miercuri, 23 mai 2018

Somewhere in France, in the spring of 2018

For the sake of variation, I thought to have another post in English. So here I am are and here you are. Now that we're all here, let us proceed with due haste.

Knowing that a bank holiday is fast approaching and having spoken at length about Pays Cathare with senor Charles Married (hint: that is his translated Spanish name), I have set my vacation seeking eyes over the south of France.

Knowing that an endeavor of this magnitude is best undertaken with friends I have gathered a mighty army - formed of Andrei and Paul - and set upon the road on the day of our Lord, the third Saturday of May.

Knowing that trip is as important as the destination, we stopped at Vic, a nice little town, due north of our brave city of Barcelona. Everywhere you turned, it was obvious Saturday is a market day.
The parking lot was bustling with cars by the time we left, the streets around the modestly spread old city center thronged with tourists and hawkers. In the middle of the center (ha!), in what normally would have been just an ordinary square, a wide sea of blue and white awnings was covering an equally vast number of stalls. In between them, a battalion of grannies and grandpas was peeking at the heaps of cheap merchandise, admiring here, deriding there, adding to the din.

Knowing we've only covered a small part of the market we left convinced that you could probably buy anything from there and then some.

Knowing you wouldn't want to be bothered with the minute details of it, it'll suffice to say that around 3 we arrived in Carcassonne, to find our hotel's reception closed for lunch.
Following the example of our hosts, we set upon finding sustenance of our own, descending with hunger upon the city and delaying our check-in.

As good places were closing down around 3 (a common practice in France from what I've seen), we stopped at one of the poorer ones. Poor does not mean cheap tho.

We've spent the rest of the day exploring Carcassonne, a huge (by medieval and modern standards) fortified town that we have set as our base of explorations.

The next day we probed as much as we could of the Hautes-Corbieres, which wasn't really that much as at best we've seen only 3% of what the area has to offer.

On Monday we set back home, taking a different route through the Pyrenees's epic scenery, most of which I don't have pictures of as I was driving.

 Market stalls in Vic
 Paul bought some cheese from a stall. And a 1 Euro knife to cut it with from the ring-street market. We forgot to taste the cheese.
 Surprisingly, not David Duchovny! The lady was kind enough to offer us a deliciously warm and extremely creamy cocoa and some local pastry. She spoke with the lads in Catalan. I understood nothing but I waved and thanked in Spanish for the treat
 A local shop selling a thing that looked a lot like Sibiu Salami 
 Whoa, we got in Carcassonne! The hunt for food commences.  
 Would've liked to see how it used to look back in the day, bustling with activity
 Some freshly installed art. Very close to the point where the circles seemed perfectly concentric. Everybody was jostling and waiting their turn to take a pic from that angle as it was at the top of a narrow set of stairs.
 Almost there.
We debated at length how this art feat might have been accomplished.
  Through the looking battlement (got the pun?). In the distance, the steeple of a big old church.
 Some view from up there, I reckon 
 I have the audacity to think this is a very good composition
 As is this
 We spent quite a good deal of time on those benches as we were waiting for Andrei's knees to mend. 
 All of a sudden this strange fellow jumped from underneath the bench where I was slouching, interrupting my day dreaming and proceeding to acquaint himself with Andrei, in obvious search for crumbs
 One look back in time. 1900 autumn? 
 The Citadel inside the Fortress  
 Just when you thought you conquered the town, you had this bad boy to deal with
 Awesome details on an awesome house
 Attacking this place wasn't easy. Hundreds of sieges have been fought before my dreamy eyes. 
 Sa-mi bag!
 Nothing has changed here
 His shot is my shot
 Sadly, not all areas were accessible to the public. Much like that stairwell I would have gladly explored. 
 A square festooned with coquette little restaurants. I wonder if this used to be a market 500 years ago.
 At first glance, only the traffic light betrays the century. Certainly not the badly cropped solar clock in the top right of the pic. 
 Sunset on the ramparts, imagining the layout of the old city sprawling underneath. Some the present day houses look a lot like they did a couple hundred years ago. 
 Casolette. Duck shank and a full delicious sausage hiding among beans, baked in the oven. 90% the taste of home. Minus the duck shank that we sadly lack. 
 View from the back of our accommodation as it commanded a better view compared to the front. 
 First stop of the day, the castle keep at Arques. Up to here the hills were gently swaying under my Princess, but then we started climbing. 
 Long portions with no telephone signal or a second lane. The cars were sparse and the scenery tranquil. Enough for me to stop and take the odd shot.  
 We got to Peyrepertuse and its free belvedere. After this point, if you wanted to visit the rest of the hill and its castle for better views, you had to pay 7 euros. Some of the best spent money ever.
 Even the free view was breathtaking and worth the visit. The last hundreds of meters have very sharp turns and steep angles. God bless Princess's automatic gearbox.  
 The climb ain't easy, especially if you are old, suffering of bad knees or both. All 3 test cases were well represented on the mountain.
 We got in!
 And set to exploring. The fortress has been built in stages, through the years. 
 Lots of little flowers everywhere and set in all colours of the rainbow. Ok, maybe only 5-6 colours, but still a lot, ok?
 Some of the buildings where completely gone, with only a foundation left to show where they once stood. 
 The steps of Saint This or That, connecting the lower fort to the higher one. The climb is quite steep and allows great views of the surrounding hills.
 And we made it to the very top! In the middle of the background, the castle of Queribus proudly stands. Just zoom in.
 The Pyrenees's snow can be seen to the right. Andrei and Paul even more to the right.
 The lower part of the stronghold seems so far away
 As rain was threatening, we left the peak of the mountain and had lunch at one of the restaurants found at the bottom of the climb. Vastly reinvigorated we drove off towards the small town of Villerouge-Termenès, whose quaint houses surround a similarly small castle 
 All very picturesque, I can assure you
 I might of mentioned my passion for castles, fortresses, fortification walls, towers, battlements and such. 
 Made me wonder how old might these houses be
One of the two small restaurants we've encountered. Behind it, a pair of grandpas was playing petanque with their niece. 
 Ok, I promise this is the last one from here
 Ok, so maybe I lied. This is one of the streets that ran behind the castle. Loved the atmosphere of this town, despite the gloomy weather and the odd drop of rain
 From there we had only one more stop before heading home. Although we've left the hotel around 9:30 in the morning, we haven't seen many of the 9 items I had on my short-list (only checked 3 of them), and it was already turning dark. 
 I am not even sure how this place was called. Lovely nevertheless 
 A bit of exploring while Andrei was waiting in the car, nursing his knees. 
I didn't even post pics of all epic scenery we've seen in between destinations. It reminded me a lot of the Transylvanian countryside 
 On Monday we headed back to Barcelona, taking a different route and keeping close to the border of Andorra. Lucky for us, the road took us through Foix, a city I would have loved to visit the day before, should we have had sufficient time. 
 The citadel stood on the highest point, as it is customary. Walking towards it we admired the stone houses lodged in the side of the rock wall
 From here on, you had to pay to visit the citadel proper. As Andrei was waiting at the car, we didn't bother to pay the 7 euro required to access it.
 One more peek before heading back to the car
 Damn metal scaffolds, ruining my perfectly medieval shot 
 I was badly in need of a break. We ended up going through a 5 km long tunnel to emerge on the other side of the mountains, in Spain. Still feeling like in Transylvania, but one that would have been administrated by Austrians after WW1 
 Stopping again, god knows where. Somewhere along the road we passed through Tarascon, but a different one from the stories of Tartarin
The Misty Mountains. That's where we came from. Until next time!

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