Vacation Experiences

Neil Russell


Addendum: 21 July 08

My recent tour "Country Roads of France" took us through the Languedoc region, which includes cities you know such as Toulouse and the smaller Albi and Carcassonne.  It was here that my memory was refreshed about the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade.
Who were the "Cathars"?  A radical Christian sect whose movement started around Albi in the 1100s.
They believed in two forms of god: one who was earthly and evil; the other ethereal, promoting love, order and peace. They denied the importance of the crucifixion and cross...and taking oaths, including the church's sacrament of marriage.  Well, you can imagine that the Catholic Church was not too pleased.  Several popes, bishops and the Dominican order, which was strong in the area, attempted peaceful reconciliation; but all attempts failed.
Ultimately, in 1147, Pope Eugene III ordered what has become known as the "Abigensian Crusade."
Up to 30,000 knights, most of them French, along with their foot soldiers, siege engines, etc marched through the region.  In one town, 20,000 resisters sheltering in and around a church were killed; Carcassonne and Albi were besieged and surrendered.  The campaign was followed by an inquisition, with courts set up in principal centres, condemning to death by fire any citizens "proven" to be a Cathars.  The last execution took place in 1321; by that time approximately one million had been exterminated.
Its not exactly parallel, I agree; but it is fun to replace a few words:  for "Cathar", insert Taliban [a radical Muslim sect]; for "Pope Eugene lll" insert "The Secretary General of the United Nations."; for "30,000 knights", insert "30,000 NATO troops."  Does history repeat itself?  Perhaps it depends from where you are viewing it.
From one who obviously house bound with not enough to do, TDV,


Insight Travel, Country Roads of France: June, 2008

Excellent tour guide, Alun Bull [yes, spelling correct], born in England, but a citizen of France, where he has lived most of his life.  Very knowledgeable of culture, history, economy; passed on his love and respect for his adopted country and people in an interesting and entertaining way. 

The tour included some repeats, e.g.., Troyes, Dijon and Beaune, as well as Paris;  however, we stayed in better hotels than we had previously and learned many new facts.  Other highlights included passing in comfort through rich farm land and lots of time in medieval towns such as Avignon, Les Baux, Carcassone, Albi, St Paul de Vance, Sarlat-la-Caneda and hilltop Rocamadour,  the white horses of the Camarague.  We liked Chamonix/Mont Blanc. 

Surprising disappointment was the rapid train, TGV, ride from Poitiers to Paris.  Our tickets were for second class, and due to a previous train cancellation our group was superimposed on a polite, but active group of young French soldiers on their way to junior NCO school.

Of course, on such tours, fellow travellers can add or detract.  Ours added, being a good mix of two Brits, two Kiwis [a semi retired geologist and his 30 year-old-lawyer daughter], three Americans [One a single status, 60 some, Phd English professor from Las Vegas and a friendly Mormon dentist and pretty wife from Utah].  Including us there were five Canadians [see below].  The rest of the group, making a total of 39, were from various parts of Australia, one of whom was an astro-physicist.


I Neil] am proud of the following:  (1) Carefully taking my meds and judiciously using my cane, taking in everything except two hill climbs; (2) Our fellow Canadians who were both practicing physicians and their 19 year-old very talented artist daughter, residents of Calgary [previously they had cycled in Europe, training in Canada before they left]; (3) Like when I lived in Metz many years ago, I began to think in French; I used it successfully for all discussions with service persons; (4) Riding the city buses in Paris, getting to some of the out of the way places such as the Pantheon, Cluny Medieval Museum and Place des Vosges; (5) My cancer survivor wife, Elsa, who, while preferring the peace and security of home, went along with this "adventure", smiling, chatting, always looking great, whether in her own dark brown hair or brown/grey evening wig... and helping this travel enthusiast, who admits he is not as alert as he used to be.


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