A Day in Carcassonne

We took the train southeast from Toulouse to the legendary medieval city of Carcassonne. The train ushered us through the countryside and red poppies waved to us for the entire length of track. We had lunch at a cafe in the square of modern Carcassonne, then headed up the hill towards the huge walls.

For a while, we wandered around between the outer and inner walls, and sat in the grass and just enjoyed the sun and being together. Then, we went inside the city. It was… ok. There were a lot of overpriced restaurants and tacky souvenir shops. We decided not to pay the hefty entrance fee to go into the actual castle, because it was unclear what we were going to see there other than some sort of video. None of the books about the city sold in the tourist shops featured any photos of the inside of the castle, either, so we thought we’d save our pennies and skip it.

We did end up digging into our pockets to pay the entrance fee for the torture museum. It was centered around the inquisition, and had a few interesting (horrifying) items and an admonishment at the end about how we must all be vigilant to keep these and other human rights atrocities happening again. But it was obvious that most of the items on display were reproductions, many of the mannequin-centric vignettes were in poor condition, and labels on the exhibits had barely comprehensible English translations.

The best thing inside the city walls was the somewhat small and very old (consecrated in 1096) Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse, where a Russian men’s quintet was performing chorales. We spent nearly an hour listening to the music and examining the detail of the stained glass and crypt carvings.

Despite the actual place we went to see being the very definition of “tourist trap,” we did our own thing and had a nice afternoon. We picked out a few marvelously tacky postcards for friends (and a few nice ones for grandmothers) and rushed back down the hill to catch an earlier train home.