Two, two, two trips in one

Ax-les-Thermes in the Pyrenees

Bill will readily admit that he’s not an early riser unless, as our friend Pete says, there’s a treat at the end. When you combine our favorite form of transportation, the train, with bargain fares of one euro per person, and the chance to visit two cities along scenic rail routes, that’s one big treat. It was enough to coax him out of bed at 5 AM three weeks before we wanted to travel to snag those cheap tickets as soon as they went on sale. Where were we headed? It might seem strange that during a summer with record-breaking high temperatures we would visit a town known for its hot springs, but we wanted to see this area in the Pyrenees before its other attraction arrived: snow. Continue reading “Two, two, two trips in one”

Monze day trip

Monze across the vineyards

When our friends with a car, Sally and Larry, asked us if we’d like to go with them to the village of Monze, the first thing I had to do was look up its location. That’s when the good news started. First off, it was only going to be about a 20-minute ride and then I looked closely at the map to see some of the street names: rue du Cabernet, rue du Merlot, rue du Chardonnay…. Sounds like our kind of place! Sally went on to say that the restaurant she thought we’d enjoy featured wine from the local area and there were 3 vineyards in the vicinity offering tastings. Naturally we said, “yes, thank you” and we were off on another nearby adventure. Continue reading “Monze day trip”

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. Continue reading “Toulouse day trip”

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. Continue reading “Cherry festival”

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. Continue reading “Caunes-Minervois day trip”

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. Continue reading “Castelnaudary day trip”

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. Continue reading “A light look at Lourdes”