Martin and Sarah in France, Day 7

Remind me to look up the French equivalent of "You can't get there from here." To get from Amboise to our next stop, Carcassonne, we were obliged to first take a train back to Paris, then catch a night train, which we figured would be cheaper than a hotel. Well, it was, but then again you don't have to share a hotel room with four Frenchmen, one of whom gets up and leaves the room once an hour, presumably to take a cigarette break. I got no sleep, mostly because I was overly worried that we would miss our stop if we slept through it. (This worry, by the way, was unfounded: the porters on  a night train will very considerately open the door to your cabin, grab your ankle, and wake you up about 10 minutes before you reach your stop.) Sarah got no sleep because the restless Frenchman and I kept her awake. If you do take a second-class berth on a night train in France, learn from our mistakes and avoid the middle bunks (there are six bunks in a cabin, three on a side). The top bunks have more headroom. I have no idea what the first-class cabins are like; they might afford a bit more privacy.
     Anyhow, we reached Carcassonne at about 5:30 a.m. and were able to check our bags at the Hotel Terminus, a block from the train station. We went to a brasserie and had two grand cremes each (a grand creme is the equivalent of a tall latte) while we waited for the sun to come up. We relocated to a park and ate the rolls and croissants we had brought with us, along with a little Nutella and some strawberries. Next we rented bicycles and rode through the modern part of town, where we stopped at an open-air produce market and gave the rest of our strawberries to a beggar. (Organic produce at open-air markets is the norm in France, not the exception.)
    Carcassonne is really two cities: the modern town and the medieval walled cite across the river and up the hill. The recent film Chocolat was filmed in Carcassonne, and made the place look bohemian and bucolic, which of course it isn't. It's not quite as overwhelmingly touristy as Mont-St.-Michel, but it's still loaded with restaurants and trinket peddlers. The place is, however, one of France's best examples of an intact (OK, a well-restored) medieval city.
     On our way into the cite, we rode our bikes across the Pont Vieux (old bridge), which doesn't allow cars. No problem. On the way back, we chose the Pont Neuf  (new bridge), which does allow cars. Big mistake. No serious injuries, but consider that (a) the French drive as though they own the road; (b) it's legal to park on the sidewalk; (c) bicycles aren't supposed to use sidewalks anyhow; and (d) the pedestrians will scream at you if you try it. We risked our necks in order to make it back to the train station in time for the train to Marseilles. But we did live to tell the tale ...

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View from the Pont Vieux.  View of the Pont Neuf. It's better to look at than to be on.
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Sarah takes a break from biking the Pont Vieux. And here's the medieval cite of Carcassonne itself.
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Statue of the local hero, Madame Carcas. Quick summary of local legend: Charlemagne lays siege to the cite, and food inside starts running low. Time goes by. Rations are imposed. Just when Charlemagne's thinking to himself that the citezens can't last much longer, Madame Carcas feeds her last bit of grain to her prize pig and throws him over the wall. "Shucks," says Charlemagne, "if they can afford to waste a pig they must not be starving after all."  So he goes home, and Madame Carcas gets to sonne (sound) the church bell to announce the good news. Hence the name of the town.
     This story, however entertaining, is regarded as highly unlikely. My theory is that the town was named for the sonne that the pig's carcass made when it hit the ground.

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Carcassonne also has a chateau, which houses an interesting collection of medieval carvings. This one depicts the martyrdom of St. Peter.  And here's where I keep my collection of catapult balls. Uh-oh, looks like the kids have been playing with the catapult again. Yet more statues. As is the case with most chateaus, the art and furnishings aren't necessarily originally from the building, or even from the town, but they do try to keep 'em correct for the period. Art at Carcassonne is mostly from the 13th through 15th centuries, if I recall correctly.  
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We decided to take a guided tour of the chateau, which was a mistake. Sarah and I were on a tight schedule, but the tour guide insisted on telling our group all about the three different styles of architecture (Gallo-Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance) used on the chateau. (Naturally, these three styles weren't used all at once. The French take longer to put up a building than any country I know of.) So the tour took too long. We were literally locked into certain sections of the grounds, behind a door much like the one in this photo, so we couldn't split off from the group.  View of Carcassonne from the chateau. You can see the old part of town in the foreground, and the newer part across the river in the background.  Support beams for the cone-shaped roof of one of the towers along the rampart surrounding the chateau. The roofs were restored sometime in the 19th century, and at least one of the beams looks newer than that. This was one of the best-fortified settlements in medieval France, as our tour guide took great pains to point out. There are three walls to slow down invading armies: The chateau has both an inner rampart and an outer one, and another wall surrounds the entire cite. 
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The modern amphitheatre looks a bit out of place next to the chateau and the Gothic basilica, but that's France for you. There's also a swanky four-star hotel next to the chateau.  Again, thanks to our long-winded tour guide, we didn't reach the basilica until it was closed for lunch...  ...but that didn't stop us from pursuing one of our favorite photographic subjects. This fella doesn't seem to appreciate the church bells...  ...or perhaps he's just sick of listening to this chap. 
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Next it was on to lunch. This was Sarah's birthday meal, so for an appetizer she chose a nice big bowl of...  We actually ate them, and here's the proof. They're pretty darn good. Apparently the secret's in the sauce. The primary reason the French eat snails is to keep the sidewalks clear. Back to the basilica. Anywhere we could find the Maid, we tried to get a picture of her. 
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The lovely, the talented Rose Window.  Here's a Celtic-style stained glass window... well as one that's not so Celtic. Old Testament prophets occupy the sides, while kings of Israel go down the middle.  Here's King Dave. This was all the photos we had time for before racing back to the train station on our bicycles.