Monday, 18 June 2012

Preview: Carcassonne

History was never easy for the people who had to live it. These days we might worry about shopping bills, or being accosted by charity people in the street, or the roll of fat amassing around our stomachs, but back then the worries might include a foreign army turning up one day and destroying everything and killing everyone you know and love. Even somewhere nice like the south of France, where bridges of baguettes span rivers of wine, could never be assured that the next day wouldn't bring a holocaust. Understandably, people wanted to allay these fears. And so they built for defence. Nowhere is this more evident than the ancient walled city of Carcassonne.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


So, I'm in Mozambique. Not for Wonder hunting - it has no globally recognised man-made structures to my knowledge - but for work. My travels in Asia ended up costing a little more than anticipated, and so with about 80% of my Wonders still to visit, I need to earn a little money. Hence, I am back in the World of Oil.

It should be for the next few weeks, and I expect to be pretty busy. By early-ish July I'll be back home, all set to go on holiday to France, and visit my next three Wonders - Avignon Papal Palace, the Millau Viaduct, and Carcassonne.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Preview: Avignon Papal Palace

At the start of the 14th Century, Avignon, nestled in the south of France, had a population of less than 5000 people. That's about the same size as my home town, Dingwall, nestled in the Highlands of Scotland. Life in modern-day Dingwall, though with its occasional flashes of excitement (our football team got promoted to the Scottish Premier League last year, and Prince Charles once visited), is generally pretty sedentary, based around a quiet High Street and a less-quiet giant Tesco sitting not far off it. Visitors might be impressed with the attractive setting at the end of the Cromarty Firth, beneath the 3432-foot Ben Wyvis, but in no way will they leave feeling they have visited one of the world's great talking points. Avignon, though scenically different, would have inspired the same feeling. But whereas Dingwall, unless great things are in the pipeline (I've been suggesting it as a Grand Prix circuit for years), looks likely to continue in its unassuming manner, different things were in store for Avignon at the start of the 14th Century. Because within a few decades it had become bigger than Rome, was fabulously wealthy and a major centre of Christendom, and had a series of popes living in its huge new fortified palace - the Palace of the Popes.