Category Archives: France

BRITTANY: Part VI

ÎLE DE GROIX

Thursday-Sunday, June 27-30, 2019

One night was all we required to get a feel for Concarneau, so the next day we hoisted our anchor and headed out to sea. But not too far for our destination only 25 miles away. Soon we landed on one of Britany’s gems:  Île de Groix.

The island has a small marina and some mooring buoys where you tie both your bow and stern. People told us it can get pretty crowded, especially on the weekend, which hastened our decision to get there Thursday. And, we were glad we did for by the weekend every boat was rafting to another one creating a web of lines.

But, we were lucky because we met Camille, Pierre, and Thomas who had sailed here from L’Orient. The boat belonged to Cami and Pierre who lived aboard while their friend Thomas was taking a break from his cycling vacation (he’d been up in Scotland) to join them for the weekend.

We wish we had had more time to spend with them but at least we shared a table watching the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup game and saw them briefly during our forays around the island.

And, they generously gave us a traditional cake from Brittany, which we devoured… :)

We rented bikes (we’re becoming hooked on electric bikes…), which gave us the opportunity to toodle around the entire island. And, where we engaged in a staring contest with the horse seen at the beginning this post. We also took our first dips of the season

on one of the pristine beaches dotting the shoreline.

This island served as the second time we came into contact with the Douanes (French Customs). Luckily it’s only because they were on a boat rafted to us. I engaged one of the officers quickly, letting him know we were ‘legal’ with our temporary residency in the Netherlands. He was fine; however, a sterner looking fellow asked him a question which included ‘Ou?’, which I knew as ‘where?’.

The nicer officer with whom I was conversing said, ‘It’s not you, it’s the boat. He wants to know where you sailed from.’ I told him we had stopped in the Channel Islands, technically not in the EU part of the VAT agreement (which has since come into question), and we had temporarity imported JUANONA into the Netherlands. He smiled and said, you’re fine as we have you in the system from when you were boarded earlier this summer.’

In spite of our legal status both with regards to Schengen and the EU VAT, I never quite feel at ease in the company of customs. More often than not one’s compliance appears to depend on how the Custom Officers interprets their understanding of the rules and regulations. And, in the fine print of the EU one, each country can decide whether and how much VAT can/will be charged on the boat.

It was nice speaking with the first guy, but also nice to wave good-bye…

 

ÎLE d-HOUAT

Sunday-Monday, June 30-July 1, 2019

When Sunday came we provisioned at the grocery store, then quickly decided to leave when several of the rafted boats departed and we spotted an opening to make an easy exit from the harbor.

We rendez-vous’d with another American boat whom we had met via an email introduction via some other cruising friends.  They had  suggested meeting in a large bay off this island.

Jayne, another cruising friend, mentioned they had stopped here several years ago and saw an amazing display of the phosphorescence, a feature this small island is known for. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it but did enjoy a lovely walk the next day

after a fun dinner followed by a sleep amidst swells rocking JUANONA.

We only had a short time to share as we were heading in opposite directions and needed to take adavantage of the winds. That’s the problem with cruising:  you’re always saying good-bye.

 

COASTAL BRITTANY

Monday-Sunday, July 1-7, 2019

QUIBERON

We only had another short sail to reach our next port, this time a marina (Port Haliguen) outside the town of Quiberon.

We’ve been extremely fortunate being able to live ‘on the water’ because meteorologists had forecast a heat wave blanketing Europe. Being on the coast certainly helped mediate the temperatures; and, even though we couldn’t swing with the wind since we were in a berth, the lower temps of the water kept our hull (and us) relatively cool.

PONT-AVEN

Here we took advantage of our proximity to several sites by planning several day trips with a rental car. A must-see for me was Pont-Aven, a lovely town, one both Max and I just relaxed into (once we fereted out a parking space amidst all the other tourists’ vehicles).

While walking along the riverside we noted how nonchalant some of these boats sat at low tide,

including one whose prop appeared immersed in the muddy bottom goo, which perplexed the captain mightily.

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This town is where Paul Gauguin started an informal art colony in 1886 by encouraging fellow French painters to come here. However, it had gained popularity 30 years earlier first with American artists, followed by British, Scandinavians, Dutch and Irish.

For those who aren’t interested in history, please skip. For those who are, I’m just doing a brief stroll through the painters’ time in this village, which could charm the most cynical of tourists.

A museum on the main square introduced us to one of the key reasons why artists favored this town: Julia Guillou (1848-1927).She managed to buy the hotel (Hôtel des Voyageurs) where she had worked, soon earning the reputation as the ‘bonne hôstesse’. The museum occupies the annexe she later added to her hotel.

Over the years as owner of this hotel she offered rooms to painters, primarily academic ones, while ensuring a healthy income came from developing her hospitality business. Doesn’t she sound like someone you’d love to meet? She does to me. And, frankly, I have a friend who immediately comes to mind when thinking of Julia. Only she’d be right in there with the artists!

Painters gathered here drawn by Gauguin, including CamillePissaro (1830-1903), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Emile Bernard (1868-1941) and many I didn’t know:  Armand Séguin; Émile Schuffenecker, Paul Sérusier, Charles Laval, Louis Anquetin,Maxime Maufra, Henry Moret, Ferdinand Loyen du Puigaudeau to name a few. Being senior to the majority of the other French painters, Gauguin became the de facto leader.

During this time several different painting styles arose, and I’ll use Wikipedia.org’s definitiions versus trying to explain them myself:  synthetism (‘emphasized two-dimentional flat patterns’); and, cloisonnism (‘bold and flat forms separated by dark contours’).

With lighter easels and paints available in tubes, artists found it easier to paint on site; and, Brittany with its dramatic coastline and variable maritime light served as the perfect ‘model’ for painters eager to explore new techniques.

The exhibit and excellent audio tour filled us full of the various storylines of the artists and their time spent here. So much so, I stopped trying to make sense of who did what when and simply just enjoyed their work. Well, a lot of it.

The Pont-Aven Group continued to inspire artists beyond Gaugin’s time, and several painters’ later work–

Moret’s (156-1913) ‘Goulphar, Belle-Île’ 1895

Maufra’s (1861-1918) ‘Rochers au soleil couchant; L’Anse du port Lonnec’ 1899

and, Puigaudeau’s (1865-1930) ‘Batz-sur-mer au clair de lune’

–drew my eyes. As did, Moret’s ‘Ramasseuses de goémon’ pastel.

What I loved were the odd non-art details that cropped up every now and then. For example, in 1894 Gauguin ended up with a broken ankle thanks to a fight with some fishermen in Concarneau (the beach resort town off of which we had anchored a week earlier).

Looking at this photo from 1886 in Pont-Aven you can imagine the bohemian spirit zinging around those streets.

Gauguin sits in the middle holding a dog while Puigaudeau stands third from the right wearing, appropriately, a Breton shirt :)

Gauguin seemed a restless soul, coming and going to and from Pont-Aven four times over eight years, with 1894 being his last. That year he returned in April with his young mistress Annah, a Javanese woman he’d met in Tahiti, but he didn’t stay long. He left Pont-Aven eventually landing in Marseilles and leaving again for Tahiti in 1895. He died eight years later in the Marquesas.

Many of these artists owed their growing fame to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922).

He first began in 1870-71 with paintings by Monet and then Pissarro and featured the Impressionists’ second showing in his Paris gallery in 1876. Eleven years later he opened up a gallery in New York City, and in 1905 exhibited their work in London.

My goddaugther Maggie reminded me of an excellent book on some of these artists:  THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS by Sue Roe. I had started it on Kindle awhile ago but decided on a paper copy for easier Index referencing. Anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes view of this group would enjoy it.

Although many are devotees of Gauguin, including Pierre Girded (1875-1948)I who painted his idol in a composition mimicking the Last Supper…

… I’m not a fan of Gauguin’s work. However I do appreciate his influence on others. After the fact, the artists who painted here became known as the Pont-Aven School. However, as the museum clearly states: the group of artists is ‘not one of a master surrounded by his students, but instead a sharing of personal and innovative ideas and aesthetics, at the margins of official instruction… According to Gauguin, the painter thus acquired “the right to dare all”. And, ‘dare all’ they did.

A perfect summation of our touring of this picturesque town. With one last look at the high tide having freed the earlier-mentioned sailboat’s propeller and keel, we drove back towards the sea and JUANONA.

CARNAC

The next day our land excursion found us retracing part of our route back to Carnac. We had driven by here on our return from Pont-Aven, and it was then that both of us exclaimed ‘holy cow!’ as we came to the top of a rise.

The reason for our shared shout came from seeing a huge field of megaliths, prehistoric standing stones, quietly laid out in front of us.

We had heard how this area of Brittany featured many prehistoric sites, and we had seen some on our bike ride around Camaret-sur-mer further north. But, these 5,000-6,000 year-old stones appearing in row after row in undulating fields for almost four miles is awesome. This is the only place where so many of these stones appear in one location.

Called the Carnac Alightments, a Neolithic site located just outside La Trinité-sur-la-mer, they stand as sentries; yet, no one knows why, only that they obviously took a lot of work to place them. Not a job I’d enjoy.

The Megaliths Visitor Center provided a good explanation of the site’s main champion, Zacharie Le Rouzic (1864-1939),

as well as other prehistoric areas located in Armorica, this region of Brittany. His mentor was the scottish archaelogist James Miln, but Le Rouzic became enamored with this site in the 1880s when the Carnac Museum opened. He began taking photographs, selling them in the museum. Eventually this led to a dual passion of photography and archaeolgy.

A short video explained the ‘how’ of installing such stones

and signage gave us the background on Le Rouzic. And, one of the staff told us we could simply take a picture of the large map on display

and view the stones on our own without taking a guided tour. (The tour allows you to walk amidst the stones; and, in case anyone can come between the months of October and March, you’d be able to walk along the rows without a guide.)

So, that’s what we did, stopping at all the designated viewpoints to gaze at these solemn rocks…

and stooping to enter one of the dolmens…

where I snapped a shot of Max, one that I would NEVER let him post of me in the same position.

But, it bugs the hell out of me that we don’t know the purpose. This is another reason why time travel would be a fantastic way to experience history. Maybe in the future.

L’ORIENT

Our final day of road travel we focused on two things:  seeing France’s homage to a stellar sailor, Éric Tabarly; and, trying to find a larger battery for our electric outboard.

We accomplished both :)

Tabarly (1931-98) became an avid sailor starting with sailing as a baby aboard his father’s boat, PEN DUICK, and later joining the French Navy. He designed PEN DUICK II, his second racing boat, and began building a winning resumé by placing first in the 1964 single-handed, transatlantic race from Plymouth, England to Newport, Rhode Island.

His racing boats, all named PEN DUICK, evolved over the years adding to his victories and growing reputation both in France and around the world (his countrymen and women thought so highly of him that shipyard workers in 1968 stopped striking so they could complete number IV in time for a race). Max actually recognized one of these iterations, PEN DUICK III, docked at the same Guernsey marina as us back in May.

A relatively small display covered his life, including listing his racing achievements from 1964 to winning the notorious, annual Fastnet Race in 1997.  But, it was only in reading later online that I learned he tragically drowned in the Irish Sea while sailing to Scotland June 1998. He was sailing on the original PEN DUICK, the one on which he learned to sail as a boy.

Racing these boats is pretty dangerous as this video captures a scene of a guy just missing being left behind in the sea…

and of another French solo sailor crashing.

When inside this museum it became clear the emphasis was on exposing visitors to the physics, mechanics and joys of sailing. Videos explained the principles of using the wind to move a boat through water. Another area includes many demos–including an indoor pool equipped with toyboats–

tested one’s marine skills.

In addition to entertaining you, it also showed that what may look simple, isn’t necessarily so. Both Max and I said what a perfect place to bring anyone interested in sailing, especially those attending a sailing school.

After an hour of perusing the exhibits and trying out our own maritime agility, we exited to look at the real thing floating in the marina. As it happened, these docks served as a base for some of the racing boats and teams we saw during the Urgo Le Figaro in Roscoff.

And, the electric outboard battery? After searching several chandleries, one said they didn’t have one and contacted the distributor who couldn’t ship one to us in time. Then he called another store and arranged for us to pick up the battery that had been used as a display (!). This type of help typifies the people we’ve experienced during our time in Brittany.

La Trinité-sur-mer

We visited one more town just up the river from our marina in Quiberon. La Trinité-sur-mer had been an option for a marina stay as we had heard it had a lovely old town and nice waterfront filled with cafes; but, it also had tidal concerns and tight berths. (Although, it would have been pretty cool to be in  Éric Tabarly’s homeport.)

It also was the home of several of the huge catamarans. We spotted one when we were sailing from Île de Groix to Quiberon.

After a brief walk-around we both agreed where we landed (Port Haliguen) served our purpose fine.

Yet, this town did offer a celebration that night so we opted to return. We walked along one of the cobblestone streets

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as some traditional Breton music drew us towards the town square.

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There a group of locals were demonstrating some of the centuries-old dances composed of one large group versus individual partners.

An older couple beckoned us in, so we entered the ring and began our clumsy attempts at replicating their paces. Being only a few of the foreigners exerting rhythm often misplaced, we, no doubt, drew quite a few stares. Yet, our beckoners gamely tried to instruct us in the correct maneuvers as we moved with the clockwise circling.

After quite a few mis-steps with the man on my right continuing to shout ‘left’ whenever Max stomped right, we thanked our gracious partners who looked a bit relieved we were leaving. Actually they appeared extremely relieved.

Before I close this long-winded post, I just want to share with you some of our companions during our last sails in Brittany. Truly one of the joys of being on the water…

[NOTE:  we RARELY venture out of the cockpit in the open sea without our harnesses, but we did this time based on the calm seas, water temperature and being extremely vigilant in crawling up to the bow.]

And, that’s the end of our stay in Brittany, a land full of treasures, ones we hope to revisit.

NEXT: crossing the Big Bad Bay of Biscay…

 

 

 

 

BRITTANY: Part V

After Roscoff we faced only two more stretches requiring careful timing of tides and currents to ensure a smooth passage through potentially dangerous choke points.

We waited for the right tide (not too extreme, so closer to Neaps than Springs) and current (not too strong so a low coefficient*).

* A tidal coefficient states the difference in height between consecutive high tides and low tides. The highest coefficient is 120, but we aimed for 70 and lower. In other words, we avoided extreme high and low tides.

We made our way first to L’Aber Wrac’h where we picked up a buoy for a quick overnight, and where a friendly group of seaweed gatherers welcomed us with a warm shout of ‘United States!’

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The next day we rounded the Northwest corner of France to Camaret-sur-mer, leaving the waters of the English Channel and entering the Atlantic Ocean coast of Brittany.

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Again, we picked up a buoy. We could have tried to squeeze onto a pontoon but people tend to raft there. It’s not that we mind rafting but, if you want to leave and your boat is on the inside, you have to wait for the other people to return to move theirs. There’s a trade-off because your shore access depends on a dinghy ride to/from; yet, the luxury of being able to swing with the breeze and the privacy factor offset that for us. And, not having to maneuver to dock is always a relief …

The harbor features two historic buildings which we walked around when going to/from our dinghy.

Chapelle Notre Dame de Rocamadour dedicated to the local sailors

and, Vauban Tower built in late 1600s and refortified during the French Revolution in the late 1700s.

Oddly one of the draws of this town is a row of derelict fishing boats from Caramet’s fishing heyday. These rusting relics pose for many visitors’ lens, which to me is: “why?” But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do…

What really attracted our attention is the peninsula, Point de Pen-Hir, which we saw entering the bay into Camaret

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on our way to the harbor.

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This headland offers spectacular ocean views, which we took advantage of using electric bikes (but I try not to use the boost often knowing leg exercise is exactly what I need living aboard…).

Interestingly, when I asked one of the managers if we should wear the yellow vests accompanying the bikes, he laughed and said you probably shouldn’t. Knowing many folk tend to use these when working on roads (they also come with your rental car in case you break down and end up on the side of the road), I wondered why we shouldn’t. Then, I remebered the Yellow Vest protests in France. Okay, I got it. We sure didn’t want to inflame any passionate anti-yellow vester.

Here, as in the Netherlands, drivers are extremely respectful of cyclists, which makes for more relaxed bike touring. Just wish this was the case at home.

We mounted our bikes and cycled out to the point where the Monument to the Bretons of Free France beckons. This war memorial was constructed 1949-51 and later dedicated by General Charles de Gaulle 1960. The solitary statue stands magnificently at the end of a wide path.

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In spite of the busloads of tourists (we’ve noticed that holidays are slowly starting here) we had time to ourselves here.

And, after being in Brittany since May 30, I noticed a familiar shirt:

We stopped at another WWII site where Germans built a bunker on the ruins of another 17th century Vauban fortress. A row of anchors honoring the 45,000 sailors on merchant naval ships lines the path to the Museum of the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-45).

It wasn’t open but we were able to explore the ruins, part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall defense.

Since the majority of the Free French Naval forces came from Brittany (they were the first to join the French resistance), these two memorials are a fitting tribute to them, as well as to all the sailors who lost their lives during the war.

We had read about some menhirs (Breton’s prehistoric standing stones), which we found appearing in a rather unkempt field next to a school. A description of the stones states that a local historian believed the alignment of these menhirs was connected to the Pleiades constellation. Since the sign was in French that was our best guess of a translation.

I never expected such gorgeous sandy beaches, but it seems you cannot not spot one in Brittany,

making perfect picnic spots.

During our ride, we came upon an informative sign indicating an ochre cliff. The cliff shows the strata of cold and temperate climates during the Quaternary period, while the beach has the distinction of being home to the first inhabitants of the Crozon peninsula.

After a lovely day of cycling we dinghied back to JUANONA. Similar to the other ports we’ve visited, we noticed a sailing school for youngsters.

With so many opportunites to learn how to sail, it’s no wonder the French become such champion sailors. One particular Frenchman contributed to the country’s passion for this watersport, which I’ll note later in another post.

We left early the next morning for a favorable tide & current passage through our last major ‘concern’:  Pointe du Raz. Thankfully, with calm seas and light wind it became a non-event and we whizzed through with 3 or 4 knots of favorable current.

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We picked up a mooring in the town of Bénodet located at the mouth of L’Odet River. Of all the harbors we had visited, this town felt like a beach resort, probably due to the lack of middle age buildings as well as seeing paddle boaders, wind surfers, and sun-tanners flocking to the town’s beach (of which I neglected to snap a shot). And, of course, a slew of sailboats. Yet, just across the river stood the picturesque Sainte-Marine easily accessed by a peasant walk from our marina across a large bridge.

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We strolled through the town,

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picnicked on some rocks,

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and posed in a lobster’s rusty claws.

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We spent four nights on our mooring and used one of our days to revisit  Quimper to see the Musée de Beaux-Arts. We had missed this on our earlier tour of the city and now wanted to see its specail exhibit “The last of the Impressionists – the Intimists”.  While waiting at the bus stop we had the good fortune to meet another hr cruiser, Lesley (and later her husband Andy). We shared the same destination, which gave us an opportunity to hear their cruising plans.

Both are avid climbers living in the center of Glasgow. And, to hear their description of their fellow inhabitants in the condo building had me laughing and thinking what a marvelous BBC series this would make. Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to overlap while sailing, but it would have been lovely to do so.

But, back to the museum (which some will want to skip to the next non-cultural event :)…  I found the exhibit a bit confusing but still enjoyed the ambiance of an art museum.

The exhibit featured work by some artists I knew and many I didn’t, with the majority being French. Their art grew out of the earlier Impressionists (a label derived from Claude Monet’s 1872 “Impression: Sunrise”) who painted based on their own emotional perception of the subject matter vs. pursuing a realistic depiction.

The art we saw reflected this later group, The New Society. Below is just a handful of their work. I can’t explain why these particular pieces captured my attention more than others, but they did. Whatever the reason, I found myself mesmerized by the artist’s work.

Perhaps the vast horizon drew me…

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Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Labastide-du-Vert, le matin’

the perceived movement of a graceful arm…

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Henry Caro-Delvaille (1876-1928) ‘Femme se coiffant’

a reflection of a familial moment in time…

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Henri-Paul Royer (1869-1938) ‘L’Ex-voto’

the enchantment of a flower sash…

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Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Belle Jeune Fille Marchant à Travers Les Champs’

or the intimate peek of an artist’s wife

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Antonio de La Gandara (1863-1917) ‘Madame de La Gandara en profil droit’

i could go on, but I won’t :)

They had split the temporary exhibit between two museums, this one and the Musée Breton (which we had toured on a previous trip here). The latter was closed so we only saw half. We would have liked to have seen the full exhibit, but the Musée of Beaux Artes offered a vareity of works as part of their permanent collection so it’s not as if we weren’t overloaded with just trolling the halls here.

Back in Bénodet we decided to motor up river a bit for a night or two on anchor.

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Crossing under the bridge we had walked over when visiting Saint Marine,

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we went a short distance, dropped the hook, and spent the next day lazily motir-drifting with the current up towards Quimper, then following it back down to JUANONA when the tide turned.

We decided to check out a little town located on the eastern shore about 3km inland. Not seeing an easy place to land we noticed a guy unloading his dinghy on what looked like a public ramp. And that’s how we met a delightful fellow named Jean. We ended up stopping at his boat on the way to JUANONA asking if he’d like to join us for a libation. He said he would have loved to but had a lot of work to do prepping his boat for a cruise in a few days.

He retired a few years ago and he and his wife spend three months in a camper van during the winter, and three months on the boat in the summer. They had just returned from their camping trip, having driven to the Black Sea and back (we noted that Albania was one of their favorite stops due to the lovely people). The traveling obviously agreed with him for he was quite a jolly guy!

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After two quiet nights at anchor we left for Concarneau a few miles miles further east. We anchored in the Baie de la Forêt and dinghied into another lovely beach and another summery resort town.

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Here you truly felt summer had arrived, because it was hot. We weren’t alone as this was during the first of most likely multiple stretches of extreme heat throughout Europe, the type of heat when you hungrily seek the shaded side of a street or step into air-conditioned stores for a respite. This weather makes us appreciate our life on water vs land.

We walked to the old town ringed by a 14th-century fortress and later renovated by Vauban, who appears to have had his fingers in most of France’s defense construction. If you see a star-shaped pile of rocks, you’re probably looking at one of his masterpieces.

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Nowadays the old town serves as a tourist haven filled with souvenir shops, cafes and a Musée de la Pêche covering the city’s history in sardine fishing. We did visit the museum only to find it dusty, dated, and French-only signage (although we did have an abbreviated hand-out in English). But, what really made the visit unappealing was the dead air, i.e., no fans and certainly no A/C. By the time I had wandered through one of the rooms, the hand-out became a limp fan  attached to my frantically waving appendage in the hopes of staving off the trickling feeling of sweat running down my back.

Yet, we managed to make the most of it…

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What I found more interesting was reading in our LONELY PLANET guide book that this city serves as a landing spot for almost 200,000 tons of tuna caught in the Indian Ocean off the African coast. Now that’s a lot of Charlie the Tuna.

One night was all we required to get a feel for Concarneau, so the next day we hoisted our anchor and headed out to sea. But not too far…

Next:  A fantastic weekend on another Brittany gem….

 

BRITTANY: Part IV

With Wifi pretty iffy and cell difficult to use at times, I’ll try to keep up with posting but may often be a wee bit behind… this one being a perfect example of such!

ROAD TRIPPING FROM ROSCOFF…

Sunday-Tuesday, June 9-18, 2019

Reading and hearing about Quimper, Finistère’s capital, we knew it was another not-to-be-missed, charming Breton town. And, knowing we couldn’t reach it easily by sailing up the L’Odet River (a future stop further south), we took a bus to Morlaix and rented a car for our journey south.

Yet, before we left we performed our now in-grained exercise of inquiring of the nearest Tourist Office, “What do you think we should see?”

Lo and behold we discovered a flock of religious sites famous in this area:  Les Enclos Paroissiaux (Parish Closes).

Defined by a grouping of five structures–church, churchyard (once the cemetary), ossaury-chapel (bone depository when the graveyard became too crowded), calvary (not a horseback troop but a cross watching over the dead), and triumphal arch – all enclosed by a wall – Finistère featured over 20 of these Closes.

Thanks to the demand for leather, hemp and linen/canvas Bretons grew wealthy during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. And, what better way to spend your money than trying to one-up your neighboring village by building the most impressive religious site? Oh, and to give thanks to your Catholic god for your prosperity.

With limited time we managed to do stop-and-go’s at five of the most famous ones.

And, when I say stop-and-go’s, I truly mean running in/peering around/running out. Our visits of each site must have broken the record for the ‘seen-that-been-there-done-that’ touring. Which is why the only way I can recall which is which comes from checking each photo’s GPS location.

So, a quick litany of our Parish Close Sites follows below, beginning with our first:  Saint-Thégonnec.

The church glittered and preened with the usual gold-toned altars and pulpits boasting over-the-top decor.

Among all the pomp one piece of furniture stood out due to its simplicty:  the Archives Cabinet. To unlock it required the presence of three keys with the priest, the local lord, and the churchwarden each holding one.

Back outside we circled the calvary. As our first exposure to one we were a bit stunned to see the numerous, in some instances cartoonish, figures decorating a multi-sided cross.

However, use of visual storylines made sense considering the lack of literacy during this time. (FYI, with regards to all of the tongues sticking out, I read that it’s a part of the body symbolizing evil in man.)

Guimiliau Parish Close was one of the more beautiful ones, most likely due to its smaller setting and, thus, more intimate feel.

Drawn to its more manageable size we spent the most time here inspecting the elaborate carvings found throughout the interior:

In the churchyard its ornate cavalry beckons you with over 200 statues

and a platform allowing a priest to instruct parishoners on the story of Christ.

Driving into a rougher terrain, we noticed the churches became a bit sterner in appearance. One being the Plounéour-Ménez Close.

Amidst the medieval decor a banner introduced a modern and sobering touch. Later I read the subject was a Polish friar arrested and sent to Auschwitz. After someone escaped from Kolbe’s barracks the Nazis selected ten prisoners to be placed in a chamber and slowly starved to death. Kolbe volunteered to replace one of the chosen men. He ended up being executed after two weeks as one of the four men still alive. He was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The man who was replaced survived the war and spent his life touring the world and speaking about Kolbe. He died in 1995.

Commana’s Parish Close appeared to be the ‘roughest’ of the four we’d seen this morning, yet its wooden reredos (ornamental screens placed behind altars) take the prize as Brittany’s most glorious according to a brochure. A placard in the churchyard attributes the ‘technical perfection’ and the ‘exurerance’ of these carvings to the naval sculptors from Brest (when they weren’t building boats).

By now we had visited four of these religious sites in less than three hours, including driving time of an hour. A graduate degree in religious architecture and art would have increased my interest tenfold. Either that or a guide who could explain it all.

Continuing on we began to climb to a bit higher elevation with sweeping views on either side. Atop one hill we noticed a chapel and decided to check it out. Turned out to be perched on one of the four highest peaks in the area:  Mont Saint-Michel de Brasparts (1,253 ft).

At first glance the small chapel appears lonely, but determined to stand its ground. And, when we stepped through the small doorway we saw colorful and disparate offerings giving thanks on a wide range of issues. I love the fact the location served as a site for worshipping the Celtic sun god :)

We stopped at one more Parish Close (couldn’t resist), Plebyn, which was undergoing repairs but allowed us a peek of the unusual three-bell tower

and a much simpler and easier to ‘read’ calvary.

By early afternoon we arrived in Quimper and proceeded to yet another church. Begun in the 12th century the Cathedrale St-Corentin stands in the center of town on a lovely square ringed by cafes and begging for lively fairs.

Its dominance, though, diminishes a bit when you enter. Looking straight down the nave to the chancel you notice a slight skewing to the left. This came from a decision in the 19th century to add the twin towers without compromising the 13th-century sanctuary.

They later said it represented the tilt of Jesus’ head on the cross. Nice try.

What this ‘head tilt’ did, though, was bother Max who kept wondering why they screwed up the comforting symmetry of a straight shot to the altar…

Next door we visited the Breton Museum located in the former Bishop’s Palace (built by the Rohans in 1508, the same family whose castle we toured on another road trip). We saw an excellent, temporary exhibit on the Gallo-Roman period following Caesar’s 56 B.C.E. conquering of the Veneti, one of the province’s five Gallic tribes. Armorica became Roman. One of the tribes, the Osismii (meaning ‘the furthest’ in Celtic, probably due to the western-most point of Gaul)  occupied what is now considered Finistère, one of Brittany’s four departments (counties).

The Romanizing of the former Gallic culture was evident in finds such as this Iron Age stele rechiseled to show Roman gods. Although, I doubt this stamped out worshipping of Celtic gods entirely…

These Iron Age steles were particular to western Armorica along with underground galleries close to settlements.

Going back even further to the Bronze Age, the huge supply of tin led to a huge production of goods.

Surprisingly, this mound of pristine axe heads was used for exchange and exporting, not for slicing and dicing.

After perusing early history we climbed stairs to the permanent exhibits, which seemed quite small and brief. On display were statues of several of Breton’s beloved saints:

Sainte-Anne  (Virgin Mary’s mom and Jesus’ grandmother) with two pilgrimages:  Sainte-Anne d’Auray (in Morbihan region) and Sainte-Anne-La-Palud (in Finistère region)

and Saint James (bro of John the Apostle) whose tomb at Saint-Jacques de Compostela in Spain is the second most important pilgrimage after Rome (note the scallop shell on his pouch).

More recent artifacts included: some lovey sculpture by RenéeQuillivic (1879-1969),

the traditional hats depicting the various regions,

the traditional ceramics started in this area in the 1600s,

and, the Swiss-army knife of beds:  the lit-clos or box-bed where you can sleep, sit on the bench, and stash clothes or other stuff in the chest under the bench.

Interestingly, even in Brittany, a relatively small geographical area, the design of these beds varied:  this one had two sliding doors popular in Cornouaille, whereas in Finistère the lit-clos generally only had one, while in Morbihan the beds were usually curtained off and half-closed with no doors.

We didn’t make it to the Musée des Beaux-Arts located on the square opposite the cathedral but did wander around to soak up the medieval-ness and beauty of this city.

And, to take advantage of you-know-whats ?:)

We left the next day to return to Roscoff back on the north coast. The only site on our to-see list involved a monastary called Landévennec located on the River Aulne. Unbeknowst to us ‘the land of priests’ is one of Brittany’s taglines, or so says one of our books. And, it’s not often we can see a group of live monks.

Set in a lovely wooded area,

we entered a modern church

and enjoyed the 2pm NONE, one of the Horaires des Office. I quietly clicked on recording for a short stint to capture, to me, a special moment. Not because I’m religious (just ask Bobbie, Ellen and Carter about that) but because those sounds create a haunting atmosphere.

We also found ourselves on the continuation of the GR 34, the 133km trail outlining Brittany’s coast.

Ending up on this trail off and on the past three weeks I think it’s a wonderful alternative to getting your scallop shell at Spain’s Santiago de Campostella. Although, in speaking with Cami, a local Breton (who had just finished two months on the Norman Trail) this coastal path may not offer much in the terms of convenient lodging.

On the road again we ended up taking a side tour to Locronan. The Grande Troménie (a 12-km trotting around of religious banners following in the footsteps of the 6th-century founder of the town, Saint Ronan) occurs every six years in early July, 2019 being the sixth year. Although we’d miss it, photos captured previous ones as costumed Bretons exited the church to begin their march.

With a history tied to canvas (supposedly even the Vikings shopped here for their sails) the town grew into a lovely medieval one. And, it’s well worth a stop no matter how brief.

With that, we concluded our road trip in this part of Brittany and traded our wheels for sails.

But, not before one more photo from Roscoff. Now, that’s a head tilt… :)

 

 

BRITTANY: Part III

ROSCOFF and ÎLE DE BATZ

Sunday-Tuesday, June 9-18, 2019

After Lézardrieux we continued our trek westward, timing our departure so we would have a favorable current en route, and slack water when arriving at the next anchorage since it was up a  river.  We looked forward to getting to South Brittany which doesn’t have the high tides and strong currents that make sailing North Brittany’s waters so challenging, and limit the options when picking our next harbor and the time windows to get there.

Planning our route resulted in several hops, each one navigating one of the three sites of potentially unpleasant waters. We chose Roscoff, some 50 miles away as our next port of call.

Initially we hadn’t planned on stopping here due to some online reports from other cruisers. One that definitely gave us pause was this report (paraphrased):  We noticed how hard the tide was flooding through the marina. A boat approached and we watched him T-Bone our transom, causing substantial damage. The harbor staff told us, no wonder, we were tied up in the ‘danger zone’ at the extremities of the pontoons. Why didn’t they tell us that when we arrived?”

We also learned the new marina offset the docking difficulty by meeting incoming boats and literally pushing them into the berth (which we later witnessed).

However, we also read that approaching the harbor at slack tide (either at highest or lowest water mark) with little-to-no wind negated the need for the rubber-boat nudging; so, we coordinated our departure to coincide with favorable (low) winds and little-to-no current. And, all went well.

The marina still retains its newness with facilities being excellent (which means including a good laundry area :), friendly staff, and easy access to lovely town and old harbor.

The only oddity was grocery shopping required a bike ride (the marina rented bikes for boaters to reach it). Otherwise, whatever began as frozen or cold food would be quite warm by the time you deposited them on the boat. Yet, if you ended up there to provision, you may want to lug your laundry because we spotted an unusual (to us) service in the parking lot:

But, if all you desired was a taste of traditional Breton cuisine, shops sold tantalizing options: both savory and sweet items, including some from Algoplus, the local seaweed factory where we took a tour with Max getting a sniff of Nori…

IMG_E4980

all in French but, at least the tasting didn’t require language other than ‘yummy’ or ‘yucky’.

Like most cafes and restaurants over here, menus are conveniently mounted outisde, so you’re able to decide if you’d like to eat there before entering. Although, when checking out one establishment’s menu we noticed a strikingly unusual dish, which I’ll let you discover for yourself…

Additionally, walking just 15 mintues into town brought you to an array of local cafés offering crepes, galettes, or gaufres, the latter served at Le Bistrot a Gaufres, and where we ate three times (!) during our stay (we highly recommend the vegetable one :).

Or, you could order bread and pastries the night before at the marina office, retrieving it the next day beginning at 7:00a. We most definitely were in France :)

Unbeknowst to us we arrived as the marina was preparing for an annual event, one of the most prestigious sailing races in France:  La Solitaire; and, this year was the 50th anniversary, which raised the celebratory atmosphere a notch or two.

As the name implies it’s a single-handed race, meaning you’re on your own on the boat. Which may not sound too bad until you add in non-stop sailing for 72 hours or so  (implying 15-20 minute cat-naps for a maximum of two hours sleep every 24 hours) in the often atrocious tides, currents and weather of the English Channel. There are four separate races, each one more than 400 nautical miles. Oh, and no toilet aboard. Considered the world championship of solo around-the-buoys racing, and an unofficial qualifier for garnering sponsorships for the Vendee-Globe (the non-stop, around-the-world single-handed race), La Solitaire earns its reputation as an extremely tough race. It’s not surprising to notice the entrants’ ages appeared on the younger side…

Out of 47 entrants, only 7 are non-French. We were rooting for three of the non-French sailors (a Brit, an Irish and a Kiwi). The 2019 raced featured brand new high-tech Beneteaus equipped with foils (think ailerons projecting out from the side which help lift the boats to of the water to reduce drag). Unfortunately, this challenging race served as a shake-down for these new boats. We heard of several racers being penalized for replacing faulty screws with bolts for a plate covering the foils (which allowed water to leak, sometimes at a rapid rate, into the cabin). To us it seemed unfair to not allow this repair in order to make these boats safer for the racers.

We were in the pefect position to participate in the excitement of seeing these racers arrive after their second stage

with Max helping with lines as needed as boats began arriving en masse.

Wandering the pontoons we also got a glimpse of the preparation required for such a race, such as one sailor’s notes in his cockpit.

By the evening the boats added a festive look to the marina with the various sponsors’ logos in the rigging and on the hulls.

Thanks to hiring a ride on one of the many sight-seeing boats accompanying the fleet out of the harbor,

we watched as the fleet departed, jockeyed for the starting gun, and sailed off on their third leg.

But, the best aspect of the race for us was meeting Maria, Project and Communications Manager of Alan Roberts (www.AlanRobertsRacing.com), one of the few British sailors in the race.

We enjoyed her company immensely. We learned she, too, had raced, which is how she first met Alan. And, it was only asking further what she raced (dinghies) did we eventually get out of her she won the 2018 national championship with her crew Rob Henderson! I later read she also was, and I quote: ” the first female helm to win an adult fleet at a UK RS national championship since the RS classes were first established 25 years ago.”

If anyone needed a project manager who’s extremely capable, intelligent and personable, you’d be fortunate to have her on your team. Again, we only wish we had more time to spend with her.

The race was only one of the attractions here. Directly above the marina overlooking the la Baie of Morlaix we noticed a viewing platform. We discovered it belonged to the Jardin Exotique et Botanique de Roscoff, which opened in 1986.

So, off we treked the short walk where we peered at various trees, shrubs, and flowers

Most of the signage had English translations, albeit cumbersome ones, and I especially enjoyed reading about the various professtional and amateur botanists associated with certain flora. Some of these  were placed in a familiar historical context such as Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Daniel Solander (1733-82) who sailed with James Cook (1728-79) on his first voyage (1768-71).

Two others – Phillbert Commerson (1727-73) and Jeanne Barret (1740-1807) – caught my interest due to the unusual arrangement of their relationship. As the following so oddly explained…

Being the perfect day for outdoor sight-seeing, the view from the top was as promised: a perfect perch from which to gaze across the bay. If you could put the next three photos together, left to right, you’d have a look at the marina (in the middle photo JUANONA is almost at the end of the second pontoon from the left… not that you can see her!)

The village of Roscoff seems quite touristy but definitely provides visitors with examples of typical Breton architecture,

including its church, the Notre-Dame de Croas-Batz. Built over a 200-year period beginning in 1520 its belfry (double gallery with two tiers of bells) served as a prototype for many other churches we saw in Brittany.

One of Roscoff’s claims to fame involved a visit by a royal personage on August 13, 1548:  Mary Stuart, aka Mary Queen of Scots. She stopped here with her entourage from Dumbarton near Glasgow. At only 5-1/2 years of age she was aboard the Royal Galleon of the French king, slated for marriage. Supposedly she prayed at the chapel. Would have been fascinating to hear what she prayed for. I have a feeling it wasn’t for a couple of fresh croissants.

Standing at the quay in the old harbor you can see a lovely island called Île de Batz, one we decided to visit on a sunny day.

While waiting for the morning ferry we had a chance to see one of the fishing boats

unload its cargo of crabs. Crate after crate (10 days worth) came off the boat and, when weighed, loaded into a truck for their next destination. We wish we could have asked them where they’d been and more about the process but while they were friendly (agreed to a photo) they were busy.

By then the ferry was ready for boarding. After paying and settling into our seats we watched as other passengers (locals, tradesmen, and tourists), multiple sacks of mail, bread from one of Roscoff’s Boulangeries, and construction materials were laded. It reminded us of the daily runs of Casco Bay ferries and how they, too, served as life lines for everyday living on small islands.

Within 15 minutes we found ourselves walking amidst the ruins of a 6th-century monastery, subsequently replaced by later churches.

We continued our counter-clockwise circumnavigation on lanes and trails running parallel and perpindicular to potato fields. Stopping to watch one harvesting operation, the tractor driver waved us into the field where we could see up close how the machine pulled the potatoes from the earth after which two people (most likely his wife and one of their fathers) sorted the small from the large before dropping them into crates.

They agreed to a photo then proceeded with their work, and us with our leisure.

Within a mile we cycled into a broad expanse of green fields and blue sky with a stone house in the distance along with a bypassing helicopter.

Pedaling closer we saw a man working on a window frame.

Unsure if we were riding on a private lane, we tried to mime the question. When it looked as if he was coming down to see us, I thought he may not be happy of our interruption, especially if we missed any sign stipulating the path as ‘privé’.

Fortunately, that couldn’t have been further from his demeanor as he welcomed us and asked if we wanted to see the house (!). In the meantime his wife biked up, introductions were made, and off she went inside leaving us with our friendly host. From her patient manner I got the impression she’s use to his embracing strangers. If anyone remembers Ed Wynn in the first “Mary Poppins” movie, this Breton could be his brother.

In showing us around he told us it was his NYC cousin’s place, one that belonged in the family and used to be the island’s mill. Which made sense of the two towers standing at one end of the house, and the 360º panaramic view. He also mentioned it was available for rent.

If looking for a place to R&R away from it all (and with little distraction), this would be it.

Thanking him and waving goodbye we returned to our bikes and followed the larger trails that allowed bikes on them (although some requiring a bit of bushwhacking)

to scenic coves

and fields never far from the shoreline.

With a quick stop at the local store for some of those potatoes we saw earlier we completed our ride within two hours.

Catching the ferry back we were glad we took the early one over for there was quite a crowd waiting to board in Roscoff.

And, with the tide having gone out, we disembarked on the long ramp built to accommodate the 20 to 30 foot tides.

As an aside, it’s fascinating to see how local boats handle the outgoing tide. On Île de Batz, we scrutinized several small sailboats balanced on their keels and shored up by two poles on either side, ones they carry on deck.

In the old harbor we’d seen boats hanging on their lines as the water goes out. Check out the larger boat against the quay in the photo below,

and the ones pretty much sitting on the bottom of the harbor.

As we mounted our bikes, once again fishermen caught our eye.

Detangling their nets of various hues, they created a scene some of our artist friends would be happy to paint.

Before ever touching foot in this part of France, I associated blue-and-white striped cotton shirts as traditional French nautical apparel, and specifically, worn by those in Brittany.

Several companies made the most of this style as we saw in the ubiquitous, blue-and-white-striped-wearing tourists roaming the sights like we were. They are pretty cool, especially the ones of a heavier cotton weave, which last for a long time (as per my sister who snagged one when in Brittany).

However, I learned that this jersey or marinière became synonymous with not only sailors but also a unique Breton, the ‘Johnny’. This was due to a political cartoon created by a British artist in an illustration. And, I found that out was during our tour of La Maison de Johnnies.

This tiny but informative museum explained how Johnnies (called Petitjeans in Britain) crossed the English Channel in the early 19th century to sell their pink onions.

Henri Ollivier (1808-65) appears as the father of this trade when he sailed to England with his cago of onions. When reading about his successful green thumb* it’s not surprising to learn of his entrepreneurial spirit carrying him to Britain.

*In 1842 this enterprising Frenchman gained national recognition when his cauliflowers and artichokes took ‘1st Honors’ in a contest run by the Royal Society of Horticulture of Paris.

A combination of abundent produce in Brittany, lack of it in Britain, and overpopulation in Roscoff led to the seasonal exporting and selling of these tasty onions. Not only were they delicious but also had a long life once picked.

The museum explained the process of shipping …

stringing, the arduous job of creating the braided ropes (image the paper cuts doing that?!), which reduced the flow of oxygen increasing their preservation …

and selling these aromatic globes by walking or cycling door-to-door, both men

and children.

They concentrated their selling in Wales where shared Celtic roots made it a popular and natural market for the Bretons.

With the exception of a small nostalgic group, the Johnnies and their onion-selling have all but died out due to changing economics post-WWII. However, we did meet a Brit earlier this summer who recalled a visit of a Johnny at his grandmother’s home.

Now that you’re familiar with a Johnny, back to the shirts…

In the August 16th,1944 edition of PUNCH an illustration by Ernest Howard Shepard (1879-1976) appeared featuring “The Breton onion-man”.

Shepard used this figure to represent the human spirit of determination and strength of France’s resistance fighters during WWII. He dressed the man in patched trousers (characteristic of Johnnies since the 1800s) and the striped jersey or marinère, which the landsmen actually didn’t wear.*  But, thanks to Shepard they stayed a symbol of the onion-selling Breton.

And, if Shepard’s style reminds you of another illustration, you’d be correct in thinking of A.A.Milne’s tales about a lad, a teddybear who loved honey, and a whole gang of stuffed pals.

Shepard’s work created the first visuals of this heart-warming group in 1923 when Milne’s verses appeared in PUNCH magazine.  Although his work comprised subjects other than children’s stories, his connection with Pooh continued throughout his life. At the age of 93 he drew his last work when he finished 240 color drawings for the 1973 edition of WINNIE THE POOH.

*This shirt originally began as a naval uniform for seamen from Northern France. Designed in 1858, each stripe represented one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 21 victories. Since Coco Channel popularized it in her 1917 nautical collection, the distinctive shirt has been worn by an array of personalities, from James Dean in the 1955 movie “Rebel Without a Cause” to Duchess of Cambridge in 2018.

So, when it comes to a momento of Brittany what better one than a marinère jersey? :)

BRITTANY: Part II

Road Tripping continued…

Wednesday-Friday, June 4-7, 2019

DINAN

Instead of a making a day trip we decided to spend the night in a quintessential medieval village: Dinan (formerly called Saint-Sauveru). [In the map below Lézardrieux is in the upper left where you see one of the rivers, and Dinan is far to the right at the end of the river next to St. Malo.]

Within an hour or so driving we reached this medieval jewel.

Founded in the 1st century on the banks of the Rance river, Dinan would grow into a commercial hub. Exporting food crops, and later hemp, cloth merchants became prosperous during the 12th and 14th centuries. A healthy middle class emerged and became more powerful thanks to the support of Jean the 3rd who granted the town special privileges to curry the bourgeoisie’ favor.

The town also attracted the reigning dukes: In the late 1300s Duke John IV built the Château de Dinan (unfortunately closed for renovations); and, in the late 1400s Duke Francoise II approved the building of a town hall and a municipal tower. In 1500 Duchess Anne gave them a bell, converting it to a belfry, one you can climb, which Max did (I went only part way up not wanting to be on the open-air balcony at the tippy top).

Of course, if there’s a decent-size town, there’s a good-size religious building. Dinan’s is a lovely one named St. Saviour’s Church.

A Crusader, the knight Rivallon le Roux, a member of the Lords of Dinan family, made a promise to himself to build a church if he returned from the Crusades. He did return, remembered his pledge, and called the church Saint-Sauveur.

Behind it an English garden flows to the town wall, built in the late 1700s,

where peering from one of the towers

you see the old town spread out below you.

Our first taste of Brittany’s famous crepes occurred here (Max eyeing our targeted lunch spot…)

and we quickly became hooked as we had crepes for both lunch and dinner. I really don’t know how these French folk stay so slim. If they’re not eating crepes or croissants, they’re eating a baguette the size of a bat. And, let’s not forget the cheese AND the wine. It’s tough trying not to follow in their footsteps.

We loved the medieval-ness of the town but a 21st century event really made our stay magical. Our hotel happened to be adjacent to the Jacobin Theater, During a quick scouting of the area Max noticed a dance performance being staged the one night we were in town. Figuring dance would allay any issues of not speaking French, we bought two tickets.

If you EVER get the oppportunity to see “Du Désir D’Horizons” (Desire for Horizons) by Salia Sanou, GO. Being modern dance the first minute or so when a lead performer just pretty much moved one finger or a toe I thought, ‘Oh, boy, this is going to be a long evening…’. Twenty seconds later I sat in awe and for the next 60 minutes watched chaos made beautiful by eight dancers whose limbs darted, crashed, and swayed across the stage. Minamalistic music added to the raw power on stage punctuated every now and then with some speech.  http://www.saliasanou.net/new/du-desir-dhorizons-2

I’ll remember Dinan for its ancientl setting, but more so from the magnificent performace we were fortunate to see.

ST. MALO

The next morning we left for St. Malo on the eastern edge of the Côtes d’Armor. This city is a favorite for sailors, as well as tourists.

We parked in the underground garage next to the old city and stopped to take note of an interesting sailboat moored along the town quay. Conversing with one of the crew aboard we discovered it was used for research, spending three months to three years at sea depending on the project. They were prepping the boat for their next excursion:  studying microplastics, beginning in the Thames. Another reminder of the harm we’re doing to our world.

With that sobering thought we journeyed back in time to the 12th century when the fortifcation of this Ducal town began with construction of impressive walls.

In the late 14th century a castle, Château de Saint Malo, was added and it’s here we visited the city’s History Museum. Since most of it was in French and the displays seemed a bit dusty, we were in and out within the hour. Yet, we did grasp an understanding of the importance of cod fishing for the area. The ships would leave St. Malo for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Each ship carried 20 dories, each manned by a crew of two who would catch the cod and then return to the mothership to offload. Not a job I’d want.

Back outside we explored a bit more, first stopping in for a coffee at a restaurant made famous for its highly unusual decor.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw one item hanging in the window:

Ellen, Liza and Tracy, do you remember your Patty Playpal :) ?

Fortified, we joined the busloads of tourists checking out shops and eateries along cobblestone streets. Then we escaped the masses by climbing the steps to the lovely promenade on the impressive town walls wreathing the old city.

During our wandering Max eyes lit upon a fruit we’d been searching for: pomegranites!

Thanks to our friends Sue and Carol W. we’ve been making two delicious quinoa meals, one requiring the bulbous seeds of those lovely pink globes.

Yet, after Max started picking several out of the crate, the proprieter came running towards us stating they weren’t for sale. And, it’s then we looked at the storefront and discovered it’s a cafe selling smoothies (with a sign stating ‘please don’t touch the fruit’). In other words, they, too, were using them as a key ingredient…

This town definitely deserved more than the cursory few hours we allotted, but having seen Dinan and anxious to continue our explorations elsewhere, we returned to our car and headed for less Disneyesque views.

PAIMPOL

Our final stop of the day involved the amazing display of this coast’s tidal waters. Several cruisers have recommended the port of Paimpol as a unique opportunity to experience the complete draining of a harbor. However, we subsequently heard stories that made us rethink heading there with our deep-draft boat. Basically, there is no margin of error if you miss the high water mark to enter the port. To paraphrase British sailor Mike’s experience, whom we met in Guernsey, and who misread the tide tables and had to beat a hasty retreat to deep water:  “when you can see the eyes of the crabs under your keel you realize it’s not a good time to be there.”

Which is why we opted for the safe ‘cruise’ on land where happy boats float on one side of the lock…

while the other side is not so likely to float one’s boat.

And, after witnessing the incoming sailboats endeavoring to dock alongside or in berths, I am so willing to wait for the perfect tide + current combo, or as perfect as we can get them.

It’s no wonder this area breeds excellent sailors. Like we did in the Channel Islands, we have to plan our exits and entrances to coincide with the tide and current.

If we ever think of going against the current at its peak all we have to do is remember watching a sailboat trying to dock recently. First it appeared as if they’d be coming alongside with no problem only to see them moving horizontally as all on aboard quickly assess how to get the boat pointing back towards the dock. Once they manage that, it’s a fight to land without the bow hitting the pontoon first. When they’ve finally reached the dock and someone is able to jump off (or toss their lines to a person on the dock) and wrestle to slowly inch the boat closer to finally allow all to breathe a sigh of relief and the captain cut the engine.

I know it sounds crazy but we’ve both been helped (thankfully) and have helped boats to dock. At times a boat feels like a bucking stallion. And, god help you if you mess up tieing the lines!

PAIMPONT

Thursday was our last day with the car. Heading back towards Lézardrieux we stopped at the enchanting Fôret de Paimpont. The forest is known for its ties to the Legend of King Arthur and Camelot and his sidekick Merlin (and Max).

Supposedly he found Excalibur here. Although, I think it more likely he located some good cider and an abbey.

The Paimpont Abbey sits next to a lovely lake and dominates the small village. Like most of these religious structures it began as a much smaller version in the 7th century when missionaries seemed to flood the area. The Normans knocked it down, resulting in a rebuild during the 9th century. Four hundred years later, the abbey acquired its Gothic style with add-ons and renovations occurring during subsequent centuries.

Similar to other churches we’ve seen in Brittany, the roof resembles an upside-down ship’s hull. And, it’s made of wood versus stone, which is unusual.

While in Paimpont we met a charming Irish cyclist who uses the summers to recoup from a hectic winter of musical work including teaching and touring with musicals. Ger (short for Gerald) had two weeks to explore this area and was making the most of it without brutalizing himself. We wish he had more time or was closer in his circuit to JUANONA for he would have been great to have aboard for a night of conversation.

JOSSELIN

We then  headed almost due west to Jossselin and its Château. In the 11th century a viscount built a fortified town here in the Oust Valley; but, it didn’t last too, too long because the English King Henry II (same guy who built the Dover Castle and took Eleanor de Acquitaine as his 2nd wife) destroyed most of the château in 1168 when the feudal Bretons opposed him.

Two hundred years later the rebirth of what was left of the building began after a swap between the Count of Alençon and the High Constable of France. The latter, Olivier Clisson, proceeded to strengthen the defense by adding three towers along the riverside

and one more as a stand-along (which looks like a perfect Rampuzel residence if you note the little red door).

What amazed me, though, is that the current owners are related to that original Clisson. Can you imagine someone doing their geneology being able to trace it back to this house?!  When Olivier died in 1407 the renovations continued via his grandson, Alain IX de Rohan, and great-grandson, Jean II.

However, once again, revenge caused massive damage to the place in 1629. This time that marvelous spiritual guidance, i.e., religion, was the culprit when Cardinal de Richelieu didn’t take too kindly to rebellious Calvinist Henri de Rohan. Rumor has it the Cardinal snidely quipped to Henri, “Sir, I have just scattered your skittles.” And, he most obviously wasn’t talking about the candy.

Daily tours were available, and we joined the group after the guide provided a quick background. ‘After’ because it was all in French.

With no photography allowed inside we contented ourselves with exterior shots

and referencing an English brochure.

In the write-up we learned…

The ‘Battle of the Thirty’ in 1351 occurred close to Josselin during the ‘Deux Jeannes’ war (Brittany’s Civil War). The fame derives from being seen as the most chivalrous battle in history (Encyclopedia Britannica.com). It began when the governor of Brittany (supporting the French House of Blois) challenged the Captain of Ploëmel (supporting House of Montfort) to a fight composed of 30 soldiers per side. The governor eventually won with both sides suffering heavy casualties while ensuring the prisoners of the losing faction were treated well and released (The House of Montfort eventually won the overall war.)

A more recent tidbit appeared in the form of a contemporary portrait of Duke Alain de Rohan, father of the current owner. I hadn’t heard of him but some of you may have:  his friend, the American artist Trafford Klots (1913-76), painted it in 1966. Just one more reminder of the longevity of Olivier’s DNA…

I convinced Max to purchase the joint ticket so we could visit The Musée de Poupées, a collection of puppets and dolls by Herminie de Rohan during the 19th century with more recent donations reflecting current times.

Having read in THE LONELY PLANET guidebook it was, and I quote:  “more interesting that it sounds!” I thought it could be fascinating.

Hah! Fascinating if you, too, collect dolls. However, it provided some light-hearted (and extremely fast) viewing resulting in naming some of them myself, such as…

The guilty one…

Big-headed Gulliver

 

Religious salesman

Bad Hair Day Lady

Temper Tantrum Tess

Juvenile on my part, I know. Okay, EXTREMELY childish.

CHÂTEAU DE LA ROCHE-JAGU

Our last stop made us wish it could have been a longer one. On the outskirts of Ploëzal Château de la Roche-Jagu sits above the Trieux River, only a couple miles up from where we’re docked in Lézardrieux. Built as part of a ten-fortress defense in the 15th century, it’s the only one still standing.

And, it’s stunning with its stoic facade juxtaposed against lovely gardens.

Renovated by the Côtes de l’Armor county council, the château and grounds host exhibitions and performances. Our late arrival precluded anything but a brief visit, but we met a teacher who takes his young students here annually. He kindly walked with us to the magnificent viewing platform and explained this location was strategically important for hampering any Viking raids coming up river. Standing where we were it was easy to understand how.

After he left we strolled through some gardens. In one we spotted an Insect Hotel.

A bit bizarre, but, then, we’d seen one earlier in the day just outside of the Château de Josselin.

Hey, if I were a bug I’d be booking in at one of these hotels that sit within buzzing range of a château.

Our time in Lézardrieux was coming to a close with a forecast of a good combo of wind and tide. However, our next port isn’t too far from here. And, we’re looking forward to more adventures in Brittany!

Next, more medieval-ness and an amazing sailing race…

 

 

 

BRITTANY: Part I

Brittany/Bretagne/Breizh (in English/French/Breton)

Thursday-Sunday, May 30-June 9, 2019

Lézardrieux

After five years cruising in countries where locals speak two, if not three, four, or five languages with English typically the second or third one, we’re now in France. Although many aren’t fluent in English, they sometimes know enough to help us get by, and speak English a lot better than we do our halting French.

Bereft of foreign tongues other than un peu francaise and un poco español, our forays into expressing ourselves now involves a lot of limb + digit contortions. Fortunately, fingers serve as numerical communicators while hands and arms provide directions, both literally and, if we’re lucky, figuratively.

So, yes, we landed back in France :)  And, I say ‘back’ as we had stopped in Dunkirk and Boulogne Sur Mer on our way down the English Channel last month, touching on the south coast of England before ending in Alderney and Guernsey a few days later.

After visiting the Channel Islands we managed to perform the higher mathematics required to compute favorable tides and currents to safely reach the northern coast of Brittany.

As you can see from the captain’s relaxed demeanor all went well as we proceeded to slowly glide up the Trieux River.

Lézardrieux, a small village 6 miles from the river’s mouth offered pontoons available for docking at all tides, as well as an inner harbor protected by one of those sills, i.e., boat bathtubs.

During a 12-hour period you witness a range of low and high tides, which means you’re either getting some good calf-muscle work-outs…

of simply walking to and from one’s boat.

We set out to explore Friday morning beginning with the weekly market. Located up the hill in the town square we joined the shoppers and queued along with them.

Perusing the enticing arrays, we purchased two humongous artichokes. Max having read that these were in season we thought it would be really cool to see them in the field. Which we did when walking on part of a 133 km coastal path (“GR 34”).  Once you see one artichokefield, you’ll notice them all the more with their distinctive, inquiring heads poking up on stalwart stalks amidst long, feathery leaves.

Never having seen artichokes ‘in the wild’ we couldn’t get enough of peering at them whenever we came across yet another crowded patch.

After a few days of exploring locally we checked out transportation options for going further afield. Surprised to learn of very limited buses and trains between villages, we rented a car for day trippping and one overnight.

And, before I take you on our journey, just a quick (I promise!) and extremely simple overview of the most western part of France. Not that France was the France as we know it today, but rather a hodgepodge of various fiefdoms in earlier times.

As the name suggests Brittany reflects the connection to Great Britain, specifically those living in Wales, Cornwall and Devon. Between the 3rd and the 9th centuries their ancestors crossed the Channel and landed in the Roman land called Armorique (now Brittany) to escape the Viking raids and the push of settlers from the east looking for more land.

With such a strong connection to Celtic England, Brittany pushed back on any domination by the French during the 7th and 8th centuries. In the 9th century, the King of Franks, Louis-le-Pieux (interesting name) had had enough and appointed Nominoë, the first Duke of Brittany.

Well, the Duke decided that was his cue to create his own kingdom. He proceeded to fight Louie’s successor. Not only did this Duke of Brittany succeed in establishing independence from the King of France but also created Brittany’s own archdiocese. With both church and state separated from the Franks, the Dukes of Brittany became an autonomous region of France.

Of course, this doesn’t mean Brittany didn’t experience its own internal power struggles. In the mid 1300s a civil war broke out when Duke Jean the 3rd died. This led to his niece (Jeanne de Penthièrve) and his step-bro (Jean de Monfort) to duke it out (couldn’t resist). The war became known as “Deux Jeanne” or Two Jeannes. And, no, that extra ‘e’ on Jeanne isn’t a typo. It includes Jean de Montfort’s wife who just happened to be named, you guessed it:  Jeanne de Flandre.

With the help of England, Jean de Monfort won, and yet another Jean (the 4th, son of the 3rd) gained the top spot. I must say all of these Jeans just beg for a ‘Peter picked a peck of peppers’ tongue twister…

In the 1400s Brittany blossomed as a kingdom establishing diplomatic ties, its own currency, its first university (in Nantes), and -drum roll- possibly formalized its first symbol, the ermine.

Why the ermine? Royalty and Aristocrats used the luxurious white fur with black-tipped tail for cloaks depicting their high status. Legend has it, as well, that the little critter would prefer death to getting its pristine coat dirty. This translated into Brittany’s motto of ‘Plutôt la mort que la Souillure’ or ‘Rather death than defilement’.

Brittany’s modern flag continues the tie to this heraldic animal using the ermine’s colors and tail as part of its flag.

Yet all good things must come to pass, at least as far as Brittany’s independence. In the late 1400s the French gained back Brittany when King Charles the 8th defeated Duke François the 1st in 1488. When the Duke died in 1491 Charles cemented his rule over Bretagne by marrying, more likely ‘grabbing the hand of’, Duchess Anne, François’ daughter and inheritor of the dukedom.

It doesn’t stop there. When Charles died eight years later she had to marry his successor, Louis the 12th, and seven years after that her daugher Claude became another pawn in the chess match of royal “I dos” when she got stuck with the nephew of Louis the 12th, François d’Angoulême, although he did become the French King Françoise the 1st.

Interesting factoid:  This king was the patron of Leonardo da Vinci who moved to Amboise in 1515 where the two of them developed a close relationship. Leonardo died in Amboise four years later, in 1519, and may have been buried there, although this year DNA research is supposed to establish conclusively if that’s true.

Lady with an ermine (1483-90) by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

When Anne, a beloved figure of the Bretons, died in 1514, her heart was buried in Nantes, fulfilling her wish. Sounds like another MDT (Max Disaster Tour in the making…).

Although Françoise the 1st enacted the Treaty of of Everlasting Union in 1532 in recognition of Brittany’s identity, the struggle between Bretons and the French continued even into the 20th century. Separatist groups, such as the FLB (Breton Liberation Front), the ARB (Breton Revolutionary Army), and the UDB (Breton Democratic Union), continue to advocate for autonomy from France. This includes a revival of their language, which explains the two spellings on road signs. Neither of which I can pronounce well, if at all. (FYI:  The ‘Brit’ in Great Briton and Brittany comes from the Roman’s Latin ‘Britainnia’  meaning ‘Briton’s land’.) 

Today, this region is divided into four ‘departments’:  Côtes d’Armour (where Lézardrieux sits); Finistère (west); Morbihan (south); and Illie et Vilanie (east), bordering Normandy.

The coasts provide harbors for commercial (fishing and shipping) and pleasure (lots of boaters) while inland offers fertile fields for grazing and crops. And, of course, there are the coastal views

and river views.

Our first day-trip began with Perros-Guirec and the Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coast).

A continuation of the 133km GR 34  walk takes you through the park showcasing pink granite rocks of all shapes and sizes:

Evidently when the sun is low on the horizon the land glows a shimmering pink, which must mean the whole little town does because everywhere you looked granite is THE material for construction.

With so many sites inviting exploration during the three days we had the car, our touring required a selection of sites within easy driving range.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go far for one of Brittany’s medieval cities, and during our stay we chose some we had read or heard as being good examples of that historical period. One of these was Morlaix, a medieval city, where I saw a type of home I’d never heard of before:  the lantern house.

When we entered we learned why the label:  the open space from the floor to the ceiling allowed a lantern to be hung to provide light.

 

This uninterrupted view also showcased the hard-to-miss staircase (as seen in the video) and immense fireplace.

Called the Duchess Anne’s House, this home would have been considered a mansion with its prestigious location in one of the most sought-after neighborhoods of its time. Additionally, elaborate wooden figurines attest to the hiring of skilled artisans for its decor.

Staring up to the three floors where rooms exit off of the staircase

your vision soars 52 feet to the top thanks to the architectural widening of the staircase on each floor while decreasing the handrails heights.

Upon exiting we learned we were fortunate to be here in 2019 and not 2017 when a flood required major renovations. I’m so glad history doesn’t get swept away leaving only empty spaces for modern life to take hold.

This city features another notable construction:  a viaduct.

Built in the mid 1800s, it spans the Riviere de Morlaixand serves as a railroad, pedestrian crossing,

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and viewing platform.

Unsure exacty why such an elaborate infrastrucure was required I asked a local. His response was a shrug and a laugh saying, ‘who knows?!’

What I do know is this area offers a fascinating destination for anyone interested in medieval history, exploring a unique coastline, and eating artichokes as big as one’s head… or, at least, hand :)

Next, another culinary delight:  crepes at Crêperies…!

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s down the coast we go…

HOPPING ALONG

Monday-Friday. May 13-17, 2019

Favorable winds from the north encouraged us to leave our adopted Dutch country and head down the southern part of the North Sea. As opposed to doing one long overnight passage we decided to do daily hops of 40 to 60 miles, landing us in a new port each night.

Covering miles only during daylight made it a heck of lot easier for coastal sailing. If sailing at night, I’d rather be out in the middle of the ocean:  when you see a light, there’s no question it’s attached to a ship, oil platform, or UFO. When you’re near the coast it could be an onshore beacon, street light, reef, or even a low-flying airplane (which occurred in 2004 sailing by Boston’s Logan Airport…).

As our AIS shows, we were amidst a lot of ships,

some requiring a close watch, the ship named CAUSEWAY being one of them. According to the CPA (‘Closest Point of Approach’) of 0.0 miles, if neither of our courses changed in the next 3.7 miles, we’d see a bold ‘Collision warning!’ flashing on the screen.

By the second day we’d established a routine of rising, checking the wind forecast, reviewing the currents and tides as well as shipping lanes* then heading out of the harbor to follow the coastline south and west.

* To facilitate  commercial traffic while lessening the chances of collision with pleasure boats the authorities have established shipping channels, typically a lane in each direction with a TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) in between. To accomplish the fastest crossing of these lanes, we need to do so at a ninety-degree angle. And, trust me, when crossing the lanes extending out of Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, we wanted to be on the other side of them as quickly as possible. You can see the solid line of ships heading south in one of the AIS photos above.

With only a few, all-weather ports (many man-made) along this stretch of the coast we based our selection of marinas on their ability to accommodate our 2-meter (6’ 6″) draft and the ease of entering and exiting the harbor (strong currents can play havoc when docking and undocking). For three mornings we exchanged one port for another:  Scheveningen (Netherlands) for Zeebrugge (Belgium) – the teal blue dot is where we docked;

Zeebrugge for Dunkirk (France)–the green is where JUANONA was,

and Dunkirk for Boulogne Sur Mer (France), not to be confused with Bologna, Italy…

It got to the point where I’d wake up and try to remember the previous port’s layout by visualizing the dock, and the toilet-shower facilities.

A ritual we carry out at sea is exchanging one country’s courtesy flag (flown on one of our spreaders) for another’s. In this case it was our Dutch flag

for France’s.

Having covered a fair bit of miles in three days and seeing the favorable forecast of northerly winds continuing for a few more days we decided to stop for 36 hours in Boulonge, a port other cruisers had recommended.

Being one of the few American boats around we managed to attract the attention of the French law enforcement. Four officials boarded the boat upon our arrival in Boulogne, and for an hour they perused our paperwork trying to decide if we needed to pay V.A.T. on JUANONA.*

* Just to give you a quick synopsis of issues facing foreign boaters in European waters, we would have to pay a 20% Value Added Tax (basically a sales tax) on Juanona if she had been in the European Union for more than 18 months. The only way to avoid this tax is by taking her to a non-EU port (which is why we always touched the coast of Norway prior to returning to an EU country).
On top of this is a restriction on foreigners themselves in Schengen countries (currently, all EU and Scandinavian countries except for the UK). If you’re not a Schengen resident, then you’re only allowed three months within those countries; and, once you’re reached that limit, you have to leave and not return for three months.
These regulations mean your boat is allowed for 18 months and yourself, three. You can see how tricky of a dance this is if you plan to cruise these European waters.
By obtaining temporary Dutch residency in the Netherlands, Max and I are considered Schengen residents. And, thanks to the advice of fellow cruisers, Gus and Helen Wilson, we were able to temporarily import JUANONA into the EU. Due to those two actions we’ve protected ourselves and JUANONA from the EU and Schengen restrictions.
However, the French customs officers weren’t familiar with the Dutch paperwork stating we had temporarily imported JUANONA into the EU, thus the hour sitting in our cockpit trying to decipher another country’s government form.

It all ended well with their providing us a French document approving our temporary import. Since 2014 we’ve been boarded five times by custom officials:  twice by the Brits, once by Germans, once by the Dutch, and now by the French. And, we were hailed over VHF by the Norwegians.

As the French Customs officials were leaving I realized I had actually seen them as we made our way south. Fortunately they didn’t board us then as it would not have been fun maneuvering, especially for an hour…

Like most European cities and towns we visit, Boulogne’s history includes centuries of different occupants who desired this strategic port. Situated at the mouth of the Liane River, the Romans called it Gesoiacum. Later it became known as Bonoia and switched hands often:  Normans destroyed it in 882; it was rebuilt in 912 and became a desirable harbor for the Burgundian Dukes, then French kings beginnng with Louis XI in 1477; England got hold of it in 1544 after a two-month siege and ruled for a short while before it reverted back to France in 1550 via the Treaty of Boulogne. Napoleon used this as his headquarters when planning to invade England (but didn’t); and, the British used it in WWI; the Germans overtook this port in the 1940 Battle of Boulogne just a few weeks before Operation Dynamo (evacuation of Dunkirk); finally, the city was liberated in 1944.

We explored the upper city or ‘old city’, which features preserved buildings from earlier times including the fortified gate.

Max, in search of an MDT (Max Disaster Tour), read two reviews saying there’s ‘a must-see’ crypt under the Basilica of Notre Dame de Boulogne.

I joined him for the above ground walk-around but, having read in a guidebook that the crypt was ‘imminently skippable’, I opted out of paying the 5 euro fee to visit below ground.

Considering Max found me down the street within 15 minutes of his MDT, I think the LONELY PLANET guide book provided a more accurate description of that site…

But, the real highlight of Boulogne was a modern building perched above the beach:  a fabulous aquarium.

With a 2018 expansion the Nausicaá became the largest aquarium in Europe. Its mission not only focuses on raising awareness of the marine environment but also encourages action to improve global management of this vital resource. This French National Sea Centre is now a UNESCO site due to its promoting of healthy oceans and seas.

The design of the new Nausicaá replicates a manta ray, although my photo of it as we’re leaving the harbor doesn’t provide the aerial view to show it as such…

The admittance fee of 25 euros each gave us pause, but a second look at recent reviews convinced us to take the plunge. And, we are very glad we did.

We weren’t the only ones anticipating a fun day of exploring the mysteries our oceans.

In spite of kid mobs, who always seem to carry their own peculiar smells and exuberant noise levels,

 

the displays handled crowds well with easy-to-follow signage creating a smooth flow of people throughout the exhibits.

Imagine oceanography, marine biology, and environmental studies combined into one semester of school. That’s what it felt like when peering in the tanks and reading the signage.

The mission of Nausicaá focuses primarily on the relationship between mankind and the sea; and, in each area the aquarium presented the effects of climate change and its disastrous consequences,

while acknowledging those without a political voice or monetary resources are the ones paying the price caused by those with that power.

Yet, as opposed to being totally depressed by the way we’re destroying our world, Nausicaá offers hope in the forms of activism, both on the parts of individuals as well as organizations. For example, a partnership between The Environmental Advisory Company and the Four Seasons Hotels has funded the Reefscapes Programme (at the end of 2011 160,000 cuttings were transplanted onto 200 coral structures).

To encourage visitors’ participation in these efforts, the aquarium provided websites as well as coin drops so visitors could donate to various causes, which we did for one (Andrea, this was for you :).

 

It was difficult to avoid being caught in a hypnoptic trance gazing at tanks populated by ballooning jellyfish…

 

 

and swirling highways of fish,

 

with the pièce de résistance being the soaring ray.

 

All with New Age music (which you can’t hear in my clips) enhancing the otherworldliness in front of us.

We had seen a similar exhibit but on a much smaller scale at the Ozeaneum in Straslund, Germany  last year. There, the focus was on a specific body of water, the Baltic Sea, versus Nausicaá’s global coverage. Both are stellar examples of using entertaining displays to teach those of all ages about our watery world.

From simple explanations of tides…

and displays on oil rigs…

to communing with marine life,

we found ourselves stopping at almost every display, only skipping those geared towards young children, with one exception as seen in the top photo of this post…

The exhibits did include flora and fauna associated with the water but not necessarily in it. One being the stick insect hiding in this photo.

This aquarium would be worth seeing just to surround yourself with fantastical marine life. In one of the largest tanks in Europe we became encased in blue,

with smaller tanks showcasing otherworldly critters, both bizarre

and lovely.

After three house of meandering through exhiibits of above and below the oceans, we reluctantly left.

I find it easy to be overwhelmed by the richness of information available in sites such as these. If we were going to be here for any length of time, I would get a season pass and peruse one small section at a time. Or, simply sit and watch a world swim by.

When leaving the next day it seemed so appropriate that Nausicaá was one of the last landmarks we saw exiting the harbor. A reminder of the precious resource on which we sail as we continue cruising…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeanne, Van, Otto, Romans and Wine

Domremy

Saturday to Sunday   January 7-8

In November we had planned a trip south to Provence but ended up back in Maine. So, we decided to rebook in January, and thanks to our kind airbnb hosts we were able to reserve the same apartment in Avignon. With our rental car we headed out of the Netherlands, through Belgium and ended up in Domremy, France, halfway to our destination.

With Max being a huge fan of Jeanne d’Arc we had opted to tour the little village where she spent the early years of her life, actually most of her young life until she upped and left after following the voice in her head to help the French Dauphin obtain his rightful throne in 1422 .

Arriving a bit later than we had hoped due to a wintery mix of snow and ice, we did manage to find the chapel where she worshiped on Saturdays. Located just 1 mile km from her home in Domremy, the Chapelle de Bermont is now private property. The owners do offer access to the chapel when it’s opened for a few hours on Saturday; but, we had missed it.

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Plus, this was our discovery of touring during January when most signs greeted us with ‘ferme’ or “closed”.

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However, just knowing she had climbed the hill to enter this place of worship made our rushed trek here worth the effort.

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As the afternoon morphed into evening we hightailed it back to Domremy where we had booked a room at one of the few B&Bs still offering rooms during this season. We also happened to find the one restaurant opened down the road where we met the husband-and-wife team as well as a local with pup enjoying his nightly glass of the local liqueur.

Waking up to wispy flakes sifting from the sky we enjoyed our breakfast in our room under the watchful eye of Victor Hugo who, our host said, use to stay in this inn on route from Paris to see his family in the countryside. And, no, I won’t say we slept in his room or he slept in ours…

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Our host also told us Napoleon III had given this house to his mistress where she converted it into a bordello/inn due to being perfectly located right where the coach stopped to let out weary passengers.

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However, what was more interesting (I know, hard to beat knowing one slept where Hugo had) centered on our host’s vast research regarding Jeanne d’Arc.

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His alternative theories, such as she was the illegitimate child of the Queen Isabeau of Bavaria and Duke Louis of Orleans, intrigued us.

As a local historian he believes that the Domremy house below–not the one the tourist information promotes down the street–belonged to the d’Arcs, her family. It was located along the border stream between Champagne and the Germanic territory (hence d’Arc, or ‘bridge’). The story goes that her father was a wounded veteran and had been given the job of tax collector along the border.

Our host even escorted us to where the Arcs’ family home use to stand, another picture-worthy photo op.

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The stone slab was typical of a walking bridge over a small stream, with the two stone pillars marking the respective borders.

I had heard the idea of her being the illegitimate daughter of royalty but not anything else. If you’re as big of fan of this amazing young woman as Max is, check out our host’s website:    http://jeannedomremy.fr/indexhtm.

Needing to get on the road, we bade our host good-bye, scraped the car

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and drove the seven hours to Avignon.

PROVENCE

Orange

On the way we stopped at Orange where one of the best preserved theaters exists from the Roman days. It’s also where the Netherlands’ William I or William the Silent (1533-1584) became Prince of in 1544.

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Once again our timing was such that the little museum/gift shop was closing in 45 minutes, yet we had enough time to scramble up to the top of tier of stadium seats (yes, I was a bit wobbly on the ascent and descent).

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Gazing down onto the stage one can only imagine the thrill of attending a performance here, which they continue to do during summer months. The acoustics were excellent as was the viewing in spite of performers basically being ‘dots with limbs’ for those less wealthy patrons sitting in the higher tiers; and, for perspective, I’m the ‘dot’ standing next to the end of the stage.

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Avignon

Thirty minutes later we were greeted by our Airbnb hosts–Manuel waving at us from the rooftop and Pascal, his partner, knocking on our car window. For the next hour or so we were provided with all the information one needs to tour Avignon and the surrounding region while sharing a bottle of local wine. One couldn’t ask for more enthusiastic welcomers. And, they continued to send emails with excellent tips and ideas for traveling around Provence.

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Monday to Friday   January 9 – 13

Our days began with coffee followed by some road trips and ended back at our apartment to enjoy a bottle of wine and a simple dinner. As I’ve told several folk, we are probably the only people who toured Provence and didn’t go out for a single meal with the exception of our sandwiches at a boulangerie. At which my gallant husband turned the camera on me snapping a now familiar pose:  moi et ma cafe.

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Pont du Gard

One of the most impressive structures we saw was the Pont du Gard, approximately 40 minutes NW of Avignon, actually in Occitainie, the next province over. How the Romans constructed such a magnificent and exacting piece of infrastructure is mind-boggling to someone such as I who holds no knowledge of engineering except to admire a piece of art when I see one.

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Composed of three graduating arches with the tippy-top being the smallest, this Romans (well, their slaves) built this edifice around 20 B.C.E. You can see on some of the arched stones the numbering system used to ensure correct placement.

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We arrived just in time for the morning ‘walk’ across the top, which, thankfully was mainly through a covered ‘tunnel’, covered to keep the water pure as it flowed from the Eure spring near Uzes to the city of Nimes over a 50 km course.

Our guide indicated the water line etched into the stone near the top of the wall,

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and she pointed out the red substance that was the top layer of water-proofing under which the first layer, tiles, would be placed alongside the stone wall.

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Every five years or so they’d have to chop away at the heavy lime deposit caked on the interior channel, where it would take a drop of water 30 hours to travel the length of the aqueduct.

The aquaduct has been out of use since about the 6th ce.  Fortunately, renovations and maintenance (such as the guy who was removing any vegetation adhering to the stone)

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have resulted in a stunning historical monument where you can still imaging water flowing through this channel.

Palais des Papes

The main draw of Avignon for history buffs is the huge Palace of the popes, which was built in only 20 years between 1335 and 1355. Some say it is the largest Gothic palace in the world.

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Wondering how the supreme leader of the catholics left their Roman enclave and landed in southern France, I read that it began with the French King Philip IV’s (aka Philip the Fair)

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power struggle with Pope Boniface VIII.  When a Gascon-born pope, Clement V, decided to move the papacy out of Rome to a Avignon, this began the rule of the Avignonese popes, on that continued for the next 70+ years until 1377.

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You know how much I like connecting the dots, well I discovered Clement V and Philip IV had ties to Chinon, the place where Jeanne d’Arc first met the Dauphin in 1429. Subtract over 100 years and in Chinon key members of the Knights Templars, a Catholic military order, were accused of heresy, sexual misconduct, and blasphemy. They were arrested in 1307 and held in Chinon.

Enter the lovely Inquisition and seven years later five were burned at the stake on Paris’ Ile de la Cite (Island of the City) in the River Seine. The reason? Money. Philip IV owed a lot (the Templars also functioned as bankers); and, a way to rid himself of debt was to rid himself of the Templars. Clement V was forced to disband them but did absolve them of heresy. The trial of the Templars with Clement’s ruling is documented in the Chinon parchment, a record discovered in 2001 in the Vatican Secret Archives.

The above simplifies the complexities of how the king, the pope, and the templars became so entangled, and, it’s worth reading more for anyone interested in the details.

Back to the building whose immensity was difficult to capture as we looked back from the entrance steps to the plaza.

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It was old (notice the door)

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and cold and impressive.

In spite of the palace being bare it was easy to imagine the thrum of power that must have echoed around these cavernous rooms; and, audio guides provide the historical context as we wandered around.  At one point the palace became a prison and then barracks in 1810 with their reducing some of the huge, stone rooms to smaller ones with wooden floors and wall dividers. In the 1900s the palace was opened to the public and restored to its original interior architecture. Definitely worth a visit.

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On Tuesday we decided to head south of Avignon where we found ourselves exploring the medieval hilltop village of Las Baux. The drive was one of the most beautiful during our entire trip as every few turns revealed our destination in the distance.

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Being a non-touristy month, the town was basically shuttered but didn’t preclude our strolling the narrow, cobblestone streets.

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Guide books as well as a Tourist Office we had visited on our way there suggested we park at the Carrieres de Lumieres, an innovative multimedia show using abandoned caves created by mining the limestone in  the 19th ce. Unfortunately this show had just closed with its 2017 opening slated for March; yet, it presented an empty parking lot and, more notably, a free one.

Yet, it also provided an opportunity for enterprising folk who were searching for treasures while we were walking through the village.

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The enterprising folk had spotted a backpack sitting in the back seat, which was empty by the way. Most likely the car alarm scared them off (I only knew it had an alarm when I made the mistake of trying to open the door.) Luckily nothing was stolen (unlike our time in Baden-Baden). We reported it to the local police (actually, it’s the National Guard in that area), arranged for a tourist-gouged-replacement window the next day in Arles, visited some olive oil mills (yum!),

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and, ended our day in another Provence village associated with the guy who hacked off part, or all, of one ear.

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One speaks of Provence, and Van Gogh’s life and art comes to mind; so, our destination was Saint Paul de Mausole, the monastery in Saint Remy. Here he voluntarily entered in May 1889 and subsequently produced a prodigious amount of art during his 12 months’ stay. A 1km walk from the Tourist Office to the monastery is lined with free-standing plaques matching one of of the artist’s works with excerpts from letters referring to that specific painting.

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Even though we couldn’t access Van Gogh’s recreated room, it was even more interesting to be in the surrounding grounds for you could stand in front of the painting then look out and actually see what Van Gogh saw (albeit the trees are now larger…).

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So, in spite of the broken window we managed to happily enjoy our day and see everything we had originally planned when we set out from Avignon that morning.

Camargue Natural Parc

Provence has a designated nature reserve along its southwest coast, part of which includes a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve. With a vast amount of wetlands, this nature area has established an ornithological park where traveling birds as well as stay-at-home ones enjoy this habitat just north of Saintes Marie de la Mer.

After stopping in Arles for the window repair,

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we leisurely drove another 40 minutes where we were stunned by a marvelous site of flocking feathered creatures justifiably called the pink flamingos.

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And, what a hoot those are.

Although they’re majestic in their stance and stilted, elegant stalking,

I still can’t help but think of how they’d look on someone’s lawn, something my dad and some friends managed to do to an unsuspecting friend’s yard.

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Walking along the trails surrounding the marsh we thought of our friends Helen and Gus who would be able to explain this marvel of the fowl world to us. Since we didn’t have their expertise we had to put up with simply looking and taking photos and videos as these boa-feathered creatures entertained us.

With our eyes seeing pink spots and picnicked stomachs full we managed to make our way back to the car and returned to Avignon. Another beautiful January day in Provence.

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Luberon

Pascal and Manuel echoed the quaint beauty of the Luberon, the area east of Avignon dotted with medieval villages, so our destination began in a clockwise direction as we stopped to ooh and aah.

Our five-hour adventure encompassed a mist-skimming river…

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a trodden church aisle…

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gum- drop trees…

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colors of Provence…

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red-cliff bluffs…

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and, finally some French food at, what else, a boulangerie.

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Carpentras

Friday to Sunday  January 13-15

Our last morning was spent hunting truffles as we left Avignon for a truffle market on our way north. Our attempt to join an actual truffle hunt didn’t occur due to not enough tourists signing up to make it worth the hunters while. So, the next best thing was attending Carpentras’ Friday morning market.

Having read the market spread itself over several blocks with the truffle hound folk in front of the old Hotel Dieu, we made a beeline for there only to be directed across the street where a few lonely tables stood with their vendors and an overpowering odor of fungi.

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Yet, we felt something was up at our original spot, not only because it had banners announcing the selling of truffles

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but also because there were a bunch of guys hovering around one another with bumpy, suspicious-looking sacs. With Max posed as a decoy, I was able to grab a shot of what, Max aptly noted, appeared to be drug deals.

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This was where the professionals came to purchase this black gold, and we followed one guy across the street who animatedly but surreptitiously showed his cache to several others waiting in a cafe. And, no, I didn’t pose Max again…

 

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Kaysersberg

After six hours of heading north we landed at our original destination just south of Strasbourg, at a small village outside of Colmar, only to find our hotel reserved via HOTELS.COM shuttered. Fortunately, there are quite a few towns around in this Alsace Lorraine wine country,

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and we landed at another lovely, middle-age village complete with a stork-nest-topped chimney

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and the requisite half-timbered homes.

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Our hotel was practically empty so no problem securing a room for two nights and we happily settled in then found one of the few restaurants opened for dinner. Oh, and it advertised itself in quite a unique way.

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Colmar

The next morning we struck up conversation with a couple breakfasting next to us who told us of an exhibit in Colmar’s Unterlinden Museum. Since we hadn’t planned any sight-seeing other than to visit that city, we purchased tickets and found ourselves immersed in artifacts from the area’s early beginnings…

such as a gold bracelet from the burial site of Celtic princes during the 8th and 5th centuries…

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to the famous, multi-panel altar piece painted by Matthias Gruenwald and carved by Niclaus of Haguenau 1512-1516 for Isenheim’s Monastery of St. Anthony (a model showed how it folded and unfolded while the life-size pieces were displayed in groupings)….

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which influenced the German artist Otto Dix (1891-1969), a painter and printmaker who saw the altarpiece when a POW at a camp near Colmar.

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Having fought during WWI Dix knew firsthand the horrors of human wars. When Hitler’s regime began promoting the honor and heroism of fighting he responded with art depicting the opposite. Consequently his art was banned but his work today yells of the tragedies of war.

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In addition to his ant-war art he also painted stark and, what some call, brutal portraits, such as this one of journalist Sylvia van Harden in 1926.

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A website devoted to Dix provides a wonderful anecdote regarding this painting (http://www.ottodix.org/catalog-paintings/page/4/), one that gives you a slight peek inside his mind. As I told an artist friend, I wouldn’t necessarily hang his art on my walls but I definitely love his approach.

L’alchemille (alchemy)

Our last night out we spent as foodies in Kaysersberg. And, for anyone ever in this area, please, make a reservation at L’alchemille (www.lalchemille.fr). Owned and operated by a chef and his wife, they reminded us of our  friend Kyle, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America. This chef focuses on using only local, in-season ingredients, and, man, does he whip up magic.

We arrived at 8:00p and proceeded to be wowed. As our waiter patiently and smilingly presented each dish, when we looked puzzled, he rushed to his phone to translate the ingredient into English. I felt as if we were eating in an enchanted forest with the tastes of pine and other fragrant seasonings.

As we sampled and oohed and ahhed over seven courses and a bottle of wine, I actually ate items I’d never tasted before (venison and pate).

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As we were leaving they came out to say good-bye,

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and, as we left the restaurant (three-and-a-half hours later!) we turned to one another in the gently falling snow and said, what an amazing way to end our road trip to France.

Fini!

 

Jingle Bells continued…

DAY 9:  Friday, Boxing Day Off to the largest castle in the Loire Valley, Chateau de Chambord, in DM2.

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Another cold day, which only made it seem more authentic considering the only heat in this 77-staircase, 426-room home were a couple of the 282 fireplaces with burning wood in them. That and tourists’ bodies, and there weren’t a ton of those on this chilly day.

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Set on a large estate with some areas opened to the public for walks, etc., while the remainder is kept for high-officials of the government (some things never change), it’s another fairytale estate, built by Francois I of Amboise (1494-1547).  [FYI:  His son was Henry II who married Catherine de Medici and whose mistress, Diane de Poitiers, created the other amazing chateau, Chenonceau. The mistress was booted out upon his death by his wife, Catherine. Francois I’s grandson, Francois II, was married briefly to Mary, Queen of Scots.]

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Unfortunately, he reputedly only spent 47 days here due supposedly to finding it too drafty. I couch this with reputedly and supposedly because no sooner do I read a fact about someone or something of history only to discover a conflicting story from another source (72 days vs. 47, 365 vs 282 staircases… you get the drift). So, who knows really what happened except that he had a lot of houses from which he could choose. We all set off only to start going in different directions once inside the courtyard. Max and I can’t resist a cut-out opportunity (ask Jane S. as we made her do one with us in Brighton), so we did the same here:

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The size of the interior keep was impressive, especially the double helix staircase, which supposedly (there’s that word again) Leo designed for his king pal.  This spiraling staircase connected the three main floors with apartments off of them.  From the bottom to the top (sixth floor) you can be on one staircase and someone on the other but not touch. A way to avoid brushing up against someone, or an attacker’s sword. However, as per the audio guide, this definitely wasn’t built as a fortress – too many easy-access doors and openings.

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Most of the rooms were unfurnished because the king carried his foldable stools, etc., with him to his various other homes, along with his retinue of 2,000+. However, we saw lots of salamanders, Francoise I’s personal emblem, like the green sign I saw walking with Betsy in Amboise. These creatures, which were thought to be able to survive fire and extinguish it with their cold little bodies (that’d be easy to test, I’d think), supported this king’s motto ‘I nourish [the good] and I extinguish [the bad]’. All over the place you see them… carved in stone

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and carved in wood (this, by the way, is the original wooden door accessing his personal chapel).

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We kept the audio guides glued to our ears as we also looked for any lit fireplaces.

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When we reached the terrace where we could promenade around the Harry Potter-esque chimneys and spires,

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we took the opportunity to take group portraits

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Exiting we spotted a shaggy donkey (Patricia, this is for you :),

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then we (Max, Betsy and I) stopped in Blois for a quick cafe lunch and a snapshot of the Loire and red-chimney dwellings prior to heading home to Amboise.

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Our farewell dinner was filled with leftovers, plenty of vino, and exotic veggies Danielle and Michelle found at the local market.

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DAY 10:  Saturday, December 27

I truly HATE goodbyes. We all knew it had to end, but that realization didn’t make it any easier. They’re off to Normandy to stay with friends until flying back to the States. We’re driving to Paris to return the car and stay in an airbnb.com rental. Being with this family was a treasure. Every day reminded us of just how much we love their company. And, having my sister here only made it even more wonderful. Thank gods and goddesses for such times.

With strong hugs we bade goodbye and set off for Paris with a brief stop in Malmaison, Josephine Bonaparte’s (1763-1814) home where she lived with her husband Napoleon (1769-1821) from 1799 to 1809, then as a divorcee (he needed a male heir and she was unable to give him one) until her death five years later on May 29.

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With 30 minutes before it opened after lunch break, we toured the gardens. Early on we found this fella. What did I say about photo ops?… :)

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Josephine purchased the house while Napoleon was on his Egyptian campaign. Evidently, she had a history of extravagance (bad) and graciousness (good except it fed into the extravagance), and Napoleon was furious at the price tag (300,000 francs, beaucoup bucks in today’s dollars). But, he soon got over it, and she began renovating it by hiring famous architects and landscape artists. She even imported exotic birds caged inside and animals to roam the grounds including never-before-seen black swans from Australia. (These weren’t there but thought I’d throw in a pic of them.)

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The house was lovely. Both Betsy and I said ‘I could live here’. Alas, not in the cards; yet, it didn’t keep us from drooling or thinking how we’d redo this and that room… :) No one really knows why Malmaison was so named but, as one site said, it could have been because of the occupants, not the house. Whatever the reason, the estate is beautiful. Napoleon held war councils here in a room framed out to resemble a battlefield HQ tent,

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and had his own library/office with a hidden staircase where he could escape to his apartment

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The rooms comprising Josephine’s apartment showed her bedroom where she died of a cold.

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She was truly Napoleon’s love of his life, and it’s where he returned after her death prior to being exiled. It’s recorded he spent some alone time in her boudoir reflecting on his love for her. In his memoirs he wrote her death was ‘one of the most acute griefs of that fatal year of 1814.’

Another reason this house was fascinating was because of the many family portraits we saw. There is a famous one of Napoleon crossing the alps by Jacque-Louis David, originally commissioned by the Spanish King who just happened to be Bonaparte’s elder brother, Joseph, who hung it in Madrid. A little interesting snippet:  David was on the Committee for Public Safety during the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, and he signed the death warrant for Josephine’s first husband. Small world, although not one I would have liked inhabiting.

Napoleon liked it so much he commissioned four others to hang elsewhere… one in Milan, two in Paris, and another kept with the artist until his death. There is a slight difference among all of them, with the original one now hanging in front of us at Mal Maison. Good PR for him as it shows him fitter than he was (the artist used his son as the model for the lower part) and he actually crossed the Alps on a mule (he wasn’t a good rider). The artist also threw in two other fearless leaders (Hannibal and Karolus Magnus or Charlemagne) carved in stone for good measure.

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Portraits of Josephine hang throughout as well. You don’t see her showing any teeth when smiling because she had horrible teeth. Betsy and I remembered this fact from a series of historical fiction books on Josephine that our mom gave us. In spite being fictional we still gleamed enough history to match the personality of the house to the owner, Empress Josephine.

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Josephine had two children (son and daughter) from her first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais, and after she died the house was taken over by her son, Prince Eugene de Beauharnais. The estate was later sold and then purchased by Napoleon III, Josephine’s grandson via her daughter Hortense and Napoleon’s brother Louis  (yes, her step-uncle), who bought it from the widow of the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, in 1861. Eventually, the estate was purchased by a philanthropist, David Iffla who called himself Osiris (no idea why). He renovated the home and then turned it over to the state allowing common folk such as us to tour and sigh over the loveliness found in this home.

Back in the car… where we dished out another high toll…

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and to our airbnb.com home in Montparnasse SW of Paris Center.

Our arrival was timed perfectly to meet up with our young hosts Marco and Lisou, a couple expecting their first child. We found out we were their last renters for awhile due to a baby on the way, and they enthusiastically showed us how things worked and stressed to call them with any and all questions. They were delightful, and we were sorry they weren’t going to be around (they were heading back to Normandy to spend the holidays with her parents). She had even left us Christmas cookies (she explained her dad’s German, so Christmas is a big deal with her family).

The house is small and lovely and modern, and we settled in for another late and easy night. PJs de rigueur :)

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DAY 11:  Sunday, December 28

Pariee! And, GD was it blistering cold. I put on one shirt, two shirt, three shirt, and then a sweater followed by tights, pants, coat, neck warmer, and hat. Mittens were long sleeves pulled over fingers. With that I was sort of ready. Off we tramped to the Metro at Pleasance to Champs Elysee-Clemenceau stop to go to Louis Vuitton’s new Foundation, a modern art museum designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry (he did the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain, and that bank in Berlin we recently saw).

Reaching our stop, I blithely told Max and Betsy ‘follow me. I know where we’re going.’ Not quite. I got us to the s-t-o-r-e, which amazed Max to think that this guy made enough money to have his own museum. We educated him on the demand of women for certain pocket books. He was still shaking his head five hours later wondering what they looked like. I promised not to purchase one to show him.

At least I got us to the store where we were told how to really get to the new center, the Foundation Louis Vuitton, which the famous architect Frank Gehry designed, one that Betsy had mentioned she wanted to see. There was a special van running from the Arc d’Triumph (about two blocks further away) every 15 minutes. Luckily, I spotted one at the roundabout waiting. We scurried over and jumped in. Doors shut and off we trundled to the Bois de Boulogne (west of Paris center).

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Well, it was new (opened in October) and it was a Sunday and it was a holiday week and it was frigging cold. So, when we saw the hours-long line, we did an about-face and tried to scramble back on the warm bus. No luck. We only had to wait another 15 minutes and, at least, it wasn’t the same driver. We were batting one to zero. As we drove away in the van, Max looked back at the huge new museum and commented there must be a wicked mark-up on women’s handbags.

Next idea:  Musee d’Orangerie in Tullieres Gardens opposite end from the Lourve. We took the Metro and exited at the Gardens. Orienting ourselves we crossed to the Musee only to find, yep, you guessed it, an hour-long line… in the cold. Nope, Next.

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So, now we’re two to none. Time for lunch, a pee break, and getting out of the cold. An hour later we’re back on the streets.

What about Notre Dame? It’s free, huge, and not a museum, per se. We thought it wouldn’t be a long walk, so we headed for that part of gay Pariee noting that if we walked by the Seine we’d be in the sun. Twenty minutes later with legs like popsicle sticks we’re there and see the line and say ‘what else?’

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Three to zero and it’s getting close to when we could head over to check on our theater tickets. Max had seen on Tripadvisor some excellent reviews for ‘Hymne a Edith Piaf’ by Caroline Nin. A mix of English and French this chantreuse had performed to sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House. Her Paris performance was in a 13th century building (underground) and catered to an intimate audience (40 at the most). He had reserved three tickets for the 6:00pm show, and we were looking forward to sitting down out of the cold. But, we still had two hours before we could do that.

We saw some exhibit banners at the Pompidou Center, one being for Frank Geary, so, we thought ‘what the hell? let’s check that out’. Hah! Hadn’t we learned? Sure enough, it was packed with a line out the door and bending around and around.

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Realizing we now were at four to zero, we headed for libations, starting with coffee and migrating to alcohol after walking around the Marais area (where Betsy said she’d visited our friend Robbie when he was living there for a summer).

A little before six we returned to the Theater for our show. And, Max hit it out of the ballpark. She put on a spectacular show. We even purchased three CDs and had her autograph them. If anyone enjoys Edith Piaf’s music and is intrigued by her history, give yourself a gift by hearing Caroline Nin (carolinenin.com).

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FYI:  Edith Piaf tried to get two of her regular composers to write her melody down for the lyrics she had written. They both said they wouldn’t put their name to this song. Fortunately, the third person she approached loved it. And, even more fortunately we can close our eyes and drift along with the music.

DAY 12:  Monday, December 29

Because there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of folk trying to visit the same sites we are, Max had a brilliant idea of getting off the typical sight-seeing path. So, today we’re checking out some places researched the night before. Part of our tour including revisiting Rue Cler, a lovely pedestrian street located SW of the Eiffel Tower. We had stayed here a few years ago in February on a layover and, yes, it was freezing then, too, but not the inside shops and markets weren’t as crowded. We had found a little restaurant, Petit Cler, which served inexpensive meals amidst locals shoulder-to-shoulder, and we loved it. So, we thought it would be a wonderful way to remember our previous visit and to introduce Betsy to a favorite place of ours.

We stopped in at the hotel where we had stayed (unfortunately, the owners and their pup, Cannelle, weren’t there),

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But, the street hummed with the same energy as the last time,

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and we enjoyed the coziness and crowd at the tiny restaurant. Betsy, who had seen our water pitchers from here on Orr’s, ended up getting two herself :)

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Then, she headed back to the Foundation Louis Vuitton while we began our trek to more obscure sites, such as Victor Hugo’s Maison (closed on Mondays but beautiful to see the park on which he lived). We passed a restaurant named Cape Horn where Max went in to ask why the name, and discovered it was owned and managed by some Chileans; but, he didn’t meet any fellow Cape Horners.

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Another site on our list was the National Archives.

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Walking along the courtyard’s path to the front door we passed some historical markers commemorating WW II. What was interesting, though, were the pedestals featured black and white photographs of France’s collaboration with the Germans. They, like the Germans, are facing their past and using it as a teaching instrument to those for whom that period of time is only experienced via history books.

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The archives were open but only for another thirty minutes.  But, boy, did we see some amazing documents:

  • a document on papyrus from 625 from the king to the Abbey of Saint-Denis
  • Charlemagne’s diploma
  • a letter from Jeanne d’arc to the people of Reims (1429?) (she was illiterate so she must have had it penned for her)
  • a letter from Napoleon on National Letterhead to Josephine (1796)
  • one of Marie Antoinette’s coded letters to her very (very) good friend, the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen (June 29, 1791)

All in French and no photos allowed but I did ask the front desk for a translation of a Robespierre list of people’s names that had ‘la tete’ written on it. I thought it was a list of future losses, but the three women who followed me to the display case said it was about the courage and heart of the men. Actually, they rushed to where I had found the scrawled list under glass. They admitted they couldn’t easily translate a lot of the earlier documents because they were in old French so maybe they, too, thought it was a list of heads to roll…

Another display case explained that cursive writing came about due to folk wanting to write quickly, hence the linking of letters. However, writing deteriorated so badly in the 16th and 17th centuries King Louis XIV demanded that people must write legibly. He would have loved typewriters. Better yet, computers with auto-correct. Except that could be dicey if not checked carefully. Imagine someone typing a note to him like I did to a good friend only to have ‘dear ____’  auto-correct to ‘dead ____’.

Finally, this site displayed some parchment rolls explaining they were used for lengthy records, such as trials; and, they said the one covering the Trial of the Knight Templars (1308-09) was 174 feet long. That wasn’t shown but added weight to the rationale for rolling documents.

Wishing we had more time we still were glad we got a taste of this collection. As an out-of-the-way exhibit it was a great find, thanks to Max, and we headed home content knowing we had seen something so informative (it would have been more so if we spoke ancient French). We also agreed to find more, less touristy sites to visit during our stay.

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Picking up a chicken that goes round and round the three of us ended the night picking out our next day destinations while wishing we had Michelle and Danielle around who could finish off the carcass.

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DAY 13:  Tuesday, December 30

While Betsy went to the newly renovated  Picasso Museum, Max and I returned to Victor Hugo’s Maison on Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris and designed by king Henry IV (1553-1610).  [Interesting history:  Catherine De Medici destroyed the royal residence, Hotel des Tournelles, after her husband Henry II died there (July 10, 1559)  from wounds obtained from a tournament.] (When inside I looked out one of Hugo’s windows to see what he’d see, and this is of the square.)

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We barely had to wait in line (a limited number of people are allowed in to ensure no over-crowding), and we were soon climbing on wide stairs to No.6 on the second floor of the Hotel de Rohan-Guemenee where Victor Hugo (1802-1885) lived with his wife and their four children.

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He moved there at the age of thirty and began one of his best known works, Les Miserables. He finished this book when in political exile on Guernsey Island. The reason for this self-imposed exile began due to his lack of support for Napoleon III (called him a traitor to France… he’s probably lucky he kept his head). Hugo fled to Brussels in 1851 then the Channel Islands where he lived on Jersey until 1853. From there he moved to Guernsey living in Hauteville House until returning to Paris 1870.

One reason he selected the Channel Islands were their close affiliation with Normandy from when William I, Duke of Normandy, became King of England in 1066. These islands are self-governing but have been dependent territories of England since 1106 when Henry I, King of England and youngest son of William I, seized the Duchy of Normandy from his brother Robert. Hauteville House is the other Hugo home maintained as a museum.

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ouring the apartment composed of decor from different times of his life with the ever-present audio guides we both learned a lot more about this famous author.

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The anteroom has a portrait of his father, Leopold, the son of a carpenter who rose to social prominence as one of Napoleon’s generals. Due to his military career he travelled a lot. Eventually his mother, Sophie and a Catholic Royalist, got tired of the constant moving and just stayed in Paris. From then on Victor and his two siblings would split time between mother and father.

The red room decorated with heavy, red damask curtains and wallpaper, displayed more family portraits, including one of him,

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He was devoted to his four children, and you can get a sense of that caring in one of the pictures with his son.

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The Chinese room is overwhelming and was designed by Hugo himself for his mistress, Juliette Druett (1806-1883), an actress… soon former actress, who became his secretary and traveling companion. She moved with him to the Channel Islands (but lived in a different house… Adele was still with him. Go figure.

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He was a socially conscious activist and put his money where his mouth and pen were. At one point his wife Adele solicited writing inkwells from four famous authors:  Alphonse de Lamartine, considered to be the first French romantic poet; George Sand, the first modern liberated woman and lover of Chopin; Alexandre Dumas, historical novelist (ie., The Count of Monte Crisco); and Hugo. The purpose was to raise funds at an auction to feed the poor. The inkwells were affixed to a desktop with plaques and now stands in this red room. (It didn’t sell at the auction due to the high price so Hugo bought it.)

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The dining room reflects Hugo’s penchant for old chests, which he then had dismantled and reassembled to use as tabletops, doors, etc. This room, too, seems over the top, furnished with dark Gothic furniture and covered in brown wallpaper.

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His bedroom, next to the study, is from 130 Avenue d’Eylau where he lived from (1878-1885). His writing desk used when standing is placed against one wall, which allowed us to envision him doing just that. It also has his bed where he died (beds where famous people have died are quite popular).

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He was considered the ‘voice of the people.’  When he died over two million people (more than the population of Paris) came to the city for his funeral. No wonder. He spoke out for those who couldn’t, or, if they did, got kicked back down. He was and is (debate still goes on amidst radicals) a controversial figure due to his politics, which changed throughout his life ping-ponging from socialist to imperialist but always bourgeois. Yet, one can’t deny that his writings and many acts in life demonstrated his desire to help those who were often overlooked and scorned by those more fortunate.

You may remember from other comments in previous Blob Blogs that I really enjoy the overlapping and connectivity in history; and, a minor touch point here is Charles Dickens describing his meeting of Hugo in a letter to a good friend of his, Lady Blessingham, on January 27, 1849:  

“I was much struck by Hugo himself, who looks like a Genius, as he certainly is very interesting from head to foot. His wife is a handsome woman with flashing black eyes, who looks as if she might poison his breakfast any morning when the humor seized her. There is also a ditto daughter of fifteen or sixteen, with ditto eyes, and hardly any drapery above the waist, whom I should suspect of carrying a sharp poignard in her stays but for her not appearing to wear any. Sitting among old armour, and old tapestry, and old coffers, and grim old chairs and tables, and old Canopies of state from old places, and old golden lions going to play at skittles with ponderous old golden balls, they made a most romantic show, and looked like a chapter out of one of his own books.”  

Ouch.

A test for me of whether I’ve enjoyed a site or not is whether I want ‘more’… more information on a person, building, event. And, Victor Hugo’s apartment No.6 definitely left me with a hunger to learn more about this man’s life and times. Max left to explore more Joan of Arc historical places while I walked around the square waiting for Betsy. The Place des Vosges has plenty of art galleries, and I spotted a few that were just fun to look at.

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Betsy arrived saying she missed out on the Picasso Exhibit because it was a 1.5 hour wait in line (again). Nothing like a popular city during holiday season. Instead she had wandered into the Carnavalet Museum, one covering the History of Paris. In spite of the displays being all in French, she said she didn’t have to wait in line and it was free. Oh, and it was interesting. Free? No line? Interesting? That museum went on the list for a ‘to-do’ tour.

We decided to walk to St. Germain, an area familiar to her. We crossed the river and just window-shopped as we made our way to Le Petit Cler to meet Max. Along the way

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we saw Autolib, a pay-as-you-drive electric rental car, at one of the 1,200 recharging stations…

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the English book store where Jonathan R., the son/nephew/grandson of some great family friends of ours use to live and work (he slept on a cot on the second floor in return for working there). See if you can spot B (hint:  look for a furry hat).

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another sign that at a briefest of glances I thought ‘wow!’ until Betsy reminded me the McCarthy ending’s not ‘tney’ but ‘thy’…

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and, something for our friend Carol E. who’d appreciate this on the streets of Paris as much as I :)

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We made it to Rue Cler where we found Max enjoying a libation while he’d been waiting for us, holding our seats. We joined him and began an early, New Year’s celebratory dinner out, our best (and only one out) in Paris.

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We finished off the night with Max posing in the Metro and Betsy studiously ignoring him (wise choice).

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DAY 14:  Wednesday, December 31

After hearing Betsy’s description of the Carnavalet Museum (name comes from the original mansion converted to a museum in 1880 and enlarged in 1989 by annexing another mansion next door), we all decided to go. Betsy went with us to wait with a newspaper at a cafe for then all of us were heading to another not-so-busy (we hope) museum, Musee Jaquemart-Andre.

We planned only a brief (one hour) stop-in; yet, we discovered they offered audio-guides, which made us wish we had agreed to a longer time. But, even with the short time we were there it was easy to get a sense of whether it was worth returning (it is) at a later date.

One of the first rooms has iron signs dangling from the ceiling. Unbeknownst to me, street signs were the only way to identify addresses until 1805 when Paris made street numbering compulsory. Who would have thought it?

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One room had three bedrooms set-up where you could peer in, one belonging to Marcel Proust no less, with the iron bed he had owned since age 16.

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Another room was dedicated to two famous philosophers, Voltaire (1694-1778) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who detested one another.

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Their thoughts on mankind were exactly opposite:  Voltaire believed education and reason are the tickets to a better life while Rousseau felt nature is man’s salvation. This excerpt says it all from a letter Voltaire wrote to Rousseau after receiving a copy of Rousseau’s Social Contract:

“I have received your new book against the human race, and thank you for it. Never was such a cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid…”

Double ouch.

After leaving the museum, Betsy and I got sidetracked while Max left for our next museum tour, the home of Edouard Andree (1833-94) and Nelie Jacquemart (1841-1912). He was the son of the wealthiest Protestant banker in town, she a well-known society painter.

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The house has both public and private rooms on tour, all filled with priceless art work. Built in 1869 and finished six years later, it was a home everyone wanted to see. (The walls of the grand salon could be lifted so three rooms became one, large enough to entertain 1,000 people. Not bad.) The party in 1875 celebrating its opening attracting the creme de la creme draped in jewels and fancy dress. [However, the audio guide said diamonds weren’t suppose to be worn;  they were considered crass and tacky, and they scratched the guests with their sharp points. Oh well. Let them wear pearls while eating cake]

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This husband-wife team met when she painted his portrait. Ten years later, they married in 1881. According to a guard we met (Froggy Francois, a name HE called himself, not us), it was a marriage of reason not of romance. Good thing as Edouard had syphilis and Nelie was just looking for a wealthy man (info from Francois).

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Paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Botticelli adorn the walls along with tapestries, frescoes, and sculpture such as the bust of Pope Gregory by Bernini.

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Considering Edouards’ wealth, it’s not too shocking the masterpieces he and Nelie acquired. What was shocking was hearing this couple described on the audio guide as upper ‘middle’ class. Yeah, right.

In one room Francois pointed out the differing perspective in a painting:  her knees face you either side you’re on….

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He also told us to go back into the previous room where a bunch of the Dutch paintings were exhibited and gave us an assignment:  how many people are in the Jesus-at-the-table painting by Rembrandt? We finally got it right, but it only proved how valuable and entertaining this guard was. Why he wasn’t teaching an art class I don’t know. Then again, he might be!

Just an example of how opulent this mansion was… off of the winter garden room (lots of window panes) was a staircase designed to be different (placed at the end of the house vs. center) and magnificent (marble spiral). The architect who lost the bid for the Paris Opera house wanted to create a showpiece, and he did, one that’s never been duplicated. The twin staircase climbed to the next floor

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where this was on the ceiling (which, by the way, was above the music room).

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And, this is only a small smattering of what we saw in this house of art. [I can’t do this place justice so here’s a link for anyone wanting to really see the place:  http://musee-jacquemart-andre.com/en/home.]

After his death, Nelie continued adding to their collection with both Egyptian artifacts and English paintings. When she died, she followed her husband’s wishes and bequeathed the house and its contents to a private instituion, Institut de France. Which is why Francois kept asking us if we knew Bill Gates for this private organization needs money for upkeep of this glorious house of art.

Max caught up with us when we were conversing with our new-found buddy, Francois, and commented that Bill Gates is off curing malaria at the moment.

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Max decided to head off to the see the Musee des Egouts , i.e., Paris’ sewers. I was contemplating going with him but, after reading comments about the smell with one visitor warning people not to visit during the hot summer months, I decided sipping wine with Betsy was much more preferable.

Our last night we brought out the bottle purchased at Lelarge-Pugeot Vineyard and named for their daughter Clemence whom we had met. It seemed a fitting end to 2014.

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DAY 15:  Thursday, January 1

We left for Gare du Nord and our morning trains back to London. Betsy was flying on to Cincinnati and we were training it to Ipswich.

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But, I had to have one shot of the Metro, the transport we relied on so heavily during our visit, and at least one more bread item at the station.

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Speaking of carbohydrates I read something on Eurostar’s napkin, which adds to my fondness for France… “Je ne regrette rien.  Calories don’t count when crossing time zones.” Now, that’s the type of philosophy I can easily adore.

What a trip, what a wonderful group of people with which to share it, and what beautiful memories.

Au revoir… nous allons revenir.

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We’re spending the holidays with family and friends in France. Talk about fairy-tale living!

DAY 1:  Wednesday, December 17

Leaving Ipswich by train and subway, we arrived at St. Pancrass Station to await my sister Betsy’s arrival from Cincinnati. While there I headed off to wander around (lovely bustling station) and Max kept watch over our bags. When I returned a young woman had sat down next to him and begun chatting him up. When I plopped down next to him she immediately began apologizing for talking to my husband, which I thought was a bit strange. Well, it got even better for Max later told me she began a conversation by saying her ex-boyfriend had just texted her asking her to reimburse him for all the money he had spent on her…. then she related how he had just bought himself a camper van, and she wasn’t about to give him any money for he was just going to use that van to get whores. Whoa, now it was turning into an interesting conversation. She then told Max (and, my ear was tuned in but still had to have Max fill in the details) that her 14-year-old niece wouldn’t have to work… ever… because she just had a baby and would keep on having them. All of this while she evidently had poured herself a glass of wine and drank it down.

Betsy met us at the Eurostar terminal and off we squeezed into a tube hurdling through the chunnel towards France. We arrived in Paris, located our EuRopcar

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and duly noted with the attendant all the itsy-bitsy scratches on the car. The kind attendant had the patience of that bible guy Job because we had already peppered him with questions about the extra insurance deposit; and, his sign of relief when we left must have turned to a groan when he saw us return asking where the garage elevator was. He must have promised himself a good bottle of wine when he finally saw us get in the car and actually leave as he waved us on. We quickly exited the train station and entered the sludge of rush-hour traffic as we centimetered our way out of the center and then suburbs of gay pariee.

We made it to Reims in 2.45 hours (yes, the last 15 minutes was due to my not seeing the blue moving dot creep to the correct turn in Reims so we had to retrace our steps just a wee bit), checked into our little but, to us, excellent rooms (remember, Max and I live on a boat where, to travel from the ‘bedroom’ to the ‘kitchen’ is a matter of 9 steps),and left to suss out a place for dinner. We found one just around the corner with a charming young waiter. The waiter became even more charming when he answered Max’s question about ‘what is this?’ on the menu with ‘father of Bambi’ :) I fell in love on the spot.

DAY 2:  Thursday, December 18

We wake Betsy at 9:50 am (she was on Cincinnati time), and she was perky although a bit confused. After some strong cafe au lait,

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we were off to Verdun,

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the sight of WWI’s tragic battle akin to the US Civil War’s Gettysburg. A friend recently told Max and me that WWI was begun by Queen Vicky’s petulant grandchildren:  someone snubbed someone at someone’s event causing everyone to begin maneuvering to hate anyone not on the side of someone. It’s confusing but considering all European heads were somehow related to England’s Victoria and, thus, to each other, it’s believable.

For those who were like me, the understanding of Verdun’s significance during WWI was it was bad. Scratch that, it was horrendous. Now, touring it I obviously learned just how terrible this 300-day battle turned out to be. As a symbol of French pride this town stood in Alcaise Lorraine, territory representing both German and French pride. The Germans decided to throw everything they had against this area counting on the French to then bleed to death defending and losing it (The Germans could have taken out the French supply line but wanted to keep that artery fully operational ensuring their enemy was pumping out life blood until it was depleted).

On February 21, 1916, the Germans began their bombardment and the Battle of Verdun began. Lasting 300 days (until December 18) it resulted in a French victory but not without horrific casualties (estimated just over 500,000 for the French and just under 500,000 for the Germans). There’s a reason this battle is also called The Mincing Machine of Verdun. The actual town of Verdun wasn’t captured but around it became a scorched earth. This engagement between two enemies ended with neither strategic or tactical advantage for either. It represents the senselessness of war, and seeing the scars and the memorials to the dead, we couldn’t have agreed more.

If anyone would like to see one, uplifting moment, check out Sainsbury’s youtube video of its 1914 Christmas ad. It’s based on a historical event that occurred during WWI. Max and I saw it played on the movie screen in Ipswich, and, although a bit saccharine, I still can appreciate its message.

Without too much trouble following the blue Google dot we located Verdun beautifully situated along the River Meuse. Our first Verdun stop was the town of Fleury. This is how it looked like after the German bombed the town.

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It is now a wooded landscape with a chapel and a path taking one to markers noting previous occupants’ livelihood.

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Haunting? Yes.  Beautiful? Yes. Sad? Of course.

With sprinkles turning a bit into straight away rain Max, who’s generally always prepared, got out his protector pants while Betsy and I just figured our hair would get rinsed well.

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The three of us took separate paths while each tried to envision what the scene would have been like in 1916 after the battle. I can honestly admit I couldn’t. It’s too overwhelming. I found it difficult enough trying to reconstruct towns and cities when ruined buildings and streets still stand. What was even more poignant to me was finding ourselves sloshing around in mud, mud that was so minor compared to what those in war were living in.

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Back in the car we headed towards another battle and memorial site.

The Duoaumont Ossuary is a sacred memorial to those unknown soldiers who died in the Battle of Verdun. Correct outfits are requested to be worn and men to remain bare-headed. Furthermore, one is greeted with the a sign asking visitors to remember where they are.

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The bones of 130,000 unknown fallen during the Battle of Verdun were dug up and re-interred under this building dedicated in 1932, seven years before the next war (and WWI was to end all wars? sure). Another tragic reminder of how most wars end–placeholders for the next.

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Touring the long gallery, we lit a candle for our mom and our two dads.

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We then went to listen to a 20-minute documentary that provided the overview of the battle and the creation of this site.

Back outside were 15,000 graves and their associated crosses standing to attention before the artillery-shaped memorial. Each cross has a rosebush, which means this site must be amazing beautiful during the spring and summer in spite of the deaths associated with it.

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Suitable somber after this visit we head towards Fort Douaumont, built to defend France against future German aggression after the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt ending the Franco-Prussian War (July 19 1870-May 10, 1871). That war resulted in the unification of Germany and France’s loss of the provinces of Alsace and part of Lorraine in addition to a heavy war indemnity and German occupation until it was paid. Not a good way to rebuild friendly borders.

On our way to the Fort there were remnants strewn along the road, such as this bunker that was connected to the Fort via its 3km of underground galleries or tunnels.

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This fort had a skelton crew when it was taken by the Germans in four days on February 25th. Talk about demoralizing.

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On the 24th of October the Moroccan Colonial Infantry Regiment retook this symbolic Fort, and a memorial was erected in thanks to those soldiers who fought for France.

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Similar to our Fleury visit the wispy images of former embattled structures, craters and trenches created more ghostly imagery of battle scenes. What helped bring a sense of peace to this and other sites was the documentation was in French, English AND German. And, often we saw the German flag standing in brotherhood next to the French one.

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We stopped at one of the most beautiful memorials for another ugly event:  the Trench of Bayonets. On June 12 the 137th Regiment of French infantry were buried alive, and they were found three years later only because of their bayonets sticking out of the earth. When they dug down they discovered a soldier standing next to each bayonet.

This memorial is the trench where they were found.

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From there we went to Citadelle Souterraine located under the citadel of Verdun where 7km of galleries housed 2,000 men, a bakery (reputed to have baked 28,000 loaves a day), mlll, armaments, telephone and telegraph exchange, and a water-pump station. It’s also where we decided to take a battery-operated cart running through some of the galleries (tunnels).

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Final review:  don’t do it. It was a bad Disneylandesque ride through what should have been held in a more sacred light.

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After that, we decided it was too dark to visit the American cemetery (the Americans arrived June 26, 1917, but needing training before entering the trenches October 21 on the Western Front; the war ended on November 19, 1918, with the Treaty of Versailles signed on June 28, 1919. As many know, the terms of this treaty set the stage for the next world war thanks to the ostracizing of Germany and its war debts).

Second option was pick up wine and scotch and return to room for cocktails. Max was willing to drive the extra hour+ if anyone wanted to go there. We smartly and unanimously went with the second option.

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… four hours later we’re back from eating street food (hamburgers and fries) amidst some locals who were serving champagne. Betsy caught their eye and started a conversation. Before we knew it Stephen was pouring us glasses from his family’s vineyard and Clemence was promising some from hers. We ate, drank, and spoke with them as well as some other locals. We also met Natayla. She’s from US via Columbia, South America, and is working at Clemence’s family’s vineyard, Lelarge-Pugeot as an intern from UC Davis. And, instead of one booked tour of Billecart-Salmon that B arranged last week we now have two… Billecart-Salmon AND Clemence’s.

Bubbles anyone? :)

DAY 3:  Friday, December 19

The alarm dragged us out of sleep as we prepared for even more champagne. We stumbled out of our rooms and to the car thinking we’d grab coffee along the way.

Wrong. There was no coffee along the way (with the exception of a Micky D’s we passed at which both B and I turned our noses up; big mistake).  Continuing to our destination in Mareuil-sur-Ay we scoured the ville centre for a coffee shop. Nope. But, there was a patisserie, so we ended up at least with some bread item in our stomachs prior to imbibing bubbly.

Pulling into the gorgeous French driveway of this champagne headquarters we met Sandie, our guide, and waited for two more to appear.

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They turned out to be Stephanie and Sam from LA, two young engineers, he, working on digital phones, she, on environmental and sustainability consulting.

Through the back garden

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we trundled off to the buildings where the champagne was squeezed from all the gathered grapes collected from the plots they own and from ones from which they purchase the harvest. Harvesting typically takes a week to ten days.

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To prove I was listening I’ve noted some retelling of Sandie’s tour:

  • They use three types of grapes in varying configurations to create their different champagnes and wines:  pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier. The first two are less hardy than the pinot meunier, but the climate change has made it easier to grown them.

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  • 4,000 liters of grapes convert to 2,000 of juice.Billecart-Salmon allows only thirty minutes from harvesting to pressing; they want minimal grape skin contact with the juice to keep the champagne from acquiring the color from the skin.
  • This champagne house produces two million bottles a year with five million kept in the cellars (3km long running under the town).
  • Their unique method is making it quite cold (although, you should drink it NOT cold but slightly chilled)If not a vintage year (year stipulated on the bottle), they can add up to one and two years’ previous wine to ensure a consistent taste.
  • It’s been in the family since 1818, and the cellar master along with the current owner and his father (over 90) are the tasters.

One of the most startling bits of information was learning that people squeezed into each tank to wash it out once emptied. A wee bit claustrophobic for me (as well as requiring a fairly restrictive diet).

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In the cellar we discovered another interesting tidbit:  they don’t like to clean their cellars of mold, even stringy, disgusting furry stuff:

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The reason being they fear destroying the existing mold and growth might ruin any natural benefit that occurs when keeping the wines in the cellar. Yuck, although I can’t argue with the end product.

While in this cavernous cellar we passed a gated and locked room where Sandie said the owner kept their vineyard library. They had wines going back to 1932, and she also duly noted no one had the key except the owner…

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The last stop prior to tasting was where they aged the wine in casks. On a large blackboard in calligraphied handwriting (by a man as per Sandie), each village’s grape juice is duly noted to identify each cask.

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Billecart-Salmon doesn’t replace the interior but will add new exteriors to ensure their image and brand keep up apperances. Plus, the angel hovering over the casks helps keep the spirits in heavenly order.

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After three glasses of champagne (and that’s with limited food intake and NO coffee) we were buzzing a bit. Poor Stephanie and Sam didn’t even have coffee. But, we all enjoyed our tour, our guide, and the champagne.

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Next, lunch.

We ended up at the only bistro in town and immediately wished we had bought sandwiches at the patisserie after seeing the buffet (items not recognizable floating in mayo and strange meat slices) and hearing plat du jour was either fish and potatoes or steak and frites. Thinking it’d be rude to leave we ordered one plate of each and coffee. Wasn’t bad but we wouldn’t be stopping there again if you know what I mean.

Off we go to our second tasting up to Vrigny to see Lelarge-Pugeot, Clemence’s family’s vineyard, which is organic and been in the family since the 18th century.

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We parked and poked around and were finally spotted by Clemence’s mom and dad followed by Natayla. Natayla, whom we had met the previous night at the impromptu tasting that we managed to get invited to, showed us around their operation. Lelarge-Pugeot produces roughly 60,000 bottles a year, and one this year is named after Clemence (unfortunately, she was in Paris holding some tastings otherwise we’d have a photo of her, too).

Natalia showed us the turning racks, both modern and traditional. She said the owner liked the traditional method. The reason for this exercise is to get rid of the cloudiness in sparkling wine caused by sediment (turning loosens it and gravity pulls it to the neck when bottles are titled downward; it forms a plug when the neck is frozen so when the cork is popped, the trapped carbon dioxide disgorges the sediment out). For a much better and more complete lesson on how this starry drink is created, check this site out:  http://www.wineperspective.com/making_champagne.htm  :)

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The tour was quick (which was fine by us) followed by some tastings and, of course, a purchase :)

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We ended up leaving wishing we could spend more time with this young woman from UC Davis who’s adventurous and curious and gracious. As she said maybe our paths will cross again. A traveler’s motto for sure.

We hurried back to Reims so we could visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral before the light faded. It had really started to rain, which only added to the somberness of this church.

A statue of Jeanne d’arc (she’s linked to this city, specifically, this cathedral) greeted us as we scurried towards the entrance.

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Once inside the chilly cavernous building we discovered we had to go to the Tourist Information Office to rent the audio guides. Back outside we ran to a neighboring building, procured the guides, and ran back through pouring rain to the now freezing interior of this historic building.

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As we walked around trying to use the audio guides we didn’t do too well following the snippets of history. Because none of us knew our chuch architecture when the tape directed us to a certain location we didn’t know where the heck to go. After forty minutes of asking one another ‘what’s the [churcey term for a locale]? ‘ we decided to call it quits but not before we paid homage to the Maid of Orleans, Jeanne d’arc.

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Her chapel and the alter were worth viewing, the latter because it’s where  the Kings of France (last one in 1825) were crowned starting with the baptism of Clovis I, 498-499.

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Being crowned in Reims provided the kings with a connection to God, imbuing their rule with a sacred flavor.

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This particular church meant a lot to Max because it’s where Jeanne d’arc stood beside Charles VII as he was crowned; and, it’s because of her that Charles was able to hold his coronation in this place.

We turned in our guides, purchased take-away sandwiches, salads, and a turkish duram, and strolled back to our rooms taking in the Christmas spirit glittering all around us. A lovely way to end our stay in Reims.

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DAY 3:  Saturday, December 20   

We packed our bags and set off for Amboise via Troyes, a stop roughly midway between Reims and a VRBO.com where we’d meet up with our friends the Sumners.

Troyes is described as a great way to experience medieval France because of its half-timbered houses.  I particularly enjoyed the odd colors (not sure if the residents really painted their homes using these tints way back when?)

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There’s even a street where the houses almost meet as demonstrated by Betsy and Max and looking skyward.

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After a lunch of salads, including Max’s that must have had half a porker on it (more than he wanted),

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we walked back to our car catching sight of even more half-timbered homes, many of which were looking like they were on their last legs.

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One of the best sights was seeing the Cheshire Cat surveying his domain from the rooftop of a parked car…

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and, a manhole cover with wooden inserts for Ellen :)

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Our final destination, Amboise, loomed ahead of us. Three hours later AFTER a 32+ euro highway toll. (I think this is what they must mean by highway robbery. One even cost us over 8 euros for only twenty minutes of driving) we arrived at our VRBO.com, which Traci and Smokey found, unloaded a few essentials (cheese, ham, bread and wine) then waited form our friends’ arrival :)

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DAY 4:  Sunday, December 21

Up and out like a herd of turtles. We all wanted to experience the open-air Market held 8:30a-1:30p on Sundays.

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We were going to pick up items for our dinners during the week, but it was a bit of a hodgepodge in a wonderful sense.

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There were so many items from which to select it was difficult not getting side-tracked.

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But, we managed to find plenty that would jumble together for dinners augmented by a stop at the local butcher’s.

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Betsy and I went for a walk to Clos du Luce, Leo’s home for the last three years of his life thanks to his pal King Francis I (don’t know if you remember from when Max and I were here but the two buddies had an underground tunnel connecting the royal household with Leo’s house so they could enjoy one another’s company without a whole slew of folk hanging around). It was as lovely as the first time so I couldn’t resist snapping more shots of local color.

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And, one of the best ones was the surprise Christmas concert we came upon just below the Royal Chateau, primarily due to the lively conductor.

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Back home we enjoyed the company of our visiting Butterscotch Butterball so dubbed by Michelle and Danielle.

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This kitty became our daily visitor and was hard to resist a cuddle whenever we spotted him.

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Our first market dinner was chicken that goes round and round along with a ratouille dish Traci made after she learned to cook each vegetable separately and to add the tomatoes at the very end.

Boy, was it good, and it looked pretty fantastic as well.

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The night ended with a photo of our leopardess followed by a night of charades.

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DAY 5:  Monday, December 22

A lazy day without any committed sites to see or meals to create, so we all ended up wandering around Amboise and soaking up the Christmas spirit in this lovely Loire River Valley town.

Everyone gathered around the kitchen and dining room connecting with friends and family while catching up on the news.

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Meanwhile dinner was prepped

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and a lovely dessert was presented by Smokey.

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Yet, the girls, both runners, were visiting the chicken carcass an hour or so later prior to our nightly game of Charades, warmed up from the night before :)

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DAY 6:  Tuesday, December 23

A long drive to Oradour-sur-Glane (only 3+ hours one-way but, still, it felt long, especially since neither Betsy nor I had had any coffee to start. By the time we found a place almost an hour away we split five javas amongst the three of us. Along with some french goodies such as a croissant and french-bread sandwiches.

The site we were heading for was called the matyed village. The museum was closed but a statue is situated beside a street in the existing town prior to entering the original one across the street.

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