I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in France (13)


La vie est belle




Up with the larks then on “my day” and with the sun shining on the distant hills, time to go in search of fun!




All I had to do was to sit back and enjoy being here.




Oh, and fulfil a few wishes on my shopping list at the local pharmacy, too Winking smile




First stop was Rennes le Chateau




Now this place meant nothing to me, but set high on the hillside with marvellous views, it was the perfect place to begin my day.




We walked along the path to the small viewpoint, where someone had captured my thoughts perfectly in green chalk on the stone.




Not easy to see in the picture, but  la vie est belle.  Vraiment!




Of course, we wanted to see inside the chapel, too and as we walked, I learned a little of the significance of the place.  Had I read the Dan Brown books, maybe I’d have had a bit more of an idea, but never mind, the place is interesting in itself.




Looking towards the altar, the lavish decoration and highly coloured wall painting wasn’t easy to photograph in the dim light.




It was a little easier at the back, where the open door allowed a little daylight in to illuminate the lavish figures.




Right by the door was the one which provokes the most interest.




Just along the path is the bookshop with all the information to feed that curiosity, too.

(If you like that sort of thing)




I was happy to be back out in the countryside, driving through vineyards where the colours seemed to be changing by the minute.




The landscape changed completely when the sun came out!  I frequently wish my friends “love and sunshine” on their birthday and must say how very much I appreciate the love and sunshine that was being wished upon me right then.  Lucky girl.




We were approaching the Gorges de Galamus where we stopped at the small car park to take a photo of the hermitage over there on the cliff face.




It’s there by that yellow-y patch of rock and as we stepped inside the small cafe in the car park to buy a drink, we could only smile when asked if we were intending to walk over there along the precipitous pathway.




Actually, the road was scary enough!




My hero’s white knuckles were evident for the next ten minutes or so.  Thankfully, we met just one single vehicle coming the other way and I was grateful that we were on the right side.




Plenty of adventure then, stories to make my day truly memorable and so many places where we just had to stop and take in the view.




Small villages perched on hillsides.




Vineyards and ruined castles on rocky outcrops high above them.




And the most glorious landscape to take in.




Eventually, we found our way into Perpignan,  where we spent a short time exploring the city centre before heading back on a somewhat less tortuous route back to Carcassonne.

Dinner in La Barbacane completed what had been a very special day indeed.

Did I say it already?


 la vie est belle  


Exploring the Cité




We’d earmarked this morning to explore more of the Cité, beginning with the castle.  With complimentary tickets in hand then, we finished our breakfast to be there shortly after it opened at 10am.




At this time of the morning we have the place to ourselves.




In fact, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like later in the day, when coach parties and other groups fill these streets.




So we are glad to make the most of it, taking the chance to lean over a wall and peer into the funny little raised beds in the moat, now well past their best.




Once inside the castle, my hero and our boy were engrossed in history whereas I was more taken by the visual feast that was there on the wall.




I snipped and snapped here and there, occasionally snipping a bit off the top of the picture I thought I was taking, but hey ho, never mind.  I loved the shapes and the way the place was presented.




I felt totally spoiled to see the castle like this – it was almost as though we had a private viewing.




Having mooched around the outer yards, we went inside to begin the self guided tour, starting with a video presentation to learn the background to the place.




Once done with that, we went out onto the ramparts, from where spectacular views could be seen of the modern city and beyond.




There was quite a bit of up and down too.




It wasn’t a bad morning, though the bright sunshine was a little elusive today and there was a stiff breeze to make us pleased of our coats.




Having explored all the ramparts, we felt we’d seen all there was to see and made our way back down again, into the museum.




I rather liked the way the exhibits were arranged in groups here – for example, this wall of corbels, all set side by side.




Another wall had a collection of ornamental stone faces.  Spot the family resemblance?




This stone shield had a design which would make a beautiful trapunto cushion (and has probably been made into several such things already)




And the brightly coloured frescoes weren’t frescoes at all, but whatever it’s called when the colour is applied to dry plaster – wall paintings?




The fire escape signs were suitable medieval in style, don’t you think?  You know, I’m sure the EU usually insists on them being green and white Winking smile




Of course, we exited through the gift shop, where a little subversive behaviour therapy was going on in the children’s gift department, where the caption on the plastic Princess plates was “je mange la bouche fermee” and that on the Prince version “Je mets ma serviette sur mes genoux”.  Well, can’t do any harm, can it?




I can’t help but think the little princes would rather have their own knights to play with however.




And though I’d prefer the little princesses had a rather less feeble choice, I guess they need to have their pretty ladies too.




By the time we left, it was starting to get busy.




Ooh, seriously busy – the first of the coach parties was arriving.  Time to go!




We made our way into the Basilica, just before it closed for lunch at 11.45am.




A trio of Russian singers were making the most glorious sound in there and we stood and listened for a while before deciding that it really was time to go.




We’d planned a shortish afternoon exploring the countryside to the north of Carcassonne, but after a couple of hours out, the weather and our own ennui got the better of us and we called it a day and retired to our comfy hotel with our books and a pot of tea.

There might have been a slice of nougat shared between us, too.  We have a favourite, of course.


See the country, drink the wine




We woke to another lovely day and fortified by an excellent breakfast, we set out to find our car.  At this time of the morning, we had the Cité to ourselves and we wondered if, rather than head out we ought to make the most of the peace and quiet.




We decided that we can do that tomorrow – for now, we’d continue with our plans.




We found our car of course, though took the longer way around this time – we’ll remember the shortcut tomorrow, for sure!  We took the road east, though lovely Autumn landscapes towards Narbonne, choosing the quieter routes rather than the fast motorways.




The family historian was keen to explore Narbonne and getting our bearings at the tourist office by the canal, we realised that the inner city was quite compact and very walkable.




We headed for the cathedral; the building abandoned before completion as a result of the declining fortune of the city when the harbour silted up.




It’s tucked away on a small side street off the main square and we went into the cloistered yard through a gateway up a few steps.




Inside, it’s grand as any cathedral, with soaring columns and beautifully shaped arches.




The walls bear the traces of centuries of visitors




and though some corners are well maintained others show a great deal of damage including this small chapel, my favourite corner of all.  It was the shimmering light and shadow that caught my eye initially, though closer observation offered further rewards.




I really liked the symmetry here and even though the carved panels were broken and damaged, I felt there was an honesty and timelessness about the whole wall.  Yes, times have been hard but it’s still here and enjoyed.




I always like the fragments of wall paintings whose soft, muted colours offer clues to the parts which are no longer visible.




In the dark, glass alcove were further fragments of stonework, including this little hand holding a piece of fabric.  I’ve no idea where it came from or any other details, i simply liked the fine carving and the fine observations made by the artist who created it.




Across the way from this small chapel, it appeared the damage which had been done to the stonework was deliberate, for the face and hands of every figure had been knocked off.  A row of half a dozen “faces” are there to be imagined.




Turning the corner and stepping into the choir, one might have expected a view into a soaring nave, but of course, the cathedral wasn’t finished.  So, this is it – a compact choir with an impressive organ loft and no more.




So, I walked to the back, looked in one or two of the small chapels to find more faceless figures




and in the darkest corner, the beautifully placed figure of the Madonna, lit by a shaft of sunlight.




As we left, we noted the distinctive cross on every column and I made a mental note to find out more.




There was more to find out on the street, because this face appears on a series of markers set into the pavement.  Who? Why?  (Maybe Lesley knows?)




We strolled along the canal then, towards the market hall and enjoying the warm sunshine.




We’d enjoyed our mooch around Narbonne, we left a few euros behind having found Sephora (!) and making our way back to the car, I spotted some bonus fragments of earlier times there on the wall.




The sea was calling us though.




We couldn’t come all this way and be so close to the Mediterranean without a short stop at “le plage”, could we?




It was a very short stop though!  We drove back past the lagoon, looking at the birds and wondering if there really were flamingoes there as we’d been told there could be.

Hang on – what’s that bird out there?




Good grief!




Well, I know I won’t get wildlife photographer of the year but somehow, the sight of flying pink flamingoes just seemed too out of the ordinary to miss.




Especially since just ten minutes later we were back driving through vineyards, heading back towards Carcassonne through Corbieres.




We stopped several times to try to capture the Autumn scenes, the huge range of glorious colours in each of those fields of vines.




They were so much brighter, so much richer than here, set off to best effect by the deep shadows and the afternoon sunshine.




The low levels of traffic made the journey a delight.




What a great time of the year to be here.




As the afternoon sun faded, it became harder to spot the rocky outcrops and medieval castles perched on top of them. 




This is lovely countryside though my hero was getting tired from driving on so many narrow, single track roads and the Weston prayer was uttered on several occasions, Mary!




A bottle of Corbieres was definitely a good idea tonight.


Cité living




It’s grand here in our turret, but these places were not built for blogging. 




In the meantime, please enjoy the view.


From our turret




It was a very early start this morning for this, our Autumn jolly to celebrate my birthday later this week.  We left James at home with a list and set off in the early evening to stay overnight at the Heathrow Sofitel, waiting up to meet Edward who arrived late from a Parliamentary reception.  All safely gathered in, we set our alarms for 5am.




The advantage to such an early start was that by mid-morning we were well on our way, on the autoroute towards Montpellier.




We had to get the Euro purse out quick though, for the peage!




We’re in Cassoulet country.  Someone is planning a sampling.




A small detour took us along the Canal du Midi, looking rather lovely in the early Autumn sunshine.




Soon, we were almost there. The medieval turrets of Carcassonne came into view and there was just time to take a quick snap.




We had elaborate parking instructions but in reality, it was all pretty sketchy.  A young man pointed to a space in a bit of scrubby grassland before suggesting that we might prefer the security of the hotel car parking area, complete with transfer for ourselves and our luggage – at a cost, needless to say. 




The parking area looked just the same and we couldn’t see any additional security, but thinking that we didn’t really want to be trucking out suitcases down through the streets to somewhere unknown, we agreed and piled into this tiny car to be driven through narrow streets, scattering an assortment of tourists along the way.




We were soon making ourselves at home in our turret then, opening windows and looking out over the city.  It was a beautiful afternoon and we were eager to get our bearings and explore a little.




The narrow streets and picturesque alleyways were exactly as we’d imagined and though there were quite a few tourists about, there was plenty of space for all.




In the marketplace we stopped for a drink and a bite to eat.




Cassoulet of course!




Over the next couple of days, there will be time to explore this lovely place in more detail, but for now, we simply enjoyed the view and were glad to be here.




Even better this evening when everyone else has gone home and we seem to have the city almost to ourselves!