Saturday, July 12, 2008
A Tour of LaTour de Carol
We never did see the focus of our outing yesterday, Le Petit Train Jaune, but wandering around La Tour de Carol was captivating. A few km from the eastern terminus, and barely spitting distance from the Spanish border, we felt more than transported in place and time. And yes, it is in France. The architecture, names, colors and ambiance was all Spanish.
The train station was open, but the ticket booths were closed (it was within an hour of noon), so I had to settle with a few brochures posting schedules and promise to head back to the Internet site.
The Little Yellow Train is the highest train in France and winds 63 km through some of the most scenic valleys of the Pyrenees, between La Tour de Carol and Villefranche de Conflent in the Languedoc-Roussillon (www.trainstouristiques-ter.com/train_jaune.htm). It was constructed between 1903 and 1927, providing access for remote regions of the Catalan plateau. Some of its 650 civil engineering feats include 19 tunnels, and a couple of bridges that are reputed to be architectural masterpieces---and definitely not for the faint-hearted. The Gisclard bridge is suspended about 80m (240 ft) above the River Tet.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from La Tour de Carol and head off into the Spanish exclave Doug discussed (Llavia) for lunch, but Fergus needed yet another country notched on his collar. Within about 10 minutes of departing Llavia, and moreorless following Le Petit Train Jaune, the weather abruptly and violently turned. From bright sun and then magnificent bulbous clouds, we suddenly found ourselves completely enveloped in pea-soup fog. We were headed up the narrow road to Mont-Louis, intending to turn off toward Quillan, but I (the navigator) completely missed the sign due to invisibility. So we had to turn around and re-negotiate the hill. However long the fog lasted, it seemed ten times longer. At times there were no lines on the road, and huge concrete barriers enclosing both sides---giving the feeling that we were more like bumper cars.
Le Petit Train Jaune should best be done on a crystal clear day. We hope to take the ride this summer with guests. (Guests: people who spend time at another person's home).