Carcassonne

Fall break starts tomorrow, so I have all the time in the world to make a post or two.  And while this past week has been pretty busy, especially since I needed to finish some OFII forms, I’d like to focus on my weekend trip to a beautiful city called Carcassonne.

About an hour and a half from Montpellier lies a medieval fortress, called the Cité de Carcassonne, that was restored in 1853 by an architect named Eugeène Viollet-le-Duc.

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On the inside of the fortress is a huge, old-fashioned city with a wistful feel about it.  You can tour the château or the fortress walls, but you can also find a beautiful basilica, countless candy shops, and a a museum of torture (charming, I know).

A young, impatient man guided us, showing off important parts of the city while rapidly recounting Carcassonne’s history.  One of the first things we did was visit the church, or basilica.  It’s a grand building, a bit plain on the outside, but with beautiful stained-glass windows and large but faded carvings on the walls.

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Every once in a while, three men would start singing acapella near the alter, their voices harmonizing and resonating throughout the church.  The building would fall silent as all tourists stopped talking and sat in the pews to listen– the power those young men had was astounding!  It was equal parts eerie and moving.

After that, we walked a lot, talked a lot, and were given free time to eat lunch and roam.  Although Carcassonne is a tourist attraction for many different reasons, I honestly think someone should mention that it’s pretty much the Candy Capital.  Never, in my entire life, have I seen so many candy and sweets stores in such close proximity to one another.

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Naturally, this means I spent a lot of money on chocolate.  And naturally, that means I ate all the chocolate within a few days.  Such is life.

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Because we had so much time, I took the chance to walk around the fortress walls.  Some parts seemed to be kind of off limits, but, well… if there were no signs or ropes blocking me from entering, why not explore?

Along my walk, I saw a crumbling staircase.  It seemed like it had been chained off at one point, but the chain was broken when I got there.  Of course, that meant I had permission to climb up.  As you can see, it didn’t lead to an incredibly high part of the wall, but it did gave me a nice view of the city below.

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And with a group of students, I did visit the aforementioned museum of torture– a small little building that you would miss if not for tall, armored knight standing outside its ivy-covered walls.  Although we were able to laugh because we’re so far removed from that time period, the whole thing was fascinating in a very uncomfortable way.  There are a surprising amount of woman-specific torture devices that come from the middle ages, but in general, it made me shutter to think of any person being subjected to the kind of violence that seemed normal back then.

Since I needed to clear my head after walking through the museum’s “torture garden,” I ended up finding a sweet little tea shop on a street corner.  Besides the occasional tin of candied flower petals, the shelves were stacked with tea cups, tea pots, tea plates, and tea leaves.  It seemed obvious that I would buy something after ten minutes, so I even received a freshly brewed cup!  And if you know me, then you know I can’t resit tea, so I did buy just a little bit…

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We had to leave not too long after that in order to make it back to Montpellier before dark.  Overall it was a lovely trip, and I’m glad I had the chance to go.

One of the things I can’t get over is just how gorgeous Carcassonne is.  The gray walls, the history, the quaint shop fronts, the cobblestone paths– all of it make Carcassonne irresistible.  Although it’s a bit far, I’m genuinely considering going back, if only to talk to the wonderful shopkeepers or to buy a bit more chocolate.

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Since break is here, I’ll to explore the city a little more, take some nice pictures for once, and maybe attend a conversation exchange or two.  Oh, and probably do classwork.

For the most part, though, I can just relax…. There’s nothing like doing nothing, right?

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