Sunday, June 17, 2012

France Day 4 - Lagrasse, Narbonne & a fruit pastry

Probably the most sensational and thrilling thing that happened today, happened first thing in the morning. Fresh bread, butter and jam for breakfast. It was ambrosial, like a rapturous, fantastical encounter with a delicious memory long thought forgotten. I couldn’t have been happier, shame our coffee was crap, but there is only so much pleasure a human mind can cope with at once. I guess I should have been grateful I wasn’t spazzing out on the stone floor, after my brain was overloaded by such arresting tastes.

So after that mind blowing opener to the day, we capitulating to our unfulfilled obsession, and headed to Siassac, again, to see if we could get a decent picture of the castle, again, but of course we couldn’t, the light just wasn’t right, again. After that, it was on to Montolieu to get a picture of the village from the bridge, which was OK but, using our commanding solar and meteorological mastery, and an app I’ve got on my phone, it looked as if the light would be at its best in the evening. We would return.

Montolieu in the morning light

Made our way to Marsellete to see if we could get a decent picture of the Canal du Midi, there are some beautiful stretches along this man made, tree lined waterway and we were hoping to get some decent shots in the bag. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of those stretches, looked a bit scrappy and not really the ticket at all. So we followed any roads or tracks we could see on the map that would take us to the canal, but they either stopped before the canal was reached or they led to farms, or they led us to wild staring old women who glared menacingly (as if there can be any other way of glaring) at us until we retreated in trembling silence. So we gave up in the end, but on the plus side, I did find a suitably barren stretch of road to enable me to use the facilities i.e. a tree.

We soon found ourselves in more urban surrounds as we rolled into Olonzac, the capital of the Minervois region, in search of coffee and perchance a tarte au pomme or two. The first boulangerie we found was closed, as is often the way, but we saw signs for another one and like a flash, Sarah was off. The procurement of a tarte au pomme had been somewhat of a desire for Sarah since we got to France, well to be honest it was an all consumptive mania, bordering on lunacy. Something to do with her not being able to find one the last time she was in France and never really getting over it. But, after four fruitless days, (fruitless heh heh) she was on the threshold of fulfilling a strange and slightly skewed dream as we stepped into the welcoming arms of the Boulanger, and she presented us with two perfectly formed apple pastries. Euphoric derangement hardly described the atmosphere as Sarah tore frenziedly at the hapless tart, like a modern age Jack the Ripper indulging in an orgy of fruity mayhem. Bystanders stopped in fascination and fear as pommes were shamelessly gorged upon, and pastry was wantonly ripped asunder. I myself had to engage in flaky, sticky hand to hand combat to fend her off from the remainder of mine, such was the power of the patisserie fuelled madness that had enveloped her.

Thankfully though, with her need for apple delicacies sated, we got on with our day in as normal a manner as possible. So after stopping for a coffee in an all day bar whose patrons made me think of a town centre Wetherspoons, we jumped in the car and drove to Narbonne

This medium sized town is situated near the east coast of Languedoc and is a fairly lively place, compared with what we’re used to of course. We drove into town looking at some of the attractive buildings on the way, then we drove around looking for a parking space, and at the attractive buildings as we went, then we drove around trying to extricate ourselves from the one way systems in place, whilst looking for a parking space and at the attractive buildings, albeit the same attractive buildings we had seen many times before. By this time we thought we had seen enough of Narbonne, so we promptly headed off.

Quite possibly the shortest visit anyone had paid to Narbonne with a view to seeing the sites but we felt we’d covered all the bases. So we pointed our roaring steed towards the Abbaye de Fontfroide and lurched into the distance.

We arrived at the car park and strolled towards the entrance, as we perused the information board we realised they had rather optimistically priced it at 12 Euros per person to get in. So we had a good look at the photograph of it and then left. It seems we were engaging in some kind of drive through tourism, where every historic or cultural feature of an area is only superficially absorbed via the window of a car, just so the passengers can tick it off a list before pressing their pale, gelatinous faces against the glass in preparation for the next item to roll past their apathetic gaze.

I think it’s the way forward to be honest, and I hope the research we carried out that day helps bring this idea to fruition.

Next up was Lagrasse, which is a lovely medieval town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the valley of the river Orbieu. So once again, in the baking heat, I believe it was even hotter than the day before, we made our way through the village, stopping at the Abbaye St Marie d'Orbieu, which is still a working abbey, with its inhabitants strolling through the well manicured grounds in their flowing white robes, contemplating this and that. We walked through La Porte de L'eau, or Door of Water, one of the ancient city gates. this one, rather aptly enough, led down to the river. And onwards through the old streets and to various viewpoints, before sitting down for another ice cream, it was that kind of day.

La Porte de L'eau or Door of Water
A closed down Boulangerie
Abbaye St Marie d'Orbieu 
After that we drove past Lagrasse on an elevated road which gave us great views of the village with its old abbey ruins and 13th century bridge, plus a rather picturesque windmill behind us.

Lagrasse from above
A sail-less moulin overlooking Lagrasse
On the way back, we stopped in Chateau Villerouge Termenes a picture perfect castle with the village arranged right against its walls. By this time is was getting late so the place was closed, but we walked through the deserted streets in the quiet evening light, next to the trickling streams and ancient bridges feeling very peaceful. We read that the castle itself was actually inhabited up until the ’80, the 1980’s. People had created their apartments in the building. Which seems kind of odd, but when you think about it, these structures were built as places to live, albeit, very secure and grand ones, just that now days they are only thought of as empty relics of the past, rather than effective shelter. But of course when the place was classed as a historical monument and opened to the public, it was probably thought unseemly for visitors to have to pick their way through peoples living rooms. All this contemplation came to end however when large group of French OAP’s turned up and became loud and excitable, so we left.

Stopped in Montolieu for those late evening pictures, and we were right about the light being better, then, and I hardly even need say it, we alighted in Saissac for another round of shutter action, but it still wasn’t great so I think we’ll give up on that one.

Montolieu in the evening light
Saissac - a very familiar view to us
We decided to head back to the gite and take a shower before getting something to eat in the local cafĂ©, as we knew they served late, and it would be so good to sit down to eat and not feel sticky and grubby from sweat and sun cream. So after freshening up we headed over to grab a table, only to be told the kitchen had closed, I had visions of a dinner consisting of stale bread, which I didn’t find appetising, even with the addition of our newly acquired condiments. We made do with a glass of wine each, to offset the forthcoming dreariness, but our crestfallen appearance obviously touched the proprietor in no small way, as she offered us some salad and mixed meat platters as recompense, which we readily accepted. And not since that spine chillingly diabolical incident earlier with the tarte au pomme, has food been consumed with such gusto.

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