Sunday 31 December 2017

That Was Quite a Year!

Although this year has been fraught, what with Brexit, a reduction in the numbers of independent tourists, and one or two health thingies, we've had quite a good year.

Probably the best thing that happened this year was Susan's Apero Club, a regular gathering of Anglophile French and Francophile Anglos. They have been quite relaxed and low maintenance (as far as organising is concerened) and we have got to the stage where people we don't know are arriving at apero who have been invited by someone we have invited - which is exactly the way we hoped it would be. We have met some great people, swapped some handy hints to staying sane, and had a drink (and plate of nibbles) to boot. What's not to like?

We joined the walking club in April, although we haven't been quite as scrupulous about walking as we could have been. The walks have been interesting, although hard work at the hottest time of year. A number of times both of us we worried about blowing a fu-fu valve. I'm sure it's all good for us.

Another "joining" was Loire conneXion, which is similar to Susan's Apero Club, but held at le Shaker in Amboise. They meet the first Friday of each month, and we try to get there every second meeting, work permitting. Once again, interesting and useful people, and Simon gets to practice speaking French with Jean-Michel, one of the few people we know whose English is worse than Simon's French.

We have also got to parts of France we have not seen before - but really should have. Mont St Michel, Avranches, Le Mans, bits of the Normandy coast, the 14eme of Paris. All have been surprising in their own way, and have provided good blog material.

Even further afield, we went to London for an anti-Brexit demo. We felt we had to, because one of us had been very vocal about how wrong Brexit was and felt that we should turn words into actions. We had a good day, heard some inspirational speakers, and stayed overnight with Simon's cousin Linda before driving home.

And talking of further afield, we have been in Australia for the past 6 weeks, spending quality time with family and friends and doing extensive milage up and down the east coast. No doubt more of that is to come on the blog in the following year.

Of course, there were some car events (three!), various visitors from Australia, a Belgian wedding, and a pair of peripatetic South Africans.

So that was 2017. Not a perfect year but very interesting. Thank you for reading us during the year, have a good evening, and a great 2018.

Saturday 30 December 2017

Aussie Trip 2017: week 6

This week: more mountain-top views, a christmassy fruit salad, and a moonflower.

Friday 29 December 2017

Things are Grave Part IV -- An Angel

There are surprisingly few angels in the cemetery at Montparnasse, but here is a splendid example. This is the grave of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the man who created the Statue of Liberty.

Born in Colmar in Alsace, he grew up in Paris, moving there with his mother after his father died. He studied drawing, sculpture and architecture, but finally settled on focusing on sculpture. He proposed the idea of the Statue of Liberty while he was on a trip to the United States in 1871. At the time the statue was being made his own home in Colmar was part of the territory annexed by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War and ideas of liberty were very much on his mind.

Montparnasse cemetery has 35 000 graves and 300 000 people are buried there, with about a thousand new interments every year.

We visited the cemetery in September and will be posting some examples of the graves we saw over a period of weeks.

Thursday 28 December 2017

Moulin de la Charité

In the mid 19th century four large cemetaries were built outside the city walls of Paris to replace the numerous parish burial grounds that littered the city. The Cimetière du Sud was created on grounds previously held by the monks of the Hôpital de La Charité, who had already open a small private burial ground.

The current Cimetiere Montparnasse occupies two plots, and many famous people are buried there (but more of them later). The most unexpected sight is the Moulin de la Charité, a windmill erected in the middle of the 17th century by the monks who had previously owned the site, and left standing for use as the cemetary office.

You would hardly believe this small stone building is surrounded by skyscrapers

The windmill is now empty and surrounded by warning signs, but declared a national monument.

Wednesday 27 December 2017

Bir Hakeim to Passy

A while ago I mentioned that the hotel we stayed at in September in Paris was on Metro Line 6, and how convenient that is.

My Favorite Metro station is on Metro line 6, so last time we were in Paris I took the opportunity to make a short video. Even though my camera has a 24mm wide angle lens, it isn't big enough to properly take in the view. In order to stop as much camera shake as I could I hand clamped the camera to the train window, which meant I was square on to everything. Thus you kinda get an idea of the view without getting the view. Tant pis, as they say...

You will notice the lack of clackity-clack. Line 6 is one of the Paris Metro lines that runs on rubber tyres.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Bistrot le Terminus, Amboise

We have mentioned the bistrot le Terminus near Amboise in passing a couple of times: once when we ate there with Leon, Sue, and Olivier, and once when we saw a rather nice car parked outside. We were introduced to it by Olivier in September last year and have eaten there a number of times, both with clients, and friends and family.

The bistrot itself is not the easiest to find (ask Leon and Sue!), but it is worth the effort. We usually approach from Amboise, via this route - you just have to be a bit bold with the underpass. Like many of its kind it's not in the most picturesque of places, but parking for all the white vans is plentiful, as is the food.

The entree cart

The menu is 14€50 for 3 courses, which includes buffet entree, a well cooked and generous (but not stupidly huge) main course, and buffet desserts. I will pause there... Buffet desserts.  Everything appears to be made in house and is fresh and tasty, and it is rather easy to eat too much. Drinks are extra but the wine (local, of course) is inexpensive and rather good.

Did I mention buffet desserts?

If you're in the area it is well worth visiting. If you're not in the area but close, it's worth the diversion. There aren't many establishments of this kind around Amboise, and this is an absolute beauty.

Monday 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas

Simon's homemade mince pies (he made the fruit mince and the pastry from scratch).

Sunday 24 December 2017

Large-leaved Staff Vine

Large-leaved Staff Vine Celastrus subspicata is an Australian native climbing shrub found in warm coastal rainforests, so I assume Ravensbourne National Park on the Great Dividing Range, where I photographed this one, is probably as far inland as it will be found. It is a very vigorous plant which will grow right up into the canopy of giant rainforest trees.

Earlier this year scientists who have been working with this plant published a paper saying they have extracted certain compounds from it which appear to be useful in treating prostate cancer. It also has anti-inflammatory compounds.

The flowers are fragrant.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Aussie Trip 2017: week 5

This week - mountain views, new mothers, and happy returns.

No photos of grandad, but them's the breaks.

Friday 22 December 2017

Things are Grave Part III -- Dreyfus Family

You can see this is a well visited Jewish grave by the quantity of pebbles placed there by visitors as markers of respect.

On our visit to Paris in September we stayed near Montparnasse Cemetery, so naturally we paid it a thorough visit. We will be featuring some of the more interesting graves over the next few weeks.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Concrete Evidence

When we were in Paris in September we photographed this impressive Art Nouveau building at 1 rue Danton in the 6th arrondissement. We couldn't work out what the mosaic cartouches said, but the building was looking very creamy and organic, and was presumably showing the benefits of a recent restoration. Once home we did the research and found the interesting history of this place, and better still, a local connection!

This turns out to be the first reinforced concrete building constructed in Paris. It was built by engineer and entrepreneur François Hennebique in 1893 and the architect was Edouard Arnaud. The striking mosaics were created by Alexandre Bigot. The lavish building served as Hennebique's headquarters and offices. The idea was to show that concrete could do everything traditional building materials could do, but cost less. He also promoted concrete as safe -- 'No more disasterous fires' was one of his marketing slogans.

1 rue Danton, Paris.

The four floors in the middle were apartments, with shops beneath and the top floor accommodating Hennebique's construction company offices and the 100 engineers that he employed.

The Pont Camille de Hogues in Chatellerault was the first reinforced concrete bridge designed and constructed by Hennebique's company in 1899 and was the precursor to many others. By the early 20th century Hennebique controlled 20% of the global market in reinforced concrete. With the headquarters in Paris, he created a world wide franchise, with agencies in 20 countries. By the outbreak of World War I the company had built 1500 bridges worldwide. After the war the company scaled back and just operated in France. Hennebique died in 1921 and the company ceased trading in 1967.

Pont Camille de Hogues.

The Pont Camille de Hogues was one of the first big reinforced concrete bridges to be built in France. It crosses the Vienne near its confluence with the Clain in Chatellerault. The inhabitants had been clamouring for a foot bridge for years, so they could get from their homes to the Manu, the humongeous arms factory where they all worked. Eventually the local authority decided to call for tenders for the design and construction of a new bridge.

Hennebique's local agent jumped at the chance to present his company's proposal, and since it came in at 30 000 francs less than the alternative iron bridge, they won the contract. The Ministry of the Interior's engineer responsible for roads and bridges was convinced by the design and so permission was granted. 

The design is quite classic and it resembles other bridges of the time made from iron and stone. In fact the reinforced concrete used allowed them to reduce the size of the foundations. The supporting arches are fused with the roadway so that it acts as the key to lock the structure in place. This means that the bridge is not so high, allowing a shallower ramp accessing the bridge at either end whilst still being sufficient should there be a flood.

When the bridge was finished in 1900 they tested it by running a 16 tonne steamroller over it, along with six wagons of 8 tonnes each and a column of 250 soldiers marching in step. In August 1944 it narrowly avoided being destroyed by the retreating Germans and was only saved by the negotiating skills of the Deputy Prefect. It is now listed as a historic monument and underwent extensive repairs to the metal armature between 2006 and 2009.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

The Big Picture

We normally trim the photos on the blog so you're not downloading huge amounts of stuff you'll never look at. This means most our photos are 1000 by 750 pixels, and usually less than 200kb. It all dates from the time when downloading a 30kb photo could take minutes using a dodgy dial up internet connection, and we didn't want people leaving before they saw how pretty Preuilly sur Claise was.

Of course, things have moved on since then, but because so many people (like 99%) never click on a picture in the blog to make it 1000x750 pixels we can't see the point in loading huge, data sucking pix.

However, the following photo isn't trimmed:

I didn't trim it because I can't find the 9th planet in this display on the balcons at Montrésor. Maybe it's Pluto and they didn't include it because it is (or isn't again, I can't keep up) a micro planet. Or maybe it's Pluto and it's there, but so small I haven't spotted it. Or I can't count.

Anyway - credit to Montrésor, who always manage to have something interesting in the way of public art done by the inhabitants.

Tuesday 19 December 2017


It's about that time where I realise we have yet again taken about 12,000 photos this year, but probably only talked about 1,000 of them. These are some of the things we missed showing you.

In August we went to Normandy and Brittany so Susan could meet up with a bus tour. We spent a night in Avranches with this parked outside our hotel. It's a Sherman tank, but a post World War 2 French version, placed here to commemorate Operation Cobra, the breakout of US forces from the Normandy beachheads.

In March we encountered another tank, this time in Tours. Once again, it's not a tank that served in World War 2 in France even though it is masquerading as such. This one is an M24 "Chaffee", and we have no idea why it happened to be where it was on that date. The group that operates the tank has its website (and more photos) here.

Monday 18 December 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 12 Louise de Savoie

Louise de Savoie was a woman of her time. At the end of the 15th century and throughout the 16th century we see a series of powerful, influential, cultured, clever, politically active women and Louise is one of the them. She sits at the heart of the power struggles between France and the Hapsburg Empire, and had a foot in both camps through the convoluted intermarriages common at this time.

Her mother died in 1483 when she was seven years old and she was sent by her father to live with her aunt Anne de Beaujeu, at that point Regent for the young king Charles VIII. At the age of 12 Louise was married off to the Duke of Angouleme, a man 17 years her senior and who she did not know. Fortunately for Louise he popped his clogs, leaving her a widow (and single mother of two children) at 20. 

Refusing all further marriage deals she dedicated the rest of her life to promoting the interests of the children. Marguerite became Queen of Navarre (and from there, the grandmother of Henri IV) whilst  François got to marry the daughter of Louis XII and become the next King of France.

Louise acted as François' Regent while he waged war in northern Italy in 1515, and again in 1525 when François managed to get himself captured at Pavia by riding in front of his own cannon so they had to stop shooting. He was imprisoned by Charles V in Spain and part of the deal to have him released was that François had to marry Charles's sister, his sons being sent to Spain to provide surety that François would honour the treaty. 

Louise worked all the angles to get her grandsons released. Charles's mother, Marguerite of Austria, was his regent in the Netherlands, and it counted for a lot that she and Louise had grown up together in the court of Anne de Beaujeu. Ultimately they negotiated the 'Ladies' Peace' in 1529 but the ransom for the young princes was 1 200 000 gold crowns. It took Louise a year to raise the money and a mule train of 32 heavily laden pack animals transported it to Spain.

By then worn out and suffering from gout she died in 1531, leaving her son to rule on his own. He promptly re-ignited the war against Charles V.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Auguste Clésinger in 1851. To see Louise looking rather stern you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Spider Ant

This spider ant Leptomyrmex sp was photographed in Ravensbourne National Park in south-east Queensland. This genus of ants is distinctive, with long legs and antennae, and a habit of carrying their gaster (abdomen) raised above their bodies. This enables them to shoot formic acid at any enemy in front of them.

Spider ants can be found in many environments, but especially in damp mountain forest like Ravensbourne.

Saturday 16 December 2017

Aussie Trip 2017: week 4

This week - views of the country and coast, a bushfire damaged scientific site, A bird fishing (most unexpectedly) and a pile of fish and chips you couldn't jump over.

Friday 15 December 2017

Things are Grave Part II -- Do Fish Have Nipples?

This bronze fish with breasts was created by the sculptor Alex Berdal in 1990. It bears an inscription Il fait son choix d'anchois et dîne d'une sardine ('He makes his choice of anchovy and dines on a sardine'). The deceased is unnamed. The work is called Poisson Sirène ('Fish Mermaid') and is the first of eight castings in a limited edition.

On our visit to Paris in September we stayed near Montparnasse Cemetery, so naturally we paid it a thorough visit. We will be featuring some of the more interesting graves over the next few weeks.

Thursday 14 December 2017

The Mini Chateau at Souzay Champigny

We have written about Margaret of Anjou's chateau in Souzay Champigny  before, but it's a lovely building and quite possibly larger than you would suspect.

This is obviously chateau
(and has a board to tell you so)

This shares the same cliff face and  could easily be a part of the chateau
 - you can see the end of the chateau on the right

This is one of those "I could live there" buildings. Not sure about the little hole in the rock place next door, but the staff have to live somewhere...

Wednesday 13 December 2017

I Don't Know Why

...but this photo, taken a quite while ago now, really amuses me. Maybe it's just my puerile sense of humour...

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Random Cars

... in random places.

When we are out on the road we often see interesting cars. It could be because we are often driving an interesting car and go to places where interesting cars naturally congregate, or it could be just that I notice them. Usually I recognise the car, but sometimes I have to do some research (or ask in a car forum) as I did with the following car:

Salmson 2300 S A slightly poor photo, but it was almost dark when it was taken .
A few weeks before we saw this Jaguar XK120 fixed head coupé (no research necessary there) waiting outside the church in Montresor where a wedding was taking place. It's interesting to note that it had Polish plates, so I wonder if the wedding was something to do with the chateau. (I know, I could do research, but I research cars, not weddings!)

 And then there was the Delahaye in June. Still my favorite random car in a random place.

Monday 11 December 2017

Monday is Queens Day: 11 Marguerite d'Anjou

Marguerite d'Anjou was born in 1430, probably in Nancy and died in 1482 at the Chateau de Morains, Dampierre sur Loire. Her aunt Marie d'Anjou was Queen of France, married to Charles VII, and her grandmother was the redoubtable sponsor of Joan of Arc, Yolande of Aragon.

Henry Beaufort and William de la Pole convinced the English king Henry VI that the best way to conclude the peace after the 100 Years War with France was to marry the neice of the French king. So the marriage was negotiated as part of the Treaty of Tours in 1444. The deal included the French king paying no dowry and receiving the Duchies of Maine and Anjou, previously under the control of the English. Not really the best start to the arrangement.

Nevertheless, in 1453 Marguerite produced a son, Edward of Westminster. There were however persistant rumours that he was the son of the Duke of Somerset, and the king was not his father. Marguerite also founded Queens College Cambridge early in their marriage and took an active interest in politics.

When Henry VI developed signs of instability, Somerset and Marguerite found themselves pitted against Richard Duke of York. Their personal rivalry led to the Wars of the Roses. The Yorkists won and Marguerite fled to Scotland. Later she took her son to France, where her cousin Louis XI received them with little familial warmth. 

In a last ditch attempt to reclaim the throne for her son Marguerite returned to England with an army, but was defeated at Tewkesbury in 1471. She was captured and imprisoned. Her son Edward was beheaded on the battlefield. Louis XI eventually ransomed her, on condition that her father hand over much of his territory to the crown, and in 1476 she returned to France and lived with her father in Aix en Provence.

After her father died in 1480 she came back to Anjou and lived in several manor houses and chateaux between Angers and Montsoreau. She is buried with her parents in the choir of Angers cathedral.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Ferdinand Taluet in 1877. To see Margeurite looking fiercely protective you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday 10 December 2017

Snail Shell

I think this is a very bleached Giant Panda Snail Hedleyella falconeri shell. I photographed it on the rainforest floor in Ravensbourne National Park in south-east Queensland.

These large snails are eaten by Lyrebirds Menura spp and Noisy Pitta Pitta versicolor. They in turn eat fungi, particularly bracket fungi from the Polyporaceae family, and forage in the leaf litter of damp sub-tropical forests. They grow slowly, but once mature can be 10cm across. If fresh the shells are shades of brown with radiating irregular black bands.

Update: I am told that this is in fact Frasers Banded Snail Sphaerospira fraseri. Here are a couple of links to museum articles about this species:

Frasers Banded Snail, Queensland Museum.

Breeding of Frasers Rainforest Snail, Australian Museum.

Saturday 9 December 2017

Aussie Trip 2017: week 3

Week three was on the road in the southern states - Victoria and the south coast of New South Wales.

 Click on the photos for full splendiferousness.

Friday 8 December 2017

Things are Grave Part 1 -- Port Arthur Ginsburg

On our visit to Paris in September we stayed near Montparnasse Cemetery, so naturally we paid it a thorough visit. We will be featuring some of the more interesting graves over the next few weeks.

Moïsei Akimovitch Ginsburg was a Jewish Ukranian businessman based in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg and the Manchurian city of Port Arthur. He was widely known as Ginsburg of Port Arthur and was a member of a committee of powerful men in the Russian Empire's Jewish community who organised aid for Jews displaced and starving due to the pogroms at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. He and the aid committee lobbied the deeply anti-semitic Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II to rescind anti-Jewish laws and prevent attacks on Jews. The Ginsburg family was closely connected to the Rothschilds and used this connection to influence political affairs in Russia, particularly in the matter of the Russo-Japanese war.

Ginsburg had an extensive trading network throughout China and Japan and supplied the Russian army throughout the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, both with goods and intelligence. The Rothschilds meanwhile were financing the Russian war effort, at least partly motivated by a desire to win concessions for the Jewish population, whilst simultaneously secretly funding the Japanese. As such, they were all involved in 'The Great Game' and the machinations over the emerging petro-chemical industry in the Caucasus.

Ginsburg and his business partner, the notorious quadruple agent Sidney Reilly, capitalised on the Japanese threat to Port Arthur and made a fortune as profiteers selling food, medicine and coal to the Russians. Moïsei Akimovitch Ginsburg used his great fortune for philanthropic work in Saint Petersburg, building an almshouse and a prayer house at the cemetery for the community. Nowadays he is either forgotten or conflated with various other members of the family or contemporaries with similar names.

I can't find out why he is buried in Paris, but I assume the family came as a result of the Russian Revolution.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Mud Rescue

I photographed this machine when we were in Mont St Michel in July. I wonder what sort of siren it has?