Touristing in our own backyard

Wendy, our cats’ former vet from Kailua, just paid us a very nice visit. She was a great catalyst for our exploring together more of what Carcassonne has to offer. A photo journal of 36 hours:

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Stop one had to be La Cité, which is the castle above Carcassonne.  It is a 40 minute walk from our house, through the “old” town (established in the 14th century!).
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This is the countryside that encircles the small town of Carcassonne.  It is these rolling green hills, covered with fields, vineyards and copses, that entrance us.
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We toured the castle within the castle, and walked along the ramparts. The first castle is the oldest part, some foundation stones of which date from Roman times. After the northern French kings subdued the local families and their castle, they expanded La Cité hugely to what we visit today.

 

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A glimpse of the Basilique Saint Nazaire, the Romanesque and gothic chapel within the walls of La Cité.
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The buttresses and gargoyles of the basilica.
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The Romanesque nave, with a glimpse of a gothic chapel beyond.
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On our way back from La Cité, a kind fellow tourist took our photo.
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About 20 minutes outside of Carcassonne is the village of Saint Hilaire, with its Benedictine abbey. Established in the 10th century, the abbey was active until the 1700s.
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Off of this cloister are the church, monks’ and lay refectories, and the abbot’s quarters. In the early 16th century, the monks here produced the first sparkling wine in Europe, about 150 years before Dom Perignon stumbled upon the first champagne. We bought a bottle of what is labeled as “the old style”: fruity, light in alcohol, like candy!
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The monks’ refectory includes this pulpit built within the stone walls, apparently a unique configuration.  The story is that, while the monks ate, one of their colleagues would sit here, reading scripture.
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A detail from within the church.
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This is the ceiling of the abbot’s chamber, the most decorated room in the otherwise austere abbey. At the end of each coffer bay are vignettes of religious and heraldic themes, as well as a few subversive ones, for the abbot’s eyes only — including a little sex scene in the bath!
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Time for lunch! We asked the woman at the ticket counter at the abbey for recommendation for somewhere to stop for lunch.  She grimaced when we asked if there was somewhere in Saint Hilaire. Then she lit up as she described a bistrot at the golf course just outside of Carcassonne. We found a pretty typical golf club house bar/restaurant, at first look completely full of only men (turned out that there were a few women there too). One of the daily specials was a French word I didn’t recognize, but the server said it was meat. Big surprise when a Texas-size stack of ribs showed up. Oh well, gotta do what you gotta do.
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Revived, we drove north of Carcassonne to the site of a large cave above the town of Cabrespine. Gouffre Géant means Giant Abyss.
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Immense! The partially cantilevered walk has open grating and glass walking surface so you can peer down as you walk out over the abyss — which is about 250 meters deep.
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This is apparently where it all started. Long ago, an underground watercourse flowed through here, which is high up in the side of what is now the cavern. On this side of the cavern, the limestone is porous and relatively brittle. Behind where this photo was taken, the limestone is different, dense and impermeable. Over time, the water swirled against the harder limestone.  It burrowed down and down to create today’s cavern. Below the bottom of the cave, the descendent of that watercourse flows through the mountain.
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Hungry again after all that touristing. We chose a seafood restaurant that we hadn’t yet tried but that Yelpers liked. Mike and I each ordered a fish plate, and this is what arrived. We thought at first this was a selection from which we would be invited to choose.  But no, this was all for us — as if there were 20 of us! Embarrassing, really. But then we saw another table order and receive the same trawler haul. Fortunately, we were able to take the rest home, which became fish stew the next day.
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A last view of the castle on our walk home after dinner.

 

 

 

 

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