It was a regular, old-fashioned road trip. We drove from Paris to Carcassonne- 7 ½ hour’s south- a relatively short distance from Spain. The snow capped Pyrenees showed themselves for a moment but disappeared. I’m not sure where 280 miles of mountains disappear to- maybe we just stopped looking at them. Kelly was unable to go- midterms but it was my brother and his family from Brussels. My 15-year-old niece discussed boys- a Dutch boy seems to be the newest beau and the fact that she will be able to drink at 16. (The driving age is 18which just makes good sense.) My 9-year-old nephew fell asleep with his head on a soccer ball and his goalie gloves still on.
I read to them the description of the town from the guidebook as we drive. “Carcassonne is where Cinderella lost her slipper, Beauty nursed the Beast, and Jack’s giant lived a happy life until the beanstalk affair…the dream fades fast as you enter the town…thousands of visitor jostling for space…Frances largest tourist trap…”
We all get quiet for a moment- but since we have driven 7 hours at this point- we decide to keep good thoughts.
Carcassonne is a complete medieval fortress town. It was actually reconstructed in the 1840’s. Another guidebook says, “To avoid being disillusioned later on, the visitor should be warned at the beginning that he is looking at the appearance of a great medieval fortress and not, for the most part, the actual stones of one.” I don’t know why the guide books complain about it being reconstructed- it began serving as a fortress for the Romans in 118 B.C. and was held by Barbarians, Gauls, Visigoths, Arabs, Franks etc, until 1659 when is was abandoned. Each new tenant re-constructed the city to suit his own needs. This last remodeling has achieved its goal of tourism- 3 million a year come to see these walls. While the fortress might seem hokey it is, in fact, pretty kick ass. The streets below the city are dismal. One chronology states that in 1353 the “Black Prince” attempted to lay siege to the fortress but was unable to penetrate it- he then completely sacked and burnt the surrounding areas. Apparently no one has tidied up since then.
We got there late in the afternoon and the streets were empty- we were assured the throng of crowed would return in the morning but they did not. In off-season the area is quiet. It was spooky walking through the nearly deserted city- very weird bird noises and feral cats. We ate the traditional dish called cassoulet (white beans, pork,sausage), which was excellent and listened to a Gypsy jazz band.
The following day we continued our exploration until early afternoon when the Brusselsprouts continued on to Barcelona. As I mentioned, Kelly was to come with me so we booked the room for an additional evening. Since she didn’t come I am left here by myself and will take the train back to Paris tomorrow. The town is quiet, it begins to darken early, and the rains start. The only sounds I hear as I walk through the wet streets, my glasses fogged from the mist, is the sound of the shops closing up- their doors slamming. I’m eating dampened burnt Panini. There is no one here- seems like the perfect opportunity to lay siege to the city.