Saturday, January 31, 2015

Into the woods

After a harrowing drive up, I didn't walk too far down this trail

We live across the highway (N88) from a large forest called "Les Palanges." Even when the girls were younger, though, we seldom drove up there to take walks, although there are many lovely trails.

Last Sunday, the sun came out and melted away the slight snowfall we had had the day before. Roads in our village were dry and clear, and I thought it might be fun to toodle over into the Palanges -- just a few miles away -- and see what the snow situation was.

The snow cover was underwhelming

Without a thought to what the roads might be like, I drove down from our house in Gages-le-Haut, crossed the highway, and blithely headed up the "route d'Agen," a back road that goes up and over part of the Palanges forest and into another village -- Agen, obviously enough if you understand French road names.

Within minutes, all traces of sun were hidden by the trees, and I found myself driving on sheer compact snow and ice, with no choice but to move upward and onwards.

My husband had just told me my snow tires were still fine. I would soon find out.

I grit my teeth, kept up my speed as if nothing were wrong, and made it to the visitor-friendly parking area at the top of the road without a slip.


I had started this adventure a bit late

I poked around a bit and decided I would need to come back here soon, perhaps with my husband because, icy roads notwithstanding, the Palanges have always been a bit scary to me. 

Peace and quiet -- and no ice -- on the drive back

Needless to say, I took the sunnier option for driving back, heading down towards Agen rather than testing my tires again.

One of these days, I'm sure my explorations will get me into trouble -- but fortunately, last Sunday was not that day. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Further explorations: L'Eglise de St. Martin de Limouze

L'Eglise de St. Martin de Limouze, a gem of a church about 5 miles from Rodez

My wanderings are accumulating, and I will certainly need to be including more photos if I ever want to "catch up."

To pick up somewhat of a story line, these are all photos from the unforgettable day of January 7, 2014, when I went out exploring in what seemed like the most peaceful of worlds, and came back to work to a chilling reminder that even France is not that peaceful.

When I visited the site, there was a man parked in the church parking lot, seemingly doing nothing. Perhaps he was glued to his radio. 

No public entrance at random hours

Blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world, my main concern was whether this church just might be open.

No such luck, as is the case with most small churches in Aveyron these days. 

This must be a tourist site, however...

The edifice seems to be on a tourist route and ready to greet visitors in several languages, but January must not be the right time.

I'm ashamed to say I don't know what this is...
(PS: I do now -- see comments!)

So I contented myself with a walk around the grounds, and taking a look at the church from all sides and all angles.

The light was lovely that day...

The church is referenced on the official regional historical register website, and some photos of the interior are shown there.

This is a place I will go back to.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

This all seems so long ago...

Approaching Anglars

When you follow the signs to Anglars, a hamlet that is part of the village of Bertholène, you can quickly tell that there is going to be something special about it.

L'Eglise d'Anglars/ The Anglars Church

The tiny community is home to a glowing 15th century church, with unusually bright stone for the area. One can almost imagine it in Provence. 

Yes, two weeks later, I am still writing about my New Year's Day exploration of Bertholène, a village only a few miles east of my house, and its surroundings. 

It all seems so long ago. I was buoyed by the sun, the thought of a new year, and memories of the lovely New Year's Eve party spent with friends.  

The next time I went out exploring was on January 7th, during my lunch hour. I had slipped out of work a bit after 12 without running into any colleagues, and enjoyed a peaceful, sunny break in an area I didn't know whatsoever. 

When I got back to my office at about 1:30, I checked the news.

Things haven't really been the same since.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Travel Tuesday: Geel, Belgium

The market square, Geel, Belgium

Geel, Belgium, is an unassuming town in the Kempen district of Flanders. But I have a special relationship with it, as I am responsible for an Erasmus partnership with its university, Thomas More Kempen.

I have been there three times, and last spring, I was lucky enough to do a week of guest teaching there. The weather was excellent (as always when I go there!) and I took up the school's offer of a bike for the week to get back and forth from my hotel. What fun that was!

Geel market place statue

The market square has a striking statue, but I had some trouble finding information about the work on Internet. I ended up getting "informed" through an article about it on the American Conservative website, of all places. 

Apparently the statue would have something to do with "family values." 

Whatever. This definitely bears further research, but not tonight.

A peaceful park

I can't get enough of Flanders, and hope to return many times. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rodez marches against terrorism

The crowd assembles on the Place d'Armes

My husband and I were determined to participate in the "Marche Républicaine" in Rodez today. Although it was announced as a "silent gathering," it turned out to be a march around the city, under sunny skies and through biting glacial winds.

"De Damas à Paris, le terrorisme, c'est le même"

On the Place d'Armes, we waited near this quiet yet visible group reminding us that "from Damas to Paris, terrorism is the same thing." 

Nobody I was with was able to recognize their flag, which I have now identified: Kurdistan, or at least Southern Kurdistan, not a country but a roughly-defined region where Kurds are the majority population, and have often been victims of violence.

They made a highly relevant point. While the recent acts in France are appalling and merit strong condemnation, we mustn't forget that most terrorist acts do not take place in Western nations.

Just yesterday, a "girl-bomber," estimated to be 10 years old, killed 19 people in a market in Nigeria by penetrating the area, her own body covered with explosives. 

That act of terrorism will be quickly forgotten as the press covers the march in Paris.

The first wave leaves Place d'Armes

Unthinkable violent acts take place pretty much daily all over the world: a sobering, even depressing, a thought that I had trouble kicking while waiting for the march to start.

As the march ends: a ray of light; a ray of hope

Yet, in Rodez, a town of 25,000 in la France Profonde, 17,000 people left their quiet Sunday routines to show their support for peace and tolerance.

The experience left me invigorated and hopeful.

May the terrible Charlie Hebdo/Montrouge/Hyper Kacher attacks in France pave the way for an enhanced awareness of the ravages of terrorism all over the world.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

New Year's Day Wanderings: The Sequel

Le Moulin de Marquès now...

...and then

As long as I keep driving down side roads and truly looking at what has been surrounding me for nearly 20 years, I don't think I will ever run out of blog material.

I am still reporting on my New Year's Day outing, which brought me frustratingly close to the château de Bertholène, and allowed me to gander at the village's church and sneak around its abandoned presbytery.

But all that hadn't taken me very far, so I moved on down the road to a smaller village that was printed somewhere on my brain's memory card: Anglars.

On the way, I ran into this beautiful mill, which I genuinely had no memory of ever seeing, although it is little over 5 miles from my house.

It has a splendid setting, and houses, rather surprisingly, a real estate agency -- although I read on the door that the business, which has several branches in the area, will soon be moving out of its stunning but hard-to-find location.

I couldn't find anything about the history of the mill on the Internet, but I did run into this old postcard that was apparently sold in 2012 for 5 euros

Stumbling upon this unfamiliar site was the highlight of my New Year's Day exploration.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Bertholène 3: The abandoned presbytery

Clearly, nobody is home

My best friend pointed out early on that I was "one of those people who liked to stick my nose up against windows of abandoned buildings."

I plead guilty. Nothing architectural gets my juices flowing like a good abandoned building, whether it be in the countryside or in the city; in the US or in France.

A few curtains are still up, which adds to the sense of mystery

Most every village church I have seen in France has a presbytère nearby. 

Sometimes it is totally separate from the church, walled off with a lovely yard, as is the case in my own village, Gages. 

Other times, it is across the street, or even a little ways down the road.

Unfortunately for its real estate future, Bertholène's is joined to the church at the hip by a short stone wall.

With plunging mass attendance and a shortage of priests, few, if any, village presbyteries in my area are inhabited by anyone connected to the church. But many are sold as private homes, and they do make lovely ones. 

Who was the last person to knock on this door?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Exploring in my own back yard: Bertholène 2

The austere 19th-century church of Bertholène

Yesterday's cliff-hanging episode of my New Year's Day adventure left me driving out of the surprisingly large Bertholène castle parking lot, feeling frustrated at not having been able to get close to the edifice's intriguing stones.

But then I noticed that the village church appeared accessible, so I parked again about 20 spaces further.

Does anyone out there remember when French churches were almost always open? When I moved to Aveyron 20 years ago, this was usually the case. 

But then again, a priest was often living in the presbytery right next door, which is usually no longer the case.

At any rate, the Bertholène church was resolutely locked, and looking quite lonely.

The abandoned presbytery gave off an even stronger sense of we will see tomorrow.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Exploring in my own back yard: Bertholène 1

Access to the Château de Bertholène is rather unceremoniously blocked

Less than 5 miles from our house perches yet another village with, in my humble opionion, untapped tourist potential: Bertholène.

As my husband and I were driving to our New Year's Eve dinner in Lozère, we passed by this nearby village, which I don't often see as it is the opposite direction from Rodez.

Its skeletal clifftop castle -- basically just a façade, but a beautiful one -- was magnificently illuminated. 

I remembered that when the girls were much younger, and "getting out" was a necessity on weekends, we had taken them to it on several occasions.

I had to go back.

Fortunately, I have a compact camera

New Year's Day was brightly sunny, and no sooner were we home from our New Year's Eve overnight that I was out exploring again. I couldn't wait to stroll around the Bertholène château grounds and take in the view.

No such luck.

Despite its proximity, Bertholène is part of a different "canton," or small administrative district, and I really don't know what is going on with its château -- perhaps there are security issues, or perhaps one can only walk around it during the summer.

At some risk to my wrists, I stuck my camera through the make-shift wooden barrier, and managed to snap this photo.

I left the large château parking lot feeling quite frustrated. 

However, my New Year's Day outing would not be in vain, as we will see in coming posts!

Friday, January 02, 2015

Wandering the backroads of Aveyron -- a New Year's resolution I just may keep

Such roads will, henceforth, be taken 

Like so many, I make New Year's resolutions. I usually write them down in a notebook and, being on Christmas break, it seems that I will easily be able to find the time to keep said resolutions.

Then I go back to my teaching job and, all know how these things go.

But in June 2015, I will have lived in Aveyron for 20 years. And yet there are so many roads, even close to my home, that I have never driven on, and so many villages I have never even set foot in.

So I do think that in 2015, I will be hitting the back roads of Aveyron more: all by my lonesome and off the beaten track.

Such roads may or may not be taken, for reasons I will explain below

In my area, though, it's a bit délicat to get too far off the beaten track. How can you know if a signpost is leading you to a "public" hamlet, or a farm that is private property?

You can't. 

As I have already found out, tiny roads like the one above, despite bearing a sign indicating they are leading "somewhere," often end up pretty much in the private courtyard between a farmer's house and his or her barns.

Oops. Quickly backing up and out can be a bit embarrassing when toute une famille is watching you suspiciously - and hopefully not taking down any license plate numbers.

Yet I will not be deterred. 

Here's to exploring France's 5th largest département -- that would be in surface area, of course, not population -- in 2015!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Ready to move on to 2015

From our deck, the sun setting on 2014

Another year has gone by, and despite experiencing many great events in 2014, it's a year I'm ready to put behind me.

It's the year I lost my father, and no number of accumulated "positives" can erase that association with that year.

Waking up to 2015 at our friends' farm in Lozère

Last year, I spent my New Year's Eve alone in the Ibis Blagnac hotel in Toulouse, readying myself for a nearly impromptu flight back to the USA to celebrate my father's 85th birthday: his last.

This year, a fancy réveillon with all the trimmings truly didn't appeal to me. (Actually, it seldom does.)

We were very happy to accept an invitation from close friends who have a farm in Lozère. Just the four of us and great food, conversation...and getting to bed at 1:30 am, early by French standards!

I hope your New Year's Eve celebration was as nice as ours, and that you hold as much hope as I do for a joyful and rewarding 2015.