The morning we left home was only the second misty dawn with rain drops hanging on spiders’ webs draped on the bushes we had had in September. The incoming ferry was late arriving and watching all the arriving vehicles drive off, we noticed that there must have been a classic car event somewhere as several old cars appeared, even three 1930’s Rolls Royces similar to the one my father used to have. After a night on the boat we disembarked to endure lengthy security checks just before the sun rose in Caen.
The rest of the journey was easy but we did see long queues of lorries heading north on the N10 south of Angoulême. Foreign HGV drivers have been blocking roads as a protest against the high tolls on the autoroute. Drivers do not pay road tax for their vehicles in France so the tolls are the way money is raised to maintain the network. We arrived in time for a walk by the river near the local château where some sunflowers were still in flower. Many more are drying before harvesting. Persimmons and kiwi fruits are harvested after the first frost.
The village our friends live in is on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, one of the routes in France that converge at St Jean Pied de Port before the path continues on through Spain. There was a crucifix and a scallop shell (worn by pilgrims and a way marker for the trail) on one of the buildings.
Over the next few days we visited markets in Branne and Libourne where these lobsters awaited their fate in the fish market.
Libourne is attempting to control the urban pigeon population by building a dovecot on the riverside and when the pigeons nest there, the eggs are replaced with ceramic ones. The waterfront here is under renovation, due for completion in 2025. Inevitably visit to vineyards and wine buying took place at Château la Sablière and a local wine co-operative and an art and craft exhibition in St Émilion.
We visited Bordeaux in the evening for a dinner cruise along the Garonne. The meal was very enjoyable although it was the first time I have had avocado as a dessert.
Tomato plants were being grown in tubs along the waterfront and I assumed this was free food. A couple of days later while doing some shopping, these were being removed. Other walks were around Lac de la Cadie which is also used for watersports and fishing and around the 100 Years War battlefield and Talbot memorial in Castillon la Bataille. Summer re-enactments are held in July and August involving large numbers of people and horses.
The local grape harvest was underway. Much of it is mechanised but grapes for the better wines are still hand-picked. Château d’Yquem grapes are picked and examined six times before being declared suitable. All too soon it was time to leave on a wet, misty morning with the trees colouring for autumn. Again we were fortunately driving in the opposite direction to the heavy traffic and we did not have too many delays at the port before we were back on the ferry and on our way home. It was still misty when we got to Portsmouth but today we have some warm autumn sun at home to enjoy the colours and catch up on garden jobs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We found a cafe to top up our caffeine levels and a gallery with a small photographic exhibition.
We then walked to the Porte du Thuron and then back round to the market to meet up again.
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.
In the surrounding fields there was a herd of grey cattle and which breed they are remains a mystery.
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.
The next essential purchase on the return journey to the house was some wine at Chateau Mellin.
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.
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.
Lunch was in Bourg.
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.
We walked by the waterside where there was still some mud left by the recent thunderstorms.
We then walked up some steep steps back to where our car was parked, passing a local resident and a little free library.
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.
Up early, apartment cleaned, car packed and goodbyes said to Madame Micoine and the little dogs all before 10am. We dumped the last empty wine bottles into the recycling bins by the port, filled up with diesel and were on our way around the bassin to cross country and the Gironde to Cambes to stay with friends in their wonderful house. We planned to take the bus into the city and stood at the bus stop for a while before realising it did not run on Saturdays so it was back to get the car. Since we were last in Bordeaux, the quays have been developed and as it was so hot, many people were out enjoying the sun.
We had lunch at La Belle Epoque restaurant and then took the tram to go to a fabulous brush shop to get new non-plastic brushes for the floor (and maybe paint brushes and more!) but it is closed on Saturday. It was great just wandering around the streets, popping into the second biggest bookshop in France and people-watching. We must return.
On the journey back to Cambes, we purchased some Bordeaux Clairet (now being consumed in the garden) and a great present which will be ideal for one of my friends at Christmas. Relaxing this evening before the long drive to Caen tomorrow.
We have not been there for 10 years: the last time was enroute from the Limousin to Lacanau Ocean on the coast. This time we had arranged to meet some friends at St Emilion. They had got delayed a little but after a welcome coffee (my caffeine levels were dropping) we wandered around the town before a very good lunch at which James tried the Duck Burger. I settled for the more traditional Magret de Canard. We then drove down to the Gironde before tasting and buying wine at Chateau La Sablière. The proprietor explained that there had not been enough sun this summer and that the grapes were still too acidic and not ready for picking. We saw several of the huge mechanical grape harvesters.
After a cup of tea and guided tour of their new home we had to head back to Arcachon for a light supper.