Friday, October 21, 2011

Forget the Yellow Brick Road....Follow the Brown and White Signs


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Whether these road signs are cartoons or photographs, they depict unique elements of the towns they portray and become informal guides to the French countryside. Especially for those of us who like to "see where the road takes us", these signs make for great visual cues to what's up the next road or around the next turn.

Fanjeaux, a small hamlet lost in the past, was one such discovery we made by following these highway "postcards". It's covered market place is ancient and makes one wonder how much longer it will remain standing, but it's still in use. We missed seeing it in full operation by a few days, because towns of this size often only have one market day per week.

The medieval feel of Fanjeaux was palpable and I wanted to know more about it, so upon arriving home I did a little research and discovered that it was in this place that the Dominican religious order was formed. It must have been something in it's heyday, but in the present day it is very quiet and most likely overlooked by all but the most avid tourists and Dominican pilgrims.


Our mere presence startled an elderly woman coming into the church, so I'm certain travelers are few and far between. She started speaking to us in French so we had to admit that we do not speak her language. She smiled at us and in English said "jingle bells" while pointing to herself, then she started up a set of stairs. Moments later we understood what she had meant to tell us. She was the person ringing the church bells at noon. One of the most pleasurable parts of traveling is meeting people and struggling to communicate. It always amazes me how a bit of effort will result in actually accomplishing that goal.

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I'm not certain if these road signs are used throughout the E.U., but they are certainly not strictly French. We have seen and used them on a trip to Portugal also. Another lovely French town we would have missed entirely, were it not for these signs, was Mirepoix. There were actually two signs for this place and the one depicting a timbered building was the deal clincher. Since we were in cassoulet country it seemed like the perfect place to stop for lunch.


Did I mention lunch? The cassoulet was probably the most rustic and authentic we have seen and tasted, as well as the least expensive with the largest portion. Visiting small towns has a financial advantage for the traveler. Since the day was warm, the charcuterie salad was a good choice, and again, the sausage were very coarse and rustic. It was a nice meal made all the better by dining al fresco at Bar and Brasserie Castignolles on the main square of town.


Mirepoix, like Fanjeaux was another medieval town that time seemed to have forgotten, but I suspect it sees many more tourists. It really set a mood with its twisted timbered buildings and low ceilinged arcades. It may very well be a traditional wedding destination, judging by the size of the marriage bureau.


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