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Catching up in Carcassone

You can't run from grief. I wasn't TRYING to run...but the series of frustrating events in the days immediately following my father's death sort of forced me to keep moving. There was no space nor time for grieving. So now, more than a month later and far from home I find myself overwhelmed with sadness. Fortunately we're winding down our trip and have the ability to slow down a bit here in Nimes. Sweet David is taking good care of us.

Tomorrow morning we head for Paris on the TGV - a fun, fast ride. I'm hoping my spirits will be lifted by a dash of Sainte-Chapelle and a pinch of La Tour Eiffel. To quote Sabrina in the movie of the same name: "Paris is always a good idea."

David has been incredibly thorough in his posts to the private Facebook group, so I'll let him take over from here:

Carcassonne is the largest citadel in Europe, located at the junctures of the medieval east-west and north-south trade routes and along the Canal du Midi linking the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. And being a medieval citadel, we all know what that means for its location: uphill. Fortunately, getting there was the only uphill part. Once we arrived at the drawbridge – where we were greeted by a statue of the town’s namesake, Lady Carcas – things were (relatively) level. One thing, though: the Cité is occupied by some 200+ residents who operate many of the shops and restaurants and hotels, so there is automobile traffic at times. Sometimes that in itself is part of the entertainment, as cars navigate through tourists, winding streets, and turns that were intended for pedestrians and not Renaults.

The Cité itself maintains a pretty authentic patina – it’s not totally Disneyesque, as some tourist towns have become in Europe. In fact, we had to make a return trip to see Église Saint-Nazaire (a former basilica now “downsized” to a church with the shift of the diocese to the cathedral in the lower city) because of a funeral service. We spent much of our time in the citadel walking the back way (thank you Rick Steves for telling folks to make that hard left after crossing the drawbridge) around the ramparts and admiring the incredible views from various vantage points. Oh, and wonder of wonders, I actually found some cotton shirts that fit (although they will fit a bit better if I drop another 5 lbs.)

For a nice intro to the history of Carcassonne and its strategic importance up to the 18th Century, click HERE.

On day two we made our way around the Bastide Saint Louis in the lower city. Built in the mid-14th Century, the walls that once surrounded the bastide are now broad boulevards. The Porte des Jacobins is the only remaining entrance gate. Passing through the Jacobins Gate put us on a narrow lane with thousands of colorful umbrellas suspended from wires. Their significance? We never found out. The handful of locals we asked just sort of shrugged their shoulders. Maybe it was an art project (like the yellow concentric circles painted on the Chateau Comtal and citadel walls of the Cité), or maybe they couldn’t tell us unless we gave them the secret handshake. The puzzle remains, but it was quite colorful.

The bastide is laid out in a grid, and at the center is the Place Carnot and its beautiful Fountain of Neptune, erected in 1770. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays there is a market in the plaza, and naturally we were there on a Wednesday. That seemed to be our luck in most of the bastide, as the churches and cathedral were closed as well. Outside of the Cathédrale Saint-Michel, on the opposite side of the plaza, is Carcassonne’s memorial to its war dead from the two world wars of the 20th Century. There is a soberly striking message in the memorial: 20 panels are dedicated to World War I with 42 names each, for a total of 840 names. World War II is three panels with 42 names each, for a total of 126 names. The disparity is a sobering reminder that towns such as Carcassonne lost virtually an entire generation of young men in The Great War. More on La Bastide Saint Louis can be found HERE.

Day three and back to the Cité for a visit to Saint-Nazaire before departing for Nîmes shortly after lunch. We began to worry a bit as we went up the hill because we seemed to be the only ones. Today luck was with us – the church was open. And as is often noted on social media, OMG! A beautiful church, gorgeous stained-glass windows and a beautiful chancel. We soon found out that it – like many other cathedrals – has wonderful acoustics. A quartet of Russian singers performed a cappella, singing Russian folk songs as well as sacred music from the 16th century. We noticed that they performed throughout the morning for tour groups as they came in, and they had CDs of their music available to sell. They obviously have a arrangement with the tour guides and the church, but it is a beneficial arrangement for everyone, including the tourists. C’est magnifique!

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