Paris

We made a long sojourn into Paris last week – five days and nights. That’s the longest we’ve stayed there in years, and although it was the hottest stretch of the year – between 85 and 92! – we had a terrific time. We saw a jazz singer we love – twice, did some museum time, spent a wonderful day with friends, saw a parade, walked, just all kinds of good stuff. Here’s a recap:

Hetty Kate

In Seattle, we often attend house concerts of jazz singers (jazzvox.com, if you’re interested, and if you like jazz vocalists you should be interested). Last year we heard Hetty Kate sing and just loved her. Talking to Hetty after her performance then, she said she was moving to Paris. We’ve kept in touch with her and when we arrived, she told us that she was singing in a small club in Paris Saturday June 30. With Mary and Gilles, off we went to see Hetty.

I will leave until below our arrival in Paris. Hetty was just wonderful and the experience – seeing great jazz in a small Paris jazz club, well, pretty cool. Some pictures from that night:

Hetty Kate at work.
(Sorry for the not great photo; dim light and taken with my iPhone.)

Us and Hetty

Hetty told us that the following Tuesday she was singing in the bar at a (very nice) hotel, so off we went again – this time just Laurie and I. We met Hetty an hour before she started and shared a bottle of Sancerre wine with her, and heard her tales of performing and trying to get known in the Paris jazz scene. We stayed for her first set and were again blown away by how good she is. It was great fun to have a chance to get to know her better and hear her sing again.

Hetty again, in a different venue.

Though Hetty is based in Paris now, she sings all over the world. If she gets to your city, you really need to go see her. You will not regret it; she is just fabulous!

The Parade

Arriving at our Metro (subway) stop to see Hetty, we were astonished to hear music – lots of REALLY LOUD music from multiple bands – while we were still underground in the Metro station. We climbed the stairs and ascended into the mayhem of the Paris Gay Pride Parade! And mayhem it was: many tens of thousands of people; music trucks everywhere, in the parade and not; and because it was over 90 degrees, people in every state of dress and undress. I’m telling you, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a 6’5″ guy dressed as Roman woman, wearing 5″ heels!

Ah, a family portrait…

Don’t ask me; I don’t know.

Something I never thought I’d see: a drag belly-dancer.

Friends

For the second time this year, we were able to introduce Paris to friends who had never been there. Mark and Kathy, friends from Seattle, were in Paris for one day at the end of a sixteen day trip to Italy (for a wedding), Austria and Switzerland. We met them in the morning and just kind of toured around the parts of Paris we like best – mostly along the Seine. We also went to the Eiffel Tower, which is a mess, as there is a huge amount of construction work underway. At the end of their trip, and after a particularly stressful travel day the previous day coming from Geneva, Mark and Kathy were just happy to go where we wanted to go…slowly.

Mark and Kathy standing in front of some minor tourist attraction.

After dinner, we walked our favorite walk in Paris, around Ile Saint Louis. The evening weather was perfect: warm and comfortable, and we enjoyed what was – weatherwise – the nicest evening in Paris we can remember, and we’ve had a lot of evenings here. I told Mark and Kathy, “It’s an evening like this that will bring you back to Paris.” Actually, that evening will bring us back to Paris!
Proof:

Looking down the main street of Ile Saint-Louis at sunset.

Notre-Dame, sunset, the Seine on a beautiful night; hard to beat.

Institute du Monde Arab

The Institute du Monde Arab is a center for study of the world loosely designated as the “Arab World:” the Middle East mostly, but also including parts of North Africa and the now-extinct Ottoman Empire. This area was the birthplace of the three major Western religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The museum that’s part of the Institute does a beautiful job of showing the birth, growth and connections of the three religions. We’ve visited it before and did again this trip, largely because of an exhibit on the construction and history of the Suez Canal, but also because we love the permanent exhibit of the art from this part of the world.

View from the terrace of the Institute du Monde Arab

This is one of hundreds of windows in the Institute du Monde Arab. The geometric shapes open and close according to the position of the sun and the temperature, to keep the interior as cool as possible.

Corot at the Museé Marmottan

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875)) is known largely for his beautiful landscapes – he’s arguably the best and best-known landscape artist of the 19th century. During his career, though, he painted portraits of people he knew, though he exhibited only a few of them, and sold them only to friends for their private collection. The Marmottan presented the first exhibition dedicated to his portraits, and we like the Marmottan, so off we went. Corot probably could have made a living as a portraitist – his portraits are that good. This was an interesting look into an almost unknown side of this famous artist.

If you’re a fan of Impressionist art, the Marmottan is a must-visit. The son of Claude Monet donated his entire collection to the museum, which created a large space just for them. It’s pretty spectacular; though we’ve seen them three or four times before, we toured it again. Monet was nothing short of a genius, and that shows in this collection.

Promenade Plantée

From 1859 to 1969 a railroad ran on an elevated track from Bastille east to Vincennes. Abandoned in 1969, it sat unused until the late 1980s, when the city started to re-purpose it as a pedestrian walk. It was landscaped, water features added, stairs installed at intersections, and then the eastern end, where the path is not elevated (in fact, it runs through several tunnels) was made into a park. Not far from our Paris homebase, it’s a perfect walk for us.

When it gets too hot, take a book and read in the shade.

It seems that I’ve left out some things, but that covers the highlights. I could mention our train trip home where, among other things, the train broke down one station away from the one we needed to reach, but what the heck, this post is long enough. We were a little concerned at going into Paris on such a hot week, for that long (Paris is, no matter how beautiful, a big, noisy, crowded city and so can wear you out). But we had a great time, and are so glad we went. We’re already looking forward to getting back.

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An Event Worth Noting

A week ago, June 29, Laurie and I celebrated our 50th anniversaire de mariage. We were perfectly okay with that until I mentioned that we’ve been married half a century. That took away both our breaths!

Our French family gave a lovely party for us – fourteen people, on Jamie and Hervé’s beautiful new terrace, lots of champagne and lovely wine, excellent food and, best of all, wonderful conversations with great folks. Couldn’t have been better.

Fifty years! I say it’s been easy for me, but I don’t know how Laurie did it. Unfortunately, when I say that, she agrees! The fact is, it’s been a great half-century, and we are looking forward to the next 50 years.

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Sancerre, Guédelon and Briare

On our first long stay here (2013), we did a ramble to Bourges and some places around there, and we asked Mary and Gilles if we could go to Sancerre. Although we were not great white wine fans, we’d heard of the white wines of Sancerre. We went, we tried, we were hooked; the white wines of Sancerre are dry and flinty – they have a hint of minerality to them that we love. Fortunately, we can drive to Sancerre in about an hour and three-quarters, so Tuesday the four of us headed south, added a side trip to Guédelon, bought a little wine at a Sancerre winery, and stopped for a bit on the way back to see a favorite bridge.

Guédelon

Laurie and I saw a documentary about Guédelon a couple years ago and have wanted to visit since. Twenty years ago, someone thought it would be interesting and instructional to build a thirteenth-century chateaux, using thirteenth-century tools and techniques. Today Guédelon is maybe two-thirds complete, and has become quite the tourist attraction. Understandably so, as it’s very interesting and well done. There are workshops in which tiles and shingles and windows and furniture and everything else are made, stone for the building is carved and rock quarried, all as it was done 800 years ago. There is a working thirteenth-century mill on site, built only with techniques and tools that were available then.

The day we visited, hundreds of school kids were also there (it’s the end of the school year, a traditional time for school outings). We enjoyed watching the kids in  the workshops, carving stone and doing other educational stuff.

All the Guédelon workers are willing to talk about their work, showing how it’s done. There are something like 40 people working there, which explains why the chateaux rises slowly; in real life in the thirteenth century, there would have been hundreds of people working here.

An overview of Guédelon.

Building the walls, which are about ten feet thick.

The pieces of the arched window were cut and formed by hand on site.

We saw somewhere that they expect to complete Guédelon in twelve more years. But…I’ve been on a lot of projects and I know what happens to project completion dates. A better estimate is “TBD.”

Sancerre

Not much to say here: we bought a few bottles of great wine…

Madame prepares 24 bottles for us and a little less for Mary & Gilles  (who already had some in their cellar)

Gilles is going to need a trailer hitch on his car someday.

The 24 bottles doesn’t include the bottle Madame gave us as thanks for appreciating and buying their wine. Ever see anyone in Napa leave the winery with complimentary bottles? Nope.

Canal and Bridge

Y’all know that Laurie and I love visiting the canals of France, and that we also like bridges. So what could be better than a canal bridge? This canal carries the Canal Latéral à la Loire across the Loire River; a canal on a bridge. Pretty cool, we think.

The canal is a little over 2,000 ft long. While it appears to have nice sidewalks on each side, these were actually paths for the horses that pulled the barges.

Then, it was homeward bound. A nice ramble on a beautiful day.

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A Walk in Saint Mammès

Saint-Mammès is one of our favorite places to visit for a walk, so today off we went. As always we enjoyed our stroll, and the morning ended with a surprise – a good one, at that.

Saint-Mammès is at the confluence of the Loing River and the Seine. Just a half mile away the Canal du Loing joins the Loing River. The Canal du Loing is the main canal to mid-France, and from it a boat can reach the Mediterranean (via the Rhone River) or the Atlantic (via the Garrone River through Bordeaux). Once the Canal du Loing was busy with commercial péniches (barges) but today we see only pleasure boats and tour boats on it. However the location of Saint Mammès means that it became the home port for many pèniches, and remains that for the increasing number of huge barges we see on the Seine. As a result, Saint Mammès has many old, no-longer-in-operation pèniches and quite a few of the big new ones lining the quais. In fact, the school-age children of the pèniches go to school here, so there are always lots of boats.

We always walk along the Quai du Loing, which, amazingly enough, runs along the Loing River. There are lots of boats now used as houseboats along here, and also some activity in companies that repair boats of all types. And there are beautiful houses along the quai:

A house on the Quai du Loing

Houses along Quai du Loing

These houses have wonderful views onto the Loing River and are on quiet streets. They have one drawback: two of the last three years the Loing has flooded and the bottom floors of these houses were under water. That might make me think about living in one…

Some péniches, old and new, in Saint-Mammès:

A péniche at the Quai du Seine in Saint-Mammès.

We have seen these (huge) modern barges in Saint-Mammès before, flying hundreds of colorful pennants. We don’t know the occasion, but they are beautiful.

This new pedestrian bridge connects Saint-Mammès with the other bank of the Loing RIver.

Looking down the Loing River from the new bridge.

Another thing we love about Saint-Mammès is that our favorite Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley, lived in a neighboring town – Moret-sur-Loing – and painted many pictures of Saint-Mammès. Like Moret-sur-Loing, Saint-Mammès has a number of places where Sisley painted and the city has erected a display showing the picture. Today, you can look at the Sisley picture on the display, then look up and see the exact scene. Not much has changed in the 130 years. I wrote about this a couple years ago: Some stuff about Saint-Mammès from 2013

And the surprise: as we walked Saint-Mammès, we noticed a small restaurant that was not there two years ago. We walked past it, greeted the woman cleaning it in preparation for lunch and looked at the menu for lunch: two courses (entreé and plat – first and second courses – or plat and dessert – second and third courses: 12€, about $14). After building an appetite with our walk, we decided to give it a try. It was excellent: the food was way above-average for a small-town, small restaurant, the woman serving was friendly (and pretended to understand my French; always a bonus), the carafe d’eau (the pitcher of tap water one can always get in a restaurant) was ice-cold – a rarity – and the whole meal, including two beers and two coffees, was about $40. A find!

The pleasant surprise…

That’s Saint-Mammès, one of our favorite day walks. This won’t be the last time we’re here.

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A Walk in La Rochette

As we have no rambles planned for the next two weeks, we’ll be doing lots of walks and day-trips from our home-base here in Bois-le-Roi. I’m working on a post for just Bois-le-Roi so you can see where we are spending June (I’ll do another for Samois-sur-Seine, to which we move next week). For now, though, a quick post about a walk.

Our route yesterday took us along the river in a neighboring town, La Rochette. There we saw a number of affolantes, houses that were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when this area – particularly on the Seine – became a preferred location for wealthy Parisians who could afford weekend/summer homes here. I’ve written about the affolantes before; here are pictures of some we saw yesterday.

Love the sun-room!

Now, here is a fencepost!

The Seine view from some of these houses. I could get used to it…

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With an Old Friend in Paris

We had the great pleasure to introduce an old friend to Paris a couple weeks ago. When Laurie and I were in Coronado, across the bay from San Diego (in my Navy days), we became closest of friends with Paul and Sue, who lived in the same apartments. We have stayed in touch with them ever since, though we moved to the Northwest and they stayed in the San Diego area. Before we left, we got an email from Paul, who was starting a tour in Paris and wondered if, should he arrive a couple days early, we could get together. Mais bien sûr! We think it’s been 12 years since we’ve seen them, so we were really looking forward to seeing him (Sue decided to stay home…the tour Paul was going on was a military history route; more on that in a bit).

Paul arrived June 1st and we toured him into the ground for two days. By the time we parted ways, all three of us were dragging! But still happy:

Paul and Laurie – worn out but still smiling – in front of a bistro where we had an excellent dinner in the small, beautiful square Place du Marché Saint-Catherine. A wonderful way to end a great visit with a long-time friend.

Paul’s tour sounds great for a fan of military history. In WW II, the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army was the first to go into combat at D-Day: they were parachuted behind German lines the night before the invasion. Despite huge obstacles, they accomplished their immediate mission and then went on to fight through the Ardennes Forest, Belgium, Luxembourg and into Germany. The tour Paul was on followed the path of the 101st Airborne – the Screaming Eagles – through the war, ending at Hitler’s lair in Austria. I’m an inveterate non-tour guy, but I would love to have been with Paul on this trip through WW2 history.

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Clermont-Ferrand and back to “home”

After Albi, we turned toward home (Bois-le-Roi home, that is), making two stops on the way. The first was near the town of Puy-en-Velay, and the second at Clermont-Ferrand.

Viaduc de Milliau

Both regular readers of this blog will know that we like bridges, so you’ll know that we really liked seeing this spectacular one:

The Viaduc de Milliau.

This bridge is 2,650 meters (1.64 miles) long and rises almost 800 feet above the valley floor. It is an amazing engineering feat and beautiful to boot!

Puy-en-Velay

Puy-en-Velay is a nice town with two churches worth visiting, one of which we decided probably wasn’t worth the effort…

A fascinating church, but after giving serious thought to visiting it, we decided to take a pass. Well, not that serious, actually; there are something like five thousand steps to it. Okay, 286 steps, but that was 285 too many for us.

Clermont-Ferrand

We’ve wanted to visit Clermont-Ferrand for a long time because a.) it’s a place we haven’t been; b.) it’s well-known for its cuisine and cheeses; and c.) it’s where our friend (and most-excellent driver on this trip) was raised. Mary and Gilles had some business to complete here, so we spent a night. It’s a good-sized city (about 140,000 people) and has an unusual style of architecture, due to the stone used to build many of the buildings in the downtown area. The quarries in the area produce a building stone that is almost black. Using this stone resulted in a different look.

This cathedral has some beautiful stained glass windows.

Stained glass in the Clermont-Ferrand cathedral.

Stained glass in the Clermont-Ferrand cathedral.

And a very old church…

A small – and very old – church in Clermont-Ferrand.

Carving in the old romanesque church in Clermont-Ferrand.

A sidelight: here are two pictures from churches in Clermont-Ferrand and Puy-en-Velay. These are “Black Madonnas,” small wooden Madonnas carved from dark wood and aged over centuries to almost pure black. They are actually found all over the world, but seem to be more prevalent on churches that were stops on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. There is some evidence that they all came from one workshop in Eastern Europe, but that evidence is sketchy. No one really knows where they came from nor why so many ended up on the pilgrimage. We’ve seen probably a dozen of them over the years and are, I admit, fascinating.

A Black Madonna in the Cathedral at Puy-en-Velay.

Black madonna in the old Romanesque church in Clermont-Ferrand. Yes, it’s that tiny thing in the middle. This one was in the crypt, below the current altar. Evidently, this was the original altar of the church.

With that, I’ll close up my posts on our first ramble (two weeks after we returned!) We had a great time, saw lots of new, interesting and beautiful things, and ate like monarchy. I have no doubt we will return to this area in southern France again; we barely scratched the surface of things we want to do and see here.

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Albi

After three days in Toulouse, we hit the road again. We spent a night in Albi, which has two really amazing sights: a museum and a cathedral. I know you’re saying, “Another cathedral!?!” Yep, and one different than any we’ve ever seen.

Musée Toulouse-Lautrec
This museum is worth a visit if for no other reason than to see the building. Toulouse-Lautrec, despite his name, was born in Albi in 1864. Once he’d made his way to Paris, he found his niche painting scenes from Paris night-life. From this background came the first posters advertising performers; Toulouse-Lautrec created this genre; his posters are still among the best, and certainly are the best from the belle-epoque of Paris. To honor him and his works, Albi created this museum, in the house of the Bishop of Albi.

A little background that explains why the Bishop’s palace…I mean, house, was a fortress: up to the 1200s, this whole area was Protestant. In 1209, Pope Innocent decreed that it would no longer be Protestant and sent an army to conquer it. In 1229, the Protestants were defeated, with help from the French king. Defeated or not, they remained Protestant, and they hated the Bishop. So he built this fortress-palace to protect himself from the Protestants. As you’ll see, the Cathedral of Albi also reflects the fortress mentality that the Catholic church had to adopt here.

Anyway, the Museé Toulouse-Lautrec:

Looks like a fortress, eh? The bishop was not a popular person in Albi, so his home was, indeed, a fortress.

The courtyard of the Bishop’s house, now the Museé Toulouse-Laurtrec.

Some beautiful wall decoration in the Museé.

The garden, the Tarn River and the town of Albi.

In the Museé’s garden.

For more on Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings and posters: https://www.google.fr/search?rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS750US750&q=toulouse+lautrec+oeuvres

La Cathedral Sainte-Cécile d’Albi
Following my story above, you’ll understand the appearance of this Cathedral. It’s a fortress, designed to show the power of the Catholic church to all the local folks who were still Protestants in secret. Another difference between this cathedral and so many others we’ve seen is that this is built in the local brick, and is of the “southern Gothic” architecture; that means thick walls.

But it’s the interior that knocks your socks off! There is not one square inch of wall that is undecorated.

Visitors agog!

The “new” altar, facing west, which is rare; almost all cathedrals have the altar facing east. The original altar did face east, and still exists. There’s a long story about why the new altar was built and the church turned about; , but I can’t remember the reason.

Every gallery above every chapel is decorated, as you can see here. The effect is jaw-dropping.

The jubé – in English, rood screen. Though once common, they’re rare now. They were meant to separate the hoi-polloi attending a Mass from the priests conducting it. Behind it is the choir and the original altar, facing east of course.

For Margaret: This is said to be one of the largest organs in Europe; this is just part of it. I’m not going to argue.

That was the extent of our visit to Albi. We saw the two necessary sights, but guidebooks relate that the town of Albi is also a beautiful and historic and interesting place to visit. Our schedule prevented that, but I suspect we’ll be back sometime in the future to explore Albi more.

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Toulouse

We spent three days in Toulouse with Mary and Gilles. Toulouse is a big city, home to Airbus (a tour guide asked us where we all were from and when Laurie and I said, “Seattle,” her immediate response was, “Oh…Boeing”). Lots of interesting things to see, a river to walk by, a canal in the middle of town, and many beautiful buildings. Toulouse is known as the “Rose City” for it’s buildings of reddish-pink brick. We enjoyed Toulouse. I’m not going to write a lot about it; just show some pictures.

Now that’s a spire! Toulouse Cathedral – all brick!

 

Gilles spotted this unassuming doorway in the middle of Toulouse…

…and found this beautiful little church.

This room is in Toulouse’s City Hall. Pretty nice, eh?

Here’s where civil marriage ceremonies take place in Toulouse. We know someone who was married here! William and Mathilde, Mary and Gilles’ son and daughter-in-law, were married in this room.

We love beautiful bridges.

Toulouse has a serious market!

This market goes for probably half a mile, and runs six days a week.

Cherries? We got ’em. Mountains of cherries! It’s cherry season right now; they are fabulous.

Some random Toulousienne buildings.

First floor…

…and second floor. Simple decorating ideas.

 

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Bastides

In previous years I’ve posted a couple times about bastide towns and, since we visited a few this trip, I’ll combine them into one post. A little background on these interesting towns:

In 1337 the king of France died without a direct heir to assume the throne. Shortly after, the English and the French started arguing about who should be the next king of France. Because the English monarchy actually descended from a French royal family, the English, who still controlled large parts of southwestern France, thought their claim to the French throne was better than anyone in the French royal family. The French politely disagreed and the two sides fell to fighting. For the next 116 years they fought, in three periods of war with not much happening in between, until the French gained the upper hand and threw the English out of France finally.

During much of the Hundred Years War (which should really be the Hundred-Sixteen Years War), the main fighting was done in the part of France we traveled through on this trip). During the wars, both sides built these bastide towns – more by the English – which had several characteristics:

  • They were usually square, with straight roads in both directions to allow quick movement of troops from one side to another during a battle.
  • They were fortified with walls and towers.
  • They almost always had a main square, which contained a covered area for markets, and was surrounded by arcaded buildings.

With that background, here are a few bastide towns we visited.

Domme
An unusual aspect of Domme is that it is built on a hill and is definitely not square; most bastide towns were on flatter land. Because it is in the Dordogne region – a hugely popular tourist area – Domme has become a tourist attraction.

The Dordogne Valley from Domme. Can you imagine being in an attacking army below and looking up at Domme while your officers said, “Go get it!”

Domme was the site of some kind of “American Super-Car” gathering, as we saw 10 or 12 new Corvettes and these three Chrysler Vipers. I might point out that these Vipers, with their V10 engines, would require about somewhere around 60 cents of gas for every mile driven! I guess if you can afford a $70,000 car you can afford to drop five dollars just to get to the grocery store.

Like many popular tourist places, Domme has the tourist contrast:

Center of Domme, full of folks.

Fifty yards away, deserted.

Domme is not our favorite bastide, because it seems that its primary purpose is to extract money from tourists’ wallets.

Fources
Fources is an unusual bastide in that it is round. As with many towns of interest, it relies on tourist trade, as there is not much else to keep the town alive. Fources, though, is away from any strong tourist areas, so it has retained more of its small-town, historic feel. We liked Fources, and had a nice lunch here.

Here you can see the round shape of Fources, in its main square.

Bastides always have these arcaded buildings on the main square.

One of several fortified entrances to Fources.

From outside the walls.

Lectoure
Ok, not a bastide, but Lectoure’s church has the best church sign we’ve ever seen:

“It is highly likely that a person entering this church will sense the call of God. In return, it is much less probable that he will contact you on your phone. ” And a “turn it off” icon. Love it!

 

Cordes-sur-Ciel

Like Domme, Cordes is built on top of a hill, and like the other bastide towns, it relies on tourism for income, although there is quite a lot of farming in the area and I suspect some people in Cordes support that farming. However, Cordes’ main attraction for us was a startling church. The church has a beautiful and surprising interior; we just don’t see interiors like this, especially in small, rural towns.

Some more Cordes pictures:

We entered Cordes through this gate…

…and left by this gate. Only two ways in and out of Cordes, for security in the middle ages.

The hall in Cordes’ central square. Old, very old.

Intrepid travelers…

One last comment about Cordes: the town has been known as Cordes for centuries. But in its search for the tourist trade, Cordes took advantage of its position high on a mountain-top to rename itself to a more appealing name, Cordes-sur-Ciel: Cordes in the Sky. Ah, marketing…

Vianne
One last bastide, Vianne. This is a real live active town, not relying at all on tourism. I stood in the middle of the main intersection and took pictures looking down each of the four main streets that meet there.

The four fortified towers that are the entrances to Vianne – typical of the bastides.

Vianne had one other sight that brought us here: a bridge designed and build by Gustave Eiffel, he of Eiffel Tower fame. It’s likely that his company designed and built it in the 1860s or 1870s, but official histories don’t mention this bridge by name. Still, a beautiful little bridge.


Okay, that’s enough for bastides. You’re probably as tired of reading about them as I am writing about them. I’ve left out our favorite bastide, Monpazier. We stopped there for lunch and a slow stroll through town. If you want to read about our favorite, click here: Monpazier, 2016

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