Monday, July 28, 2014

First Night Alone in Carcassonne La Cite (France) and Dinner at Restaurant Le Plo

Before I start this entry I want to show you stunning Carcassonne. The city is divided into the old and the new part. Obviously the old part is the castle, the ancient walled city nicknamed by the locals as ‘La Cite’. This is where I stayed. Yep, inside the walled city =)

The medieval Carcassonne La Cite looking very much fairytale-like above the parking area of its sister city, the real-life newer city of Carcassonne.

Alone in the Auberge

I will post a separate entry of the auberge I stayed inside La Cite another time but I am glad to inform that the auberge manager (perhaps he is the owner as well? I never asked) was very happy to welcome me after waiting for hours. He said that they are closing the restaurant early because they do not have a lot of guests for the evening, and moreover, he said that no one else is staying in the auberge except me. *gulp* Huh?

I looked around the auberge and inside the restaurant and realised, OH DEAR, I WILL REALLY BE ALONE TONIGHT?! *Do not panic!*

Auberge & Restaurant des Lices on a narrow alley inside La Cite. Yep, I am staying at this place alone for two nights. The auberge has only two suite rooms and only one is booked. I am the lone guest. 

‘You will be alone!’ said the auberge manager teasingly. Argh, he is not helping me a bit. I want to smack him, lol.

You know, the auberge is located in a narrow secluded street at the back of the Basilique Saint-Nazaire, away from the main road inside this stone walled ancient city. I will be liar if I tell you I was not spooked. The thought actually scared me at first. I began to worry but managed to control myself and chanted this 100x in my head, ‘Nonsense, do not be such a wimp! Nothing is going to happen to you.’

After inspecting my suite room and settling my luggage inside, I went down to the restaurant and said goodnight to the auberge manager and his crew who were busy doing last minute cleanup of the restaurant. They are ready to lock up for the night and I have been supplied with the electronic code to the front door and the key to my room. I will be going out for a little walk and then have my dinner outside. They have invited me to eat at the restaurant but I politely said not tonight. I promised them however that I will eat at the restaurant the next evening.

Dinner at Restaurant Le Plo
Address: 23 Rue de Plo near the small square with cafe and restaurant terraces

November is past the peak season so not many restaurants were open. I found Restaurant Le Plo looking fairly cosy from the outside so I decided to give it a try.

I ordered a 3-course menu. Foie gras + green salad for my starter and a grilled fish + puree for my main but exchanged the dessert for an espresso.

I ordered a glass of white wine. They gave me an aperitif from the house and a jar of water as well.

My starter: Foie gras, jellied prunes, green salad and tomatoes, and some toast.

My main: Grilled fish (forgot what this was, perhaps sea bass), puree and a grilled tomato.

I exchanged my dessert with this espresso that came with a little bar of chocolate. The next picture is the restaurant during the day.

I am quite happy with this meal thus this deserves a 4.2 stars out of 5 in my book.

Evening Stroll inside La Cite

After dinner I did a little stroll around the citadel. There were very few people out and about that evening and I knew that the place is safe but I still cannot help but be conscious with my surroundings. I am after all a lone woman travelling.

Inside the walled city the cobbled stone streets were lighted well, but they were however somewhat lonely, with an a bit eerie feel in the air as well. Except for a few visiting couples here and there I came across with, I was mainly on my own walking on the empty streets.

I am really excited for the morning to see this massive fortified ancient city!

This is the entrance city gate. Only cars with special approved access (such as people who live inside the walled city) and taxis can go inside. The city gate is equipped with a stoplight because only one vehicle can pass here one at a time.

It is very nice that they lighted the whole citadel. So stunning and magical at night.


One of the small squares with cafe and restaurant terraces inside the citadel.

At past 23:00 I decided it is time to call it a night and headed back to the auberge. Knowing that the auberge manager and his crew might have left for night, I started having some unexpected goosebumps.

Oh dear me. I realised I will be going back to a dark and empty auberge...

Travel Period: November 2013
Destination: Carcassonne (Languedoc-Rossillon), France

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Winging it: Train Travel from Girona (Spain) to Carcassonne (France)

I am sometimes an obsessive compulsive travel planner. I’ll admit that I do suffer the nagging feeling of what-ifs. What if I miss out a very important attraction? What if I forgot to try the town’s home-grown delicacy? What if I do not find the market where locals go to? What if there are hidden beautiful gems of architecture that I was not able to see?

So many what-ifs plagues me sometimes. But as I travel and grow old, I learned to let go. I am not as anal as before anymore, but you know, I can still be =)

My train (Renfe) from Girona to the border, Figueres-Villafant, the last train station of Spain before entering France.

I combined the trip to GIRONA, Spain (with a 1-day side trip to Barcelona and a 1-day country & seaside day trip to Figueres, Besalu and Cadaques) with CARCASSONNE, France. The travel itinerary is to fly into Girona airport and after I am done with the Spain leg travel, I will take the train to Carcassonne and then fly out from the airport there.

Below is the map of the train travel between the two destinations (you can move the map with your mouse). I used the car route, which is somewhat the same with train travel (this option was not available in Google maps), but with stops and transfers at Figueres and Narbonne.

With economies of scale growing outside metropolitan areas, the travel and tourism industry gets to take advantage of this. There is more demand on an international level for new air travel destinations. I am thankful for small and budget airlines coming into the travel scene as many fly now to beautiful hard-to-reach places such as Girona (I still have a few entries to post!) and Carcassonne. If we just rely on the standard national carriers, it would take a day or two to get to these places. I am not talking about the costs involved here, I am talking about convenience. The journey is as important as the destination.

Nevertheless, I did not book my train ticket ahead of time. I thought I will just wing it.

I did however bought my train ticket, Girona to Narbonne (France) several hours ahead departure at the Girona train station. There is no direct train Girona (Spain) to Carcassonne (France) and I was informed that I will have to take TWO transfers:

1) The first transfer is at the border, at the Figueres-Villafant (Spain) train station.
2) The second transfer is at the Narbonne (France) train station.

The Girona train station personnel said that I can only buy my Narbonne to Carcassonne train ticket in France. Okay, I am fine with that, although I was a bit worried what time I will arrive in Carcassonne.

Just arrived here at the Figueres-Villafant train station. I am taking the 17:20 train to Paris.

Bumming around at the Figueres-Villafant train station. If you go to Figueres to visit the Dali Theater Museum via train, you get off here. It is in a out-of-the-way location and the only way to get to the city centre is to take a taxi. They are a plenty here, although I can imagine that there is a bus that comes once an hour, perhaps?

I am now going to board the train to Paris and I am getting off at the second stop, Narbonne. This is the tunnel leading to the elevated platforms. They are a bit strict, you go through security here.

My worry is checking in at my hotel in Carcassonne. Actually, it is a small auberge inside the Carcassonne citadel with only two suite rooms and a fine dining restaurant. I am not sure if the owner lives here or if they lock up the place when the restaurant closes. It’s not your usual hotel with a 24-hour reception.

And what if there is no train to Carcassonne anymore when I reach Narbonne? I don’t have internet on my phone. I have a laptop but there is no internet in the train stations. *stress*

But I can’t fast forward time, so I am stuck waiting for my train connections, one cup of coffee after another. I got lucky though when I arrived in Narbonne. There was a regional train leaving for Bordeaux in twenty minutes with a stop (the first stop!) in Carcassonne. Add thirty minutes to that and I will be at my final leg of destination for this holiday.

Beautiful facade of Narbonne train station. I heard they have a lively market in this town. Would have been a nice stopover if I had more time.

I am taking the 18:53 train to Bordeaux and will get off at Carcassonne, its first stop.

In the meantime, I am having a cup of coffee at the Bodega y Estacion here in Narbonne.

I finally arrived 20:22 in Carcassonne and the first thing I did was to call the auberge to inform them that I am coming. The friendly and somewhat relieved man from the auberge said in a very thick French accent, ‘We thought you are not coming anymore!’

Well, I cannot blame the French man. I did say I will arrive somewhere mid-afternoon in my email, haha.

It took me another half an hour to get a cab. There is a taxi stand at the Carcassonne train station but rarely the taxis ply here. Maybe it was just bad timing for me. I kept telling myself everything will be fine and that I will have a bed to sleep for the night.

The French train station facades are really cute and pretty!

Here we are about to enter the fortified city of Carcassonne. The taxi driver had to wait for the stoplight to turn green because the gateway can only fit one vehicle.

Carcassonne is a beautiful fortified town. I cannot wait for morning to come =)

Travel Period: November 2013
Destination: Carcassonne (Languedoc-Rossillon), France

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Artist's Seaside Village in Spain: Charming Cadaques

After a lunch and an afternoon in Besalu I drove to Cadaques, a charming white-washed seaside bay village in the Costa Brava.

I need to go back to Cadaques
Websites: Costa Brava Guide: Cadaques | Visit Cadaques

The drive from Besalu to Cadaques:

Many artists fell in love with picturesque Cadaques. Miro, Picasso, Duchamp and Dali were regular visitors to this artist's haven. The latter, Salvador Dali was very fond of this seaside hamlet that in the later years he bought a villa in Port Lligat, a tiny village beside Cadaques, as a gift to his wife. It is now a museum.

From the pictures I saw on the internet, I can perfectly understand why these artists are taken by this piece of Catalan beauty, and that is also the reason why I wanted to go there as well =)

The drive from Besalu to Cadaques takes an hour. I remember the sister-in-law warning me that it is going to be a long and stressy drive. If you check the map it looks relatively near, but it is not really. When I got off the highway, the arduous and imminent zigzagged road to Cadaques became clear. Ugh, shall I go on? I was tempted to turn and head back to Girona where I am staying for the holiday. But I only have the car for the day and the next day I am heading off to the south of France.

I asked myself, ‘How many times do you find yourself visiting Cadaques?’ So I pressed on.

I knew I will arrive late than expected but I didn’t have much plans anyway. I am just curious. I want to see why many artists are crazy about this place. And oh, I would not mind having a glass of chilled sangria as well.

Well Cadaques did not disappoint. This white-washed fishing village has a very local and rustic charm that slowly works into your system. I wish I could stay longer really, but I know that life has its own unusual ways, and with the amount of travel I take these days, there’s always going to be another time =)

The pictures I took does not do justice to the beauty of this township, so please bear with me. I really need to go back!

The snakey drive to Cadaques. I did not realise that I have deleted the Spain map in my old Nokia Mini phone with GPS so I rented a GPS from the car rental company. They gave me a TomTom navigator, which is actually a Dutch product/company.

Driving with beautiful colours as the sun goes down. In Europe, the sun goes down really slow and even if the sun has totally gone down, there is still light. I know that in other parts of the world such as in Asia, when the sun is down, it is dark, pitch dark.

Can you see the snakey trail to Cadaques?

The white-washed fishing village of Cadaques.

November is low season which means less tourists in this village. In the summer, the beach front is full of sun worshippers sunbathing.

The casino building on the right is actually a bar cafe restaurant now.

Sometimes my camera is acting up and cannot really focus sharply. This is what happens when you only have a pocket point-and-click camera. A few years from now I might buy a new one, still a pocket point-and-click camera with better graphics and reach. DSLR's to me are a pain, they are heavy and hideous to carry. Besides, it screams tourist to thieves. Not cool at all.

The product sign board says this is Burilles, a sweet nut delicacy and a typical product of Cadaques.

Since I do not have a panorama picture of Cadaques I took this one. It is without a doubt a very pretty village, and I will come back here another time, and when I do, I will definitely spend more time here.

I spied a mini supermarket selling typically Spanish meat gourmet products: dried and cured sausages (chorizo, fuet, lomo, salchichon) and whole ham legs.

I found a terrace on the beach. I will sit here =)

And ordered a glass of Sangria. I decided not to eat dinner here in Cadaques but in Girona, but will take my time sipping this cocktail and enjoy the breeze on the bay.

The beach seaside of Cadaques is formed like a bay lagoon, which makes it really pretty and cosy. It is not too big and not too small as well.

Some people were fishing, and it was getting dark.

On the road back to Girona and passing through a tunnel. The drive from Cadaques to Girona is also about an hour.

Travel Period: November 2013
Destination: Cadaques (Girona), Spain

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