Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Short of time!

I am having a difficult time keeping up with Life in the Charente at present! Having just returned from 3 weeks holiday in Spain and Portugal, I have not got the time for lots of research which most of my posts need. Nigel is great at helping me, but there is so much to do in the garden, we are both very busy.  I am, though, doing my best to keep up the daily photodiary and adding a few holiday photos to each day, so if you are interested, please take a look at it HERE.  Winter should be a good time for me to catch up once again, but if I have time I will pop in a few posts before that.  As Arnie S once said,I will be back :-)
A taste of our holiday photos - the way to travel in Seville, Spain.

A new blog for France - friends just making the move take a look Here.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Anne has a week's holiday in the Charente!

We are going away on holiday in the next few days and will be pretty much without an internet connection until we return in early July. I thought I would put a few photos of Anne's visit on a post before we go.  You can follow more of her travels (with more detail) and what we saw at her blog Anne in Oxfordshire. Be patient with her though, as she has 100's, maybe 1000's of photos to go through!!
Part of the  superb and very well preserved heating system discovered by archaeologists at the Roman complex of Cassinomagus, near Chassenon

Anne taking a photo of the privately owned Rochechouart chateau.

One day in the Dordogne at Brantome. The idyllic river Dronne!

Anne in Brantome at the weirs

Abbey de la Couronne;the ruins near Angouleme.

Waiting for a  storm to pass; the covered market in old  Angouleme

The ruins of the  Chateau of St  Germain.

We were lucky enough, while at the above Chateau, to meet up with  Citroën Traction Avant enthusiasts on a club run :-)

We both left with one of these badges.

Anne at the 13th Century courthouse entrance in Confolens.

Saw this flowery bike in Lesterps.

A visit to the chocolate factory in La Rochefoucauld. Yum!

Anne at the Lavoir in St Adjutory.

Eglise St Jacques at Tusson.

This strange coniferous tree was growing in Nanteuil_en_Vallee Arboretum.

Anne hugging a 250 year old plane tree at Peyrassoulat.

and another hug from me. Thanks Anne for taking this photo.

Time to say good bye at Angouleme station.  We all had a great week thanks to Nigel's planning, despite the constant and prolonged showers, which always threatened to disrupt things.

Hope you all have a good month; see you sometime in July.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Vegetable casserole.

Firstly I must apologise to you all for the slow rate at which I am posting!
Time just seems to fly by and  keeping up with everything is not easy, especially at this time of year, when the garden needs a lot of attention!  

I have still not managed to edit my photos of the Lot region of France and we go on holiday next month, so there will be loads more photos to edit on our return after 3 weeks of travelling.  I have, however, managed to keep up the photo diary, for those who are interested. Catching up with 'My life in the Charente' in summer may be difficult but I will do my best when we return from holiday.  Tomorrow we have a blogger friend arriving and we are looking forward to showing her around; sadly the weather has taken a turn for the worse and lots of rain is forecast!

Meanwhile, I have discovered an amazing way to make a vegetable casserole and decided to pass on my 'invention,' as we thought it was so good.  No amounts or weight are involved; just decide how much you need for each person.

You could use pretty much any vegetable of your choice but I used:

2 carrots
1 parsnip
A large stick of celery
2 leeks
A few mushrooms
Two sticks of asparagus that I had in the fridge.
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Chop all and put into a dish with a lid.  I then added liquid 3/4 of the way up the dish.  This was a 50:50mix of box orange juice and dry white wine with a vegetable stock jelly added.  Put on the lid and cook in the oven at about 190C (375F, gas mark 5) until the carrot is just tender; mine was done in a little more than an hour. Pouring in heated liquid  first would speed up the cooking time if you were in a hurry.

When the vegetables were cooked, I drained off the liquid to make a sauce and kept the vegetables warm meanwhile. 

Butter - about 60 grams or 2 ounces, melt in a small saucepan then add some flour (about 2 tablespoons), Add a couple of heaped tablespoons of lemon and lime marmalade, stir well then slowly add the vegetable liquid, stirring all the time until you have a thick pouring consistency.  Serve up the vegetables and pour some of the sauce over.

I served it with a potato cooked in the slow cooker, and a grilled pork chop, it was delicious.

Pasta sauce.

We had some of the above vegetables left over, as I had cooked more than we needed. I made up a little more sauce using butter, flour, wine, orange juice and marmalade and adding the left over vegetable.  We then poured it over our favourite pasta and hey presto, what a great sauce it made.

I hope that you get to try this out as I thought it was really exceptional and the lemon and lime marmalade just finished it off with a novel taste.  It may work with any marmalade, but that is for you to try and experiment with!

See also My Life Before Charente (updated 9 March)
and my daily blog

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The beautiful city of Rocamadour, a commune in Lot, a department in south-western France.

On the first day of our little trip to the Lot, I took over 100 photos, and after editing, I still had 70 that are pretty good, so again I have whittled down, and am left with what I consider to be the best for you to appreciate!

We left home early, but were held up in a minor traffic jam  in Périgueux; they were sweeping the streets!  We arrived at Rocamadour just on lunch time, so decided to stop at the first "traveller recommended" place to eat. This proved to be a mistake, as we should have waited to see what else  was available. The meal was passable, but nothing special!   I digress though, and on to Rocamadour!  It is set on a cliff 120 metres (390 feet) high forming the side of a deep gorge on the Alzou river, a tributary of the Dordogne.  The city also gives its name to a small goat's milk cheese, which is made locally. 

The name is said to come from Roc (cliff in the local Occitan language) and Amadour, who might have been either a saint, a hermit or the bishop of a nearby diocese. There are several legends related to its foundation, but the scholars believe them to be untrustworthy, so the distant past is "lost in antiquity"! The city declined during the religious struggles of the Middle Ages, wars and the French Revolution.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Rocamadour had fallen into a state of disrepair, with trees growing in the 'grand stairway' (see later) and the traders having left.  In 1855, the bishop of Cahors decided to promote a lottery  to help fund the essential restoration work, but nearly 20 years passed before the major work was finished.  

We started our our walking tour where we had parked the car at lunchtime, in the hamlet of l'Hospitalet (presumably taking its name from the nearby gateway - see below), where there is the gorgeous chapel of Saint-Jean-de-l'Hospitalet built in the 13th and 14th centuries, next to the ruins of the original chapel, founded 200 years earlier. 

The chapel of Saint-Jean-de-l'Hospitalet and ruins of the original chapel.

The ruins of the old chapel

The chapel, seen through the ancient entrance arch.

Inside the chapel

The première porte (gateway) to Rocamadour, just beyond the chapel

Along the pilgrims' route in the city, one sees many  fortified gates built in the Middle Ages.  The first gate (above) called Hospital's Gate, marks the beginning of the holy way leading to the lowest part of Rocamadour.  There are five major gateways on roads or pathways that lead up to  Notre Dame, the pilgrimage church in the city and other smaller churches at the same level. Here at the first gate, the pilgrim can contemplate and enjoy the view, across the valley, of the ultimate goal, the vertiginous city built on the rock above the river.  The pilgrim can then give thanks, and worship God for all his wonders.

The view as seen from the première porte.

We decided that the  downhill walk  was quite possible, but we would not have the energy to return!  We took the car down to another car park right at the  bottom of this photo, where we managed to park fairly easily, as this was the low season. How crowded it becomes there in high season, I dread to think!

We then caught a ride on one of these little trains which took us up to the bottom of the village, about half way up the cliff face.

Upper and lower Rocamadour, taken from the car park.

The narrow streets of the city, looking up to the château built in the Middle Ages to defend the pilgrim sanctuaries.

Walking through the narrow residential streets of the lower town. At the top of the photo, see how part of the château is built on a rock overhang. Those ancient builders were brave, but they didn't have health and safety regulations then!

Closer to the centre of the town, and Porte Hugon in view at the centre of the street. I think this must be the second gateway.

Porte Salmon, the third of the gateways.

I passed through the fourth gateway at the bottom of the 'grand stairs'. With its 216 steps, it is the last stage to the sanctuary. The stairs were stabilised with reinforced concrete and carefully restored (often stone-by-stone) in a 3 year exercise (2008-2011) to put right defects  and wear caused by freezing winters and the millions of visitors since the last repairs in 1872. Many pilgrims including saints and kings have climbed these stairs, so I felt as if I was in good company! There's a plaque on a wall listing visits of the most prominent from 12th to 15th centuries, these including Henry II of England, many kings of France and Pope Jean XXII.

After the first flight; looking up to the château far above me. I never did make it up that far!

From much the same position, in a different direction, I could see the bell tower of  the Notre Dame church.

The final flight to the 5th gateway on the 'grand stairs', the entrance door to Notre Dame church beyond.

The last few breathless steps on our walking tour!

La Porte Sainte.   The church entrance, which is the fifth and final holy gateway to the shrine of Notre Dame of Rocamadour.   I only went through the gateway; there were a lot of people inside the church, and more steps to climb once in there!

Looking back at the archways over the  church entrance, from inside.

From here we travelled on to Cahors where we stayed 3 nights, so watch this space for the next part of the trip.

See also My Life Before Charente (updated 30 March)
and my daily blog

Friday, 11 April 2014

Les Salles Lavauguyon and surrounding area

There is so much of interest here, that I took 61 photos!!; I whittled these down, with the hope that I have picked the best. The village lies just over Charente's eastern border, in the Haute-Vienne, close to the perimeter of a huge crater created by a meteorite 200 million years ago - of which more another time! The settlement has a fascinating more-recent history, as you will see below.

The smaller sign above is written, I suspect, in either the language of Occitan (Oc) or a dialect (Oïl), which was spoken by the peoples of the region in medieval times. Both these words means "yes" in the respective languages, but the latter is now unfortunately reported as becoming extinct.

The very imposing mairie!

A street scene, with village shop, providing groceries and many other useful services, like gas bottles, Wi-Fi, mail box and photocopying! Few of these local businesses have survived supermarket competition, so the villagers have a rare treasure here!

The sign marks a local tourist route, set up to honour Richard the Lionheart (King Richard I of England from 1189 to his death in 1199), who spent much of his time in the region during the latter part of the 12th century as a ruler and commander, notably in the Third Crusade against Saladin. His mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II, and he spoke in the local dialects mentioned above.
The village was also on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, so it must have been an important and busy place, with travellers always passing to and fro. 

The church was commenced in 1075 and dedicated to Saint Eutrope, who was a regional bishop, martyred in the 3rd century. It is a striking example of Romanesque architecture, but having unfortunately been sited both on quite a steep slope (as you can see above) and next to a spring, it suffered greatly from damp and a slippery earth floor. This was was only levelled and paved in the 19th century!

Close up of decorative arches and carving over the entrance door

The church underwent major reconstruction in the 12th century when the priory was added. Built to accommodate a chapter of 12 religious men, who were of a status senior to monks, it originally comprised only two rooms, a ground floor communal room (still used today!) and a dormitory above.

The nave and altar

Ancient masonry and stained glass windows

View towards the entrance door.

The following series of photos are of the magnificent 12th century frescoes,  only discovered by accident in 1986, when restoration work required the removal of walling which had been covering them!

The themes, high quality and the richness of their colours make them unique in western Europe.

Panels depict scenes from both the old and new testaments, which include the 'Creation' (Adam and Eve) and the 'Nativity' (Birth of Jesus), as well as illustrations of the vices, greed, violence, vanity and lust, and the brutal death of Saint-Eutrope. Other frescoes on the south and north walls continue the themes with dedications to male and female saints (all of whom where martyrs) and priors.

A side doorway with wall statue

Presumably a font; note how the floor paving has been roughly taken up so as to accommodate the base!

A niche dedicated to Saint Eutrophe, now sadly lacking the effigy

Moving 2 kilometres down the road to the neighbouring hamlet, simply,  but confusingly, called Lavauguyon, where the lavoir, originally providing the village's laundry facility, can be found beside a bridge over this small watercourse.

Lavaugyon is also the site of a 12th century ruined castle, which must have seen action in the times of Richard the Lionheart

It is now slowly being restored by voluntary labour, but I hope they get on with the work before it collapses and disappears for ever!

This looks serious!

The  prominent memorial, sited on a green next to the church, to those of the village who gave their lives in the Great War of 1914-18.

See also My Life Before Charente (updated 30 March)
and my daily blog