Sunday, 4 August 2013

Cité of Carcassonne...

Driving up from Spain in to France was quite a pivotal point in the trip. It signified the point in which we were no longer moving away from England, but were traveling back. Not immediately... but definately in that direction.

It also got pretty glum. We pulled in to a deserted ski resort in the Pyrenees. The place was beautiful, with a large lake in the bottom of the valley and huge mountains stretching for miles. On the road up we even went above the height we worked at in Sainte Foy, reaching 1800m.

Narbonne Gate of Carcassonne
We spoke with people from another van that pulled in. A large English motorhome that was only 2 years old. The owners kindly gave us a tour after we mentioned we were considering swapping the Blue Smurf for something a little more 'purpose built' with insulation, heating, running water, the basics to live. Quite whether their tour will do any good is another question. I doubt our budget could stretch to aa brand new van!

Entering through the draw bridge
Its also the first time I've worn a hoody since snowboarding :(

I read the leaflets we had been unconsciously hoarding whilst we drove down through the South of France and decided a bit of culture was in store for on the way up. Carcassonne is a large medieval settlement, strategically placed on the old Spanish/French border.

When we arrived it was all a bit crazy. There were cars and coaches and buses everywhere. But we fought our way through the crowds in search of the local Aire. When we eventually found it, on the edge on the main city, we parked up and wandered in to town. The first thing that you meet is the Narbonne Gate which is one of only 2 ways of getting in through the double layered, fortified walls that surround the city. Its very impressive and walking through the still operable draw gate system really brings home how much people didn't want other people coming in!

A few inquiries with the tourism office shed some light on the massive concert stage that was being erected next to the Aire. Carcassonne was to hold a festival of sorts, but a music festival, dotted around the city itself, outside on this massive stage and down in the more modern Ville Basse where the majority of the cities population lives. So it turns out we are camped right next to the largest stage! ALOT of classical was scheduled for most of the stages. It's a fitting place too, historical, architectural, and with a lot of old people walking around! But then we found a poster advertising the acts for the main stage. David Guetta was playing a set on the Friday night, and who were we to turn down a free dance to some electronic music?

Medieval streets inside the walls 
So it was set. We would take a few days to indulge in the history of Carcassonne, see the sights, taste the tastes... and then finish it all off with a bit of a party on Friday night. All in time for a trip to meet my Dad ... Somewhere. Quite where that was was undecided. The Dordogne... French Riviera... or even back down in Spain! It's kind of the way when my Dad takes a trip. When asked what he wanted he said "Sun and Son".

We got a guide book and did every walk, tour, experience going in Carcassonne. It's quite bizarre just how much the numerous different collections of people who lived there appeared to not like people. Even their own! The castle inside the walls is protected not only from the outside with the two huge walls, but also from the citizens inside by a system of moats, bridges and defendable embankments. Each wall is approximately 4 foot thick or thicker and separated by a road which circumnavigates the city. Inside the second wall and you are transported back in time. It appears nothing here has changed since... who knows when?!

There is a large Basilica, similar to the one we saw on Montserrat, but smaller and more ornate. Plenty of traditional Aude-Languedoc style restaurants to eat at and even a Michelin starred restaurant in a very posh looking hotel. I daren't think what a room cost to rent as the dinners were upwards of 180 Euro!

The main attraction is the castle, which is free for people under the age of 26. Inside tells the story and function of each different area and the numerous defense mechanisms built in to the design. A film showed the history of the cite and how it had been built upon over and over. A quick walk around the top of the inside most wall confirmed that. Everywhere you could see the different periods jumping out at you. From roman building techniques at the bottom, small stones laid sideways with the occasional red line of 'topping stones', to the more modern conservational buildings with bigger sandstone blocks.

View of inside the walls from on the walls
 We were treated to 2 evenings of music back at the van. One was an N-Dubz-esque rap group who's main slogan (that I understood) was Toute la Monde, toute la monde, toute la monde over and over and over again. (it means 'everyone' in a round about way. (Literally meaning 'all the world')) To be honest it was dire. But we met a cool French couple, Sandrine and Phillipe, who gave us some whiskey in exchange for wine and we partied on the bank of the vineyard next to the concert and our van.

Our perch for David Guetta's concert
A couple of nights later and we were all back up on the bank, partying to their legendary David Guetta. I'm not a massive fan but have seen him before at Creamfields and the set was amazing. This time around, however, wasn't as impressive. We danced and met Sandrine and Phillipe again with more of their friends.

Just as the music was winding down and everyone was leaving we noticed that the barriers on the Aire had been raised and were letting people come and go willy nilly.

This we saw as our chance. We'd been in the Aire for atleast 4 days now and at 1 Euro an hour had wracked up quite a big bill. So we took our chance and joined the crowds of cars leaving the parking area thinking we would just find a lay-by just outside and hit the road proper tomorrow. There was no lay-by and we ended up driving a few miles away from the city. Kerry picked another Aire from the book and we drove the 10 miles or so in the pitch black at 2am overshooting the aire on a small country lane. Then came the accident.

As I was completing my 3 point turn in the road to get back to the aire I reversed ever so slightly too far and our rear wheel just plopped off the edge of the road. Just enough for our front wheels to not have adequate weight on them to get traction.

A couple of hours and a few phone calls later and we were being towed out of the embarrassingly small ditch that our rear wheels were in. The money we saved escaping the aire was definately cancelled out by the tow truck charge... Karma.

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