I write fairly often about how important it is to be flexible when you travel. I’m picky when it comes to who I choose to travel with because there are too many people who have exact ideas of what they want to see and when they want to see it. I find this puts way too much stress on travel when the whole idea is to enjoy yourself and take in what’s around you. Narbonne was a prime example of how keeping your mind and options open can lead you to memories and experiences you’ll never forget.
Originally, Narbonne was a city I had heard things about here and there through my research but which was never extremely high on my list of places I felt I needed to see. Those who know my love of medieval and ancient history know that I at least felt some draw to visit Narbonne due to its historical importance as the capital of the ancient Roman province of Narbonensis. When it came down to it though, I was conflicted. I had just spent the night in Carcassonne and was trying to decide where to head next. I knew I wanted to spend a night somewhere near the Mediterranean coast on my way to Arles and Avignon.
I pondered for quite a while over the map that was given to me with my Eurail pass which detailed most of the routes I could take. There were three different cities that drew my attention. Narbonne was one. Another was Perpignan. Just minutes from the Mediterranean and the Palace of the Kings of Majorca to boot. I had heard amazing things and really wanted to head that direction but unfortunately, the train ride from Perpignan to Arles the next day would have taken way more time than I would have liked so I had to pass. The other was Béziers, a town which my aunt had suggested nearby to Narbonne, which was where I had been leaning towards before I had even landed in France. The interesting part is, in the long run, I decided to go to Narbonne on the advice of the man behind the window at the SNCF station in Carcassonne. There was a jokey debate between the man I was speaking to and his colleague because they were originally from those two cities which gave all three of us a good chuckle. While the whole process of deciding where to go spur the moment was a tad stressful, I still quite enjoy that mode of travel as it gives you the most freedom.
When I arrived at the hotel I had reserved while on the train, I asked the concierge, as I always do, for a map of the city and any advice on must-sees or restaurants I shouldn’t miss. She happily handed me a map and pointed out a few of the monuments nearby. Luckily I had arrived fairly early in the day so I still had quite a bit of time left to wander the streets before monuments started closing. The majority of the monuments to see in Narbonne are within a small radius making it very easy to see a lot in a relatively short amount of time.
One of the first things I saw was called the Musée Horréum which consisted of a museum of some artifacts and stones recovered from ancient Roman ruins, and an underground warehouse. At that time I was the only person there. I headed down the very dim stairs thinking I would see other people but instead I was met with silence and thick damp air. No big, I thought, there’s nothing down here except me. That didn’t stop my heart from speeding up just a bit. To clarify, I’m not afraid of ghosts and the like, I actually enjoy exploring supposedly haunted places, but being alone in a foreign country, underground in a ruin that was 2,000 years old and, well, I couldn’t help but feel thrilled and anxious at the same time. And of course just as I turned a corner, a motion sensor light flickered on illuminating one of the many cutouts shaped like ancient Romans in one of the galleries. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
I spent the rest of the evening wandering randomly through the streets which seemed oddly quiet until I remembered that the World Cup was on in literally every house and restaurant (it was the final match of the 2018 World Cup!) I used this to my advantage to explore the mostly abandoned streets. At one point I couldn’t help but laugh because Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien was floating quietly out of a storefront. I felt like I was in Inception, especially since I was in France and it all kind of felt like a dream to me anyway. I’ve included the Snapchat of this below.
That night I got to experience what the first World Cup victory for France in 20 years looked like. The streets were jammed with people and celebrations were taking place in every corner of the city. It was quite an honor to have been invited to celebrate with the locals when they noticed me walking around by myself. I was even invited to share in a bottle of wine with a couple at the restaurant where I ate!
I spent the next day seeing more of the religious architecture that the city has to offer. There are a few very old cathedrals where the air was thick with years upon years of energy. No one was really out and about since it was raining so I enjoyed another rare moment of quiet. The last thing I got to see and perhaps one of my favorites was the Palace of the Archbishops. It is comprised of an old tower as well as two wings, known as the Palais Neuf and the Palais Vieux, all three of which contain museums. One of the wings is full of more Roman murals than I had ever seen! I wish that I had more time to spend there because there were so many interesting Roman artifacts but unfortunately at this point, my time was pressed and my train was to leave soon.
The beauty of Narbonne really blew me away. The houses are all light pastels or the color of terracotta and many were flying the French flag. Above a few of the narrow streets were decorations of a number of brightly colored kites or umbrellas. Flowers lined the passerelle over the lock system in the canal. A few church spires poked up above the rows of houses. A large park-like area lined with trees and restaurants sits split in half by the canal. You can also see a portion of the ancient Roman road, the Via Domitia right in the middle of the city which blew my mind a little. I think visually Narbonne was one of my favorite cities.
(Click an image to enlarge it)
Unfortunately, according to at least two of the locals I spoke with, Narbonne is somewhat rarely visited by Americans. There were a couple of women who started a conversation with me just because they had overheard I was American which I found quite funny! Really, I think that more people should make an effort to get down there. I was pleasantly surprised with how much Narbonne had to offer and it’s definitely a location I look forward to returning to. To think, if I had stuck to my original plan, I would have missed out!