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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Going Back in Time

Our ultimate destination post-Pyrenees was a night in Carcassonne. We had planned on Carcassonne being a lunchtime stopover in a one day trip but left Barcelona a day early to allow for more time to soak it all in.

Carcassonne is a medieval walled city that is still perfectly preserved and occupied. The modern town of Carcassonne sprawls out underneath, but there is no mistaking the city walls on the highest point and the turrets beyond them. I didn’t really expect the modern city to be there, having only seen photos from the ‘other’ side of La Cite (the walled city) where massive fields crawl gently towards the powerfully staunch walls. I was a little bit disappointed when I realized there was modern town as well, until I caught my first glimpse of La Cite itself.

Even from a distance, it’s breathtaking, and we managed to find a campsite only a 2 minute ride from the base of the walls. We set up camp around 6pm and walked into the town. There are only a few ways in, one on the ‘other’ side via roads and a drawbridge, and all others via rickety old stone steps climbing up the hillside.

Inside, I almost felt like I was pretending. The village, while obviously a tourist drawcard, still runs like normal while the modern city moves forward in time below. It seemed na├»ve at first to let La Cite draw me into its dress-up games and falsities but you can’t hold back. Soon the cobbled streets and medieval restaurants have you wrapped up in their alleys and dimly lit walkways. We wandered the shops and the city walls and went to a restaurant serving traditional medieval fare for dinner. There is a castle and an abbey you can visit but we couldn’t after hours, so instead we made the most of the tourist trap shops, dawdling through medieval themed stores selling clothing and weaponry, goblets and jewellery.

Carcassonne doesn’t feel like a tourist trap even though it’s obvious tourism is it’s main income. It feels genuine and quaint, even after we discovered the concert noise we could hear was within the city walls and coming from Ben Harper. Not having planned this stopover I hadn’t realized he was playing and I was a bit gutted because I love him, but Squish and I have seen him before so that’s OK. Courts and I had talked long before the music started about how awesome it would be to have a concert inside La Cite, I think Ben Harper was a bit spoiled playing essentially inside a castle.

Walking back to camp the shadows in the streets became all the more daunting in moonlight, especially when we passed a bizarre shop with mannequins staring at us from dressed upstairs windows. The whole adventure was worth it though when we got far enough away from La Cite to turn back and see it lit up in the dark. If you ever visit, stay the night just so you can see the lights.

We could have spent a couple of days there but we are essentially enroute to Wacken now, Courtney’s first metal festival of the trip. The time between FiberFIB and Wacken has limited us a little bit, because although there are2 and a half weeks between them, there are at least 6 weeks worth of things we wish we could do. We’re making the most of our time though and Carcassonne has definitely left it’s impression on our favourite places list.

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