27 October 2014

Narbonne Day One was a change of pace, scale and weather

It was only a small hop by train from Girona in Spain to Narbonne in France but it was a complete change of mood for my holiday; the bustle had gone, the town was a lot smaller and the clouds came to hide the sun.

I expected that there would not be that much to do in Narbonne itself so I had chosen a hotel, Will's Hotel, close to the station. The hotel was charming enough, a converted large house run by a couple, with just about enough wifi to get by. I even managed with just two power sockets in the room simply by unplugging the TV and using that socket for my computer.

Having checked in to the hotel I set off to explore Narbonne.

The first thing that struck me was how quiet everything was. This is about as busy as any of the streets that I walked got. For a while I thought that this was because it was a Monday, it could have been a half-day or something, but the other days proved to be at least as quiet as this.

The streets were all as shabby as this one and I was a little worried that the old town centre that I assumed was there would not be. Then I found the cathedral.

Work started on the cathedral in 1272 and it is not quite finished. A section of it is usable, and is in use, but another part looks like a ruin. It was the ruin that I went in to as I like that sort of thing, being incomplete showed the skeleton of the building, the pillars and walls that defined its shape, unburdened by decoration and furnishings.

That part of town was grander than what I had walked through to get there and I was starting to see smart houses like this one.

The purple colour must have meant something as I saw it across the city, never in large amounts but in a few prominent places so that it was a constant reminder of something.

The Canal de la Robine, linked to the Canal du Midi, ran through the centre of the town and defined it. The canal was inescapable and all the roads seemed to cross it at some point and there were lots of bridges for them to do so.

The canal changed mood as it slipped slowly through the town. Here it was enclosed on both sides and even the bridge was a wall.

It was not hard to find the town square sitting close to both the cathedral and the canal. It was a proper square too with a stately municipal building on one side, a classic art nouveau department store opposite (since converted in to lower class shops) and cafes and smaller shops on the other two sides. I stopped at one for a coffee.

There were several routes out of the square, including one that led directly to the bridge with buildings on it, and I took the route south towards the canal and then east to follow it.

Clearly a lot of money had been spent not that long ago in improving that section of the town with wide tree-lined boulevards on both banks. This is the view from the east of the centre looking back towards it.

Crossing to the south bank at the next bridge I came across a market house, and that is always a pleasure. Les Halles de Narbonne dated back to the 1870s and had been substantially renovated about twenty years ago (perhaps when the boulevards were done) and they looked marvellous.

Unfortunately they were closed (I did say that Narbonne was quiet) but the signs suggested that they might be open another day and I resolved to get back there to see inside. This time though I had to settle for the outside and that was an easy thing to settle for thanks to the intricate ornamentation.

Walking further south the rejuvenated centre soon slipped from sight and memory. So too did the relatively busy north side of the town as I walked along narrow abandoned lanes like this one.

I was tracking down the tourists sites on my map, Les Halles de Narbonne, were on the list, despite them not being that extraordinary when found as that gave my walking a purpose and a direction. What it did not give was much distance as Narbonne proved to be even smaller than the map suggested (perhaps I should have looked at the scale) and in what seemed like a couple of minutes I had gone from the east edge of the town centre to the west.

I had yet to cross the central bridge with the buildings so once I had collected all the tourist sites on the south side I headed the short distance back to the centre and the canal. I was able to walk along the tow path and under the bridge before reemerging in to the light on the east side.

This is the companion view to the one above with the bridge with buildings behind me and looking toward where that photo was taken, so the south bank is on the right.

I still wanted to do some walking and canal side was the obvious place, it was certainly the prettiest. And that is why the canal features here for the fourth time in my self-imposed limit of ten photographs.

Possibly showing a lack of imagination, I went back to the town square for my evening meal and, somewhat limited by choice of both restaurants and vegetarian options on on the menu, I had a pizza. I had a look for more interesting restaurants on the way back and after many disappointments I found one that looked worth a try sometime.

Parts of Narbonne were undoubtedly pretty but that was more of less just the 100m circle around the centre and I had already covered that area, some of it more than once, in my first afternoon there. I was going to have to find other things to do to fill my time over the remaining three days that I had there.

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