Saturday, November 9, 2013

52. After Paris

On a cold Autumn Paris morning - so the mystery novel begins !!! ... but this no mystery novel - just me packing my suitcases, rugging up and struggling down the three flights of stairs and out into the noisy street for the last time. Pulling my two wheelies up to the Metro and then whizzing under the city to Gare Montparnasse where, after a final café crème, I settle into the leather seat of the Train à Grande Vitesse - France's high-speed train that will zoom me in great comfort at speeds up to 300kph to Bordeaux some 600 kms to the south west.

the TGV

Another sleek local train ride to Facture-Biganos and a car drive to Arcachon in the coastal region of Andernos-les-Bains where I am staying for a few short days with ex-Sydney friends Gerry and Yolande.

Gerry me and Yo being frozen by the Atlantic winds

It's great to leave grimy crowded Paris and land in this beautiful region of France which has become known as a holiday and retirement region for the French as well as a major oyster farming area. And of course to catch-up with old friends.  

On the first day my hosts take me for a grand tour of the greater region of Aquitaine. The histories of this area of France are endless, starting with traces of human settlement by prehistoric peoples, Roman rule during their time of the conquest of Gaul, then up through the Middle Ages when Aquitaine was a kingdom and a duchy - and in 781, Charlemagne  proclaimed his son Louis King of Aquitaine.

In 1137 when the duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII of France the region passed into French rule, but their marriage was annulled in 1152 and when Eleanor's new husband became Henry II of England in 1154, the area became an English possession - phew - I hope you are following me !!! ... and I hope I am getting this history lesson right.

Aquitaine remained English until the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453, when it was annexed by France.

Anyway it is a beautiful area steeped in history with grand churches and chateaux and interesting little hamlets. 

Our first stop is The Château de Villandraut - a ruined castle built by Bertrand de Goth when, in 1305 he was elected Pope under the name of Clement V. He is infamous for suppressing the order of the Knights Templar and allowing the execution of many of its members, and as the Pope who moved the Curia from Rome to Avignon, ushering in the period known as the Avignon Papacy.


Today we found a group of art students having a sculpture lesson in one of the ruined chambers - they were carving in very soft limestone. Seems that the ruins are used regularly by local art students ...

Other students had assembled this wonderful sculpture from rusty car parts ...

Next we stumbled onto a church in Uzeste where Pope clement V is buried.

It is amazing that inside this crumbling church with its unlocked door lies the body of a Pope in a very simple monument tucked away in a dark corner !!!

According to one story, while his body was lying in state, a thunderstorm developed during the night and lightning struck the church where his body lay, igniting the building. The fire was so intense that when it was extinguished, the body of Pope Clement V was almost destroyed - but I guess they salvaged enough parts to formally entomb him.

Then we visited the hamlet of Bazas for lunch at a café in the shadow of the impressive Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Bazas. This grand Gothic cathedral dates mainly from the 13th-14th centuries.

The next day - after a visit to the local produce market - that was quite mind boggling in the array of food products, both ready prepared and fresh - followed by a delicious lunch at a local restaurant - where we selected the Halloween menu - that included pumpkin in all three courses !!! - we motored around the coastal strip of Andernos les Bains, visiting the oyster harvesting area and a few other local attractions ending up on the shores of the Atlantic. By this time however the heavens had opened and we three weary tourists drove home in the rain for a delicious snack of fresh figs, cheeses and bread from the market.

the Chapelle de la villa Algerienne - 1885

And tomorrow I bid farewell to my dear friends and move on to Bordeaux for a few days.