Carcassonne, France: Storming the Castle

Carcassonne has been the first fully intact castle (not counting Disneyland) that I have visited this far in Europe. I set out with my intrepid companion, M, from the Toulouse train station slightly later than anticipated, but still with plenty of time to see much of the old and new city of Carcassonne without much issue.

M was a roommate of mine while I was going to school in San Diego. I still remember my candidate interview for the house was dependent upon my willingness to play Super Smash Bros. with the rest of the crew. A good friend that I hadn’t seen in years, and the kind that upon meeting again feels as though no time had passed. In part, much of my experiences in Carcassonne were made more positive by being able to spend time with a friend that I knew well for the first time since leaving home.

We approached the city walls from the southeast, crossing a stone bridge and stopping to take a picture. At first, I had asked M for a picture so I could have one in my “full” GoPro gear (a hat and hat clip) and he asked what landmark I would like to have in the picture with me.

Confused, thinking that the Carcassonne castle (the intent of the visit) would be the obvious choice, I exclaimed “the castle?”

In his most sincere and earnest tone, M replied “what castle?” To which I didn’t have much of a response other than to nearly fall off of the bridge laughing, and was fortunately stopped by a group of tourists from Ireland whom had heard the entire exchange and wanted to chime in.

There are times where you meet the most interesting people while traveling for the strangest reasons, and then there are times where you keep running into those same people, and they are *insistent* that they are not following you. This experience fell into the latter camp. We must have run into that same group several times in passing throughout the rest of the day.

At first, it was that same initial awkwardness of trying to show that we were not following each other that drove M and I to find a secret path to the castle while playing a game of “driveway or trail.” (Hint: it was a trail)

The whole experience felt very absurd, as if we had been translated directly into “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and we’re then given a quest to find a way to storm the impenetrable castle.

The guard on duty didn’t seem to concern himself deeply with the two agents of his impending doom, and didn’t offer a second glance as we walked by. Entering the citè interior through the gate was a far more momentous occasion, as it is extremely well preserved, even as it has transformed into a repository for fantastic trinket shops and restaurants.

Highlights of citè interior included:

- Eating Cassoulet. Even though it was mentioned in a previous post, I will reiterate it here. We found a restaurant that advertised food made from fresh ingredients and home-made bread. It did not disappoint (even if finding out that the Medieval wine listed on the menu was non-alcoholic, it was still really cool) and was one of the best meals that I had in France by far. The salad that was served with a mound of bacon certainly helped with that too.

- Carcassonne Haunted house. Because why not? It was fascinating to see how they decided to re appropriate the space in a corner for something that I certainly didn’t expect. Each room had an automatic timer, and you had about 10 second to pass through when the door opened or you would be stuck standing in complete darkness for 6 minutes or until the next group passed through. Seeing as the house didn’t seem like it was seeing too much traffic at the time, we certainly didn’t want to get stuck there.

The house ended with a strange story (that I assume was supposed to frame the experience) about a man who figured out how to reanimate corpses. After discovering that his concoction was successful, his wife was then murdered by the reanimated corpse. As my French is limited to the small bits I have picked up while in France, it was difficult to tell how the story ended other than with a bunch of ghosts and full moons and scaaaaarrrry noises. Still, fun for being an experience that was utterly contrary to what I expected to find.

- The Carcassonne ramparts and Citè interior. This was why I came to Carcassonne, to experience what it might have been like to walk along the still intact (if renovated) walls of the fortress. There is something incredible about being able to sneak along the stones, to peek through slotted windows, to peer over into the new city proper, and to finally fulfill a childhood fantasy of visiting a *real* castle.

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Seeing my friend again after such a long time, and after learning of the extraordinary circumstances that he had triumphed over since the last time we spoke was one of the most encouraging and important experiences that I have had thus far. It has given me hope that while I may have decided to leave the life behind as I knew it, there are still people that I care about that can still participate in meaningful ways.

It was also good to spend some time with a friend before embarking on the next stage of my journey, which would prove to be one of the most challenging, extraordinary, and rewarding experiences of my entire life.