It's hard to believe that we go home 2 weeks from today! Neither of us is ready to go home yet, so I guess that's a good thing. It always seems that I'm ready to go home just about when it is actually time to leave. We're both pretty tired, though, and Mom has been going to bed early -- like 8:30 -- the chairs in the "salon" are not comfortable for her to sit on for very long, so she lies on her bed and reads.
It rained overnight and when I got up this morning I was disappointed to see another slate grey sky, but by the time we left to walk to the village for bread, there were some patches of blue sky. It also looked promising to the southwest, which is where we were headed today. We left the house about 9:30 to go to Carcassonne, which is about 90 minutes from here by autoroute. Carcassonne is one of the largest and most intact fortified towns in Europe. It is also a popular tourist attraction. By the time we got to Carcassonne, the sky was a clear blue and we had a perfect day for the trip.
The oldest parts of the town date back to the 10th century, but some structures were built on top of even older Roman ruins. The town played a key role during the days of the Cathars. There is a tradition that once when the town was besieged, after a long period of time they had run out of food. They had just one pig left. They decided to fool the enemy outside the gates by throwing the pig over the rampart. The enemy took the bait, figuring that if they had so much food that they could afford to throw away a pig, there wasn't much point in prolonging the siege, and they left. Whether that's a true story or not, the town promotes the story for the benefit of the tourists.
There were a lot of tourists there today -- much more than when we were there in April 2005. They come by the bus loads, but once you get through the gates and the first onslaught of tourist traps, you can really enjoy the town. Of course the slope of the streets and cobblestones make it hard-going for Mom. We got there around 11:00 and found a place for lunch just before 12, thinking that we should get settled before the rest of the tourists decide to find a place to eat. We chose a place that trades on the pig story: Le Auberge du Dame Carcas. They have a wood-fired oven and their specialty is cassoulet. It was really good -- better than what we had at another restaurant in 2005 and a lot better than what I made earlier this year. It is a dish of white beans in a tomato sauce with seasonings and different meats. Traditionally, it has duck confit (duck cooked and preserved in its own fat) and sausage, which is what ours had today, but it also can include lamb or pork. The recipe I have takes two days to fix -- too much work. We really enjoyed what we had today, though.
After lunch, we walked around the town and stopped into the church of St. Nazaire. It has beautiful stained glass windows and some of them remind me of quilt blocks as they are geometric and very colorful While we were there a group of men sang. They were "Doro" - the same group that sang when we were in the cathedral in Albi, in 2005. They have a fantastic vocal range and sound really good in the church. We bought one of their CDs before. I think they must go around to various churches, sing a couple of songs, then offer their CD for sale. It is quite an experience to hear them in that setting. I believe they are from eastern Europe, but I can't remember for sure.
Before leaving Carcassonne, we stopped at a cafe for coffee and soft drinks. It has turned out to be quite warm. We came home on the back roads because I wanted Jan to see the Canal du Midi. It was built to connect the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean, so stretches clear across southern France. It was originally used to ship goods across France, but once the railroads were built it became obsolete. Now it is used by vacationers -- people either own or rent boats or barges especially made to fit through the locks (there are dozens of them). At one point I pulled off the main road so I could check the map, and saw the canal and a lock right there. Jan & I jumped out to take some pictures of a boat going through the locks. It was a really neat experience and we were just lucky that we happened upon it.
The remainder of the drive was through small villages and acres upon acres of grapes. More grapes than you can imagine and certainly more than I've ever seen in California or Eastern Washington. The grapes are still being harvested, but I think they are close to the end of harvest now. We see tractors pulling trailers full of grapes as well as the mechanical pickers in the vineyards. We've also seen piles of grape leavings after they've been mashed (I don't think they stomp them anymore).
We got home about 7 -- it was a long day, made longer by having to drive through Beziers, but we made it. Another long day is planned for tomorrow.