This is where we spent Wednesday. While there are no rides or cartoon characters this place is as enchanting as any castle Walt Disney thought about. It is located in Carcassonne, France. Earliest historic reference can be traced to the beginning of the 8th century BC. There are many restaurants and shops within the enclosure. We therefore did a lot of eating and shopping. We had to do that to fit in. Not that we WANTED to...
Now here's a chick you may want to know. I personally have heard about enough of her. Let me introduce you to Dame Carcas. Her story is almost as unseemly as her name.
WARNING: This story may gross out the sensitive at heart and stomach. I myself can hardly write this story without shedding a tear but I must do it for a complete record of my trip.
In the 13th century during the Arab occupation of the City, Dame Carcas, a Saracen princess was defending Carcasonne against Charlemagne and his army. The siege had lasted 5 years and inside the fortress, food was becoming scarce. Dame Carcas had the houses of the city searched to gather up all the possible remaining food. The soldiers also brought a pig to her that one woman had kept hidden in her cellar. In a stroke of brilliance (?) Dame Carcas fed all the food to the pig and threw it out of the castle window. When it fell to the ground and all its innards were strewn about, the astonished Charlemagne exclaimed: 'If the Arabs can afford to throw their food out of the window, then there must still be plenty of food in the city--useless to continue a siege that has already lasted for so long.' They quickly retreated and started for home. That should be the end of the story, but the precious princess decided that she actually wanted Charlemagne with her so she called him back. Go figure. She wanted a bad boy.
We stopped in at the Saint Nazaire basilica which is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic art. This is one gorgeous church. The stained glass windows were so beautiful I could have stared at them all day deciphering their meanings. Since this is an active church we were all to be quiet and respectful as we looked around. All of a sudden we started hearing music. Looking around I thought it must be a CD but it was a Russian men's quartet that sings regularly in the church. They sell CD's which benefit the church but this live performance was second to none. The acoustics were impeccable and they did not use microphones. I tried to publish a recording but couldn't get it to work. If you want to search for it it would be worth your while. Try searching YouTube for: Sights and Sounds from Europe #8--"Russian singers in Carcassonne cathedral"
This is what it looked from the inside out for the defenders of the castle. These windows were constructed so that things could be shot from the inside from a wide angle, but the angle for the enemies shooting in was very small. There were many other ways that the construction lent itself to being defended rather than defeated. A favorite seemed to be throwing hot oil on their enemies from atop the towers. I have a book that explains all the dastardly deeds that were perpetrated upon the brave but foolish attackers of this impenetrable fortress. To tell you the truth, I wasn't very excited about this place until I saw it so I'm not expecting to be able to pass on to you the full impact of seeing it. I learned that even ancient European history can be fascinating. This is from the person who practically slept through world history in high school. I didn't think it had any relevance to me because it didn't sound fun. Maybe if we had taken some field trips to these far flung places I may have gotten excited about it a long time ago!
I feel that I would be remiss if I did not add to my cobblestone collection. This is only one pattern that I found under my feet at Carcassonne. I thought it would be a good addition because of the rectangular shape. There were so many stones and bricks all around me I was overwhelmed. First of all, it was really hard to walk on the streets, but I described that in a previous blog. I didn't fall but I did walk into a concrete pillar that was about knee high.
The visitor's center (below) is the best of its kind. As you walk down the stone steps you get the feeling of being taken back in time. The ceiling is beautiful and looking through the tall, slender "weapons windows" you can almost feel lost in the drama of those times. It's dark and dusty but so full of history. Even the cobwebs seemed ancient. Maybe they are the very ones that Dame Carcas saw as she was bustling about the castle.
By the time we made it back to the train we were so tired we looked forward to sitting down for the hour trip home. When we got back to our apartment we hit the hay early. This morning we got to sleep in and recharge. We plan to spend our last couple days in Toulouse resting and shopping and of course, eating. We're going to make a meal of desserts tomorrow. We really seem to be doing a lot of shopping, but there is much to buy for our people back home. After all, we're the ones having all the fun while they're working hard back home. It's the very least we can do, right?
This trip will go down as a great success. We are all so glad that we finally did it. We have spent a lot of time together and done so much. It is fun to be able to do this as we get to know each other even better. I've always loved having sisters but being the youngest I've often felt like I was on the outside looking in. Vestiges of those family dynamics seem to be always present but they fade over the years. As we've all gone through our lives we've found our way with and without each other. It's just nice to know that when we do cross paths we are able to do it with love and affection for each other and that we enjoy our time together. We have a good legacy of family being friends as we watched our parents interact with their siblings. There were differences for sure, but when it came right down to it, they always had each others backs. I think that's the way we sisters are and that's a good way to go through life.