Besides that, it's also the time that I'm squeezing the last bits of favorite food before I go. I took myself out on a date to a family-owned restaurant I'd been dying to go to called Chez Raymond, tiny but known for its simply delicious food and generous portions (for French standards), which gives you a four-course dinner for around twenty-one bucks, cheaper if you choose the more "budget" meal option (which still looked tasty - I just decided to "splurge" a little!). So, while that sounds expensive, what did I get for it? You can usually choose from three or four options per course, so here's what I went with:
-An apéritif (some tasty liqueur that I can't remember the name of)
-Soup (I chose a delicious gazpacho, amazing chilled tomato soup with tasty croutons on the side)
-Appetizer (a big helping of steamed white asparagus, served chilled with a vinaigrette sauce - delicious!)
-Main course (steak and potatoes, plus salad. I'm not quite bold enough to have my steak saignant, or bloody - medium is fine for me! Also wonderful. By this point I'm getting kinda full)
-Dessert (I chose a traditional french comfort dessert, riz au lait, which is a delicious rice pudding - seriously, don't knock it till you've tried it. They make it super creamy and divine. I requested caramel sauce on top)
-A carafe of wine all to myself, of which I had three glasses of rosé during the meal before cutting myself off for the bike ride home, feeling waaaay too full and happy.
But food aside, back to the weekend. France's Fête Nationale, its national holiday known as Bastille Day to us English speakers, falls on the 14th of July. A Canadian friend I met here had here brother visiting from work plus a rental car, so they invited me along on their adventures! Saturday was a return to a place you may have seen me visit before if you tuned into my old blog posts - Carcassonne! For those who haven't, it is an impressive place known for its magnificent double-walled fortified inner city, with its castle inside. It's one of THE must-visit places in Southern France, or even France as a whole, but it seems that so few people have heard of it! The city has existed since the B.C.'s, but during Roman times became a strategic point. And thus, with any fortification, walls must go up! The inner Roman walls still exist today (though somewhat rebuilt), but since the city pretty much screams "Hey look, I'm medieval!" it's only right that its most famous contribution to history falls during these times. Long story short, it was another city known to have many of those pesky Cathars, which the Catholic rule didn't like, so it was crusaded against, sadly forced to surrender after a noble fight (in which the ruler Raymond Troncavel was imprisoned in his own castle's dungeon and died during the negotiations), and became a strategic point on what was once the border between France and Spain. A couple hundred years later, France's border moved west (tough luck, Spain) and Carcassonne became much less important and fell into such disrepair that in the 1800's the government was going to have it entirely torn down. Naturally people weren't huge fans of this, the city was rebuilt and refurbished by an enterprising architect, and thus you have the tourist mecca that is Carcassonne. Altogether a very fun day trip :)
|Entrance to the walled city. Imposing!|
|Sitting outside the castle. Strong, functional - my kind of place (sorry, Versailles. You're just for decoration!)|
|Looking out from the castle walls.|
|In between the inner and outer walls, in the space known as a lice (pronounced "leese"). It was kept this flat during medieval times to make sure their trebuchets/catapults were level and stable to chuck things at unwanted invaders!|
|A giant pickaxe in the city. Modern art....?|
|Playing soldier on the ramparts :)|
After that fun but very hot and sunny day, was our weekend done yet? No! There was still Sunday, in which we decided to go west instead of east, back to the Pyrenees to see what this little place called Andorra's all about. Now, I don't even know what is going on with the governance of this place. It's its own tiny country smack-dab in the Pyrenees between France and Spain but is technically a principality, which I'm not really sure of the meaning. But interestingly enough, it's ruled by two co-princes: a bishop from Spain, and the President of France.
Yeah, that's right! The President of France is also technically the prince of an entirely different country, and he also holds the distinction of being the world's only elected monarch. Lucky guy, eh? To add to the weirdness and rattle off some random facts, it is not part of the European Union but is a member of the Euro zone (therefore using the Euro as its currency), and the official language is Catalan, which plays tricks with your mind because it's similar to the romance languages - French, Spanish, Italian, Occitan - so you think you know what they're saying without actually having a clue. It has around 80,000 people and its capital, Andorra-la-Vella, is the highest capital in Europe. It is also a shopper's paradise because of its duty-free status (no taxes? Yippee! For those who have money, anyway?).
So, that's Andorra in a nutshell. Picturesque, great for hiking and skiing, and perfectly isolated for your little summer place, as no trains access it, and there's only one road in from France...perhaps more from Spain? All in all an agreeable day trip, albeit without too terribly much to do and see in the capital. It's best for shopping or if you have days to spend enjoying the outdoors. Here are some photos!
|Mountains over here...|
|Mountains over there! (Stopped off along the highway to admire)|
|Random lil' church along the way. More mountains.|
|In Andorra-la-Vella itself, run through the middle by this here river. Lots of greenery!|
|A tribute to Salvador Dali - one of his famous melting clocks from The Persistence of Memory!|
|In the old town - not the best picture, I know.|
|Being silly in one of many duty-free stores (this was actually part of a huge duty-free mall. I kid you not. But look, giant lollypops! Can I have one, mom?|
There were also some pretty big French singers invited to sing and accompany the orchestra; all the French people seemed to know who they were, but alas, I did not. Moving on, after the concert proper there were fireworks accompanied by said orchestra (amaaaaaazing), and an awesome light show at the Place du Capitole that was simply breathtaking. Photos below.
|Obligatory fireworks photo here!|
|The light show was a musical story/presentation of sorts, set against the backdrop of Toulouse's grandest building. Magnifiaue! (This is a boat, in case you're stuck)|
|Ladies dancing along the building's surface.|
|Pont Neuf over the Garonne River - a tribute to lovely Toulouse.|
|Pimped out in red, white, an' blue. Patriotic!|
|Moving along, the Pont Neuf lit up at night (my camera stinks for night shots - sorry!)|
|Finally, the Grande roue - a ferris wheel, set up specially for summer!|
That's all I have for now! I'm gonna try to be speedy in getting up my next post - because this past weekend, I returned to my faaaaaavorite city ever, Montpellier! Fun times were had by all :)