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Day 2: Carcassonne

We woke up to our first morning in Occitania's administrative capital, Toulouse. Our mission today was to see the city perhaps most visually identifiable with this region's identity: Carcassonne. But first there was breakfast. 

We'd stocked up on supplies yesterday but deliberately left one item unpurchased: you can't appreciate a French-style breakfast without picking up fresh baguettes. And since these were available only a five-minute walk away, this was an easy mission to fulfill: I returned with two of the rustic variety, and breakfast was consumed with aplomb on our balcony. And then we set off to the train station.

We had so much spare time that we elected to take an indirect route, heading to the Canal du Midi so that we could walk alongside it. Alas, it proved necessary to intercept it much further away for it to be enjoyable: we were at roadside and there was no movement in the resultingly stagnant water. We arrived in good time:


Once we entered to the train station I spotted a pair of dissimilar ticket machines side by side. I elected the one bedecked with Occitanian colours and bearing a primitive control mechanism: a wheel to cycle through on-screen options, with a button on top which you would then hit to select. Theoretically: I had to give it a few jabs at times. After a frustrating few minutes, we retrieved a ticket for any train leaving today.

We boarded our train as it began to become more and more crowded. I had an uneasy feeling: it was an InterCity emanating from Bordeaux and terminating in Marseilles: decidely not Occitania. Or so I thought:


Ah, it turns out that they are because Occitania is much larger than I envisaged: I was confusing with Languedoc.

Still, I wasn't aware of that at the time and so a thought intruded: should I have used the other machine? I kept my mouth shut until an elderly lady appeared and revealed that either Matt or Alfie were sitting in her seat. The unease began to get the better of me and I nervously mentioned my suspicion to my companions. Ever alert, Matt told me that a guard had passed by a moment before and so I got off and asked him. Of course, our tickets for any train that day were for any train other than the one we were on! So my secret suspicions were confirmed even though we were still travelling within Occitania. Bah!

We didn't have to wait long to get on an appropriate one, which quickly became an unpleasant experience as more and more people came on board and decided to stand between the doors, many with their suitcases (and a lovely little dog), right where we were sitting. IT was a miserable journey spanning several stops, tonnes of body heat and occasional body contact. Yuck. (It would've been remedied had some of these people chosen to stand in the aisle between seats but ... )

Anyway, we arrived in Carcassonne. Funnily enough, the station isn't located within the medieval town: you have to navigate to it through the modern one:


Fortunately, it's a short and entirely pleasant walk.


Within seconds you're into what is actually an Old Town but for a different definition of “old” compared to where we were heading:


And before long we had reached the Old Bridge:


It spans the River Aude, which has its source high up in the Pyrennees and exits into the Mediterranean:


We were definitely on the right track: what a view from the bridge!


There was just a little bit of walking left through some streets:


And, after a slight climb, we were there!


We didn't waste any time entering the gate, and passing between the outer and inner walls:


We accidentally saw nearly the entire time in trying to find a way up to the remparts. The greenery and hills are a welcome sight but I imagine that the townsfolk have the better view:


There's some perfect greenery within the walls, too. Every time I've visited Carcassonne I've been caught out when emerging into the court in front of the cathedral by the verdant decoration of this hotel: 


We then walked around some more, and got some drinks from an artisanal cafe not far from the spot which granted us this magnificent view:


And then there was a very reasonably priced lunch (under 50 € for all three of us, including a bottle of wine), and it was time to bid goodbye to the medieval town on what had become a hot day by this point. We crossed the Aude:


And had one final look back:


It looked just like a postcard ...


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