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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Five Days, 40 Flight Hours, and More than 20,000 Miles

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the last of four ‘route proving’ trips for Airbus’ new A350 XWB.

Shortly before take-off at Airbus' facilities just outside of Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.

Shortly before take-off at Airbus’ facilities just outside of Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.

Leaving early on Saturday morning, we headed first to Doha, Qatar. Scenically, this was the best trip: we flew over Sardinia and Corsica, where we saw plumes of smoke coming from Mt. Etna:

I heard that there were some lava eruptions a few days later.

I heard that there were some lava eruptions a few days later.

Then we passed over the Nile River and the Egyptian desert:

The blue streak is the Nile.

The blue streak is the Nile.

Lots and lots of brown and plenty of interesting wadi formations.

Lots and lots of brown and plenty of interesting wadi formations.

After a few hours in Doha, we made an 11-hour flight – mostly over the Indian Ocean – to Perth, Australia.

Not much to see except the big engine and clouds over the ocean.

Not much to see except the big engine and clouds over the ocean.

There, we spent just 7-8 hours on the ground.

This is about all I saw of Australia.

This is about all I saw of Australia.

Then we made the 11-hour flight back to Doha. We arrived a little after 5 am and were treated to a sunrise on one side and a setting full moon on the other.

The bright spot is the moon.

The bright spot is the moon.

Catching four-five hours of sleep at a hotel, we headed back to the airport for a 5-1/2 flight to Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport where despite it being 10:30 pm (22h30), we were greeted by hundreds of people lining the runway and taxiway for photos.

Just a few of the people who showed up to get photos of the aircraft and its crews.

Just a few of the people who showed up to get photos of the aircraft and its crews.

Returning to the airport the following morning, there were again hundreds of people – from the media, airlines, airport and more – who took the opportunity to visit the aircraft. Besides the A350, the next most photographed subject was the group of six Aeroflot flight attendants:

The ladies were a hit of the show.

The ladies were a hit of the show.

Then we were off to Helsinki, Finland (after flying past Helsinki to accumulate more flight hours and continuing to Norway before turning around). Here, we got splashed and then received the red carpet treatment:

Almost time for the landing bump.

Almost time for the landing bump.

One of two water cannons to spritz us.

One of two water cannons to spritz us.

The red carpet, which - oddly -  no one really wanted to walk on.

The red carpet, which – oddly – no one really wanted to walk on.

The folks of Finnair and the Helsinki Airport were glad to have us drop by.

The folks of Finnair and the Helsinki Airport were glad to have us drop by.

Then it was back to Toulouse, albeit via the long way (i.e., going west to the UK before heading into France at Le Havre) where the flight test department turned out in force to welcome everyone back home.

It was a very comfortable series of flights: the aircraft is incredibly quiet, rides super smooth, and the lie-flat seats are great for sleeping.

My home for five days.

My home for five days.

But I really don’t need to get on another aircraft anytime soon.

To see more photos, just click on the Route Proving Pix link.

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Geneva: You’re Gonna Get Wet

As you know from the past couple of entries, we recently spent a few days in Annecy, in the Savoy (Savoie) region of FR. In addition to its beautiful lake and having (on clear days) wonderful views of the Alps, it’s only 30 klicks south of Geneva. So if you want a change of pace, you can take a short drive and be in Switzerland.

With the rain coming down yet again – not exactly an incentive for going to the beach – we decided to take the short schlep to Geneva. And we’re glad we did.

When we popped up from the underground parking garage and headed to the English Garden, we crossed a bridge where Lake Geneva once again becomes the Rhone River. Looking lakeside, you see Geneva’s most famous icon: the jet d’eau – water jet.

Shooting up to 140 meters/450 feet, it gets your attention.

Shooting up to 140 meters/450 feet, it gets your attention.

After a remarkably expensive lunch – in Geneva? go figure – on the grounds of the upcoming fair, we decided to stroll around the lake.

After paying for lunch, I'm not we had enough money for the Ferris Wheel.

After paying for lunch, I’m not we had enough money for the Ferris Wheel.

This is when D had the, um, ‘brilliant’ idea to go as close to the base of the water jet as he could.

But wait! There's more!

But wait! There’s more!

The wind kept blowing the spray right about where D was trying to get to, so he decided to come back to shore.

Then we headed along, sightseeing the marinas:

Lots of boats; lots of ducks.

Lots of boats; lots of ducks.

and the Parisian-style houses on whatever ‘Lakeside Drive’ is called in Geneva:

There were some very pretty buildings with great views of the lake.

There were some very pretty buildings with great views of the lake.

Then D decided – having thought the wind had changed directions – to get even closer to the base of the water jet, so we went back. This time M went out and snapped the photos:

He made it out to the gate and then...

He made it out to the gate and then…

The wind changed.

The wind changed.

He got soaked.

With D dripping, we walked around for a bit more – I did a little cigar shopping and M and D hit a (Swiss) chocolate shop.

By then, an umbrella for D wouldn't been completely worthless.

By then, an umbrella for D wouldn’t been completely worthless.

Chocolate and cigars: to each their own.

Chocolate and cigars: to each their own.

Then, with D still pretty much drenched, we got in the car and headed back to Annecy, where we were greeted with yet another set of downtown bouchons.

You know the drill, to see more photos, click on the Geneva Photos link.

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Lake Annecy – Warmer Than I Would’ve Thought

But we still didn’t get in.

At 21C/70F, the water temperature (according to two lifeguard stands) was better than I thought it would be for an Alpine lake. In fact, up to a month ago, it would’ve been warmer than our pool.

I don’t really have any stories to say about the lake, so pix will have to do:

With skies like this for four days, it wasn't any wonder we didn't get in the water

With skies like this for four days, it wasn’t any wonder we didn’t get in the water

Paddle boat heaven.

Paddle boat heaven.

And good for some real boats, too.

And good for some real boats, too.

The Alps roll right on down to the shore.

The Alps roll right on down to the shore.

As seen from the town's castle.

As seen from the town’s castle.

The calm before...

The calm before…

The storm.

The storm.

To see more photos, click on Lake Annecy.

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