Sunday, June 25

The Southeast Corner, Carcassonne, and Cathars

The reason I haven't blogged in a couple of days is because we went on a two-day field trip. On Friday we bright and early to go to Carcassonne.

Today, it is a small double walled city but in the past it was much more important containing 3,000 people. There's been a settlement at the site since 600 BC but it wasn't fortified until the Romans came. It lies on two important trading routes: Atlantic to the Mediterranean and the Massif Central to Spain. After the Romans, it was passed around to the Visgoths and then local groups. By the 1100's, the Cathars hid out in it from the Catholic armies.

The southern part of France had always been different from the northern part, different language and rulers, until the Crusade against the Cathars. The Cathars were a different kind of Christianity. They were all over Europe but their base was in the southern part of France. Eventually, they were wiped out by the 1300's. Also, the French king in Paris used this opportunity to annex the southern part of present day France.

the east gate to the city
a window in the cathedral
looking across the bridge to the castle to the other side of the city
Over all, I like Rothenburg ODT better, but Carcassonne has much more history. We were surprised by how small it is. It literally has 5 streets and it took us about half an hour to walk around it.

After escaping from another 2 hour meal, we headed southeast through the northern edge of the Pyrenees to Quéribus. Although I've never been to California, Toulouse, I gather, has nearly the same climate: dry, warm, and sunny. The landscape looks semi-arid, with different trees and scrubby plants. Going into the eastern part of the Pyrenees, the land changed again and got even drier looking.

Also, another thing is that when you go traveling, you see different things in the fields. Near my home, there's usually either corn or soybeans. Near Kenosha there are cabbage fields. In other parts of the country, there are wheat or tobacco fields. In southern France, it's grape fields.

After an hour or two, we made it into the area of Quéribus, a ruined castle on top of a hill. Back in the 1600's, France took a bite out of the northeastern corner of Spain. They then had to build a series of castles to guard the new border. Quéribus is one of 5 castles watching the border that communicated back to Carcassonne. It stands on top of the highest hill around at 730 m and watches over a mountain pass. After a scary bus ride on a road at the edge of a cliff over a deep gorge, we got to climb up the rest of the way. But it was worth it.

There were some pretty amazing views. If it hadn't been hazy, the ocean would have been on the horizon. From down in the valley, you can see the castle for miles around. It's the little bump in the center of the picture.
We then went wine tasting. We stopped by a peaceful little vinyard out in the country run by a husband and wife. The wife showed us around. Mostly she and her husband, along with some other employees, take care of 18 hectares, about 45 acres, of vines. I asked her how much wine they make in a year. I can't exacly remember, but I think it was around 40,000 L. Although she pretty much didn't speak English at all (our tour guide translated) I could tell how passionate she was about growing grapes and wine.

So then she showed us how to properly taste wine.
1) swirl it around a lot in the glass
2) smell it
-either stick your entire nose in the glass and wiff
-or snif it in the center and then from the edge
3) take a sip, don't swallow
4) for the lack of a better term, make fish lips and suck in air to mix the wine with oxygen
5) do #4 for a couple of times
6) admire the taste
7) spit (which we were all sure to do)

We sampled 4 different wines and all her wine was very good. In the grocery stores here in France, most bottles of wine cost between .89€ to 15€. She said that her's usually sell for around 10€ and hers gets imported to the U.S.

We then headed back to the little town of Maury, population 600, to spend the night. After having a delicious dinner in a nice little family run restaurant, we happened to walk out to the street at the same time there was some kind of a festival. There were little kids running down the street with flashlights followed by bigger kids with torches followed by a firetruck with its lights and sirens going. They turned the corner and went up a block. The festival they were having resembled a middle school dance.

On Saturday we went to the ocean. We went thourgh Perpignan to Collioure, which is where Picasso and friends hung out. It's about 4 miles from Spain. The landscape changed again as we got closer to the coast. The plants turned tropical: palm trees and bamboo.The fortress and lighthouse in Collioure

We then had another lengthy lunch. The salads had anchovies on them. That was the first time I had one. It was a flavor explosion, I would say. People then had a choice between fish or steak for the main course. I chose steak, remembering the plot from Airplane!. The people who got fish, got a fish. I thought it was pretty good, but the anchovies and the steak were fighting in my stomach all afternoon long. Then for the afternoon, we then went to the beach, arriving home in the late evening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sweet pics and great writing; are you applying to Fodors when you get back?

Brad V