os ou l’arete cassoulet was outstanding

Everything was perfect! The food was memorable, the service friendly, and our hours-long lunch languid and relaxed. I had the regional specialty, cassoulet, which features white beans, duck, and sausage, roasted for hours. Incredibly tasty, and paired well with a local pilsner. We spent the rest of the day and evening in a virtual food coma and spent the time doing laundry and taking care of business online.

Castle and ramparts loom above us

As it happens, a set of very steep stairs at the end of our street leads up to paths that ascend to Carcasonne’s walled city and we managed the climb without too much effort. We took a self-guided tour through the castle and all long the city’s ramparts, which was fascinating. The Middle Ages were brutal and defense was paramount, as reflected in the many fortifications. It was a work-out, too, as we ascended and descended many steps, circular stairs, and changing levels.

Carcassonne became famous for its role in the crusades when the city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of the Papal legate, abbot Arnaud Amalric, forced its citizens to surrender. The people of Carcassonne were allowed to leave—in effect, expelled from their city with nothing more than the shirt on their backs. What a horrible fate.

Vegetable soup starter

Our fate after leaving the castle, of course, was much better and we suffered no privations, as the rest of the walled city is packed with modern tourist shops and restaurants. We were lucky to have escaped our touristic compulsions lightly, emerging with just half a dozen postcards. It’s a Saturday but crowds were light, which was a very good thing; I can imagine a crowded, hot, summer day here would be stifling. We ate a marvelous lunch at a place called Le Saint-Jean, in an outdoor area adjacent to the castle. The local Ortola wine perfectly complimented our meals.

My comrades are out foraging for tomorrow’s breakfast, after which we head for Nimes and its remarkable Roman ruins. Thanks for coming along!

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Vineyards and Toulouse

Today, we’re in Toulouse, the capital of France’s southern Occitanie region, which is bisected by the Garonne River and sits near the Spanish border. It’s known as La Ville Rose (“The Pink City”) due to the terra-cotta bricks used in many of its buildings.

We stopped at two vineyards along the way from Bordeaux, by appointment, for tours and tastings. It was fun to learn about the vineyards, to taste their wines, and of course to buy a few bottles.

At Chateau de Gensac
Enormous barrels at Chateau Caze

In between, we had lunch at a fabulous restaurant we’d never have found in a million years but for a vineyard owner’s recommended.

Fine outdoor dining at Chez Vous, in tiny St. Puy

In Toulouse, we’re staying in an Airbnb, just south of the river. Inner-city traffic is really congested and it took us quite a while to get to our place.

Our day in Toulouse included visits to the Capitole plaza, the Basillica of St. Sernin, and the Victor Hugo Market, punctuated with a great outdoor lunch. We used the subway system, which was easy to navigate, fast, and convenient.

St. Sernin’s claims to be the burial place of St. James (disputed by competing claim from Santiago, Spain) and five other apostles!

We ended our day with a superb Moroccan dinner at La Marocain.

Couscous and other treats at La Marocain

Tomorrow, we’re off to Carcasonne.

In Lovely Bordeaux

We spent a nice day walking around Bordeaux, seeing its architectural high points, and touring the Museum de Aquitaine. The museum has a great collection devoted to pre-historic man, with artifacts that go back 25,000 – 30,000 years, which is of particular interest to our traveling companions.

Porte Cailhau gate

At the medieval Porte Cailhau city gate, we encountered a large brass plaque that references St. James, patron saint of the Camino de Santiago, of particular interest to me:

Traditional pilgrim routes went through Bordeaux

Our passe sanitaires have worked smoothly whenever they’ve been required and we generally feel quite safe in public indoor spaces, knowing others around us are vaccinated.

In case your French geography needs a refresher

We’re traveling in a leased, diesel Peugot 3008 SUV and France has plenty of nice, high-speed toll roads. The navigation system in the car has been spotty at times though, so we’ve had to do some Google Map verifications and a u-turn now and then. But it’s all been good.

Tomorrow, we head southeast to Toulouse.

Gaming the Coffee Machine

We’re in Bordeaux, on the second day of our drive-and-dine roadtrip through southern France.

Our hotel has a lovely buffet breakfast laid out and I’m finding myself very entertained by my fellow guests as they do what’s necessary to get themselves their morning coffee. The ”coffee machine” looks like this:

Espresso, coffee, latte, cafe creme, americano, and hot chocolate

The machine is pretty simple to use: put a cup in place and tap the desired picture. This snazzy, single-serve machine will then grind the necessary beans, brew the coffee, and dispense the right amount. So easy!

And yet… Some of guests have noticed that the large, generous cups are not filled all the way, so they figure they can run a second choice into the same cup to top it off.

I can understand thinking you can double up on the caffeine by running an espresso in on top of a regular coffee, for example, but what I don’t get is how badly people seem to estimate how much room is left in the nearly-full cup. Some hilarity ensues.

As the cup fills and overflows, one guy panics and punches multiple buttons to make it stop, without success. Another keeps discreetly tipping some liquid out of his cup into the drain tray until the second cycle ends. And my favorite was a lady who just pretended nothing untoward was happening and walked off with her full-to-the brim cup, leaving a trails of spills through the dining room and the machine dispensing the remaining coffee directly into the drain.

What did they think was going to happen, I wonder?

Me? I drink tea.

Southern France Road Trip

I recovered from mild jet lag quickly and enjoyed being reunited with the New French Girl Friend (NFGF), both of which which involved good French croissants and champagne.

The French are taking COVID restrictions in stride, despite some weekend protests in major cities. The basic deal is that you must have a passe sanitaire, a national vaccination record represented by a QR code, and must have it scanned in order to enter restaurants, bars, the Metro, large event venues, and more.

French folk get their QR code via their national health system when they’re vaccinated. Vaccinated foreigners like me can apply for one online, and the US CDC vaccination is accepted in many places as a substitute. I received QR code a few days after arriving in Paris.

Publically, the French thought the passe sanitaire was an infringement on their freedom (hence the protests) but it turns out that privately they thought it was great to be assured that everyone in the bar, restaurant, etc. with them was vaccinated. So vaccination demand soared when this was put into place and, as of now, 85% of the eligible population here has had one dose, and 78% are fully vaccinated.

Social distancing and the wearing of masks in public spaces indoors is pretty widely practised.

All of which is very reassuring and lays the groundwork for our Southern France Road Trip.

The 2021 Edition is a 10-day driving tour, featuring great wines and wonderful food, starting and finishing in Paris, with stops in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Nimes, and Lyon. We’re traveling with some American friends from San Diego.

Expect some gorgeous food and scenery pictures!

Ahhh, Travel

It’s good to be back on the road again.

I left Dulles airport, near Washington D.C., and flew Air France direct to Paris – Charles de Gaulle. I was asked to present my passport and U.S. CDC vaccination card before being given a boarding pass but otherwise the flight was uneventful. Everyone wore their mask, no one brawled with the stewards, no police were called to the gate. What a commentary on the times were in today!

The view from my seat in the Air France lounge at Dulles

Upon landing at CDG, my two docs were examined again. Not examined: the Passenger Locator form distributed on the plane, nor the French health attestation form I was told to download and complete before the flight. I also took a PCR test 24-hours before departure (negative, of course) but no one wanted to hear about that – it was mostly for my own peace of mind and a hedge against any last-minute flight restriction changes.

Wending my way through Charle de Gaulle airport

Very impressive baggage return system they have at CDG, with lots of status information provided as you stand around and wait. My bag appeared out of the maw of the belt machinery pretty quickly, so I had no need to test my first-time use of an Apple Airtag for luggage tracking.

Had a looonng taxi ride into town, with many jams and lots of rain, so I was glad I opted for the flat fare taxi (€58) instead of an Uber, which with ”surge pricing”, might have been double that.

Great to be back in Paris! Need some coffee and a croissant, and then a shower.