Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Narbonne, Pre-Historic ruins and buying wine

The day started as normal: walk to the boulangerie for bread and a leisurely breakfast. The first adventure was to get a blood test. (My doctor at Mayo had changed my high blood pressure medication before leaving, but it required a blood test after 3 weeks to be sure I was not having certain side effects.) So, with help from our Brit friends, Dave and I found a little "laboratoire médicale" so I could get an "analyse de sang" (blood test). This turned out to be simple once we determined we were in the right place (a little office that hardly looked open with no particular signs as to what it was). The test cost 14 Euros (about $20)and took less than half an hour from registering to having the test. I was told to come back for results and to pay at 5 PM. (Picking up the results was simply a matter of getting a piece of paper with the results written on them.)

Back home by noon, it was now time to set off on the day's adventures to Narbonne and the Oppidum d'Ensérune. The day is cool enough to wear long sleeves. There is a strong breeze all day long and the sun hides behind clouds for periods of time. Nevertheless, it feels like spring and when the sun is out, the breeze is mild rather than chilly.

Narbonne was an episcopal bishopry and has a huge gothic church and archbishop's palace complex. The town is split by the Canal du Robine, which we walk across to get from the parking place to the center of town where the episcopal buildings are located. We come out on the square in front of this complex which has an exposed part of the Via Domitia (the old Roman road from Italy to the Pyrenees). It is lunch time (12-2 PM) so the buildings are closed, but we walk around the church complex and eat lunch in the bishop's garden. Katie had prepared sandwiches before we left, so lunch was easy.

We head next to the Oppidum d'Ensérume which is an excavation of a pre-Roman fortified hill town. Built in stages from the 3rd through 5th century BC, it's hard to believe that people lived in organized, constructed towns with an obvious agricultural basis this long ago. This place is pretty cool, ruined as it is. In part because it sits on a sliver of hill that separates two alluvial plains. There are meant to be views from the Cévennes mountains in the north to the Pyrenee's in the south, but the day is somewhat hazy and only the purple shadows of these places are visible.

Our biggest adventure of the day is trying to buy "vrac" with our "bidon". If you'll remember back a few days, vrac is wine directly out of the casks of a vintner (usually a wine cooperative) poured into a square plastic 5 litre bottle. Our first choice was the wine coop at Puimisson (a brief 10 km from here) from which we had had some bottles of rosé. However, even though we arrive at 5:09 and the "caveau" was supposed to be open from 5-6 PM, there is nobody around. After scratching our heads in the parking lot for a few minutes digesting this very typical French behavior of ignoring published opening times, we then decide to drive to Murviel where we've had recommendations regarding a winery called Mas Blanchard and have already had the red vrac (which was a delicious AOC St Chinian) from the wine cooperative. Mas Blanchard tells us to ring the bell at the salle de vente (sales room) but there is no one there either. So we go to the wine cooperative, which announces at the gate that it is OUVERT (open). We decide to buy the rosé even though it's not the recommended flavor. In fact when we drink it later, we find it much like American rosés - somewhat sweet and with a rough finish. However, it cost ,95 Euros per litre (about $1.50) and is still quite drinkable.

Flushed with success, we head home for aperos on the terrasse which is now toasty warm and sunny and somewhat sheltered from the day's winds. We start with a Chardonnay we bought yesterday (Domaine du Trésor) followed by the rosé from Murviel with the tapanades we had bought in St-Guilhem-le-Désert on crusty French bread with a side of the lovely green olives from the butcher.

Tonight we must get organized for our next adventure: picking up Mike and Browen in Barcelona. We will drive to Barcelona tomorrow, picking up a second car in Béziers in order to get all 6 of us back to France. We'll spend Thursday in Barcelona, and work our way home on Friday stopping most probably in Perpignan before getting home at dinner time.

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