The city of Carcassonne includes both a very large walled castle / city dating from the 11th century and a “new” town below (13th century).
Walking between the train station and the castle takes 40 minutes (without luggage), and the route will take you over a picturesque pedestrian bridge with a wonderful view of the castle. Taxis do not wait outside the train station (or anywhere else that we saw), so they need to be summoned by telephone…someone in the train station or at your hotel may be able to do this for you.
We stayed 4 nights in the “Orange Room” of the Chambres d’ Hôtes (Chambres d’ Hotes) guesthouse / B&B within the castle walls. It was generally comfortable, although one bed made a lot of noise every time you moved. The in-room TV received 5 channels, all in French language. The kitchen is tiny, with a conventional oven but no microwave. The bathroom includes a bidet. A comfortable terrace / deck outside overlooks the street. The heating system is anemic, and we did not see an air conditioner…which did not matter because we were there during a cool spell. The friendly proprietress speaks a little English. Breakfast supplies are available every morning downstairs, but you have to go to the new city to find a grocery store.
Most visitors to Carcassonne speak French, but we got by with few problems using a mixture of French and English.
Toilets at the train station cost 0.5 euro for both men and women.
In May they celebrate the Festival of Wines in the old city. The crowds during this event in 2005 were cheerful, in spite of cold rainy weather. During this festival you could purchase a wine glass and 8 tickets for 5 euros, each ticket good for multiple sample glasses of wine at one winery’s table. Tip: Don’t use all your tickets on cheap wines, since at one booth a person could enjoy a glass of 80-euro champagne for only one ticket. Several bands entertained the crowds during the day, as well as jugglers, a stilt-man and a fire-eater.
Restaurant meals in France are expensive for Americans, based upon the current strength of the euro compared to the US dollar. Breakfast at the upscale Hotel de Cite in the castle reportedly costs 25 euros per person. Most, but not all, restaurants in the castle close by 7:30 PM. Cassoulet, a mixture of meats and beans, is the signature local dish.
The word “euros” is slurred in French down to one syllable, “oh.” So “five euros” in French becomes “sanko.”
We did not find any Internet cafes within the castle walls (the old city), but we did stumble upon an unencrypted WiFi signal within our hotel room that we used to full advantage. In the new city a well-marked Internet café at the corner of Verdun and Jules Sauzede streets (4 blocks west of the tourist info office) offers 15 minutes for 1 euro…you have to tell them in advance how long you expect to be there. They have a free restroom for customers. French keyboards are considerably different from American ones, so touch-typists may have to revert to two-finger typing.
The tourist info office has free restrooms and helpful staff fluent in English.
The French are fond of dogs, and you will see many well-behaved small canines in the streets, in restaurants and even at airports.
You will find clothing and groceries at the Monoprix store downtown in the new town.
What French women are wearing this year: Loose linen pants, either full length or
capri; retro-style tennis shoes; modern blazers; bright colors; heels; fitted jackets; denim jackets; tight jeans;
pashminas. The capri pants tie at the calf. Local women do not wear shorts, but a few tourists do. Backpackers can get away with any kind of dress. The cobblestone streets require good walking shoes.
We saw very few overweight French people, despite news reports of a worldwide obesity epidemic.
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