Day 8 - Carcassonne

Trip Start Mar 21, 2013
Trip End Apr 01, 2013

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Flag of France  , Languedoc-Roussillon,
Thursday, March 28, 2013

This morning came far too early. I was so tired that I didn't wake up to the alarm and didn't become conscious until Lopuck was out of the shower and getting dressed. I jumped in the shower myself and quickly joined the other teachers at the breakfast table. The lobby and breakfast area of the hotel were very decorative and modern bit not very practical for large groups desiring a meal. The buffet table was not well stocked, which was a bit disappointing. I had a bowl of chocolate covered corn flakes, a pastry, an orange juice, and my usual cafe o'lait.

We loaded the bus without too much trouble and then waited for the last two students to come down for our 8:30 departure time. When they didn't show their faces right away, Lopuck decided to go up to their ro to check on them. He discovered that they had gone back to bed! We have taken to calling one of the guys Lord Myron so we took a few good-natured poles at him when he and his roommate finally appeared.

Our first stop this morning was at Pont du Gard, a well preserved aqueduct from the Roman Empire. I was really looking forward to this stop. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy and rainy day in southern France and I felt that this may detract from the experience and certainly from the potential photographic opportunities that would present themselves. To get to Pont du Gard we passed by endless vineyards bordered by small farmhouses and pastures. Most French farms seem to have a handful of animals, but I have yet to see what I would deem a large operation. Nevertheless, there is obviously money in grapes.

We got off the bus to rain that prompted many students to pull out umbrellas. We made our way to the aqueduct and paused for a group picture. Pont du Gard is often listed as one of the most impressive civil engineering feats of all time. It also the most well preserved Roman aqueduct in the world. The entire structure is on a very slight slope allowing the Romans to move water to the city of Nimes. Even though it was pouring, we walked along the structure and admired its massiveness. We traversed the aqueduct and found a path that lead to a hill overlooking it.

The path was a bit slick because of the rain but we made it to the top and took some gorgeous pictures of the aqueduct. I was even able to walk partway down the water channel and take a photo along its length.I posed for a photo with both Tyler and Lopuck. We walked through a cave to a spot where the aqueduct bent and headed in a different direction. This part of the aqueduct was broken and not as well preserved as the first portion.

After about 45 minutes of picture taking, we returned to the bus. My feet were now soaked and I could feel water puddling underneath my toes. To take pictures, I had to walk around with my camera underneath the rain cover intended for my camera bag and I had to stop repeatedly to wipe it off. When I got on the bus, I took my socks off in an effort to dry them a bit before our next stop. There was no way that they were going to dry entirely, but it was worth a shot.

I spent some time updating my blogs as we drove to our next stop at Nimes. I borrowed Lizanne's iPad and found it much easier to type. We arrived in Nimes to continuing rainshowers and went straight to the arena. There are three important Roman sites in Nimes: a small colosseum or arena, a religious temple, and a tower. Our tour provided a look at the inside of the colosseum only, though I was able to get a photograph of the outside of the temple.

For the tour of the arena we were provided with an audio guide that would detail its historical development. It was difficult to navigate through the colosseum as most of it was open air and it was still raining. I tried to listen to the audio guide in the galleries to keep my camera dry and then pop outside periodically to take pictures. Some of our students emerged from a concourse across the arena from me and made their way up to the very top of the structure. I quickly put on the more powerful lens that I brought and took a picture of them. It literally looked like they were standing on the edge of a cliff and it made me wonder how wide the ledge was. I was nervous just watching them.

I wandered around the colosseum a bit more until I came to the rooms on the lower level that were once used to house the gladiators and combatants. I learned through the audio guide that Nimes was originally named after Caesar Augustus and that the battles staged at this arena would be three part spectacles. First would be men fighting against dangerous animals, then would be prisoners that were condemned (who could be spared by surviving the battle), and finally would come the gladiators. The largest crowd would not appear until the third part of the show as some people didn't care for the first two parts. At its capacity the arena at Nimes could hold 24000 people. Before leaving the colosseum I was able to view some of the weapons and armour that were used in the battles described above.

After our tour of the arena, we gave the students time to have a late lunch. With Anthony, the teachers went into a small cafe to have a sit down lunch that would afford some shelter from the rain. I ordered a small glass of Leffe and Lopuck and I shared four kinds of "tapas." The waitress messed up our order but we ate it anyways: artichoke hearts, Parmesan potatoes, steak, and chorizo sausages. Again, a very good meal and I only ended up with some of it on my pants.

Upon rejoining the group, we boarded the bus to make way for Carcaasonne. We were absolutely drenched. Tyler looked like she had just emerged from the shower and my feet were even wetter than before. The bus would offer some reprieve.

When we got to Carcassonne, the rain had stopped but it was still quite cool. Carcassone features a very large castle with a variety of shops and cafes within its walls; it is a well known site of the Inquisition. Manuel dropped us off within site of the castle and we gave the students free time to explore.

Lopuck lead a large group of us, Tyler included, to a torture museum that featured devices designed to force confessions out of people during the Inquisition. Photos weren't really allowed inside the museum but I snuck a couple anyways. One interesting piece was a mask designed to "silence a talkative woman." Lopuck and I thought we should take a picture of it to show our I did. Other devices inside the museum included: the wheel, the gallows, the rack, and the ladder. The second part of the tour was set up as more a wax museum depicting scenes of people being questioned or tortured. It was very dark inside this section and many of the girls let out shrieks as we progressed from one display to the next.

The torture museum was very interesting and concluded with a great message. At the exit to the museum was a sign in 5 different languages reminding people that methods such as those portrayed within the museum were still employed in some countries around the world. It called for people to be kind to one another and to fight against injustice.

We spent some time exploring the shops of Carcassonne entering primarily those that sold decorative items and wine. I thought I might buy a bottle of Cognac since I was in France but I could only find one brand and wasn't confident that it was a good price.

We reconvened with the students at 6:15 pm and then walked with them to the restaurant. Since our reservation wasn't until 7:30 pm, we gave them some more free time. This was met with discords from some of the girls who were probably hungry and cold, but we told them to stop whining and find something to do. Fleeting teenage attitudes have certainly manifested themselves on this trip. Two days ago we heard complaints about the fact that there was not enough free time and now we were hearing that it was too much. In general, the kids have been very good, but they are still Canadian teenagers with very teenage problems. Manuel and Anthony have formed special bonds with our students and we will be sad to bid them farewell at the end of the tour. While Anthony will be with us until the end, Manuel will be done once he gets us to Barcelona.

After showing the students the way to the restaurant, we set them free. A couple of students with allergies and medical conditions had left their bags on the bus (because they thought we would stop at the hotel before supper) and suggested that they should go back and get them before we ate supper so that epi-pens and pills were handy. Lopuck offered to head there himself to grab the backup medical supplies, so I joined him, Manuel, and Anthony to walk to the castle gates.

Once Lopuck and Manuel were good with the way to the bus, Anthony and I walked back into the town. We chatted about hockey (which he is trying to understand) and the Winnipeg Jets. He can't fathom the idea that we lost the team and then bought a different franchise to fill the void. It is quite entertaining discussing sports with him because he finds hockey as ridiculous as we find cricket. Cricket games can apparently last for 4 or 5 days and involve 8 hours of play per day. He says many people attend games with a book or crossword since it is not very action packed. This seems really goofy to us but it is apparently culturally indoctrinated in England.

We also chatted about our families and I learned that Anthony had spent eight years living with a divorcee who had two children. His girlfriend's ex was a nasty individual that seemed to make life hell for them in a joint custody arrangement. I explained the makeup of my family to him and I would say we understood one another without much further discussion. We got on the topic because he had previously revealed to me that he didn't sleep well one night during the trip because he had a nightmare about his ex-girlfriend.

We encountered some students, Tyler included, in a square in the village and stopped to chat. Tyler had purchased something for Paige so we took a couple of pictures and then I lent her my camera to peruse the others I had taken. Manuel and Lopuck rejoined us and we decided that it would be a good opportunity to take Manuel for a cerveza. We found a "brasserie" that would serve drinks only and went inside.

We ordered a couple of beer and chatted with Manuel about his wife and children. Manuel has a 27 year old daughter from his first marriage and a 10 year old and 8 year old from his current marriage. He also has a granddaughter. We showed him and Anthony where our houses are located on Google Earth. After finishing our beverages we walked to the restaurant we would be eating at.

Tonight's meal consisted of salad, green beans, and steak at a restaurant called "Le Table Ronde." It was great to have red meat and green vegetables for a change. After we had eaten, we presented Manuel with a couple of cards in honour of his birthday. One depicted a monkey playing a guitar with the phrase, "trois. deux, un, party!" on the front. Since Anthony had earlier entertained us with a never ending version of "Hey Jude" on the bus while we were playing Beatles A to Z, Manuel commented that the monkey was a better musician than Anthony which got a lot of laughs.

Anthony had made arrangements for the restaurant to bring out a dessert with a birthday candle for Manuel. When this happened, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to the driver and some students got a bit emotional. The student that was affected the most was probably Tyler as she was literally balling. Before we left the restaurant, one of the waiters complemented our students by noting that they were very polite and even helped with the table clearing by stacking dishes. Comments like this are great to hear as a teacher, much as it is for a parent who receives a complement about a child.

Our walk back to the hotel was absolutely gorgeous. We wound our way through the streets and walked down a steep decline towards the castle gates. At one spot, we could see part of the castle through one of the parapets and we took a couple of pictures. At night the castle walls are all lit up and it is truly a beautiful sight. The best view was near the bottom of the hill where the artificially lit castle stood majestically over a green hilltop. I took many pictures here on different settings hoping that one would turn out well.

The hotel that we stayed at here, the Adonis Carcassonne, was not really designed for student groups. Each room was like a small apartment with a small kitchen area and separate bedroom. The size was very nice, but some of our students were in different buildings than us which made security and safety a bit of a concern. We did two rounds of room checks to ensure that they were all in their rooms and had to tell one group of girls to quiet down.

The students were without wifi tonight, which seemed like a global crisis to many of them. A few were pretty careless after arriving at the hotel and one group of boys even left a door wide open and their bags exposed. To teach them a bit of a lesson, Lopuck took a backpack out of the room thereby stripping one of the boys of his passport. We decided to hang onto the boy's bag to see how long it would take for him to notice.

As usual, the teachers gathered in one room and drank a bottle of wine. We had a wifi password for teachers but it wouldn't let me send or receive texts later in the evening. I really missed out on the chance to chat with my wife. We are heading for Spain tomorrow to begin the last leg of the journey, which means I will see everyone soon!
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