Tuesday 29 April 2014

Margaret of Anjou's Chateau at Souzay Champigny

This charming small, semi-troglodytic chateau once belonged to Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI of England. She and her court of 600 retainers occupied all the buildings along this section of the Loire river cliffs. All the houses link to one another via underground passages, allowing the queen and her courtiers to safely and privately move from one building to another, without going out on to the street in front, which was at that time the main thoroughfare through town.
Margaret of Anjou (1430 - 1482) was the second daughter of René Duke of Anjou and Isabella Duchess of Lorraine. As such she was a relation of King Louis XI and married off to the mentally unstable Henry VI at the age of 14. Because of Henry's clear incapacity to rule, she was active in the political sphere for much of his reign and the Wars of the Roses are at least partly due to the personal emnity between her and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, who had been appointed regent.
After Richard of York's son, Edward IV took the English throne she was imprisoned but subsequently ransomed by Louis XI. She spent the last years of her life in France, her own son dead at the battle of Tewkesbury and her spirit broken.

Monday 28 April 2014

The Bastarnay Family Tomb, Montrésor

The tomb of the Bastarnay family lies in the church in Montrésor. The church itself was built at the orders of Imbert de Bastarnay primarily to house the tomb. He was seigneur of Montrésor and an influential courtier in the reigns of Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I. A skilled diplomat and negotiator he lived to 85 years old, to his great sorrow outliving his son François (killed in battle in 1513), whose effigy is also placed on the tomb.

The tomb was created in the Tours workshop of sculptor Michel Colombe in 1523, on Imbert's death, but the church not consecrated until 1532 and not finished until 1541. The tomb was broken up during the Revolution in 1793 and not restored until 1875. Three white marble (or alabaster?) effigies rest on a thick black marble slab. In the centre lies Georgette de Montchenu (died 1511), Imbert's wife, with her feet resting on two griffins. Her husband, to her right, has his coat of arms at his feet, and their son's feet rest on a lurcher. Their daughter Jeanne was Diane de Poitiers mother.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Saturday 26 April 2014

Wandering in the Desert

A Lesser Wanderer Danaus petilia photographed in the Northern Territory Australia. This species is an Australian relative of the famous long distance migrant Monarch D. plexippus butterfly (which also occurs in Australia).

Friday 25 April 2014

Civilian Sacrifice

This evocative memorial to Australia's merchant mariners is in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Thursday 24 April 2014

The Museum of Prehistory, Le Grand Pressigny

We've had a friend staying with us over the last 10 days and consequently have been motivated to catch up with visits to places we really should have visited long ago.

In 2009 the new Museum of Prehistory building was opened in the grounds of the Chateau of Le Grand Pressigny. The collection of prehistoric objects had been housed in the chateau and we had visited it in its old incarnation back in 2006.

The new building was widely reviled. Many people didn't understand why the new wing of the museum was unashamedly modern and not a pastiche designed to 'blend in', 'tastefully' and 'discreetly'.

We've always liked the new building, noting its clever use of matching new lines with old, but at the same time ensuring no one is deceived into thinking new build is old.

Now we've seen the interior we are even more impressed. The architect has borrowed the landscape at every opportunity, and the space is airy and light. The collection has been displayed in a way that enhances understanding of global context and sequence as well as highlighting how important the many local finds have been. There are study and activity spaces that look great for engaging kids, and we took a guided tour of the temporary exhibition Bêtes à Tout Faire (All Purpose Animals). The guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic and we were impressed (and learned stuff).

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Covered Market, Richelieu

The 17th century covered market in Richelieu has not long been fully restored. The wooden pillars stabilised, carpentry whitewashed, new floor and services installed, practical glass wind breaks around the perimeter, and a new slate roof with copper guttering.

I noticed that the slates are not fixed with the usual 'S' shaped hooks, but must be nailed on. I liked the nifty solution to divert water from rushing down the junction between the market roof and the adjoining building's gable -- a little lip which sends the water to the right and then allows it to fall down into the gutter, very practical, aesthetic and clever.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Commuting from Tours to Paris on the TGV

Thankfully I don't have to commute to Paris from Tours every day, but here are some statistics about those who do:
  • 4000 people do the Tours-Paris return voyage every day.
  • the journey takes about an hour (compared to minimum 2.5 hours by car).
  • parking at Saint Pierre des Corps will cost you €78/month and there is a 2 year waiting list for places.
  • a monthly ticket for the TGV costs €600. This goes down to €462 at the end of three years of commuting.
A TGV pulls in to Saint Pierre des Corps (Tours) station.
Commuters generally catch the 7.31 from Saint Pierre des Corps and return on the 18.37 from Paris Montparnasse. Many commuters keep a scooter parked at Montparnasse for getting to and from their place of work. They usually sleep on the train on the way up and work on the way back.

Commuter bikes next to the TGV in Tours Central station.
The commuters are known as pendulaires (pendulums) or navetteurs (shuttlers/commuters). They do it because of property prices in Paris and because employment prospects and wages in Tours are so much more limited. Especially once couples have children they simply can't afford a suitable property in Paris, but they can in Tours (an apartment in the best location, such as near the cathedral, will go for about €3000/m²). Saint Pierre des Corps is cheaper, at €1454/m² for an apartment, €2034 for a house. Compared to paying nearly €10000/m² for an apartment in central Paris (€6600/m² in the suburbs) no wonder people make the move and are prepared to commit to the slog of commuting 500km a day on a fast and relatively efficient service. Some of them are lucky enough to have employers who reimburse half their fare, but others have to deal with employers who are dubious about the reliability of the train and the effect of commuting on their employees.

The commuters have formed a rail users group, just to make sure that SNCF and the local authorities keep on their toes and provide the best possible service. Some of their concerns are that track maintenance has been downgraded in the last couple of years and the track is deteriorating which causes delays; there are fears that the new high speed line to Bordeaux will sideline the TGV to Tours; the price of tickets continues to go up (34% in the last 10 years); and only the deputy mayor of Tours attends their meetings, not the mayor (the mayor of Saint Pierre des Corps attends), so they feel their concerns may not be getting the full attention of the local authority.
International Earth Day: Today has been officially designated International Earth Day by the UN. It's a day to think about how we interact with the earth and what is special about this planet. It's a day to celebrate our wonderful world, but also to remember that the world we know is changing and that perhaps we should show more respect. If anyone has organised an event near you, please support them by attending or participating. This year's theme is Green Cities.

Monday 21 April 2014

Bells and Bunnies

In France the church bells go to Rome and bring back Easter eggs, so you also find chocolate bells amongst the chickens, eggs and rabbits on the supermarket shelves.

Lindt make Cloches d'or and Lapins d'Or as special treats for Easter.
Honey Bee Swarms: Chris Luck has written a timely post on what to do if you have a honey bee swarm on your property. We noticed a beekeeper dealing with a swarm only a couple of days ago in Richelieu.

Sunday 20 April 2014

La Chiotte

An Australian icon this. But this traditional looking dunny houses a smart modern composting toilet, not a metal pan that has to be emptied and buried once a week.

(And just so you know -- Redback Spider distribution map)

Up until my mid-teens I had never lived in a house with an outdoor dunny. We lived on farms, and had septic tanks, but when we moved into town, we got downgraded to a shed down the back of the garden because the small town we moved to didn't have a sewerage system until a few years later, in the late 70s.
The dunny in the photo above is at Brayshaw's Hut in Namadgi NP, ACT.

PS Chiotte (or more usually, chiottes) is French for dunny. (It amuses me that even when you are using slang it is not considered proper to refer to toilets in the singular in French.)

Saturday 19 April 2014

The Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk

While we were in Sydney in late 2012 we engaged in the latest must do attraction that Sydney has to offer -- the Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk. We walked along the cliffs between Bondi and Coogee on a very hot day. We had the best company -- our friends Liselle, Alex and Stefania. The scenery is dramatic and the views wonderful. The path is very popular and well used by all sorts, from locals going for their daily run to groups of young foreign tourists enjoying the sun, surf and sand. Nothing like this was here when Simon and I were spending time in Sydney in our 20s (ie 30 years ago).


This last image was taken looking back the way we had come. All the rest are looking forward, with Bondi behind us and Coogee to come.

Friday 18 April 2014

Cirque d'hiver

 The 'Winter Circus' in Paris's 11eme arrondissement is a large 20 sided oval building designed as a theatre in the round for the performance of circus, dressage, wrestling and concerts. It opened in 1852 and was a favourite hang-out of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. For more information about its history and pictures of the interior, see Paris Connected.

Thursday 17 April 2014


Some of my favouritest dogs in the world, the hounds at Cheverny, on a warm spring day.
Tuesday's Quiz: The winner is chm, who guessed correctly that the tapestry is in Cheverny. No one got the name of the room or the artist.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Irish Elk

These Irish Elk antlers hang above the landing on the central staircase in the Chateau of Cheverny. They are the remains of an animal that lived at least 7 000 years ago, in Siberia, and were given to Paul, Marquis de Vibraye in the 19th century. He was one of that generation of collectors with time and money enough on their hands to dabble in all sorts of curiosities. The antlers are positioned at the height they are because that is where the beast's head would have been if where me and my client are standing was the ground.

Irish Elk and other megafauna were climate change losers back in the Late Pleistocene. With the retreat of the ice and the warming of the global climate, the elk was too bulky to survive when its habitat changed. Their main predators were ferocious packs of wolves, so they couldn't afford to evolve into smaller animals. Over time their scrubby woodland habitat disappeared and they couldn't find enough to eat to sustain their huge bodies. It is commonly believed that the big males with their investment in those vast antlers were the reason for the decline and eventual extinction, but the latest theory is that it was the problems does had in nourishing big calves that actually caused the extinction. Malnutrition probably caused very high rates of mortality amongst the calves, until the population declined beyond recovery.

Irish Elk is so named because most of the specimens have come from Irish bogs, but it was present all over Eurasia and actually more like an enormous Fallow Deer, not strictly speaking an elk at all. At over 2m at the shoulder, with 4m wide antlers weighing up to 45kg, they must have been a formidable animal.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Bad Dog!

This is a detail of a Gobelins tapestry which we love. Tapestry weavers must have enjoyed dogs, as it is rare to find a 16th or 17th century tapestry without a lifelike dog somewhere, doing something doggy.

5 points if you can tell me which chateau this tapestry hangs in (and a bonus point if you can name the room).
2 points if you can tell me the name of the artist who designed the tapestry.
Farming News:  Yesterday we noticed that a farmer on the outskirts of Preuilly had mowed a large field and was busy making silage.
Quiz Answers: chm is the winner with 5 points for correctly guessing that the tapestry hangs in the chateau of Cheverny. The artist was Simon Viou and it hangs in the King's Chamber.

Monday 14 April 2014

No Pillaging Here

But plenty of rape (aka canola) at Montpoupon, taken on 2 April.
Chris Luck, who lives the other side of the Brenne to us, has written a very good post on his blog about French wildlife and beekeeping, about the relationship between honey bees and canola, which you can read here.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Surf Lifesavers

 One of the surf lifesaving stations on Bondi Beach.

 Bondi Beach.

Small bronze sculpture of a surf life boat on the headland at Bondi.

Volunteer surf lifesavers at Clovelly Beach.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Napoleon on Kent

At the end of our trip to Australia in November-December 2012 we spent a weekend in Sydney to catch up with old friends. Ever mindful of the cost of accommodation and eating out, we sought advice on good places to stay from various sources.

In the end we chose the serviced apartments Napoleon on Kent, recommended by my sister, who has stayed there with her husband a couple of times. We got a single bedroom apartment for the price of a bedsit. The price was reasonable and they advertised they had wifi. When we got there we discovered that the wifi was very expensive, so we did without, and this is one of the few criticisms I would have. Europeans are used to free unlimited wifi from accommodation providers, and having to pay by the hour comes as a nasty shock.

One of the big advantages for us was that its location could hardly be beaten. It is within easy walking distance (although down quite a steep hill) of Wynyard Station, and we arrived by train. It is also exactly half way between the workplaces of the two friends we particularly wanted to see, so we invited them for un apéro after work the evening we arrived. They were very impressed with our 'French flair' as we were all organised with dips and Lebanese bread. (Then we had to admit that it was our left over picnic lunch from the train...) There was a minor panic when we realised the apartment wasn't equipped with a corkscrew, then we realised that Australian wine is all screwcaps -- phew!

The apartment we got, number 301, was a very odd shape, situated as it was in the triangular end of the building. This was actually an advantage, because it meant we didn't have any neighbours. There was some street noise, but considering the building is directly under the freeway, it is remarkably quiet.

 We were favourably impressed by the reception staff, who seemed switched on, friendly and practical. The furnishings and kitchen gear were plain, but comfortable and robust. The only real design negative was that Simon could not stand up in the shower, as the ceiling was very low. One unusual feature, which we could see would come in very handy for a longer stay, was the extensive storage area at the entrance, made up of open shelves. Great for boots and backpacks and all those extra purchases you might make in central Sydney.

Being able to cook for yourself and not have to have every meal in a restaurant is great when you are travelling. Not only is it cheaper, but it means you can eat what you want when you want. And for people like my brother-in-law, who is coeliac, it is much the easiest way of coping with meal times.