Thursday, February 27, 2014

Printing, Posting and Plane Trees: My Last Visit to Carcassonne

My second trip into the lower city of Carcassonne was really an errand trip.  I had written a children's story I wanted to submit to a fiction contest and I needed to get it printed out so I could send it off and meet the contest deadline. It was a fiction short story contest on the theme of 'holidays." It seemed pretty aappropriate theme. :-)
We met as usual outside the front of La Muse and Kerry was there with Homer so we had a chat as we waited for John. 
We discovered that the chapel right next door to La Muse was open, as the caretaker was working there. She let us in to have a peek and I was stunned at the beauty of this little space. Such amazing art crammed into a small church.
There was a little confessional box at the back of the church.  I loved the blue walls.
There were statues and icon art everywhere you looked.

Jenn and I took pictures of each other at the entrance as we realized we had very few pictures of ourselves while we were staying at the retreat.

Driving in on this last Thursday of January, we could see evidence of snow on the mountain roads. It was January 30th and I couldn't believe we would be into February in a few days.
The pictures were taken through the car windows and so they are blurry. 
Our first stop was at the railway station as I had to get my tickets for my trip on February 7th to Genova in Italy. 
John went in with me to help interpret my request. Luckily I had researched the trip and had all the changes written down. It was an interesting trip involving changes at Narbonne, Marseille, Nice and Ventimiglia. I was hoping I might get some great glimpses of the Mediterranean as we travelled along the Cote D'Azure. After much discussion I finally got my tickets and I want to give a  big thank you to John for his help. 
Next, I got dropped off at the Internet cafe in order to do my printing.  Also I had a poem to submit online to another publication.  One thing the retreat did for me besides get me writing, was to start me submitting my work for publication.  This was a big step for me.  I don't have a problem creating work, its the next step, that of submitting it, that has been a block for me.
The Internet cafe was well equipped and I had a coffee while there. 
We had problems with the printing and getting files to show up, as the formatting was an issue. Fortunately the people in charge of the Internet cafe were very helpful and figured it all out. 
While I had access to a computer I also did some YouTube work on my PamelaSunshineTV channel as there is only so much you can do from an iPhone :-)
Then I put my story and cover letter into my envelope and headed off to the Post Office.
Just outside the cafe was this impressive memorial to the lost soldiers.
As I mentioned in a previous blog this area was active in the resistance movement. 
From the statue I spotted this impressive building.
It was a pleasure to be out in the streets of this beautiful city and once again take in its archtecture. Looking up as I approached the centre of town I spotted a plane. :-)

I passed beautiful flower shops and a boulangerie.

I was still surprised by how narrow the streets were.
The doors and details I happened upon demanded attention.  It really is a beautiful city. 

I loved this bell and the arches. 
More lovely flowers.
The sculptures placed on the corners of buildings always surprised me.
After posting off my story and some gifts I had for my grandchildren from last weeks visit to the castle, I popped into the Sunshine Cafe to see my friend from Peterborough. I'd told her two weeks before that I would be back. I was pushed for time so I just had a piece of her delicious carrot cake. I ate it as I walked through the streets. 
Soon I was in the market square and heading for the station to meet John and the others.
I took a detour to see some new streets on my way out of the city centre.
The pink decor in this Pattiserie was retro fifties and quite a surprise. 

And there were even more shutters, I just love shutters.

And wrought iron was everywhere too.

Now this struck me as funny.  It really is 'relaxed." Not in the way they meant I am sure. 
I didn't realize there was another cathedral in Carcossonne. It was right on the street, packed in between the buildings.

Nearing the edge of town I saw these signs and a balcony that was colourful and matched the window`.  I loved the colours and the artsy feel. The laundry pegged to the line caught my eye, real life in Carcassonne.

A pigeon was perched on a tangled vine.
Finally, I got a last pic of the narrow streets. So pretty.
I had to walk past the Canal Du Midi on my way to the station. I noticed a banner about the canal and replacing the plane trees that had once lined its shores. 
I had a conversation in French with the man in a booth there. I had read about how the trees, (Arbres plantanes) were  being decimated by a fungal disease that spread through the root systems. 
Because the trees along the canal had been planted so close to one another to provide constant shade for travellers on the canal, they had been particularly vulnerable to the disease.
Between 2006 and 2010 the French Waterways Authority had been forced to fell 9,000 of the 42,000 plane trees that were "emblematic if the Canal Du Midi."  They know that the disease will infect the remaining trees. 
 Now there is a huge replanting project underway. I was so happy to be able to buy a book of beautiful postcards to support them in their efforts. They are replanting with a disease resistant species and hope to restore the canal, a national treasure, to its former glory and maintain their classification as a UNESCO  World Heritage site. 
Here's one of the pages from this beautiful collection of photographs so you can see how it looks with the existing trees lining the canal. 
I walked on to my ride at the station and John drove us all to the supermarket for our last grocery shop while at the retreat. I couldn't believe I'd  be off in a week. 
The sun was just starting to go down and I had to take another picture of the magical light in the French sky. 
Then it was off home to La Muse.  Just over one more week left. I was sad to say goodbye to the city of Carcassonne. The next time I would be here would be to catch the train to Genova in Italy. 
The following Thursday we planned to visit Lastours, the home of the famous Four Cathar Chateaux.  But that my friends is another story.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Fairy Tale Castle: Cite de Carcassonne

On Thursday, January 24th, we went to vist Le Cite De Carcassonne.  John dropped us off at 12:00 after a roundabout route through lots of villages due to road works. 
As we approacehed the Cite I was very excited to get my first glimpse of its fairy tale towers.  My daughter. Beth. had visited years ago and always said it was one of her favourite places.
I got out at the car park, and the others carried on into town to run some errands  before walking back to visit the walled Cite. 
I walked across to the main gate and it was very impressive, so big and such a beautifully deisgned fortress. 
If you look left bfore going in the gates you get a view of the length of the walls, with thier many towers.
I walked down the side of the castle to get a pic of the typical castle walls, with their crenelated tops.
Looking up was even more beautiful.

Finally I went through the gates and was met by another gate.

John had suggested I try the casoulette for my lunch but the restaurant he recommended was closed as it was off season.  I asked at the information booth for their suggestions for a good casoulette.
I walked down the ancient streets following his directions.
As I approached the restaurant I was greeted by a young woman in a long frocked coat. On a table outside, they had actual demonstation dishes of the food set up. I saw the portions and asked if it was possible to get a small one, as I really can't eat that much lol.  She said yes there was a small one for 15 euros.  She showed me inside and it was very nice, with a cieling of draped fabric.  
On our way to my table she showed me the kitchen and how their bread was made on site.
It was quiet when I first arrived, but filled up as I was eating my lunch.
Casoulette is a bean dish with duck and sausage.  It is traditional to this part of France. Mine was absolutely delicious. I also had a hot chocolate. :-)  
Even though I had the small serving, I was very full when I had finished. 
As I left the restaurant I had a wander around the beautiful streets.  This walled city was apparently the inspiration for the castle in Walt Disney's Cinderella movie.  I can see how it would inspire anyone involved in the world of fairy tales.
The buildings all had such a beauty.  It was easy to imagine the gentry and their families walking down these streets, as they were known to do.  Of couse in those times there were many poorer dwellings crowding the streets.

I walked around the inner walls just soaking up the history.
And enjoying the views. 

Eventurally I approached the entry to the battlements and the home of the ruling Lord and his family. It was their home after all.
It was ten euros to go in, but this was a special place, and I really wanted to see inside and get some information on the story of the Cathars, and what they experienced.
Inside the first entransce was a big square, where the ticket booths were.  
Once you had your ticket then you crossed the bridge into the main heart of the castle.

This was the view of the walls from the bridge.
Once inside the main walls there was a square or courtyard with some plane trees.  The sun was shining through the clouds and it was a beautiful day.

The walls of the buildings surrounding the courtyard towered above me.

There was a definite variation in the architectural styles seen in the walls.  This one has the wood as seen in some of the buildings out in the streets. It was the only place I saw it.
There was a wonderful video on a giant screen that gave a visual history of Carcassonne.  It was founded in the 3rd century AD in the Gallo Roman period and survived the Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, and Crusades.  During the 1200's there were the Albigenesian Crusades against the Cathars of this region of Languedoc Rousillon.  Raymond-Roger Trencavel of Carcassonne, who supported the Cathars in their religious choices, was defeated in this crusade, which decimated the Cathar people and their chateaux in the district. 
Before heading out onto the ramparts there was a display about the legend of how Carcassonne got its name.

The legend says that Charlemagne had  laid seige to the city which was home to the Saracens at the time.  The seige lasted five years. 
Due to the death of her husband,  Princess Carcas was the head of the Knights of the City. 
Early in the sixth year when food and water were scarce, Lady Carcas decided to do an inventory to see what was left.  When she was brought a pig and a sack of wheat, she decided to feed the wheat to the pig, which she then threw over the walls from the highest tower.
When Charlemagne and his army saw this, they assumed that the city must have a lot of food if it could afford to waste it in this way.
This meant that the siege might go on indefinately, and so they raised the seige. As the attacking army departed, Princess Carcas decided to ring all the bells, to celebrate their victory. People in the town all bagan to shout, "Carcas sonne!' meaning "Carcas rings!"  And thus the name Cacassonne was born.

I was excited to hear this story, and disappointed when researching it later to see it was a legend.  I had planned to write a childrens story about it, and I suppose I still can.. Many legends are still told and enjoyed today. :-)
So here is Princess Carcas, and there is a reproduction of the origianl atatue of her out at the main gates, to greet all who enter.

There were other old artifacts on display here, some gargoyles and ancient stones.
I had already climbed several flights of stairs to get to the entry to the ramparts, so it was a stunning view that met me when I eventually stepped out.
I looked down into the courtyard of the Chateau comtal. 
And out over the walls towards the mountains.

There was so much to take in, the architectural features, and the fact there were windows and fireplaces halfway up walls, evidence of previous uses.

Here I was once again, just like at Mont St Michel, very high up with incredible vistas.
In the towers there were stone spiral staircases.
Carcassonne has three kilometres of double walls surounding it and 52 towers. They come in all shapes and sizes.

I love the different windows and what you can see through them. 
I found myself looking down into the courtyard I had been standing in not long before.
The ramparts were amazing.
The walkways just kept going on and on. :-)
Being so high up I got a great appreciation for the cloud formations.
Another cool view through a window.
Looking down within the castle grounds.
And the narrow windows placed at appropriate vantage points.
The rooftops of the main city were so picturesque.
Some windows were set so deep into the thick walls.
As I moved into the section that was actually the living space for the Trencavel family, the finishes were more sophisticated. Some windows were set so deeply into the thick stone walls.
And there were many arches to pass through, as well as arched ceilings.
In a grand hall there was a display of sculptures belonging to the community here. This very old Madonna is particularly treasured.
The work is so fine.
Alabaster carvings were on display as well.
Some of the columns from the Roman era.

I loved the expression on this Madonna, so filled with love.
There was so much to take in, and to process, as these relics were from thousands of years ago.

An an angel. 
This chamber was the only one I saw with frescoes that survived.

A real picture window, what a view.
Doorways, leading to more doors.
There was a smaller courtyard I passed through as I was leaving.
And one more shot of the slit windows.  So fascinating.

As I crossed the bridge on my way out of the main building, the comtal, I noticed down below me there were gardens.

I got another pic of a beautiful tower.
Then I was out the final gate and into a little square.
Walking towards the exit of this walled city I spotted this lovely display on an upstairs balcony.
Finally the gate came into view as it 
started to rain.
As I walked to the parking lot to meet John, I turned to take one last picture of this forified city.  It was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and I can understand why. 
We all piled into the SUV and went to do our grocery shopping before returning home to La Muse for our dinner.
Here is the terrace at the back of the house. 
My next trip out would be a return to the main town of Carcasonne to catch up on the sights I had missed the first time.  But that of course, is another story.