Visits to Christmas markets have been an important part of our vacations in Europe since we first started coming here 30 years ago. An Internet search on the subject turns up numerous websites detailing “the best…iconic…top 5…the most magical” markets in more than a dozen countries, most of which we’ve had the good fortune to have seen. Even with some health restrictions in place last year we were able to spend time in 3 northern French cities decked out for the holidays. This year, after some incredible vacations in Spain, Switzerland, and Ireland we’ve decided to spend Noël right here in Carcassonne. As Bing Crosby sang in 1943, “Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams, I’ll be home for Christmas”.
France has been the most visited country in the world for many years and we had a blog post earlier this year that explains some of the reasons. As you would expect there’s food, wine, culture, beautiful villages, and romance. History is another factor and it’s overflowing here since we live in a city with Europe’s largest preserved Medieval walled city with foundations that the Romans built 2000 years ago. None of that potential is lost on the municipal Office of Tourism that has been classified by the government as “Category 1” for their excellence in serving the public and in cooperating with local professionals in national and international promotion. But there’s not just one government organization interested in getting the word out about Carcassonne; there are four and each one has its own list of where to take the best photos of that Cité on your visit here. Let’s see how they compare.
Here’s a definition: “An annual competitive and recreational gathering, usually held in late summer or early fall that began in the nineteenth century for the purpose of promoting agriculture, through competitive exhibitions of livestock and display of farm products. They have now expanded to include carnival amusement rides, games, and food stands, display of industrial products, and entertainment such as musical concerts.” If the county or state fair came to mind, you’d be correct, although this description got its first application in Seville, Spain in 1847 after Queen Isabelle II gave her permission for a 3-day event for “buying and selling livestock.” Thus La Féria in Spain was born which eventually moved north across the border, including to Carcassonne where today our local fair concludes.
It’s been over 50 years since a Japanese inventor released his health-craze-creating pedometer that shared its name with that of the company that produced it: 10,000 Steps. A study back then addressed the importance of walking and another was recently released that confirms those initial results: if you want to live longer and healthier you need to literally “take the steps” to do so. Apparently neither the intensity nor over what period of time daily that you exercise affects the results but it is cumulative; that is, compared to 4000 steps, taking 8000 steps reduces mortality by 51% or 65% for 12,000 steps in a 24-hour period. Since we don’t have a car we’re used to walking and given the long-distance travel restrictions we’ve had over the last year, seeing our local area on foot has been our main outdoor recreation. With 2000 years of history on our doorstep and a guide published by the city to lead the way, we’ve had plenty to explore right here at home.
Just the other night we were walking home from dinner with friends at a ski resort and realized just how lucky we are. Something about that sentence doesn’t sound right. Walking home, yes. Dinner with friends, certainly. Lucky, definitely. Ski resort, not exactly. As you’ll be able to see in the photos below, Carcassonne is decked out in its finest for the holiday season. There are four major centers of lights and attractions around town plus plenty of side streets and shop windows that echo the excitement. The city has constructed a giant scaffolding structure at Place du Géneral de Gaulle, on top of which is a chalet-style restaurant and stationary ski lift cable cars with dining tables inside that would fit right in on a mountainside in the Alps, hundreds of kilometers from here, but we had a view of the medieval walled Cité with Père Noël pointing the way. The best news for us? Everything starts about a 10-minute walk away from our front door.Continue reading “A Carcassonne Christmas”
It was 75 years ago today that the Nazi troops who had been occupying Carcassonne for almost 2 years received their orders from Hitler to abandon the city. His wishes were carried out the next day by the departing soldiers who had one last despicable act to accomplish. In a compound outside of town where members of the French Resistance were being held prisoner, the Germans detonated all of their remaining munitions in one giant explosion that leveled the building and took everyone inside with it. Several streets in the center of town now bear the names of some of those killed in the blast. While that prison no longer exists, we searched for other buildings that are still standing with stories related to the resistance movement and while this compilation won’t be exhaustive, we did find it as a sign of hope in dreadful times.Continue reading “Liberté in Carcassonne”
We are just into summer and the colors couldn’t be brighter in Carcassonne. Last year for this sunny season the city introduced a rainbow of umbrellas suspended over the pedestrian shopping street and those have returned. Not only does it provide a colorful splash but also some welcome shade from that beautiful and sometimes intense southern France sunshine. Joining these parapluies this year are sails, equally vivid, and hanging above the main driving thoroughfare in the lower city. The good news for those of us without a car is that many of the streets have become pedestrian-only for a portion of each day during this outdoor season so we can admire the artwork overhead without having to dodge vehicles.Continue reading “Colors of summer”