Friday, January 7, 2011

Carcassonne II

26 August

We got up early on 26th so we could explore Carcassonne's Cité before the teeming masses of tourists showed up in the sweltering heat of afternoon.  I've talked for a while now about the fortified city on a hill that attracts so many tourists each year; here was our first glance at its ramparts and turrets:


La Cité was built in the 13th century on the remains of a Roman fortress on the Aude river.  At the time, Carcassonne was the site of a crusade against heresy, and the battles completely destroyed the town at the bottom of the hill.  In its place, the perfect perpendicular streets of la Bastide were planned by Saint Louis (aka King Louis IX), and remain today in contrast to the haphazard wending ways of so many streets in towns across France.  La Cité was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, who added on inauthentic upside-down ice cream cone roofs to the turrets that seem to us today so fitting for a medieval castle.

On the way up the hill to the Cité, we passed murals telling the story of the walled city.


It took about a half an hour to get up to the Cité, but as always, the views over the city were pretty great once you got there:


We walked through the first gate, but instead of continuing in through the second gate, we turned to the left and walked a ways between the walls.


The warm wind whistled between the walls, spitting dust up from the ground into our faces.

If you didn't feel like walking, there were a few options.  Some seemed fitting for a medieval fortified city...


...others, less so.


Eventually, we did make our way into the city itself.  The myriad levels of fortification were evident throughout:


While we stayed in la Bastide, there are also options for accommodation in la Cité, like that age-old inn, ye olde Best Western:


We stopped briefly for a coffee before exploring a little.  The best, though, was stepping back out between the walls to look down over the countryside:



When I take pictures, I usually try to avoid photographing groups of strangers - particularly groups of tourists - unless they are doing something special.  Most of these pictures give the impression that the area was fairly deserted, with just a few people milling about.  In retrospect, I wish I had also gotten a few shots of the crowds of tourists or the tacky souvenir shops hawking plastic swords that make noise when you swing them and the endless little boys clambering for one of those obnoxious weapons - that would provide a more accurate picture of the real Carcassonne as it is today.  But hélas, you'll have to take my word for it.


By about 1 pm, we had seen enough and taken in enough sun, so we decided it was time for lunch.  I had, as always, spent a fair amount of time scouting out restaurants looking for a promising lunch venue.  I selected La Marquière, which offered a perfect local menu du jour for me and a vegetable terrine for my mom.

I ordered a glass of Sixième Sens 2009, a white AOC Minervois, to go with my entrée of gaspacho:


The wine light and dry, with a little minerality in the nose and a mellow acidity on the palate, like a tomato, with caramel notes - I liked it a lot.

Gaspacho is typically thought of as a Spanish soup, made of raw vegetables and served chilled, but it was also on many many menus in Southwestern France - not a surprise given the proximity to the Spanish border and the dry, hot summer weather.  This was unlike any gazpacho I've had in the US - rather than having chunks of vegetables, it was totally smooth.  It did, however, come with a small bowl of diced bell peppers and another of onion slivers, to add on your own.  A small bowl of croutons rounded out the garnishes.  The soup was so refreshing, with the tomato, cucumber, pepper, and onion flavors really shining.  Adding in the peppers and/or croutons brought a satisfying crunch to the bite.  Perfect food on a hot summer day.

For my plat, I had the cuisse de canard confite:

What's up with the sesame seeds, anyway?
Cuisse is thigh, canard is duck, and confite translates roughly as preserved.  A French restaurant in the US would probably call this duck confit.  Since ducks live in water, they have a thick layer of fat coating their muscles as insulation.  To make duck confit, which was a method by which the duck could be preserved and kept for a long time, this fat is rendered into liquid form, and then the meat is cooked at low heat for a long time in a bath of the liquid fat.  The result is a super rich duck meat that practically melts off the bones.  The duck was served over potatoes that had been fried in goose fat and sprinkled with a persillade - a sauce composed primarily of parsley and garlic.  The potatoes and duck were each good on their own, but together they were superb, with the freshness of the persillade and the crunch of the potato pairing perfectly with the rich, fatty meat.  A little too warm for the season, but delicious none the less.

For dessert, I had the nougat glacé:


Nougat, like the one I tasted in Aix, is a candy made of honey and egg whites, which are whipped into a super light and airy confection.  This nougat was glacé, or frozen, and served on a bed of red fruit coulis and under a sprinkling of pistachio.  It's a little difficult to describe: it was nougat flavored ice cream, only lighter and airier than ice cream, as if it were nougat itself that were transformed into ice cream.  The bright acidity of the coulis paired well with the sweet nougat.  An excellent dessert for a hot summer day.

After lunch, we walked around just a little more, but it was getting hot and the streets were getting pretty crowded, so before long we decided it was time to head back to the hotel.  We passed so many people headed up the hill to la Cité as we tramped back down - I was so glad we were headed in the opposite direction!

After we got back to the hotel around 4:00, I headed out to try to do laundry.  What a disaster.  I don't want to get into the details because I'll just get angry, but suffice to say, don't do laundry in Carcassonne.  The nearest functioning laundromat is across the river a kilometer away, and it was 38 degrees Celcius (read: about 97 Fahrenheit), and I was miserable dragging my laundry back and forth across town.  Suffice to say, I was sweaty and cranky by the time I got back to the hotel with only half of my clothes actually clean.

However, a shower and some dinner (leftover ham, baguette, leftover cheese, and produce from the local market including the most flavorful red pepper I have ever tasted) made everything a little better.  We spent some time thinking about where to spend our last few days before we go to Paris, and watched some game shows, and did some packing to get ready to go to Bordeaux the next day.

Coming soon: water, water everywhere!  What a difference in Bordeaux.

 A bientôt,

2 comments:

I need orange said...

Another meal I'd be happy to eat again.... :-) That duck would be lovely on a day like today -- January in Michigan!

I need orange said...

Forgot to say -- I especially like your pic that shows your entree and my terrine, both. :-)