We packed up our tent at sunrise, threw everything into the back of the car, and headed south towards the fortified city of Carcassonne.
On the way, we stopped at Auchan, a French supermarket, to pick up sandwich ingredients for the next couple of days. Crusty French bread, crisps, rillettes, lettuce, ham, a fair few other items, and mayonnaise. For some reason, the purchase of mayonnaise created quite a disagreement between myself and Paul. Admittedly neither of us come across particularly well in the story but, nonetheless, it is worth recounting.
Looking at various sauces to grace our sandwiches, I affirmed to Paul that I wished to purchase mayonnaise for myself, in spite of Paul’s insistence that it wouldn’t go well with our other toppings. “I’m getting mayonnaise mate, I like it and it’s cheap”. I reached down and picked up a bottle, placing it in the trolley.
At that point, Paul picked a different mayonnaise from the shelf, one packaged in what I considered to be a somewhat strange tooth-paste tube like container. “No Lewis, we buy this one”, at which point he tossed it in the direction of the trolly.
Slightly incensed that Paul would overrule my personal mayonnaise purchase without discussion, I batted the tube out of the air. It landed on the floor at his feet. He looked down at the tube and then up at me, rage etched across his face. I’ve cleared up the following dialogue because, quite frankly, it was unnecessarily explicit.
“Are you kidding me? Seriously?” Paul shrieked in a high-pitched voice. Picking up the mayonnaise and pointing at me with a large finger.
“Mate, I picked the one I want, I’m paying for it. Mind your own business” I replied, gesticulating mildly aggressively.
Paul’s nostrils flared and he towered over me, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, you’re an idiot man”.
I didn’t like being spoken to in that tone and I was pretty much shouting now, “don’t be a moron Paul. You’re the most patronizing man I’ve ever met so mind your own business and f…” Andy came round the corner “I can hear you from like five aisles down.” I looked around. A little old couple were staring up at us, utterly horrified, as if they expected a brawl to break out mid-aisle.
Paul and I still hadn’t spoken by the time we got in the car. Then Andy piped up “are you guys good? I’m guessing one of you guys said something pretty hurtful.”
“It was about which mayonnaise we should get” I replied. Andy broke down laughing and the car swerved as he struggled to control himself. Paul and I continued to sulk independently.
After a couple of hours of driving, and some gentle reconciliation between me and Paul, we arrived at the town of Carcassonne, eager to explore the fortified citadel.
Paul was behind the wheel of the car, not trusting either me or Andy to drive in busy French towns. Probably fair given that I’d just come off the back of a recent car crash in Ditching, a small village in West Sussex, where no one would imagine it to possible to attain the necessary speed for writing off a car. Moreover, he’d woken up several times to me driving upon the wrong side of the roads.
As we were coming into the town, he pulled into a space. Andy looked at me quizzically and then directed a question at Paul, “we can’t even see the citadel from here, how far is it?”
Paul checked his phone, “thirty minutes”.
We were on a tight schedule, intending to reach Verdon Gorge whilst we still had light, and Andy and I protested that we might be able to park closer to the castle. Paul stated unequivocally that there would be nowhere closer.
It took us around forty minutes of weaving through quiet, empty streets before we reached the foot of the castle and whilst the walk was vaguely charming, we had wasted a lot of precious time. Regardless, Carcassonne is an absolutely surreal destination. The fortified castle is quite possibly the most impressive I’ve ever visited. Coming from a history student with a virtual castle fetish, that’s high praise. Resting above the town on a hill, its huge stone walls and rounded turrets encompass an entire second settlement which throws you back to the medieval period.
Of course, the castle is flushed with tourists but that’s not a reason to forgo a visit. If you have children, Carcassonne is frankly unmissable. I cannot think of a better place to have spent a day as a young boy with designs on growing up to be a knight.
As we stood atop the ramparts and looked out from the fortress over the city of Carcassonne, stone houses with pinkish tiled rooves stretched out before us. That’s when I noticed something at the bottom of the castle wall and subtly pointed it out to Andy.
“Paul” I said. He looked up at me and nodded that I should go on.
“You see that down there,” I pointed down towards the town.
Paul nodded and then said, rather flatly, “yeah It’s pretty cool man,”
I knew he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, probably presuming I was point at some architecturally sophisticated building, so I continued, “Paul you see that great big car park, the one that’s half full at the foot of the castle, probably two minutes away?”
Paul’s face fell and, for a second, went a tad white. Then his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “Ah” he muttered quietly. It’s always nice to get a little ‘one-up’ on somebody so aggressive in their defense of a point of view. Andy and I fed off that little victory for the rest of the afternoon.
We went back to the car, 30 minutes when we knew where we were going, and on to Verdon Gorge.