Monday, 8 February 2016

08/02/2015 I have been blogging for 5 years today! A visit to Biscarrose and surrounding area last year

Five years of blogging today! It's hard to believe!  I would like to thank all my followers over the years for their interest and so many kind comments; especially those of you who have become personal friends. Some of whom I have already met and others who I am hoping to meet. There are plans already made for one big meeting this year, but that is for future posts.

This blog is about a trip we did last year and which I have not yet posted here. South-west of the Charente department where we live, Biscarrosse is a commune in the Landes department, about an hour south-west of the main city of Bordeaux. It is 10 km (6.2 mi) inland from the seaside resort of Biscarrosse-Plage on the Atlantic coast.  We arrived towards the end of June, hoping to avoid most of the crowds of holidaymakers, who were just starting to arrive for the July/August peak French holiday season.  After a week's stay, we made our escape without a moment to lose, as by the time we  left, camper vans were bumper to bumper everywhere and there wasn't a parking spot to be had!

There are two large fresh water lakes close to Biscarrosse, which you can see on the map above, and many kilometres of cycle tracks.  Just to the north is the tidal Bay of Arcachon, where zillions of oysters and mussels are farmed.

On the balcony of our hotel next to one of the lakes.

The sparrows were so tame at the hotel that they would land on your hand to take crumbs!

Kite surfing at the Biscarrosse Plage (beach).

Dune de Pilat is the tallest sand dune in Europe, at about 300 feet high and a very popular tourist attraction. It is located between Arcachon Bay and Biscarosse.

The view from the dune top. It's quite a climb, but there are a few steps set on the sand on its land-facing side for those less energetic souls!

Eglise Saint-Martin in Biscarrosse.

Black winged stilt.
A visit to the Teich bird sanctuary is a must if you like bird watching.

Young white storks in an area of pine woods, reed beds, meadows, saltmarsh and water, hosting a great number of bird species.

Our favourite oyster restaurant....

So delicious.

This well-stocked boulangerie was perfect for getting ingredients for picnic lunches.

and the best beach we could find, which was nice and quiet, just as we like it.

Having a picnic under the trees at the back of the beach.

Stopping off at Biscarosse-Plage for an ice cream on the way back to the hotel.

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 08 February 2015) 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Amiens Cathedral

On our way to the UK in December, we stopped off to look at the the city of Amiens, which is in north-east France, more precisely in the Picardy region. The cathedral basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, or simply Amiens cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral, set on a ridge overlooking the river Somme, scene of terrible fighting during WW1, from which it thankfully escaped without major damage, due to sandbag protective walls.  

It is said to be the 19th largest church in the world. At 42 metres (139 feet) high, it is not only the tallest complete cathedral in France, but also has the largest interior volume; 200,000 cubic metres (however they worked that out?!). It was built between 1220 and 1266 and has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1981!

Amiens during the 13th century, in the long and peaceful reign of Louis IX, was a prosperous place and money was raised for this huge undertaking. The cathedrals of Reims and Chartres were built about the same time.
A view of the cathedral, stunningly situated in its commanding position overlooking the old town buildings. Fires in the building in 1258 unfortunately destroyed many archives and chronicles kept there. The great height to which the side walls were built, caused stability problems and cracking, and over the following centuries, additional buttresses (side supports) had to be added to prevent this getting worse! Another repair involved wrapping a huge heated chain around it at an upper level; this contracted as it cooled, thus holding the stonework together! An astonishing 13th century bodge!

A few steps from the cathedral, near the Gambetta square, you can see the Dewailly clock. The clock was built at the request of, and with funds from, the former mayor of Amiens, Louis Dewailly.  After many years of manufacture, work was finally completed on 17 November 1898! Exquisite!

The magnificent west (and best known) face of the cathedral, built between 1220 and 1236. This façade is renowned for the quality and quantity of its carvings, many of which are locally revered saints and church officials. The towers were added about 150 years later, without much regard for what was already built below!!

You can see some of the original colour in the statue here.

Architecture and carving of the eastern front portal.

Statues illustrating Christ presiding over the Day of Judgement

Inside, the vaulted ceiling.

The altar and screen.

The organ, set behind the façade over the west entrance.

The extravagant baroque style pulpit.

Another view of the lofty vaulted ceiling, plus some stained glass (not the original) and gold leaf!

Architectural detail of carved stone window tracery.

Illumination of the façade by precision spotlighting (see more detail below) to recreate the colours in which the statues were painted when the cathedral was originally built in the 13th century. It must have seemed so spectacular to the local people and to pilgrims of the time!

During the process of laser cleaning in the 1990s, it was discovered that the western façade of the cathedral was originally painted in multiple colours. Elaborate computer lighting techniques were developed to recreate these colours by precision projection of spotlights directly on the façade during the "son et lumiere" (Sound and light) shows held daily in December each year and periodically during the remainder of the year. If you are lucky enough to be there on a dry evening, as many people are, the one hour free show is a real privilege to witness! On the evening we went, the temperature was well below freezing, but there were nevertheless several hundred people watching the display.

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 3 December 2015) 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Our year in monthly photos and wishing all my followers all the very best for 2016 and the coming holidays.

We will be away in a few days time to celebrate Christmas in England with my father-in-law. Computers will be staying at home; only the Nexus tablet will be with us for emailing and maybe the odd single photo on the photodiary.  I find  that blogging on this tablet is beyond me, so I hope to resume when back at home early in the New Year!
A moody sky driving home 27 January 2015

Greenfinch versus Sparrow 10 February 2015

Our friends from Australia, Gunter and Angie with myself and Nigel out to lunch
29 March 2015

Broad bean flowers,16 April 2015

A trip to Amsterdam 10 May 2015

White Storks 26 June 2015

Queen of Spain Fritillary 11 July 2015

A happy face 19 August 2015

Clouds taken through the bus window after a days' outing with the club 22 September 2015

Rose after the rain 03 October 2015

Small Copper still surviving 12 November 2015

Blue tit 2 December 2015

Happy Christmas 

Gesëende Kersfees

Nginifisela inhlanhla ne mpumelelo e nyakeni

Nadolig Llawen

Nollaig Shona Dhuit

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur

Buone Feste Natalizie

Feliz Natal

Feliz Navidad!

God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt Ar

Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan

 Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun

 Kung Ho Hsin Hsi. Ching Chi Shen Tan

Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Sawadee Pee Mai

Gajan Kristnaskon

Froehliche Weihnachten

Kala Christouyenna

Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova.

Vrolijk Kerstmis en een Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar

See you all in 2016

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 3 December 2015) 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Thiepval Memorial and Anglo-French cemetery.

We visited the Thiepval Memorial in northern France in May as part of a visit to WW1 battle sites, at this centenary time, to see where so, so many, soldiers from all parts of the world, including our relatives, had fought and died. Thiepval is a small village in the beautiful Picardy region and it lies in the valley of the river Somme, scene of fierce battles for control of the area.

This information sign below is displayed at the site and sets out, as well as anyone could, the motivation for the memorial and how it came to be built.

Amongst these 72,000 names are seven holders of the Victoria Cross (one a South African) and numerous sportsmen of the time; top cricket and rugby players from all parts of the United Kingdom.

During construction. This memorial is probably the most imposing of such British structures in the area and is visited by 120,000 people every year. The white panels are of Portland stone from Dorset and the brick above was from Lille, the nearby French town.

Another view of the memorial later in its construction. It is 43 metres (140 feet) high and is built on very thick foundations, required because of wartime tunnels existing below.

Letter carving of each of the more than 72,000 individual names; an enormous and laborious task!

Thiepval Memorial on its inauguration day in August 1932.

My own picture of the Memorial on a rare sunny dry moment (!) in early May 2015. Heavy rain squalls were passing every hour or so. It really is huge when you stand near or on it, as you can imagine from the tiny-looking doorways at the bottom of each tower.  It dominates the landscape and is obviously sited deliberately on a high point, so that it can be seen from afar. In 1973, due to weathering, the red Lille brick was replaced by much harder red engineering bricks from Lancashire.

View from the memorial on its other side, across the cemetery towards the open rolling countryside of the area. The many cemeteries in northern France and Belgium are kept in immaculate condition by the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

The inscription at the top of the memorial

Just a few of the innumerable panels recording the names of the missing Allied soldiers. If you look at the memorial photo three photos above, each of those sixteen tower supports has three sides entirely covered with such panels. And these are only the missing! The hundreds of thousands of known soldiers killed in the Somme battles are laid to rest in small cemeteries, dotted very prominently across the local landscape. It's a very sobering place to visit.

My thanks once again to Nigel for all his research and the write up. 

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 24/10/2015

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Circuit Des Remparts 2015 - Angouleme- Day 3 The races!

The Friday car elegance show and the Saturday rally  were a quieter prelude to the Sunday RACES! The city's organisation must have worked 24/7!;  clearing out all the parked cars, "corralling" all the residents into their flats and closing the roads forming the inner city road racing circuit. By the time we arrived at 08h00 on the Sunday morning, everything was set up and running smoothly - the pits, metal fencing and barriers, grandstands, food stalls, toilets, marshals, commentators, ambulances, breakdown crews, the lot! It all seemed to me to be much like a miniature version of the Monaco GP! They have been running this event EVERY year since 1939, interrupted only by WW2, so they should know what they are doing! Famous names like Fangio, Ferrari and Gordini made some of their first appearances here, on this short 1.3 kilometre (0.8 mile) circuit.
Angouleme - a bird's eye view of part of the circuit, showing the steep inclines and curves to be negotiated by the competitors.The cathedral spire is top left.
A Bugatti type 35 (I think!!) getting familiar with the roads during the morning practice runs.

More Bugattis - some drivers removed their headlamps, or never had them!

A Bugatti type 37 from 1929. Could be worth €400,000 and he's racing it around the streets!

Mini Cooper S, ideally suited to this short, narrow, winding circuit.

Alfa Romeo, I'm guessing it's the valuable 2300cc model 8C from the early 1930's, being scooped up after a mechanical malfunction.

An Allard K2 roadster from 1951 - very rare (only 120 made), beautifully prepared and powered by an American V8 engine. Sidney Allard was an English motor engineer who designed and built racing cars in that era.

Here it is again, in the races, catching up with an Alfa Romeo Guilia saloon, a Golf and a Renault 5 Turbo. It has huge power in a straight line, but is not as nimble around the twisty bits as the smaller cars! It was raced with gusto, and the crowd loudly applauded the driver's enthusiasm!

A 1970's Porsche 914-6 chasing a 1950's Jaguar XK120 past the Cathedral public grandstand

 Citroen MEP from the early 1970's. M.E.P are the initials of a Citroen franchise holder who designed the car for racing, in response to the French public's enthusiasm for single-seaters. It uses an 1100cc Citroen engine.

The same car driven in anger to win its class. The safety fencing wasn't conducive to taking clear photos!

Breathe in... small 848cc two stroke Panhard Sports  and a huge 1954 16 feet long Studebaker Champion lean on either side of a poor little Austin A35 at the back of the field. You can see the Allard again, up ahead in the distance.

1953 Panhard Fairchild Special, pirouetting gracefully on three wheels, before.....

having a confrontation with someone's garden wall!! This was a photo of the big viewing screen opposite our stand, hence the blurring.

1965 Porsche 911 smoking its rear tyres in an effort to escape a Ford RS1600 and another 911. The Ford retired, leaving the white car to a comfortable race win.

A  French registered and immaculate Jaguar SS100 seemingly "just parked" for people to admire.

An extremely rare Jowett Jupiter from the 1950's, and all the way from England!

An afternoon of 10 races made up the packed and very entertaining programme, each race being of 20 laps or about 25 minutes. The fastest lap of the day was made at an average speed of 80 kph (50mph), which doesn't sound very fast, but the circuit is very restricted, as you can see, and there is also the matter of lapping slower cars, so I think a bit of bravery is needed to achieve such times. As in the previous events, the organisers had to be thankful for support from  UK entrants to achieve respectable numbers. All in all, a great weekend's experience and we counted our blessings with Sunday's very warm sunny September weather!

Thanks again to Nigel for all his research and the write up.  I might recognise a few models but not many!

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 24/10/2015