On our weekend off at Chateau Ventenac, we spent one day in the nearest town – Narbonne, on the other we visited medieval town/castle Carcassonne.
Narbonne is a busy little town with a beautiful town square containing an ancient Hotel de-ville (town-hall) and large cathedral.
After buying treats at the marche and walking along the canals we decided to eat a lunch at the beach, this being a 1/2 hour bus ride to the sea side village Narbonne-Plage. Our efforts seemed to be going swimmingly until Sierra noticed a strange color code in the bus schedule (that only upon asking at the tourist office we learned) meant you couldn’t get back to the city after 12:30 unless you had reserved a bus to pick you up a day in advance. This I think is a vast taxi conspiracy, that we were not going to pay into. We only saw the bus stop there while we waited for our bus to turn around and we took that last bus back into town. Dissapointing. But we did get this nice picture from the bus on the way.
Carcasonne however that next day would not disappoint us…
The city of Carcassonne itself is very old and very nice to walk about, also it contains many modern stores and shops for tourists. The city’s main attraction is the walled city which has history dating to roman times, it was restored in the mid 1800s to resemble a castle standing there in the 13th century.
The castle included a whole village between its walls, these small streets and alleys were packed full of giftshops and candy-stores reminding me a bit of Disneyland. With a little help from a cold, windy and rainy day there were spots where you could escape tourists and really believe you were moved back in time.
There was also a Cathedral with huge stained-glass windows. We sat and listened to a chorus of men singing Hymns beautifully!
Here is the city as seen from the castle…
and heres the castle from the city.
Carcassonne was good to us. We left the towers behind with fulfillment and gratitude. It was what seemed like the end of a perfectly long and tiring day trip for us. We toured the city center for a bit then popped into the tourist office for help finding our bus back to Chateau Ventenac. The guy behind the counter was very helpful and specific about which bus we were to take. However he warned us there were many school children on the bus it being the beginning of spring vacation, and recommended we take a cab; these were clues for us but we took no notice and happily thanked our helper and headed for our bus stop. Getting on the bus also held a strange surprise for us, the ride would be free. This was taken for good luck as we found 2 open seats half way down the aisle the bus was otherwise full of kids. When we got to our destination something was obviously amiss, but we found a sign pointing the way to Chateau Ventenac and followed it assuming we were just in the village of Ventenac beyond the hill down the canal from our place… soon we discovered those signs we were following saying Chateau Ventenac were leading to an entirely different Chateau Ventenac!
We were lost. The spot we were dropped off was too small for any stores, or even it seemed people, to ask. But, we could see a town nearby, and walked into it to get some direction.
This town was too small for a tourist office so we walked into the Tabac and asked about the bus, we were soon surrounded by helpful French people telling us exactly what to do and every option we had, all in perfect French. They even drew us a small map. We thanked them profusely, walked in the direction they pointed. We were very lost. But there was a sign showing a railroad station and the Canal du Midi running just a few kilometers there, outside the town. We would try and catch a train we thought, and set out walking through the vineyards, 25 minutes later we were approaching the station and witnessed the train whiz by without even slowing, the station was closed, and from the look of it it had ben closed for years. But now we were near the same canal our host’s home stood along. Judging by the sun we had 2 -3 hours of light left, it was late but we figured we might be able to walk; approaching the canal we could see some people parked on it’s banks in a van. Timidly we asked them for help, and we were lucky one of them spoke english and had a map. We found out from her the direction to our Ventenac but she told us that walking there would take us 8 hours or more! It was way too late to begin a trek like that, what could we do? We were lost, and decided hitch-hiking was the only option we had.
The first person to pull over was a young man who had to move his fishing gear to accomodate us. Our driver would take us back to Carcassonne and even agreed to drop us at the train station. He spoke a little english and we had a nice time chatting with him. At the station we were closer to home but there was still an issue because we knew we were too late to find a bus from Narbonne even if we did go there, and upon entering the station another problem; all ticket booths had closed and you could only buy tickets at the automated ticket machines, these machines however were only set up to take coin money or french creditcards. We had neither… in fact we came to find we didn’t even have enough cash to get us both a ticket! But, the last train going south departed in 10 minutes. We boarded the train without tickets and decided to get off at the stop before Narbonne a small town – Lezignan, which we hadn’t been to but remembered our hostess saying it was the closest train station to the Chateau. We figured we’d have a chance to email our hosts from there to procure a ride. Grateful no one had asked to see our tickets, we set off in Lezignan looking for a place with wi-fi. Watching the sun begining to set and after a few stabs at a resturant and some cafes with no luck getting internet, we were getting discouraged, so John approached a pair of men walking down the street to ask directions. Luckily they spoke english and soon it was discovered those men were driving right to where we needed to go! They had 2 empty seats in their car so we jumped in, feeling so lucky after being so far off track. We were back home by the skins of our teeth – before the sun finished setting.