Not So Last Minute Arrangements

My extended family is celebrating two special ‘0’ birthdays and a golden wedding anniversary this year.  The couple wanted to mark the occasions with a family celebration in Paris later this year.  I was given the unenviable task of booking the holiday.  Normally booking a couple of nights in Paris is easy.  But 8 people travelling from different parts of the country, some of whom are going to fly, others who are going to arrive by Eurostar, not all staying for the same duration and both single and double rooms needed, made it not the easiest thing to arrange.

I decided it would be easier to visit the travel agency that was so helpful when we booked a last minute holiday to Carcassonne.  The car parks near to the travel agency were heaving; anyone would think there was nothing better to do than shop on a wet and cold bank holiday Monday.  The travel agency was also packed which meant a bit of a wait before we could talk to one of the representatives.

When a representative appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, by some strange quirk of fate it was the same person who helped us last time.  The first thing he said was ‘thank you for the postcard.  If you recall from my previous holiday post, no one in the travel agency had heard of Carcassonne.  So whilst we were away we sent him the postcard to thank him and prove that Carcassonne really does exist.  I was impressed that he had remembered us and to my surprise find that he had kept the postcard which he produced from his folder and showed again to his colleagues.

I arrived armed with the flight details and a short list of hotels and I advised that I was booking something a bit easier this time.  This turned out to be famous last words…

The online flight details were rather confusing and they didn’t mention baggage allowance.  A phone call was needed to check out the prices and the baggage proved to be extra.  I found it rather shocking that most of the cost was down to airport taxes!!

The next task was to try to find a reasonably priced hotel in the right location and with the right number of rooms available…  I therefore settled on the first hotel that met my criteria and that looked OK from the few photos that were available.  And it does have a small garden.

All this took two and a half hours to arrange and when I had finished the travel agent said ‘I need a lie down now’.  I quipped, ‘I bet you well hide if you see us come in again’.

When we phoned the celebrants later to inform them of the ‘good’ news, the response was not quite what I expected:

‘Is it possible to cancel rooms if we need to?’

Some people!!

I am now left with the task of arranging the itinerary for when we go.  This has been left almost entirely to me so it is proving a lot easier to arrange.  Although I do have to leave out art galleries because one of the party doesn’t ‘do’ art.

Wish me luck, I might need it 😉

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The Inquisition

One of the places I visited during my recent holiday to Carcassonne was the ‘museum of torture’.  It came highly recommended by a group of New Zealanders who were staying in my hotel.

The museum explained the history of torture in the Middle Ages and highlighted different groups that were subjected to this treatment; witches, heretics, devil worshippers, bad musicians, shrewish women, drunkards and many more.  It graphically displayed the different types of torture and the devices that were used during the medieval times.

I won’t go into all the gory details about the methods of torture or the ways of using the instruments that were displayed in the museum, but, for those of you who are interested, the Medieval Warfare website has a very good page that explains the instruments and puts them in to their historical context.

The devices and methods displayed within the museum include the following; iron chair, burning alive, breaking wheel, gibbet, sawing, hanging, pear of anguish, stocks, flails, thumb screws, shrew’s fiddle.  There was even a chastity belt on display which according to the information provided was to protect ladies from rape whilst they were travelling rather than the more popularly promoted view that husbands enforced wives to wear one so she didn’t stray.

In the Languedoc region of France, where Carcassonne, is situated the biggest group of people to be tortured and sentenced to death were the Albigensians, more commonly known as the Cathars.  They were declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church which initiated crusades to locate them and then to try them by inquisition.  Those that refused to renounce their faith were publicly burned at the stake or humiliated and tortured in other ways.  In one case, all the followers had their eyes gouged out and their noses and lips cut off.  One of them was left with one eye so that he could guide the others away from what had been their home.

You might have noticed the lack of edged weapons in the choice of torture implements; this is because the Catholic Church prohibited the spilling of blood.  It was also thought that by burning the heretics there would be no body to resurrect in the afterlife.

I will leave you with the thought provoking comment that was placed on the wall near the museum exit:

You have just visited the museum of torture.  Do you think all this belongs in the past; alas such things are still used today in several countries, with more modern and evil refinements.

It is an inevitable result wherever intolerance and fanaticism thrive.

In every human being there is good and evil.  Arrogance spreads evil.  Wherever it is found it must be fought by the good.  You have just seen the consequences of failure.

Last Minute Arrangements

The date for my holidays in June had been planned well in advance but somehow at the end of May the arrangements had still not been made.  The original destination was going to be a bit difficult to arrange at the last minute so for some reason that we can’t now recall, we settled on Carcassonne as the destination.

To avoid fathoming out arrangements and piecing them together on the internet we visited a travel agent.  As we arrived one of the representatives approached and said:

“Can I help?”

“Yes we would like to go to Carcassonne”

 A momentary pause and blank expression followed…

“Where’s that?”

“It is in France”

“You know you won’t be able to go as part of a package don’t you?”

“Yes”

The representative then gathered up a few brochures and logged onto the internet.  After a bit of searching he managed to find a flight from Bristol to Toulouse.  He then proceeded to book airport parking and a hire car to be picked up at Toulouse airport.

He then logged onto a curiously named website called “Beds to Go” to find a suitable hotel.  This proved a little more difficult and one of his colleagues stepped in with suggestions.  This was accompanied by quips about visiting a winter location in summer (Toulouse is close to skiing resorts in the Pyrenees).  A suitable hotel was found but we had to wait for a couple of days to see if it was available.  In the end it wasn’t and we had to execute plan B!  This worked to our advantage; the hotel was in a much better location than the hotel that proved not to be available.

Everyone in the travel agents wanted to know “Why Carcassonne?”  None of them had ever heard of it, so after asking the question they got a potted history of the area from two different perspectives.

A couple of the representatives told us about their recent training course where they were told that they would have to research holiday destinations for themselves.  They were also advised that the best way to learn about places was from their customers.  They all agreed they had learned a lot that day.

All in all it took about two and a half hours to get everything sorted and along the way the representative quipped that next year when we went to book our holiday we would be going to Majorca which will take only twenty minutes to book the accommodation and travel arrangements…

I think he may be disappointed (or pleasantly surprised) at next year’s holiday destination 😉