Category: Share Barbara’s Travel Journey

La Cite – Carcassonne, a Medieval Fortress – Unbelievable!

The weather is turning cool, windy and rainy so we’re getting in all our adventuring before it hits.

With shortcut instructions for a route from Pepieux to Carcassonne, we headed out – only to find there was a major detour in the second village along this route.  We followed a bus (that was interesting as it filled the whole street – woe on anyone coming the other way) and missed a turnoff.  So, we read signs and maps and found our way to our destination – a longer route.  Oh well.

Definitely, Carcassonne was worth the trip.  Below are pictures which totally don’t do it justice.  Interesting thing is I’ve been reading a trilogy by Kate Mosse (Labyrinth, Sepulcher, and now Citadel) set in this part of France.  Carcassonne, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, is one of the major settings, so to see it and then read the history in the books gives a much deeper sense of what happened in the middle ages.

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It has become a tourist mecca – apparently the second most visited site in France.  Minerve is another similar sight which we’ll check out today.  There are the usual souvenir shops, food stalls, etc., but some interesting shops there as well.  However, to see La Cite from a distance, walk its narrow streets, view the church and main chateau is taking a walk back in time.  It always makes me marvel how they built it – it’s been there for eons.

2014-04-17 06.38.572014-04-17 07.30.47Again, before heading over to the historical Carcassonne (La Cite), parking in the Ville Basse (lower town) which is situated across the river from La Cite, we found a quirky tapas restaurant across from the theatre where we again had a totally amazing seafood salad.  A little different than yesterday’s salad.  This one had smoked salmon, olives, and walnuts in it.  Yum!

Today is Good Friday in France.  Stores are still open and life is going on as usual except the kids are home from school.  Sunday though will be quiet as usual here.  I still remember quiet Sundays when I was growing up – before stores were open seven days a week.  It was a day for church, resting and visiting with family.

Hope you enjoy your Easter weekend wherever you are.



Another Market – Larger – in Lezegnan

If we had the time, we could go to a market every day as the vendors travel around from village to village.  However, we heard that this one was particularly good and larger – more vendors.  So, off Monique and I trekked to Lezegnan.  This time I got some pictures to share.  Some items you would never see at home:

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After market, we were really tired and hungry.  Noticed this restaurant and when I saw this salad being served, I knew it was the place.  You may think that strange, but when you are vegetarian or vegan, there are very few options for dining out in France.  Luckily I can eat fish occasionally.  It was a seafood salad (pictured below) with smoked salmon, mussels and crab.  Delicious! The only other thing that would have made the lunch perfect was a glass of wine, but I was driving.  As seen below, I have learned how to park a la France – up on the curb.

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Then back to Pepieux for some afternoon R & R.  We seem to be able to fit everything in here – an adventure, visiting, reading, walking and down time.  Amazes me.  All non stressful.  Love it.


Market Day in Olanzac

In this area of France, there are markets in the villages on different days.  Today, Tuesday, was market day in Olanzac.  Tomorrow there is a different market in Lezignan – larger and with other vendors.  Guess we’ll be up early so we don’t miss it. The markets are open from 9 – 12 and then they fold up their tents and go home.

As a kid, I grew up with farmer’s markets in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.  They showcase what is unique about an area whether it is here in Europe or at home in Calgary or wherever you live.

In Olanzac, down one narrow street (and believe me, they are narrow), you’ll see fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season, rustic breads, olives, tapenades, fresh goat cheese, cheeses of the region, many varieties of sausages, a vendor of handmade knives with handles of native olive wood, local honey (tasted a chestnut honey) and so much more. Down another street is the clothing and others section – jewelry, children’s wear, hats, lots of beautiful baskets (I’d buy one if I could figure out how to get it home on the plane) and shoes.  Prices vary but are generally reasonable.

2014-04-15 02.41.58At the junction of the two streets was this – two kids showcased to raise money to take in stray animals.  They were selling either a three pack or tin of candies, the price of which would be enough to spay/neuter a cat or feed a dog/cat for a month.  I picked up most of the conversation that the lady had with Monique who speaks French.  I’m getting better, but in these areas, not that many people actually speak English.  I’m getting good at the few words I know with a lot of sign language thrown in.

Tonight, we were invited to dinner at a Calgary expat’s home which she has renovated.  It was amazing and from the others there who saw the place before she started the reno, apparently it is nothing short of stunning.  She talked about how she made two windows in a thick wall constructed of various sized stones.  Not as simple as cutting a hole and truly hard work.  We sat outside on a rooftop terrace with her cats roaming around us and over the tops of the roofs of neighboring houses – of course, in French style, accompanied with wine.  Truly a lovely ending to our day.

Adventuring in Narbonne Today

I say adventuring because truly, the road signs in France are a bit confusing to say the least.  We circled Olanzac twice before we figured out the sign that would take us to Narbonne.  Then we almost missed a couple of other turns because they weren’t clearly marked.  All part of the fun.  Love the sign on the top that says ‘Autre Directions’.  In other words, if the place you want isn’t listed on the signs, try this one.  Go figure.

Eventually we made it to Narbonne.  Great place.  We missed the Indoor Market unfortunately as it closed at 2:00.  We thought it closed at noon so roamed around the historic city center, had lunch, etc.  Good reason to go back, right!

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The Canal de la Robine, a spur of the Canal du Midi, runs through the center of town with people living on houseboats.  Many great shops unique to France and old buildings with lots of character.  Plus a city square ringed with restaurants and outdoor cafes.

2014-04-14 07.09.11Must have been laundry day as we saw lots of laundry hung up outside windows.  Saw a couple of laundromats but guess most people either hand wash or have a wash machine and then just air dry clothes.  In fact, that’s what we’ve been doing here in Pepieux.  Clothes smell lovely and fresh, but it does take a day to dry them.

Tomorrow is Market Day in Olanzac.  I got there too late last week, so this week, Monique and I will head there early enough to have a good look around.  For sure want to get another loaf or two of the fabulous bread I picked up last week.  We made short work of it in two days.

A Hike with Friends Today in the French Countryside

Through my hosts, I was introduced to fellow English speaking local residents – some actually from my hometown of Calgary, Alberta.  Since they heard I love walking, they invited me to join them for their Sunday hike.  Two of the ladies were checking out a 10K route for a run to be held on May 1st.

Sorry to say, I didn’t get any pictures.  You’ll soon discover that I am more a writer than a photographer.  Plus the pictures I would have taken of the fantastic views from this mountain would not have done the view justice.  Besides, the best part was the company and conversation while stretching our legs climbing up a good incline – and funnily, we missed a turn and had to work our way back to our starting point with some ingenuity.  All good fun.

Afterwards, we did the traditional French thing – had a drink and visit at the local cafe where we met up with Monique who spent her time investigating and photographing Olanzac.

Since I don’t have pictures of today, I’m sharing some of the things we see on our daily walks.  They range from interesting architectural items to animals to flowers.  There is always something different and new that catches our eye.  Plus we have the greatest conversations along the way.  Life is sharing experiences and noticing what is often missed that is right in front of our eyes.


Door Knocker A


Door Knocker B


Horse Family From Nearby Ranch

JoeJoe, the Mule

JoeJoe, the Donkey



Wild Poppies Growing In The Ditches

Poppies growing wild beside the road

Wild Irises

Wild Irises Alongside the Road


Got Out and Around Even Though It Was Windy and Cool

Woke up to a cooler day with lots of wind.  Would have been tempting to stay inside, but who wants to stay inside when the sun is shining.

Wanted to show Monique La Lac (the lake) near here enroute to a walk along the Canal du Midi.  Realized that we needed to gas up the car before we went much further.  That was fun!!  First trying to figure out which pump was the diesel.  Here the pump for diesel is label ‘gasoil’.  Who would have thought!!!  The next challenge was figuring out what the initials meant on the keypad for paying with a credit card.  Took Monique a couple of tries, but she got it.

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One of my ‘to see’ sites was the Canal du Midi, 240 kms long linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.  Taking 14 years to complete, it was finished in 1681.  It was built to carry goods into the Languedoc area but eventually succumbed to rail traffic which was faster. Many people live in houseboats. 2014-04-12 06.12.54

Later it was re-purposed as a tourist attraction creating a place to hike, bike and boat up and down the canal.  There are locks along the way and at strategic locations serviced by tea houses and/or restaurants. In tourist season, this canal is bustling with activity.

The ‘Hood in Pepieux – Rich in Experience

The joy of experiencing life in the south of France for an extended period of time is made up of many elements.  One is getting to know the people in the neighborhood.

Today we, Monique and I, set out for a walk around the town, only to get as far as our next neighbors front stoop.  After a lovely conversation and a tour of their place, we left with a half bottle of wine to sample.  Then a tip for where to get this wine and an easy walk to a winery which offers wine tasting.

About to come in for lunch, we met our neighbors on the other side who had a visitor and came away with an invitation to join a group for a 10 K walk on Sunday morning after they do the rounds of the vide grenier (attic sale – France’s version of garage sales) in Olanzac.  These are held in different villages throughout the month and posted online.

2014-04-11 11.27.29   2014-04-11 11.04.14Finally we ventured out on our daily walk.  Destination today was the recommended winery for a wine tasting.  As we headed into this winery, we wound around old stone buildings, various pieces of machinery, were observed by a peacock on the roof, and finally met the owner, an older woman dressed old style in a long skirt and old boots with a wicked sense of humor who, with pride, shared her wine.  Thank heavens Monique can speak French as this woman did not speak English.  Asked if I could take her picture, but she declined. We came away with a bottle of wine, but I’m sure she was thinking we’d buy a case which is what people who live here do – or I guess they send it home to wherever they live.  She was amazed that we had walked, not driven the car.   So carrying a case of wine back to Pepieux was not in our plan.  Probably thought those silly Canadians – what were they thinking.

We are being welcomed into this community of both ex-pats and local French residents.  Life is rich.  Life is community.  Life is balance.  Life is just right!

Slow Day in France

2014-04-02 03.17.40Today was a stay at home day.  My friend, Monique, arrived yesterday so this morning we had a comfortable sit and chat with our coffees out on the front stoop. Lunch time came before we knew it – the stores were closed – it was quiet.  We did a quick walkabout of the town and back for lunch.

This afternoon was a walk – my fitness walk from Pepieux to Siran and back.  The weather was absolutely beautiful – hot with a light breeze.  First day for me in capris and a short sleeve shirt.  Heaven!  In one week, the vines in the vineyard have sprouted and the plane trees in the front of the house have bloomed.

I’m loving the pace here.  Hope I can keep some of what I’m learning about balanced living and apply it to my everyday life.  I thought I was living balanced but still have much to learn.


Historical Minerve, A Glimpse Into The Past

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Keeping to my goal of one village a day or close to that while still maintaining rest and relaxation, I ventured out to Minerve, a medieval fortified village.   My picture doesn’t begin to capture it’s essence.

It’s absolutely amazing.  The whole town is built into an outcropping at the junction of two rivers, the Cesse and Brian.  In the Middle Ages, Minerve played a pivotal role in the battle between the Cathars and the Crusaders.  It was eventually captured when their well was rendered useless and they ran out of food.

The author, Kate Mosse, writes of this time in history in her book ‘Labyrinth’ which I read before coming to France.

Like most historical sites, it’s been rebuilt and has become a mecca for tourists.  But as I walked the narrow cobblestone alleyways which wind up and down and around the site, I marveled at the hardiness of the people living in that time.  Life was tough.  It was nice enough today on a wonderful spring day, but I can only imagine the conditions on a blustery winter day.  Plus I wondered at the ingenuity and skill required to build the village in the first place.  Amazing.

Exploring On Foot

2014-04-06 09.23.03As a lifetime walker, I am exploring the villages within walking distance of Pepieux which is surrounded by vineyards with views of the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains) with villages dotting their sides.  Some roads are paved and some are just secondary tracks with room for one car to pass.  So different than home.

One of my finds came through a friendly conversation with a neighbor who was explaining the history of this area.  He mentioned that there was a historical site – an ancient dolmen dating back to 3000 B.C..  That afternoon, I headed out and found it.  Totally awesome.  Just imagining what it must have been like in that spot all those years ago.  Mind boggling.  Here’s the link for more information.

Still taking time to rest, read and enjoy my time here.  Love the daily pace – up in the morning and head to the boulangerie (bakery) for breakfast food which is mainly croissants and/or bread.  Not my choice but watch the neighborhood activity. Then at 12:30 until 4:30, the stores close – lunch time.  There is a supermarket in Olanzac that is open right through, but that’s a drive away.  In the evenings, neighbors are out visiting, children are playing in the square and at 8:00 it all gets quiet.

Last night, it was balmy out – actually warmer outside than inside.  So I took my laptop outside and worked for a bit.  Then before bed, I did my tai chi out in the square.  So peaceful!  The moon and the stars were above, the stray cats of which there are many were roaming around or watching, and the square was softly lit by lanterns.  Extraordinary.