Thursday, 28 July 2011

Onwards and upwards

Stage four of the tour de France saw us leave Carcassonne in far easier and more relaxed style than that in which we'd arrived.

In other words, after a brief wander around in vastly improved weather, we actually got a cab from the hotel to the station - a move that made the distance between not only seem much shorter, but also seemed to reveal the part of the town we'd traipsed through on Monday evening as being far pleasanter than we recalled.

Knowing that we'd have to get across platforms without any lifts or escalators, but having time on our side, made that job easier too.

And then, as indicated by that very nifty little French device of an on-platform computer display of a train, showing you where to go on the platform for your particular carriage, we moved into sunshine and sat down to wait for the train back to Toulouse.

The train itself was 10 minutes late, but it's amazing how mellow you can stay when you're lapping up the sunshine.

And once we'd pulled out of Carcassonne, the driver made up that lost time, getting us there in a mere 40 minutes.

At Toulouse, we again hauled the bags between platforms without any modern aids, but again without it being quite so infuriating or stressful.

Then it was onto a small, local train for the chug into the Pyrenees, stopping at a dozen stations on the way.

The bulk of the journey seemed flat, being across a plain. Which was frustrating. Where were the mountains? We were supposed to be heading into the mountains, so where were they?

We'd passed plenty of farm land; some with sunflowers, but less than previously, and intermittent industry - a lot of which seemed to do with gravel. Leaving Pamiers behind, we had less than 10 minutes scheduled journey time left, but still seemed only to have barely arrived at the very edge of hillier country.

And yet within five minutes, as we pulled into our penultimate stop, we were surrounded by hills.

And five minutes beyond that, those hills were soaring above us.

There was a big exodus from the train at Foix. At least being such a small station, there were no mass of platforms to navigate. We walked off the train, straight through the ticket hall and out into a different world.

There was even a taxi waiting, which took us the almost embarrassingly short hop to our hotel, which backed right onto the Aude, with it's entrance in a tiny square that included more than one half-timbered building.

And you didn't have to move far to see at least one of the towers of the chateau rising high above the town.

With almost ridiculous ease after the trials of the previous stages, we had arrived at the heart of the Ariege.

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