IMG_0296Happily, no helicopters were needed for our renovations. But such are the challenges of maintaining ancient buildings that lie within walled cities whose streets were laid out a millennium before cars.

A few weeks ago, I was walking around la Cité and heard an incredible racket. With the narrow streets, the sound bounced around such that I wasn’t sure at first what it was or where it was coming from. Then I realized it was a helicopter and got a little worried about why it was so close to la Cité. Carcassonne is home to the Third Regiment of Parachutists of the Marine Infantry (RPIMa), so planes and helicopters are not unknown in skies around here. And when wildfires break out, we get some very low-flying planes that drop water.

Traffic blocked, too. Not that there was any traffic. The beams were picked up from a parking lot and carried inside the walls, like a stork with a newborn.

Outside la Cité’s walls I understood–the helicopter was making a special delivery of long beams for a renovation project. Such beams would have been too long to thread through the winding paths, not at all straight, of la Cité. Having gulped at the cost of delivery of renovation materials by truck (during certain times on certain days!), I imagined many zeroes popping up behind some number, like in a cartoon. Nothing is easy or cheap with old buildings.

Main drag of la cite empty
The main street of la Cité on a busy winter morning.
Difficult access was intentional. Today’s weather–clear blue skies and flirting with 60 degrees–is nothing like this moody photo.

It made me reflect again on what we went through, putting in new wiring and plumbing in apartments built for neither.

Toilette 1
WC 2
YIKES! Not to code!!!
wiring mess
All new wiring, heading toward the new fusebox.
Making a path for the new wiring through 2-foot-thick stone walls. 
New wiring in salon
Wiring in place.
Unexpected surprises: In some places, the walls were stuffed with straw and lime paste. Good insulation.
Cuisine sol 2
Not in good shape. Luckily, they covered a treasure!
We restored the original tomette tiles throughout the apartments.
Kitchen hotte
It served its purpose, but as the architect says, “it has no historical value”

You can see the saga of our renovations under the heading Our Vacation Apartments. We hope you get to visit in person, too!


30 thoughts on “Renovation Nightmares

        1. I am thrilled to see when other people pull off something really well (like you!) but I am disgusted when I see some apartments I had visited when they were for sale and now they are on AirBnB with PVC windows installed (not allowed, but people do it anyway–they just don’t get permits) or cheap floating parquet or dropped ceilings (also not allowed). And then I’m mad.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. Indeed, although I’m always interested how matter of factly some of that stuff goes. Out of interest, years ago, we checked out what might happen if we needed to replace the beams in our 13C barn, which are *huge* in the general scheme of things, but thankfully sound. Anyway, nobody seemed phased by the possibility of doing it — but we have street and courtyard access. The local sawmill could have provided us with suitable new beams too, for a few thousand euros each (I can’t remember exactly how much, but I do remember being pleasantly surprised that they were affordable).

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m fascinated! We are homebuilders here in New England – over 400 homes under our belt – I cannot imagine what it must be like working within those ancient walls, narrow streets – old, old buildings – what an absolutely treasure, and I suppose a real pain in the neck when trying to renovate. I bet you find some real gems too. New England has many old homes, 1600’s 1700’s, ours is an 1835 – put that doesn’t compare to your ancient cities…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are some places that are a bit older but they’re not great living spaces–low ceilings, small rooms, small windows. After the Renaissance, the architecture got a lot better.


  2. When I lived in Roquebrun (Herault) the historic 9th century tower right above my house was repaired, as it was losing rather large blocks of stone. There is no road to it. All of the materials, including replacement stones for those irretrievably lost, were brought in by helicopter, and I had a front row seat. Scaffolding had to be erected, and a team of mountain climbers was hired to scale the tower and place the attachment points for the scaffold. Those guys were amazing. Your renovation turned out more than well, what a jewel you uncovered!
    bonnie in provence

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. I once climbed Mount Kenya, and the huts just below the peak were built with cement hauled up on porters’ backs–they could climb the mountain, usually at least a 2-day trek, in a few hours. Amazing. Helicopters would have been helpful there.


  3. Of course, it’s ALWAYS cheaper to tear down something old and build brand new, especially on the edge of town. Builders and planners here in the US always seem to announce this as if they’ve just made some great new discovery…and our architectural heritage goes down the drain. Our city hall is in a re-purposed 1920’s hotel- a wonderful thing. But now we hear complaints about “the cost of maintenance are so high” – undoubtedly compared to some sheet-metal monstrosity in an office park. And our 1967 high school building is declared so outdated, a new one must be built- on the edge of town, with no sidewalks…Love your posts by and about people who understand the value of historic buildings, and are lucky enough to live in a place where the culture does too! Ok, rant over…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nothing is better than an old classroom, with creaky floorboards and high ceilings!
      Bad architecture happens here, too. Our village is getting a new town hall. Completely stupid. The school is spread over three buildings six blocks apart. One of the buildings also houses the town hall. The meeting room (also used for weddings) is upstairs. Not in line with handicap accessibility. I am not alone in thinking they should have built a new school with all the classrooms and cafeteria and gym in one building, and converted one of the old classrooms at the street level into a meeting room. The new building is hideous.


      1. I hate to say it but in my experience all of the new buildings in France are hideous. Take, for example, the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris. At the edge, requiring a long open steel stairway (think fear of heights) to access it, or the elevators which are often not working. The books are stored away so that you have to request a specific book and wait for it, no access to the “stacks”. Miles between toilets. All glass so that it is either too hot or too cold. Shockingly awful, impractical and uninviting.
        bonnie in provence

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I can think of some exceptions. I really like Jean Nouvel’s Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. The Pompidou Center is unusual but fun and works. Renzo Piano’s pyramid at the Louvre is so spare and transparent, not to detract from the palace. There’s an amazing school planned (Lycée Marcel Sembat) that would group some older buildings under a grassy roof that would blend into an adjacent park. Zaha Hadid did a cool building, Pierres Vives, in Montpellier. The departmental archives in Carcassonne is modern and just gorgeous.


          1. OK then we can agree to disagree! The Pompidou has been falling apart since it was built, and scraped one of the most historic neighborhoods in Paris, Beaubourg. Been there, don’t like it at all. Ditto the Pyramid, for me it is a wart on the face of the Louvre, totally offensive. For me, it detracts from the history of Paris by placing a new construction in front of an older one. I don’t know the others, and I am not saying that a new construction can’t complement an old one, but in most cases they are simply an architect’s ego superimposed on the past. And I don’t much like it ….
            bonnie in provence
            Long time historic preservation advocate in California

            Liked by 1 person

    2. MK, the rant is never over. I’m a transplanted San Diegan who was very active in historic preservation (preservationist of the year at one time) and you are so right about the importance of preserving our architectural heritage. History in the US is so much shorter than in Europe! I had a house built in 1906 which I had historically designated, which is not a very old house here! History is where you find it. Building on the edge of town is so over ….
      bonnie in provence

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my, I can’t even imagine how expensive a delivery by helicopter would be! I suppose it’s all for a good cause and probably for the next several hundreds of years, the new beams are going to serve their purpose. But it does put the renovation process into perspective. I’ve always thought that you did a magnificent job when renovating your 2 properties. You must feel a great sense of accomplishment, although I bet it took a lot of time, energy, money and sleepless nights in the process.

    Liked by 1 person

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