I set off this morning to head down out of the Pyrennees to Carcassonne.I had spent the night in the Marie Celeste of all campsites; rows of caravans with tent attachments ,all completely deserted and I think I really was the only person staying. But the facilities were good.
I retraced my steps of the evening before to the junction where I had turned up the mountain to Andorra. This time I continued on down the Toulouse road .I had the choice of either a very winding road down or taking the Puymorens toll tunnel (5 km).I assumed that the tunnel was there for a good reason, and went through it, despite the toll being 13 Euro. There followed a continuous descent down a good road for 80 km, before the countryside levelled off in to the attractive rolling fields and vineyards of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The snow remained further down the mountain on the Northern side, but down in Roussillon everything was looking very green after the aridness of central Spain, although the vines of the vineyards had not yet come to life.
I had a plan to seek out the main Renault garage in Carcassonne and get booked in for the wheel bearings to be replaced on the back wheel. Actually, the run down the mountains had been good, with no recurrence of the worrying squeak on corners. As luck would have it, as I approached the garage, with about 1km to go ,the brakes started feeling spongy and lost their power. As I pulled in to the garage and stopped, I could see brake fluid dripping from the brake line under the rear of the van.
Fortunately my French was up to it, as no-one I dealt with could speak English, but I had mugged up on some technical terms. A diagnosis was made, indeed a fractured brake line, and they were certain it couldn’t have anything to do with the brake pad change the day before , as it was in a site protected from any possible damage by jacks etc. Thus it was a completely random event. How amazing then that this should occur within sight of a Renault dealership, and luckily not while descending hairpin bends in the Pyrenees !!
The wheel bearings on the left rear wheel were confirmed as definitely needing replacement too .Those could be done immediately, but the necessary part for the brake line was nowhere local and would probably take till Thursday to arrive. I had factored in that I might need to stay a day or two .With the van unsafe to drive it was abandoned to the safe hands of the Renault dealership, and I packed some things in my bag and headed to the nearest hotel ,luckily a mere 100 metres across the road ,a pleasant little travel lodge type place .At only £35 per night it’s not going to break the bank. And in a great location too, as it is a mere 15 minutes walk down the road to the famous medieval citadel.
Having checked in I set out to explore. The Carcassonne tourist website says that the old city is the second most visited tourist destination in France after the Eiffel tower. I’m somewhat sceptical of this claim as I can’t see any way they could measure it.
Carcassonne features the iconic fortress of the old city, a World Heritage site.It is renowned as one of the strongholds of the Cathars, a Christian sect based in Languedoc in the south of France, and the city was captured by the crusaders of the Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) which was a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in the south of France for largely political reasons. The English lord Simon de Montford was one of the leader of the besiegers. I was just too late to go round the walls, which close at 4-30.That will have to be on tomorrow’s list. However, although the walls are dramatic, inside the walls the houses and streets pretty much make up one large Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe,very much a "Disneyfication" and somewhat of a disappointment..
Actually there are two old cities, as a “new city” of The Bastide was built in the 13th century the other side of the river ,after a revolt, to keep the populace out of the citadel's fortifications.This 13th century town has now largely been supplanted by more modern buildings but retains the original grid layout , and the shape of the city walls is still evident. There is a nice central square , where I was able to sample some pavement café life in a pleasant 20 degree heat. I also took a stroll down to the 'docks', the basin of the Canal du Midi.
So. Stuck in Carcassonne for a couple of days. Life can be so hard !