Thursday, 1 October 2015

Circuit Des Remparts 2015 - Angouleme - Days one and two

This post, and the next, will chiefly appeal to classic car fans, but due to its longevity, this motor sporting event  is such a fundamental and important part of the year for the city and its people (they are named the Angoumois), I hope that every reader, car fan or not, will find something of interest in it! Below is this year's poster for the event, which has been held every year since 1939, interrupted only by World War II. That's quite a record!

Signs like this below are erected on every major road entering the city. They set out brief details of the activities, held over a long September weekend from Friday to Sunday. The events  comprise a Concours D'Elegance on the Friday evening, a (fairly gentle) rally on Saturday (because most of the cars are old and/or valuable!), with the grand finale on Sunday being flat-out racing around a street circuit in the old town - all closed to normal traffic, of course! Participants often come from far away in their enthusiasm to participate in one or other of the above; many are French but a large contingent comes from the UK, as you will see. Without them, I felt that the event would be much smaller and much the poorer!

A beautiful 1939 Alvis 4.3 litre drophead coupe below, driven all the way from England by a mature gentleman and his wife! This car won the open-top class in the Concours, a competition in which cars (and some motorbikes), divided into classes, are judged by a panel, for their condition, style and the way in which the driver and passengers are attired to match the looks and age of the car! The contest here is all fairly light-hearted, but the long and unseasonably cold and rainy evening must have tested the patience of the entrants!
 The Alvis was snapped in daylight, on its way to the evening event, but I found it very difficult to take shots of many of the entries on the judging ramp due to the artificial lighting set-up and the intermittent rain squalls, so I only have two other class winners worth showing! The car below is a Porsche 356C from the mid '60s, cleverly  decked out in a winter sports mode. The engaging boy (on the right) throwing fake snowballs at the crowd must have added a few points to the car's score!

A host of vintage motorbikes below, mostly French, with the class winner being a teenager who had rebuilt his vintage bike himself!

After a late night with the Concours, the car rally started early on Saturday morning, following a 180km (115 mile) route around the local countryside, taking in sunflower fields and the extensive estates growing grapes for wine and Cognac (that famous town is not very far away). There was an official entry of some 300 cars, of which only 200 were in the programme, so that made identification difficult for us! The lunch  break was in Jarnac, a small town SW of Angouleme, so we headed there to get some shots of the competitors as they drove in from their morning's challenges. The whole town came to a standstill and streets were gridlocked as many locals arrived to show off their own oldies. The gendarmes battled valiantly to keep the traffic moving!

Of the hundreds of cars milling around, here are a few which caught my eye, illustrating the wide spectrum of motor transport developed in the middle years of the 20th century. The unusual car below is a Citroen-based Lomax from the '70s. Not so good to look at as the much earlier English Morgan 3-wheeler, I reckon! Still, the owner is obviously proud of it!

A stunning, rare and  valuable Bugatti type 35B below; more of a racing car, really, so the owner was very courageous in undertaking the rally day, just ambling along country roads for hours! These cars were produced in the mid to late 1920s and powered by 2.3 litre straight eight engines producing up to 130 horsepower. You'll need to find around £500,000 ($US750,000) for some examples, but this one would be out again the following day for the races around the town!

Now a 1965 Aston Martin DB5 from England; the same model was used in the James Bond films and that is worth £1,000,000 ($US 1,520,000). Whew!!

Below a 1920/30s Bentley sports, again , all the way from the UK, but not being an aficionado of the marque, I'm not sure exactly what it is!

Chenard Walcker, a rare French make, was manufactured in the '20s and some cars were built for racing. Indeed, there is an example in the Le Mans motor museum. Cars were built into the '30s, in association with the better known Delahaye brand, but after that the factory apparently closed down. This is French owned, as is the Citroen further below from the same era.

What looks below like a American Willys Jeep, seemingly converted for use by the French police. It didn't have any rally number plates on it, so maybe it was being driven around by some locals just displaying their pride and joy!

A Jaguar XK120 roadster, the first of their beautiful post-war XK series cars. The body styling caused a sensation when the car was introduced in 1948. Another car which came all the way from the UK.

This next one, again from the UK, possibly an MG M type "Midget" from the 1930s, fitted with a supercharger to improve performance. It  only had drum brakes to help the driver make it stop!

Below a local Peugeot 301 saloon, of which 70,000 were produced between 1932 and 1936. Its 1500cc engine helped it achieve 80 mph and it was one of the first cars to be designed with independent front suspension.

And last but not least, a well-restored Porsche 356 cabriolet from the mid 1960s. I seem to remember this particular car came from Holland, so quite a long drive in a 60 horsepower, 50 year old car! Don't miss the forthcoming part 2, the exciting race day!

Thanks Nigel for your research and help again.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 13/08/2015
Will catch up with the latter soon!!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Théâtre gallo-romain des Bouchauds.

The Gallo-Roman "théâtre Les Bouchauds" is located near Saintes, in the small municipality of Saint-Cybardeaux in the Charente. We happened to see the sign while we were out driving one day and decided to explore! The construction of this amphitheatre began in the first century AD and overlooks the Via Agrippa, a very important Roman road  nearly 600 km long from west to east across France, between Saintes and Lyon. This road is one of the four major highways built by Agrippa, a Roman general charged by the Emperor Augustus to bring some order to the Gaul empire, which the Romans had conquered. Engineering on a massive scale!

The French are very good at preserving historical remains and putting up signage to explain to visitors the purpose of what they see in front of them. This sign gives an overview of the site, which consists of two sacred circles of stone, each containing two small temples, plus a huge amphitheatre, scooped out of the top of the hill, next to them. The sign also gives details of the visitor centre based in a farm just up the road, but as is the custom in France, it's closed from 12h00 to 15h00, so we weren't able to see it!

The smaller of the two stone circles, with the outlines of the two temples visible.

An artist's impression of what the site might have looked like when in use. It would have formed a very prominent statement in the landscape and been most visible to travellers on the Agrippan way below.

Foundations of the two larger stone temples in the other stone circle, visualised in the sign below. Each temple comprised a central room (the red brick), accessible only to servants of the Emperor, with a colonnade (gravel) all round, which was used for ritual ceremonies.

The artist's impression, bringing to life the meagre stone remains visible today!
The amazing amphitreatre, seating about 7000 people, was one of the most imposing to be found in rural Gaul at that time. Lots of earth to move, but I assume that the Romans organised the local people to do all the shovelling!

The arena and stage!

Yet another artist's impression! The amphitheatre was a gathering place for the local people to put on and spectate at events involving music and dance, (no lions here!) but promoting the Roman culture before anything else!

 It's quite a significant hill and a huff and puff to climb up from the car park on the other side, but this is the reward - the fabulous view north across the countryside! The weather conditions were thin cloud and humid, hence the lack of blue sky!

A 19th century engraving of the remains of a "fairy castle" at the rear left on the amphitheatre

All that remains of the "fairy castle" today!

Thanks Nigel for your research and help once more.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 13/08/2015

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The historic town of Troyes; part 3 - its cathedral and some sculptures

Close to the ancient city centre is the Cathedral dedicated to Saint Pierre and Saint Paul. This is the third such on or around this site. The first was built in the 5th century but destroyed by the invading Normans in the 9th. Around the year 1000, a second Romanesque style church was built, and in 1128 it witnessed the founding of the Order of Knights Templar, but less than 200 years later, this was badly damaged by fire. The early 13th century had brought in the Gothic style of church building and work commenced on one of the largest and most beautiful of France's churches. The building work went on for 400, yes 400 years, interrupted by the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and repairs necessary due to fire and storm damage. In 1634, the building work was stopped due to a lack of money, the second tower remaining unfinished to this day, as you can see below!

The main elevation

This plaque commemorates the day in July 1429 when Joan of Arc escorted the Dauphin (King's son) to mass in the cathedral, en route to proclaiming him Charles VII of France at Reims cathedral, in contravention of the Treaty of Troyes signed in 1420. This treaty was set up as a plot between Henry V of England and a French ally, Phillip of Burgundy to try to prevent the Dauphin from becoming French king (Charles VII) on the death of his father Charles VI, who was mad in any case! Henry has already married a French noblewoman in 1420 in order to try to stake his own claim to the French throne, so Joan of Arc had thwarted Henry's plans and he never achieved his desire to be king of England AND France, as many of his ancestors has been!

Towering columns supporting the stone vaulting of the roof.

Altar and choir, built in the 12th century

Rose window of the North Transept

If these stones could talk..............!

Spectacular stained glass windows in the nave and transept.

 A permanent sculpture, entitled the Heart of Troyes, next to the Bassin, explained in the last part of this blog.

The following four sculptures are nearby, and somewhat controversial according to the local press. They are the work of Reynald Jenneret, a local artist and are in the so-called "retro-futurist" style. He says they are "tongue-in-cheek" and not to be taken seriously! If you don't like them, you will be pleased to hear they will be moved away in November!

My thanks once again to Nigel for all his research and help.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 19/07/2015

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The historic town of Troyes - part two.

We're in the pedestrianised rue Paillot de Montabert here, with our hotel, the Relais Saint Jean on the left. A great place to stay and the friendly and helpful managers speak English! The car parking is brilliant; you drive down a ramp into a basement in a nearby street, park the car, take your bags down a passage to a lift, which magically pops up in the hotel reception! Very convenient, as there aren't many places to street park in the old town area.

This is the house diagonally opposite the baker's house shown further down. It belonged to a silversmith, Francois Roize, who built it between 1578 and 1618, incorporating this turret to accommodate the staircase. Space was always at a premium (see last picture too) and ingenious ways were found to make the best of what there was available.

This shows the support to the circular turret above; the figures are two caryatids and a Telamon, so I'm told!

View from the hotel bedroom window.

This building is known as "the baker's house" after its first owner. Note the silversmith's turret at right. The pulley at the top of the house, used to pull flour bags up to the loft, can still be seen. This house was the first in the area to be renovated, in 1964, after a long battle to prevent it being demolished! The facade is typical of building styles in the town in the 16th century. The building now houses  the cultural centre. Why is there a commando hanging from his parachute? Well, when were in town, there was an exhibition illustrating the liberation of the town by Allied forces from the Nazis in 1945.

The central fruit and vegetable display in Les Halles, the food market in an enclosed building near the town hall. This was taken near the end of the day, so there isn't a lot going on!

Different styles in a row, but all beautifully restored.

Restaurants, of which there are plenty in and around the old town. This is rue Champeaux, around the corner from the hotel.

Police station - it had to be, with those bars on the windows!! And that's a seriously big pot!

One of three museums in town, this is Musee Saint Loup, named after the bishop of Troyes, who saved the town from Attila the Hun and his hordes in the year 451 and lived apparently to the age of 95! It house exhibitions of fine art (including sculptures by Girardon, sculptor to Louis XIV), archaeology (including a gallo-roman bronze statue of Apollo) and natural history.

Cellier Saint Pierre, just across a square from the cathedral - this is a beautiful wine shop, which was unfortunately closed when we were there!

Troyes is famous for its sculptures. This bronze lady, if I remember rightly, overlooks the Bassin de la Prefecture, a dinky little waterway almost bisecting the centre of modern town. The bassin, or canal one might say in this case, seems to have been created by diverting water into a man-made loop off the river Seine (yes, the same river which passes through Paris, 180 km or 110 miles to the WNW), which flows around the east end of Troyes. Very imaginative and a memorable design feature!

Leaning houses propped apart! The upper floors of houses in the Middle Ages were often built out over the street to provide that extra little bit of living space. Foundations were often absent or, at their best, still inadequate to support the building load.Thus, settlement of these dwellings over hundreds of years has meant that the town council has had to resort  to extreme measures to preserve them. The ancient buildings around here are all being restored and converted into living accommodation by the council.

There's a part three to come, with photos of more delights, including the cathedral.
My thanks to Nigel for all his research and help.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - 'My Mum buys a racehorse' - New post 10/06/2015