Day Twenty Eight: Carcassonne to Castelnaudry: Storming the Castle - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

April 24, 2017

Day Twenty Eight: Carcassonne to Castelnaudry: Storming the Castle

Our pilgrim accommodation was located directly below the walled city of Carcassonne, known appropriately enough as La Cite. This is a place with an approximately 2500 year history, starting with the Celts and then the Romans. The Romans were the ones to build the first walls. Eventually there were 3 km of them, entirely encircling the town. Visigoths, Arabs, and Francs successively took over the city. But we think of it primarily in terms of its having been a Cathar stronghold, the Cathars being a sect of Christianity that were not beholden to the Pope.

In 1209, troops of Simon de Montfort laid seige to the town, and it seems it took them until 1226 to bust in. In an earlier seige, with Sarrasins on the inside and Charlemagne on the outside, the story goes that the wife of the slain sarrasin leader, called Madame Carcas threw a fat (dead) pig stuffed with good grain over the walls, demonstrating to the seige army that there was no shortage of food inside. With that, I think Charlemagne gave up.

But Montfort was vicious, sacking this and many Cathar towns in the area, and so Carcassonne was annexed by the French crown. It served as a fortress until the 17th century, but slowly decayed. Restoration work from 1852 to 1910 put it in shape to attract the Grampies.

We walked up a convenient ramp and breached the Porte Narbonnaise on the East Side. Someone had left the portcullis open - ok, actually it is no longer there. Last time we were here, hoards of tourists were occupying all the available space, so after plundering just one soft ice cream, we fled.

This time, though, we had used the clever ploy of showing up before 10:00 a.m. The entire fortress was deserted. Almost not a single tourist or even shop keeper in sight. We swarmed freely over the place, taking lots of photos with no cars or people in them. We left voluntarily, to go challenge again the Canal du Midi.

As we walked at the base of the castle, the first wave of tourists was marching up. We were glad we did not have to contend with them over anything!

Carcassone
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Madame Carcas, after whom the town is supposedly named
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The towers of Carcassonne
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Deserted streets inside the fortress
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What is wrong wth this picture?
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Back at the Abbaye Notre Dame, we picked up our bikes and bags. We said goodbye to Jenny, the Australian walker, and set off. But with Jenny it was not goodbye for ever, just yet. Her way coincided with ours for a bit, and she seemed to walk as fast as we rode, if you include our stops to puzzle out which way to go.

Jenny
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A decorated wall by the Abbaye
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Closeup of one of the decorations on the Abbaye wall. Building a tower
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Oh, oh, the invaders arrive
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Locals are usually willing to help out with directions.
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Dodie's new shoes that she started the trip with are now dusty and getting wrecked. So she thought these looked good, in a store window.
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This is the illustration on a souvenir mug.
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Back on the Canal, it was back to cyclist's hell, as soon enough we were bumping along the same horrible one track beside the water. After under 10 km of fighting with this, we got fed up and decided to take a road, any road. That's how we hit on the D33. Yes, it had no shoulder, but it did have a quite fat white line. And importantly traffic was light. It also was pretty much flat, and we had a tail wind. So then we just flew along.

By the canal, we see a new generation of those famous French fishers, who sit for hours with no results, in training. At least these seem to also have juice and cookies.
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The rotten path by the Canal
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D33!
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We stopped in a few towns along the way, for example Pexiora. Here the church was closed but we unpacked our camp chairs and ate lunch nearby, sort of in someone's back yard. In laissez faire France, no one harrassed us over this, but some said hello. One man in particular had been to Quebec and waxed eloquent over how much he had liked it. This man, like others in the past two days, spoke with a strange accent. It is the closest thing to a U.S. "Southern Accent" that I think you will hear in France. It's kind of a drawl and kind of Spanish sounding. The man just called it the accent of Occitaine, the name of this region.

Castelnaudry turned out to be the kind of town I like best, with some open squares and all the vital services (like bakery, TI, hotels) easily visible. One big thing was immediately apparent - Cassoulet. This is Cassoulet central!

Cassoulet is (to me) a dubious slow cooked stew of white beans and some kind of greasy meat, like duck or pork. It draws its name from the cassoule, or pot that it is typically slow cooked in. Typically you can buy it in cans. Yeech. I think our daughter Joni first brought it back from her stay in Toulouse. It is a "southern" specialty. It could be better fresh, and Dodie is threatening to try it out. It will be easy, because every restaurant in this town specialzes in cassoulet. Stay tuned for a possible report on that.

Just before Castelnaudry, the path becomes reasonable!
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Oh,oh, cassoulet
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By the Tourist Information, they are pushing the cassoulet trail
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Our hotel and cassoulet central.
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Election Report

Yesterday was the first round national election in France. They are reporting something like 78% turnout, surprising because the whole election, including yesterday's voting seemed very low key to us.

After following the traumatic Trump thing, we have been reluctant to get too emotionally invested in the French election. But especially after Trump and after Brexit, it is rather critical for Europe and the world.

The moderate Macron came out on top, but just with 23.77% of the vote, while the extremist LePen had 21.7%. The conservative Fillon had 20% and the socialist Melanchon 19%. Wow. Macron and LePen are through to the finals, but where will the votes of the others go? Fillon immediately came out saying it was necessary to stop LePen, but Melanchon has held his fire. May 7, we'll see what happens.

Fairly upsetting for us here now in the Occitaine region is that LePen got the biggest vote of all candidates, about 24%. Within Occitaine, in the Aude department where we are now, it was 28%, in the Pyrenees, 30%!

Jut as in the U.S. you have the red and blue states, with the general (very general) rule that the coasts are blue and the centre and south is red, in France the extreme right is strongest in the East and South East. In the South East where we are, they are strongest on the Mediterranean coast, where we are, like in the Departments of Gard, Herault, Aude, and Pyrenees Orientale. Oh, great.

Election results, nationally
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Oh, oh, bad news in Aude
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The red and blue analagous regions of France. Grey = bad!
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Cassoulet Report

Our hotel, the Hotel de France, claims to have been making cassoulet for over a century. Dodie resolved to give it a try, even though the cost was essentially 22 euros a bowl (included salad).

To me it looked sort of ok when it arrived, but after a bit of prodding mysterious things began to surface: mystery sausage, mystery meat, mystery skin. Dodie seemed to like it a lot, though there was way too much for one person. I don't think French restaurants really do doggie bags, and certainly not ones durable enough for on a bike!

Cassoulet for sale in the hotel boutique
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Cassoulet is named for the cassoules - clay slow cookers. Here are some really nice ones, locally made.
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Dodie's cassoulet when it first came.
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Dodie's cassoulet when stuff began to emerge from it.
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Today's ride: 43 km (27 miles)
Total: 1,335 km (829 miles)

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