Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Stage 3: Bordeaux to Carcassonne

If Sunday was punctuated by showers, Monday opted for all-out dampness, with the cloud bedding in for lazy day of going nowhere fast.

After being given a guided tour of the house by our host - and fascinating and beautiful it was too - we whiled away the rest of our stay with wandering back to the shops so that I could sort out a technical issue with internet reception, and then ambled back the long way around, stopping first outside the cathedral for a pleasant coffee, and then heading to the river front where we sat watching the drizzle, but under cover, supping Pelforth brown beer, a very pleasant brew.

And then it was off to the station for our train to Carcassonne.

Even in the grey and the damp, it was an intriguing journey, moving remarkably rapidly, more than once, from hilly country to flat plains.

Early on, there were endless fields of vines, with the occasional chateau.

Later, we started to run alongside the Midi Canal, which had been intended to provide a passage from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

We did a complex dance with the river Garonne, crossing it again and again, once even in tandem with the canal on a strutting viaduct. We seemed locked into an almost-embrace as we carved up the countryside between us.

Sheep and goats hugged inclines. Fields of sunflowers bobbed their bright faces in frank defiance of the grey.

Provence is so often illustrated by fields of vivid lavender - an image that Roussillon seems to want to purloin for itself sometimes, judging by postcards. But perhaps this is it's own version: field upon field not of purple, but of gold.

When all you have ever seen of sunflowers is the odd one in a vase or shop, or a van Gogh canvas, then seeing them like this is a shock to the system.

Their faces seem to be constantly turned toward us. At the end of a field, when you can judge their height, the faces bowed in our direction, just a little; like a vast chorus of actors accepting their due applause with a hint of condescension.

The towns we passed though varied in size and in suggestions of industry (or lack thereof), until we slowed into Toulouse, where the Airbus is built.

Then it was the final stage of the journey to the ancient walled city of Carcassonne, in the Cathar country that is deep in a history of blood and stone.

And where the cassoulet is not simply a stew, but a dish of significant regional pride - and great local rivalry.

The station was nearly empty and seemed to be channelling a cool wind, as we descended from the train. There was also a lack of lifts or escalators, making hauling bags a pain.

How can my case be so heavy? What have I packed that was not necessary?

Waiting outside the station, it became apparent that, while there might be a space for taxis to pull up, there weren't any taxis. Using the 'sat nav' on The Other Half's phone, we were left to walk the mile to the hotel, we me descending to greater grumpiness as I struggled with my case on rickety and too-narrow pavements.

We eventually rounded a corner to find the hotel, alongside the river. Suddenly, all irritation was gone: over the water, on a vast plug of rock, rising above the trees, was La Cité, as though straight out of a fairy tale.

It was enough to take my remaining breath away.

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