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Castelnaudary day trip

Windmill moulin de Cugarel

Last November I wrote that although we no longer celebrate Thanksgiving, thanks to the generosity of our neighbors we don’t miss out on any of the warmth associated with that holiday. After reading that post about this area’s comfort food, cassoulet, friends Sally and Larry suggested making a trip to Castelnaudary to try the dish ourselves in one of the restaurants certified by the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet as serving the authentic meal. Not wanting to miss out on a tasty lunch nor the chance to explore a neighboring town that was once a stop along the ancient Roman road between Narbonne and Toulouse, we readily accepted their invitation. Read the rest of this entry

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A light look at Lourdes

The Gave de Pau river runnning through Lourdes

The French word for “heavy”, if you’re talking about feminine nouns is lourdes which is exactly the same spelling as the town in the Pyrenees that is a major pilgrimage site for Catholics. According to legend, Bernadette Soubirous saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary there in 1858 and believers soon started arriving at the cave (grotto) hoping for a cure. Although I have long wanted to visit the town for its historical significance, Bill said that it would “take a miracle” to convince him to go. Given that today’s blog post was supposed to be about our planned but now postponed side trip from Bordeaux to Cognac because the tasting rooms weren’t open during the holidays, I’d say that we achieved that lofty goal. Hop aboard the train with us for our next destination: Lourdes. Read the rest of this entry

When you mix oil with wine

Olive oil tasting bar

Growing up, I wanted to be a microbiologist until I got to college and found out that in addition to biology you had to also be good at chemistry. Bill’s a wiz at that but I still can’t tell the difference between emulsify, liquefy, and puree—unless those are blender settings, of course. That explains why, when I only caught snippets of the conversation between him and our friend Sally regarding something about oil and wine, I didn’t pay close attention. It was only when I saw them get out their calendars to schedule a day trip that I understood that we would be visiting an olive grove and a winery. Naturally there would have to be time for lunch, so let’s go! Read the rest of this entry

Perpignan day trip

Overlooking Perpignan from the castle

Although we’re less than 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Spain, we can’t get there from here because our favorite mode of transportation, the train, doesn’t cope well with climbing to the 3400 meter summit of the Pyrenees where the border runs along the mountaintop. When we’re going that far south, the tracks first head east towards the Mediterranean before turning to Spain and passing through a city that has existed on both sides of the border: Perpignan. Not unlike Montpellier, where there is little evidence of the 2000-year-old Roman influence found in so many other locations in France, this southern capital wasn’t  established until the 10th century. Read the rest of this entry

Montpellier day trip

Rose window at Montpellier cathedral

Much of France has a definite Roman and Greek history, especially near the Mediterranean Sea where they established colonies in the 1st millennium BC. The remains of amphitheaters, triumphal arches, and city gates from the era abound. Even in Carcassonne where we’re about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the water’s edge, at the base of the giant fortress that overlooks the city you can still the clay bricks laid over 2000 years ago. Somehow, Montpellier, the 7th largest city in the country, was bypassed by those early invaders, not being settled until around 985 AD. We only knew this regional capital from having visited the immigration office there soon after we moved across the Atlantic, so we happily accepted an invitation to lunch with friends that would give us the day to leisurely look around. Read the rest of this entry

Rennes-le-Château day trip

View from the Magdala Tower

If you’re a fan of the novel by Dan Brown called The Da Vinci Code you’ll know that a large portion of the book takes place in France, mostly in or near Paris. We’ve both read the book and seen the movie twice and even walked friends and family around the nation’s capital to places integral to the story such as the Louvre and St. Sulpice church. Then we moved to Carcassonne only 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of a village that I’ve long associated with this thriller that was inspired by the bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. According to this book, it was here that the local priest found a fortune in gold coins, much of which, the legend continues, remains buried in or near his tiny hilltop church plus proof of the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene who bore their child. Author Dan Brown skillfully wove these bloodline details into his novel and suddenly the village of Rennes-le-Château sprang to life. We decided to join the 100,000 other yearly visitors who travel to the foothills of the Pyrenees to see what we could find. Read the rest of this entry

Follow that canal

Castle steps from the 11th century

Now they’ve done it; they’ve bought a car. Whenever our friends Sally and Larry have rented a car for a distant journey they always have a day or two left once they get back to Carcassonne before the vehicle has to be returned to the agency. Bill and I have benefited from those bonus days by being taken on road trips to towns, villages, monuments, and scenic views that we couldn’t easily reach by train or bus. An email will suddenly appear in our mailbox asking if we’re available on a certain date, and if so, be ready for a mystery tour. Two weeks ago we got just such a message and when we replied with an enthusiastic Oui, back came the response to bring a camera, comfortable shoes, and money for wine–just like the instructions we got for those elementary school field trips years ago…except, maybe, for that wine money part! Read the rest of this entry

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