Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany, France

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Rochefort-en-Terre is now one of Brittany’s most visited sites after being put on the map in 1907 by the French-born American painter Alfred Klotz who bought the local chateau. Klotz encouraged the residents to decorate their houses with geraniums, a practice that continues today and helped lead Rochefort in winning numerous awards as one of France’s most beautiful villages. Total population of this jewel has been around 600 for the last two hundred years. Endowed with a stunning mix of architectural styles, ranging from 16th-century half-timbered buildings to stone-built Renaissance structures like the Post Office. Building on its arty past, the streets are replete with artists studios and a variety of craftspeople including potters, a candle maker, a toy maker and so on. Biscuits are a particular local feature with several artisan biscuit makers offering distinctive lines. See Slideshow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Saint Goustan, Auray, France

By the fall of 1776 the War of Independence between the newly minted United States of America and Great Britain was in danger of being lost to Britain as the USA ran out of money and resources. France, for centuries Britain's arch-rival, was seen by Congress as the only hope to turn the tide and Benjamin Franklin, a personal hero of mine, was selected to visit France with his nation's begging bowl. 
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Duly, in December 1776, Franklin arrived in Port Saint Goustain in Britanny, France, on his way to see the French King and his advisers. Saint Goustan, named after the patron saint of fishermen and sailors, is on the south coast of the Brest peninsular in northwest France, about 10 miles up the Auray river and 300 miles from Paris. 
After much prevarication, Franklin eventually reached agreement with the French who joined the war effort and the rest eventually became history. This French largesse however, motivated by their desire to get one over on the Brits, almost bankrupted France and was certainly a contributing factor in Frances own revolution a dozen years later.
St Goustan, originally a fishing port, served as a boat building center and a commercial port until it was sidelined by the railroad in 1860. Today, this tiny commune is part of the much larger Auray community and exists mainly as a tourist attraction centered on the Franklin Quay and the Franklin Inn. See Slideshow.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Vitre, Britanny, France 2018

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In 1598, Henry IV, King of France, visited Vitre and was so surprised by what he encountered he is purported to have said "If I was not King of France, I want to be bourgeois from Vitré!" A little over the top perhaps, but, we certainly enjoyed our visit despite there being many features we did not get to.
Vitre has a population close to 18,000 and is pretty much on the border of Brittany with Lower Normandy.  Designated by the Ministry of Culture as a town of artistic and historic significance, it is in the top 40 cities in France by count of historic buildings. The present Fairy Tale castle dates from the 13th century and currently houses a museum, although, we were disappointed not to see Rapunzel during our visit.
A former famous resident of Vitre, Mme de Sévigné, spent a lot of time at a Chateau on the outskirts of town that also now houses a museum. The main attraction there however, is the French garden which was designed by the creator of the gardens at Versailles. In all, a very memorable
experience. See Slideshow.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Villedieu les Poeles, Avranches and Saint Sever Calvados, Normandy, France

Villedieu les Poeles

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Villedieu-les-Poêles is a small city of 3,900 people in Normandy authorized by the Government to use the accolade "City & Art Trades" in recognition of its tradition of copper working since the Middle Ages. Products have included kitchen utensils, brass-ware, cauldrons and the like since the "City of Copper and Pewter" was created in the 11th century by the Knights Hospitaller. The inhabitants are known as Sourdins from the French sourd, meaning deaf, from the time that most workers in the manufacturing of copper pans, which involved repeated hammering, became deaf.
Our visit was cut short by a mishap making our next destination truly "accidental" since we we arrived there by ambulance!


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Having sampled the French EMS and the mind-numbing "hurry up and wait" routines of the hospital in Avranches, we decided on a late lunch and an exploration of this slightly larger town, population around 8,000. In 511 the town became the seat of a bishopric and later, the location of Saint Andrews, a major cathedral. In 933 the area was ceded to the Normans and became part of William the Conqueror's stomping ground.

Saint Sever Calvados

On the way back to base we decided to stop by this little burg that we had seen the previous day. Not a lot to see beyond a once grand abbey, it is yet another example of slowly atrophying French village with its declining population now less than 2,000. See Slideshow.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Vire, Normandy, France

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The original walled city of Vire was built on a rocky promontory above the Vire River and, since 2016, the town of 20,000 has been part of the commune called Vire-Normandy. As such, being the largest commune in the area, it has some administrative oversight of numerous, much smaller local communes.
Vire suffered quite heavily during bombardments at the end of the Second World War, and much reconstruction and renovation took place in the following decade. The Church of Notre-Dame in Vire dates from the 13th - 16th centuries but includes elements from later periods and is predominantly in the Gothic style. See Slideshow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Landelles et Coupigny, France

Back in the Spring we decided to re-visit Lower Normandy and Brittany in northwest France to fill in some gaps left following previous trips. We took a ship from Florida to Dover, England, disembarked a day early in Cherbourg, France, picked up an SUV and drove south to our first base, Landelles-et-Coupigny. 
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In 1789, the year of the French revolution, it is estimated that there were as many as 60,000 parish churches in France making them one of the most commonplace durable landmarks. The parishes were generally quite small even at that time but, following the extensive population migration to the cities in the 20th century and steadily declining church attendance, thousands of rural and small city churches are now unable to sustain themselves. There were at least three national legislative attempts in the 20th century to compel the merging of adjacent moribund communities but they were strongly resisted for obvious reasons. 
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The villages of Landelles and Coupigny, were ahead of their time in this regard and actually merged around the time of the revolution at which time each village had a population just more than 1,000. Over the ensuing 2 plus centuries the population of the merged villages increased to more than 3,000 in the 1960's but has since dwindled to less than 900. In recent decades, thousands of such small communes have been clumped into local communities of communes which essentially manage the provision of services such as water and trash pick-up. Inevitably however, with church attendance now at just 11% and urbanization nudging 80% the demise of tens of thousands small parish churches is only a matter of time. Visit them while you can! See slideshow.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Domfront, France 2018

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Domfront is a fortified town with many surviving towers along remaining sections of the ramparts, the majority of which can be seen along the Rue des Fossés Pusson. Situated in the Orne Department of the Lower Normandy Region the town is in the National Parc Naturelle. 
The current Catholic church, St. Julien's, was built between 1924 and 1926 and replaced the earlier eighteenth century church damaged by a storm. The church, which was consecrated in 1933, has a square plan in Byzantine style and the interior decoration is largely mosaic tile. Following premature deterioration the church was closed in 2006 and underwent a major restoration from 2011 to 2013 before reopening.
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Another notable sight in town are the ruins of the medieval castle which was besieged by William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy in 1049. In 1092, the town's people revolted against the owner, Robert II de Bellême, and transferred their allegiance to the third son of William the Conqueror, Henri Beauclerc. Henri went on to become duke of Normandy and later, the King of England. Turbulent times continued for the next six centuries with ownership changing numerous times resulting from the location on the border of Normandy and Brittany.

In the adjacent community of Domfront-en-Poiraie is Notre-Dame-sur-l'Eau, the church of Lonlay Abbey priory. Built between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, it suffered many insults over the ensuing centuries but remains a key example of architecture in this region, although practically nothing of the original structure remains. 
Lonlay Abbey itself is in the nearby village of Lonlay and its construction likely took place from the middle of the eleventh century until about 1100. Typically Benedictine in style, it is a good example of Norman Romanesque architecture. More pictures here.


Saturday, August 04, 2018

Horta, Azores 2018

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The Azores is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, the other one being Madeira. The Azores is an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic about 800 miles west of mainland Portugal. Horta is on the island of Faial and has a population near 7,000 while the total population of the island is around 15,000. The marina is a primary stop for yachts crossing the Atlantic.

Horta's economy is supported by agriculture, livestock farming, fishing, and tourism. Not a lot to see beyond an interesting glimpse into Portugal's colonial past but a welcome walkabout to break up an Atlantic crossing. The climate is very mild, being influenced by the Gulf Stream, with daytime temperatures normally falling in the range of 60F to 75F, although it is generally wet and cloudy. See some sights here.

Hamilton, Bermuda

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Bermuda is one of the fourteen remaining British Overseas Territories and, as such, is self-governing with its own constitution and government which enacts local laws. The United Kingdom retains responsibility for defense and foreign relations. The capital of Bermuda is Hamilton, population about 3,600 while the island itself is home to about 65,000 souls. Bermuda lies in the North Atlantic Ocean almost 900 miles due east of Charleston, South Carolina. Its economy is dominated by offshore insurance and tourism.

Juan de Bermúdez, a Spanish sea Captain, was the first European believed to have recorded the islands, hence the name Bermuda. In 1684 the English Crown took over administration and in 1707 the islands became a British colony. Unlike the Caribbean islands to the south, Bermuda feels much more substantial and is certainly less gaudy although there is not much to be accomplished in a 9 hour visit except to gawk at a few buildings. A few of Hamilton's structures can be seen here.