Saturday, 12 April 2008

Enjoy or be damned.

The Fingers Family don't take many trips out; my work schedule puts paid to a normal family life for the most part, but this morning was different. Faced with a difficult new project on Monday (coinciding conveniently with the school holidays) I threw myself at the recreational mercy of Mrs. Fingers and consorts. Bearing in mind we have no car and that it was already mid-morning we plumped for Carcassonne: not far and containing a medieval fortress we'd never visited.

Carcassonne itself is a pleasant enough little town if you're not too demanding: straight, narrow streets in the centre with the usual spattering of chain stores and a few independent boutiques. Still, the only reason anyone ever goes there is to bypass its doubtless abundant charms and ask for directions to the citadelle. We got there at about 2.30pm after an adequate, pleasantly-served lunch in the centre. It's a stunning sight from outside and really pretty impressive within: everything as it must have looked in the middle ages, presuming medieval fortresses then were packed with restaurants, souvenir shops and pancake stalls. The buildings have been wonderfully restored and maintained without falling into the trap one sees too often in Germany: the Disney Renovation, where 400-year-old houses look like they were just shipped out of Epcot Centre's 'World Showcase'. Some of the restaurants actually looked pretty good and the souvenirs weren't all tat but I couldn't help feeling it all looked a bit like a more natural version of the Las Vegas casino resorts. A few years ago I spent an afternoon in Venice: jam-packed with tourists and impossible to find any atmosphere. 'The only time to see this place would be in the middle of the night in midwinter' I said to myself and - lo and behold - a few years later I had to go there in early February. It was divine: hardly a tourist in sight, wonderful weather (God bless global warming) and the chance to be the only person in a square off the beaten track. I'm not sure I'll have the same luck with Carcassonne, but I can hope.

The train, a TER regional push-me-pull-you, was high on style and low on practicality. For carriages that large there were astonishingly few seats. Add to this the fact that the average train traveller down these parts would rather lick a dead rat than stand for even part of their journey, you wonder who researched the logistics of these things. People squashed and huddled themselves together where it would surely have been more comfortable to be suspended out of a window by their ankles. Personally, I'd rather stand and have a bit of elbow room than get intimate with a home-travelling student with a bag full of dirty washing.

The Fingernails were exhausted after all the walking, climbing and travelling and fell asleep almost immediately their heads hit the pillows. Mrs. F has also taken off and turned the light out, rather scotching my hopes of getting through another thirty-odd pages of Martin Amis tonight, but there you go. It's the internet or sleep for me, now.

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