Charles and I enjoy a very relaxing day wandering around the Europe’s largest fortress; Carcassonnes Medieval City. It was founded in the year II B.C. by the Romans who baptised it Oppidum (stronghold) of Carcasso. It has 26 towers forming a 3 km circle around the town with the inside walls being 1300 metres long and the outside walls being 1700 metres long. Within the walls is a 12th century castle with its 6 turrets making it totally self-sufficient and providing the ultimate retreat in times of siege. The Saint Nazaire Cathedral was founded in the 13th and 14th centry has the most beautiful stained glass windows which provide a wonderful range of lighting within the church depending on the time of day. The little streets are now filled with tourist type shops and many restaurants.
We find a lovely little restaurant tucked away where Charles enjoys his first cassoulet and I am happy to have a meat free omelette – the French have a tendancy to add the odd bit of bacon or ham (which they don’t appear to consider meat) just to give the meal some flavour…. If you look in the book shops you will find many vegetarian cookery books but I think that is as far as the French are prepared to take their tolerance of the strange trend of not eating meat!!!
The week passes quickly and I am pleased to get back to running after allowing my body a weeks rest following the marathon. We catch up on domestic chores and soon Saturday (24th Oct) arrives and we collect a hire car and drive over to Carcassonne airport to collect Laura and her friend Helen for their short vacation with us. We worked it out that hiring a car for the day is very much cheaper than return train fares. Although we have now learnt that there is a website where you can buy a train ticket for 1 euro – us retired folk like a bargain. We have been told of a good wine cellar to visit in Capestang so make our way there only to find all the signs indicating the place is open but cannot find anyone around. Charles being quite determined tries every door but to no avail so its back to Narbonne where we rid ourselves of the car and the luggage and open a bottle of bubbles to celebrate the girls arrival.
On Sunday we hire a couple of bikes for the girls and then we head off on a beautiful sunny day along the canal to Gruissan and the beach. Its an 18 mile round trip which is interrupted when we find a nice little bar to enjoy a beer looking across the Meditarrean and then we find a restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately our French is not good enough to ask how my fish will be presented and my fears are realised when it arrives all intact with head, tail and eyes…………my worse nightmare but I manage just and use the trauma as an excuse to enjoy a pudding. Fortunately everyone else is happy with their meal.
We want to give Helen a short trip out on the boat so head up on Monday afternoon to Salléles-d’Aude which takes longer than expected and we just manage to get there before it gets too dark. The trip gives me an opportunity to prepare a beef stew with ale which apparently tastes good. In the morning Laura joins me in her first run as she has signed up for a couple of 10 k runs back in the UK – my new found love of running has influenced her so it will be nice to be able to do some runs together in the future.
We head back to Narbonne on Tuesday morning as we want to have a tapas lunch in Les Halles which is an indoor market. Rick Stein stopped off here during his filming of Rick’s French Odyssey when he travelled on a couple of hotel barges around the Canal des Deux Mers and Canal du Midi. It has a wonderful buzzy atmosphere and is filled with fresh fish, meat, fruit and veg stalls, fromargaries, boulangeries and a stall with huge barrels of different varieties of olives and garlics. We make it just in time and find a space at the end of a bench with high stools and order a range of small dishes and a bottle of rose to wash it down with – very convivial.
As with Matthews visit, the time time has gone far to fast and the girls last day arrive. We again hire a car and take them to Carcassonne medieval city for a wander around the shops, sampling nougat and chocolates before finding a restaurant for lunch – unfortunately the pigeons are in abundance and freak Laura out who has a bird phobia so we retreat inside the restaurant to enjoy a meal in peace. A final treat of ice cream and then its back to the car to find the airport and say our goodbyes and a few tears – I think I am getting better as I manage to hold on until the kids have left before I blubber – I call that progress.