Friday, April 26, 2019

Road Trip 2

Le Vigan is midway, more or less, between Six-Fours and E and G's place in Ginals. That's where we were heading, but we were so close to le Cirque de Navacelle that we took a little detour.  The first time we saw this sight was more than 30 years ago. Then, cars stopped just at the viewpoint and it was crowded with cars. Now, they've created a parking lot about a kilometer away and you walk across the plateau, past a restaurant and boutique to a path that takes you from the main viewpoint (still the same magnificent view) to another and on to a third, which we decided not to hike to.
After some detours, we managed to find the roads to La Couvertoirade, another place we had visited the year we spent our vacation in Dourbie. La Couvertoirade is a fortified village founded by the Templar Knights. There are several in the area. This one still has its ramparts intact. We did not venture up along the ramparts this time; we stuck to the village, which involves a pretty steep climb. I think what is most beautiful is that every building was built from the same gray stone. It's harmonious. It was also quite windy and much cooler than when we had visited the Cirque de Navacelle, earlier. After lunch, we headed for Ginals, just two hours away, according to the GPS.
Our route went alongside the autoroute for a while before we had to get on to the autoroute to take the viaduct de Millau going North, this time, with Millau down in the crux of the valley on our right. A few years ago, we were on the same autoroute going south to Montpellier. And the first time we saw the viaduct it was from a café in Millau. No matter what the viewpoint, it's an impressive bridge.
E greeted us with a still-warm-from-the-oven plum pie. These are plums from one of their trees and she needs to empty the freezer for defrosting. A couple of days later we had some peaches -- still defrosting so it was like eating peach sorbet. All yummy. I helped weed the potato patch. She hasn't planted this year's crop, yet, but some potatoes that were left in the ground last year have started growing. There are also some mushrooms, but we can't figure out which kind, yet: edible or non-edible. When in doubt, assume non-edible.
The gite is coming along, slowly but surely. They still have the second floor (third in U.S. terms) walls to finish. But it's manageable.
One day, we decided to go to the bastides in L'Aveyron. Leaving Najac, we started with Villeneuve en Aveyron, having simply driven through Villefranche. We've walked around Villefranche enough times to be more depressed each time as we notice the empty shops. Villeneuve is much smaller than Villefranche. Its history is slightly different. It was founded a couple of centuries earlier as a sanctuary city (salvetat) for peasants escaping cruel lords. They became the peasants of the monastery, instead. Then, as the Cathare war between the Comte de Toulouse, Raymond VII, and the French king's generals, the Montfort brothers, was winding down, the Montforts attached a royal bastide (fortified town) to the sanctuary. The whole town is tiny and an easy walk. We would have liked to see the inside of the church. One half is Romanesque and when Villeneuve was added to one of the main routes to San Compostelle, a Gothic transept was added on. Unfortunately, the church was still locked up and the tourist office, where we went to find out when the church would be open, didn't open until 2:00 p.m. It was 10:30, so we left.
We followed the signs for Peyrusse-le-Roc. This is a major town dating back to the 8th century. The leaflet handed out by the tourist office is not helpful and the booklet they sell for €3 is not much better. We drove up to the top of the hill and found a parking lot from which we started our meandering. There's not much to see in this hilltop town. The arrows led down to a viewpoint of a solitary pointy rock pillar with a couple of towers on it -- quite picturesque. The arrow led down a steep path to the medieval town, where the interesting ruins are. It was too steep. We headed back uphill and asked if there was easier access. The nice lady told us how to drive there -- really pretty far before tacking back along the stream. We parked. There are a chapel and a "hospital" (des Anglais) dating from the Hundred Years War. From there, there's a steep hike uphill to the medieval town. Again, too steep. So we didn't get to visit the ruins. Among the ruins, there is one called "the synagogue". I was wondering if there had really been a significant Jewish community, but found out, in the booklet we bought, that it was a rock that was called the synagogue because there was a story that Jews had taken shelter beside that rock. This was an important administrative center with a population of around 3500, but the booklet does not say what the economy was based on and the lady at the tourist office couldn't tell us, either. Only reading the Wikipedia article, later, did I find out it was silver.
By the time we left Peyrusse, it was time to find some lunch, which we did on our way to La-Bastide-l'Evèque, which we could have skipped. This bastide was founded by the Bishop of Rodez who was jealous of the Bishop of Villefranche. The tiny church is the same shape, with a covered porch front, as the gigantic church in Villefranche.
Our original idea had been to also visit Rieupeyroux and Sauveterre-de-Rouergue (another word for sanctuary city) but we gave up and went to E and G's to relax in the sun.

Road Trip 3

Castelnau-de-Montmirail
Saturday looked like it was going to be another warm, sunny day. We decided to go to some bastides Albigeois. The royal bastides generally have the church in the center, with the market square in front of the church, and the bastides built under Raymond VII are built around a market square, with the church off to the side or even at part of the ramparts, as at Cordes-sur-Ciel. We visited Castelnau-de-Montmirail. The arcades on the square are interesting, especially in the brickwork. In fact, the whole town has this interesting construction. For lunch, we returned to Puycelsi, which we had visited last year. After lunch, we took the road along the Aveyron past Bruniquel, Saint-Antonin, Lexos, and Laguépie back to Najac.
The tree in bloom at the
Monument aux Morts in Varen
Sunday was Easter. We got up early in order to go to Saint Antonin. It being market day, we wanted to get there before nine in order to find a parking space and see the market before it disappeared in the crowd of people shoppers. It's quite a nice market. We went into a little bookshop and I was able to consult the owner on the choice for S's birthday. Later, at the bee product stall, I got a full explanation of the benefits of Propolis. It was also the plant sellers'day just outside the market area. We bought all we needed for our vegetable garden. On our way back to Najac, we stopped in Varen and walked through the medieval village, next to the church and deanery.
The hotel restaurant was full for Easter lunch, after which we went to E & G's. It was no longer sunny and warm. Our little vacation was coming to an end. We spent the afternoon in the warmth of the gîte's wood stove fire. (That translates as "vacation rental", but since it's not ready for rental to anyone, yet, I think "little house" suits it better, even if it's not quite ready to live in, yet.) Lively conversation, a couple of games of Yahtzee, and an excellent dinner of Toulouse sausage from the producer who sells at the market, cabbage from the last year's garden later, we said our goodbyes and took to the road, home, on Monday. 

Road Trip 1

At Les Embiez, blue water
We left home Friday morning, the 12th, and arrived in Six-Fours (Le Brusc) early enough to start the catch-up conversation right from shutting the car door. Early enough to get the things from the car before the evening storm hit. Early enough to enjoy a fresh soup that G. had made that afternoon along with a light cake that reminded me of angel-food cake in all but the form. The events in Algeria were the main topic and that led to nostalgia as we opened Google Earth to find the site of the demonstrations, these days, and where the apartment was and where the lycée was.
Saturday morning we went for a long walk from Le Brusc to Les Embiez and back to the beach and the still excellent Italian restaurant, La Spiaggia. From there, it was just as easy to walk back to the house as it was to go back to where the car was parked. It was a beautiful day; the water, every shade of blue.
Sunday, the four of us went over to C & Y's for a homemade couscous -- copious and good. We didn't get up from the table until 4 and didn't leave until almost 7. Catching up used to mean how's the health and what are the children up to. Now, we add what are the grandchildren up to, so it really takes time, but that's the fun conversation -- who's in her 4th year of medical studies, who's already a working engineer, who's liking dentistry; who's studying law and who, finance; who's becoming an aircraft technician and who's in IT --- and then, ours, who are still in nursery, primary, and middle school.
A bit of the garden with the
fish pond and waterfalls
We left on Monday morning to visit T, Paul's American friend from before my time, who lives in Avignon. That's where we usually visit her, but not this year. Her wonderful parents, whom we loved seeing when we visited her, died last year. T has bought a house in Le Vigan, in the Cevennes. It's well located and, for T, it's a fantastic find. It's a house with lots of rooms and even some vacation rental apartments. And the house has enough space for her Feldenkrais workshops. In addition to the house, there are 21 hectares of garden and forest. She's still in the process of getting everything to her taste.
Le Vigan used to be the silk capital of France. T's house is where they had the mulberry trees and they dried the cocoons. Across the road is the factory where they made the fabric. It's not a big town, but it's very much alive. The Cevennes mountains are also known for apples and chestnuts. We had lunch on Monday at a little bistro that was open and then went back to the house for the appointment with an ironsmith to discuss some of the work to be done. It was that evening that we turned on the TV to hear what President Macron had to say. Instead, we discovered Notre Dame in flames. When the studio journalist's questions to the on-site journalists became ridiculous, inciting speculation, and the images were repetitive, we turned it off.
On Tuesday, after dropping our car off at a local garage because one of the tires had lost a lot of air and we thought it might need replacing, T drove us around the countryside. However, we ended up back in Le Vigan for an excellent lunch at La Lusette. Frankly, this is within walking distance from the house! At the end of the afternoon, we went back to the garage, where the mechanic informed us the tire was fine; the problem was in the valve. He charged only €10 for the time he spent taking the tire off, testing it, and putting it back. Then, we spent some more time discussing what car T should buy -- one that would not grate every pothole and would be easy to repair - a Dacia.



Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame

This is going to be a short post. Paul and I are visiting a friend and not glued to a screen. I'm typing on my phone, which I don't like doing.
Yesterday, at the end of dinner, we turned on the TV to hear what Macron was going to say about his conclusions on the Grand Débat, the past 5 months of unrest throughout France. What we saw was Notre Dame in flames.
We didn't watch for long because the journalist, after the eyewitness shock accounts, started asking stupid speculative unanswerable questions. There was no way to determine cause and estimate damage until the fire was out.
Last week the statues from the roof were removed for restoration while restoration work was to start on the flèche. I'm speculating the fire had something to do with that. But I'm sure there will be a thorough investigation.
This morning I saw the headline that there will probably be a national subscription (an old fashioned form of go-fund-me) and I hope participation will be international.
It's horrible.