Chapter Thirteen – Medieval Cité de Carcassonne

Chapter Thirteen – Medieval Cité de Carcassonne

Day Thirteen – Beating The Crowds, Did She Really Throw A Pig, Yep…More Ramparts, Where’s Hugh, The Russians Are Coming, Morning Cassoulet/Wine Tasting Event, Not Ducky, Where’s That Church?, Picture Perfect, Pézenas Stroll, Napa Sellers and Dinner Deconstructed

Yesterday we headed east.  Today it was “Go West Old Man,” to the even older (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) town of Carcassonne.  It was our grayest day so far as we left Pézenas.

                     

After parking, we walked the short distance to the medieval Cité de Carcassonne entrance (filling up with tourists early) and realized Donald Trump had already beaten us here, because it is surrounded by a great, big wall…and he made Charlemagne pay for it!

The epic medieval poem Chansons de Geste tells quite the tale of how the town received its name. “During a siege by Charlemagne, the populace of the city was starving and near surrender until a local noblewoman, Dame Carcas, reputedly gathered up the last of their wheat, stuffed it into the last remaining pig and threw the animal over the ramparts (cue Monty Python). The pig’s stomach burst open, scattering the wheat (not sure if that’s where the phrase “pig out” started). Dame Carcas then ordered the trumpets sounded and cried out, “Carcas sonne!” (Carcas is calling!).”

Old Charlemagne (who really would have only been 17 were the story true) called it a day and called off the siege because he felt there was clearly so much grain in Carcassonne that even the pigs were gorging themselves on it.  One of many problems with the story…Dame Carcas was the widow of a Saracen king and since she was a Muslim, she probably wouldn’t have had a pig to throw in the first place.

The true origin of the name comes from the Occitan (which I thought was a skin care product) words “carrac” (rock) and “sonne” (wood).

Just as we were about to enter we viewed the bust of Dame Carcas (I’m not going there).

Fortunately for us, there was no pig throwing, and we paid the €8.50 fee to tour the Château Comtal de Carcassonne, the well-preserved medieval Cathar castle.  The audioguide cost an additional €3.

Of course, there’s nothing like good walk on some ramparts for us, although these were pretty good.  Had they been awful, rest assured Tracy would have given the ramparts a red glare.  On a clear day, there are great views of the Pyrénées.

We mostly saw roofs and a cathedral, but the views weren’t bad.

In a sadistic moment, Tracy felt it necessary to snap a couple of wonderful photos of “Frankenstein” making his way down some steps. Hey, is that woman behind me laughing at moi?

                                                                  

Contrary to reports, there is no proof that at this spot I yelled out, “I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”

                                                
I would not bother with purchasing the audioguide because each room of the castle is fairly well marked.

                                      

We walked through various rooms with historical artifacts.

Total time spent here was probably about an hour.

                                            After touring the castle, Tracy and I headed down to rue St. Louis, passing a cute restaurant courtyard, toward the Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse (Cathedral St Nazaire).

On the way, we ran into some guys wearing red robes, although none of them were named Hugh Hefner.  They invited us to a wine and cassoulet tasting that was just starting, and we told him we’d be back (free food, free wine, guys dressed in robes…what’s not to like?).

At the entrance of the Cathedral St Nazaire we heard singing. Someone entering said, “It’s Russians.” I replied, “You’re Putin me on.”

By the lack of response, I assumed Russian puns did not go over well in France.

Inside the Russians sang well. It was so heartfelt it was as if it were coming from Russia…with love.  Tracy and I scouted out the interior afterward…

                                                      

…including some beautiful stained glass windows (church was very dark)…

                                                   

…but since it was now after 11 a.m., we felt we should go to the wine and cassoulet tasting and chat with the guys in the robes.

                                  

“Maybe we’ll meet Robespierre,” Tracy said.  I married well!

We entered the food and wine fest.

It was crowded and the guys in the robes were working hard.

We spent about 20 minutes consuming wine and cassoulet…

                           

…before walking around until we could have a lunch of more wine and cassoulet.  Life is tough.

                                             

There were some colorful shops on our “looking for food route.”

                                              

Since we were on the “Route de Cassoulet”

…Tracy thought this might be a good place to have it. We looked for the “official participating” restaurant signs and chose one.

Well, the cassoulet was big, that’s for sure, but Tracy said it was not all that good.

                                                                     

On the other hand, I was quite content with my pasta in a tomato basil sauce.

We spent a little more time meandering through town, but we could see the town was rapidly becoming congested with those damned tourists (oh that’s right, so are we).

I decided not to purchase stocks from this lady.

Carcassonne seems to get mixed reviews from those who visit.

Before leaving for France we were told everything from “It’s great” to “Don’t bother.” Upon further review, we enjoyed Carcassonne.

                      

Not only was it historical, but is was fun, plus how can you not enjoy a town offering free wine in the morning.

A little before 1 p.m., as we headed back to Pézenas, I saw a sign for Béziers and decided to take the slight detour to stop by a church I had read about, Église de la Madeleine.  Our GPS decided to take a break in Béziers, because she would not have anything to do with helping us to find it. I finally parked in a spot that I thought might be nearby.  I was wrong, but we did walk around town for a little little bit…

                                                         

…witnessing some interesting architecture (and statues) along the way.

                                            

Undaunted, I was going to find that church…hell (sorry) or high water…I went old-school and followed the signs. So that’s how we got around before?   Finally, before us stood the mighty Église de la Madeleine, which, according to my “almost” never incorrect notes, should have opened at 2.

                                                       

Looking closer, my notes also read that on Saturday and Sunday it was only open from 10 until noon (and today was Saturday).

                                 

The day had suddenly turned rather warm and humid, and though there were a couple of other churches in town I had wanted to see, after a fruitless attempt to find one, we made the decision to head back to Pézenas, but not before one last quest.

If I wasn’t going to see the inside of a church, I wanted to see the exterior of one from a particular vantage point. Before leaving for France, I had seen a picture of a stone bridge (Le Pont Vieux) over the River Orb with the Gothic Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire sitting on a hill in the background. Reminiscent of our 47-minute quest to find some famous stairs in Perugia, Italy (story here) in 2005,  I was obsessed with finding the spot to take the photo.

By sheer deductive powers we headed toward the river and, voila, after nearly being run over jaywalking across a busy street, I took the photo, and we were on our way home.

In Pézenas, we stopped at the local grocery store. I wish we had one like this where we lived…and the wine prices were great.

Back at our residence, Tracy was napping before I could say, “Would you like to walk around town?” which is what I did while she slept.

                                                 

I made a quick stop at the Théâtre de Pézenas to see if a Molière (more on him next chapter) play was on stage…

                                  

…before walking down some of its charming streets with its stores ready to sell me its wares.  Unfortunately for them, Tracy was napping.

My next stop was Hôtel de Lacoste, a hôtel particulier, which if you remember has nothing to do with hotels. This and other hôtel particuliers are grand townhouses (without the HOA fees).  It was constructed in the 16th century.  I walked through the building, which also houses an art gallery.

                                                 

It has a beautiful 17th-century carved stone staircase.

                                                                    

Next, I received my church fix at the Église Collégiale Saint-Jean, originally built in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 18th century, including the bell tower that collapsed in 1733.

There were some very lovely paintings and stained glass windows…

                                                     

…along with the requisite organ commissioned by the mayor and the consuls of the city in 1756.

                                                          

There had been a slight rain while I was inside, but when I exited a rainbow appeared.

                                                       

I continued on.

                                                    

I came upon a fountain with the Statue of Marianne. Marianne is the symbol of the revolution along with being a great Four Seasons’ song.

“Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.”   The statue of Marianne has the flag of France in one hand and bolt of lighting in her right hand signifying human rights and the Chargers imminent move to Los Angeles. I recognized this as the statue I drove around aimlessly each time I entered town going in the wrong direction.

Back at the hotel, Babette told me she had arranged a little get together in her beautiful breakfast room with her frequent guests, who happened to be from Napa and in the wine business. She asked if we would like to join them for wine and hors d’oeuvres.  Being a frequent connoisseur of free wine, I said, “Oui.”

As we sat downstairs, the wine experts (and they were) asked about our trip and wine experiences. I told them we preferred the heavier Languedoc wines to the famed Burgundy variety. I had not been overly impressed with those wines. When I asked them their favorite wine, of course, they stated Burgundian wines were their wines of choice. I will try more in the future (sorry, I’m a Zinfandel guy).

With no reservations for this evening and walking by Le Pré St. Jean, we looked inside and saw the restaurant was completely empty, except for  one table. After being seated by the waiter, as we perused our menu, the manager came over and stated (in a not so friendly manner) the restaurant was completely full for the evening. Yes, I had showered! A little dumbfounded, we departed Le Pré St. Jean and its invisible patrons to search for another dining spot.

As it turned out, Les Palmiers was much more welcoming, and we were seated in an open-air dining room. Fortunately the rain had subsided completely.

Tracy and I both ordered a very good faux filet de veau. Since it translates to “false veal fillet,” I had no idea whether to be remorseful or not about eating this meat (or was it meat).  The accompanying potato dish was incredible.  How many ways can I love potatoes…let me count the ways.

My dessert, croustade aux pommes, was delicious.

Although I’m not usually a fan of deconstructed dishes (they’re mostly like Oliver Cromwell came in and destroyed them), the “deconstructed” tarte citron with an ice cream of unknown origin was one of the better dishes of the trip.  Tracy let me have a couple of bites, but that’s all.

We only had one day left in this neck of the world, so tomorrow we’d take it easy and explore some cute little towns dotting the countryside…

…because on the following day we’d take the train to Paris (where relaxation is not an option) for our final (yes, we’re getting near the end) four days,

Next: Day Fourteen: Wine Wine And More Wine, Taking A Sunday Drive, Sensational Scenery, Are We At The Marigold Hotel, Chateau Of Disrepair, Rekindling The Memory Of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, Stockholm Syndrome, Brits Galore and We’re Ready For The Big City

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