Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rennes - capital of Bretagne

Due to JL's son studying in Rennes, which is a popular studying destination in France, we've paid a few visits to Rennes this year.  A beautiful place full of life, cobble stone streets and charming old buildings, dating from different eras. And to accommodate the numerous students - a rue de soif (street of thirst).  It is about 5 hours by car (if you do not have a traffic jam when passing Paris...).
The photos were taken during Feb, my first visit to Rennes.  We had a wonderful weekend visiting Rennes, having the best crépes till then (that was before our visit to St Malo...), unfortunately the medieval restaurant was fully booked - but we've managed to find a table in a restaurant based in a medieval building and enjoyed an excellent dinner. (Food in France is good, no matter which region you visit!)
Above: our restaurant was through this entry to the left (up in the tower)
Entrance to the restaurant
the canal going through the town (actually the river Vilaine which was canalised after several floods)
the opera
Above: the rooftop of their parliament building, rebuilt according to the original plan after the old building was destroyed by fire in 1994
they have a lively market
The porte mordelaise, one of the four original entries to the town.  It was constructed in the 3rd century, although renewed several times, hence the current architecture dates from the 15th century
above: the cathédrale saint-pierre de Rennes, construction commenced in the 16th century, but it was only completed in 1845

Well, what a week - I had to fill up the food cupboards, keep up with the washing and ironing that I won't be exhausted by the time I'm on the aeroplane, clean the house (and there are far more spiderwebs and dust than in SA!) and at the same time finalise all my arrangements to see as many people as possible while spending only 3 days in Gauteng! Without a cellphone, so important to arrange time and place! And to make matters worse, our computer finally greeted us on Friday morning! With all my information and flight tickets on the computer.... So to my relieve I could find print outs of my Air France tickets in a file. For my Jhb-CT flight I fortunately wrote down the ref nr and could phone Voyager and ask them to mail the ticket again, to JL. In a country where very few people believe in God, they looked at me in a strange way when I told them that it was due to my prayers that we could get a technician by this morning to assist us, as one normally has to wait 3-4 days.  By lunch time we went to Reims to buy a new computer, one was sold out, but we've managed to find another computer that turned out to have a slightly faster processor and even though it was 50 euros more expensive, we've got 60 euros vouchers (always welcome in a book loving family).
So, I was hoping to finish off on Bretagne before my trip to SA, but I fear the best I'll have to keep until my return.  As one need time to share about St Malo and Cancale, as they count under the most beautiful places I've visited in France.  So, à bientôt! I'll continue to share on my return mid-Dec!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bretagne - a region you'll have to include in a visit to France

I hope I can share all on the places that we have visited this year in Bretagne before my departure to SA. When talking to French people they get enthusiastic when you mention Bretagne.  So I got more and more curious about this region as time passed by.  So I'm very happy to say that by now we have visited a few, although far to few for me, places in Bretagne - and I also fell in love with Bretagne.  So much so that when we had lunch in Cancale (more about that in a future blog), I told JL this is where I would like to retire in France.  I have to add, we were very lucky that weekend, as we had beautiful sunshine.  Bretagne is known for its weather - a lot of rain, fog, having four seasons in a day (or twice in a day).  (ha ha, I just have to add this after listening to the news on the radio this morning. We're having a relative mild Nov - to date.  So the guy was talking about Bretagne having a drought, stressing to listeners that he is not making a joke! So that gives you an idea of how famous they are for their rain...) 
But for now, I love it and I would love to explore more of Bretagne.  I've realised as I now wanted to post my photo's of my first visit to Rennes that I cannot really share photo's of different areas in Bretagne without sharing more information on Bretagne.  As they have an interesting, but also very bloody history.  Maybe that's why it is such a special region?
I found a informative map on internet to give you an idea of where Bretagne is.
Localisation  de la Bretagne en Europe
After my few visits, my dream is to travel all around the coast line of Bretagne.  Three weeks at least, to really appreciate all.  I want to visit the pink granite coast, the various coastal villages, all with a different character, the coastal parts that start disappearing as the ocean wars against the land, Brest - the western point, the beautiful islands, a French singer wrote a song about the one, which name is literally beautiful island if you translate it, Carnac - the French version of Britain's Stonehenge, the forts. 
OK, their history.  Who are the Bretons who are so proud to be Breton and still celebrate their fêtes wearing their traditional clothes, doing their traditional dances, still speak their traditional language?  This region that is known to be the region for excellent crépes (pancakes) and their cider they make from apples.  Where did they come from?
It will be impossible to share more than 2000 years' history, so in a nutshell - it started off with the Celts and the Gauls, who were then overpowered by the Romans, hence the Gallo-Romans.  At the end of the 5th century, from Britain came the Bretons.  An emigration that took place over ca. 200 years as they were chased away by the Saxons and other clans in England.  A part of Bretagne stayed Gallo-Roman (so today you'll still find 2 traditional languages, breton spoken in the west and gallo spoken in the east and despite it being classified as a language under threat to disappear, more and more young people acquire the language).  This desire for independance led to many many wars between the Bretons and France and England (both France & England wanted to own Bretagne while the Bretons wanted to remain independant). At 11, the duchess Anne de Bretagne, inherited the crown of Bretagne.  After 3 years of resistance she accepted the hand of the French king Charles VIII (1491) and as a result, Bretagne came under the French crown (it became a French province in 1532 and had peace until the Religous War).  After his death, she married Louis XII (1499) whose daughter married the famous Francois I, the king who commanded the construction of Chambord (in the Loire) and other castles. 
To this day you'll still find signs of old castles and forts that was built along the border between Bretagne and France as a defense, bearing witness of the many attacks that took place.
So enough history, I'll try to post all the photo's before my departure, as it is going a bit hectic to finalise all!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mirepoix - bastide town in the southwest

On our way from Montségur we found the one closed restaurant after the other.  It got later and we got hungrier. Eventually we've managed to find a supermarket that was open in the afternoon and we bought ham, baguette, water and chocolate eclairs for a picnic.  We stopped at a lake where Julie & Cedric's friends go and kitesurf at times.  There were a number of boats and apparently get busy in summertime with watersport. I think in summertime it must be beautiful.  We sat down on a wooden picnic bench and enjoyed our lunch, while looking at the snow-covered Pyrennees in a distance.

After refueling our bodies, we left to Mirepoix, a village that also enjoyed strong Cathar support.  A flood eventually destroyed the original village.  The new village was built (ca 1290) during the period when a lot of bastide towns were built in the southwest of France, although some of the building you'll see only dates from the 15th century. 
A bastide town is a fortified town - these were all built during the 12th century in the southwest of France.  It is normally centred around a square with the market from where you'll find streets into different diretions.  Mirepoix is described as the most beautiful bastide town by some, by others as a not true bastide town, but based on the construction principles of a bastide town.  Whatever the case may be - it is a beautiful town and when we have arrived there, the square was a buzz of people packed around tables enjoying their coffee at the coffee shops, while the gift shops around them looked very tempting to visit and spend some money!  It is a place I would love to visit again, in spring or summer!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Montségur - Cathar land

While having the frustration of not being able to do what I need to do, due to Excel not working, I'll try to progress with the blog, as my time is running out before my trip to SA.
Montségur is situated in the southwest of France, close to the Pyrennees and about 80 km southwest of Carcassonne.  When visiting Julie & Cedric early March in Toulouse we were happy that they have decided to play tour guides for us, as I've already explored Toulouse in 2008 with my mom.  So the Sa morning we left, direction Pyrennees.  Unfortunately we couldn't stop in Foix as they were in a hurry to get to Montségur sooner rather than later (it was still winter with short days and snow on the mountains).  You can watch next year's Tour de France as they will go through Foix.  What a beautiful area.  Not the buildings as many resemble horrible grey appartments that were typically build after WWII.  But the mountains, the rivers.
Montségur was at one stage the main seat of the Cathar religion.  Cathar derives from the Greek; meaning pure - although the Catholic church called them heretics.  The religion originated in the second half of the 12th century and quickly gained field in not only France, but also in Europe (incl some royalties).  There are many mysteries and myths surrounding the Cathars.  One thing we know for sure is that they were against the Catholic church, hence the Pope eventually commanded that they be wiped out.  A dvd that we have watched after that weekend (but which I have already purchased in 2008 in Carcassonne to improve my French!) makes the statement that the Pope paid the Burgundy group to go and fight against the Cathar.  Anyway, I do not think we will ever know the truth.  There are stories that they had treasures which they have sneaked out before the château was destroyed, that they kept the Holy Grail. Who will know?
What I can say is that it was built on a very impressive site, on a mountain at an altitude of 1207 m!  The Cathars built the château on the ruins of another one.  However, after a siege of 9 months, the castle was finally surrounded and destroyed in March 1244.  About 220 Cathars were burned to death after refusing to renounce their faith.  The castle was rebuilt by royal forces over the following three centuries and archeologists refer to the current ruins as Montségur III.  It is typical of a French defensive structure of that era.  Many people still believe the ruins are that of the Cathars' château.
Above: arriving in the parking area with the impressive view of the château on the top of the mountain
Below: the surrounding mountains, while following the footpath to the château
Above: this was the easy part, going further it became very steep and with icy snow, making it extremely slippery. Even though we had our tekkies on, we had to step carefully and at some stages JL had to push and pull me that I could progress on the difficult areas!
Below: a small monument for the Cathars
Above: the village far below
Above: by the time we got to the château we were so hot of the climb, we were peeling off the layers of clothes
 Surely not an easy site to built on! But excellent for defense yes!
Above and below: down in the village, we were starving for lunch as it was already after lunchtime and the steep climb burnt a lot of energy!
But like the wild coast last week, this is a ghost village during winter!
Above & below: the ruins are visible from the village, incredible to think people went up there to worship!
 As the one and only restaurant told us they were not open, we left, hoping to find a restaurant along the way...