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January 30, 2002
Carcassonne (Russell)

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Carcassonne's restored château

According to travel author Rick Steves, there is a wonderful apocryphal story of how the ancient walled village of La Cité came to be renamed as Carcassonne.  During an 800 AD attack by Charlemagne, the inhabitants of the besieged city were about to starve to death.  Madame Carcas fed the last bits of grain to the last pig and hoisted it over the wall at the invaders.  Charlemagne's army decided that if the enemy could afford to use food as weapons, they would never be starved out, so the attackers gave up and went home.  Madame Carcas sounded the bells of victory, and the city was renamed as "Carcas sonne" (literally, "Carcas sounds").  Rick Steves personally believes that the name is simply a French version of the town's original name of "Carcas."

Whatever the case, we have greatly enjoyed our time here in this restored Medieval walled city.  On January 29th, for the second night in a row, we arrived in the city after dark.  With no further time to explore, we had a quickie dinner back in the room before turning in for the night.

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Carcassonne by night: the view from the vieux pont

The thick fog of the evening turned into a very overcast and windy morning on January 30th, but it was our last chance to explore La Cité.  With plastic swords and cameras in hand, we spent several hours walking around the entire city along les lices, the spaces between the inner and outer walls (we skipped the tour of the restored castle, having had our fill of the real thing the day before).  At the height of the tourist season there can be several thousand people here on any given day, but today we were the only ones out and about.  It was much colder than the previous days, but we had a lot of fun running up and down rampart staircases, peering out through archery balustrades, poking our heads into dark rooms, and generally running into dead ends.  We even peered up the stone tunnel of the toilet, whose shaft dropped straight down from the upper tower rooms to the ground below (we recalled that this was how the Gödesburg Castle in Germany was ultimately invaded).  Cameron and Joss continued to sword fight their way through the morning.

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Two swordsmen atop Carcassonne's outer wall

Shortly before noon, we departed Carcassonne and started the long drive back to Crest.  For the first half of our drive we avoided the non-scenic autoroutes and instead took the slower, more meandering Routes Nationales so that we could enjoy the views of Languedoc for as long as possible.  This course also enabled us to drive alongside the Mediterranean Sea for a few dozen kilometres between Agde and Sète.  Despite the cold weather, we stopped along the side of the road to let the boys play at the beach for awhile.  Cameron constructed a sand crocodile complete with skeletal remains of his last victim (we have been reviewing the Website as a bedtime story, and Cameron had just seen Gail's sand dragon from Tangalooma), while Joss constructed a walled city complete with mayor's office.  Russell took pictures, while Gail enjoyed the warmth,  comfort, and quiet of the car.

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The beach (and the clouds) at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea

When we finally arrived back at the house in Crest at the end of the day, the boys immediately ran outside in the dwindling light to renew their sword fight (Joss has been whacking his sword around at things so much that it has already begun to crack).

Our remaining time in Crest is also dwindling.  Our last day here will be February 11th, when we will leave this house for the last time.  We will join our American ex-patriot friends Jean-Charles and Cecilia near Nice for a few days, then continue south into Italy where further adventures await.  In the meantime, we are poring over our maps and tour books to plan our final excursions (at least for now) in France.


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