We had a relaxed morning in Toulouse today, not wanting to arrive in Carcassonne too early to be able to check into our accommodation. Tim did some shopping for books, picking up some learning materials for the local language Occitan, and we had lunch at a Bavarian restaurant which we had been to a couple of times in 2010. I had a delicious Flammkuche, while Tim had a goulash which he says was almost as good as our favourite goulash in Trieste
We caught a train to Carcassonne in the early afternoon and arrived at the station there just after 15.30. I had received a text message earlier in the day from the lady whose apartment we were renting, asking for our arrival time. When we replied she said that she would pick us up from the station, which was an unexpected bonus. Sure enough, there she was as we made our way towards the station exit, holding a sign with my name on it. Amid a torrent of French, she packed us up into her car and drove us through the newer part of Carcassonne to a large car park on the outskirts of fortified old town. At this point I was expecting we would get out and walk with our suitcases to the apartment, but much to my astonishment there was a second lady with an electric buggy waiting for us in the carpark. It was a bit like the vehicles the National Trust use to transport people with reduced mobility to and from properties, except it had a large space at the back where we could put our suitcases. We all transferred to the buggy and the lady proceeded to drive us at a remarkable speed, down a main road then through a gate in the city walls. We bumped and bounced over the cobbled streets and nearly took out several slow-moving pedestrians, before finally arriving at the apartment in one piece. I think this has to win the prize for the most surreal experience of the holiday!
The apartment itself is small but comfortable and in an amazing location within the fortified walls of the old town. This is the view from one of our windows, from where we can just make out the tops of some of the towers that surround the town.
We settled in and then set out for a stroll around Carcassonne. Our landlady had told us that you could now walk around some of the ramparts within the the main chateau in the heart of the city, so we decided to prioritise doing that before the doors closed for the evening. Luckily we didn't have far to go - the entrance to the chateau was just a few hundred metres from our front door
It cost €8 each to get in which seemed quite expensive, but Carcassonne is a very popular place with tourists. It's not difficult to see why.
Inside the chateau we listened to part of an audiovisual display about the history of Carcassonne in French, before following signs to begin our walk around the ramparts.
Unfortunately at this point the very hot weather gave way to a bit of a storm and we had to shelter in one of the towers until the rain had passed.
In between the showers we had some fantastic views though.
The chateau ramparts were shorter than we expected, and soon we were inside the building itself.
The rooms of the chateau were full of historical artefacts, but we didn't spend too much time looking at them because we were keen to get outside again.
It was time to explore some of the pretty streets in the old town.
We soon saw a sign to a viewpoint, which led us slightly downhill and out of a gate in the city walls.
From here we had a view towards the modern part of Carcassonne and the surrounding countryside.
Best of all, we were able to walk around the outskirts of some of the walls.
The reason that Carcassonne is such a fortified town is that it used to be in a strategic location on the border between France and Spain. The borders moved in 1659 as a result of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which transferred the region of Roussillon to France. All of a sudden Carcassonne was no longer in a key location, and in the nineteenth century there was even talk of demolishing the fortifications.
Fortunately this didn't happen, and an architect called Viollet-le-Duc began a project to restore and renovate the fortifications in 1853.
It's amazing to think that if he hadn't, this might not be here today for us to admire.
After exploring the ramparts for a while, we came back into the main town. There's some really interesting architecture here as well.
This is the basilica of St Nazaire in the centre of the town.
Although there were still some tourists around, it was nice to be able to stroll around a relatively empty Carcassonne as the evening drew on.
We're hoping to make an early start tomorrow morning to enjoy the town some more before the hordes of other visitors arrive.