Friday, 24 January 2014

Carcassonne

                                 
 
So it's Friday once again, and once again I set out to torture people with my holiday photos. This time from the medieval French city of Carcassonne. (Yes, the one they named the board game after.)  We went on this trip with Second Wife in the summer, in a scorching long weekend in July. Why did I choose to blog about this particular trip right now? Well, for the very sound reason that there was a folder of pictures from it sitting on my desktop - and writing about any other trip we'd been on would've required looking for the camera cable. So Carcassonne it is!

 

We flew into Toulouse, where we stayed in a hotel - and can I just say really quickly, if you ever go to France, Toulouse is not exactly somewhere I'd recommend with all my heart. It's kind of nasty to be honest. But we were planning on using Toulouse as our base for a couple of road trips anyway, so we didn't end up spending too much time there. This is the first close-up view of the Old Town of Carcassonne, from where Victor parked our rental car.


Is this place straight out of Game of Thrones, or what? It wouldn't surprise me if they use this for one of their locations later on in the series... I've always loved going to medieval castles, but visiting Carcassonne is something I've dreamed of since I was a child - because, and this is where it gets embarrassing - my parents went there, back when they were young and crazy, and hung a huge poster of the city up in our house. In our toilet, to be more precise. So you know, you'd always have something nice to look at while you were doing your business. And that's why I always wondered what it would be like to actually go there. 


Here's the obligatory couple photo outside the castle of my childhood bathroom dreams! Hm, now there's a sentence. It was so warm that there was no way I could stand to wear my hair down, and in fact I brought a spare T-shirt with me to change into later that day. I couldn't even wear my necklace because the metal burned my skin! What can I say, I'm Norwegian and much as I love the heat, I don't deal with it very well. Victor, on the other hand, was in the full throes of hay-fever season. More on that later...


How awesome is this enormous gatekeeper lady? She was positioned right over the drawbridge of the dry moat. Which, incidentally, was never filled with water. Having to clamber over a great big ditch makes it difficult enough to conquer someone's castle town, without having to waste precious water.
But this lady, she kind of looks like a mother-in-law from hell, eh? And from this angle, doesn't it look like she's got one hand on her hip? Or is that just me?


Like I said, it was hayfever season. So here, have a picture of Victor blowing his nose in a huge eucalyptus leaf! He leapt up and yanked it off a branch with no explanation, and I was like, "What are you - oh." I guess if you really have to blow your nose, you learn to improvise. (I have his permission to post this picture, by the way. Just so you know. His exact words were, "Okay, but is there a way of putting it up without showing that it's me?" "Uh no honey, there really isn't." "Well, I guess it's fine then.") 


Like all medieval towns, Carcassonne has an outer wall, that protects the part of the city where the townspeople would live and do their trading - and then an inner fortress, where the rulers lived. This is also where everyone would retreat to if the city came under attack, which did happen from time to time.



When you peeked over the walls of that inner fortress, which had a grassy moat of its own - following the trusty medieval maxim that you can never be too careful - this is what you saw. They were growing what looked to be herbs down there, and in fact there were stalls all over the city selling pretty bags of lavender. You put them in your closet and they protect your clothes from moths. And they smell amazing! Of course we got some bags, they were the perfect souvenir. 


Here's what the courtyard of the inner fortress looked like, seen from the ground. In a moment, we'll be going up on the walls and taking in the view from there. But first, we discovered that there was a museum up on the first floor, so we got tickets to that and retreated into the cool shade for a bit. 


These old arches were part of a segment of the old walls, and they made for the perfect photo opportunity. I really like this picture of us. 


Now, don't quote me on this, but I have a feeling this fountain was from Roman times - when they occupied France (or Gaul, as it was called back then). There were also Roman amphorae and a pillar with what might have been graffiti written in Latin. So yeah, Carcassone is pretty old. 


These guys used to adorn the outer walls, and were brought inside to protect them from the wind and the rain. There were so many of these things in the museum, but I think that face on top there was my absolute favourite. I mean, look at that grin!


There were also wall-paintings. If you look closely, you can see that this was a scene from a battle. It's such a shame the figures have faded over time, but look at how blue that painted sky still is! 

After the museum, it was time to brave the sunshine again, and walk around the city walls to see Carcassonne from up high! Of course that wasn't free either but it was well worth the money. I mean, you can't really come to Carcassonne and not go up on the walls, that would just be wrong. Because the views were just amazing.


Carcassonne didn't always have these "witches' hats" roofs, by the way. They were added in the 18th Century, I think, by an architect called Viollet-le-Duc. The old city had fallen into disrepair and was actually almost demolished, but Viollet-le-Duc set out to rescue it, and that rescue operation included tarting it up a bit. Of course, he also restored the original medieval bits, and it became a huge tourist attraction. And I personally could never imagine it without the fairytale castle roofs, so I say good on old Viollet-le-Duc!


This is from when we walked around the city walls, where guardsmen once patrolled. It wasn't that long a walk, actually. After going around the city walls of Dubrovnik a few years ago, which took us, and my feisty mom, a couple of hours, the walls of Carcassonne were peanuts. And they offered some amazing photo opportunities of the castle town and the surrounding country-side.


Here's that same courtyard, seen from above. Or at least, I think it is? I'm confusing myself now.Moving on...! A lot of people don't realise that Carcassonne is also a modern city, which grew up around the old city. It even has its own tiny, horrible airport, with one flight a day from Ryan Air, one vending machine and a single small bench - hence why we flew in via Toulouse instead. 


Carcassonne was also one of the bastions of the Inquisiton, and the result of that was that a lot of people got tortured to death here, back in medieval times. So among all its other attractions, the old town has a torture museum with lots of original instruments and descriptions of what they did to people. I'm not going to post any pictures of that stuff here, because to be honest it was kind of creepy to look at and realise that these were used on human beings. But it was very interesting, and worth a visit if you've got the stomach for it.  


On a happier note, have a picture of me sitting on a wall! This is the closest to an outfit photo we'll get from this trip to Carcassonne, I suppose. As you can see, I'd managed to change into my fresh T-shirt by then, and seriously, suddenly wearing a clean shirt on a hot day like that, it felt like my skin was being caressed by angels or something! Hah, T.M.I. much?! My skirt was a birthday gift from Second Wife, and I'm holding it down to stop the wind from blowing it up into my face - and revealing my underwear to the thousands of other tourists who were there that day. Because that really would have been T.M.I.!



6 comments:

  1. "Is there a way to post it without showing that it's me?" Brawwwhahahaha! So funny. I am so glad you captured it on film. Sorry Victor. Your payback can be, it is so dry here I sleep in a mountain of snot rags. This grosses my son out to infinite. And when you're grosser than your ten year old son, you know you have a problem! : )

    I really like the graphic shirt with that cute skirt. I once was wearing my holey girdle. Not to be confused with my holy girdle. And my skirt blew up in front of all these men. I'm pretty sure they were confused and disturbed by what they ended up seeing! Writing you tomorrow! Kids are going to Disneyland with my sister! Woot! Woot!

    Jenni

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hehe, I have a whole SEQUENCE of him using that leaf as a hankie. I just picked the very best one. ;)

      Holy Girdle! Hah! Best new thing to exclaim ever! ;) (I had to look up what a girdle is - language barrier, man! I'm now imagining one full of holes, and snickering like an old man up to no good.) Yay for an empty house, I look forward to your email! :)

      Delete
  2. Be still my beating heart! This is definitely on the bucket list. A trip across France has always been, and I can add this to the itinerary. Can I just ask though...an image out of "your childhood bathroom dreams?" Bathroom? Not bedroom? On the one hand, I picture little Gwenny in the bathroom playing with castle squirt toys and fantasizing about Medieval Europe. On the other hand, the image evokes you on the loo reading a picture book. I wish I didn't have such a vivid imagination.

    Anyways, you gave me a laugh. And these pictures are fabulous. I would love to tour different castles across the French countryside. I really do need to get on Game of Thrones. I'm obsessed with Downton Abbey right now. Historic drama and epic fantasy? Yes, please!

    <3 Liz

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! I'm so glad I've managed to recruit another Carcassonne fan! If and when you do come to Europe, you should definitely see more of France than just Paris, fabulous though it is.

      And um, I really did play in the bathroom as a kid - because it was like the warmest room in the house! My parents had heating cables installed in the floor, so yeah. That's where I was, playing with My Little Ponies - I was like, the weirdest kid ever, hah! My mum renovated that room and took the poster down, and now she's promised it to me - I plan to frame it! And keep it somewhere *other* than the bathroom. :)

      You know, I *live* in the UK and I still haven't watched *any* Downton Abbey! For shame, I know - in my defence, we don't have a TV. ;) Game of Thrones is amazing, but just be warned that it's very violent, and they don't spare anyone's feelings - lots of gruesome killings, and lots of nekkid people! ;) Of course, the story is fantastic.

      Delete
  3. You say in your comments "the moat is now long dry and overgrown with grass" : just a precision about it : there was NEVER water in those moats, for 2 reasons : Carcassonne is situated in a very dry area, it doesn't rain alot, and water is precious and in the middle ages certainly not used to put into moats. Second reason : Carcassonne is on a top of a hill. If you put water in a moat there, it will immediatly go down the hill... :-)
    And... Toulouse is a wonderful city with many monuments, churches, mansions, old little squares, restaurants, bar, river side, parks... Sure you didn't take time to walk around and discover it !
    Anyway, thank you for this beautiful article about our beloved city of Carcassonne !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello there, and thanks for your comment. I'll be sure to change the text to reflect your correction with regards to the moat. :)
      And as for Toulouse, I have to say that everything was kind of overshadowed by the large number of prostitutes who overran the area we were staying in - and we were staying at a business hotel! We did have a nice stroll in the centre of town on the Sunday, though, and that was pleasant enough. But if someone has to choose between seeing Toulouse and Caracassonne, I know which city I would recommend!

      Delete