Chartres

Believe it or not, this is likely my last France post for this year. We’re now in New York (grandkid pictures to follow), having left France last Saturday. Flight over was no problem, except a little late, shuttle was waiting for us, so here we are in Elmsford.

Chartres

For years – literally – we have been saying that we needed to go to the town of Chartres to see its famous cathedral. Last Thursday, we had one last free day and when Mary suggested a day-trip somewhere, I suggested Chartres, and off we went.

Casa Picassiette

Mary said we definitely should see Casa Picassiette before we went to the Cathedral, so we did. Casa Picassiette is, um, an “unusual” house. The man who lived in it covered darn near every surface with mosaic designs made from broken plates he picked up during the day. Only a few pictures will describe this; words fail me.

Casa Picasiette - one building of four and five.

Casa Picasiette – one building of four and five.

But it gets better: some interior photos:

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The man who built this was truly an artist.

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Remember: everything was made from bits and pieces of broken plates over a period of more than 35 years. The man who created it worked at different jobs during the day and at his creation during the night. I might add, just as a sidelight, that he had several stays in a mental hospital. Just saying…

Chartres Cathedral

Most people who know these things say that the Cathedral at Chartres is the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in France and maybe the world. One reason is that it is far more original than other cathedrals; while there have been modifications, Chartres Cathedral is largely as it was when completed in the 13th century. Also, the cathedral was completed fairly quickly, meaning that its design is consistent throughout, with few hodge-podge additions tacked on at later dates.

In 2009 a major restoration started. Now, a key question in any restoration of this sort is, “To what period do you restore?” This restoration is being done to what was known of the Cathedral in in 1300s, when it was largely complete and fairly new. There are, of course, arguments among architectural historians about the restoration, but generally it seems to have been well-received. One interesting aspect is that, as the restorers cleaned walls, they discovered that in the 1300s the Cathedral interior was painted with a cream color, and so the restoration has used that color. It is just beautiful.

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I cheated – this picture is swiped off the Internet. The lack of people gives away that I didn’t take it, but honestly, the Cathedral was not at all packed with people, as we had expected.

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A wall, showing the beautiful cream color to which the interior is being restored after cleaning and repair.

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The organ, for Margaret. We listened to it being played for a while. Honestly, though organs in these huge cathedrals are powerful, the acoustics are terrible, and they often sound muddy.

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The Cathedral definitely dominates the skyline in Chartres.

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The view from our table at lunch.

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Because the Cathedral sits on the highest point of the city, if you approach from the south, you can see the Cathedral towering on the horizon long before you see the city itself.

One last beautiful part of the Chartres Cathedral: because it has escaped damage and changes over the centuries, its stained glass windows are largely intact. The creators of these windows used a special technique to create blue from cobalt, and the result is that these windows are works of art, with spectacular blues in them.

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The city of Chartres looks to be interesting, and deserves a couple days, we think. We will be back, and we are so glad that we used our last day-trip to see the Cathedral.

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Paris Visit

We went into Paris for a couple days last week. After watching the weather for a few days we realized we had a choice: Paris cool and with a chance of rain, or Paris hot. The forecast was right: this week in Paris (and here in Bois-le-Rois) has been hot, hot, hot – in the mid-90s. Now Paris in the rain isn’t great, but Paris in the mid-90s is undoable for us. So off we went Friday.

As a follow-up to my “La France est Compliquée” posts, here’s another example. We have Navigo passes which can be recharged for a week ($23) and which provide unlimited use of the trains (which we ride to and from Paris), metros, buses (which we much prefer) and trams for that week. On Friday we arrived at the train station and I asked to recharge our Navigo passes for this week. Nope, can’t do it. After Thursday, I can only recharge them for next week, which means that we can’t use them for our trip, which starts on Friday. Now, if someone has a good explanation as to why we can’t recharge a weekly pass after Thursday, I’d love to hear it. Anyway, we bought train tickets and when we arrived in Paris, metro tickets (also good on buses and trams). Compliquée…

Cité de la Architecture et Patrimoine.

This is likely our favorite museum in Paris. We returned – the fifth time we’ve been there – and still didn’t see all we wanted to see. One floor of the museum is dedicated to models of buildings, with explanations showing the history of French architecture (in French, of course; between Laurie and I we can muddle through and understand. Mostly). Here is part of this floor:

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The museum has a fair amount about le Corbusier, about whom I’ve posted (le Corbusier). Here there is a unit from an apartment building in Marseille that he designed. We spent probably half an hour in it, and Laurie’s favorite thing was:

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The view is not bad from this museum…

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This museum is worth a visit, for sure. In fact, we decided that when we return to France, we’ll just buy a couple annual passes to it. I’ve posted about Cité in past years; if I can find the posts I’ll add a link here.

Canal St. Martin

This is probably our favorite walk in Paris, rain or shine (and it ended with rain this time). Canal St. Martin was build by Emperor Napoleon to bring water to Paris, to ease transportation by boats of goods into the city and, maybe most importantly, to put a physical barrier between Paris and the Saint Antoine quarter, a powerful working class area from which revolutions arose. In the 1960s, as the need for the canal declined, there was talk of filling it and doing something with this most valuable land. Wiser heads prevailed, and the canal has remained, a beautiful path through the city.

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Boats still travel on Canal St. Martin, but they are tour boats or tourist barges; it’s been a long time since we saw a commercial boat on Canal St. Martin.

Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine

For years I’ve gotten a big kick out of Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. This is a big, crazy, busy, noisy, working street, and it fascinates me; I love to walk it. A couple trips ago I learned that there are many courtyards and passages off Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine, so I went looking for them, and I found a bunch. On this, our last trip to Paris this year, Laurie wanted to see these, and so off we went. I’ll just post pictures of them with captions where appropriate.

First, a couple pictures of Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. Actually, it seems a little calm here, on a Saturday morning, but you can see that it’s a busy street.

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Now for a look at the passages and courtyards that are connected to Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. None of these are visible from the street; you have to just walk down the street and when you see a big double door, see if it’s open. I have no qualms about going into the ones with closed doors. In fact, several of these were behind a closed locked door, in which case we stood outside until someone with the passcode to the door came in or left, and then we entered before the door could close. No one ever said a word to us about why were were there.

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An old sign in one of the courtyards. We love seeing these vestiges of an older Paris.

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Cour Bel Air, probably the prettiest courtyard on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. Here there’s a big sign blocking entry, so we asked the concierge if we could go in and look around. Pas de problème. She was as nice as could be.

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Cour Bel Air

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Cour Bel Air

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Cour Bel Air

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Many of the courtyards and passages have connections to housing and decoration trades, a vestige of when this quartier was the home for those trades. This is a place that restores and repairs chairs. We looked in the windows, and it was amazing.

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One last detour, to Passage l’Homme, around the corner from Rue du Fauborg-Saint-Antoine. This is also a beautiful place, pretty much unknown.

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It rained off and on during this walk, and finally it started to rain enough that we called it quits. I know that few tourists will ever have the time or inclination to search out the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine passages, especially after seeing the rue itself, with its noise and traffic and craziness. So I hope this post gives you a sense of a different Paris, the seldom-seen-by-tourists Paris. I still think this is one of the coolest streets in Paris.

 

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St. Malo

St. Malo sits right on the Atlantic coast, and has quite a history. Records indicate that St. Malo existed in the 1st century, and during the 1800s it became notorious as the home-base of pirates on the Atlantic. Disaster struck at the end of World War 2, as the city was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing in August, 1944. Four years later (!), when funds became available to rebuild the city, it was decided to rebuild it not with modern buildings, but using the same stone materials as before to the architectural designs as before. In essence, the new St. Malo would be the old, beautiful St. Malo, but freshly built. The result is an exceedingly beautiful place.

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St. Malo’s beauty brings a downside: the city is the most-visited place in Brittany. During July and August, it is, as an English friend of ours puts it, “heaving with people.” We visited for a day in mid-August, the highest point of tourism everywhere in France, and it was ugly.

Cars lined up to enter the city. This line was about half a mile long. Where they all planned to park I have no idea, as we'd just come from the city and it was already jammed.

Cars lined up to enter the city. This line was about half a mile long. Where they all planned to park I have no idea, as we’d just come from the city and it was already jammed.

As parking disappears, drivers get creative. These cars are parked on the grassy edge of a parking lot about half a mile from St. Malo. This was the last August holiday, so these drivers did not have to worry about getting a ticket or being towed away, as the ticket-givers and tow truck drivers were all taking the day off.

As parking disappears, drivers get creative. These cars are parked on the grassy edge of a parking lot about half a mile from St. Malo. This was the last August holiday, so these drivers did not have to worry about getting a ticket or being towed away, as the ticket-writers and tow truck drivers were all taking the day off as well.

Oy!

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Laurie has my permission to shoot me if I ever dress like this:

"Hey, I'm on vacation.I can wear whatever I want."

“Hey, I’m on vacation. I can wear whatever I want.”

But St. Malo has some beautiful sights, away from the crowds.

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Creperies everywhere! St. Malo is the main city of Brittany, the origin of crepes. I can tell you that if I were looking for crepes in St. Malo, this would be the place: away from the crowds, in a lovely street.

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What to say about St. Malo? I’d like to see it off-season, that’s for sure. I think it’s interesting that the city is comprised of what are essentially “new-old” buildings, and these buildings hold their own against modern architecture. They are beautiful, in a different way than a le Corbusier or a Frank Gehry building, but beautiful nevertheless.

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Dinan

Once in a while we encounter a new place that we immediately fall in love with, that we know is going to be a favorite. Dinan is one of those places. We were here three nights, could have stayed longer and know that we’ll be back.

Our Arrival

After a three hour drive from Saint-Pierre-Quiberon, we arrived in Dinan. Now, Dinan is an old city and our hotel was right in the middle of the City Historique, which means right in the middle of the old streets built for horses when horses were small, and it also means where the tourists are. But I had the hotel’s address in our trusty GPS and having become reasonably blasé about driving into places like this, charged into the city. We arrived at where the GPS located the hotel to find a.) we were, indeed, in the middle of a warren of small, mostly pedestrian, streets; and b.) there was no hotel in sight. Away we drove. We located a parking place, did some research, let the GPS find a new route and tried it again. The GPS promptly took us to a street with a big “Do Not Enter” sign on it and some words below, but as there were cars behind us, I didn’t take the time to figure out the words, so I turned away. We wandered around a bit and finally approached the hotel from the same street as we originally were on, but this time saw that the last short street was, indeed, the hotel’s street. This time we looked around more and, lo and behold, the hotel was right where we had stopped, both this time and on our first run through town. Now, I might mention that the hotel has a small sign above the second floor, which was not visible while we were in the car, so I have some excuse, but the GPS was right and I ignored it. Later, I realized that the “Do Not Enter” sign said, in small letters below it, “Except bikes, motorcycles and local service.” Well, as far as I was concerned, driving to the hotel was “local service” so I drove down that street every other time we returned to the hotel, often to the amazement and glaring looks of the pedestrians. Anyway, we arrived and checked in.

Now the fun started. Our room was large and comfortable, and its main attraction: this view out one of its three large windows:

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View from our room, looking at the main pedestrian street of Dinan. We spent quite a bit of time sitting at the window, drinking wine or champagne and watching the activity. Another window looked out on another beautiful street.

The above picture was taken late in the day, when the tourist horde had subsided. Here’s a picture of the same street in mid-afternoon:

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Even though Dinan had a lot of tourists, we enjoyed the activity. It wasn’t like Venice last year, where there were places a person could not even move because of the crowds, and here all the tourists are French – like La Rochelle: families of three generations walking together, couples, singles, folks just having fun.

Dinan was, like many larger medieval towns, a fortress town originally. Dinan has preserved almost all of its walls and they are amazing.

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And to say that Dinan is beautiful understates the charm. One morning I walked out early to take pictures in the morning light (the morning tourist-less light, I might add). Here is early-morning Dinan:

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The Port of Dinan, on the Rance river. We didn't discover this until about 30 minutes before we had to leave, so we never walked down to it. Next time...

The Port of Dinan, on the Rance river. We didn’t discover this until about 30 minutes before we had to leave, so we never walked down to it. Next time…

We love Dinan. The town and the area around it are beautiful. We took two day-trips, one to the Emerald Coast and one to St. Malo. More on them later. We are already looking forward to a return to Dinan.

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Saint-Pierre-Quiberon

As I pointed out in the Carnac post, we’re in the small town of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon. This is on the southeastern edge of Brittany, on Presqu’île Quiberon. Now, “presqu’île’ translates to “almost an island:” in English, a peninsula. So we have water on the east side, the protected Bay of Quiberon, and water on the west side, open to the Atlantic Ocean. The west side is called, appropriately, the Côte Sauvage – the Wild Coast. It reminds us strongly of the Washington and Oregon coasts: headlands and inlets, and crashing waves.

Some pictures of the Côte Sauvage:

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Laurie enjoying the scenery.

Laurie enjoying the scenery.

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If you look at this picture a bit, you see a man sitting in a beach chair between two cars. He’s on a very busy road; he cannot see the beach from where he is. I guess we all have different ideas of what’s relaxing and enjoyable.

On the bay side is the pretty town of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon.

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The restaurant on the left is our favorite for moules frites (mussels and fries).

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It was pretty cool the day I took these pictures, and in the morning, so there are few people on the beach. On a warm sunny afternoon, it’s pretty crowded. The water temperature on the bay side is comfortable for swimming (no surf crashing in, either); the Côte Sauvage has colder water and big waves. So far, we haven’t braved either side other than getting our feet wet.

Three years ago Jamie and Hervé, who have been coming here for vacation for many years, invited us to share their rented house for a few days. Though we’re not beach people, we realized why Jamie and Hervé love it here: it’s just beautiful and relaxing and fun to be here. Last year Jamie and Hervé made it a little more permanent, buying a house here in Saint-Pierre-Quiberon. Now they can come here for vacations and long weekends. Very nice, we say; very nice. Laurie and I thank them for bringing us to this beautiful place, and for letting us stay in their beautiful house.

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Carnac

We’re in Brittany, on the Presq’ile Quiberon to be exact, staying at friends Jamie and Hervé’s beautiful house in Saint-Pierre-Quiberon. It’s beautiful here and a very enjoyable place: lots of French vacationers, beautiful beaches on both sides of the peninsula, a pretty town on the water, great seafood. I’ll post some pictures of the area in a day or two; this post is about a place we find simply amazing: Carnac.

Carnac is the site of the largest stone alignments in the world. Brittany has the largest collection of alignments, menhirs (upright stones), dolmens (stone burial sites), and megaliths (menhirs that form a monument of some sort, such as an alignment) in the world and Carnac is its crown jewel. Carnac simply fascinates us. Here’s an overview of a small part of the Carnac alignments:

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This shows maybe 15% of the alignments at Carnac.

The alignments are fenced, to prevent damage to them from visitors. I’m glad for that, and wish that had happened years ago. There are 3,000 stones in five different sites, but archaeologists believe that when Carnac was completed, there were double that. Where did the missing 3,000 go? They can be found in houses built in the area, in a nearby lighthouse, and in stone walls. Until 1960, the alignments were used as a campground! The only way to get into the alignments now, rather than seeing them from the perimeter, is to go on a guided tour (which limits foot traffic to certain areas), so we did that again (we did it last year, too). Some pictures from the tour:

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The good and bad of Carnac: ancient megaliths and modern traffic jams. Lots o’ folks here.

Our guide concludes the tour with this comment: “If you ask, ‘Who did this?’ we can tell you. If you ask, ‘How did they do this?’ we can tell you that. If you ask, “Why did they do this?’ we cannot answer. No one knows why this was built.” Archaeologists are certain the purpose was not religious, as there are no religious artifacts found on the sites. Several theories hold that the alignments have a connection with celestial events: the rising of the sun or moon on the solstices or equinoxes, but the rows don’t align with anything like that, and, in fact, the rows in the different sites are aligned in slightly different directions. A society that can build something like this would have been able to do it more accurately. (In fact, there are hundreds of burial mounds, small alignments, and stone circles in Brittany, and none of them seem to accurately point to a celestial event.)

There are some other mysteries. The alignments were built between 4,000 BC and 2,500 BC, the Neolithic period. But archeologists have found no traces of Neolithic-period settlements around Carnac; the closest are several miles away. That means that the people who built Carnac came from some distance away (several miles would have been formidable 4,000 years ago). And whatever the reason for the construction of the alignments, it held the attention of these people for 1,500 years!

There is a “daddy” of them all: this menhir, larger than most of the stones in the biggest alignment, likely was raised centuries before the rest of them, as it is much more weathered. It appears that the rows of one of the biggest alignments were oriented to this menhir which did, in fact, have evidence of being a funeral stone.

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I think Carnac fascinates us because of its mystery. For some unknown – and likely unknowable – reason, a society spent 1,500 years quarrying, moving and erecting huge stones in what must have been to them a meaningful pattern. This started 2,000 years before the first small pyramid was built in Egypt.

As I said, we’ve been to Carnac before, but there is one small alignment we’d not seen, so we went there first this time, and fell in love with it. The Alignements du Petit-Menec is the easternmost alignment, and although likely once connected to the other larger alignments, now sits isolated in a forest about a half a mile away. It’s not well marked; we drove past the entrance before we found it. But it is the only alignment you can walk into, and we found it entrancing. Some pictures (and remember that when it was constructed 4,000 years ago, this was not a forest; these would have been in the open):

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We loved this place so much that we returned to have our pique-nique lunch here. Here’s Laurie preparing a sandwich in the company of a couple megaliths, first erected 4,000 years ago.

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Laurie was also able to make sure this megalith didn’t fall over while we were there.

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We thought we were pretty smart to have the fixings for a picnic with us. But, on the road at the entrance to these alignments we saw an example of a true French vacation pique-nique. The picnic table and bench came out of the truck, and look at what else is in the truck: full mattresses and enough camping stuff to outfit a Cabela store.

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We later walked to the biggest menhir in the Carnac complex: the Géant de Manio, 20 ft high. Laurie was able to hold this one up, too.

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One last look at the Carnac alignments and we headed back to the house.

DSC07875Nothing left to say except, we love this place. This certainly won’t be our last visit to Carnac; it has a strong pull on us.

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Sarlat

We went to Sarlat, in the Dordogne region, after La Rochelle. Now, first off, the drive was…er…”interesting.” Because we wanted to stay off the autoroutes (highways) and drive on backroads, I put “Limoges” into the GPS, as going through Limoges would take us through some scenic areas. Unfortunately, I did not notice that the GPS has accepted “Limoges-Fourches” which is way the heck away from Limoges. I quickly realized the GPS was giving me incorrect directions, then realized that the GPS showed a distance of 500 km when I knew it should be about 200 km. So I got off the highway and figured that out, but to get back on the road in the right direction, GPS took me through a supermarket parking lot (which, in fact, was the best way to go), where a large truck was blocking the road until I decided to go around it and then it decided to move, so I was driving alongside it, on the wrong side of the road. Anyway, we got out of the parking lot and onto the right road.

Later we needed gas and because we were on back roads, there were not a lot of gas stations. Finally got to the town of Cognac where surely there would be gas stations, and lots to drink if there weren’t. First station: credit cards only and, despite the advertising that U.S. credit cards have chips, they don’t work in automatic gas pumps. So, off we go. Next station: closed. Finally found a supermarket station with a cashier, so – phew – we got gas.

On to Limoges… The GPS took us accurately through this good-sized city, right to the autoroute entrance we were to take, which was closed for construction. Oh-oh; GPSs do not know what to do in a situation like this. I started to back-track through Limoges, as I was sure I’d seen a sign pointing to another way to the autoroute. The GPS is now, of course, complaining that I need to go back to that closed entrance. I did, indeed, find that other route, took it to the autoroute and away we went. A disaster averted, as far as I’m concerned.

Scenic roads have one drawback: they have lots of traffic, much of it big trucks. Slow. Finally we got off onto some real back roads, saw some beautiful little towns and made our way to Sarlat.

Our hotel at Sarlat was nice, with an excellent restaurant. We asked the most gracious woman at the desk if she could put a bottle of our champagne in their refrigerator for us to drink the next night. When Laurie went to get it the next day, that lovely woman had it in a silver ice bucket, with two champagne glasses for us. We sat in their peaceful garden and had our champagne.

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Our favorite champagne: blanc des blanc, in a beautiful garden.

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How’s this for a nice place to have dinner? The food was superb, too.

Sarlat

Sarlat has a long history, but had fallen into bad shape until the 1960s. Then the Minister of Culture, André Malraux, found ways to get funds to French cities and towns to restore them and Sarlat was the first to get that funding. As a result, many buildings in the medieval core of the town have been restored. (Malraux himself is probably worth a post: a well-known novelist and philosopher, as Minister of Culture he pushed hard on getting France back on the world cultural stage. Among other things, he discovered an old, almost unknown law that required Paris buildings to have their facades cleaned once every ten years, and he enforced it. Paris went from being a dark and dirty city to having the beautiful buildings it has today.)

Sarlat’s restoration has had a down side: tourists by the thousands, all in a small area. Sarlat is the second-most visited small town in France, behind Mont Saint Michel. And like Mont Saint Michel, there just isn’t a large area for all those folks and so it gets crowded. But as in so many places, we found that if we walked a hundred yards from the tourist area, we found beautiful deserted backstreets.

Some pictures of Sarlat. These first were taken on a Sunday morning before the heaving crowds arrived.

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Walking on these cobblestones is hard!

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And…

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Always the souvenirs…

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Hmmmm, don’t know what to say about this…

We can agree with the comments about how interesting Sarlat is, but we can add something no guidebook mentioned: give it about two hours, unless you’re the type that likes to peruse shops of medieval souvenirs, walnut products (the area is famous for them), foie gras, postcards, wine, and other miscellanea…

 

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Chateau Les Milandes and Josephine Baker

We visited Chateau Les Milandes, the home of Joséphine Baker for many years, and loved the place for many reasons. But I don’t know how to talk about Joséphine Baker, because she sees to be largely unknown in the country of her birth, the United States. Here are a couple pictures of her from the mid-1920s in Paris.

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Josephine Baker, (1906-1975) African American dancer, actress and entertainer, famous for her Paris stage shows and her scanty costumes (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Josephine Baker, (1906-1975) African American dancer, actress and entertainer, famous for her Paris stage shows and her scanty costumes (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Here’s a few things about her:

  • She was born in St. Louis, in 1906. To escape a childhood of grinding poverty, she started to dance in places around St. Louis, and in about 1923 went to New York to join the show “Shuffle Along.” She was hired as a costume handler, but soon was asked to join the chorus line and was an immediate hit.
  • In 1925 she went to Paris to join a show called the “Revué Negré.” She took Paris by storm, and was soon the headliner in the show with her dancing.
  • Over the next two decades she was the highest-paid performer in Europe. She was married several times, gaining French citizenship through one of the marriages.
  • She was a constant battler against racism and prejudice. In 1935, at the height of her fame in Europe, she returned to do a show in New York and was shocked at her treatment: though she had a room at a top New York hotel, she was told to use the servants’ entrance, was refused service at the Stork Club, and had people spit on her.
  • She bought a chateau – Les Milandes – in the Dordogne and with her husband Jo Bouillion adopted 12 children of mixed racial backgrounds and raised them there.
  • During World War II she was a member of the French Resistance and given the Croix de Guerre by Charles de Gaulle for her efforts. Many Allied airmen were hidden in Les Milandes on their way to the border and freedom.
  • After the war she “re-invented” herself as a singer. Though not equipped with a great voice, her style and charisma made her a hit with many songs.
  • In 1969 she was broke (she may have been a great performer, but she was a terrible business person) and was evicted from Les Milandes. Her long-time friend Grace Kelly (then Princess Grace of Monaco) helped her find a place to live in Monaco. She returned to the stage as a singer and became popular all over again.
  • Her battle for civil rights and against racism brought her back to the United States several times. In 1963 she gave the speech just before Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in the March on Washington

Josephine Baker seems largely unknown in the United States, though her memory is still revered here in France. In 2001 a wealthy family bought her chateau at Les Milandes and has restored it as a memorial to her. The chateau and its gardens are beautiful, but Josephine is the star: the rooms of the chateau display memorabilia of her, including many of the dresses in which she performed – including the famous “Banana Dress.”

We came here because I’d heard about Les Milandes years ago – before it was bought and restored to her memory – and having read about her, decided I wanted to see her home for so many years. It was totally enjoyable. Unfortunately, there was a sign forbidding picture-taking inside the chateau; fortunately the sign was in French and I couldn’t understand it.

One of Josephine's performance dresses.

One of Josephine’s performance dresses.

Laurie's favorite of Josephine's dresses.

Laurie’s favorite of Josephine’s dresses.

A statue of Josephine in her Banana Dress (and nothing else - that was how she performed the Banaba Dance).

A statue of Josephine in her Banana Dress (and nothing else – that was how she performed the Banana Dance).

Chateau Les Milandes

Chateau Les Milandes

A view from Les Milandes. No wonder Josephine fell in love with the place.

A view from Les Milandes. No wonder Josephine fell in love with the place.

One bathroom in the chateau. At the time it was created, Josephine's favorite fragrance was by Christian Dior; this bathroom was done in black and gold, Dior's colors.

One bathroom in the chateau. At the time it was created, Josephine’s favorite fragrance was by Christian Dior; this bathroom was done in black and gold, Dior’s colors.

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The formal garden has been restored. An informal garden is in the process of restoration. The current owners are spending a lot on the place to bring it back to its glory.

There is a famous picture of an almost-destitute Josephine sitting on the kitchen-door steps the day she was evicted from Les Milandes. Here's Laurie sitting in the sae place as Josehine.

There is a famous picture of an almost-destitute Josephine sitting on the kitchen-door steps the day she was evicted from Les Milandes. Here’s Laurie sitting in the same place as Josephine.

Josephine Baker fascinates us, and this visit to her home brought her to life for us. We urge you to read a bit about her, to learn about her courageous and often difficult life. She died in 1975 at the age of 69, the day after opening a new show in New York and receiving rave reviews from the hard-to-please New York critics. She is buried in Monaco.

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La France est compliquée – Part 2

La Rochelle has a little boat that goes between the old harbor and a big new marina called Les Minimes. It’s about a twenty minute ride each way and gives a beautiful look at the harbor from a different perspective, that of being on the water. On our previous trips here we kept saying we were going to do this little boat trip, but never seemed to make it; we were determined to do it this time. Here’s the boat:

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Now, the sign at the boarding place of this boat ride says, clearly, that it runs every half hour from 8:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night. Great, so we arrived at the departure pier at 12:15 one day. No activity. Finally an employee came up the ramp and we learned that the next trip will leave at 1:30 – lunch time, we guess. There is no mention of this break in the schedule anywhere on the schedule sign.

Okay, so we went off and did something else and decided to return that evening. We walked back into town at about 6:30 that night and arrived at a place where we saw lots of boats sitting in the water, and this above us:

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That is a diver standing on a platform that, we later learn, is 90 ft above the water. A couple seconds later:

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As we stood there marvelling that any fool would do such a thing, it struck me that they were diving right into the passage that our little boat takes, which means…the boat will not  be running. Sure enough, no boat. (Turns out the event was the opening competition of the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championship; these guys do this in six or eight places around the world. Crazy!).

Fortunately, after dinner we got our boat ride, when the competition finished. And it was worth every bit of the wait: beautiful views of La Rochelle from the water. Total cost: 10 Euros. A funny story: as we sat on the boat for the first trip two women sat next to us and asked if we were two. “Yes,” we replied, and she said, “Oh, good. There are four of us now and we can go as a family and save a Euro each.” Sure enough, there’s a family fare of 2€ each if the “family” has four people (individual fare is 3€), and they are not at all rigorous about what constitutes a family. We had an excellent conversation with these two French ladies, and saved 2€. What a deal!

The Lantern - built in the15th century for unknown reasons. Some say it was a lighthouse.

The Lantern – built in the 15th century for unknown reasons. Some say it was a lighthouse.

Our hotel, Les Brises, seen from the boat.

Our hotel, Les Brises, seen from the boat.

Coming into the La Rochelle harbor, a view seen by ships entering the harbor for hundreds of years.

Coming into the La Rochelle harbor, a view seen by ships entering the harbor for hundreds of years.

A few unexpected turns, but well worth the effort.

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La Rochelle – II

More on La Rochelle…

When we arrived Tuesday afternoon, it was 98 here: a little hot, even for heat-loving me. The next morning changed: rain, lightning and thunder! C’mon, could we find a happy medium?

We went for a walk along the water, toward the west (the city is about a mile to the east of us, an easy walk along a beautifully done promenade). We’d never walked in this direction and found it beautiful and interesting with some history and a surprise ending thrown in.

First we came on a small marina. I think the boat owners in this marina have to plan  their outings with a tide table in hand.

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We walked farther and found a route through a preserved area along a bluff above the water. We came upon this:

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Looks old, and indeed it is. A sign nearby said it was built during the Siege of La Rochelle, to watch for English ships trying to supply the city. That was in 1624!

We continued walking along the path…

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We met a few people, but it was pretty quiet, and beautiful, along the route. We came upon this, another structure build in 1624 for the Siege of La Rochelle.

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On either side of this structure were more modern remnants of war: bunkers built by the Germans during World War II, also to watch the approaches to the city.DSC04782

And the surprise ending: after walking a couple miles along the coast and seeing few people, we discovered a parking lot, returned to the trail and saw this:

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Chez Mamie! Mussels and fries (a French national dish, it seems) with a glass of wine for $11.

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We didn’t eat here, but the place made us laugh.  Only in France can you walk along a quiet waterfront path, find buildings built in the 1600s, and then come upon an outdoor café, jammed with people. We loved it!

More on La Rochelle tomorrow!

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