The Last Road-trip: Nerac – Home of an Henri IV Chateau

Hello gentle readers. After another 3-month gap, I’m back with the story of my last road-trip in France.

It was a bright and sunny afternoon (he says, winking at the obvious reference) in the wonderful month of October. The last month before the six-month-long Toulouse grey season begins. The lovely missus and I hadn’t traveled much during the summer or early fall because we were prepping for our return back to the US (where she already was on this particular day). I wanted/needed to get out of the house and away from pre-packing activities. Someone – I don’t know whom – said that Nerac, in Aquitaine, was a pretty place and home to the remains of a chateau that, in its better days, was home to Henri IV, the Good King.

And so, on the aforementioned beautiful Sunday afternoon, I made the short (90 minutes) drive up the autoroute to Nerac. Perhaps the drive should’ve lasted longer. You see, when I arrived, the chateau was closed for another hour+, due to a private tour. Oh well, it gave me time to explore a bit of the pretty town.

Looking across the River Baise to the other side of town.

Looking across the River Baise to the other side of town.

L to R: Chateau, dyers, cathedral.

L to R: Chateau, dyers, cathedral.

Green River aka River Baise.

Green River aka River Baise.

Little dockside bistro and more.

Little dockside bistro and more.

Cousin Itt - house version.

Cousin Itt – house version.

When I returned after my little stroll, the museum was open. The woman behind the counter gave me a laminated, English-language guide to the place and off I went. During my reading, I learned the heritage of the street (rue d’Albret) where we lived in LegoLand. Turns out the Henri’s mom was Jeanne d’Albret. Jeanne, born Catholic, converted to Calvinism in the 1550s when she and her hubby were co-rulers of Navarre. This made her the highest ranking Protestant in France. Henri, also baptized Catholic, later converted to Protestantism as well.

Henri IV.

Henri IV.

West wing - the only wing left.

West wing – the only wing left.

This pretty much all there is to see.

This pretty much all there is to see.

It was a short visit. The chateau, Henri’s principal residence from 1577-1582, was pretty much destroyed during the French Revolution. Only the wing remains.

And then it was time to return home. The last road-trip was done. Sigh.

For more photos of the chateau and town, click here.

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Th-th-that’s (Nearly) All Folks

Hello. It’s been a while (3+ months) since the last entry. There’s a reason for that: we moved…back to the US.

Our 8-1/2 year stay in France started out in 2006 as a 3-year gig, but it kept being extended as one of our sons asked us to stay a little longer so he could finish high school and then as the lovely missus received a local contract (i.e., working on a French contract, not as a ‘seconded’ US employee working in FR).

But as I told anyone who asked, “We wouldn’t still be here if we didn’t like it.”

Sure, we had our misadventures and our complaints, but who doesn’t, regardless of where they live?

Still, I guess we knew that we would always – at some point – return to the US. But because we enjoyed ourselves where we were, we never put a plan in action to go back. It was always more a case of, “Well, when we need to go back, we will.”

Then, the lovely missus received a promotion that meant we would be returning to the US – specifically, to Miami. (Note: Out with the French language, in with the Spanish.) Administrative details took time to clear up and whilst we thought initially that we would be returning in the summer, we didn’t actually leave until December. (Note Deux: The weather in Miami in December – and January – is a lot better than it is in Toulouse…and many other places.)

Before closing up, I’ll have a couple of more wrap-up entries on Henry IV’s chateau (or what’s left of it) and memories shared by family members who visited. And then I’ll try to provide a grand round-up and look back on our stay.

For now, I’ll end with this tidbit: There’s a survey you can take on Facebook asking how many of the American states one has visited. Without taking the survey, I made a list in my head of the states I had visited. When I was done, I thought, “OK, well I wonder how many countries I’ve visited.”  Again, running the numbers in my head, it came to a tie: 26 states, 26 countries.

Not bad considering that before moving to France, I had never visited another country (besides Canada, which was only 30 miles/50 km from my hometown).

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Journees du Patrimoine – Gers Edition – Part Deux

OK, so ‘the next day’ turned out to be ‘next Saturday.’  I said in Part Une of this entry that I would write the follow-up the following day. What can I say? I tried but, um, stuff happens.

Anyhoo, without further delay, here are the two chateaus that we – the lovely missus and I – visited on the second day of the 2014 Journees du Patrimoine weekend, Gers style.

The first stop was the charming, privately-owned Chateau de Bazian:

Not too shabby.

Not too shabby.

Perhaps a little shabby. It's a Harry Homeowner project.

Perhaps a little shabby. It’s a Harry Homeowner project.

looking out toward the Back 40.

The wall overlooking the Back 40.

Then it was off to the town of Preignan, just a few klicks north of Auch, the capital of the Gers. After a stop at a vide grenier – a community-wide yard sale – to get directions (who says a man won’t stop and ask for directions?), we found our way to Chateau de la Testere.

This was a place where the further away you were, the better it looked. From the highway, it looked swell. Up close, not so much.

Not so bad.

Not so bad.

Spooky, cobwebby interior.

Spooky, cobwebby interior.

And that was all the time we had.

Click on the link to see more photos of Chateau de Bazian.

Click on the link for a couple of more photos of Chateau de la Testere.

Back next time with a story and photos of a chateau of Henri IV.

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Journees du Patrimoine – Gers Edition

One of my favorite weekends of the year is the third weekend of September. That’s when FR holds its annual ‘Journees du Patrimoine.’ Countries throughout Europe do it these Heritage Days, but since I’m here in LegoLand, the FR version is the one I get to experience.

During these weekends, places of cultural significance that are normally closed open themselves to the public. Two years ago we got to see the magnificent courtyard of an estate turned lycee and the year before that I saw the interior of the Hopital de la Grave, a landmark of the Toulouse skyline, and the former bishop’s palace turned administrative headquarters of the prefecture.

But as I wrote at the end of the 2012 entry, I think I had pretty much seen everything in Toulouse that I had wanted to see.

It was time to head out of town.

In this case, that meant a couple of trips out to the Gers, the departement just to the west of our departement, the Haute-Garonne.

Luckily, the new editor of the Americans in Toulouse newsletter included a really handy ‘unofficial’ link to patrimoine events held throughout FR. So I used the site and frequent references to Google Maps to plan an itinerary. Feeling I’d seen enough churches, I focused on finding – and visiting – chateaus.

On Day 1, I started with the Chateau Lavardens. First mention of a chateau there is from 1140. Thanks to various wars and sieges, the chateau was destroyed and rebuilt any number of times. Now owned by the local government, it hosts art expositions throughout the year.

Things are looking up.

Things are looking up.

Intricate floor tiling.

Intricate floor tiling.

Sculpture from an artist named Toutain.

Sculpture from an artist named Toutain.

The backside.

The backside.

For more photos of Chateau Lavardens, click here.

Then I was off to Chateau Lagardere. Here I received a bit of a surprise:

Say it with me: they left the place in ruins.

Say it with me: they left the place in ruins.

There was one courtyard you could look into:

I'm assuming that's not a naturally formed group of twigs.

I’m assuming that’s not a naturally formed group of twigs.

The chateau dates from the late 13th C. It has, obviously, seen better days.

For a few more photos of the ruins, click here.

Next was an unplanned stop: Chateau du Busca Maniban. I was on my way to another place when I saw a couple of road signs pointing the way to this place. It was my lucky day. First, I received an exclusive tour – the benefits of being the old English-speaking visitor. And the tour was given by a descendant – who still lives there – of the family that built the chateau back in 1649. And…they produce – and sell – armagnac there. After my tour, I bought a bottle of 26-year-old armagnac. She told me told their armagnac goes great with cigars. Who was I say to say No?

Be it ever so humble, there's no place since 1649 like home.

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place since 1649 like home.

The view of the back.

The view of the back.

FR garden.

French garden.

In another 20 years, these will go great with a cigar.

In another 20 years, these grapes will go great with a cigar.

For more photos of my favoritest chateau, click here.

After not finding a couple of chateaus in or around the town of Barran, I went to the nearby town of L’Isle de Noe. The chateau here is kind of the new kid on the block: it only dates from the 18th C.

I love the hat-like top.

I love the hat-like top.

The front, which overlooks a ginormous green space of parks and playgrounds.

The back, which overlooks a ginormous green space of parks and playgrounds.

Horseless carriage.

Horseless carriage.

Here are a couple of more photos from L’Isle de Noe.

For the last stop of the day, I went to place a little different: the abbey of Ste. Marie de Boulaur, home to group of nuns of the Cistercian order. There, a really friendly nun led a tour of the grounds and interior (“Please, no photos of where we live and pray.”)

It was OK to take photos of the chapel.

It was OK to take photos of the chapel.

I liked the figurehead on the post.

I liked the figurehead on the post.

Exterior.

Exterior.

For more photos of the abbey, click here.

Back tomorrow (he says hopefully) with a couple of visits from Day 2 of the Patrimoine Weekend.

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Road Rage: French Style

Bear with me: I’ll get to the road rage part in a little while. But first, you need a set-up.

A Meal That Simply Wasn’t Meant to Be: Saturday night rolls around and it’s time to get dinner going. We were going to have magret de canard – duck breast – cooked on the grill. I go out on the front patio and turn the gas grill on, then I come back inside, open the fridge, and take out the two magrets I had purchased three days earlier. And such a deal too: they were half-off at the store. I open the first package and – sniff – something doesn’t smell right. I look at the ‘sell by’ date and see that it was – surprise – two days ago.

Oka-a-a-a-a-y. So we’re not having duck. M goes downstairs, checks the freezer and comes back with a nice T-bone steak that I had picked up a week earlier from John Price Butcher, seemingly the only person in FR with access to decent steaks. Since the steak is frozen and needs to defrosted in the zapper, I go out and turn the grill down to low, just to keep it warm.

Several minutes later, the steak is ready for the grill. I go to turn the heat up and notice the flame doesn’t increase. Uh-oh. Sure enough, 15 seconds later – poof, poof – the flames go out. No more propane in the tank.

Soooo…in the oven and under the broiler it goes. Sigh. Nowhere near as good as barbecued steak.

And soooo…this afternoon I headed to the local Carrefour Market to get a fresh tank of propane. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, I get the new tank and I’m on my way, which is when the road rage happens.

The scene: Leaving Pibrac and headed to good ol’ LegoLand, the road heads uphill and there are a couple of roundabouts about 200 meters/yards apart. Each roundabout is two lanes wide, so that people headed left out of the roundabout can go on the inside track and people taking the first exit get the outer track.

Just after the first roundabout, the connecting road is also two lanes wide, a guy in a big, red Ford Ranger pick-up pops in the left lane and prepares to enter the second roundabout.

But first: you read that correctly: a big, red Ford PICK-UP! The first pick-up I’ve seen in a week or more.

Back to the story: Pick-up guy enters the second roundabout in the left lane and then – sacre bleu! – he takes the first exit and (lemon) squeezes barely between two cars who also took the first exit. He forces his way ahead of the Citroen in front of me and Mr. Citroen extends his arm out the window and gives Mr. Ford le doigt d’honneur.

Then it gets interesting – read: dangerous.

Mr. Citroen decides the finger of honor is not sufficient. He stomps and accelerator and passes Mr. Ford. I have a good idea what’s coming so I slow down. A second or two goes by and I see the Ford’s brake lights come on.

Turns out I was only partially correct in my assumption. See, I thought Mr. Citroen was just going to slow down, tap the brakes, and try to make road life miserable for Mr. Ford by not letting him pass again.

But I didn’t realize how upset Mr. Citroen truly was. After a brake or two, he comes to a complete stop in the road. Then I hear the sound of the Ford running – slowly – into the back of the Citroen. Figuring this isn’t going to be a good scene, I scoot by on the right.

In the 2-3 seconds it took me to do that, Mr. Citroen was out of his car and at the driver-side door of the Ford. In my rear view mirror, I see Mr. Ford trying to open his door and Mr. Citroen keep pushing it back. Other cars are also doing a drive-by on the right.

I suppose I should check La Depeche tomorrow to see if this escalated into something more.

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You’ve Got to Be, Um, ‘Kidding’ Me

I was going to go with a ‘truer’ word than ‘kidding’ but this is a family-friendly blog.

You see, the reason for this mini-post is something I noticed in last Friday’s International NY Times. (Honestly, I preferred it when it was called the International Herald Tribune, but branding is everything these days). I had finished the crossword puzzle and was skimming through the news when I came upon the Corrections paragraph. Normally, these corrections involve fixing the spelling of someone’s name or an editing error that left out a sentence (or paragraph) or two.

This, this particular correction though was something quite different and was the first time I had ever seen a particular word – and a description of it – used in the Times (or the old IHT). Here is the page with the Corrections:

The original page - the Corrections notice is at the bottom right.

The original page – the Corrections notice is at the bottom right.

And here is just the Corrections notice:

The first Correction is the fun one.

The first Correction is the fun one.

Glad to know that bald eagles have white poop (bald poop?). And I can sleep easier knowing – definitively – that the purple stain on my car is from a vegetarian bird.

Truly “All The News That’s Sh…, er, Fit to Print.”

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Abbaye de Flaran

Every then and again, we will take a Sunday drive (sometimes even on a Saturday) out into the country, which for a person in the 31 means the Gers. Often we would head towards Condom (insert your own, um, joke) or Larressingle and pick up a bottle of armagnac. On the way, we would go through the small town (they’re seemingly all small in the Gers) of Valence-sur-Baise, home to the Abbaye de Flaran.

Every time we drove past it, I thought that it looked like an interesting place (even though you can’t see much from the road), but we had never stopped to check it out. And so it was that one bright Sunday – or maybe it was a Saturday – we decided to make the short (1h10m) drive to the abbey.

‘Twas time well spent.

Turns out the abbey is the number one tourist destination in the Gers. As we Americans might say” Who’d a-thunk it?

The abbey, built in 1151, was home to an order of Cistercian monks and it stayed with them until the Revolution. Then it passed from person to person before ending up with the Gers departement in 1972 and opened to the public.

View of the courtyard.

View of the courtyard.

The cloister.

The cloister.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

Balcony view of the cloister.

Balcony view of the cloister.

But what really makes the place stand out is its series of rotating art exhibitions. When we were there, we saw sculptures by Dali and Renoir, sketches by Picasso, and paintings by Matisse, Turner, Renoir and more. Alas, they didn’t permit cameras in the gallery or I could have shown you an incredible piece by Dali of a chicken’s head on a donkey’s body, scaled for size of course.

Still, it was a great way to spend a Sunday (or was it a Saturday?) afternoon.

The church as seen from the garden.

The church as seen from the garden.

Afterward, we stopped in Valence and saw some sheer cliffs acting as the town’s defense and strolled through the main square.

Steep cliffsides acting as ramparts at Valence.

Steep cliffsides acting as ramparts at Valence.

The town hall and the church.

The town hall and the church.

For more photos, click on Abbaye photos.

 

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