I looked behind me to see why Marsha was delayed. With a look of “uh oh” on her face, she appeared from around the corner of the fort … followed by three fully camouflaged, fully armed, French Marines. I’ll get back to this later.
Carcassonne to Collioure was two quick train rides. When I’d bought our tickets online, our first train was leaving Carcassonne at 10:33. When we arrived at the station early, the electronic board did not show a 10:33 to Collioure, but there was one leaving in seven minutes. We hopped on and were on our way. One of the reasons we always try to arrive earlier than needed is because stuff happens. This may be a good life motto.
Believe it or not, while on the second train to Collioure, we saw flamingos! I thought maybe I was hallucinating from some rare baguette-induced overdose. But no, there they were in all their pink, one-legged glory, in various-sized groups, enjoying the Mediterranean sun. I hope to see them again when we make our train connections next week.
We arrived in Collioure to sun and mid 60s. This simply beautiful harbor city sits on the Mediterranean at the foot of the Pyrenees, fifteen miles from Spain. Like Nice, with its mix of Italian and French culture, Collioure has a Catalonian flavor from mingling the French with the Spaniards. It is immediately captivating.
We are here in the off-season, which means about 80% of the shops and restaurants are closed. Since we eat out irregularly and don’t buy tourist souvenirs, this is ok with us. The one drawback: many of the art shops were also closed. Collioure has attracted such painters as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and many others. There really is something about this Mediterranean light that seduces the artist to come out and play. With the low hanging sun of fall, every corner we turn presents another postcard. Along with our regular daytime walks, I did some sunrise and sunset photography – Just magical.
Our flat is right on the end of the street into the harbor. There is only one building after us before dipping your toes into the water. From our first floor, we open the wooden shutters and gaze over the canal to take in the Chateau Royal, just 50 yards in front of us. The French Marines keep their smaller watercraft here and are taking their kayaks and Zodiac-like boats out into the bay on a regular basis. See if you can find Marsha standing on our balcony in the 3rd image.
The flat is a small studio as you will see from the listing when you click on the bed icon at the bottom of this post. You might notice in the description that it has WiFi. It does not. The bar and restaurant below us has internet and we are supposed to glom onto it from above. Nope. It doesn’t work. We have been a week with only an occasional, sketchy connection. Now this may not seem like that big of a deal but … we are full-time travelers and use the internet for connection with family and friends, research and planning, and entertainment. We still haven’t watched our Seahawks lose to the Falcons yet.
Other than the lack of WiFi, this flat is fantastic. Very well decorated and has almost all the necessary items for being a temporary local, and a perfect location for off season. Some of the reviews said it was very noisy during the summer. We can see why, being right in the middle of all the action.
The second day here we got out relatively early to enjoy our new home in the warm sunshine. We walked around the two harbors. ‘Our harbor’ is protected on the right by the Chateau Royal, the semi-circular beach on the left, and the man-made jetty straight out. The land and jetty are connected by Notre-Dame des Anges (Our Lady of the Angels Church.) Interestingly, the bell tower of this old church is also a lighthouse. I had never heard of this before.
As you leave the church and walk out on the elbow of the jetty, you come upon a life-sized crucifix facing the sea to welcome fishermen back home. Next to it is the very small St. Vincent’s chapel built in 1701. To see this, after spending days at sea, must have been a most welcoming sight of home.
Here are two starburst images taken from the jetty, looking back towards town.
After exploring the jetty, we headed uphill to the 1344 stone windmill. It was originally created for grain but was later converted to an olive oil press. Now it is surrounded by olive trees. It felt timeless as we walked through these groves. The view back down to the harbors was spectacular. We were blessed with a warm, clear day that demanded that we slow down and just enjoy the moment. We obeyed.
We thought we had obtained our goal for the day. What else could be more beautiful? Then we looked up and saw the 1552 Fort St Elme calling to us from high up on the mountain behind the windmill. There wasn’t much discussion about it, we just found the path and started heading up through the olive groves and vineyards. After all, what else do we have to do? As we are fond of asking each other, “Do you know what today is?” With the response, “No work day!” We stole this very enjoyable phrase from a guy, years ago in Amboise, who was explaining why the stores were not open on May 1st, Europe’s “Labor Day.”
We had read that the fort was closed for the season, but we thought it would be fun to poke around and relish another amazing view of the region. The twisting, rocky trail up the side of the mountain was somewhat challenging, but we stopped often to enjoy the sights. There was no one else around. When we summited the mountain, we saw the ‘cheaters,’ people who had driven up a nice, smooth, easy road in their cars. I gave Marsha one of those disapproving Mr. Bean head nods and eye rolls to show my distaste for such lack of sportsmanship. Plus, we didn’t know there was even a road that went all the way up here.
After composing ourselves, we ventured off to check out the exterior of Fort St Elme. There was an outer wall that opened up into the inner, grassy courtyard. I walked around a corner to explore and realized I was sans Marsha. I waited in the sun and warm breeze for her to catch up. It was taking more time than normal and then … I looked behind me to see why Marsha was delayed. With a look of “uh oh” on her face, she appeared from around the corner of the fort … followed by three, fully camouflaged, fully armed, French Marines. They were obviously following her but when they took a look at me, they kind of shrugged and disengaged. I guess they thought, as a couple, we were not the threat Marsha was by herself. Once again, the benefits of being seniors … I guess.
We continued our outdoor exploration. Then I saw a partially-opened gate from this courtyard to the next interior one. My childhood instincts started to surface. Whenever I was out exploring someplace that looked like it was closed off to me and I saw a way in … well. Somewhat hesitantly, Marsha followed me into the ‘closed’ fort. We walked through the room of suits of armor, a wall of ancient helmets, and more upward stairways. The view from the top was, of course, breathtaking. Collioure was delightfully laid out before us on one side and the next city, Port Vendres, on the other side, with the Mediterranean between them. Not a bad view from a closed fort. As we were retracing our steps to leave, a very nice, young French woman starting talking to us. Since it had nothing to do with food or wine, we did not understand her. (I’m convinced that French dogs understand more French than we do.) After she realized we were not from around there, she explained to us, in perfect English, that the fort was, in fact, closed. The only reason the gates were open was because the French Marines were using the fort for military exercises that day. That explained quite a lot. We responded with a heartfelt, “Merci,” and headed back down the mountain trail. We covered much ground and saw many sights that day. And we didn’t even get thrown in the French military jail. We were pleased with ourselves.
Another day we headed in the opposite direction of our harbor to walk through the pastel colored homes tucked into the hills. The homes on the cliffs seemed to be coming right out of the rocky coast. As usual, laundry was hanging out windows, a cat or two paraded by, and the narrow streets wrapped around us like an old, welcoming friend. At the top of the hill we found the well-marked gates of Fort Mirador, a 13th century citadel that now functions as the French Marine base. Not once did I look for a partially opened gate.
Across the canal and below the castle is a small park were each afternoon around 16:00 men show up to play petanque. There are usually three or more games going on a once. You can hear the faint clink of the metal balls dancing off of each other. Occasionally, there are four-legged observers.
On Thursday, Thanksgiving back in the States, we got on the 1€ bus to the nearest city with a large grocery store to buy some holiday grub. We accidently got off at the wrong stop. It was a 27-minute walk to the store, but we didn’t mind. Along the way we discovered another Picard. Yeah! We stocked up. Another 10 minutes and we arrived at the Intermarche Hyper (Think very big Fred Meyer, Target, or Walmart). Since French turkeys aren’t available until the Christmas season, Marsha picked up a small roast. The only American Thanksgiving fixings was a can of Green Giant extra crunchy corn. Marsha posted a picture of the can on her FaceBook page. Our Thanksgiving was delicious and no raccoons stealing our turkey, as occurred a few years ago in an Oregon yurt.
One afternoon, we did some wine tasting in a small shop just a few blocks away. The friendly owner explained to us that she spoke just a little English and then proceeded to exclusively speak French. Fortunately for us, an English-speaking couple from Belgium were also there and between the three parties, we had a fun time. The couple turned us on to what is considered to be one of the best Christmas Markets of Europe in Leuven, Belgium. So now we are planning a 2-day trip from Paris for this festive event.
Since we knew very little about Collioure, the experience here has been a very pleasant surprise. It is a destination we would very much like to see again, maybe in May or early October when there is a little more activity, but before/after the tourist crowds have swarmed in.
We will be leaving the coast again to spend a week in Toulouse as we head north to Bordeaux and then our month in Paris. We can probably expect cold and rain, but we have to live somewhere, right?
NEW WEB PAGE
Several of you have expressed interest in seeing what our different flats look like. So, with that in mind, I’ve added a new page to our website: Lodging. Simply go to www.boomerreloading.com and click on the Lodging tab on the top navigational bar.
This week’s flat can be seen by clicking on the bed image below.
Invite your friends and family to join the fun by subscribing to the Stowaway Newsletter on our site. Just click the open Steamer Trunk on the Homepage.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Preston & Marsha
Don’t Retire: Reload – Groovin’ on the Flip Side