A Busy Week in the Pyrénées-Orientales!

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This week has been particuarly busy and I have managed to see and do many things in such a short space of time: Montpellier, La Forteresse de Salses, Catalan festival in Perpignan, Le Prieuré de Serrabonne and Le Lac de la Raho among other things!

As I said in my last blog post, I went to Montpellier on Wednesday evening for a soirée parrainage (an Erasmus mentor/mentee evening). It was a lovely evening, and I got to walk around Montpellier briefly on the way from the bus to the location where the event was held and see the busy city life and the beautiful old buildings everywhere. However, it took two and a half hours each way to drive there from Perpignan. So we actually spent more time in the bus than actually at the event. What was a shame, was that I didn’t actually speak to anyone from other universities, no one seemed very interested to talk to other people, but I spoke to a lot of the parrains/marraines (mentors) and other Erasmus students from Perpignan who I had come with on the bus. I definately want to go back to Montpellier some time for a day trip so I can spend more time there and actually go shopping or visit places of interest.

Thursday, I managed to read a book, Aucassin et Nicolette in about an hour. It is very short (80 pages) but tells a romantic story of two young lovers who want to be together, yet many things such as storms, family and war get in their way. It was written in the 13th century and is the only known surviving book written as something called a chantefable (this is a genre which alternates between sung verse and recited prose, reality and fantasy. The word is from the Old French cantefable which literally says “(it) sings (and it) narrates.” I quite liked this as it changed things up a bit when reading. I read the bilangue version which gave the original story in Old French on the left-hand page and Standard French on the right-hand page. It was interesting to have a look at the Old French version from time to time and to compare how much the language has evolved over time yet still somehow resembles what French is today. I do recommend French-learners and speakers to read this story if you haven’t yet, it is not difficult to follow and is a beautiful story. My only criticism is that it is very short – the author could have expanded the story so much more and the ending could have been less abrupt.

As classes finish early on Friday’s, my housemates Kam, Ingeborg and I went to La Forteresse de Salses during the afternoon. It is a medieval fortress about 20 minutes outside of Perpignan on the 1€ bus. Entry is also free for European citizens under 25, so the entire aftenroon only cost us our bus journey! When we arrived, the lady at the Information Desk informed up that there would be a free guided tour in French in 10 minutes which would give us access to parts of the fortress which people cannot access without a guide. The guide was very informative and told us just how unique the fortress is compared to others of its time. It is the only fortress of its kind that can be found in Europe. It’s defense stratergies are also different because  it is not located on a hill but instead, in a dip. There are many fireplaces all around the fortress; their primary function is to provide constant air flow in the rooms and corridors, so the air is never stuffy, secondly to communicate between different floors! We even learnt that the soldiers and officals stationed in the fortress never slept lying down because that represented death – instead they always slept sitting up (this cannot have been comfortable!!). The fortress was definately worth the visit, and the free tour made it even more enjoyable. It doesn’t require a lot of time to visit either: we got the bus from Perpignan at 14:05 and we were ready to get back at 16:30.

Forteresse de Salses

Forteresse de Salses

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Biggest fireplace in the Forteresse de Salses

Biggest fireplace in the Forteresse de Salses

La Forteresse de Salses

La Forteresse de Salses

Saturday morning, Kam and I got up early to go to the ‘Journée d’accueil pour des Nouveaux Catalans,’ a festival at the Palais des rois de Majorque in town for 10am. I was not sure what the festival would be like but it turned out to be a great decision to go! We arrived and there were already many people waiting to get in. There were many exhibitors giving information about their businesses and services that are available in the region. The best things were the free things: we were offered a free bottle of wine, free post cards, free food and drink, but the best thing was the possibility to go on a free excursion in the afternoon (return bus and entry). We decided to sign up to go on the bus heading to Le Prieuré de Serrabonne. This is a small priory situated in the mountains, an hour and a half from Perpignan. We knew it was very difficult to get there on public transport so it seemed like a good plan!

We still had several hours until our bus left, at 2pm, so we were able to walk leisurely around the exhibites in the Palais. As we had not visited the Palais before, it was also a good opportunity to walk around and make the most of it. It is a really beautiful place, and it was a great decision for the festival to be located here, as it mixed a cultural festival with a great historical location in Perpignan, which gave us a lot to see and do.

My favourite places in the Palais were the rooftop, where you can see Perpignan and the mountains, and also the chapel which boasts a beautiful starry blue ceiling and lovely stained-glass windows.

The festival attracted many people from Perpignan, the region and even many people from Spain. It was interesting to see the Catalan aspect to Perpignan because although we are in ‘French Catalonia,’ up until now, it hasn’t really felt that Catalan to me. It’s great how the local council organised the event to welcome old and new people to the region and promote businesses, services and places of interest in the P.O (Pyrénées-Orientales).

View from the rooftop - Le Palais des rois de Majorque

View from the rooftop – Le Palais des rois de Majorque

Le Palais des rois de Majorque

Le Palais des rois de Majorque

In the chapel, stained-glass window reflextions!

In the chapel, stained-glass window reflextions!

Me, carrying all my freebies (it felt like Fresher's Fair in Sheffield!

Me, carrying all my freebies (it felt like Fresher’s Fair in Sheffield!

A few of the exhibit tents in the Palais des rois de Majorque gardens

A few of the exhibit tents in the Palais des rois de Majorque gardens

Le Prieuré de Serrabonne is very small – we were given an hour and a half to spend there which was more than sufficient. Although it is very small, it is in a beautiful location in the mountains, and it was just simply the best to take a seat and take in the fantastic views around us. My favourite room in the priory was by far the cloisture, which boasts some of the most beautifully carved pillars I have ever seen, which even has the most incredible scenery in the background. I would happily sit there and stare into the distance for hours without complaint; the natural setting was completely unspoilt and breathtaking. This then lead to an indoor cloister which houses pink marble decorations but this does feel quite out-of-pace in such a stark and simple building of grey stone. There were also some gardens which were nice to walk around, but I was very tired by this point in the day and did not venture too far. This is a beautiful place to visit and would highly recommend, it is just a shame it is so difficult to get to without a car!

Just look at this view!!!  La Prieuré de Serrabonne

Just look at this view!!! Le Prieuré de Serrabonne

Me in the cloister at La Prieuré de Serrabonne

Me in the cloister at Le Prieuré de Serrabonne

We managed to get home by 18:30 and finished the night off with a pizza and film night with a few housemates and went to a Cuban bar which ressembled a lot like Revolucion de Cuba in Sheffield to me (that I love!).

Sunday, after a long lie in and a quick Skype with my mum (which didn’t really last long as my wifi here is not the best), Mattieu invited Kam and I during the afternoon to visit Le Lac de la Raho, a lake next to the village where he grew up, and which boasts amazing views of the mountains all the way around. It took about an hour and a half to walk all the way around and it was a bit windy, but it was great to stretch our legs and get some fresh air! It is one of the seven best natural sites in the region too, but it is not easily possible to access it by public transport.

Kam and I at Le Lac de la Raho, it was a bit windy!!

Kam and I at Le Lac de la Raho, it was a bit windy!!

Le Lac de la Raho

Le Lac de la Raho

Le Lac de la Raho

Le Lac de la Raho

So that was what happened this week! Now time to relax this evening before classes start again tomorrow. I have a meeting on Wednesday evening about the Erasmus French classes – it is Week 5 but these classes have not yet started which is a bit strange! Next Friday-Sunday, I am going to Nîmes to visit the town and see Émilé Simon (a French singer) in concert 🙂

Bonne semaine!

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