In the year 2000 I worked for a large international law firm in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It was during this time that I met a Spanish girl who was working in the same law department. We soon became friends. Our lives separated: I went to New Zealand for a year, she went back to Spain. However, we stayed in touch and I managed to visit her in Barcelona. When she moved to France we reunited in Lille. By then she and her French husband had become the proud parents of a beautiful girl. Both our lives moved on. They had a son. I married and had a daughter. There was no opportunity to catch up. Until our holiday of October 2018, when I was visiting the south of France with my husband and daughter.
A reunion in Narbonne.
Narbonne seemed the ideal city to meet: it was a short drive from where we were staying and a little way in the direction of where they were living. It is a pretty city with a long history. And it is city that has quiet places to walk in and catch up. We parked our car in an underground parking in the city center and soon we walked towards the Town Hall where we had agreed to meet. Because we were a bit early my daughter Eryn and I sat down at the corner of the impressive Town Hall to enjoy hot milk and coffee. In the meantime my husband went for a short walk around the Town Hall. Next to the back of this building he was pleasantly surprised by the unfinished part of the Cathedral. However, there was not much time to linger as he was about to meet my friends so he kept on walking to our side of the Town Hall.
A Roman city.
The Romans founded Narbonne – originally named Narbo Martius – in 118 BC as a trading post along the route from Italy to Spain. The remains of this road, now known as Via Domicia, can still be found in front of the Town Hall. These days you can climb down a staircase and walk on this ancient road. As I mentioned in my story on Xena Warrior Princess, I went to a gymnasium so I was taught ancient Greek and Latin. I therefore developed a lot of respect for these old civilizations. I find the concept of walking on a road that is as old as this one strange. To Eryn these were just a few stones that were bigger and rougher and situated in a square pit. To me this was a place where a lot has happened in the past. Would these stones not be damaged if all the tourists kept on walking on them? Or was the fact that they were still around enough proof that they were strong and could survive this many visitors? Either way, I was most impressed.
The Via Domicia.
It was here, near the Via Domicia, that I was reunited with my friend and her family. She and her husband had not changed much and were easy to recognize. Their daughter, who had not even been able to walk when I last saw her, had changed into a young woman. Their son, whom I had never seen before, was already a teenager. Both of them were quiet. This might have been because they were shy or typical teenagers. It might also have had something to do with their ability to understand and speak English. Either way they were very sweet with Eryn, who always manages to charm people and brings a smile on even the shyest person. Soon she was taking them by the hand and running around the Via Domicia with them. We decided to walk around for a bit and started at the Town Hall.
The Town Hall.
The Visigoth took over Narbonne in the 5th century AC, followed by the Moors and the Frankish in the 8th century. In the 11th century and 12th century there was a large population of Jews in Narbonne and the city became an important center for Jewish learning. At the end of the 12th century the number of Jews had decreased drastically and also Narbonne itself was not doing so well. But before things took a dramatic turn for Narbonne, the archbishops first built a palace. This Palace consists of three square towers. One of these towers is the Donjon Gilles Aycelin, named after the archbishop who had it built. A donjon is a medieval stronghold. This one is about 41 meters (134.5 feet) tall. It was a good place to start our walk. These days the rest of the Archbishop’s Palace houses the Town Hall as well as some museums. So when I spoke of Town Hall previously, Archbishop’s Palace would have been more accurate. Anyway, we did enter the part that is now the Town Hall and had a look at the courtyard. It was as impressive from the inside as it looked from the outside.
The unfinished Cathedral.
After this short stop at the Town Hall we continued our walk to the Cathedral, which was situated next to the huge Palace. At first I wanted to stay outside with Eryn, because it would be hard for her to stay quiet, but we gave it a try and I’m glad we did. The construction of the current Cathedral started at the end of the 13th, beginning of the 14th century. However, this is when things got worse for Narbonne. The river Aude, about which I will write in a later story, changed its course causing Narbonne to lose its port. The plague hit the city and raids by the ‘Black Prince’ during the 100-year war caused devastation. The city’s finances went down, the archbishops left and they stopped the construction of the Cathedral. Therefore – unlike most cathedrals – they never continued building this cathedral and it remains unfinished.
An expensive candle.
In previous churches I always let Eryn light a candle for someone. One for daddy, one for me, one for our cat Gizmo, who unfortunately passed away just before we went on this holiday. It had always cost about a 50 cents donation fee. So when she asked me if she could light a candle I did not hesitate and immediately said “yes”. When we went to the donation stands I was shocked to see that the prizes in this cathedral were much higher than elsewhere. But because I had already promised her she could do it, I could not back out. I ended up giving her a 2 euro coin to buy the cheapest candle possible. This time, Eryn lit the candle for my friend. I hope it will bring her extra support and love.
My friend had promised her children to eat some crêpes (French pancakes). By that time we were a bit hungry so we started looking for a restaurant where we could eat them. We followed our way past the Pont des Marchands (Merchant’s Bridge). This Roman bridge, with houses and shops on it, was much bigger in ancient times. Still, apart from the Ponte Vecchio in Rome and the Rialto Bridge in Venice I cannot recall having been on a bridge like this. Unfortunately it did not have the restaurant we were looking for, so we continued our way to the Canal de la Robine.
When the river Aude altered its course in the 14th century, Narbonne wished to maintain its position as a trading post and therefore it invested in a link to the Royal Canal (now: Canal du Midi). In the 17th century the Royal Canal was build. This Canal was considered to be one of the most impressive constructions works of its time. It runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea. After the realization of the first part in 1776 they established the new part of this canal. This “Nouvelle” branch leads the Royal Canal through a shorter way via de Canal de Jonction, part of the river Aude and the Canal de la Robine into the Mediterranean Sea. In 1996 the entire project was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage site. It is still being used, mainly for the wine industry that became very important in Narbonne. However, with the Industrial Revolution the railroads took over most transport of trading goods.
French food and French temperament.
Near the Canal de la Robine we found what we were looking for. We sat down and enjoyed our crêpes. My husband had chestnut purée on top of it, which was lovely. While we were sitting, talking and drinking we were suddenly disturbed by a screaming woman. She was only sitting a few tables away from where we were so we had a good view of what was going on. Apparently she was having a few drinks with a man when at one point she did not approve of something he did or said. Suddenly she stood up, threw her glass of wine right in his face and walked away, leaving the man behind at the table. He wiped the wine off his face and sat down again. Embarrassed he finished his drink. The people sitting at a neighboring table were not amused. They did also get their share of the wine. We all felt a bit of his awkwardness.
A Frisian in Narbonne.
After our French treat we walked back to the Town Hall. On our way we passed one of the locks at the Canal de la Robine, where we could have a look at the running water and a Roman sculpture. We also had a look at the back of the Cathedral, at the place where my husband had been earlier that day. It was in this garden that we discovered a Frisian text by Theun de Vries, translated into French. I immediately started to ask myself some questions. How did it end up there? I did not have much time to think about it. My daughter needed a toilet and soon.
Until we’ll meet again.
As it was the end of the day and they were closing down most places. So we rushed to the tourist office. I was glad my friend was with us. Her friendly face and perfect French did wonders and although we were actually not allowed to use the toilets in the building (personnel only) they gave us a key and my daughter was able to leave Narbonne in clean clothes. Thank you, people of the Narbonne Tourist Office! At the Town Hall we had to say our goodbyes to our friends. One day is short to catch up, but better than nothing. It was great seeing them again. I sincerely hope that the next time we see them it won’t be thirteen years from now!
Also on Travelharts.com.
If you like to see more photos of France, have a look at our photo album about the Eiffel Tower.
Want to know what happened the day day a pur reunion? Read ‘The day we had to stay inside‘.