Serendipitous Traveler: Carcassone


Day 5: TGV from Paris to Montpellier

I woke to the sound of the bells of Sainte-Marie Des Batignolles, their enthusiastic tolls coaxing me awake with the persistence of an eager lover.  Any other morning, I would have slipped my legs out from beneath the blankets, raised my arms above my head, and stretched, before hopping out of bed and running to the window to witness Paris bathed in dawn's decadent glow.  I would have opened the window, leaned out over the wrought iron balcony, and strained to catch the last of Sainte-Marie's delightful tolls.

On this particular morning a brutal cold held me within its taloned clutches.  My body was bathed in a feverish perspiration.  My throat felt raw when I swallowed.  I couldn't breath out of my nose or hear out of my left ear. 

I pulled the covers over my head to drown out Sainte-Marie's urgent morning greeting.  Resistance proved futile.  She kept on tolling. Reluctantly, I rolled out of bed, popped a few Vitamin C tablets in my mouth, and began my morning toilette.  I would have preferred to stay in bed, but I had a train to catch.  I was headed to the South of France!

I would like to regale you with riveting Hitchockian-type stories about my train ride from Paris to Montpellier, but it passed rather uneventfully.  I did not meet a mysterious stranger, discover an abandoned suitcase full of stolen jewels, or have a romantic rendezvous in the smoke-filled dining car. 

I took my seat in the Zen car, popped a few DayQuil, quaffed some Orange Juice, read Andy Cohen's hysterical biography Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Line of Pop Culture, and napped.  (I know.  I know.  I can almost hear you gasping, Dear Reader.  You are shocked by my less-than-cerebral choice of reading material, but a fun-loving, free-traveling girl can't survive on Hemingway alone).

Three and a half hours later, Stéphanie and I arrived in the heart of Montpellier.  A trek avec massive luggage through the cobblestone streets and a brief tram ride and we found ourselves at her mother's home in Jouvignac.  We shared a delightful meal on the terrace - steak, pan fried gnocchi, and succulent summer carrots glazed in butter - before I sought the soothing comforts of my bed.  I slept with the french doors open, the balmy breeze blowing over my feverish body, and the light of a silvery moon bathing the chamber in a quicksilver wash.

Day 6:  Carcassone

Carcassone by Leah Marie Brown
Years ago, I compiled a list of one hundred places I wanted to visit before I died.  Carcassone, a fortified town located in the South of France, was very near the top of my list.  It's militaristic history and fairytale turrets and ramparts appealed to my romantic nature. 

Stephanie maneuvered our little rented Fiat through the snakelike turns in the road leading to Carcassone with ease and a bit of dare.  We zipped through medieval towns and over sun-dappled hills lined with vineyards.  Finally, we came to the crest of a hill and Carcassone, in all of her magnificent medieval glory, shimmered like a mirage in the distance.

Here I am, standing in a vineyard
just outside Carcassone's walls.
Photo by Stephanie Mounts
We pulled off the road and walked among the vines, marveling at the plump purple grapes ripening before our eyes.  The sun was hot on our skin, the scent of the soil strong in our noses.  Life seemed abundant in that corner of France.  I looked at Carcassone - that fairytale castle of my dreams - and realized I was living another blessed, perfect travel moment.

Still, the citadel itself failed to impress me as I had hoped it would.  Walking atop the ramparts, I didn't feel the supernatural vibrations I have felt at other ancient sites - that hum that seems to move through my body when I feel deeply connected to a place. 

Carcassone was lovely but too commercial for my liking - with a Disneyland-esque quality that prevented me from truly appreciating its historical significance.  The myriad of shops hawking tacky souvenirs just didn't fit in with my vision of a medieval town.  The stores selling plastic swords and shields reminded me a schlocky Renaissance Faire.  I half expected to turn a corner and find a grizzle bearded man in a soiled tunic gnawing on a turkey leg.

Though Carcassone failed to live up to my fantastic imaginings, it would hardly qualify as a disappointment.

Planning a trip to Carcassone?  Be sure to read my Travel Tips posted after the photos.

She Made Me Do It!
I think it was Stephanie's idea for me
to pose as if I were devouring the
grapes on the vine.  Surely I would
not have thought to pose in such
an outlandish way!
Photo by Stephanie Mounts

Grapes by Leah Marie Brown

The Green and the Red by Leah Marie Brown
I didn't know green and red grapes could grow on
the same vine, did you?

Turning Leaf by Leah Marie Brown
The first signs of Autumn appear in this vineyard

All Mine!
Posing with my arms outstretched
before a castle, palace or manor
home has become one of my
travel traditions.
Photo by Stephanie Mounts
(The fab and handy Coach clutch was
a gift from my friend, Megan Whitney)

The old walls of the Citadel

Good Knight by Leah Marie Brown
This beautiful statue of a knight
was once part of a tomb.

Fire! by Leah Marie Brown
These medieval cannon balls
(called stone missiles) are on display
at Musee Lapidaire in Carcassone

The Scream by Leah Marie Brown
I confess to having a bit of a morbid fascination with
gargoyles.  This one, screaming as if in the throes of
agony, is one of my favorites.  Basilica Saint Nazaire,
Carcassone, France

Rustic Wall by Leah Marie Brown
This rustic wall, with ancient stones
peeking through the broken plaster,
is typical of the region.

Little Town by Leah Marie Brown

Déjeuner by Leah Marie Brown
I caught these Carcassonians
eating lunch in a private couryard.
I love the bored expression of the
woman at the head of the table.

Bliss by Leah Marie Brown
This gentleman sat in the sun at an outdoor cafe,
alternately puffing on his cigar and supping a glass of
wine.  I loved the way he kept throwing his head back
to exhale, as if filled with bliss.

Travel tips:
  • While touring the chateau, be sure to watch the movie and spend the extra money to rent the audio guide.
  • Plan on spending at least $12 for two hours parking in the little lot just outside the main entrance.
  • Avoid eating in the outdoor cafes and opt for a good meal in one of the finer restaurants closer to the Basilica Sainte-Nazaire.
  • Got a sweet tooth? Be sure to visit Real Chocolat on 2 rue Saint Louis. The owner is charming and offers many free samples. Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Milk Chocolate with Salted Caramel were particularly good.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as the streets in La Cite are made of uneven pavers.
  • Be sure to visit the cemetery located to the right of the main entrance. There are many war heroes buried there. Some of the names are unusual too!
Up Next:  Aigues-Mortes and the Salt Marshes


Wine and Cork said...

You have no idea how much I have enjoyed reading these, thank you so much for all your hard work! Your photos have all turned out beautifully!

Anonymous said...

You could describe a hovel and make it sound appealing. I would love to travel with you through Europe. Your sense of humor and romantic ideas must be enjoyable travel companions.