Grant McWilliams

Carcasonne

I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of site seeing in but I wanted to do two things while here - go to Carcasonne and see some prehistoric caves. Carcasonneis a small village about 40 minutes from Toulouse by train. It's also the home to the largest castle in all of Europe (maybe the world). It cost us55 Euros (roughly $80) by train which I thought was bit steep. On arriving we talked to the tourist information and they gave us a map. We were doing just fineuntil we were approached by this little old blond haired French lady who spoke a mile a minute and was all too enthusiastic to show us her town. She didn't speak a lick of English and was doing her best to help us get to the castle but she couldn't see well enough to read our map and we couldn't hear well enough to get what she was saying. She'd rattle off stories about the history followed by a quick "Do you understand?" at which point a drop of drool wouldfall from our lips and the blank look on our faces would resume. Between Natalya and I we were able to discern that she was 71 years old, had livedin Carcasonne her whole life and has a daughter in Washington but we don't know which one. Oh and the daughter watches kids. She then got out her keys and insisted on us getting in her car at which point my red flag started flapping and we declined. I'm sure she was just fine but up until this point this was going to be a great story to tell and I thought it best to keep it that way. Last think I want is a newspaper headline announcing the finding of a couple of American tourists in a canal somewhere. The one thing she did tell us though is to traverse the esplanade and take the small rue to the left. This we did which was a great tip because it led us across a foot bridge in plain view of the castle. Maybe she did have good intentions.

Carcasonne itself is a fantasy castle built by the Cathars a long time ago. The Cathars were a group of people that thought Christianity shouldreturn to a simpler time. That and they believed in reincarnation - don't ask how that works...The Catholics declared the Cathars patrons of the Devil or something and decided to exterminate them and eventually succeeded. By the 1600s the castle had fallen into disrepair and the French border had moved south lessening the need for such a bastion. Later the village moved out of it and settled in the valley below. Now it's been restored and the village inside the walls is filled with restaurants and shops. It's actually quite nice and not crazy like Mount st. Michael. The sheer size of it is impressive. The Moors (Muslims) holed up in it when resisting against French troops which is a great story in the area. It's interesting to hear about the Muslims as being the good guys and the Christians as the aggressors. Quite the change of characters.

We ate at the only open restaurant in the town (It was Sunday) and decided to try the other local specialty - Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a heavy white bean, sausage and duck parts dish cooked in a clay pot. I think it would grow on you but is definitely not something one would call fine food. Natalya was not impressed.