Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TJ Tuesday: Waiting for spring

Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau

I've neglected this blog the past week and a half, but I have been busy with other, very human, things. And good ones at that.

On the weather side, we are still experiencing snow flurries. 

In fact, this morning, I drove to work under pretty heavy snow. But although we are still shivering when we go out, it is not quite cold enough for the snow to stick.

Soon the calendar will turn to March and I will definitely be in "waiting for spring" mode. 

I imagine many of you are feeling the same...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

St. Martin de Cormières -- another find on the back roads of Aveyron

What's wrong with this picture?

Last week's visit to the snow-covered Lévézou area was not without a magical discovery: the St. Martin de Cormières church, a historical monument that is part of the community of Le Vibal.

I don't know why a telescopic crane had to be sitting next to it right at this time, but I guess machines have to live somewhere too.

Not a cathedral, but still...the work, the work

Although considered a small church, it is still quite imposing. We often hear about "the cathedral builders," but as I contemplated this more modest structure, I gave a thought to the efforts needed to build it in the XVth century. 

How long did it take? Were lives lost? Did the laborers work even through the glacial winter?

Once again, locked doors

I truly wasn't expecting the doors to be open, but I wish they had been; photos of the church here promise a magical and manicured interior.

Could this be the key? Certainly not...

Feeling like an intruder in the sleepy, snowy hamlet, I stole a quick photo of the cross on the village square. Only now, as I post the photo, do I notice the key on it. 

What could that symbolize? 

So much to think about....

A church definitely worth seeing in the winter

I suppose tourists are very rare here in the dead of winter -- and I even have to wonder about the summer, as nothing but the sign on the main road indicated the presence of this classified historic monument. 

I have a feeling I'll be back.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Travel Tuesday: Train Tripping

Gare de Rodez, 6:15

Brive-la-Gaillarde is about a two and a half hour drive from Rodez, and when I had to go there for work recently, my manager was surprised that I requested to travel by train. 

She assured me there would be a work car available for me. But between driving alone for five hours and -- for once --  being able to take a train with schedules that actually worked out with my professional obligations, the choice was easy.

First, I could read or work on the train, which I told her.

Second, I'm not that crazy about driving five hours alone, mainly in the dark, in the dead of winter, which I also mentioned.

Finally, I'm a secret train/train station geek...which got left out of the conversation.

In motion in Corrèze

A lot of my American friends imagine that in this very specific place they call "Europe," people are always taking trains and that you can get about anywhere on them. This is not necessarily true in France, and certainly not true in much of the South of France.

From Rodez, you can take the train to Toulouse via Albi; you can take it to Paris by way of Brive-la-Gaillarde; and there are a few stray trains to Millau that I have never heard of anyone taking.  And that is about it. 

The trains stop in various towns and villages along the way, but these aren't necessarily places tourists or inhabitants regularly go.

Of course from Toulouse, Brive, or Paris you can move on to other cities, but that often means pretty long trips -- so most of my friends and acquaintances are in the habit of driving or, if routes and finances permit, flying around France.

Just a weird shot of the sort of weird place you can only see from a train

I often read articles about cutbacks in train services from French town X to French city Y, and I know the cherished Rodez-Paris/Paris-Rodez night train, which allows us to optimize our weekends in la Capitale, is under recurring threats -- although it is usually packed when I'm on it.

But the SNCF seems to be making efforts to combine services to make more cities accessible. For example, when I first moved here, it was nearly impossible to get from Rodez to Lyon -- a 4-hour drive -- by train. 

Now, by taking a regional train to Millau, a bus to Montpellier, and then hopping on the TGV, it can be done in 6 hours -- something I actually might consider.

At any rate, I hope I continue to have chances to take the train in France: for the photo opportunities, and also to kindle my memories of Europass days.


Saturday, February 07, 2015

Choosing the road to winter

It all started with a cancelled plane.

Lest you think that all I do is wander around the back roads of Aveyron because that is, well, all there is to do here, listen up!

Today I had a highly cultural afternoon planned. The famous American artist Jim Dine, who has works displayed in the excellent temporary exhibit currently at the Musée Soulages, was going to be giving a conference in Rodez -- and I was going to go.

But his Paris-Rodez flight was cancelled, apparently for mechanical reasons, and I ended up in Rodez with nothing but a tad bit of shopping to do.

So, I had some exploration time. But where to go?

This is definitely not the road to Marcillac

I basically had two choices: driving towards spring, or savoring the end of winter.

The road to Marcillac tempted me, as Le Vallon is always a bit warmer. 

It was 37°F in Rodez; logically it would be over 40° in Marcillac. And after the 2 weeks we have had, even 41°F sounded positively balmy.

Some serious snow had clearly been going on here

But then again, despite our two weeks of cold and ice, Rodez and my home village had actually accumulated only a few puny inches of snow. So I hadn't really braved the elements

I decided to take the colder option and head up the Col d'Aujol, a small pass only about 20 minutes from Rodez, but also about 200 meters higher. 

Around here, when it has been snowing, 200 meters usually makes a lot of difference, and today was no exception. 

Bushes under a blanket

The road was clear and dry, but as soon as I got above 700 meters, everything around me was a quiet winter wonderland. 

I regret missing many photo opportunities because there was simply no place to park. Snowdrifts were blocking the roadsides, and the few smaller roads heading off the main one didn't promise the best driving conditions. 

(In fact, they didn't even promise that I would have enough traction in my snow tires to make it home, so I played it safe.)

Snow like cotton balls, a reminder that spring is around the corner

At the entrance to one hamlet, though, I found an ice-free parking area, and was able to commit this day to my photographic memory: the day that the famous American artist Jim Dine couldn't take his flight from Paris to Rodez. 

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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TJ Tuesday -- Finding color amid the drab

Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau

I'm not all that sorry to say I fell off the NaBloPoMo bandwagon. Because what I can say is that posting to this blog for 13 days straight was a major accomplishment after 4 years of very sketchy blogging here

So I am back to the rhythm that has worked for me since picking up again in November: a short TJ Tuesday or Travel Tuesday, plus one (hopefully) longer post at some point during the week, most likely over the weekend when I have time to sit down and think about it.

So this Tuesday features another photo by my husband. I'm not sure where he took it, but it would appear to be somewhere not that far from Rodez. 

As you can see, some hillsides around here can be on the drab side. 

But I love the way the corn brightens up this photo.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Where were you when....?

As dramatic events unfolded in France, I was quietly eating a sandwich here

I haven't blogged about New Year's Resolutions, but one is to take advantage of the time I can (sometimes) take off work at lunch to do some exploration of areas close to my job in Rodez.

I acted on this resolution on the fateful day of January 7th. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I hadn't checked any breaking news before leaving my office -- I seldom do -- and I had slipped out of the building quickly to hit the open road.

My colleagues who went home for lunch that day spent their break glued to the TV; those who ate at work, glued to their cell phones or office computers.

I was off exploring somewhere between Druelle and Balsac, eating a sandwich in the non-descript hamlet of Capelle, oblivious to the turmoil unfolding.

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.