Monday, 31 August 2020

Stuffed Tomatoes


Stuffed tomatoes ready for the oven.
Stuffed tomatoes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Tomates farcies is a classic French late summer country dish and a staple of workers restaurant menus during the season that big tomatoes are abundant and inexpensive.

Ingredients
6 very large tomatoes
600 g minced pork*
2 tbsp uncooked rice
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Several sprigs of parsley, leaves finely chopped, stems discarded
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 egg
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method
  1.  Heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Wash the tomatoes, cut out the stem core and slice off the top.
  3. Scoop out the seeds and flesh, taking care not to pierce the skin.
  4. Sprinkle a little coarse salt on the insides of the tomatoes then stand them upside down on kitchen paper to drain for 20 minutes.
  5. Using your hand, mix together the pork mince, rice, onion, garlic, parsley, a dash of olive oil, egg and salt and pepper. 
  6. Fill the tomato shells with the meat mixture.
  7. Put them in an oiled baking dish that they are a fairly neat fit in.
  8. Sit the tomato tops back on the stuffed tomatoes.
  9. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil.
  10. If you have left over stuffing, put it in an oiled ramekin and bake it with the tomatoes. You can treat it as a mini meatloaf or a terrine. You can also just form it into a pattie and cook it with the tomatoes.
  11. Bake for an hour.
  12. Serve with plain boiled brown rice.
*Pork mince in France is sold as chair à farci ('flesh for stuffing'). It is often mixed fifty-fifty with veal mince and/or seasoned with garlic and parsley. If it does not contain garlic and parsley it is referred to as nature ('plain').

************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Monitoring the Mummified Cat


In the mid-19th century it was common to place a mummified cat under the floor or in the wall of a new building in Australia, to ward of evil spirits. It was a practice that had emigrated along with the colonisers from Britain. Glengallan Homestead, near Warwick in south-east Queensland, turned out to have such a cat, discovered in the early 21st century when renovations took place.

Mummified cat under the floorboards and controlled atmosphere conservation, Glengallan Homestead, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Cats were linked to witchcraft and in this capacity were thought to prevent evils such as diseases from entering. Typically the animals were positioned on the left hand (sinister) side of the building because that is the side from which evil would naturally approach and attempt to gain entry. 

The cat has probably been deliberately killed and embalmed to preserve it as part of a secretive ritual associated with the builders' trade guild. Now it lies in a controlled atmosphere box with a clear top so visitors can see it and learn about the practice. Humidity, temperature and light are all carefully monitored and controlled with the aid of the large modern apparatus in the corner. Modern heritage conservation at work and allowed to be visible.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Black Kites


Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Black Kites Milvus migrans (Fr. Milan noir) are birds I knew quite well before I arrived in France. They are widely distributed in Australia and I have seen them often. Now that we live in central France they are one of the few species we have in common with our old life in Australia.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

We spent a happy hour or so watching Black Kites hunting for small mammals, reptiles and grasshoppers in the marsh around Brouage in the Charente-Maritime when we visited in June. The grass was being mown just outside the fort and the ramparts afforded us a great view of the kites aerial agility as they followed the tractor.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Black kites are just as likely to scavenge as actively hunt, and they are usually seen circling on thermals, scanning the ground for anything tasty. They are easy to identify, as although not really black, they are fairly uniformly dark, with a distinctive silhouette, including a forked tail which they twist and adust constantly, and long, bent, fingered, rather narrow wings.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Here in Europe the population comes and goes with the seasons. They will arrive from Africa at the end of winter to breed, and depart again at the end of summer, whereas in Australia you can see them throughout the year. They are one of the many species first described by the great French biologist the Comte de Buffon, and the type species is in the collection of the French National Natural History Museum.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

In Australia Black Kites have been observed patrolling the leading edges of grass fires, and even grabbing glowing sticks and moving them into new areas to start new fires which will flush out small prey.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Where you see one Black Kite you are likely to see several others, as they are a gregarious species. They are the most abundant bird of prey in the world, and France has a population of about 25 000 breeding pairs. Charente-Maritime is a hotspot for them, and their population appears to be increasing. Marshes like the area around Brouage are typical and favoured habitat for them.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Black Kites are a protected species in France.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Black kite Milvus migrans. Charente-Maritime. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 28 August 2020

Graffiti in the Chapel of Chenonceau


Like most chateaux in the Loire Valley Chenonceau has quite a lot of intriguing graffiti. The most famous is in the doorway of the chapel. Rather curiously for a chateau in the heart of France, it is in English, and is supposedly the work of Mary Stuart's Scottish bodyguards. This provenance is probably rubbish, but the two phrases one can see are nonetheless interesting. As is a third panel of graffiti, clearly part of the same set, inside the chapel on the north wall.

There could have been Scots in the chateau in 1543, the date carved alongside the graffiti. It was owned by Francois I at that point, and relations with Scotland were close. But if the date is correct then it wasn't one of Mary Stuart's bodyguards. Mary, aka Mary Queen of Scots, didn't arrive in France until 1548. At the time, Scotland was a staunchly Catholic country, but by the time she returned twelve years later, Protestantism had taken hold.

Graffiti in the chapel of Chenonceau. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Ignoring the top line, which is illegible and in a different hand, the wording appears to be 'THE GRACE FORSWCHT OF GOD IS PAYS AND TYIF IN IESU CHRST OVR TORD', dated 1543. I think that translates as something like 'The grace [?] of God is peace and life in Jesus Christ Our Lord'. I initially thought the mystery word might be the German word forscht and could be translated into English in this context as 'sought', so the phrase becomes 'The grace sought of God is peace and life in Jesus Christ Our Lord'. But luckily I know a Scottish medieval historian, and he suggested the word was forsicht, an arcane Scots form of 'forsooth' (which in modern English would be 'in truth' or 'indeed'). So the phrase is possibly a garbled version of a verse from St Paul's letter to the Romans, and should read "Forsooth the grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord".

Grace is a tricky thing, especially at this point in history, and it seems that the person who scratched this on the wall has been influenced by the new Reformist ideas being secretly disseminated all over Western Europe. I think if you wrote this and were caught you might be subjected to some frightening and uncomfortable questioning. The phrase following this in the Wycliffe Bible, the most popular Reformist text, talks about how the soul serves God's law, but the flesh gives itself over to sin -- a core Reformist concept. But if the graffiti is Reformist it could be one explanation of the somewhat peculiar English.

The phrase may look like English, but it seems likely it was not written by someone for whom it was their mother tongue (and that would include Scots at this time). If they were repeating a phrase from a Reformist text they had read or heard, then they were probably reading or hearing it in English, and perhaps not from a native speaker either. Switzerland at this point was a haven for Protestant activists and they had printing presses. Much of what they were printing and distributing was in English, as a lingua franca to reach and influence the maximum number of people. So our graffiti writer might not have quite remembered English grammar or spelling correctly.

This early Protestant Scot, if that is who is responsible for the graffiti, might not have owned a copy of the Reformist Bible himself -- that would be too dangerous. Instead, he might have heard these words spoken and memorised them. There might be a sort of Chinese whispers effect going on, where the words are passed on orally and not always repeated accurately.

But to be honest, the real mystery is why the graffiti is still there. Two decades after it was inscribed the chapel was refurbished by Catherine de Medici. Why was the graffiti left there and not erased? It would have been the work of minutes to simply rasp it off with a traditional block smoothing tool. And why did all of those subsequent owners, every one of them Catholic, leave it there if it expressed a Protestant idea? 

My medieval historian friend suggests that after the Council of Trent in 1545 - 1565, during which the Roman Catholic Church developed and laid out its response to Protestantism, even Catholics might have been queasy about erasing a religious text, no matter what its origin.

Many thanks to Niall Duthie who condensed a very challenging religious concept into a few easy to digest paragraphs, and made very helpful suggestions regarding the Scottish aspect of this mystery.

************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Notice Something Missing at Chambray?


On Monday we drove through Chambray lès Tours for the first time in months, and realised that a certain landmark was missing. Set high up on a mound in the median strip of the D910 was a historic signalling device called a Chappe telegraph, part of a type of military semaphore system. It was removed for restoration in December (which just goes to show how long it is since we went to Tours!).

The Chappe Telegraph in Chambray lès Tours, photographed several years ago.
Chappe telegraph, Chambray les Tours. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The signalling device in the middle of the road was in fact a replica. Claude Chappe put his original communication system in place during the Revolution, in 1794. Initially adopted by the military, the Chappe telegraph was a network of articulated semaphore arms set about 15 kilometres apart. The number of possible combinations of arm positions gave messengers the use of 8464 encoded words. 

The one at Chambray was erected in 1822 as part of the Paris-Bordeaux-Bayonne network. It was placed on a pyramidal tower and observers used telescopes to read it from Montbazon in one direction and Tours in the other. In Montbazon the semaphore was placed on top of the castle keep. In Chambray the area around the device is known as Le Télégraphe and there is a street named after it.

The invention of the electric telegraph in 1845 meant the end of the Chappe telegraph. Today the modern equivalent is the mobile phone mast erected on the site of the former Le Télégraphe water tower.

************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

The Chenonceau Chapel Windows


The Chenonceau Chapel windows, although stained glass, are not particularly old. The five tall narrow lancet window bays that curve around the apse date from the 16th century, but the stained glass they hold dates from 1954.

The saint on the left is clearly George, but I haven't worked out who is on the right.
Stained glass windows in the chapel of the Chateau of Chenonceau. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

When Marguerite Pelouze was the owner in the 19th century she had two smaller paired windows added, between the original windows and the gallery. They were based on drawings by the artist Louis Charles Auguste Steinheil, who specialised in medieval art and had contributed to the 19th century restoration of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

All of the glass, both 16th and 19th century, was destroyed on 7 July 1944, when an American plane bombed the chateau. After the War the renowned 20th century French master stained glass artist Max Ingrand was commissioned by the Menier family, owners since 1913, to create new windows for the chapel. I think these are his own design, rather than working as usual with the designer Jean Gourmelin (many thanks to my friend Pierre who phoned Gourmelin's widow to check the details of his collaboration with Ingrand.) Ingrand and Gourmelin worked together after the War on the windows of the chapel of Saint Hubert at the Chateau of Amboise. To recognise Gourmelin's work, look for the little dog with the curly tail, who is his personal 'signature', and I will have to visit both chateau to check for it.

The windows are a great example of modern heritage conservation practice. They are clearly modern and no attempt has been made to create 16th century lookalikes. This is considered the appropriate solution when there is no possibility of repairing the original fabric of a building, and an element must be replaced. Best practice is to create the best possible work that is contemporary to your own time, so that the buildings timeline is respected and the visitor is not deceived. Modern additions must respect the aesthetic and spirit of the building, but should be identifiable as dating from the period they were made.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

The Galerie des Domes, Chenonceau


Galerie des Domes (stableblock), Chenonceau. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time travel.

The Galerie des Dômes at Chenonceau is the long grand building you see to your right as you come into the entrance courtyard. It is a service building, originally consisting of stables, wine cellar and apothecary. It still has all of those things but the stables have been converted to a cafe and toilets have been added in modern times. In addition it now houses a reconstruction of the World War One hospital that was on site between 1914 and 1918. It is a fairly early addition to the famous chateau estate, having been constructed during Catherine de Medici's ownership in the third quarter of the 16th century.

************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Monday, 24 August 2020

Lentil and Kohlrabi Salad


The underused root vegetable kohlrabi, with its mild mustardy crunchiness, goes well with lentils, with their mealy earthiness.

Lentil and kohlrabi salad.
Homemade lentil and kohlrabi salad. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Ingredients
1 cup lentils
2 cups water
A shallot, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
A kohlrabi
A couple of handfuls of walnuts, broken up into pieces and gently toasted
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp walnut oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Method
  1. Simmer the lentils and shallot in the water for 25 minutes with the lid on. The lentils will absorb the water.
  2. Season the lentils with salt.
  3. Peel the kohlrabi and cut into small dice.
  4. Put the kohlrabi and walnuts in a bowl and season with salt, pepper and cumin, then dress with a couple of glugs of oil and vinegar. Toss.
  5. Add the lentils and toss again.
 Pink lentils from the Berry.Pink lentils from the Berry. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

This salad is simple and satisfying.  I used pink lentils from the Berry, just to our east, but you could use any green, brown, blonde or black whole lentils. Just don't go for those that have been skinned and split, like red lentils.

Kohlrabi.
Kohlrabi. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

If you can't get kohlrabi then cucumber or carrot could be substituted. Cut cucumber or kohlrabi into 1 cm dice, carrot into 5 mm dice. If walnuts are a problem, substitute sunflower seeds.

Homegrown walnuts.
Homegrown walnuts. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Sesame oil could be used instead of walnut oil, and sherry vinegar instead of cider vinegar. 


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Red Cedar Staircase


Red cedar staircase in Glengallan Homestead. Queensland. Australia. Photo by Loire Valley time Travel.

This sweeping staircase is in Glengallan homestead, in the Southern Downs region of Queensland, Australia. It is made of Australian Red Cedar Toona ciliata, a now rare native sub-tropical rainforest hardwood in the mahogany family, much prized for joinery in the 19th century in Australia. The staircase dates from 1867. The wood most likely did not come from very far away, but I doubt you would find a wild living tree nearby now. The land all around was cleared long ago for cattle and crops. Australian Red Cedar is now hard to come by, but not impossible. It is grown commercially on a limited scale in Brazil, and trees are still harvested from the wild in northern Queensland and New Guinea. Cedar interiors in colonial style properties and furniture is highly sought after in Australia.

************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Aestivating Escargots


Throughout much of southern, western and northern France, when the weather is dry, you may notice tiny snails strung around plants and posts like pearl necklaces. They are particularly abundant at the coast, but also inland up the Loire Valley. They are Striped Snails Cernuella virgata (Fr. Caragouille globeuse) and they are aestivating, choosing tall plants like the big umbellifers and teasels or wooden fence posts.

Striped Snails (mostly) on a post on Ile de Ré.
Striped Snails Cernuella virgata. Ile de Ré. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

When it rains a thin film of algae grows on the plant stems or fence posts. The snails, which up to this point have been lurking about at ground level, climb up to feast on the algae, but once the sun comes out and dries everything out they are trapped. In order to survive and not dessicate they produce a papery seal of mucus and stick themselves to the stem to wait out the dry spell. Being elevated from the ground makes a significant difference to the temperature they have to deal with too, with the ground being hotter than up on a plant. Once it rains again they can move on, restore their moisture levels and get back to grazing and gaining weight.

************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 21 August 2020

The View From a Balcony in Chenonceau


Chateau de Chenonceau. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Lovely views are to be obtained from any window or balcony in Chenonceau.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Thursday, 20 August 2020

From the Cedar to the Chateau


The Chateau of Chenonceau. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A photo of Chenonceau taken in June, from under the big Atlas Cedar that grows at the end of the stable block. The tower in front is part of the older medieval structure that was on the site, and behind it the iconic early renaissance chateau, which sits in the River Cher and crosses from one bank to the other.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Swimming in the Anglin


Obscured by the trees is a prehistoric site of international significance.
Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

There are lots of places to go 'wild' swimming around where we live. Most of the rivers have designated swimming spots. The Loire itself is a rather dangerous river to swim in, but many of its tributaries and rivers in the Loire catchment have wide deep calm sections that are very appealing.

Old stone cistern on the side of the river.
Old stone cistern on the Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A week ago, just as the heatwave was coming to an end we were invited by Ingrid to go swimming in the Anglin. She had to go back to the Netherlands a couple of days later, so it was our last chance to be introduced to her favourite spot. 

We were told that these stones in the shallows were an old fish trap.
It could date from anytime between twenty thousand years ago and a hundred years ago.
Old fish trap on the Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The Anglin has a wonderful public swimming spot in Angles sur l'Anglin, just by the bridge, very popular with locals and tourists alike. You can picnic there and canoe as well as splash around or even swim seriously -- it's big enough and deep enough to offer something for everyone. But Ingrid's spot is accessed via private property, and far enough out of town that visitors don't often make it there. A number of locals swim there every day, even during winter, and the owner is happy for them to do so.

Rocks in the river bed coloured by minerals.
Rocks coloured by minerals in the Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

We were absolutely bowled over by what a great swimming spot it is, with deep water for more than half a kilometre, so you can really swim. Along one side is high limestone cliffs and the other side is cattle pasture. The water the day we swam was warm, except where there are springs (and there are quite a few of them). There wasn't much current so swimming against the current wasn't much different to swimming with it. In total we swam about a kilometre, but it felt like more because you have to swim all the time, unlike in a pool, where you can stop at the end of the lane and can use the pool edge to provide impulsion every 25 metres. Huub went up and back five times to our once, so he swam five kilometres.

The walk in.
Walking along the Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

As for most wild swimming, you need footwear suitable for walking in the water, as there are places in the river you need to cross on foot. I also chose to wear a cap, to keep my hair out of my eyes, and goggles. Simon chose to keep his sunglasses on and eschewed goggles, Ingrid tied her hair in a topknot and wore goggles. Huub wore goggles too and did serious ploughing up and down while the rest of us pootled our way upstream doing a random mixture of strokes and mostly chatting and looking out for kingfishers.

Simon and Huub heading for the swimming hole.
Walking along the Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The water must be full of minerals because Simon ended up with a yellowish tide mark on his beard, and Huub's hair got stained too. Later we saw many river stones coated in either red, which we assume is iron, or green, which we suspect is copper. Near where we swam is a ford and signs of old industrial activity. Although we couldn't see it because of the trees, there is a major archaeological site on the cliffs, where carvings dating from twelve to twenty thousand years ago were found.

A large worked rock in the river, evidence of industrial activity, 
probably in the 19th or early 20th century.
Large worked rock in the Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Photos are limited because we only had our little pocket camera with us, we want to be discreet about the location, and we were mostly swimming. It was a really wonderful experience, which we hope to repeat.

Public recreation area on the Anglin near the bridge at Angles sur l'Anglin
 (photo taken in August last year).
Public recreation area on the Anglin River. Vienne. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Taking the Test


Antibody tests for Covid19 are now easily available in France at your pharmacy. They cost €18 and you don't get reimbursed, but you don't need a prescription either. Claire the pharmacist explained that the test was for people who had symptoms at least two weeks earlier. The test checks for two types of antibody, so will pick up if you currently have it, or if you have had it in the past. However, it is a bit quick and dirty, involving just a pinprick to get blood, which is then put on a reactive scale. If you test positive you are advised to have a full laboratory test, either a full blood test or the dreaded swab up the nose test.
 
Covid19 antibody test results. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Simon wanted to be tested because he had a virus in February that we wondered if it was actually Covid19, so I made an appointment with Claire. She explained how the test worked and set up the patient consultation room for him. The chair and desk were disinfected and a perspex screen put across the table to protect Simon from Claire and vice versa. Both were wearing masks too.

She pricked his finger and dabbed the reactive strip with his blood. Then we had to sit around twiddling our thumbs and making slightly awkward conversation for 10 minutes to make sure the reaction had time to become visible. Claire pointed out that she knew the test was working properly because there was a control reaction at the top.

Anyway after the time was up there was no sign of a reaction, so Simon has tested negative for Covid19. Claire gave us the test strip and filled out a form to confirm he had the test and that the result was negative. 

************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Monday, 17 August 2020

Blackbird Pudding


Bread and butter pudding. Prepared and Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

This isn't a traditional local recipe but I felt it was a nice creative use of local ingredients. One of our local bakeries makes 'aperitif sticks', which are baton shaped breads impregnated with either dried fruit, or chorizo. Every now and then I end up with leftovers. The chorizo ones can be cut up and frozen, ready to be used as croutons in soup. And it turns out the dried fruit ones make excellent bread and butter pudding.

Buttered bread in a lasagne dish.
Buttered bread for bread and butter pudding. Prepared and Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Ingredients
500 g mirabelles (small yellow plums), stoned, halved
125 g sugar (plus a generous tablespoon extra for the plums)
2 dried fruit aperitif sticks, sliced
Soften butter
Vanilla extract
200 ml cream
500 ml milk
5 eggs

Method
  1. Heat the oven to 200C.
  2. Spread the plums out in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with sugar.
  3. Bake the plums for 20 minutes then turn the oven off, remove the plums and set aside to cool.
  4. Butter a lasagne dish.
  5. Thinly spread butter on both cut sides of the bread stick pieces.
  6. Spread the bread out on the base of the lasagne dish.
  7. Top the bread with the plums, including any juice.
  8. Whisk together the eggs and sugar together, then whisk in the cream, milk and vanilla.
  9. Pour the custard mixture carefully over the bread and fruit.
  10. Heat the oven to 160C.
  11. While the oven heats set the pudding aside to let the bread soak up some custard and soften.
  12. Bake for 40 minutes.
  13. Serves 6, warm or cold.
Plums added to bread.
Making bread and butter pudding. Prepared and photographed by Susan Walter.

This works equally well with chunks of stale panettone. Any nice tart plum works well, as do nectarines.

Soaking before baking.
Bread and butter pudding ready for the oven. Prepared and photographed by Susan Walter.

The plums for this particular version came from my friend Jean, who writes Baking in Franglais and who had a glut in the summer of 2019 and kindly gave me some for the freezer.

Eggs and dairy, as usual, came from my local dairy farm who deliver.

The bakery that the aperitif sticks come from is owned and run by Sophie and Aurélien Merle. In English they would be Mr and Mrs Blackbird.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Sailing on Lake Burley Griffin


Sailing on Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra. Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel. 
Lake Burley Griffin divides the city centre of Canberra from the Parliamentary Triangle. It was created by damming the Molonglo River. Although it is named after him, what was built was not the lake Walter Burley Griffin had designed, but it is still the centre piece of Canberra's landscape.

Sailing on Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra. Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Sailing on Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra. Australia. Photo by Loire Valle Time Travel.

These photos were taken on Lake Ginninderra, which was Canberra's second man-made lake. Simon used to sail on Lake Burley Griffin in the 1970's, before the new lake was built, but that was in the day of film cameras. We only have one photo of that and it's a bit of a blurry mess.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Brouage



The village of Brouage was top of our list of places to visit when we spent a few days in the Charente-Maritime in June. It is a village entirely contained within a 17th century Vauban designed star fort. It was once a port on the sea, but the water has receded so that today Brouage sits in a marsh. The star fort was the attraction for us, but what we hadn't realised that the village is full of artists' workshops and the battlements are the place from which to watch storks feeding in the marshes.

Between Rochefort and the Ile d'Oléron, and once right on the Atlantic Ocean, the village is one of the official 'plus beaux villages de France' ('most beautiful villages in France'). Now it nestles in the heart of a 3000 hectare marsh, and has some of the best all year round pleasant weather in France. One of the major attractions is birdwatching from the town walls or along the signposted local walking trails. You will see herons, ducks, waders such as spotted redshank or northern lapwing, as well as the white storks which have been on the site since the end of the 1970s.







Friday, 14 August 2020

The Life of a Sinner


Foulques III d'Anjou, or Fulk Nerra ('The Black Chieftan')  as he is usually called, is our local medieval bad boy. He was one of the most active warlords of his day, and a great builder. His life was a hectic cycle of destructive wars, remarkable buildings, ferocious revenge and fervent repentance.

His feats of arms and acts of villany have come down to us through several medieval chronicles. Because the contemporary historians and later story tellers interwove fact with classical myth and legend, it can be difficult to unpick the truth of his eventful life.

Reconstruction of medieval scaffolding on Fulk's ruined tower at Langeais.
Reconstructed medieval scaffolding. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

At seventeen years old Fulk inherited his father's territory of Anjou in 987. His mother, Adele of Vermandois, had died when he was five. His father Geoffroy, known as Grisegonelle ('Grey Mantle') was legendary for his bravery, and died on the battle field in the service of the King of France, Hugues Capet.

Although Fulk had a tutor to teach him grammar and the other arts considered essential, he had been a squire learning the art of fighting alongside his father since he was twelve. By seventeen he was an enormous young man, a veritable giant for those times, physically big and powerful. As his father's squire he would have looked after his weapons and horse, and accompanied him on long military campaigns. He was a tough lad, hardy and strong. He would have been well schooled in using the weapons of the day too. Like many warriors of his class, his favourite weapon was the lance, which he preferred to the sword, which was too heavy and too short unless you were in close combat. By the time he was seventeen he had also learnt the subtleties of military strategy and rudimentary diplomacy.

Beaulieu-lès-Loches.
Beaulieu-les-Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Fulk inherited not just his father's traditional lands of Anjou and the Gatinais, but also some castles in the Touraine and Poitou that had been acquired by force. In order to keep these captured domaines he had to act quickly to reinforce the numbers of defenders in each of them. Land was wealth in those days so the favourite activity of men like Fulk was to sally forth and ravage the lands of their immediate neighbours. They destroyed vineyards, stole livestock, drained millstreams, massacred serfs, burned villages and claimed ransoms for any well known prisoners. In order to hold territory it was necessary to wage unrelenting war, and Fulk at this time was described by one of the chroniclers as a 'wild beast'. The other way of expanding territory was to seek a well endowed wife. Fulk set his sights on Elisabeth, daughter of the Count of Vendome, Bouchard the Venerable.

Initially Fulk was mostly interested in grabbing land from his neighbouring Counts of Brittany and Blois. But after a few years under his belt he made the City of Tours his ultimate target. In fact, he never managed to capture Tours in his lifetime. It was left to his son Geoffroy Martel to take that prize.

The Chateau of Montrichard.
Montrichard Castle. Loir et Cher. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Fulk was a clever strategist and organised his army into four legions of a thousand warriors which were sent to the four corners of his territories. He was a formidable warlord. He cut the army of Blois to pieces at Amboise. His sister's husband Conan of Brittany was given the same treatment when he tried to take Angers. Two of Conan's sons (Fulk's nephews) were killed and the Count of Brittany humiliated. Conan allied himself with the Normans and tried again. It was a fatal mistake and he died on the battlefield.

The contradictory nature of Fulk started to show itself with the first of his really shocking sins. A priest who called him a vile thug was pursued, on horseback, fully armed, into a church. After the red mist cleared Fulk realised that God would have seen and his mortal soul was in danger. He went barefoot, in a hair shirt, to do penance at Saint Martin's tomb.

 Outer defensive walls of the Chateau of Loches.
Outer defensive walls of the Chateau of Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

In order to give himself some respite from the constant campaigning he started constructing defenses. Massive fortified camps appeared, wooden towers, dungeons, fortified houses and castles, wherein he placed loyal men, in places such as Langeais and Montbazon, Montrésor and Loudun. Buildings popped up like mushrooms during the autumn construction period. They ranged from simple wooden forts on a mound of earth surrounded by a palisade, to massive fortified buildings protected by crenellated curtain walls and a deep moat. These defensive positions were no more than thirty kilometres apart ie a days march for a military squad.

 The ruin of Fulk's keep at Langeais.
Ruins of Fulk Nerra's 10C keep at Langeais. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

But in 1000 he is distracted by another issue, closer to home. His wife of twelve years, Elisabeth, had only ever given him a single daughter, Adele, as offspring. He was desperate to have a son, but then he found out that Elisabeth was having an affair, taking advantage of his long absences. When she realised that he knew she barricaded herself inside the citadel of Angers. According to the chronicles he laid seige and finally captured her. She fell (or was thrown) from a tower, but did not die from the fall -- whereupon he killed her and burned her body. The chronicle also says the pyre caused the whole city of Angers to burn but this does not seem to be true.

For this sin he sought forgiveness, and went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1003, leaving his lands in the custodianship of his half-brother Maurice. It was almost a century before the first Crusade and the pilgrimage was simply to get to Jerusalem, not to fight. The journey was dangerous, through hostile territory.

Jerusalem, as depicted on a shield held by a sadly mutilated angel in the abbey church at Beaulieu.
Carving of Jerusalem in the abbey church at Beaulieu les Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

On his return to Anjou eighteen months later he was full of new resolutions to be a better person and began the construction of several new monasteries. Amongst them was the monastery at Beaulieu les Loches, not far from his fortress at Loches. Monks were hired to pray for his soul day and night at Beaulieu. He also built a monastery in Angers which was so well endowed it began to rival Fleury and Reims as a centre of learning.

At Christmas 1005 he decided it was time to remarry and chose Hildegard of Sundgau, a descendent of Charlemagne. In time she have him four children -- three girls (Adelaide, Blanche and Hermengarde), and the longed for son (Geoffroy, born in 1006).

 Fulk's keep at Loches.
Fulk Nerra's keep at Loches. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

A few years later he arranged the assassination of Count Palatine Hugues de Beauvais, an ally of Count Eude of Blois. Unfortunately Hugues was also a trusted and close advisor to the King, Robert II. The act was considered high treason and he was threatened with ex-communication. Fulk had little choice but to hand over control of Anjou to Maurice again, and head off to Palestine.

This pilgrimage gives us the most famous story about Fulk. When he got to Jerusalem he found the gates of the city closed to Christians. He was forced to bribe his way in, and then was told that he could not visit the Holy Sepulchre unless he pissed on the tomb. His cunning solution was to strap a pig's (or ram's, depending on which version you read) bladder filled with fine Anjou white wine between his thighs and empty that on the Tomb of Christ. Then, leaning forward to kiss the tomb, he found that his lips had softened the stone and he was able to bite a piece off. Carefully secreted in his cheek, this became the most precious relic in the care of his monastery at Beaulieu.

19th century stained glass window in the abbey church at Beaulieu, 
depicting Fulk at the Holy Sepulchre.
19C stained glass window depicting Fulk Nerra at the Holy Sepulchre. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

One year later he was back in France, totally absolved of the murder of Hugues de Beauvais. His half-brother hadn't been completely successful in his absence and Fulk found he had some territory to regain. In 1016 he defeated Eudes of Blois in the Battle of Pontlevoy. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the Middle Ages, with 6000 men left dead on the field. Fulk himself was not unscathed, having been thrown from his horse. He managed fight his way out with ferocious sword blade action.

In 1025 Fulk took the citadel of Saumur from Eudes of Blois. His army broke down the gates with a battering ram, only to come face to face with kneeling monks in prayer. The town had assumed this would stop the rampaging soldiers, but the monks were swept aside like dead leaves and the soldiers ransacked the castle and set fire to the church.

Later, in keeping with his usual pattern, he was wracked with guilt over this misdeed. He couldn't risk another trip to Jerusalem, so to show his repentence he had another abbey built -- this time a female establishment, with mills, fishponds and vineyards at Ronceray, on the hillsides of Layon (beginning what is now a famous tradition of sweet white wine from this area).

In 1032 the new young King Henri I asked Fulk to sort out the rebellious town of Sens, which had objected to their newly appointed Archbishop. Fulk being Fulk, he charged in with his army and rased the place to the ground.

But a few days later strange and troubling phenomena began occuring. A new and mysterious star appeared in the night sky. A terrible storm ravaged Angers and lightning struck the cathedral roof, setting fire to it. The fire spread and soon the whole town had burnt. Fulk didn't think it was a coincidence. He thought God was telling him to go to Jerusalem one more time.

This time he left his son in charge of the Angevin territories, but Geoffroy was young, arrogant, tempestous and lacked diplomacy. He mismanaged the territory and alienated a good part of the population. When Fulk returned a year later he was forced to punish and humiliate his son before forgiving him.

By 1039 Fulk was an old man, nearly seventy. He felt the end coming and as always, frightened of going to Hell, he decided to go on one last pilgrimage. He wore a hair shirt and took a few trusted knights with him. Once in Jerusalem he had himself subjected to mortifications by being dragged around the streets and beaten with rods.

Finally, near Metz on his way home in 1040, he developed a fever and died. His was a long reign of over 50 years and he served three Kings. He left one of the most powerful feudal domains in France to be inherited by his only son Geoffroy Martel ('The Hammer'), while his wife Hildegarde retired to the nunnery at Ronceray. His flourishing abbeys contributed to the great cultural influence of the Angevin province at this time. Poverty and ignorance were reduced and new towns thrived. His skill and daring brought prosperity to Anjou. His mortal remains were buried in the abbey at Beaulieu les Loches. We don't know where his soul ended up.


************************************************

For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos.