Aigues-Mortes, Montpellier, Carcassonne

… time running out on our sojourn European… Leaving Les Saintes Maries de la Mer realising how special a place it is. The commencement of the Mediterrannean coast proper with its shift in scale from hotel to resort says it. First we had to cross the Petit Rhone by wired paddle-ferry, waiting with four vehicles and horses, being told that horses would claim priority.

A quick crossing then flats of vinyards, Listel featuring, for miles.

Then the perfect walled square kilometre or so of Aigues-Mortes, propitiously, Dead Waters. When we struck it, Saturday late morning, the town was soaked in vomit, blood, urine and cowshit. The carny people were setting up the attractions outside the walls, getting stodge and fry food ready for the hungover. And the town square lay in puddles of green which we could only guess was disinfectant. The local cafenisti and resto-owners standing out in aprons viewing the carnage, disaffected. Looking at us as though it was our fault, King Louis was holding an empty bottle of wine.

The night before, we finally worked out, the bulls of the Camargue had run, they’d been gardians chasing them, the youth of Montpellier had descended. Carnage on the streets. Burnt out rally cars. People dumped in the canal. Blood, really, everywhere. And by the chateau, the party still in full smoky beery swill and swing.

We passed on the way into the square our favourite sweet shop, prompting J. to remark: Everywhere is everywhere. Possibly the definition of normal displacement.

For Aigues-Mortes was a missed opportunity, last night, to see the Carmarguais spirit for mayhem, but today – nowheresville. Back in the car, away from the stench. Getting lost in the suburbs, very grim. Out.

Then Montpellier. Like a Munich of the South. New part was what we saw. Not very far into it. But a lively feel to the place. Monumental modern was what we saw. Indulged our taste for it.

Setes, canals backed up with boats small and large. Alleys full of bags of rubbish. A constipated if warm Southern town.

Next major town was Beziers. Much more interesting than the guides. A big vibrant provincial town. With a fortified church on the top, when looked back on when finally we found the route to Carcassonne, after farting around with the innards of the town, avoiding routes back to Nimes or Montpellier.

Carcassonne is divided in two since naughty internal crusader Simon de Montfort crushed for King Louis the Saint the heresies of the South, for which one can’t help but have great sympathy and nostalgia – even if for an unknown, an unknown against the monolith, one which had produced troubadour culture. So: a city dating from the 13th century, Low, and one dating from earlier, La Cite, on the hill, with the pointed turrets. The heretics’ city high, then, and the crushed medieval city, low.

It happens we are low. Naughty little Cathars, Albigensians, bent to reform by thin-nosed, tight Saint Louis. Saint Jeanne was ever better looking.

Carcassonne treated us to a Fete du Vin, with brassy brass girl-band and boy-band, followed by strutting Spanish styles. On rock stage. The French, winter approaching, show themselves to be less Latin.

It was fun watching the kids sort out their hierarchies. Been a long time.

The ones who were sussing out Q. particularly, particularly a girl we took for a boy, or a boy we took for a girl, who wanted to break through, but was hemmed in by shyness and her outrageous banger of a younger sister, thick glasses, the wild one, the barrier breaker.

We danced and drank wine at 5 euros a bottle, four euros inclusive of plates of escargots a la Provencal. Fresh and hiding inside their shells. Like shellfish, some bitter, some sweet.

Was a great night. Cool but bearable. We were cool but bearably so too.