Sunday, 29 September 2013

A round tower and unseen churches

The round tower
Last weekend hosted the annual heritage days that we look forward to every year. For one weekend a year, state owned museums are free, most other museums operate on a reduced price entry but, the fact that there are several places that only open on these two days a year or, as in the case of one of our targets, only open for one morning, is of most interest to us.

Cees had been pouring over the lists of places to be open this weekend for a number of weeks and had come up with a long list of things to be seen. Difficult choices had to be made and in the end we concentrated on the Cluny and Mâcon areas on Saturday and Sunday was in the Brionnais. It would take a novel as long as the Lord of the Rings to describe all we saw, suffice to say, we were exhausted by the end of the weekend, so I will restrict myself to the highlights.

Hotel de Monnaie
Saturday morning we were thrilled to get into the round tower in Cluny. This is one of the remaining towers of the fortifications around the abbey. After a long morning of visits, it was already 11 o’clock when we arrived and as it was only open in the morning, we didn’t have too much time to spare. We rather stupidly started by the tower itself outside the abbey walls. Obviously, for medieval security reasons, there was no door (duh..) but where was the entrance then? The problem is that the old abbey is now split over three sites, the National Stud, the ENSAM (a sort of engineers’ university) and the state-owned part of the abbey site open to the public. We guessed that the tower would be either in the ENSAM or the National Stud, so off we went to the Stud entrance - no not there. We then went to each of the ENSAM entrances - no not there either. By which time it was getting dangerously close to lunchtime and the closure of the tower for at least one year and possibly for ever. Finally at the entrance to the abbey we were told, yes, we could get to the tower that way and we booked ourselves on to the last visit. The tower is actually in the ENSAM in amongst the workshops, but the abbey had permission for visitors to gain access for the morning and we had to march at high speed to meet out visit time slot.

Made for little people
I won’t say the tower was a must-see, the view isn’t all that great, but the fact that it is not normally open to the public, made it a very special visit. While in Cluny, we managed to get into the Hotel de Monnaie, also not normally open to the public and that was well worth it. Check out the door custom made for me!

Baugy church's stunning decorations
During the weekend, we finally managed to see the insides of a number if churches we have visited many times. Sunday’s gem was just one of those churches - Baugy in the Brionnais. The church was beautifully restored and we were lucky enough to meet a couple of the team who had done the work. They explained the problems they had encountered during the long restoration period and the difficult decisions they had had to make. If a wall has medieval frescoes under 19th century decoration, both of historical interest, which one do you “save”? Check out the photo to see what they did.

All in all, a most enjoyable weekend and I am looking forward to next year’s treats - Cees is already busy planning our wish-list.

For holiday accommodation, near to a host of interetsing sites, open almost all year click here.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Birthday in a bird park

Birthday picnic
My birthday started grey and rainy, but we went out any way. After all we are Northern Europeans, we can cope with cold, wet and windy!

No sooner had we entered the Beaujolais than the sun came out. So a picnic by a lake was called for. Then it was onwards to the bird park we had tried to visit back in August. Back then it was just too busy and quite frankly I wasn't so keen on waiting nearly an hour to get in, then to pay almost 30 Euros just to see a couple of parrots.

Cacophony of  colours
But it is now September and the park was bound to be quieter without all those families. Besides we did have that card from the bank offering us a reduced price entry - so what more of a push do you need? We were not disappointed.

Forget just a couple of parrots, this is chock a block full of all the birds you could ever imagine and many, many that you could not.

The park itself was laid out very well, lots of space to see the birds and (almost) all of them were close enough to touch. We went from one area to another, just wondering at the amazing specimens they had on show. Including an aviary with lorikeets that you could feed with nectar and they would land on your hands and arms. Not being so brave, I just went into the non-feeding section and took photos!

Mid-afternoon we made it to the highlight of the park - the flying show. And wow, was that a show. The birds flew so low over your head you could almost feel their wings brushing your hair.

Serene swimmer
Fantasitc flyer

I have taken so many photos, it was impossible to choose the ones I wanted to put in this post, so these ones here are just a taster and if you want to see more, here is a link to a photo album with my top 40 piccies.

The day culminated with our friends from Guitares en Cormatinois, the local guitar festival we help organise. They even sang happy birthday to me! What more can you ask of your birthday?

Panorama of flamingos

For information on holiday accommodation not so far from the bird park in Villars les Dombes click here.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

My birthday comes early this year.

My birthday cake
On Friday we went round to some friends for dinner, we had a lovely evening chatting on their balcony watching the Ameugny world go by. It was the farewell dinner with our American friends who come and stay for a few weeks every year to visit Taizé and generally enjoy Burgundian life. When we sat down to dinner, there was an early birthday card there for me, I was thrilled that they had remembered.

Dinner started with a delicious chicken dish, which I totally forgot to ask the recipe of, silly me, if you read this Ricki, please? I’ll give you and Simone full credit for it ! But for me the pièce de résistance was the dessert. A gooey chocolate cake was brought into the room, decked with candles and everyone sang Happy Birthday. The first time I have had a cake in years. There were three candles (for those who read this regularly they will know that I am from a year zero – I forget which one), they were red, white and blue to the match the red, white and blue nationalities sitting round a table in red, white and blue France.

What is he doing in Oregon?
Thank you David and Ricki for a lovely pre-birthday party and here’s one last photo. Who is that guy standing in front of Mount Hood I wonder? A future blog will reveal all…

Want to celebrate your birthday in our holiday accommodation near Ameugny? Click here for more details.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Evening Classes

Forum des Associations - Cluny Abbey
When we first arrived here, we were baffled as to how to find information about evening classes or clubs. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how things operate. In fact, evening classes as such just don’t exist. You can’t go to the local library and get a list of what’s being taught and when and when you ask the neighbours about classes, you are met with blank looks. Things are different in France and it has taken us some years to sort out how to find the information we have been looking for.

Virtually all (what I would call in English, English) “evening classes” are run by small associations. So for instance, if you want to learn a language you find a language association and see what languages they offer, if they don’t offer the one you want to learn, you look for another language association based in a different town. If you want to learn Judo, you look for a judo association, karate – a karate association, tai-chi – a tai-chi association, lacework – a lacework association, flower arranging, cookery, art classes etc etc etc the list goes on.

You find flyers for these associations around the place, mostly by accident, at this time of year, but the biggest way of finding classes, is by word of mouth, which is what makes finding what you are actually looking for, very difficult indeed.

La Spirale d'or - Tai-chi club
The last couple of years we have noticed that in Cluny they have a Forum des Associations on one Saturday morning a year. All the associations set up stall in the cloister of the abbey and you can browse around to see what Cluny has to offer, from archery to theatre groups, from patchwork to ji-jutsu, from a brass band to a moneyless exchange system. All manner of things in fact.

I’ve signed up for tai-chi again this year and I am giving the moneyless exchange system a go - who knows what that will entail. It looks like I’ll be working for griottes (morello cherries) when I get started, hopefully they’re not real ones - I’m not too partial to fruit. I’ll keep you posted on my earnings when I find out how it all works.

Another advantage to the Forum des Associations is that you can sneak into the abbey for free, if you know the way. Now would we do that?

For information on our holiday accommodation still paid for in Euros click here.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Correction to my previous post

It has been pointed out to me by two avid readers, that neither Jean Paul II nor Mother Teresa are in fact saints yet.  Jean Paul should make it this October or next April according to different sources, but as yet, Mother Teresa has a way to go.  Whilst she has been beatified, for her to be up for canonisation, a second miracle still has been attributed to her intervention.  So there remains the question, what is a statue of her doing in the church in Belleville, if she isn’t actually a saint?  I can feel another blog coming on..

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A day out in the Beaujolais

Mother Teresa
It was a glorious day and so we set off into the Beaujolais on yet another Romanesque church hunt. While Cees photographs every Romanesque, pseudo-Romanesque, neo-Romanesque and non-Romanesque feature that a church has to offer, I get to sit around and look at bits and pieces. The saints in French churches particularly fascinate me. When I first arrived, I could hardly name any of them, but over the years I have come to recognise all the common ones, St Joan of Arc, St Anthony, St Joseph, St Curé, St Teresa and I can now tell the difference between St Michael and St George - pretty tricky as they are both normally killing dragons.

I have taken loads of photos of them over the years, partly as a record of some of the nicer examples, but partly to log who I have actually seen. It is not often these day that I get to see a statue of a saint that I have never seen before, but this trip was one of those occasions. I was completely amazed at this statue, I recognised her from the other end of the church, one of the most “modern” or should I say “new” saints there is. There she was, next door to her namesake, Mother Teresa herself complete with her iconic poor sisters of Calcutta style sari. It has got me wondering when I will see my first St John Paul II.

Clochmerle pressoir
After that bit of saint hunting, we headed off into the Beaujolais hills looking for a picnic spot. We saw a sign to Vaux-en-Beaujolais and decided to visit the town. This town is famous for being the real-life version of the fictional town Clochemerle. Having said that, why any town would want to associate itself with a pissoire (urinal) is beyond me. Anyway, when we got there, we headed for the church to see the (in)famous pissoire. We searched all round the building, there were talking flower pots (I kid you not) and a pressoire (wine press) covered in flowers but not a pissoire in sight. I was beginning to wonder if I had misinterpreted the story, maybe it was an argument over the village pressoire and not pissoire that the book was about, but I was sure I was right.

Clochmerle Pissoire
I was beginning to feel a little let down by the town’s hype when we stumbled upon the pissoire itself, conventiently located next to some picnic tables where we duly had our lunch, with a beautiful view of the pissoire on one side and a more beautiful view over the Beaujolais hills and vineyards on the other. The only thing missing was a bottle of wine to wash down our mousse de vollaile, rosette and brie de Meaux, maybe next time…

For information on our holiday accommodation, not far from the Beaujolais click here.
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