Montreal - St. Hilaire: The wisdom of the crowds - France: Between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees - CycleBlaze

August 26, 2007

Montreal - St. Hilaire: The wisdom of the crowds

I hardly slept a wink in our little tent. I believe we had pitched it on a site that wasn't quite level. Between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., lying awake I hear the church bells ring every hour. The church bells in France ring on the hour and again a few minutes after the hour which makes for a lot of chiming towards midnight. I have yet to find an explanation for this and would welcome a note from anyone who knows why they ring the hour twice.*

Montréal is a small town and we can find no open cafés before we start, so with little sleep and on an empty stomach we set out for Carcassonne, our first destination of the day. Why don't we make our own coffee, you're asking? I guess I just prefer no coffee in the morning to carrying the extra gear required for making it. More often than not we do find a café and the French coffee is far superior to anything I could brew.

Just 20 kilometers to Carcassonne
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Before we ride up to the historic, fortified city of Carcassonne, the so-called cité, we stop in the newer part of Carcassonne, the ville basse. The ville basse, which dates back to the Middle Ages, has a lovely main square, perfect for our long-awaited morning coffee.

In 1849, after falling into a terrible state of disrepair, the cité barely escaped being demolished. The restoration, started in 1853, was a work of genius and today thousands of tourists crowd the streets of the walled city. I am not sure whether it is the wisdom of the crowds or just their willingness to be led that draws them to this lovely spot. Most of them are dumped from tourist buses for a few hours during the day. This is not our first visit to Carcassonne. We spend about five minutes in the old city and then retreat to the shade outside the city gates.

The crowds in Carcassonne
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The cité of Carcassonne - impressive and unique
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Today the sun is scorching. By the time we reach St. Hilaire I am no longer game for climbing the next hill to the campground. Actually, I'm not keen on camping tonight, either. We find a charming and affordable chambre d'hotes, or B&B, and treat ourselves to the luxury of real beds.

*Léo, an expert on France, explained: "I'd always assumed the second chime came after the hour, so you could check whether you'd heard five or six bongs the previous time."

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