It’s our last day here in Carcassonne. We spent most of our ~3 weeks getting to know this town, our temporary home. We’ve also managed to visit–via trains, busses, and cars–the surrounding area, including the towns of Collioure, Foix, Limoux, Minovoirse, Montolieu, Narbonne, Perpignan, and Toulouse. While each had their own charms, I’ve grown to favor Carcassonne over any others we’ve visited.
I’ll have so many good memories in this town–most of them small, but still engraved in my mind forever. In just a few weeks, I’ve discovered my favorite vendors, streets to stroll, playgrounds to visit, and a go-to library for a different indoor atmosphere. We have a favorite pizza kiosk, where we’ll eat our last dinner tonight. We order a pizza and walk a couple minutes to get to the square that we can see from our home. It’s a delightful park bursting with flowers, fountains, and romantic promenades.
Carcassonne is clean, friendly, and beautiful. The locals take pride in their town. People here have a sense of vibrancy and no pretension. On more than one occasion and even with my minimal French, I’ve had the opportunity to strike up short conversations with charming individuals. When they approached me, it didn’t set off my protective mom radar; instead, it was endearing. Before they even reached me, they had wide smiles on their face exclaiming, “Comme ils sont beaux!” The fact that both women were well into their 80’s also calmed any possible nerves I might have had. Kids inevitably create conversation.
And then there are the markets. Ah, the markets. They have been my most constant source of joy in this town. Three days a week, markets sprawl out on the center square, just a few minutes from our home. Vendors proudly show off their produce and vie for the eyes of the patrons with witty catchphrases. Saturday is the biggest market of the week. It seems the whole town is out, so naturally the options are far greater. On this day, I’ve managed to find Persian cucumbers, extra sweet petit poix, myriad varieties of olives, and even an acoustic guitarist who strikingly resembles Carlos Santana. There’s a sense of organized chaos, but it’s not nearly enough to scare me away. It’s beautiful and makes me want to stay all day.
The medieval castle–the main tourist site of the city–offers several days’ worth of activity, especially with small children who don’t bore of the same site very easily. It’s the oldest fortress in all of Europe, and I can’t imagine growing tired of seeing its regal presence on the hillside outside of town. It’s a mere 15-minute walk from our home, and a quite enjoyable one at that. Those who make the hike to the top are rewarded with a trip back in time to old cobblestone streets lined with cafes, shops, and beautiful shutters.
I’m ambivalent about leaving Carcassonne tomorrow. I’m excited because the next location (Lucca, Italy) should be one for the books. (Coincidentally, it’s another walled town). But I’ll miss what I think is the most beautiful town I’ve seen in France during this stay. The French people we’ve talked with have skeptically asked why we chose Carcassonne for our first destination. They think it doesn’t show off France the way Paris or Nice do, and perhaps they have a point. It’s out of the way. It’s small. There’s only one major tourist site. A few people have even said it’s ugly! Wow, I couldn’t disagree more. In a way, I’m glad people have voiced their true opinions on Carcassonne, because it tests whether my positive ones stand true. And for me, they do. To live here, if even for just 3-weeks, offers far more than visiting as a tourist. Upon each return from another town, I say to Brian:
“I’m so glad to be back. This town is so gorgeous.”
And I truly believe it.