We said our good-byes to our friends in Toulouse, after having one more hot shower, and one final use of their wifi, making sure I had all I needed before we slowly headed towards Corsica and Sardinia.
The terrible weather continued as we sat in traffic on the motorway in Toulouse. It continued as we left Toulouse, as we passed by several non-descript outskirt towns, making them seem sadder than they probably were. One good point, our windows were looking nice and clean!
It wasn’t a far drive, totalling a little over 100km, but it still took the estimated 2-hours to get into the central part of town – though, we avoided the toll roads, because we can’t do motorway speeds anyway.
We have some friends that we knew from Japan, who were also English teachers on the JET Programme. Once they completed their 5-year stint (the maximum allowed by the program), they decided to return to their home in the UK by using bicycle. Yeah, you read that right, they are cycling from Japan to England – their blog is a pretty good read! Today is the day that our paths cross, as they are spending a few days in Carcassonne, so we made plans to meet up.
The first challenge was parking, which in reality didn’t need to be a challenge, I just didn’t want to pay for parking, or have a time-limit on how I could stay in the town. We found a park on a side street, which required me to parallel park. There aren’t many occasions where I miss having power steering, but this was certainly one of them. It turned into a bit of a Austin Powers moment, inching forwards/backwards making small adjustments to get closer to the kerb. I eventually gave up, sitting a good 30cm from the gutter – then the car in front left, giving me all the space I needed to park properly. Since I now had the luxury of two car spaces, I made sure to leave a little space in front to make our exit easier – not much, but just a little more than I should have. A Frenchman knocked on my window, and started asking me to move forwards – in French. I got the gist of his gesturing, and started replying in English. To this, he replied, “Why do English people in France always speak English”. It was a valid question, but fortunately I had a get-out-of-jail-free card with my, “I’m not English, I’m Australian” response. This completely flipped his mood, and he told me not to worry about moving the car, that his daughter lives in Melbourne, and that he loves Australians. We shook hands, he walked off smiling, and we cooked some lunch. Maybe I need to get an Australian flag for our van…
We crossed the old bridge and headed to the walled city. It’s every bit as impressive as it is described, looking every bit like a medieval theme park, with perfect pointed turrets, and solid imposing walls. The driving rain was heavy enough for me to keep my camera in my jacket, however.
We met our friends in a restaurant inside the old town, La Cite. I interrogated Andy about their trip, curious how they managed the mundane things that you take for granted when you are at home, like navigation, spares and repairs, and internet etc. It was hard to believe that they’d been travelling for nearly 2-years! They started their journey right about when we arrived in London. It was also a little hard to believe that we’d been in London for nearly 2-years.
After we’d well and truly completed our coffee/beer, we went to explore La Cite. Amazingly, the weather had improved and the rain had completely stopped.
It’s not a large area inside the walls, but it is a maze of medieval streets and gates. I’m doing my best to ignore the advertising signage, and souvenir stands that line the streets and to imagine what the town actually looked like. I’m getting better, but it’s still distracting. It’s a shame that they don’t have guidelines that require them to keep within the theme of the period, or to have to dull/mute the colours/lights/displays to reduce their impact. Fortunately, we are still off peak season, so the town wasn’t too crowded. I have heard that it can be a swarm of tourists, which really makes it hard to imagine what it used to be like. They should make everyone dress in period costume.
We wondered aimlessly, looking at the ruggedness of the fortifications, as well as the general completeness of the town. The main walls were mostly free of distractions, other than a little renovation work in places. These walls and towers were the most impressive aspect of La Cite, and we especially loved walking between the walls, and up on the outermost wall.
We visited the Basilique St-Nazaire, which had some truly interesting gargoyles, as well as a nice gothic interior, and vivid stained glass windows.
I had wanted to take the drone for a flight, as I thought it was the best way to get a good ‘view’ of the entirety of the city. I didn’t think it was wise to fly in the rain (though, I could see on forums that some pilots did), so it was left in the car. Now that the weather was improving, and there were hints of blue skies, that decision was haunting me. So, I apologised to the group, and jogged the 1.5km back to our car to get the drone. The 1.5km back, in my old-man sandals, and up the hill wasn’t quite so easy. My thighs ached for the next three days.
But, the effort was rewarded, as I’m pretty happy with the footage! I still need to work out how to fly it smoother, to be able to adjust path without it being jerky, but that will (hopefully) come with practise – until then, I will avoid turning while recording.
We said our goodbyes to our friends, hoping to catch up with them after they have returned to England after they have finished their journey. We weren’t completely ready to leave, so we did one more lap of Les Lices, the space between the two walls, again being marvelled at the beauty – and still feeling like we were in a medieval theme park.
Short walk through the colourful streets outside the old city, and back across the beautiful Pont-Vieux to our car. We managed to leave our park, and squeeze out of the narrow streets. As we left town, we managed to catch a glimpse of La Cite, and Pont-Vieux together, and I was really regretting not walking to get a photo of this… Oh well.
Day 32 – Montpellier
Reading about it in Lonely Planet, Montpellier sounded like a smaller, more ethnically diverse Marseille. It was a minor detour, so we thought we might as well have a quick look.
We found a park on the street about 15 minutes walk from the centre of town. Right from the moment we stepped out of our car, we noticed just how young everyone was – Lonely Planet quoted that over one-third of the population are students! This feeling continued as we approached the park, and started walking towards the Opera house.
The sun was out, and the buildings were pretty, so we walked around for a little while longer. The smells coming from the markets and cafes were hard to resist on our empty stomachs.
There wasn’t a great deal that we wanted to see in town, so we just aimed for the Arc de Triomphe, which was a much more realistic size that the one in Paris!
This led to a green and vibrant Place Royal du Peyrou, and a very long aqueduct – which was sadly no longer being used.
Finding a tiny park between some beautiful apartment buildings reminded us both of Mayfair, and the statue of the unicorn with might have been a vuvuzela on it’s horn reminded us both of Glasgow.
It was a pleasant way to spend a few hours, but there wasn’t anything that made us want to stay any longer. We had a quick lunch, and we were back on the road.
Pont du Gard
There is a lot of evidence remaining from prior Roman occupation. Some of it is buried, and other buildings are in disrepair. Then there is this behemoth! I won’t complain about how it’s expensive, for an bridge that was constructed over 2000 years ago – it was €8.50 each.
It’s huge, and an absolute marvel of engineering. Reading the stats, it has a fall in elevation of only 25mm over a 250m span – enough to allow 400 litres per second to flow. It’s nearly 50m high, and standing at the base of this, it’s hard not to be impressed that it’s still standing strong after all this time.
There were several walking paths that bring you up to different elevations to get a better vantage of the aqueduct. The upper viewpoints were a little overgrown, but eventually found a nice spot half-way back down. It’s currently not possible to walk along the aqueduct, and there isn’t any water flowing.
Of course, the drone made another flight – though not quite from the angle that I’d wished, due to the number of trees at either side!