Monday, January 23, 2017

Barcelona, Spain

The ship left Cannes on Thursday evening and set sail for Barcelona, Spain. During the night, there were 8o knot winds and seas officially classified as "Rough". Our room was midships ("near the middle" for landlubbers) and remained fairly comfortable. Passengers close to the pointed end or those near the rear of the ship did not fare so well and had developed highly exaggerated tales of derring-do by breakfast the following day.

See Slideshow

December 8th was the following day. Unbeknownst to us latter-day pagans, this is the day for the celebration of the Immaculate Conception - a big deal in Spain and other western European countries. Building on my unchallenged ignorance and using powerful computational skills, it soon became apparent that there was nowhere near nine months between December 8th and December 25th - just 17 days in fact, so what gives? Turns out that the Immaculate Conception is nothing to do with the conception or the birth of Jesus but refers instead to the conception of Mary by her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne. This leads right away to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Feast Day on September 8th. Another long cherished misconception dashed!

But what about Christmas Day? Just another gap in our education and another feast we have missed all these years - The Incarnation of Christ, also known as Annunciation Day, is March 25th, the day the magic deed occurred and, as fate would have it, exactly nine months before Christmas! So it all came out OK in the end.

Back to Barcelona. It was thronging with people enjoying the festival, the weather was excellent and there was a lot to see. We spent our time in the Gothic Quarter, the old town area comprising mainly medieval and some Roman buildings lining the narrow streets and numerous squares. Generally a great day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Joigny, France - visited July 15, 2012

Joigny, in the Yonne department of the Burgundy region, is on the banks of the Yonne River and is overlooked by the Chateau des Gondi. The surrounding countryside is considered scenic, so much so, that in 1802 the English painter J M W Turner stopped by for a while and recorded some sketches.
There are several churches and chapels in the town including the church of Saint Jean and the 16th century Gothic style Church of Saint-Thibault. Fragments of the medieval ramparts that once protected the town are extant and include one of the original arched stone doorways through the early castle walls at the Porte Saint Jean. Another imposing gateway at the north of the town called the Porte du Bois is also in good repair. The town was largely rebuilt in the 16th century after much of it was destroyed by fire.
Against expectations, the area around Joigny is renowned for its cider rather than wine and the nearby valleys are populated predominately with apple orchards, not vineyards. Joigny has a market each Wednesday and Saturday. Additional pictures here. or here

Friday, August 08, 2014

Charny, France - visited July 14, 2012

A quick overnight stop in Charny, a tiny commune in the Yonne department of Burgundy just 20 miles east of Montargis, provided a welcome break. While there is not much to this 1700 population town, reflecting on its turbulent and violent history one might conclude it has done well to survive at all.
Charny, known at the time as Caarnetum, first appears on a deed dated 1130 CE. Two hundred years later, with its population at around 2,000, the city appears to have been at its zenith. There was a quarantine facility for lepers, a new defensive wall had been built and, in 1309, King Philippe le Bel stopped by to meet and greet. C'est magnifique! 
In 1358 the town managed to stave off an attack by Sir Robert Knolles, an English knight, during his failed invasion of France. By the 15th century however, Charny's good fortune came to a complete stop. Between 1426 and 1443 (toward the end of the Hundred Years War) the town changed hands six times, bouncing back and forth between the Bourguignons and the Armagnacs. By the end of the war, in 1453, the town was wholly destroyed and was completely abandoned for about 50 years.
Following its eventual resuscitation another misfortune struck in 1706 when a fire razed everything to the ground except a barn and a few houses. Today, Charny continues as the head town of its canton, a distinction held since 1802, and has absorbed the village of “la Mothe aux Aulnaies” along the way.
In summary, another stagnant township of rural France just 75 miles from Paris. A few more pictures here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Montargis, France - visited July 13, 2012

Montargis, with a population of 15,000, is the second largest town in the Loiret department after Orléans and is about 68 miles south of Paris. With numerous canals and bridges, it sometimes bills itself as the "Venice of the Gâtinais", Gâtinais being a former province of France prior to being absorbed into the Loiret department.
The town is known from ancient times and numerous Gallo-Roman artifacts have been found in the area, many of which are in the town's Gâtinais Museum. Later, the town became a stronghold of the Frankish king Clovis 1st before falling into the hands of the house of Courtenay, who fortified a château on a hill overlooking the town. The town was ceded to the king of France in 1188 and became a royal residence in the 14th and 15th centuries.
In 1427, during the Hundred Years' War, the Earl of Warwick besieged the town, beginning a bombardment on July 15 of that year. On September 5, a French force of 1600 men broke the siege, led by Jean de Dunois and La Hire, commanders who would go on to lead the army of Joan of Arc.
After the 100 Years War, Charles VII rewarded the town for its valor by granting it various privileges and, in 1490, Charles VIII officially declared Montargis Le Franc - tax-free. The acronym, MLF, appears in the official coat of arms and the town remained free of taxes for three centuries, until the French Revolution.
In the time of Louis XIII a local shop that is still in existence first produced what became known as praline, the crunchy candy made from almonds in cooked sugar. Less romantic is the rubber factory, built in the 1880s, in the Châlette district that today employs 2000 workers in the production of tires and parts for vehicles and appliances.
More pictures of this workaday town here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Henrichemont, France - date visited July 12, 2012

Trundling north along the D12 on an overcast morning, we passed under an arch and emerged into the heart of the tiny town of Henrichemont, population 1800. Such a contrast to the usual string of houses along the roadside that form the typical small French community, this one was rigorously laid out around a grand central square. There had to be a reason...
Boisbelle, as the area had formerly been known, had been an allōd under Roman law, a sovereign freehold with none of the constraints of feudal tenure but one wherein the owner had the rights of a ruler and governed the territory in complete independence. Thus, the inhabitants of Boisbelle were free from any taxes or services and could not be conscripted into the armed forces. They were, however, subject to the requirements of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1605, Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully, a Protestant and a friend of King Henri IV for more than  30 years, bought Boisbelle from the Duke of Nevers. The French Treasury challenged the tax-exempt position of Boisbelle so Sully obtained letters patent from Henri IV in 1606 confirming its status and the immunity of its inhabitants. The dispute continued until 1608 when Henri IV issued further letters declaring the people of Boisbelle free of all tax in perpetuity. Apparently secure, Sully decided to build a new capital, Henrichemont, in honor of the king and the first stone was laid in April 1609.
Then, tragedy! On 14 May 1610, Henri IV was assassinated, Sully lost his friend and protector, his offices and his income. Construction slowed, contractors fell into dispute and lawsuits abounded. In 1624, Sully was ordered by the court to pay the contractors and in 1636 the owners of the few private houses that had been built, all sold at a loss. Ultimately, on 24 September 1766, the 7th Duke of Sully and last independent Prince, ceded the principality to the Crown. It was integrated into France and the inhabitants lost all their privileges. Too bad! Still, it was a nice coffee break and served to confirm that its not what you know but who you know, at least until they are assassinated - see pictures here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bourges, France - visited July 11, 2012

Bourges, a city with a population of around 70,000, is in Centre region on the Yèvre river. It is the capital of the Cher department. A great walkabout city - off the beaten track, lots of locals and no intense crowds.
Following the siege of Avaricum, the commune name in Roman times, Julius Caesar's forces destroyed the city and killed all but 800 of its inhabitants in 52 BCE. A Christian center had developed on this site by the 3rd century when Saint Ursin is believed to have been the first bishop of the city of Bourges. In the 4th century a defensive stone wall, strengthened by some 50 towers and pierced by four gateways, was built and some vestiges of this can be seen along the Promenade des Remparts and at the foot of Jacques Coeur's Palace. The city, which has a walled market that opens once a week, actually served briefly as the capital of France during the "Hundred Years War".
The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Etienne, begun at the end of the twelfth century, is listed as a World Heritage Site and is second only to Paris' Nôtre-Dame cathedral in size. It contains some of France's best stained-glass windows representing Christ at the Last Judgement and the Apocalypse among others. The structure is essentially as it was when it was completed in the late 13th century, although many elements have been replaced over the centuries.
By 1487, Bourges boasted 15,000 inhabitants despite outbreaks of plague and general paucity but, in that year, a disasterous fire consumed more than a third of the city and precipitated a rapid decline. In 1562 the War of Religion reached Bourges with much pillaging by the Protestants leading to the flight of many of its bourgeois and intellectual elite. The Revolution further diminished the city's allure and it wasn't until 1851 when the railroad station was built that redevelopment began.
In 1860 Bourges was selected as the armament manufacturing center for France and by 1866 the population had doubled to 30,000 and peaked at 100,000 briefly during WWI. Since WWII, most housing expansion has been in the form of apartment blocks north of the city, leaving the old town fairly intact. Lots of things to see here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

St. Pourçain sur Sioule, France - visited July 9, 2012

Still in the Auvergne region, we headed north and shortly descended from the Massif Central, skirted Clermont Ferrand and eventually came to St. Pourçain sur Sioule.
In the Allier department of the Auvergne region, St. Pourçain sur Sioule sits along the river Sioule and is home to around 5,000 inhabitants. The city lies at the crossroads of the north-south Clermont-Ferrand to Paris road and the east-west Lyon to Limoges highway.
It is probable that a swineherd called Porcianus or Purcianus, sometime in the 5th century CE, was elevated to abbot of a monastery that was built on the hill overlooking the river Sioule. In the 14th century the village was fortified into a walled city. Around this time the it was known as St. Pourçain Arbors from the grapevines grown on trellises or arbors. Following the Revolution it was renamed Mont-sur-Sioule but after the revolutionary fervor died down it became known as St. Pourçain sur Sioule early in the 19th century.
The municipal campground, contained in a park on an island in the Sioule, is very comfortable and enjoys a lot of family friendly activities. See here for more pictures of this city.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tidying up the backyard...

Having lived in our Florida home for a few months and thoroughly checked out the amenities we felt the urge to do a little tune-up. Several items seemed irksome and were slated for change so, after a little planning, the artisans were let loose to do their thing.
See here for more images.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Saint Flour, France - visited July 6, 2012

Nestled between two volcanic mountain regions in the Massif Central of the Haute Auvergne region, Saint Flour offers an insight into rural medieval France amid the grandeur of a volcanic landscape. The medieval town of 6,500 or so is on the top of the Auvergne's highest volcanic outcrops and is in the Cantal department in the Auvergne region in south-central France. The upper city is located on a volcanic dike, the lower city extends to the banks of the river Ander. There are a number of megalithic graves in the area known as dolmens that probably originated in the bronze age and there is ample evidence to confirm Roman occupation.
During the French Revolution Saint Flour took several successive names. De-Christianized first as Fort-Cantal then Fort-Libre then Mont-Flour before readopting its original name in 1793. The territory of the commune was never changed. Briefly, between 1790 and 1795 it served as the préfecture of the newly-created département, before Aurillac succeeded to that position. The population at the time was around 5,300, about 1200 less than today.
Proclaimed as religious capital of Haute-Auvergne in 1317, Saint-Flour didn't have its own cathedral until the following century. Built in the 15th century, on the ruins of the priory founded by Saint Odilo of Cluny, Abbot of Cluny, in the 11th century, the cathedral offers an foreboding exterior facade and a black Christ inside. More pictures here.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Mende, France - visited July 4, 2012

Mende (pronounced "Monder"), is the capital of the Lozère department in the mountainous area of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It is a small city of population about 12,000 and is dominated by an enormous 14th century Gothic cathedral. The basilica style cathedral is dedicated to Notre-Dame and Saint-Privat and was built by Pope Urbain V who was born in the area. Although originally in the Gothic style, a radical makeover was undertaken in the first half of the seventeenth century. Mende is at the doorstep of the Cevennes National Forest close to the Gorges du Tarn, a massive 25-mile canyon.
The are records mentioning Mende dating back to the 3rd century although it wasn't until the Middle Ages that the city really began to thrive. Mende suffered during the Wars of Religion and also from visitations from the plague before finally settling to become the department capital while retaining a small-town feel. A few additional pictures are here.