Monday, 31 October 2011

Bad beehaviour in the Loire....

Recently one of our neighbours invited us round to his garden to view the nest of what he called Japanese bees, apparently very aggressive and dangerous - especially to honey bees.
Then when we were over in La Rochelle the paper 'Sud Ouest' carried a two page article as the story of the month on these 'Asain Hornet' nests, with the heading 'Sus aux envahisseurs'. They stated that 66 nests had been found in the La Rochelle area.

Then when we get back quite a few people are talking about them - scary videos on Youtube,people dying after being stung - the honey bee population is under threat -the world will end! Was going to investigate it further before posting but notice Susan, ( 'Days on the Claise') who is better qualified to comment, has posted an item today on them under the heading 'Nija Wasps'

Restaurant review - Auberge du Grebe

We had dinner Saturday night with friends at the Auberge du Grebe in Lureuil in the neighbouring department of Indre. From Barrou it was a straightforward drive through Yzeures-sur-Creuse and Tournon-Saint-Martin before turning off on the D6 to the village of Lureuil. We remarked on the fact that at just over half an hours drive it was well within our radar yet for some reason we do not tend to come down/over to this department much - we have visited parts of La Brenne and can appreciate its attraction to nature lovers as it is indeed beautiful.'La Berry' - the department's traditional name has its own unique traditions and customs and is definitely worth exploring.It also has the village of Saint-Valentin - will tell you more re this in another post.

Anyway back to dining, the restaurant has a charming exterior which I'm sure we would appreciate even more on a lovely summer's day but it was still very welcoming on this very pleasant autumnal night. The interior was simple and comfortable.The lady who served us ( the chef's wife) was very friendly and helpful. The food, game and fish were very prominent, courtesy of La Brenne no doubt, was very good and very well presented.

They had a variety of menus starting from 19 euros up to reasonably priced 'a le carte' We thought that value for money, the wine prices were very good, was great and we will be back. We will also be recommending it to our guests. It is very popular with tourists visiting La Brenne during the summer so it would be advisable to make a reservation even for lunch again great value, at under 12.00 euros including wine!

Their telephone number is: 02 54 37 98 36 
They are closed on Mondays.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

End of the road

Didn't mind seeing this big fella outside the gates on Friday afternoon as it meant we were at the finishing stages of the road laying and before you could say John McAdam we were done! It seems like an age since the work commenced but it has been worth it.

Don't really like the black finish but then that's the colour of tar ! Time will change it to a more aesthetic colour I'm sure.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The three towers of la Rochelle -'Tour Saint Nicolas'

After visiting the 'Tour de la Chaine' and the 'Lanterne Tower' we took a break for a pleasant lunch in the city's market area. With a renewed energy  we set out to view the last,or should it be first, tower of the three, the 'Tour Saint Nicolas'.

Probably the most iconic of the three towers in that it is the dominant image in promoting this great location the Tour Saint Nicolas  is described by the plaque outside as "offering a maze of  military facilities combined with an amazing royal residence" but you'll slightly disappointed in your quest to find these. What you really  have is an empty shell that was at one time a residence  with a guard room. It is the the building's many internal passageways that are interesting and as you make your way through them you cannot help but feel its sense of history.

 There is a double spiral staircase which meant that those in residence had a way of getting around without meeting up with the soldiers.

Your climb to the roof top terrace is again rewarded with the views over the city and port.

 We decided to make our way back down via the steeply inclined small spiral stairway - it was trickier than it looked and not for the faint hearted! You arrive not surprisingly in the inevitable gift shop. All in all the three towers visit, at 8 euros for the three, proved to be great value for money and one of the highlights of the weekend.

Friday, 28 October 2011

We progress...


The work on Grande Rue ( Barrou ) is progressing - we now have pavements.and today a new road surface is being put down - apparently by a different contractor, as, where the pavement is the responsibility of the commune, the road is the responsibility of the region. Will let you see the finished article when it is complete.
Tar rah! 

The three towers of La Rochelle-'The Lanterne Tower'

The second tower we visited at La Rochelle harbour  (not in the Loire Valley) was the 'Lanterne Tower' which was probably my favourite of the three. To get there you stroll along 'Sur les Murs' the cobbled street that connects it to the 'Tour de la Chaine'.You can walk along the raised path on the left with views over the car park -which would have been under water (well it wouldn't have been a carpark then) before it was silted up over the centuries.

As an aside, I love the fact that here in France 'health & safety' consists of 'please don't do that as its unsafe and not very sensible' or 'we have not put a handrail here because we know you are not silly enough to walk off the edge ,or allow your children to do so'.

As the name suggests this tower, which has been here in some form or other since the12th century, was used as a lookout tower before being converted in the 15th to be used as a lighthouse. The 55 metre high tower with its fire constantly burning was visible well out to sea and offered incoming ships a good navigational marker. The tower became a naval prison in the 16th century and later in the 19th century a military one.
The conditions as a prison could not have been good, with limited basic facilities and very cramped conditions. Life here, for however long, must have been pretty horrible. Many of the prisoners marked their stay by simply scratching their name and dates or some did more intricate carvings which can still be seen today.

The fact that the port changed hands between the English and the French on a number of occasions, meant that the prisoners were multinational albeit probably at different times.
 There is evidence of French,English,Dutch,Spanish,Irish and even one poor Scot from near Montrose

 Oh freedom why hast thou forsaken me?
Your climb takes you  right to the top of the tower and out on to the roof terrace via a door in the latern where you have more wonderful views of the city and out to sea, then into the Gothic  spire itself  where you have to admire these early artisan's craftsmanship! 

 View along rue 'Sur les Murs' to the other two towers.
 View out to sea -you can understand why they put it here!
 Just for fun,how it might have looked before the silt took hold.

Inside the lantern,which sits offset on the terrace, is pretty with its coloured glass.

As you descend the narrow spiral stairs down to the 'Signpost room' with it chain link inspired floor, you cannot help but wonder at the  stories these walls tell and even more of the ones untold.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Angel Bear at 'Tour de la Chaine'

First of all in case this is the first post you have read, I have to point out that La Rochelle is not in the Loire Valley but easily reached from here - in just over 2 1/2 hours. I am writing about our visit there last weekend.

Our visit to the first of the three towers the 'Tour de la Chaine' threw up a surprise in the form of a red winged Bear on the lower terrace.The plaque on it states:
" The state of the polar bear population is slowly becoming a global symbol.Every one of us has been moved by pictures of scrawny and tired-looking white bears,drifting towards a certain death as the first victims of global warming. This tragedy inspired me  ( Richard Texier a French painter and sculptor born in nearby Niort) to create a bronze sculpture of a winged bear called 'Angel Bear', an environmental messenger. The animal is red,as a warning sign and thus draws mankind's attention toward biodiversity,dealing with pollution,sustainable development and respecting the biosphere.The quest for achieving a clean planet will be a long one ,for now,the proposed solutions are limited and the majority of the world's countries are not very preoccupied by these issues. Bears are often seen as soft and cuddly companions during our childhood and in this red bronze colour ,they may become the emblem of new generations, a symbol of environmental awareness.The help of young people is vital. They speak the truth and their words are meaningful:this concerns the world they will be living in tomorrow,"
Well, that explains it all!
Sometimes art goes over my head - wouldn't it be better if it we didn't have to be given the explanation?Perhaps not.

I understand it will only be displayed until the end of October, so we were lucky to catch this interesting sculpture. To move it cannot be easy as it stands 2.5metres high and weighs over a ton.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The three towers of La Rochelle- 'Tour de la Chaine'

The three towers of what remains of the medieval maritime fortifications of La Rochelle harbour stand as proud today as they did back in the early days of their construction in the 14th century. The port played a major part in France's history well into the 17th century.  Today of course they are tourist attractions with their terraces being ideal viewpoints for the glorious surrounding vistas. The 'Vieux Port' with its marina and towers as a backdrop is one of those places where you get a good feeling just being there.

Each tower has many stories to tell and each played its unique part in the history of this coastal port. The first tower we chose to visit was the 'Tour de la Chaine' which is the one in the middle of the three in the above photograph. Its name comes from the fact that it used to house a large chain that connected it to the Saint Nicolas Tower closing the port to shipping. Built in the late 14th century the tower originally stood 34 metres high but its use as an explosive depot during the 'the Fronde' (1648-1652),an uprising of noblemen against the French royals,proved ill-advised as it blew up taking the roof and 14metres off the top of the tower! It would be hundreds of years before the roof was reinstated (but not 400 as their brochure tells us - that would mean we are still waiting for it!).

It now houses a very good audio/visual display charting France's exploration and colonization of many parts of 'The New World'

 The top of the tower gave us our first taste of the spectacular views over the harbour and the city and the two towers we had yet to explore.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Searching for the past.

Our weekend trip was to explore a part of France that David our neighbour here in Barrou knew quite well (Isle de Ré) plus to trace the house in (Chatelaillon-Plage) which our friend Karen had spent time with her American family in the 1950's.Her father had an army posting here and she and sister Dianna came with their parents to live here before being joined by new arrival Michael.We were also here to try and get a copy of Michael's baptismal certificate from the cathedral in La Rochelle.

We had an appointment at the cathedral to meet with someone who might be able to help trace the certificate via their records. We were met by two charming ladies who showed a great willingness to help and who produced the original record books/registers from the appropriate period. Sadly although Karen's copy of the certificate stated that the ceremony was carried out here there was no record of it. One of the ladies explained that as a military baby the ceremony may have been performed somewhere else but within the diocese of the cathedral.Karen's dad remembers them having to break the ice in the font and young Michael filling the church/cathedral with his cries due to the chilly holy water! One of the ladies, while checking the records, noticed that Michael was actually born on the exact same day as she was - I love a good coincidence! That's her in the photograph with Karen.

After the visit to the cathedral we headed out to Chatelaillon-Plage where Karen had another appointment to meet Jacky Lancereau who is the chairman of one of the local historical societies and a part-time historian.  He had been kind enough to track down the house her family had lived in. We had the address, so, as we had time, we popped into the local tourist office for a map of the town and headed to a cafe for coffee and a bit of map reading.That done we headed of to find the house - would you believe it, it was only a couple of streets behind the tourist office! 

Karen had some old photographs and yes it was the house. The only thing that seemed to have changed is that the stairs into the house seemed to have been 'turned' - maybe it was a 'fung shei' thing.

Here's Karen on the doorstep
This was as close as she could get this time.

It was slightly disappointing to find that it was now,like most of the houses here, a holiday home and as such there was no one at home - so no viewing for Karen.

We then had a little time to spare so headed up the road to the beach -

It was deserted but we could imagine what it must be like during the holiday season.

After a stroll along 'la plage' we kept our rendezvous with M. Lancereau who proved to be both knowledgeable and charming. He let us have a look at books he and a friend had collaborated on, showing old photographs and postcards. Karen was able to get a copy to take back with her to the States.
So, all in all, a fairly successful day of detective work with only the certificate to track down.

Monday, 24 October 2011

West coast - on a mission.

Pauline and I, along with friends Karen and David, headed over to the port of La Rochelle on the west coast for the weekend. We also visited Isle de Ré and Chatelaillon-Plage, where we were on a mission but more of that later.

La Rochelle is the capital of the department of Charente- Maratime and lies on an inlet of the bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast of France. Its history as a port can be traced back to the 10th century where, from its humble origins as a small fishing village, it has grown to the charming seaport we see today.

We were blessed with beautiful October weather which made this historic port a joy to explore.We actually managed to dine alfresco for both Saturday lunch, by the market and for dinner in the evening -great!

.I will give a little of its history and details of our mission via posts and pics.over the next week