Those of you regular followers of saratreetravels may have noticed a few inconsistencies in these archives, and it’s high time that those were addressed. Yes, we were in Rome and Venice, in Vienna and Paris, and yes, those places were as beautiful and unique as everyone knows them to be. And that is precisely the reason they have not appeared here: these are places that belong to all of humanity and have already been well-documented elsewhere.
Why bring this up now? Because the flipside of this coin is that sometimes a bizarre and incredible experience occurs off the beaten track and MUST be documented, despite not fitting into any logical itinerary. Renting a car and having multiple schedule-free days seems to invite these experiences, so here goes:
If you batted even a slight eyelash of recognition at this name, odds are you are a board game fan of the Settlers of Catan variety. In Carcassonne, players strategically build towers, walls, and roads in order to edge their opponents out of valuable territories. The bottom of the game box offers a short description of the real Carcassonne, a walled city in France built over the course of many centuries, but most players are more concerned with keeping the cat off their neatly arranged rows of tiles.
When we saw that our route was going to take us within one exit of this difficult-to-pronounce city, we thought it was at least worth a stop. We followed the signs through a fairly modern and non-board-game-inspiring city, turned a corner, and suddenly saw exactly what we were looking for.
The impossible abundance of castles in Europe can leave a visitor befuddled, particularly when they are used so casually as landmarks (“oh, you’re looking for a kebab stand? There’s one just left of that castle over there.”). Yet Carcassonne may well be the most awe-inspiring one we’ve seen yet, with the almost-eerie lack of tourists being an added bonus. We spent the brief time we had clambering up its turrets and through its endless rings of walls. We highly recommend it for your next road trip through the south of France (or at least your next board game night!)
2. La montagne des singes
As we sipped our welcome-wine with our fantastic Airbnb hosts in Alsace, they started informing us of the many interesting sights in the area. Concentrating hard to keep up with the rapid French (I’m okay in a sprint, but the endurance marathons kill me!), I vaguely understood that there was a mountain not too far away that caused Sara to make a rather surprised and bemused face. Once I pinpointed the mystery word in question, I nudged Sara and asked, “Quel est ‘singes’?”, to which she quickly muttered, “Monkey!” and continued the conversation.
So, somewhere in France close to the German border there is a mountain of monkeys. And that was after translation!
Upon actually visiting this mountain, however, we can confirm that there is indeed a mountain filled with an endangered species of Moroccan monkey. No cages, just a big park where the monkeys can safely swing from trees and enjoy the popcorn that is given freely to visitors at the entry gate.
This adorable puckered-lip face, I later learned, is how monkeys signal that they are about to attack. The big fangs-bared face, meanwhile, is how they show affection. Obviously my lack of French was not the only translation issue.
3. From Here to Now to You
Maybe it’s not off the beaten track (downtown Paris is pretty sufficiently beaten), but it certainly doesn’t happen every day. As Sara previously mentioned, buying Jack Johnson tickets in Paris was actually the first concrete travel plan we made, way back in February. The man is not only rhythmic genius and guitar god, but his inspiring words of love, for his family and for the world as a whole, make his music addictive on a much deeper level as well.
Merci beaucoup, Jacques, for an amazing evening! And merci, Europe, for all the unexpected finds!