Tuesday, March 28, 2017


WALLED TOWNS                                                   

To really get the feeling of the Medieval Europe, there is nothing like staying overnight in one.  Of course, we must realize that all towns of any consequence had a wall around them as their neighbors (Dukes, Barons,) were always trying to rape and pillage them. Nowadays, the old wall lines have been converted to Peripheral Freeways that completed surround the urban core (Paris, Amsterdam, etc.), which is really a modern miracle when it comes to getting around in these cities.

About the only remnant left of the old walls , other than the freeways are the terminal stations of the Metro, although some lines have gone past these gates. They uncovered some of the old walls when they excavated for the new underground mall of the architect
I.M. Pei.at the Louvre.                      
Between Walls

Duke De Lamont

Just when you think you have figured out the easy ways to and from Le Gare in a taxi you get to Carcassonne.,Since cars aren’t allowed within the old city walls, and its quite a distance up the hill from the Gare to the walled Old Town ,  you need to take a taxi (or bus, when you’ve figured that out), as walking isn’t much of an option we are dumped off at the drawbridge of the walled town. Inside, you drag your bags up hills over cobblestones for a few short block to find our hotel(Hotel de Ramparts).
Nice modern insides worked from  a 12th century abbey. There are only three hotels inside and we’re in one of them. We really enjoyed strolling around the place and finding little outdoor cafes and such. Found a restaurant that served Coq au vin, not easy to find, as it is considered a peasant dish. It was very tasty, but a lot of work getting the meat off the odd cuts of chicken. It could have used more mushrooms & onions. However, not to complain as it was one of the best meals we had so far. A large downside to stay in a cheaper hotel is the didn’t seem to understand the concept of venting the plumbing fixtures to eliminate smell. Although, they invented the Studer Vent, a gismo the you install in you fixture plumbing the take care of the smell, it was something we had ran into in Bordeaux. Maybe they were still using the original sewer container in the basement? That brought back unpleasant memories of the out house used on the farms I worked in Eastern Washington. 
 The fort, built by the Romans and occupied by the Visigoths in the 5th centuries, came under French control around 13th century. There are two major concentric  walls, both have more than seventeen round towers in the walls. This is probably the largest extant castle in France, it was restored by the French Architect Violet-le-Duc in the mid eighteen hundred, who had a habit of adding pointy roofs on a lot of the round towers here and elsewhere in France. King St. Louis built the walls in 13th century. This was the last of the holdouts of the Cathers, A religios group from Byzantium who didn’t agree with all the Catholic Dogma, therefor were massacred, called the Albinasian Crusade, whereby the Knight Errant was given the land of any Cathar he killed. A very tidy arrangement for the Catholics.

Aigues Morte


This is one of the best preserved towns as it still has a population of about 6,000 folks.
It was originally the only French port to the Mediterranean sea  as well as a source of salt due to the manipulation of the ponds in the marshes. It looks like a smaller version of the salt mounds in San Francisco Bay. Also, they are renowned for a type of horse of smaller stature. The king, St. Louis IX (that’s the 9th) figured large here as he left here to participate in the crusades of 1248 and 1272. He didn’t do much fighting but died of Dysentry near Jeruselum. I’ve always wondered why a king became a saint, Well, the Catholic Pope was in Avingnon at the time and King Louis was renowned for his “humility” and taking care of the poor, but at the same time, was instrumental in expanding the Inquisition, the bastard! While in the Outremer, (French for overseas) he was suckered into buying the Crown of Thorns: and a sliver of the True Cross. He paid enormous sums for these so called authentic relics, like twice as much as he spent on building his fabulous chapel, “St. Chapelle” in Paris. Today, this small church is in my estimation the best example of the art of the 13th century. We stayed in a hotel St. Louis, in the town, just a block from the Main Plaza, obviously a renovated house from a few hundred years back. Charlemagne erected a watch tower in 790, while most of the walls were put up in 1270.
  Evenings in these towns are pretty magical, as the tourists are gone around 06h00 and the restaurants and plazas are nice and quiet.
   Leaving one day from Auges Morte to SantMarie De Le Mer to see the annual gathering of Gypsies (Yes, they still exist!)  As well of a flock of pink flamingos in the marshes, we took a back road which had a free ferry across a small river. Well, we arrived at the ferry at 12:01 and the ferryman was at lunch till 1:30(Promptly!). So we all waited around while about 20 cars cued up. Spent time conversing with a Canadian bicyclist who had two wooden legs.(Don’t ask me how). He and his two kids were cycling from there to Avignon, about 30 miles! His kids were put in a French school that helps foreigners learn French while still studying.

Street Lamp, Coke bottles
Soccer Team

   Trained down to Delft, put up at a the small Museum Hotel  that had large contemporary ceramic sculptures all over the place. This is another ancient town that still  has a few canals through it. It’s hard to believe this to be a walled town as it is very alive with churches, commerce and plain living places.  Of course we took a boat tour in order to see the canal life, they only recently cleaned them out and retrieved one thousand bicycles. The young bucks in Holland have a penchant for stealing bikes and throwing them in canals while drunk.  There are two major churches here, the Oude Kirk and the Nieuwe Kirk.  The old church was built in 1100's while the new one was finished in 1350. New & old arerelative terms here. They have a wonderful large square with the old City Hall on one side. This was filled with a market one of the days, selling everything from flowers to tee shirts. Needing to do our laundry we asked the young woman concierge where we could find a Wash & Dry. She said that “We don’t do that here”. That was a big help but so we finally ran across one later on the main square  that day. The sign said “Rein-Tex”. Never did know what it meant, but it worked.
 Took a couple of day trips on the train, one to Haarlem (Yes, New York’s was named after this). We found a fantastic old church (Grote Kerk) from the 1300's with great slabs of basalt on the floor where the well known are buried, including Mozart. A very unusual roof structure of stone ribs and timber infill.  But best of all, there was a fantastic ornate organ on one end wall and best of all they were playing Bach or Buxtahude. We were almost the only ones there except for this incredible SOUND! It was truly, a religious experience.
 Another day tripped to Keukenhof Gardens,  which has a huge flower show at this time of year (Spring). It consists of many acres of ground that contain giant tulip area, creeks, and several pavilions, each one containing a type of flower, orchids, daisies, etc. Each pavilion has a snack bar for food and of course beer & wine. This eased my pain a little. An original restored operating windmill was fun to climb up on but the best thing was watching a guy hand carved wooden shoes on a sawhorse with a clever tool that is jointed and attached to the saw-horse that enables him to quickly shape the shoe and actually make pairs that fit.
 Back at Delft we found a great little restaurant overlooking a canal. What intrigued us was the lantern over their door. It was made up of spoons and coke bottles! The atmosphere and food was on a par with their lantern.


 We moved on to our favorite place of all, the Chateau de la Flocelliere, an ancient castle  partly reconstructed after the revolution. Not exactly a walled town, it felt like one as several of the original walls were still standing, all around the main Chateau.  Operated (and owned) by the Vicomte & Vicomtesse Vignial, we occupied the second floor of he tower. The old oak floors were not sealed but merely waxed over the centuries. They had a wonderful sheen to them. We were invited to an aperitif in the drawing room one evening, declining a Cuban cigar but yes on a couple of drinks poured by the Vicomte himself. We met some of the other guests, a German builder of thrill rides, like at Marine World. We booked a dinner for one of the evenings and sat down to a very tasty chicken, potatoes, & haricot vert. We shared dinner at the chateau  with an old French couple, he being an old retired army parachutist. Unfortunately, they had no words of English. But our hosts were fluent in about ten languages so we had a good time. The Vicomte kept us up to our ears in good wine, the Vicomtesse kept filling us up with her great food, prepared by her and a kitchen helper. The kitchen was a marvel of 18th century stuff, including a rough square granite sink. Throughout our stay, Joy kept asking for ice (She’s incorrigible, like Bill and his Martinis) and who would bring it? Why the Comtesse. I was kind of embarrassed. Didn’t bother Joy any, she had to have her Coke with ice.
 On one of our day trips from the to a nearby town with a swell creperie we got caught up in a high school marathon on some hilly town. They just told us to drive careful so we threaded our way thru the runners and check points, finally getting free to proceed on our way. Also drove down to nearby La Porte de Rochelle , where most of the early ships left to deliver settlers to the Americas. Had a lot of great old forts guarding the port. We found a Pizzeria on a canal for a nice lunch.


Caron's Hotel-Restuarant
The  wall and towers were built in 12th century as one of eight residences of the French kings. The main west gate is still standing, renovated by Viollet-le-Duc, but with the unfortunate narrow width, only one car at a time can negotiate the gate which straddles the main street at the end of the business district. I guess the inmates of the town are just used to it after several centuries and what option do they have? The whole townon one side is open onto the river, I don’t know if there was a wall on that side during the hard times.
 Joy found us a wonderful B&B owned and run by Mde Leslie Caron, the actress. She had bought and renovated an old boat repair shop on the River Yonne, complete with four rooms and a very elegant restaurant, which she runs. She’s not as gorgeous now days as she was in “An America in Paris” but has a classy view of life.



We didn’t overnight here but have haunted their streets a couple of times. Totally surrounded by huge walls and breast works of te Renaissance times when cannons could chew you up if you didn’t have lots of dirt and stone in front of you., Again, cars only allowed in peripheral parking lots. An obvious oval void of the Piazza Antiteatro is the result of all the 3 and 4 story buildings surrounding it reflecting the remnants of a Roman Theatre. As usual, the Romans founded the place about 200 BC. The composer
Puccini was born here. At one time , there were many stone towers here but only a couple left today. An word of warning; there is a huge, fast round-about at the main entry. Just relax and drive around it a few times until you can catch sight of the turn-off to Lucca town. However, once when we left, we entered a one way street, but we were going against traffic. A fabulous old stone bridge , The “Devils Bridge” is a short distance into the hills from Lucca. The Ponte dei Diablo was commissioned by the Countess Matilida in 1100. It has a span of 37.8 meters (look it up!). This is the spot where we understood that Roundabouts are great for cars but deadly for pedestrians, a concept not understood yet by American Planners.

SAN GIMIGNANO                

This is one of the great walled towns as it has not spread from the old walls like so many other cities. We have been here several times but always find it interesting. For instance, we had never seen a pigs head that you can cut chunks of meat from in a  shop.

The Duke of Verona

Only a short distance from Venice, I had to see the old walled city of Padua, whose crumbling walls still surround most of the town. This was a setting for Shakespeares’ “Romeo & Juliet”. Since I had played The Duke of Verona ack in Santa Rosa  (I guess the Duke owned Padua at the time).  I couldn’t help standing an  the actual Town Hall  where the Duke had espoused his monologue so I could reprise my role on the actual steps . The square was filled with some market vans plus a group of workmen who enjoyed my discourse immensely (Not understanding any of it) but gave me a rounding applause when I had finished. Those are the moments we cherish, traveling around and doing re-enacting of old parts.