Vacation: Day 5

This was our big road trip, my ace in the hole to convince Phil to go to southern France. Phil likes playing complicated European boardgames. On the lighter side is a tile-placing game called Carcassonne, based on a real-life walled city in France. The drive was almost 2 hours, but it was entirely on the interstates that we were pretty used to at this point. There wasn’t really a chance to get lost until we got to Carcassonne, and that was easy enough (drive towards the ancient walls). This trip also included our first stop at a French truck stop. The vending machine cappuccino was pretty good.

Here’s Phil standing in front of the city’s walls holding a game tile he brought across the Pond.
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Carcassonne is definitely a tourist town. The city is somewhat like a perpetual Renaissance fair, but set in an authentic location. It seemed like every building inside the walls housed a gift shop, restaurant or something else catering to tourists. Knowing a little about the city ahead of time, I went with two goals: 1) to find someone dressed in costume and 2) to find a copy of the board game. Check and check.

There’s a Gallo-Roman castle on one side of the city. It was updated over the centuries, especially during medieval times. It’s been used as a site for a number of movies, including “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

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The castle had a great audioguide done in the character of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, the man responsible for restoring the castle more than 200 years ago. It was really amazing to explore the castle’s defenses and to learn the history of the city. Any place that has “murder holes” obviously has an interesting story behind it.

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We spent an hour or so in the castle, then went to get lunch from a sandwich shop nearby. We went back to the castle to try to find the tour of the city walls. We luckily bumped into some other Americans and found out that there was only a tour in French, so we all followed along anyway. The views of the countryside were beautiful.

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This interesting sign greeted us as we entered the rampart tour.

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The tour began to wrap up at an old arena just inside the city walls. Then we stopped outside the city’s basilica, which I was pleased to find out was founded by Dominicans.

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On the way home, we were treated with more sights of the lovely French countryside, grape vines everywhere. The castle of Carcassonne was amazing and totally worth the drive. The rampart tour was cool, but not really necessary (except to remind me again of how poor my French is, especially when it comes to ancient architectural terms). The rest of the city felt very commercial (we had the best baguettes, though, from possibly the nicest restaurateur). The drive was a little brutal. From Avignon, we drove halfway to Spain to get there! I’m so happy we went, though. One more UNESCO World Heritage Site down.

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