Back when France was Gaul, Narbonne was actually quite an important city. It was settled in 118 BC right where the Via Domitia (the Roman road linking Italy to Spain, quite important, you may have heard of it) met the Via Aquitania (not quite as important, but still a major thoroughfare). At the time, the city was called Colonia Narbo Martius, or Narbo. (My friends and I lovingly adopted this nickname for our city and still use it to this day.) It was the first Roman colony in Gaul and it became the capital city of the entire Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis (which, as you can see, was named after the city). Clearly, back in the day, Narbonne was the place to be.*
Today, this is not the case.
In all honestly, the most important things to see in the city are remnants of this history dating back to Narbonne's Gallic heyday. There's also a cathedral, which is actually pretty unique in its own way. One last thing: It's the birthplace of Charles Trenet, who wrote the famous song "La Mer"** (actually in a train on the way back home to Narbonne). But when all is said and done, it's not a big tourism center in the slightest.
However, there were many places that were near and dear to my/our heart(s) that year in Narbonne, some because they were truly unique and special, and some because we were just working with what we had and they were endeared to us as a result of our ridiculous desperation.
♥ / S Le Château Diderot: Lycée Général Denis Diderot was basically my life during these months. As explained in previous posts, I elected to stay in the free VERY BASIC room on campus that was offered to me rather than spending what little money I was making on rent and utilities. (I wanted to use my money to travel.) So I worked AND lived on campus. It was interesting. I shared a toilet and had no kitchen. Ask me about the things you can cook with an electric kettle sometime.
During the weeks, we (Violeta the Spanish assistant, Conchi the Spanish teacher, and Chandavy and Julie the RAs) were surrounded by des lycéens partout, partout (high schoolers everywhere, everywhere). We heard them and saw them (and sometimes smelled them, when they smoked outside the school entrance) ALL THE TIME. (Many students were boarders and were 24 hours a day from Monday morning to Friday afternoon.) It was a bit much sometimes.
During the weekends, we were surrounded by NO ONE. It was completely dead as the boarders went home to their families for the weekend and we were alone in this giant, industrial-looking double high school campus (our Lycée Général was attached to the Lycée Professionnel Gustave Eiffel). We let ourselves in and out through a set of double glass doors, of which the interior featured a lock at the BOTTOM of the door.
We often joked about the Château Diderot (Castle Diderot) and our funny, giant, industrial home there. But in the end, I was SO thankful for the kind staff who allowed me this free little blue room so that I could travel. The opportunities I could afford because I took the free room FAR OUTWEIGHED the inconveniences I faced in living there. I told myself that year "I have the rest of my life to live in a comfy, cute home, and I have one year to live and travel in Europe." I stand by my decision. (And I got to travel to 13 countries that year, so I did put that saved money to good use!)
♥ L'Antre de l'Échoppe: This was our favorite place, and for good reason. If we had this in Fort Worth, I would take all my friends here. The couple who owned the place had a medieval shop that they ran during the day, called L'Échoppe Médiévale. On Thursday and Friday nights, they also ran "L'Antre de l'Échoppe" (antre means cave, lair, or den), which we called simply "l'Échoppe." It's an underground cave where they served only beer (mainly Belgian), including a couple of their own brews. In addition, they also had games out for patrons to play... we played lots of Dobble here, a sort of very fast-paced matching game.
Dobble explanation break, for those who care: You have to match one of several images on your card to one of the several images on the top card of the deck. In order to be able to get rid of your card, you have to name it out loud and slam your card down first. We had several versions: 1) Everyone plays (naming their items) in French. 2) Everyone plays in his/her native language. or THE MOST CHALLENGING 3) Everyone plays in a language that is neither French nor his/her native language. For example, I would have to name my items in either Spanish or German (which I would have had to pick up by playing with our Spanish and German friends). Honestly, we loved Dobble more than 20-somethings should love any kind of picture card game. I bought a set at l'Échoppe (the store, not the bar) to bring home. I've seen it here in the States, under the name "Spot it." (Why have another name? Dobble is not a French name. Dobble is nothing. Also, Dobble is everything.)
Did I mention it was a cave? A tiny underground cave, with bartenders (and clients alike) in medieval garb? Just saying. Sigh. L'Échoppe.
That's right, we had one place. And it was Bota. The drinks were overpriced (I don't know that I ever bought a single drink there), it was always crazy crowded, and I inevitably saw students there every.single.time we went. (Luckily I was just an assistant, not a teacher, so it didn't really matter. This would be THE WORST in the States. I would die. And hide. And leave immediately. And never return.)
But it was THE BEST. There was a ground floor and a basement, and we were usually in the basement. We danced to music from pretty much everywhere, but a lot of Spanish music in particular, actually. Since Narbonne is so close to Spain, and there were lots of Spanish young people living in Narbonne at at the time due to the economic climate in Spain, Spanish culture was/is prevalent in this part of France.
We even took salsa lessons in the basement of Bota one night! Spoiler alert: I wasn't good.
Anyway, we had so many utterly ridiculous nights of dancing and singing and laughing in our one and only little boîte. Thank you, Bota. You did us good.
♥ Le Stade: This was the stadium for the RCNM (Racing Club Narbonne Méditerranée), Narbonne's rugby team. That's right. Though I expected to attend soccer games during my year in France, rugby was actually the most popular sport here. Our colors were black and orange, and one of the players was actually the English assistants' landlord's son-in-law. (This landlord also owned my laundromat, so I'd see this rugbyman in the laverie sometimes, fixing things. Also, I just checked the site and he still plays.)
I still don't fully understand rugby, but all of my rugby memories are happy ones. And they all take place in this stadium, as I had never watched rugby before this (and haven't since). Allez, allez! (I know that much, at least.)
Wallabeer: An Australian bar we went to only a few times, but it was important because that's where we met the first night we went out with all of the assistants in October, and it was where we went to start off our last big night together.
♥ Le Cinéma: There was a mainstream movie theater on the outskirts of town, but it was too long of a bus ride so we never made it. We did frequent this little movie theater which showed foreign or more critically acclaimed films. They rarely showed any American movies, but we did see Django Unchained. One of the movies I remember the most was Blancanieves, a black-and-white silent retelling of Snow White set in 1920s Andalusia (think bullfights and flamenco).
There's also a little restaurant next to Chez Bebelle, where we went with great frequency because it was cheap and there wasn't usually a line like Bebelle. We'd pick whatever meat we wanted from any of the butchers, purchase it, and go sit at one of the striped round tables in the middle of the market (you can see them in the above video). For a small fee, they'd cook it for you, served with fries and a little salad. You could get carafes de vin to share. I've never experienced anything like this in the States, but if we had it here, I'd definitely go. It was lovely. I miss this! I really have no idea what this restaurant was called. We just said "the one in the middle." On Thursdays, there was also a street market outside Les Halles. The first several pictures are the street market.
Le Côté Pub: This was a nice little place, again, for pizza, galettes, and salads. This whole area was under construction at the time, so it was a bit tricky to get around. (Actually, the ENTIRE canal area was under construction while we were there. Of course. Apparently it's really nice now. They finished summer/fall 2013... right after we had all gone. Parfait.)
Brioche du moulin: I never had any idea what this bakery's name was, we just called it la boulangerie jaune (the yellow bakery). We went there at the beginning, so we got kind of attached. It's right off the main square. It had the "home bread" sign I liked so much (poor translation, but cute).
King Kebab: Who doesn't love a good kebab?! Okay, maybe a vegetarian. But lamb meat from a spit on a delicious kebab with some sauce blanche is something I seriously wish I could get more easily here in Fort Worth, Texas. Could (usually) be depended on to be open on Sundays. Though sometimes, you might arrive expecting it open (and even facing the signage that it's open) only to find it closed up (in the style of those giant metal roll-down shades over the whole storefront). Well. Okay then.
S McDonald's, aka McDo: Okay. I don't actually care much about McDo, but I included it because 1) It was a last resort sometimes. I always felt like a ridiculous cliché showing up at McDo. However, sometimes I needed WiFi, y'all. Or just ANYTHING to eat on a Sunday when I had forgotten to shop. 2) Funnily enough, McDo is the ONLY place in France where I just can't go undetected as a foreigner. The story of why has to be told by video, and so I'll have to tell it another time.
♥ Carrefour: Carrefour was a little bit out of the way (best to get the bus, but it was still walkable-ish, if you had time), but it was our main source of, well, anything. Groceries, house goods, anything. Well, anything except any kind of medicine (including Tylenol), which you have to get at the pharmacy. It was like Target, only not as nice or as nicely advertised. The store brand of clothing was called "Tex," which I thought was funny. We all waited around for payday (all of us assistants were on the same salary and the same pay day schedule, which is to say we were all struggling), and when it came? Catch the bus to Carrefour. Make it rain.
Ma petite papeterie: I have no idea what this store was actually called, but it was just off the main square on the Via Domitia when it's footpath rather than a road. I send a lot of cards (I like to write, did you know?) and Carrefour didn't satisfy my needs. I found this little card shop and got to know the shopkeeper very well. His wife ran the little shop across the street. I remember that his son was in middle school and was a Mavs fan. He gave me free Narbonne/Languedoc souvenirs sometimes. If you got a card that year, it was from this little shop.
La Cave de l'Amphore: This wine cave had a BYO bottle wine service. We would often send Zack to the cave on his bike with empty 2-liter juice bottles to get wine. When I think of the cave, I think of all of us gallivanting and day drinking rosé for basically the entire month of April. It was a good month, April 2013.
♥ La Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur de Narbonne: Say that three times fast! Fun fact: Our cathedral is special because it's unfinished. Its construction was begun in 1272, but never completed due to both structural and financial factors. There was the whole Hundred Years War which kept taking the men, to boot. If it had been completed, it would have been larger than Notre Dame de Paris.
**This song was featured on Lost (Episode 1.12)... as well as lots of movies and shows.
***These photos are all from Google Earth.
****So secret, you're reading about it on this blog on the Internet.
*****Image created for the Blazon Project of the French Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons By User:SanchoPanzaXXI