Aquitaine: an afternoon in Bordeaux

Yesterday, after a lazy morning getting ready for today’s departure, we took the bus into Bordeaux. We were there two years ago and once, more than 10 years ago but on both occasions, drove in. The bus terminus is at the Place de Stalingrad. Just before it is reached we passed the old railway bridge which sits alongside the current one. The unused one was designed by Gustave Eiffel and the city has been told that if it is demolished, it would lose its UNESCO World Heritage Status. It would make a great foot and cycle path and could be planted up like the New York High Line. We walked across the Pont de Pierre to the quayside.
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and visited the Basilica of St Michael, a gothic church with ancient and modern stained glass. These hangings were striking but there was no explanation or attribution to any artist that I could see.
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Afterwards we walked around many small streets. The Marché des Capucins is unfortunately closed on Monday as are many shops in France. However, this specialist brush shop was open. The owner was just returning after a short break and we made a purchase. Before my next visit I must check for any missing paint brushes because I don’t think I have seen such a large selection even in an art shop.
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After browsing in Mollat, the second biggest bookshop in France, we walked back along the quayside where a huge ship apparently owned by a wealth Russian was moored. As it was hot, many people were cooling off in the Miroir d’Eau.
mirroir-deaux-1-bordeaux-26-sep-2016-1 As the lanterns were beginning to glow, had an aperitif in the Place du Parlement and our evening meal at the Cafe des Arts which is in the art deco style. On the first floor, the ladies toilet has 1930s photographs and outside, on the landing are displays of dead insects from Thailand, Malaysia and other places. Quite a strange combination. This short exploration of the city only served to whet my appetite to return in the not too distant future as there is still a lot more to see. We returned home today and with not too large a drop in temperature to 20 degrees and still plenty of sun. I am not sure how long it will last.
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Aquitaine: exploring the banks of the Garonne

Cadillac was our first destination on Saturday morning. It is another wonderful medieval town with a chateau, ramparts, narrow streets and a large busy market where stalls line several streets and squares. Antoine Laumet de La Mothe who emigrated to what is now the USA, was the founder of Detroit and Governor of Louisiana. The Cadillac division of General Motors, and Cadillac, Michigan are named after him and resonates with our visit to the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo three years ago.
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It has a wider social mix than some of the places we have been to. We purchased the things we needed, browsed the stalls and then stopped for a coffee. Tradition has it that the men sit in a café with a coffee (or a beer) while the women do the shopping. We restricted ourselves to coffee. The egg seller had some interesting chickens on display.
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We used to keep chickens and a friend once bought me as a gift, a little book entitled ‘Extraordinary Chickens’. This one would certainly have been in it. There was a bookshop with new and secondhand sections and also vinyl and DVDs but if I had gone in there, I might not have been seen for the rest of the day. We did have seats booked at the Union Bordeaux-Bègles versus Lyons rugby match at the Stade Chaban-Delmas that evening. The local team were victorious 32-10 and afterwards we had a lovely meal in the city centre.
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On Sunday afternoon we walked by the river past cornfields and round the old port of Rion. The river has silted up over the centuries so the port, citadel and village now sit uphill of the river bank. There are old huts and prawn fishermen’s nets suspended over the water. At the end of the riverside path, where it turns back uphill, there was a very new and upmarket fishing hut and pier with numerous signs telling us this was private property so we headed back up to the port. the local cats, sitting on doorsteps viewed our friends’ dog with great suspicion. We could hear the sound of French rap coming from the village centre where some young people were enjoying the music and stuck our heads into the bar at the Tourist Information Centre but wanted to stay outside to enjoy the good weather.
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Aquitaine: Parc Ornithologique du Teich

Today with another blue sky and sunshine, we visited the Parc Ornithologique du Teich. We were last here in 2014 in August so this was our first September visit. Our friend dropped off at a nearby station and just like home, ended up on a rail replacement bus. At the reserve, were surprised to get a discount as RSPB members, despite not having brought our membership cards. Most of the storks seen on our previous visit had now abandoned their nests and left, apart from a few stragglers.
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There were a few turtles in the ponds near the entrance and this one was quite well camouflaged.
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We walked around the whole reserve, picnicking en route and stopping at most of the hides. There were some serious bird photographers with tons of kit but I just strolled along looking at all the birds.
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This sign appeared to be attempting to appeal to our Australasian friends.
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The day turned out to have been hotter than forecast so after stocking up for the evening meal we headed back to the house to cool off.

Aquitaine: Saint-Macaire & Château de la Brède

Our friends had morning and evening commitments today. They dropped us off this morning at Saint-Macaire, a lovely medieval town. We spent over an hour pottering around the streets and lanes, visiting the church ‘Saint Sauveur’ and the adjacent remains of a former Benedictine abbey.
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We found a cafe to top up our caffeine levels and a gallery with a small photographic exhibition.
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We then walked to the Porte du Thuron and then back round to the market to meet up again.
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After lunch we visited the Château de la Brède. The current building was constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure and there have been various renovations over the centuries. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, a writer and philosopher was born there in 1689. He lived there regularly all his life, although he also travelled, and wrote many of his books, including The Spirit of the Laws there. His descendants owned the chateau until 2004 when the last member died. It is now owned by a trust. Our guide told us that the family had had some financial problems and sold the library; other sources say it was donated to a library in Bordeaux. No photographs were allowed inside so the only ones I have are outdoors.
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In the surrounding fields there was a herd of grey cattle and which breed they are remains a mystery.
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On the way back, we stopped for a brief look in a secondhand bookshop in Beautiran. I could have spent all afternoon ferreting about in there. He also has postcards, prints and some music including vinyl.
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The next essential purchase on the return journey to the house was some wine at Chateau Mellin.

Aquitaine: Cambes, Blaye and Bourg

We are prolonging summer a little by visiting friends in southwest France for a week. There was a fantastic sunset when we left home on Monday evening but as we were on the motorway, no photographic opportunities. Sometimes I feel that I spend too much time spotting potential photographs that cannot be taken from trains and the motorway. We had an easy run to Liverpool Airport where we stayed overnight as we had an early flight the next day. I got woken at around 2.30am by a woman screeching at her children in the hall and only slept fitfully afterwards. A few hours later we were checking in and the very friendly woman at the desk said that I was the second Carol Anne she had seen that morning and that it was also her name. The flight was uneventful and we were soon on our way to Cambes. We took an afternoon walk up around the vineyards above the village and through the woods back down towards the river. There is an autumnal feel to the air with some trees beginning to colour and the vine harvest starting in some places.
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Today we awoke to fog which eventually cleared as we visited the Citadelle of Blaye. It was market day so we wandered past the stalls set out alongside the abandoned railway line before exploring the Citadelle which has fantastic views of the river.
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Lunch was in Bourg.
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We ate in the same restaurant as four members of the local gendarmerie who were having a very leisurely three-course lunch with beer. The old wash house still sits in the town.
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We walked by the waterside where there was still some mud left by the recent thunderstorms.
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We then walked up some steep steps back to where our car was parked, passing a local resident and a little free library.
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After being diverted by road works we were soon back at the house where I needed some medication and a rest to get rid of the inevitable post-sleep deprivation migraine which always catches up with me a couple of days later.

A short journey to the village fete

The wonderful weather continues into September and for this year at least the village fete could rely on sunshine for the day.
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We have not always managed to attend as we have sometimes been away for work or pleasure but today, took a short walk (just under two miles) there and back. There were lots of different stalls but I resisted the temptation to buy as I am trying to declutter and do not need any more hippy attire just now as I will not be able to get to Glastonbury until 2019.
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The scouts had a climbing tower which some brave souls were attempting to get up.
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Being a farming community which used to be known as the garden of the potteries, it was no surprise to see vintage tractors on display but also a competition to see how many plates you could shatter.
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There were several competitions including some for dogs which we could not enter as our dog died last December. Music while we were there was provided by a local wind band but later, back at home while I was picking fruit for the evening meal, I could hear other artists’ music drifting across the fields.
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We saw some of the local wildlife and a local haulier appeared to have been taken over by the Minions.
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All too soon we had to return home to get various jobs done around the house and for James to get some rest before his night shift.

Sunny day in London

We have been enjoying the Indian summer and the fruit harvest here. I have been busy producing apple juice, picking plums, raspberries and blackberries and amazed that I am still having to water the veg outside in September. However, today we escaped and headed to London to meet up with a friend from Sydney who is visiting for a short time. I had booked brunch at the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell and as the trains are not great on Sundays (years ago my secretary was told by someone at a rail company to tell her boss not to travel on Sunday) we decided to drive down to Watford Junction and take the train into the city from there. All went well until we were well down the M1 and they had decided to close the motorway in order to demolish a bridge. So, we endured a very slow crawl around the environs of Luton and then through the centre to rejoin the M1. At Watford Junction we found ourselves on a new London Overground train which was far from crowded and half an hour later were at Euston. We wandered down towards the restaurant with brief stops at a bookshop and cafe. It is situated in St John’s Square which is where the Priory of the Order of St John was set up in 1040. There is now a museum devoted to the history of the order (who are now known to most of us as the St John Ambulance. There is a lovely garden filled with some of the plants the monks used to treat their patients with.
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The gate into the priory has undergone several transformations. In the 18th century, it was used as a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William Hogarth. Dr. Samuel Johnson was given his first job in London at St John’s Gate, writing reports for The Gentleman’s Magazine. Later, the Gate was used as a pub, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, used to meet. It now houses the museum.
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We met our friend and were part way through our meal when I realised that I did not have the bag with my camera in it with me. I knew I had been taking photographs in the garden and that I may have left it there. We eventually discovered that someone had found it and handed it in to the museum. Afterwards, we wandered past Smithfield market where we saw the now closed nightclub Fabric:
save-fabric-london-11-sept-2016-1 and enjoyed the blue sky and sunshine.
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Down on the Thames Path we had some slightly different views of the bridges seen last week.
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We must walk the Thames Path from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier (184 miles) someday soon. Eventually we had to head back to the tube from near the Tower and part company with promises to meet up for longer in 2017 and 2018. We got our train and out of Watford onto the motorway fairly easily and made good progress, being thankful that we were not going in the opposite direction as there was very heavy traffic heading back into the city. Just before we left the M1, we saw the brake lights come on and a plume of smoke ahead. A car on the hard shoulder was on fire and the emergency services were arriving. It looked like everyone had got out unharmed and the fire was confined to the front end of the car so we could get past without too much risk of it exploding. The rest of the journey home was thankfully, eventful.