Monday, 11 August 2008

11/08/08: Flickr Map

I have settled back in now at home. Our Pyrenees holiday feels like months ago, not two weeks.

I have set up a Flickr account for myself. On Flickr, there is a feature where you can map out where your photos were taken. So as well as uploading the best of my photos from the holiday on Flickr, I have painstakingly mapped out - as accurately as possible - where all the photos were taken. I feel like a geek, but I'm proud.

Czech it out here.


Saturday, 26 July 2008

25-26/07/08: Homeward Bound

The last two days of the holiday have been two of the best, and not just because we were going home.

We were packed and ready to go on Saturday morning, but before we did we walked into Ceret to have a look around the morning market. It was a very annoying market - interesting, sure, but annoying. The streets were lined with stalls and full to bursting with locals and tourists. I've not been jostled so much since starting up for six hours at a rock concert. It was impossible to move and, in the consistent heat of the past two weeks, we became fed up very quickly. We walked to the other side of town as my parents wanted to see a second proporty owned by the lady who owns our the house we had just stayed in. It was a ground-floor apartment with its own private garden. We didn't go inside, but we walked around it. Down the side of the property was a drive leading to another house which was not visible from the end (it must have been up in the hills). A great lumbering beast emerged from the garden of the house nextdoor are stared at us. It gave me such a fright - I thought it was a bear! It was not, but it was the biggest dog I have ever seen in my life.

After we looked around the street where the property was situated, we waved goodbye to our house (we're that sort of family, I guess) and went on our way. Both totally leaving Ceret, we stopped off at Pont du Diable - three adjacent bridges that cross a river. One for trains; one for cars; one for pedestrians. We'd seen them in the modern art museum in a lovely Impressionist painting (which i ended up buying a poster of).

Sadly, it seems the bridges have a more morbid reputation with the locals.

Then we were on our way. We drove for about forty minutes before stopping for lunch. Dad pulled off the motorway and somehow got us under it. It was an amazing place, especially to have lunch.

After lunch we drove over the board. We were expecting to need out passports and slowed down. At this point, some maniac sped past us at something like 80mph and ran straight over the bored, winding between all the Border Control points. They were all unoccupied so we followed him ... at a slower speed, of course.

We stopped off at our hotel to unload all our bags. We watched Euronews for twenty minutes and then left. We drove to Figueres to visit the Salvador Dali Theatre-Museum. We queued up for twenty minutes in the rain. Dad - being a typically cheeky sod - left us to keep the places in the queue while he stood awkwardly under shelter of a doorway next to an Asian man and his son.

At first, I wanted to spend the day in Barcelona instead, but I'm glad we didn't. It was an amazing place. Reminded me of an indoor Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but on a much smaller (yet more epic) scale. I loved it in there and would have happy stayed in there all day.

We spent the rest of the evening in Figueres. We had a nice sit down in a main park of sorts. I watched the people go about their business. It was mostly OAPs, but these two were really cute:

We made our way back to hotel as the sun went down over the Pyrenees and disappeared just over the French border. Once back I connected the laptop to the hotel's wifi and checked my emails and whatnot. I also decided to do a bit of shopping. We couldn't take much back with us, what with weight limits and such, but I wanted to have some post to come back to. I ordered some more Jose Saramago books and Pieter Hugo's The Hyena & Other Men that I had read about the other day in The Observer. Then I went to bed.

I hardly slept that night. It was so hot in our room and the aircon was really loud. Thankfully Dad's snoring drowned it out ...

We were up at six - technically, I hadn't even settled down - and we had breakfast in the hotel while watching the Tour de France. They had quite a spread! Everything you'd except to have for a french breakfast, but also a whole table dedicated to sweets. It was full of Haribo. Whoever has Haribo for breakfast - especially in that quantity - has problems. Nevertheless, Dad through me one of these little bonbons things and I went back to the room to sort out the packing. The "bonbon" was the fizziest, most sour thing I've ever tasted. It was like a nuclear meltdown on my tongue. Couldn't handle it! It was ridiculous! We loaded the bags into the car, and they all seemed lighter than last time ...

That's the best thing about going on a plane. I dread packing and unpacking, because usually we just sling everything in the car. No limits. So there are bags and bags and bags. This time, theirs just three. Good times.

We settled the hotel bill and set off for Girona Costa Brava airport. We had quite a stressful journey. We got lost as we reached Girona. Dad drove for something like ten miles down this motorway and we all had our hearts in our mouths. Eventually an airport sign appeared, but they could put more than one there to ease our panicking, racing minds.

We waited in the massive queue for check in and talked to some fellow Brits heading to Doncaster too. The queue was huge. Mum was panicking about the bags and if the weight was right. Once we were at the desk we weighed the bags. Dad's and mine were exactly 15.0kg - not bad without any scales. Mum's, however, was over. We couldn't be bothered to faff about and just decided to pay the extra fifteen euros. We did so, and then went to security. Everything was smooth. The plane journey was good. Everything was fine, and I was quite glad to be going home.

Once we landed we were in and out no bother. An old man who worked at the airport asked me about my camera which was around my neck along with my headphones (thought that if I just wear the bulkiest items in my hand luggage, it frees up more space in my bag for bastard towels!). He said that he had a Canon EOS and that he always brings it to work - "you get some great photographs working here!" he said. Too right.

We left the airport and were immediately greeted my Sheila. We loaded the car and set off home. Wasn't a bad holiday after all.

The End.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

24/07/08: Get Up & Go

Last night a number of things worth noting happened. We went into Ceret and watched an “American” band (One man was American, although is now technically a Parisian – fluent in the language, but still has an accent – whereas his band mates were all from originally France – yet sing with American accents, as it seems a lot of French do, when singing in English anyway). I walked home before they finished, they were playing in front of a bank at 11 pm to a near-desolate cafĂ© where no one really gave a damn. By the sounds of things, that was the sort of audience they were doomed to play for ever. They made me laugh. Occasionally, a polite audience member would shout out a request. One man shouted, “Johnny Cash”. “Non!” the frontman retorted. “As much as we love Cash, we only play our own songs!” The band then began a song that blatantly ripped off Sweet Home Alabama (the guitar part – ironically, the most recognisable part of Sweet Home Alabama – was identical; solo, bridge, and all).

After being subjected to their sound, I retired to our house and continued to read my book. I did this until my parents returned merely ten minutes later. My Dad uploaded the photos from his camera onto the laptop, and I did the same after him. However, I still had the photos from the day before on my camera. I deleted them ‘permanently’. To my despair, amongst them were half of the current day’s photos. I was half-asleep and had no idea at first. Some of them were really good to. How frustrating.

I then went to bed where I continue to read my book. I was determined to finish my current chapter before settling down. During which, at 00h 36, the house shook for a second or two. I was even nearer to falling asleep at this point than when I had been when I disposed of half my arsenal of photographs and thought nothing of it.

The next morning we went to Perpignan for the day (more like half of it). All the newspaper stalls had posters with statements (in French, of course) about ‘the night the earth moved’, etc. Without realising it, I sat through another earthquake thanks to my late night reading habits. I say ‘another’ because the exact same thing happened a few months ago during my GCSE exams. At around one or two in the morning there was a very large earthquake (for north east England at least) that lasted eight or so seconds. The majority of my friends slept through it, except me as I was enthralled in reading Catcher in the Rye.

Perpignan was good. We had a general wander around the city. Many of the shops were the same. There was one main shopping centre of interest that we visited the other day – Fnac – but all the other shops either sold souvenirs or were unremarkable ‘boutiques’. There were hundreds of these little clothes shops that lined street after street in a city centre similar to some vast labyrinth-esque rabbit warren. The temperature soared over lunchtime and it became far too hot to just wander around. We were needing a bottle of water every ten minutes. It was crazy! We then returned to the car and drove back to Ceret along the ‘scenic’ coastal route in what turned into a tedious and mostly unsuccessful ‘beach crawl’.

Once back in Ceret we had dinner and I continued to read. While digesting our meal outside in the garden, I was horrified by the sight of three mosquitoes feasting on my arms. This sent me quickly inside where I started this blog.

Tomorrow is our last day in Ceret. We plan to spend the day slowly packing our bags, or so says Mum. On Saturday we travel into Spain and will do either one of two things.

1) Drive into Barcelona, which is an hours drive from our hotel
2) Or visit the Salvador Dali museum nearby.

I would prefer to go into Barcelona, but we shall see what happens. On Sunday we drive back to Girona for 11:30am to catch our flight two hours later. Then Sheila, our North Ferribian friend, will pick us up in Dad’s car and take us back home. The whole journey (including flight time, excluding waiting time) should only take 2 – 2½ hours. Usually it takes six hours just to get down to Dover! Hopefully we will fly to our holiday destinations more often rather than the usual two-day journey we have suffered every year for the past decade and a half (longer than I can remember). Though the number of family holidays I have to endure before I leave to face the world on my own is numbered.

I say this all now as I doubt I’ll have time / bother to write another blog before reaching home.

See you Sunday evening!


Wednesday, 23 July 2008

22-23/07/08: Beach Crawls

The past two days have been more of the usual. Driving to different places, taking photographs of views, reading our books and newspapers (my mother, The Daily Mail, which I have a strong hatred for, and I, anything else) and drinking (soft drinks, mind you) and eating (ice cream!) to our hearts content. Yesterday we drove right down to the Spanish border - a little ‘cap’ which had views right across to the Costa Brava. We snaked along the windy roads that follow the coastline and are broken up by small seaside communities, all the while looking out over the Mediterranean sea. The roads were as treacherous as they always are, but Mum took on a new sense of paranoia (dramatic flinching, also seen when we overtake lorries on motorways) after a large group of Gendarmerie were gathered on a point looking over a cliff edge. They had called out a large crane. From a distance, it looked like an opportune chance to bungee jump, when in reality they were most likely retrieving a car that had taken a speeding leap over the edge. This sight filled her with a new sense of morality that was not present the past week and a half when we’ve navigated similar roads almost everyday. The day was filled with numerous infrequent events which are worth noting for nostalgia’s sake.

After stopping off at on point where Mum wanted to walk from a particular church to a vantage point of a Spanish Gulf (a surprising choice as it involved walking a very narrow path along the cliff edge and very precarious flights of steps – a choice she would have no doubt regretted if we did end up doing the walk; we decided to drive to the vantage point instead). We watched a small convoy of local children rush up and down improvised gangways that led to a number of small finishing boats. They were catching a variety of scary-looking sea creatures. One boy had found himself a sea urchin. It looked like a very small completely black “sea hedgehog”. My Dad looked quite unnerved by the sight. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s a spined sea urchin.” He replied. “Oh.” He continued to look nervous. He said, “There are two types that come from around here. One of which is very poisonous.” I then mirrored his expression. “Which type is that?” “No idea. I’m hoping he knows. He’s a local after all.” Albeit a young one; he was no older than ten.

Another memorable encounter with the locals happened later on. We were on a slow drive back and stopped at another vantage point of the same Spanish Gulf, but further away. I stayed in the car. I was completely enthralled in Orwell’s Animal Farm and I gathered I’d seen the view of Spain and though nice to look at, it didn’t make for a very interesting photograph. It was very hot – as it has been every day so far this holiday – and I had my window open. This old Spanish woman poked her head through my window like a curious horse and started talking to me in very friendly and very rapid Spanish. I had no idea what she was saying and I was slightly startled. I could only bring myself to say, “Pardon?” She replied, “Espanola?” I looked at my Mum who was stood just outside. She took the woman away and began to talk to her. I’m not sure how. My Mum doesn’t know a word of Spanish. It turns out the woman had mistaken us for fellow Spaniards when she noticed the ‘E’ on the number plate of our Spanish car. That’s all we figured out. We did not know what she was asking anyway or why she picked on us – probably something to do with me being sat in the car reading as I missed out on the sight of my glorious homeland of Spain in the distance.

As rubbish as it may sound – my being sat in the car reading – seeing Spain like that was quite similar to seeing the Isle of Wight from just off the coast of England: sounds majestic (possibly), but in person it’s not all that thrilling, especially as you’ve already seen it from a number of vantage points over the course of the day. Plus, the heat is so draining that it saps your strength (which includes enthusiasm and willpower). The past dew days I have been very content with being a lazy, boring young sod and just reading a number of good books. Today’s book of choice being The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail – a book published in 1984 that is basically The Da Vinci Code, but without the murderous storyline and just the hard facts. Its premise sounds a bit heavy, but the facts alone are interesting enough to make it very hard to put down, even if it is just a big controversial textbook. It’s also more interesting as so far the start of the book is devoted to the story and mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau and the surrounding area (including Rennes-les-Bains, Carcassone, Narbonne, Couiza, and others which we all visited last week). Next on the book menu is Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, which Mum is currently reading and rates very highly. It was an international bestseller which her book club all loved, but she never got around to reading it. She bought it in Rennes-le-Chateau last week at the same time I bought my book of choice, and she was disappointed to learn that the author was visiting the mountaintop hamlet at the weekend for a book signing! However, we would have moved on since then; never mind.

We both have a growing shopping list for when we get back home. I have a craving for more of Jose Saramago’s books (the statement that he is “the world’s greatest living writer” is becoming more believable with everyone of his I read. He is brilliant.) and some of Franz Kafka’s books. I’ve read Metamorphosis and loved it. My interest has been sparked again with a Kafka t-shirt I saw and plan to order once back home. It has a black and white picture of the 20th century German writer on the front with the caption: “I Think I’ll Write about Bugs …” underneath. I loved it and couldn’t stop laughing at it. Also, I fancy the book, the Hyena & Other Men, by a certain South African photographer whose name continues to elude me, which I mentioned yesterday.

Today is Sara Dimmock’s birthday! I sent her a text wishing her a Happy Birthday this morning. I was quite guilty that I was away for her birthday - as I was for Maddie’s birthday too – but I think she’s away for it too. She is also currently in France, or she has been for the past two weeks. I’m not sure when she returned to England. Today is a lazy day for us. No driving around the place today. We walked down in Ceret at lunchtime for the morning newspaper run and returned to the house for lunch. We are going to have another run out to Perpignan later I believe and see if we can find a good French DVD (with English subtitles – easier said than done) to watch tonight or tomorrow. As I said before, Ceret is a very lively little town. There have been bands playing in the Place Pablo Picasso every night. Last night’s band went down especially well with Dad which warranted to purchase of their CD. They played many jazz classics from the States, and they played them brilliantly. However, I left before they finished.

They played right ‘til midnight and I was shattered. I walked back home through Ceret alone and took a few photographs on the way – I’ve still got my black&white thing going on.

Monday, 21 July 2008

19-21/07/08: Playing Catchup

The past few days have been pretty uneventful. The main thing I’ve noticed as we’ve gone further south is that the road systems get worse and worse. We’ve probably spent about three hours extra in the car as we embark on little excursions thanks to a vast maze of one-way streets, crammed motorways (post-Bastille Day mayhem, akin to our own Bank Holiday Weekend and National Holiday hectic exoduses) and streets so steep and narrow that navigating them, even at low speeds, is like any hair-raising ride at a theme park. We visited a number of beautiful villages and towns bursting with character (Castelnou deserves a special mention), but my trend of seldom taking photographs has continued. Before we left for Ceret, I was thinking about posting my best photos so far on my school’s online network (the A-Level Photographs have their own little forum which is a great little community and efficient way of receiving feedback), but as I looked over them I realised how many of them I didn’t like. They all reflect my current uninspired frame of mind. Though the views we’ve seen and places we’ve been have been mostly spectacular and full of character, I get this pessimistic thought of “Once you’ve seen one view, you’ve seen them all”; perhaps ‘photographed’ would be a more accurate verb. However, I have had a bit of a ‘black & white’ thing going these past few days. I have some black and white photographs that I’m really quite taken with.

After we arrived at our house in Ceret, we got settled in quite quickly. The house is amazing. It’s about the same size as our house back home, perhaps slightly smaller. It is at the end of a row of houses (much like a unorthodox uphill row of terrace houses) before you reach a bend and all the houses are suddenly detached and grow in size. There is a kitchen, bathroom and living room downstairs. The living room leads out onto a quite little garden with a nice low, shady tree. There is a small TV downstairs with one channel that has good reception. It shows dubbed CSI: Miami all day and usually a film on the night. I have found French sous-titres after trawling through pages of teletext which makes vaguely understanding what’s being said so much easier. It is good fun to watch on an night when it’s cool and the mosquitos come out. We have numerous scenarios similar to those in Friends when the gang watch the Spanish soup opera. Upstairs there are four bedrooms (one double, three single), they are all very small. My parents room and my room (which I eventually chose after much debate - it has the comfiest bed) both back out onto an upstairs terrace that is littered with six very comfortable chairs. I’ve spent a lot of time up there the past few days reading. I have turned into a reading machine. Within the first two days of being here I finished my first book (Jose Saramago’s Blindness) and then started and finished two others (Arek Hirsch’s A Detail of History, which I brought with my from home, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which I was pleased to find on one of the bookshelves in the living room).

The town of Ceret itself has more character than many of the French cities I’ve visited! It is currently having its own festival (I do not think it is Bastille-related). Most days in the town square there has been dancing, music and allsorts. It’s so lively! The town also has a lot of interest in Modern Art and Fauvism. On our second day here I went into the local museum with my Mum. She was very impressed, as was I. My Dad didn’t join us as it isn’t his ‘cup of tea’. Last year I went into a modern art museum with him and he spent the whole time muttering under his breath (and voicing aloud) how none of it was art. He was at first intrigued by the museum last year as it was home to a number of original Picasso sketches. This museum also boasted the same claim … sort of. The museum is home to around fifty of Picasso’s original painted ceramics. They’re all very roman, or perhaps Spanish. All the bowls have small painted scenes of gladiators and bullfights in stadiums. They are all very simply – almost like cave paintings. The rest of the museum was mostly full of fauvist and impressionist portraits, nudes and landscapes. I was especially interested as I had looked at both fauvism and impressionism for my art exams (both mock and final) this past school year.

The rest of our time in this area (so far) has been spent pottering around and getting a feel for the place. Today has been our first significant excursion after we have properly settled in. We went to the beach and spent the day there. We also went to Perpignan last on in the evening for a quick ten-minute look around some shops (we arrived just before closing time).

I was not keen on visiting the beach. I’m not keen on beaches if I’m honest. I detest the whole summer beach resort thing that Britons seem to be obsessive with. You see it on the TV all the time: Britons causing havoc in foreign places (usually Spain) and sapping it of all culture. The ‘concrete jungles’ out there really unnerve me. When I went to Florida a few years ago it was exactly the same there. There are great expanses of natural landscape with slaps of concrete all over the place. It really doesn’t agree with me. I don’t know what it is. I just hate being in places full of burnt tourists that have nothing but a beach, bars and hotels. There is nothing to them and I hate it. So I didn’t enjoy today that much.

Perpignan was fantastic. It’s a really great city. Our trip there today was merely a taster and we are going to go back some time this week. We walked around a bit and came across this small shopping centre. There was a shop in there called FNAC. It is three floors of DVDs, CDs and all other electronic needs. I love big French music shops. They are a thousand times better than back home. I went in there are started in the Pop Rock section. I was faced with physical copies of the latest albums by Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Atlas Sound, Bon Iver, Portishead, Sigur Ros … I could go on. I never buy CDs anymore because the stores back home never have anything worth buying, and yet here in front of me are albums that I love and that I have never seen in their physical form. It was like being stranded and starving on a desert island with nothing but a billboard of a cheese burger to stare at while all anyone offers you is sand and salty water. You swim across to another island and it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of all the food you’ve ever dreamed of. That’s what I felt like when I walked in there today. It was brilliant. However, all the CDs were still as extortionately priced as they are back home. Downstairs you could buy 3 DVDs for 20 euros … And just one CD for the same price. Crazy. I won’t be being anything from there, but it’s good to know that the rest of the Europe isn’t as deaf as the UK seems to be. Our country has, by far, the worst music taste of any other Western country.

After our trip to Perpignan, we stopped off in a small seaside town called Colluiture, or something like that. It was nice.

The 'rents wanted to do some shopping, and Mum managed to trip up outside a shop. Not badly, but enough to embarass herself. I decided that I'd go back to the car and leave them to it. They only wanted "tomatoes, bread and a paper" anyway. Dad told me, "Remember: it is the second right, not the first". This was thinking there was only two, of course. So it turns out that the second street I walked up, was actually the third. I walked up it for about half a mile, not really thinking. WHen I reached a block of flats and not a carpark I knew I'd gone wrong somewhere. I spent twenty minutes in a slight panic looking for the car park. And found it eventually. Once I got back to the car park I met my Dad walking towards me. They'd reached the car before me, and Mum thought I'd been kidnapped my gypsies ...

We then went back home and I wrote this blog. I also had a bit of a rant about my photos, and how uninspired I'm feeling.


Personally, I’m yet to take any photos that I really like. This is a first, though so is the opportunity I have this year to edit my photos as I go along. I’ve had a bit of a knock of confidence. I strongly believe that ‘you’re only as good as your last photograph’, so right now I feel like a shadow of my former self. I need some direction. Taking simply holiday snaps is not good for me, but I have an idea. My current moniker phrase is “you have such an aura, dahling”, although I’m yet to think what it’s actually any good for. I think I may have something though. The past few days I have been really getting into some music on my MP3 player that I’ve not really bothered with before. Stuff that I like, but is yet to really ‘click’ with me. First is Deerhunter’s Fluorescent Grey EP - the title track being one of the best songs I’ve heard in a while – and second is My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless - a “classic” that’s hype has always boggled my mind; but no longer. My Bloody Valentine recently reformed and have been played a number of tour dates. They were playing a night in Manchester the day before I went to see Radiohead. I had the urge to go and see them and make it into a gig weekend, but the ticket prices were too expensive. I really regret that now. I read a post on Atlas Sound’s blog back in Couiza about his experience at one of their shows in London a few weeks ago. The band are always end with the song You Made Me Realise that leads into 20 minutes of deafening noise and feedback. He says that it’s “the closest I’ve been to [being in] a trance-like state in a long time”. The experience of standing infront of the wall of noise has been said to be the closest you can get to experiencing a nuclear holocaust (giving the noise the fan-given name of The Holocaust). With my recent affinity with the band Sunn O))), this sounds like something I’d really like to experience. I doubt I’d enjoy it, but I do not think that is the point. I cannot get enough of My Bloody Valentine at the moment, so maybe next time they tour I’ll make the effort to go see them. Hopefully they will tour again in the UK some time soon and they won’t go back into retirement. As well as these newfound music loves, I picked up a copy of The Observer yesterday, the Sunday edition with the supplement called Review. Inside they had an article and interview with South African photographer whose name currently escapes me. His book (which I do remember the name of) – The Hyena & Other Men – looks brilliant. Some of the photos published in the paper were amazing. Stark images of African men who walk around with hyenas – animals that are believed to be witches and are surrounded by many superstitions in African culture – and make them do tricks, or simply just keep them as intimidating pets. People are amazed by them and they give off a very haunting aura which is beautifully portrayed in his photos; hence my inspiration. I won’t find any Hyena men in the South of France, but hopefully I will also be able to take some starch and haunting portraits. Of whom, I’m not yet sure.

Anyway, I decided to have a go at just taking some random shots. They're not bad:

As you can tell (if you have been following this blog. No one probably has so this next little bit is pointless), I have no internet here, unlike back in Couiza. All blogs will be posted when I’m back home in England. Sorry for the delay.

Friday, 18 July 2008

18/07/08: End of Part One

Today is our last day in Couiza. We've got to pack tonight and be outta here by tomorrow morning. Our next destination is Ceret which is even further South than we are now. It is just south of Perpignan which is, as my mother tells me, 'the photography of Southern France'. I really fancy a trip there and apparently they've got a good university. Mum keeps dropping hints that it might be worth checking out. I don't see why not, although I don't really speak the language. I can read French fine, but I have bother understanding people and stringing a sentence together. Though in fairness, it has been two or three years since I studied it at school, and most of it has been washed out by German which I studied at GCSE. It's also very near the Spanish border (at least, nearer than we are now) and makes a day trip to Barcelona much more of a possibility. No doubt we'll spend the day there over the next week. I hope so. I'd very much like to see Barcelona.

Back to today, we went to a man-made lake not far from Carcassone. It is purposefully built to swim in and whatnot. I didn't go swimming - I've gone off swimming over recent years, not sure why - I was just in the mood to read my book, which I ended up finishing. We stayed there in the sun for a couple of hours before heading back and having dinner. On the menu tonight: lasange. I'm really not in the mood for lasange, but seems I don't have a choice. Then it's time to pack and off to bed.

As you will no doubt have noticed, there are no pictures in this blog today. That's simply because I didn't take any today. I've spent the whole day relaxing and reading; I haven't even picked my camera up once, except to needlessly put it in my bag where it has stayed all day. Nevermind. This gives me chance to deal with the mound of unedited photos I still need to trawl through. That is why there have been no blogs about the past two days: I'm yet to finish editing the pictures. They'll be up soon enough.

The future of this blog is now hanging in the air. The only reason I've managed to keep it up so routinely is that the computer in this apartment has broadband, which is connected to the laptop. I will be able to keep writing the blogs and editing the photos, but there is no broadband at the next apartment and we do not know if there is wi-fi. We shall have to see. If the worst comes to worst, I will not be able to post these blogs in real time. I will have to store them up and publish them all when I return home to England. Fingers crossed.

As for now, this is end of part one of our Pyrenees holiday. Part two will commence tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll be able to tell you all about it.



Thursday, 17 July 2008

17/07/08: Carcassone

Today we returned to Carcassone.

It was much calmer than on Bastille Day and only vaguely recognisable (which is to be expected; things look very different when varying between night and day). We got much closer to Chateau de Carcassone than on Bastille Day (now to be referred to as 'B-Day') too - we actually got inside! My parents tell me we've been here before, albeit when I was aged four. I don't remember visiting the Chateau itself, but I do remember that it was chucking it down and that I bought myself a knight's helmet to keep my head dry, which was soon followed by a "full" plastic suit of armour (helmet, chest armour and a bendy sword). Good times.

Carcassone is an hours drive from Couiza - plenty of time to reflect, read a book and listen to music. We arrived just after one and had lunch in the car park outside the chateau. We made our way inside and it was very busy and compact. The Chateau is much like one we visited last year (though last year's 'chateau' was more of a port/fort). Inside the ramparts are shops and restaurants (and a church). However, these shops did not really sell anything of interest. Just souvenirs, souvenirs and more souvenirs. The restaurants, cafes, bistros and creperies that also fill thhe Chateau are 'tourist quality'. They are there simply to feed the torrents of tourists, the food they sell is nothing to write home about (and yet, ironically, by saying this I am doing so). We each had a crepe in there. It was the one creperie that didn't charge extortionate prices and for good reason. The crepes appeared within a minute or ordering them, they obviously weren't fresh. They'd just been heated up. Something we could have done for much cheaper. Alas, c'est la vie!

We also weren't keen on paying extorionate prices for the honour of walking around the ramparts when, as we thankfully soon discovered, you could walk around the lower ramparts for free. The views from them were exactly the same as those you'd pay for, just not as high up, but seeing as we were pretty high up to begin with I don't see what difference it would have made.

We took a load of photos from these lower ramparts and here they are: various views of Carcassone (as seen from the Chateau).

After we had wandered the ramparts we headed back to the car and drove across the city to the north. Mum wanted to see the Port and get a ride up the Canal de Midi. The Canal de Midi was built by the Romans as a way to transport trade directly and efficiently from Carcassone to Toulouse. We just missed one trip at four so we had to wait until the next one at six. In the meantime we wandered around the train station. Here, I took some of my favourite photos so far:

When we returned we were just in time and we boarded the canal boat that would take us 5km up river and then bring us back as our guide talks us through everything along the way. It was pleasant and, for mother, a dream come true. Last year when we came to France, we stayed in a village that was situated along a maze of canals. She spoke to many people on 'canal holidays' and saw many people pass through the river which was less than a minute's walk from where we were staying. You basically live on a canal boat for a few weeks and navigate it around the place. It looks really good to be honest. A really good relaxing holiday. She said that she'd take me and some friends on a canal holiday and I liked the sound of it. She never said anything after that. The trip today was a sort of taster of what she could expect. We travelled out of Carcassone and just beyond the outskirts to the first lockgate. We went through it, went a few hundred yards, did a three-point turn and went back the way we came. It was good fun. These are some photographs we took on the way.

Once back on dry land we had dinner in a restaurant across the street and listened to this band that were playing across the street. Almost every night this month (as part of the Festival de la Bastille), locals bands are playing free open air gigs in the city park. Other towns are doing similar things (one city has Deep Purple playing on Sunday - much to my Dad's dismay, as we aren't around - and Massive Attack playing on the Tuesday after - this time to my dismay). The band playing tonight was very loud. I don't want to sound like an old fart, but they were. To the point where it distorted their music. Unless you're a noise band and this is your intention, I see playing really loud as pointless. However, impressively, the vibrations of the first song managed to set off the car alarm of just about every car parked down the street between our restaurant and the park.

As we left to leave we took a few pictures of the band (who were called HushPuppies - I wasn't going to be the one to tell them that HushPuppies are actually a company that make "comfortable shoes").

Once we got back home, I did some blog fiddling and went to bed. All this walking around every day in the harsh French heat is really tiring me out!