You enter the city of Carcassonne. When you finally catch your first glimpse of the gigantic structure on the hill, it is almost more than you can take in in one view, as it is mammoth, a behemoth bearing down on you. Yes! It is that large, that commanding. We have read that this medieval walled city, high on a hilltop, looks like the perfect setting for knights and dragons. The oldest buildings here date to the 13th century. It is a curious experience visiting Carcassonne, as when you enter what you think is the castle, you are entering a walled city with stores and restaurants…and even a church!
In 2014, we first visited Carcassonne, having read a travel article about the city and citadel. However, we can’t find many of the photos, and we did want to experience this amazing place once again. Like San Marino and Seville, Spain, there are many weapons shops. You can buy swords and daggers and even full suits of armor! The fantasy of being a knight is alive and well here (and Game of Thrones probably doesn’t hurt!).
Eating continues to be a bit of a challenge. After driving several hours and settling into our hotel, we went in search of a bite to eat, since we hadn’t eaten since early morning. But most French restaurants are open for about two hours for lunch, then close and reopen around 7-8 pm. We searched for places that were open all day, what they call “all the way through,” only to show up and have them say, “Yes, we are open all the way through for drinks; the kitchen is closed until 8 pm!” Another place listed its opening time as 5 pm, so we arrived at 5:05, but it was dark inside and locked. The sign with its hours was listed on the door – every night, it opens at 5 pm! We waited until 5:15 (still no sign of anyone inside) and left. We finally found a small sandwich shop that was open, but it wasn’t very good. French cuisine is great, yes! – but not if you are hungry between 2 pm and 7 pm. You. Are. Out. Of. Luck!
So, today (Sunday), we decided we would play ball with them. We had coffee and a croissant for breakfast, then walked through the Old City and took photos, stopping for a three-course lunch around 2:15. By the way, Mike asked a waitress at this restaurant as we were a walking by around noon if the kitchen closed and then reopened in the evening. She said it didn’t close and was open all day. As we were eating lunch, about 2:45, we overheard a couple of British women asking if they could get anything off the lunch menu, only to be told that only the limited menu was available of soup, sandwiches, drinks, and desserts. In other words, the kitchen stays just a little open all day. Europe makes it hard for people who only eat two meals/day – an early breakfast and an early dinner.
There were a lot of people visiting, but we were told that in summer it is almost impossible to move, the crowds are so heavy. In 2014 we visited in September, and now in May, so we have only been here in the shoulder seasons, which suits us fine. We took a drive around the city to see what else is here, but it is unremarkable and fairly bland. The biggest (and only) draw is the Cite, and it truly is magnificent.