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Toulouse day trip

Pink mansion on rue de l’Echarpe

If we hadn’t already been to Albi, the birthplace of painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, I would have spent a lot of time during our visit to this city bearing a part of his last name trying to find his connection to the Ville Rose (Pink City because of the color of the bricks). As it turns out, the name meant that he was born into an aristocratic family with roots in the area rather than, as the museum in Albi dedicated to his works can confirm, being from there. All the better for us since we now had that much more opportunity to explore the museums, squares, medieval buildings, cafés, and 2000 or so restaurants in a city less than an hour by train from Carcassonne. Read the rest of this entry

Cherry festival

Life can be a bowl of cherries, thanks Sally!

It’s said that even without a calendar you can tell what month it is in France just by visiting the market. If all of the stalls are full of heads of cauliflower as big as basketballs, it’s probably March. In April the asparagus and artichokes compete for space. May brings flats of strawberries the size of golf balls and spilling from then into June, bright red cherries entice you to bite them. Just as some cheeses are known by the area they come from like Roquefort or Camembert, for example as are wines such as Champagne and Cognac, fruits and vegetables can be just as well known. Just say “Charentais” and everyone’s mouth begins to water when they think of sweet and juicy melons. The same goes for Mirabelle plums from Lorraine and Bill’s favorite, les cerises de Cerét, cherries and we went to the festival. Read the rest of this entry

Caunes-Minervois day trip

The gorge from the quarry

Earlier this month we wrote about an order for a marble column that King Louis XIV had placed in 1670 that was finally being filled. It was/is destined for the Palace of Versailles where the majority of the red marble already in place there came from a quarry about 30 minutes northeast of Carcassonne. Inspired by that story, our friends Sally and Larry, who had already been to that area suggested that they take us there to see just how beautiful the mountaintop views are. Sally said, “In half an hour you will be amazed at how different the landscape becomes.” and she was right. Read the rest of this entry

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

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

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