Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Checking Out Castles In Southern France

Recently, I went with a bunch of friends to check out some castles in France. This area of southern France is in Catalunya as is Barcelona. It definitely felt more Catalan than French, which was interesting, and it's awe inspiring driving through the Pyrenees. During the trip, we got to see three different sites and almost got to a fourth if we hadn't almost run out of gas...but first...

Since there were six of us, we needed a big car. My friend Pau was nice enough to get us a great deal on a rental minivan and he even picked me up at the house to go get it! Thanks again Pau! I owe you another Japanese-food lunch.

We packed up the car on Saturday morning and headed out for the three-hour trip to our first stop in Salses-Le-Chateau to see the Salses Fortress. This fortress originally marked the border between France and Spain but was lost to France in the Thirty-Years War. The border was moved south to it's current location and the fortress basically became an albatross. It's partially built below ground level and has a very interesting combination of architectural styles:

It was super hot the day we visited so most of my photos were taken from shady spots up against the walls. As I mentioned, there seems to be many different styles present in the fortress. One of the things I found most interesting was the clock-tower detail that you can see towards the right side of this photo. It seems fairly out of place in the utilitarian fortress. I guess it was someone's pet project:

The fortress was originally built along the main road, which was an old Roman road that pretty much ran where the train runs by today:

After our guided tour ended, we loaded up for a one-hour ride to our next stop, the town and castle of Carcassonne (カルカツソンヌ if my three weeks of Japanese serves me well...yes...I'm showing off). We arrived fairly late in the day so we really didn't have time to see too much. After about an hour of walking around, we headed to our apartment-style hotel room for the night. A couple of bottles of wine and some Salvador-prepared Mexican food hit the spot. It was early to bed, early to rise for our intrepid travelers.

On Sunday morning, we packed up and headed back over to the castle, which looks just like what you'd think a castle should look like. Here's a cool shot from a distance that shows the whole thing (very cool):

Carcassonne has been around for about 2,500 years, first as a Roman site. During the middle ages, it also sat on the border between France and Spain. As with Salses, it was lost to France in the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees. It was restored by the architect Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century who took pains to ensure that it was as faithful as possible to the design found during the middle ages. The site was later added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Before heading in for our tour, and since it was already hot, I took a quick couple of passes through the sprinklers out front:

As with pretty much all of Carcassone, the front entrance looks like something that you would draw when you were a kid; pretty "typical" castle stuff... Moat? Check. Big front door? Check. Big stone towers with spots to shoot arrows from? Check. Yep, it's got it all.

Part of the self-guided tour includes being able to walk along the ramparts surrounding the city. It's a great way to see a lot of the city's buildings and the surrounding area. Here's a shot from one that shows some of the original Roman walls on the outside, the newer, middle-ages interior walls and towers, and the mandatory Gothic church on the inside:

The town has been beautifully restored to its Middle-Ages grandeur. Fortunately for today's visitor, they've left out the raw sewage running down the streets and the plague-infested rats. In their place, they've made nice restaurants, shops, and places to hang out. We came across another bachelor party that day (I think they are verrrrrrrrry popular in Europe). These guys also seemed like a lot of fun. They chose a medieval-knight theme and I think the groom-to-be is seated on the far left based on his accessories choices:

I spent some time shopping for new clothes while I was in Carcassonne. Unfortunately, the best I could do just wasn't good enough. Why, oh why, don't they sell these things in adult sizes? I guess I'll have to join a bachelor party to get mine...

At the last minute, all of us manly-men decided to re-enact the cabaret scene from Monty Python's The Holy Grail (one of my all-time favorites):

Once our dance number was over, we got into the van to go to our next stop, the Chateau d' Arques. This site defines what I call a walled compound! The chateau is basically a fortress-style house that seems to be built to withstand attack. The property is surrounded by a tall wall and the house itself has no openings on the first couple of floors other than the front door and various spots to shoot from. It's very impressive and I bet it made its inhabitants feel safe inside.

This photo shows the house part of the property. Notice how the first window you see is small and up on the second floor. The house has a total of four floors with lots of living and storage space. I'm guessing you could stock up and survive for quite a while inside this place. Oh yeah, if you click on the photo and view the larger version, you'll see me in the top-center window...

What castle story would be complete without a little Harry Potter? Pug, here's my best attempt at a Harry-Potter version of the classic "here I am" photo:

As I mentioned earlier, we almost ran out of gas. As the driver, I take full responsibility for this. It cost us being able to visit one last castle (sorry Gema) and it was a nail-biter for a little bit while driving up and down each mountain with the gas light on. We made it to a gas station and filled up at which point we headed back towards Spain.

We ended up stopping in Perpignan, France, to watch the World Cup final. Yes, I along with a bunch of people from Spain watched Spain beat Holland while in France. It was interesting and actually ended up being lots of fun. By the time we arrived back to Barcelona, it was after 2am but the city was still crazy. We got to see riot police and all.

Thanks to Salvador, Diana, Bernar, Gema, and Victor for being great company on a very fun weekend. Also, un abrazo grande a Gema por organizar todo.

1 comment:

  1. Moat? Check. Big front door? Check. Big stone towers with spots to shoot arrows from? Check. Yep, it's got it all. -->lolololol yes seems just like a grade school drawing. What a great adventure, cool stuff. And please more bachelor party pics.


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