The day started as one of the coldest mornings so far this autumn. It might have been nice to stay in bed, but it was time for another train trip, this time to Arles, just inside Provence. We walked to the station, and after a short wait standing on the cold, breezy platform beneath the Gare Saint Roch, we boarded. It felt good to be on the train. The train rocked gently between towns where people got on and off on their way to work, school, or shopping. We were going to Arles to visit ancient Roman monuments and be in the place where Vincent van Gogh painted some of his more famous works.
Trips in the south, outside of Montpellier
Our friends Rich and Patti drove from Barcelona, Spain to Montpellier to visit us. That meant they had a car. We ate, drank, and enjoyed each other’s company. On the third day of their visit, a road trip to the ancient medieval city of Aigues-Mortes (102 B.C.E.) was called for. This walled town dates back to the 13th century, though people lived here long before.
Long-time friends from Florida visited us in Montpellier recently. We have known Rich and Patti for far longer than I want to calculate. At our last April Fool’s party (40th wedding anniversary), they threatened to come to France and drink wine with us. To our delight, they drove in from Barcelona where they had spent a few days to do just that.
When one is able to just get in to a car and go somewhere, travel without a car can seem difficult. But today we go by train to Nîmes, northwest of Montpellier. Upon arrival, we began the day with a stroll down the beautiful, tree-lined walking avenue that took us to the Centre Ville - or town center.
As we took the roads out and away from Carcassonne, the massive fortress dominated the view behind us for quite a while. Even from far away the towers could be seen above the vineyards and trees until they finally disappeared from view and, for us, became a distant, wonderful memory.
The small village of Lastours is less than 10 miles outside of Carcassonne and its history dates to the Middle-Bronze Age around 1500 years BC. Its true claim to fame are four small castles each built on a large 300 m (1000 ft) high rocky ridge. The castles were built to protect the village that has been an important mining center since antiquity.
Just to the south of my birthplace in Florida is St. Augustine, the oldest European-established city in the continental United States. St. Augustine is a charming and historical city, and location of the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest fort in the United States, whose construction began in 1672. It is a place of imagination and wonder for the young schoolboy I was when I first saw the imposing structure on the waterfront. I never imagined that a place like Carcassonne could exist.
There were a few places we couldn’t go exclusively by train. But going from Montpellier to Narbonne by train, we rented a car and drove the backroads to Carcassonne visiting several abbeys along a circuitous route through the region’s wine country. Our first stop was to the Abbaye Fontfroide, founded in 1093.
Béziers is one of the oldest cities in France, dating from about 575 B.C. It was old when the Romans arrived. Its location made it a major east-west trade route through the region. Béziers suffered greatly in 1209 during the Albigensian Crusades, in which the Catholic Church exterminated the Cathar religion. The entire population of Béziers was massacred, Cathar and Catholic alike. Today within the Languedoc region, Béziers is known for two things in particular: wine and bullfighting.