Sunday, May 24, 2015

A jewel of a village: Coussergues, Aveyron


Coussergues, looking a bit like a village in Touraine for some reason

Coming on to the last of our exceptional string of long weekends here in France, I really hoped to have a lot of new, local adventures to share. But the weather has really got into the way.

Let me explain: May can have anywhere from no official long weekends and just one potential long weekend, to three official ones and one potential one. This year we got the jackpot. May 1st (La Fête du Travail) and May 8th, to celebrate the end of World War II, were both on Fridays, making for automatic long weekends.

Ascension Thursday is always a public holiday, but can be earlier or later in May. This year it came right on the heels of the May 8th holiday, and since our building closes for the Friday following, I got another long weekend last weekend.

But of all of those days off and weekends, really only Sunday May 10th provided me with beautiful, warm, exploring weather. That is when I went to Palmas, which I wrote about in my last post, and also discovered the charming village of Coussergues, located between Laissac and St. Geniez d'Olt


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Coussergues is impressive for its two church towers of approximately the same height. 



This is the "modern" church, built in the 19th century. This type of church is not considered much of an attraction in these parts, but I found its location attractive and liked the way it stood out in the middle of the village












The bell tower is all that remains of the 15th century church, just a few steps away from the "new" church. 


This church used to serve as a shelter for village residents, perhaps during periods of attacks from enemies.


Its fortress-like aspect strikes a sharp contrast against the more clearly "churchy" modern edifice. 







A place to be explored...

Like just about every place I have visited since I started up my perigrinations again last fall, I told myself I needed to come back when I had a little more time. And if I just were to carry on a few more kilometers, there are many other places to explore in the surrounding countryside.


No sign-posting here

I ended my visit to Coussergues sitting on a conveniently-located bench in front of this intriguing little fountain.

Like so many other structures in France, no sign indicated a thing about its age or origin.

As I write this, it is our last in the series of long weekends -- Pentecost weekend, with Monday being a public holiday. Pentecost weekend is more often in June, but the church calendar this year piled it up right after the string of three other long weekends.

The weather has been gloomy, if not out and out cold, so I have nothing more recent to add. 

But I can always hold out hope for tomorrow. 


Lou Messugo

Friday, May 15, 2015

Backroad Wanderings: Palmas, Aveyron


Looking up at the Eglise Saint-Vincent de Palmas

Last Sunday we had magnificent weather here, and I was itching to get out and do a little more backroad exploration. Unfortunately -- no, let's say fortunately, it needed to be done -- my husband got me wrapped up in a home improvement project at about 3pm, right before I was planning to leave.

"It won't take long!" 

I've heard that before! 4pm, 5pm, 6pm...I finally hit the road in the early evening which, on what was a hot day, turned out to be most pleasant.

My only plan was to head east, as I know very little of the whole area between Gages, where we live, and the impressive medieval city of Sévérac-le-Château

My first stop, and the object of this post, was the tiny town of Palmas -- just 14 kilometres from my house, yet I had never set foot there.



A precarious and surprisingly accessible climb

I was pressed for time (grumble grumble, yet that home improvement project WAS worth it), and I'm afraid I didn't do the place justice. Naturally, I found myself drawn to the most clearly visible site to see: the stark yet stunning Eglise Saint-Vincent de Palmas.


Were there really no railings up this staircase?

I was intrigued at the apparently permitted possibility of climbling up an exterior staircase to a tiny terrace, and even more surprised to be able to open the iron gate to go into it.

I perched up there for a few minutes, feeling a bit dizzy, and forgot to take any photos looking down.


The narrow door at the top of the stairs

The door at the top of the stairs was only about a foot and a half wide -- I wondered about its purpose, and wondered even more about the advisability of passers-by (read:me) being able to climb up the stairs with no railing. But of course I was thrilled to be able to do so!


A church with a built-in mailbox



Front view of the bell tower

My visit to Palmas started and ended here. As the only person wandering around the village, I was already feeling conspicuous. An elderly woman had started observing me from her window; a dog started barking as I stood in front of its house to take this last shot.


My future backroad companion

I later found out I had missed a lot: the vestiges of a castle, three distinct "quartiers," a 16th century bridge. 

I have an excellent book by Daniel Crozes , a well-known local author, that gives an exhaustive wealth of information about every nook and cranny of Aveyron, but I have been consulting it after my outings only.

On further expeditions, Daniel Crozes will guide me -- at least once I've landed in the place I plan to explore. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

An emotional visit to Albi, a place that used to be home


Albi, looking UNESCO-picture-perfect

Albi was my first French home, and for years I carried around a heavy, lump-in-the-throat nostalgia about it.

We lived there for two years in the early 90s; our first daughter was born there; I easily imagined staying there indefinitely.

But professional changes led us to spend a few years in Touraine, and then return to the Midi-Pyrénées area: not to Albi (sniff -- no, sniffed), but to Aveyron -- as you all know.

Rodez is now less than an hour's drive from Albi, but when we arrived, the road was sinuous and slow, and we immediately figured out that with two small children, we weren't going to get back to Albi that often.

I was shocked, though, as I planned a day trip there last weekend with one of our exchange students, to find that I had not been back for exactly (to the day!) 7 years -- not counting, of course, driving past the town on the way to Toulouse.



Tourists come from far and near...and why wouldn't they?

A lot has happened there, even since 2008. The Episcopal City of Albi, including its cathedral, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, giving it the same worldwide cultural standing as Chartres Cathedral or the Pont du Gard

Albi was a tourist attraction even when I lived there, but the swarms of visitors in early May, and the rather alarming number of tourist-trappy-looking restaurants sprung up around the cathedral, attest to a significant boost in the town's popularity.



The St. Salvy/Salvi Cloisters, May 2, 2008

My favorite place in Albi, and one where I could always find a moment of cool calm when I lived there, is The St Salvy Cloisters

I'm glad I got this photo 7 years ago, because this time around, the cloisters were overtaken by a boisterous and vociferous group of young (but adult) Spanish tourists using the secluded site to take multiple photos in a variety of oh-so-amusing poses. 

Their raucous photo shoot took over half an hour, so I gave up on any hope of cloister "zénitude," as the French would put it -- athough I did think that was what cloisters were for, even now. Call me old-fashioned.  


Blooms have replaced the dirt in the previous photo, so at least I can reflect from the comfort of my own computer

The day marked a turning point for me. 

Yes, Albi, you are drop-dead gorgeous, certainly, at least at first glance,  the most beautiful medium-sized city in the region. I will definitely be back before 7 more years go by -- although perhaps in February.

And yes, you deserve your UNESCO status, and I might add in passing that the powers that be did a fantastic job fixing you up. You wear your honor well.

But, finally, after many years of "what-ifs," you no longer feel anything like what used to be home.