Category Archives: Carcassonne

This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

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Les miscellanées

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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.

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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:

Carcassonne

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.

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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.

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Human parents really need to perfect this one-handed babysitting technique:
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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.
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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.

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Merci beaucoup, Jacques, for an amazing evening! And merci, Europe, for all the unexpected finds!