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RS Loire Valley to the South of France-Part 4

This is day’s 8-9 of my post of our RS tour in May. I’m trying to post the tour as seen and experienced through my eyes;

Day 8 Carcassonne

I’d never heard of Carcassonne until it was one of the locations on The Amazing Race a few years ago and apparently, everyone else in the world saw that episode and came at the same time as me. If you’ve read about Carcassonne on this forum you’ve probably heard it be called an overcrowded tourist trap, and that is a close description. But it’s worth it, just do your research and plan. We arrived mid-afternoon and stayed in a hotel right across the street. We were scheduled for a group tour and then dinner in a couple of hours but I don’t do sitting around doing nothing very well and so I headed straight over to explore. It is wall to wall people on a Sunday afternoon in late May, but you can find some peaceful areas if you walk near the walls.
I’ll always be an advocate for finding a tour guide that can give you some inside knowledge and history about the place you’re visiting. Our local guide did not disappoint. Small facts can amuse me and attempts to beat the taxman are one of my favourites. The one fact that he brought up that you don’t get by wandering on your own is that quite a few buildings were narrower on the main floor than on the 2nd floor. They were built this way because taxes were collected based on the square footage of your main floor; and so, the solution, keep the main floor smaller. By the way, if avoiding the taxman stories amuse you, ask me about the tax dodge in Bath in the 18th century. By the time the tour and dinner ended at 8pm, Carcassonne was empty. We wandered through town and out a back gate to a bridge and watched sunset against the walls. Spectacular. That’s another point towards having a guide, who would have known about how the place looks at sunset and where to get the best view, there were very few people around besides our group.
The most memorable moment of Carcassonne for me though was the next morning. I got up early and took photos of the walls at sunrise. One of the absolute highlights of the trip. I wish I could post photos here. And no crowds; me, a woman from England and a couple of cats. After sunrise I wandered the streets by myself for about an hour before meeting with my group for breakfast. My advice for Carcassonne; it’s not to be missed and plan an overnight stay so you can have the place to yourself at sunset and sunrise.

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Day 9 On to Arles

From the greatness of Carcassonne to the snooze-fest of the trip. In my opinion it was the only dull day of the trip, but others on the tour will disagree. We left Carcassonne and drove a couple of hours to a small family run winery in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. We did a tour and had lunch at the winery. Yawn. I was in the minority though; some were fascinated and asked a lot of questions. I’m not a wine guy and I’ve toured wineries before so nothing new here for me.
Next was another 2 hours to Arles and a private tour of the city and the Museum. If I’m remembering correctly Arles was a Roman town founded by Julius Caesar. The tour started at the museum which I think would have been fascinating but we were only there for an hour and our local guide was sooo dull. One thing that caught my attention was a bust of Caesar that had been pulled out of the river about 10 years ago, perfectly preserved 2000 years later. I wish I had had more time in the museum, and I guess I could have come back the next day when we had a free afternoon, but Avignon was on my bucket list.
After the museum we toured Arles, with the same dull guide. There is a small Roman arena in Arles, and we went inside and sat in the stands as he explained about it, but we didn’t get to explore at all. I’ve seen the Colosseum in Rome and another arena in Verona about this size so maybe I’ve just seen enough. If you’re a Van Gough fan, Arles is where he sliced off his ear and we visited a few of the places he painted, as well as the Sanitarium he stayed after slicing off his lobe. Arles was kind of interesting, but for me, not a must-see. When Rick Steves calls Naples ‘gritty’, that’s my impression of Arles.

*I have to post a story about the Rick Steves warning about packing light, and also his warnings that you may have to haul your suitcase a distance and up stairs. Our hotel was right beside the Roman Arena but well away from the main street where our bus dropped us off. There is a warning on these tours that you may be expected to haul your luggage over cobblestones a fair distance and the hotel may not have an elevator. This warning was tailor made for Arles. About 1/2km walk, cobblestones, uphill. We had one couple in their mid-70’s on the tour who are in good shape for their age, but the wife was struggling with her suitcase and needed help from one of our tour members. I sought her out on the morning we were heading back to the bus and carried her suitcase for her. By this time, we were a close-knit group and help like this would be automatic for some of our older members. Back to the day we arrived at the hotel though, to get to our 2nd floor room meant a climb up a steep, narrow set of stairs, we got to the top, made a sharp right and down a hall, down 3 stairs and then up 3 stairs. Along the way we ran into a solo traveler in our group-early 60’s who didn’t pack light. She’s a very nice woman-a librarian, but today she was dropping f-bombs about stairs and suitcases. I couldn’t help but laugh, but also took her suitcase and got it to her room. I believe I learned a few new words that day and she swore she’d learned her packing lesson.

Days 10-13 to come on a new post as I write them.

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Allan,
On my RS tour of Berlin Prague Vienna, a good friend went with me, her first RS tour She had usually done Tauck or other tours where they handle your luggage for you. I had given her the packing light warning about carrying your own luggage and walking 10 - 15 minutes to the hotel and up stairs, etc. Plus, the possibility of no elevator, although that did not occur on this tour.
She brought her usual suitcase, likely 26 - 30 inches, and had a time keeping up with the group hauling the case over the cobblestones in more than one city. She is a very fit individual! She was very good-natured about it. As I recall, no one assisted her, she did manage with it.

You were kind to help the librarian on your tour. I have found that to be a defining characteristic of the RS tours. On my Best of Turkey tour in October 2018, we had a lady who was very short and had great difficulty keeping up on our walking tours, especially in Istanbul. She had a talk with our guide about it and he agreed to allow her to stay on the tour. Many of us in the group would tag team at various points to make sure she was on her way. People are very kind to each other! I have seen it in action on these tours.

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Many of us in the group would tag team at various points to make sure
she was on her way. People are very kind to each other! I have seen it
in action on these tours.

What really surprised me about the tour is how quickly people bonded. Even the solo travelers seemed to integrate themselves into the group. I can't speak for other tour groups as this is my first group tour, but it seems to me an attempt is made by the guide to make sure it happens, plus there are definitely like-minded people on the tour.

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1742 posts

Allan,
I’ve been on 6 RS tours now and in 6 weeks will take my 7th tour. About half the time, I’ve traveled solo and the other with a friend. I have experienced the bonding with all tours, a few a little less so. As a solo, I felt it a little more if the group was not as cohesive as other groups had been.
The guide is trying to facilitate a pleasant experience for a group of like-minded folks on vacation which helps the bonding process. I’m glad you enjoyed your first tour.
Thanks for your trip report!