Never before have I felt like I was truly part of a video game. That is, until we traveled to Carcassonne, France. I know I am completely dating myself when I say this, but it was as if we stumbled directly into a game of Zelda. For all my readers that were lucky enough to play the original Nintendo, than you can relate to the sentiment that at any minute we expected a fire-breathing dragon to come flying over the castle. We would have to navigate within the ramparts to save ourselves and in turn, free the helpless princess.
Fortunately, we held the key to every door and each unlocked a new unpredictable adventure full of dark corridors, buzzing restaurants, savory sweet shops, and authentic French foods (I know Zelda didn’t get to eat a nutella crepe in between his heroics but times have changed and the princess could really wait….this is Nutella we were talking about).
I will go into more detail on the castle itself but to do this trip justice, I must shed light on our journey up North. Anyone that knows me is familiar with my poor driving skills, my lack of interest for being behind the wheel, and the rust that is associated with my manual driving technique. So, what better time to test all of these liabilities than a 3-hr trip across country borders, in a foreign land, in a manual Spanish “bumper car” (see our Vlog for more description on this). Did I mention we began the trip at 12am and had to pass through at least 3 toll booths?
Ah yes, I figure it would bode well to stay on theme of throwing ourselves into the deep end. As I said before, it is sink of swim and that goes for everything in Europe. As you can tell, we are still alive to write this blog so things didn’t go too poorly. Yes, we did stall out a few times, went about 20 km in the wrong direction, and had to reverse out of multiple toll lanes, but as they say, the end justifies the means, and we made it without ripping one another’s heads off. It is here that I have to give props to my spectacular road partner in Lianne Sanderson. Her patience and fearlessness constantly soothed my nerves over the 3 hr trip. I couldn’t have asked for a better wing-woman.
Like most of our expeditions, Lianne and I basically went in blind. This is usually how we operate: We are told that somewhere is worth seeing, we figure out a way to get there, and then explore at our own leisure. There are no guidebooks, Lonely Planets, or tour guides….only maps (and plenty of them). So, it should be of no surprise that we completely missed the front entrance to the castle and managed to “sneak” in the back door. This gave off the impression that we were the sole tourists. In addition, we were hence unaware of the magnificence that lay within the castle.
To our astonishment, the steep exterior castle walls with climbing stones, mini-ramparts, and lookouts, were just that, exterior walls protecting an entire city within. It wasn’t until we decided to walk inside that we discovered the maze of action that truly defines Carcassonne. There were shops, restaurants that served every french food you could imagine, bars, wine (good wine), churches, houses, and a plethora of tourists. And to think, we were completely content with what we had seen outside the castle (I guess you could say that Lianne and I are easily amused…simpletons if you will).
We soaked in everything. Under the go big or go home mentality we spent 7 hrs within the castle and even paid a small fee to enter the ramparts and watch a movie on the historical significance on Carcassonne. It was all breathtaking and a refreshing change from the beaches we had been spending most weekends on. We even filmed multiple episodes of JoLi TV within the castle to give our supporters the free tour =) (all on our JoLi Academy FB page).
It was our own Legends of Zelda game and when we finally left (navigating out the “back” door at night was a little harder than in the day), we looked back at the castle under the night sky and plethora of shining lights and truly witnessed what we had tackled. There are no words or photos that can capture the enormity and beauty of this structure. There are just some things in life you have to see with your own eyes and Carcassonne is absolutely one of them.
Exhausted, we crashed and prepared for our next day exploring the local city, canals, and shops. While I’ll recommend visiting the castle 10 times over, I do not recommend taking the Carcassonne canal boat ride. Yes, it sounds romantic but let me tell you, you will spend the entire time being lifted over damns or under damns (called “locks”) with a view of an unspectacular toe path. The sight of the castle from about 6000 km away doesn’t help either. Complete waste of time but nothing a crepe and a gelato ice cream cone can’t fix.
The town was quite navigable by foot and brought to mind a classic old-time movie set. Just before we left we met up with one of our RCDEspanyol teammates and her boyfriend, Eric who first gave us the idea to visit this wonderful small city. They were justifiably impressed with our Zelda-like experiences.
The trip home was just as eventful as the trip there. Only in France can you eat quality duck at a rest stop (which we obviously had to do). Three tolls, another directional miscue, zero stall outs, and two slayed dragons later, we made it back to Barcelona safe and sound. In our opinion, we passed every level of Zelda and beat the game. We saved the princess and she now lives in our back garden with the turtles, dogs, bird and cats. But have no fear, everyone, there are no dragons! =)
P.S. To get an inside perspective on our lives in Spain over the past few weeks, please check out Lianne’s blog on www.liannesanderson.co.uk. Guest appearances from her parents, Joan and Jeff!