September 20, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: Narbonne

For the first time, I've had a hard time getting started on writing this post from the road.

Left Lagrasse this morning, with an easy climb out of town under very welcome blue skies, in soggy, smelly shoes, still wet from the previous  days' rain. The picture of the town from above also shows part of their municipal campground. It's great, and reliable, that so many French towns have campgrounds, and many that I've seen look much like this.

The landscape is drier, flatter ... and much windier, than that I rode through yesterday. I understand that it is pretty generally always windy. That didn't bother me early in the day, on the open roads with little traffic, but it was a pain in the afternoon on the busy roads approaching Narbonne, where I didn't want to be blown around at all ... not by the wind, not by the passing trucks.

But before Narbonne, I rode through a lot of grape fields, and a few prosperous-looking towns. I was interested to watch the grape fields being cultivated. One nearby town boasted a cooperative processing plant for wine, with overhead walkways and conduits.

There is something about the patina of so many of the architectural details, gates, walls, windows that is eye-catching to me. They seem to tell their own stories, of history and habitation.

I read in one of Gerry Patterson's postings  that the artists in Oppidum le Vieux removed roofs from their houses to avoid taxes. I wonder if that explains some of the small rural buildings that I see which don't look too run down, but have no roofs.

As I said, it is windy, usually windy, and there are many installations of windmills along the ridgelines. You can see one in the distance in this photo. Sometimes you could see one group of windmills, sometimes you could see many groups.

On the way to Tarascon-sur-Ariege I had seen an installation of solar cells on a very very large (warehouse) sized roof. I don't know what the building was, it probably served an agricultural purpose, but I know the cells were providing electricity.There seems to be more attention paid to alternative energy in France than at home.

Stopped at the famous Abbaye of Fontfroide for several hours. It was beautiful, but more of a mix of styles and more commercial than I anticipated. Access is by scheduled tour, which always offers good points and bad. Lots more information and I was happy to be able to follow the French, but not so much time for lingering and reflecting.

Like so many of these old communities, it was badly decimated by the plague in the mid 14th century. It was at its strongest during the end of the 12th through the 13th century. There are abbayes, or remnants of them, everywhere, at least in southern France. They are interesting to me because they were so central to medieval life. They were essentially how society, towns, communities were organized, and controlled huge areas, in a very broad way sort of like small states unto themselves. There is something about our era that reminds me of that time, but I can't quite put my finger on what.

An American archaeologist, who had previously purchased another French Abbaye and created the Cloisters, in NYC, was going to buy the whole cloister of Fontfroide before WWI,  but instead a French family bought it, and still owns it, making repairs and renovations to it.  

After that, my riding was focused on getting into Narbonne. The road got progressively busier, with large trucks, and I had to decide which of two roads to ride into town. I have no idea which route would be better, but the one I chose was at least shorter, if somewhat hair-raising. I have no idea why big trucks think it is useful to honk when they are passing me. If they're going to honk,they might as well do it before overtaking a cyclist. As if they are so quiet that you might not know they exist. And for the first time today, I walked with Papillon for a bit, not wanting to ride the narrow space allotted over a busy bridge.

Now safe, snug and none the worse for it, I'm in the Hotel de France in Narbonne. Tomorrow I ride to the Mediterranean and will spend the day there. The hardest thing will probably be finding the start of the route, although I believe it starts on the Canal de Robine. I could be a good tourist and look at historic sites in Narbonne, but I am finished, full-up, can't absorb anything else, sated and done with museums, cathedrals, chateaus, and Roman ruins for a little bit. Well, at least for a day or so. Time to sit on a beach. And imagine ancient travelers.

I am not sated with cycling, though, and think this harder than usual to write because there is so little time left on the bike, and I already miss it.


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