recipes for traveling the world

Captivated in Carcassonne

Captivated in Carcassonne

My sister, Lindsay, loves to play board games and she can get pretty competitive. I like to play as well, but we have trouble finding games that suit both of us. We mostly play cooperative games when we play together because I’m such a terrible strategist and Lindsay always beats the snot out of me. The only “competitive” game we really play together is called Carcassonne.

The point of the game is to claim as much land and property as possible with your playing pieces (called “Meeples”) as you lay down tiles creating a landscape as you play. The tiles – in the original version of the game – have a mixture of fields, roads, rivers, bridges, and cities. You have to match the tile you pull to tiles that are already in play, like dominoes.

I love the game because, although you’re not playing as a team, it doesn’t feel as aggressively competitive as other games and the art on the tiles is really adorable. At the end of each play, you’ve created a completely unique landscape.

I had no idea that the game Carcassonne was designed after a real city in France until right before we were leaving on our trip. I saw pictures online and realized how closely the art imitated the actual place and I was desperate to add it to our itinerary. As luck would have it, Carcassonne is a great midway point between Madrid, Spain and Nice, France, so we shortened our stay in the south of France to add a 2-night layover in Carcassonne.

The drive from Madrid to Carcassonne was spectacular. We drove through the Pyrenees mountain range and into the French countryside. We were constantly amazed by deep gorges, rivers, snow capped peaks and a 9 kilometer long tunnel straight through a mountain. It was one of the most wonderful drives I’ve ever taken. Kody and I spent the hours imagining new lives for ourselves nestled in the hills. The photo below was taken completely by accident near Saint-Maurice-en-Trièves, France.

We arrived to Carcassonne and were met by our Airbnb hostess. She spoke very little English, but I told her I could speak French. She started showing us around the apartment and telling us about the city, all in French. I understood everything she said, but I realized I hadn’t spoken French to a real, living person in 8 years. It’s just been me and that damn Duolingo owl since college! I was nervous and used to trying to communicate in Spanish for the past few weeks, so I kept saying, “Si, gracias… I mean, oui, merci” and I was staring at her hard. I’m sure it was very comfortable for her. I was excited at my comprehension and knew that I still needed to work on my communication skills while we were in France.

We decided to take a short walk to get a view of the double-walled fortified city and then have dinner. The Cité de Carcassonne’s first walls were built by the Romans in 100 AD, with additions made by different occupiers throughout its long history. The city eventually lost its strategic importance and fell into disrepair. The walls and structures were renovated and revitalized by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

The fortified city sits up on a hill and is visible from almost everywhere in the town below. We got our first glimpse near an old stone bridge above L’Aude River.

For dinner, we took our hostess’s advice and found a traditional French restaurant in a tree-lined square near our apartment. I, without hesitation, ordered the cassoulet because I love cassoulet. And who wouldn’t?! Brothy white beans with sausage and confit duck leg, all topped with bread crumbs and broiled to get a crispy crust. Heaven. Kody and I knew after this meal that we were completely devoted to cassoulet, especially while we were in the region of France that created it.

As we were eating, I kept seeing waiters walking past with what looked like pink beer. I asked our waiter if that’s what it was and he had no idea what I was talking about. Later in the meal, he realized which drinks I had been asking about and brought me one. It was… disgusting! It was basically a Monaco, but without the lemonade, so just grenadine and beer. Yikes.

Our only full day in Carcassonne was earmarked for exploring the fortified cité. It’s free to enter the city walls and explore the town within, you only have to pay a few dollars to walk the ramparts and go into the castle (totally worth it). The walk was short and pleasant, with nice peek-a-boos of the walls from different angles. The best view of the cité is from the Pont Vieux, so we had a mini photo session there before carrying on.

There are lots of shops and eateries within the walls and even a few homes. When we first arrived, the castle was closed for entry because of a swarm of bees, so we walked around the cobblestone streets. The majority of the shops sell souvenirs or candy. Honestly, I was surprised at the number of candy shops there were.

We climbed up the stairs to the ramparts and walked all the way around the cité. Halfway through the walk, we entered the castle and were able to watch a film about the history of Carcassonne and the massive renovation of the fortified cité. It really is something to behold. Although portions of the walls had to be rebuilt, they withstood many battles and hardships. People have been living inside the walls since their original construction and I wonder what it would be like to get used to living inside a medieval walled city. Inside of the walls there is also a (newly added) amphitheater and a (very old) church. Even though we only came to Carcassonne to see one thing and we only spent one full day there, I have hundreds of pictures.

We finished our tour of the ramparts and ate a meal inside the cité.

We spent the rest of the day gathering photos of me pretending to be a Meeple like in the game to send to my family. Here’s me claiming: my bridge, my river, my road, my city, my church and my field.

Later, I walked back down to the Pont Vieux to see the cité all lit up at night.

Before we left Carcassonne for good, I went back to the cité in the morning to pick out some souvenirs, visit the church, and walk the path along the outside of the walls. I wanted to soak up every minute I could there! (Those weird striations on the outside of the walls are real, not a camera byproduct.)

This has mainly been a photo post, because literally all we did in Carcassonne was walk around this beautiful fortified city. We left having had a very enjoyable time and looking forward to a week on the beach in southern France!

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