9: Chez Sarah, the Gite from Hell

One of the reasons we chose this place was the name. Unfortunately the charm of my name (spelled wrong) didn't bring any extra points.

Vera was lucky and slept like a log. I slept horribly – the bed was too skinny, the pillow too full of polyester, and every time I breathed in I got a large whiff of the artificial air freshener scent used throughout the house. In the toilet there are no less than 5 opened Wick air-freshener sticks, all with differing aromas. My personal Hell. We couldn’t leave soon enough for me.

Okay, the woman did redeem herself by being a caring and charming hostess. Even though it was simple and the decorations were not to my taste, she was a hostess with heart and soul everything was very clean. But I am just not very good at sharing a bathroom with the 4 other guests and hostess.

We were on our way by 9:15 and the first stop was at the medieval collegiate church which had been closed the evening before. The remarkable feature of this rather small gothic church was the beautifully restored wall and ceiling painting. On this trip I’ve seen way more churches with intact or restored wall/ceiling painting than ever before. It gives one even more of an idea how impressive these edifices must have been to the medieval denizens.

On the way back to the canal we got slightly turned around and stopped and asked a driver for directions. He sent us on a back way, surely known only to the locals, through a pea-patch complex. Since Vera has a small garden of her own, she had to stop and check out the French gardeners’ work – and ended up getting a couple of tips for tomato planting. The path between the gardens and the canal involved pushing our bikes over the railroad tracks (including a sign “watch out, you could get killed here”) and then up a steep hill. We were sweating before we even got to the trail.

While watching the action at the three-tiered lock we chatted with an Austrian family who was just starting out on their one-week tour. It seems that anyone can rent a boat for a week or two – you get about 45 minutes of instruction and that’s it. Hmmm… it would certainly be a relaxing way to see the countryside…

By the time we got on the trail it was nearly 10:45. We only had to ride 45km to Carcassonne, but boy were they taxing. First of all, that stretch of rough track from yesterday was but a foretaste of what was to come. Not an inch of pavement in sight and there were more and more stretches where we had to constantly watch the trail for ruts, rocks and protruding roots.

In addition to the rough trail there was the heat. The temperature was climbing and climbing (it must have been around 90) and the trail was more often than not on the sunny side of the street. Also, the trees along the way were mostly oak trees and not so shady as the sycamore (plane) trees along other parts of the trail. We were thankful for the breeze created by our own movement – whenever we stopped the air was deathly still.

At about 2:00 we stopped for a break at a lock-keeper’s house that had been turned into a café. Poor Vera had a sun attack and had to stick her head under the water faucet and lay on the ground to relax for a while. Meanwhile, I enjoyed my iced tea.

We made it to Carcassonne by 4pm and had an amusing time checking into the hotel – the owner is a real card and had fun with the fact that we had a tri-lingual conversation. The room is simple and funky but serves the purpose. We showered and collapsed and tried to cool down and then by about 6pm were ready to make our way to the Cité.

On the way to the Cité we stopped by the tourist information office to check for brochures, maps, etc. and in the midst of discussing our plans for the coming days realized that we wanted to spend a 2nd night in Carcassonne. So from the tourist office we reserved our room for the following night, much to the amusement of our hotelier (why did these idiot women call from the tourist office???).

After a 25 minute walk which involved several photo stops we made it up to the Cité, as the fortress city is known. As we walked through the streets of the old town we were overcome by the shopping urge (not surprising as there are tourist goods aplenty) and I ended up with a couple of scarves and a pair of earrings (light and easy to carry along).

After walking through the cathedral (I’m not sure that I like the fact that it was so heavily restored in the 19th century) we searched for a restaurant – hunger cravings were starting!

We ended up in a shady garden restaurant, just a touristy as all the others, but the service was friendly and quick and it wasn’t outrageously expensive. My first course was a salad covered with Toulouse sausage (mild pork sausage). It was tasty but quite rich – really too much for a first course, but, oh well.

My main course was roasted duck legs with fries. Simple and tasty and not extremely light! No room for dessert.

By the time we finished our dinner it was past 10:30 and there were no more public transit services to the town. No problem, we’ll walk back… Well, we ended up going out a different gate than we came in and were on the opposite side of the Cité from the old town where our hotel was located. Our circuitous route took us through deserted back streets and over main thoroughfares until we finally reached the main town square about midnight. All the while, not a taxi in sight.

By 12:30 we collapsed into bed.

Day 9

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