Went 3 days to Carcassonne, an intact fortified medieval walled city Fig1, situated in the French province that borders Spain. It is a magnificent complex with the centre piece being a fortified castle with high castellated walls, circular watch towers Fig2, and a deep dry moat inside an historic village of narrow cobble stone streets Fig3. This compact ‘cite’ is further protected by two outer concentric walls with its own towers and barbicans.
And yet, in spite of all this visual superb architecture, there was something missing. It lacked a soul. For there were very few resident locals, the streets being populated by visitors and tourists like me, who, come June, would be shoulder to shoulder.
Took the 0720 TGV from Paris arriving at Carcassonne at 1355. Went to get a taxi, but found the taxi rank is some 200m towards the town centre on the right. En-route found the taxi is not permitted to drive into the Cite during the day, so the driver telephoned the hotel which sent its small car to rendezvous just outside the Cite entrance.
Stayed at the Best Western Hotel located in the centre of the Cite. Note this hotel has two overflow buildings (one 200m away) so rooms can be variable. If arriving late or delayed, it is advisable to ring them as the hotel may otherwise change your rooms. We got a very nice superior room in the main building by booking online (120Euro/n 6 month advance purchase). Inside the walls there is one other hotel, Hotel de la Cite, (5*,V/exp) and an international youth hostel.
The regional specialty is cassoulet with duck, sausage and pork, and served in every cafe and restaurant. It can be very good, but there is a limit to the amount haricot bean one can consume. Had the other lunches in the garden of Chez Saskia. Food: Vgood, ambiance Vgood.
2) Dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
Thought we would cut the queues and have a romantic dinner at restaurant 58 on the first level of the Eifel tower and then go to the higher levels and watch the sun set over Paris.
Restaurant 58 is one of the most booked restaurants of Paris and requires reservations for lunch and the 6:30pm evening sitting one to four weeks in advance. This can be booked from its website or purchased from outlets such as FNAC, Bon Marche or as we did from the Office de Tourisme. For their locations see http://www.parisinfo.com/ou-nous-rencontrer/ . Must still buy a lift ticket half an hour before sitting from restaurant booth located between north and east towers. The Patrons then have a much shorter queue at dedicated lift. Nevertheless there was still an amount of push and shove.
I must admit that that Restaurant 58 did not live up to my expectations both in regards food quality or Ambiance. The main course was vgood Fig 4, the entree and dessert average-good. The ambiance was zero, as the tables are packed close together like a Paris street cafe, and there is little view of the Paris panorama. There are also overtones of a production line as the staff rush to finish this sitting and be ready for the 9pm sitting. The service was good, helpful and friendly.
A romantic occasion? I am afraid not.
Note there is another restaurant, Le Jules Verne, with 1 Michelin star, on the higher second level of the Eiffel tower. Lunch/dinner menu 85 /200Euro.
To get from level 1 to level 2 one can purchase tickets from a machine on level 1 for 7.20 Euros for 2 persons return, using coins or card. Space is reserved in the lifts to squeeze in persons going higher.
3) Other outings:
i) Did a lot of walking to the tourist areas and we can feel getting fitter.
ii) Went a couple of more times to the Louvre. There is still more to see.
iii) Went to St Chapelle to view the stained glass windows in the upper level. The most spectacular curved windows are illuminated in the morning while the hall and most other windows are brightest in the afternoon.
We avoided the two long queues at security and at the ticket office by purchasing tickets from Bon Marche, but you can get them from other agencies e.g. the Office de Tourisme. There is also a Paris Museum Pass from various outlets.
i) Lunch at Les Bouquinistes a restaurant of Guy Savoy, 53 Quai des grands Augustins, 75006 Paris. 3 course lunch menu with a glass of wine 29 Euro Mon-Fri. Food: excellent, Ambiance: casual elegant. Service: vgood, friendly. Went in without booking.
ii) Lunch at the Chez Clement at St Michel. Food: Good, would be better if served hotter. Deserts: Vgood. I am very partial to crepes with flamed Grand Marnier. Fig: Ambiance: outdoor cafe: good. Service: good.
iii) Lunch at Vagenende, 142 Bld St Germain 6e arr. Food: average. Ambiance: excellent. Glitzy salon with the bevelled mirrors and the lights. Service: good.
Finally, am hoping for rain so I can get that Paris in the rain photo. But the forecast is for fine weather for the whole five week stay. It’s overcast at the moment and I’ve just noticed a few drops on the footpath. So there is still hope.