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Friday July 12:
The little GPS is great to find our way but it goes wrong on the last stretch to our target address. Saskia feels that she has only a few minutes left before fainting and when I tell her our house is about 2.8km to our immediate right, she turns into the very first side road. The road turns into a double track path after 50m before it dives steeply off a hill without tracks, between a rock and heavy stubble before stranding is on a fork of two small hiking paths. We see dozens of plants with botanical signs. This is clearly not the place to park or turn a car on.
Saskia succeeds in turning the car carefully and it takes us back, bouncing past stubble and rock, tree branches whipping through our open windows.
Then, (et puis as the French would say) we arrive. A beautiful house with all modern comfort and its own private, walled garden, as the website promised, so it's well worth the trip.
Well it turns out it isn't: a dark dungeon of a house, no central heating, indifferently decorated with decrepit furniture, sharing the roof with our perky hostess who tells me to learn to drive a car. When I tell her I don't presently have time to take lessons, she tells me not to find excuses because "grown up people must know their priorities." I haven't talked with her enough to judge her well, but she seems to be one of those little people, making up in width what they lack in length and managing to defend their place in the world by always having the last word on anything. She warns us that she sometimes gets criticism about the house from guests, especially Dutch guests, but she tells us that "in France there's nothing trivial about renovation. It takes years to put in a water pipe, for instance because for the French, every detail takes years to plan and execute. You have to live here for a while before you understand that."
I suppose so, but I burn up half the huge supply of fire wood in the open fire that night and although the living room is practically in flames, the upper floor is freezing cold in mid July. The bed is a spine breaker. Around six a.m. we decide to pack, we leave a note with 100 Euro and we're out of there.
Saturday July 13:
The afternoon will be fair, but in the morning it's raining cats and frogs. At six thirty in the morning most everything's closed, but in Melle we find a cafe with door and all windows wide open to let in the very fresh air and the smell of a summer morning's rain. At the bar, a few old French men are postponing the early start of their working day. The bar also sells scratch lottery tickets and a tv shows lottery results giving a new winner every 3 minutes. A poster on the wall announces that someone won 18,000 Euro in this bar. Here and there we see photos of horses, jockeys and racing. One of the men buys a few lottery tickets, he scratches them gracefully with his car key and then he celebrates his loss with a grand café.
"Well I'll be damned," one of the others calls out, "since when don't you serve croissants anymore? What's this supposed to mean?" He makes a genuine row, his friends have great fun and the owner of the bar makes a run, through the pouring rain, for the bakery around the corner. He has just placed the basket of croissants at our table for breakfast, next to our large cups of very heart warming coffee and cool chocolate milk.
Nearby, in Saint-Martin we find the pleasant Hotel L'Argentière (www.largentiere.com).
The lady of the house also runs a catering business and since there are two weddings to attend to that night, she can't cook for us but we get the key to our room and she'll meet us at breakfast in the morning then. No need to pay in advance, no passes or cards to show, no fuss. Our room is small but light, well heated and there's a bath in the compact but deluxe bathroom. Apparently it takes a lot more effort a few kilometers from here to get any present day luxury installed...
We enter the silver mines. To Frankish kings, Melle was the place where their money came from. If I understood well, the name evolved from Metallum, Medallo, Medal to Melle. Only recently, 35 of the 50 kilometers of silver mines have been explored again and mapped. Even now, a small team of archaeologists is busy: we see a man and a woman carrying bags full of materials into the mine through a separate entrance. Our guide explains that the man may look like a clochard, this small skinny man in his dirty clothes is one of the most renowned in his field. His doctoral thesis about the mines got him highest honors.
During the recent disclosures of the first kilometers of mine, one of the big surprises was a fully stocked wine collection: this proved to be the wine cellar of one of the villagers who'd found a good use for the old mine shaft under his home - the mines are 13 degrees Celsius all year around.
The mine passageways have been hacked out with primitive tools around the seventh century in hard stone layers. The miners, about whom little is known, would light a fire against the cheek of rock. The heat would make cracks in the stone and after the fire had died, about an inch of rock could be hacked down. An incredible work, to advance for 50 kilometers in this way, inch by inch... Here and there they would hit on geodes, in the hollows of which they could see the dark glitter of crystalline metal. In one oven the rock was molten at 960 degrees Celsius, in another lead (99%) was separated from silver (1%). Just 3 years ago archaeologists figured out how on earth these primitive people managed to get 93% pure silver whereas we, with the far superior techniques of our advanced age, couldn't get past 80%. In a pasture, researchers found shards of pots made of clay and bone meal and these proved to absorb lead when molten metal was poured into the pots.
Our mine guide is a funny man and he tells about the remarkable history as if he himself only learned about it the other day. He leads a merry band of frenchmen too. The chairman of the group, one Societé or another, carries a VIP badge with his name and title, but he doesn't enjoy great respect from his membership. One of them alarms the guide "better watch out, our bald chairman has knocked a geode out of the wall with his head and sneaked the precious stone in his breast pocket!" - laughs. "What's he doing anyway, he should at least get himself a toupet, don't you think?"
A tiny old lady, madame André, who knows much about history, frequently assisting our guide with additional details, has trouble climbing the small hollows and he gives her his arm, which gives cause to much merriment: "Ah! We must keep a sharp eye on these two! There are so many dark corners here, you never know WHAT will happen!"
That special humor, a simple kind of joy in teasing, is found here more often. On a terrace, a group of youngsters to the owner of the café, when they've only just arrived: "Hey you fat man, is there still some service going on here? We're thirsty. THIRSTY!" Pretending to throw a tantrum, the patron comes out and grabs his friend by the throat. Ordering is chaos - "jus d'banane!" demands the gang (because he has none, ha! the young man whispers to us).
Next to us on the other side a family basks in the hot sun. Father is drunk very early today and sometimes he is asleep in his chair, sometimes he wakes up and smiles like a happy idiot at the summer sun. His youngest son sits at the table and he looks like he enjoys the day as well. The older sun is only visiting with his girlfriend. Maybe she's angry, or she has hay fever, for she won't move a muscle and she stares in the distance with tears in her eyes.
We drive on to Bougon, an large park on a prehistoric site high above the rest of the region. 7000 years ago megalithic tombs were built here, up to 30 meters long and sometimes two floors high, that remain structurally unharmed today. How can you make sure some treasure remains safe for ages? Build it as heavy as you can, using cover stones of 90,000 kilograms, and then cover it up so as to make it look like any other old hill. Only 2000 years later it was rediscovered and put to new sacred use, after which it was safely forgotten until our times. Perfectly conserved, one can crawl into some of the grave hollows, walk around them, touch the stones. It's all immensely strong and vulnerable at the same time: the roof stones are incredible, but the small covering stones can be easily removed and put back in place. Imagine, if you move a stone, you're maybe the first in thousands of years to do so. Some stones show fossils, but one is trusted to keep it all as wonderful as it is.
There's also a spot like you find in Stonehenge. Here, a calendar of rocks has been erected. The tribes living lower down in the valley came up here, where there was no water to sustain life, to construct their monuments, bury their dead and make it known to anyone that this was their territory. Here are our deceased, he is where we build our calendar, this hill dominates this part of the world that's ours.
The calendar stoned allow one to keep track of days, weeks and months, and to predict solstice and other periods including the three cycli of eclipses of sun and moon. After every full year there were only a few days "left over" before they would commence placing smaller stones from one to the next marker rock and keep track of time. Even though this monumental constellation of rocks makes a perfect calendar for sowing and harvesting, it was too far away from the fertile grounds down below in the valley to be of any practical use. In part that's why one assumes that these rocks served an extra (monumental, ceremonial) use.
Here and there guides are waiting to give demonstrations. There's hardly any visitors around so most of the time they're on their own, dreaming away in the sun. We meet a small slender femme with long dark curly hair who speaks softly, showing us how the ancient folks ground their corn between two small stones, the lower of the two somewhat hollow. If the lower stone would become flat again, another stone was used to recreate a hollow. The stone dust in the flour would give the cookies an extra crisp quality. One of the cookies in the demonstration is burned on purpose: in Switzerland, excavations have yielded exactly such cookies and several of these were burned so until someone proves that this wasn't done on purpose, this is the way it's done.
We dine in a hotel at the market square of Celles-sur-Belle, a Romanesque village built against a hill over an old church and an abbey. In a relaxed way, the hotel is super chic and the food is more than exquisite. Lots of staff, smartly dressed, fan-tas-tic food (entrée: melon on 9 months old ham, topped by two spoons of sorbet of local white Pineau des Charantes wine. And that's just the start.) All tables are booked, mostly French customers. When we leave at half past ten, a fanfare marches down the hill past us, followed by village people carrying lanterns. We join the small crowd and arrive at the wide garden in the valley below the abbey. Both abbey and church are illuminated by spotlights, making an enormous theater. Then the spotlights go out and we witness 20 minutes of fireworks on music. I've never seen something like it. Breathtaking.
Sunday July 14 (in French: katore zwee-yet)
In the early a.m. we pass the city of Niort when we see a Cessna take off along the highway. We take the first exit to check this out and we discover an enormous airfield for small aviation, radio controlled model airplanes... and soaring. The local glider club has recently moved here, to a splendidly equipped new location with a very large hangar, almost too big for the seven or eight gliders parked there. Around the gliders, a handful elderly Frenchmen, friendly but not the jolly type of French. The instructor on duty shakes our hands and he implies that I, being a licensed glider, can fly with him later in the afternoon if I wish, but in the way he says it he makes it obvious that he'd rather I wouldn't take him up on the offer. The day promises great thermals and they don't need additional income from visitors so they fill out their flight tasks, take a picture of the task and their plane and get ready for take off. Meanwhile, the tow plane is also checked out for use. We take a coke from the vending machine that's fending against the heat of the sun out on the tarmac at the foot of the tower and we move on.
In the afternoon we visit the magnificent ruins of Maillezais. A terrific profile remains of the old cathedral building with an abbey. One can walk around and through the excavation grounds and in several spots historic scenes are re-enacted by (men dressed as) monks and actors. Monks in their long black robes shouting things at one another from a hill, somewhere else two actresses on horseback, in medieval dresses, meeting one another and exchanging the latest information of their day and age. There are maybe only a dozen visitors on all of the grounds so sometimes the actors outnumber the audience in the gigantic theater space on the hill, under a blue sky dotted with cumuli at 2000 meter. So it happens that all of a sudden, when no one but us is around, Gregorian chanting sounds up from the cathedral in ruins... very impressive.
Then we push on to the Atlantic coast and in the port city of La Rochelle we find a small palace of a hotel in the stately old part of town at the end of a long street of old sandstone galleries, pillars after pillars, on and on... With all its marble, antiques, design and great luxury, the perfectly airconditioned place is amazingly inexpensive to stay in. The windows have shutters so any sound can be kept away. On our we watch, through the opened windows, the spectacular July-14th fireworks over the city, splendid effects leading up to a grand finale that makes your jaw drop. The programme seems over and we hear faint waves of applause over the houses across the street, but then a loud "thump!" resounds and one more rocket soars up, up, up, exploding into a surprising Saturn ring of glitter, another ring expanding besides it, then a straight log of fire stretching out between them followed by a pandemonium of gigantic fire balls. Magnifique!
Monday July 15:
We have breakfast in a cafe at the town square and make a horse ride on the merry-go-round that's always there at it's traditional spot. Soft music, beautiful pastel paintings, a little boy as only other passenger, waving at his father down below.
At the port, with a view over the ocean from the guarding tower dating from the twelfth century, we find the first signs of mass tourism: rows of stalls with African kitsch, has pipes, Indian style hippie clothes.
In the harbor, a small old Russian sailing ship. The captain has retrieved it himself from the bottom of the Baikal lake, and restored it. Saskia speaks some Russian with the captain's wife but she is a bit shy, so to support their trip we buy some of the trinkets on their display: old military and Sovjet city insignia.
A little closer to the port entrance, there's the sound check of a rock concert about to begin.
On our way to our next sleeping place (a château, but anything can be called château so we'll just wait and see) we visit a Gallo-Romanesque ruin. In the first centuries AD thousands would gather here for theater, temples (built in a Celtic Cross ground plan, only found in this region), market place and hot baths. Of the baths building, which was a temple before, much has remained and excavations are ongoing at this time, so you can observe how far the archaeologists have come before going on this summer's holiday themselves).
Pieces of chiselled Romanesque column can be picked up and admired, another piece of stone the size of a fist shows part of the form of a fan. Incredible. From this ancient rubble, lizards come and go swiftly, with their long necks and intelligent snake-like faces. Here as well, no one but us around.
I'm beginning to understand why we see so few French tourists in The Netherlands. True, we have a few medieval sites ourselves and some old stones but it would take a Frenchman a lot of travelling through his own country before he'd need to see our stones just to have seen it all.
The little castle De La Motte (On The Hill) in Usseau proves to be a genuine 15th century castle! Also see www.chateau-de-la-motte.net
The pigeonry is even older, dating from the twelfth century. The pigeonry tower, a prestigious object in the epoque showing the high social elevation of the owner, is called an entrance gate on old drawings which suggests that another tower must have been there at one time. We get a giant room in the very top of the castle. A beautiful view through the small windows around it, a very specious bathroom with double porcelain wash basins and a triangular jacuzzi tub, the restroom in the little square tower behind it. The bedroom is so high that it facilitates a wooden stairway to a balcony tooling down on the "baldaquin" four-poster bed and, through a high window, on the bathroom. A stone spiral staircase (candle lit at night) leads down to the large well decorated living room and stately dining room for guests. At 8pm dinner is served, after an apéritif served by lady of the house, châtelaine Marie-Andrée.
In some way or another, in this part of France it's much easier to do some work on a house than in our original destination, because it's almost inconceivable where Marie-Andrée finds the courage, the time, the energy, the skill and above all the inspiration and discipline to restore the place so expertly and tastefully, while being such a grand hostess for her guests. Building and painting, sculpting and woodworking... and cooking, everything with the highest standards in mind, ceaselessly climbing the spiral stairway and never letting go of her excellent presence, good humor and pleasure in her projects. The place can easily vie with mondaine hotels like Amstel in Amsterdam or the Dorchester in London and still one can stay at De La Motte for a full week at the price that wouldn't get you a small room in the others for a single night. And that's including le petit déjeuner at the castle!
In France, one must really be a fanatic about camping, not to stay in a castle.
Before dinner we have fun in the small but extremely clean and happily situated swimming pool.
At dinner (superb, with wines, cake and a plateau of cheese as dessert) we meet a few other guests: a friendly young couple from Bretagne and hot air balloon pilot Bill Arras from Bend, Oregon USA. Bill is the gentle world champion who has come over to defend his title this August. He's the only one of the competitors to make time for the ideal preparation. A month and a half before the start of the championship he arrived, sending all of his equipment out in advance by UPS, so he has ample time to get familiar again with last year's competition grounds, studying the specifics of the terrain and the wind effects on the hillsides, observing clouds at many different weather conditions. Next week, his team of 8 arrives and as of then the entire castle is booked for him until way after the close of the competition. He likes it so much ("I feel like a king without all the worries a king would have") that he'd prefer not to leave at all anymore and in fact he has moved, over the years, many of his belongings that he leaves behind when he goes away again. The castle has plenty of room to start with and les propriétaires , Marie-Andrée and her husband who works up north during the week, kindly oblige him even though they might run out of space at some time in the future, facilitating the gallant king from Oregon.
Bill is an expert at enjoying life, even though he sometimes misses the sensation of being on holiday, since he has rarely worked so far. In his very charming way he demonstrates how one can be essentially wealthy without waving any money around to prove one's affluence. Passenger flights on his ship don't come cheap but one can barter for other things he needs for his regally un-sponsored ballooning enterprise.
Yesterday, he purchased a new type of propelling engine for his hangglider and he'll be testing this out today. If he likes the engine's maiden flight, he can go cross country and fly over for a run around the castle.
We exchange soaring experiences and I show him my Etrex Vista. He is fond of the Garmin product line and although he works with Magellan himself, he prefers the intuitive ease of some Garmin menus. His Magellan equipment consists of wireless pads, one for the balloon, one for each of the two crew trucks on the ground, making navigation and communication very easy. Even though he likes GPS for its ease and fun, he also regrets how it has made it easier to do some of the tasks that used to be doable only for the very best pilots. Together with championship organizer he is working out ideas for tasks that won't be any easier with a GPS than without one.
In our bedroom we close the dark blue robes around the bed and we sleep like roses until nine the next a.m.
On www.sscc.org/history.html I read: [...] Eventually in May 1792 Peter Coudrin arrived at the hiding place which was to change his life and that of all of us. The place was the granary of the chateau at Motte d'Usseau. Motte d'Usseau is for the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts what Subiaco is for the Benedictines, Assisi is for the Franciscans and Manresa is for the Jesuits. From May 1792 until October 20th of the same year, Fr. Coudrin remained in a confined place of strict imprisonment and spiritual experience which was rich in consequences. During this time the monarchy in France fell, accompanied by a whole spiral of violence. With the passing days in the dark prison in the granary, without physical exercise, poorly fed, obliged to almost total immobility so as not to betray his presence, Peter Coudrin, must have been deeply grieved by the massacres of September and by the proclamation of the Republic at the end of the same month. It is said that he thought he was the only priest left in France at this time. The atrocities of Paris were not imitated in Poitiers, but the law was applied with cruelty. The guillotine was installed, religious communities expelled, and the Sisters of Wisdom expelled from the Hospital of the Incurables. Peter Coudrin's spirit remained serene as we learn from his own words; "During those five months there" - he would confess in 1800 - "I was not bored for a single instant. I would daily say Mass at midnight and although I purified the corporal with great care, I always believed I left some particles of the Sacred Species and so had the Lord with me. Once I had said Mass, I went up to my granary where I spent the entire day in reading the history of the Church and in praying." It was in this granary that Fr. Coudrin had a vision, the exact nature of which is not an object of our consideration, what is important is that it signified for Fr. Coudrin the acquisition of a consciousness that he was destined to found a religious community. [...]
A reply after my query for more historic information from the order founded by Peter Coudrin was unsuccessful:
From: "Fr. Columban Crotty"
Sent: Wednesday, July 24, 2002 9:38 PM
Subject: Motte d"Usseau
Thank you for your inquiry about the Motte d'Usseau. I enjoyed the photographs and the account of your journey. Unfortunately we do not have any floor plans or even more information about the building. Sorry, Columban
On gomorra.bautz.de/bbkl/c/coudrin_m_j.shtml I read:
Nach seiner Priesterweihe feierte Coudrin die Primiz in seiner Heimatpfarre in Coussay-les-Bois am Ostertag 1792. Dort sprach er sich entschiedenen gegen die Religionspolitik der revolutionären Machthaber aus. Von da an lebte Coudrin im Untergrund. Er wohnte zunächst in einer kleinen Dachkammer auf dem Schloß La Motte d'Usseau, wo sein Vetter Maumain Gutsverwalter war. In dieser Dachkammer hatte Coudrin eine Art Vision. Er sah vor sich eine apostolische und missionarische Gemeinschaft von Männern und Frauen, zu der auch er gehörte. Man kann in diesem Erlebnis die Wurzeln der späteren Ordensgründung erblicken. Im Oktober 1792 verließ Coudrin sein Versteck und begab sich nach Poitiers, um dort und in Montbernage im Untergrund als glaubenstreuer Priester zu wirken.
Now what follows here is getting interesting, besides the name change from "Château de la Motte" to "Motte d'Usseau". The English site mentioned above claims that Coudrin stayed at the "the granary of the chateau", but it now seems that is merely a mistranslation (like the French "Dunjon" for watchtower is falsely translated as "Dungeon" in the English translation for a boat tour around Chambord). The French word for attic is "grenier", which looks to have been mistranslated in the above as "granary".
On http://perso.wanadoo.fr/ass.damien/Pages/Association/Poitiers.htm I read:
Grenier de la Motte d'Usseau où se réfugia le Père Coudrin pendant six mois en 1792 et où il eut la vision de ce qui allait devenir la congrégation des Sacrés Coeurs
On http://www.sscc.cl/historia/fechas_imp.html I read:
5 de Septiembre de 1792: Visión del Buen Padre en el granero de La Motte d'Usseau.
Now what is "granero", a granary or an attic? http://www.spanishdict.com/AS.cfm?e=granero translates it as a barn, a granary. I tend to think they're wrong calling it a granero and this would be quite remarkable... if English and Chilean followers of Coudrin were unaware of the exact location of this essential moment in the inspiration that caused their existence.
Maybe it's both largely true. The building depicted is the farm building belonging to the Château and Coudrin would have been hiding on the attic of that building, but not necessarily the granary.
Tuesday July 16
We take it easy. After breakfast we stroll around the little village at the foot of the castle and we look at an old house that's for sale on the tiny square. Much needs to be done on the inside but that's no problem as long as Saskia does all the handiwork, as is the local custom. We have a drink on the terrace of the cafe across the square, where a few old men are in the dining room having wine, waiting for their lunch (lettuce with tuna, French bread and cheese of goat milk). It will be a hard life, but I think I could live it. Especially in the summer.
We see a constant coming and going of tractors with truckloads of grain bringing the rich summer harvest to the tall mill just off town.
We dine with Pierre, a family doctor from Gent in Belgium, who spends every vacation with his wife visiting castles. He prepares himself as well as he can, and he has promptly seen that the current entrance of the castle has only been built in the nineteenth century. Somewhere at the end of the eighteenth century, monks inhabited the building and they made several alterations, like a "fake gallery" in Gothic style against one part of the outer castle wall. Pierre is searching for markings of an old wall inside the castle which he is sure must have been there, judging on the two doors close together on all of the floors of the spiral staircase. Without an extra wall, one of the two doors would be not logical to have. He explains how the original entry must have been on the other side, off the high terrace, but a problem here is the big difference in altitude between the high terrace (which used to have very high walls too in order to protect the windows of the castle) and the lower terrace where the servants would be.
Marie-Andrée tells us about the many adventures of her and her husband Jean-Marie Bardin, with castle owners and real estate agents before they found their castle. Lots of castles are for sale at all times, but the inexpensive ones fall apart and the more sound structures often have had bad restorations, destroying much of the old charm and historic value. One castle, for instance, only has an original old shell around a concrete bank building with steel vaults instead of medieval cellars.
In this region, castle owners are usually friendly with each other -- when Marie-Andrée and Jean-Marie visited their closest castle neighbors to introduce themselves, these promptly organized a festive dinner for most castle people from the region to welcome the newcomers.
Not all castles succeed to be more or less profitable. A count in the area has stopped providing dinners because he could only do it his ay, serving whiskeys, costly wines and hiring cooks, while not daring to ask a reasonable price so he had to take a substantial loss on any guest that accepted his invitation to have dinner.
Friendly as most are, some castle people are snobs, though. Pierre and his wife stayed with a marquis who spoke condescendingly of a fellow marquis who also owns a castle, while working as chief editor in Paris during the week. Working is not done for gentle folks, he says. "Ce n'est pas un châtelain! C'est un marchant de journaux" -- "he's a newspaper salesperson, no châtelain!"
Wednesday July 17:
We visit the room where Pierre and his wife are staying. Many original 15th century elements here, like the fire place and the passageway through the massive stone to the place where the soldiers presumably had their latrine. Right above it is a small fortified observation post.
In the high terraced garden, Marie-Andrée and Pierre discuss the old drawings. The enthusiasm and dedication o Pierre and his very well prepared questions inspire Marie-Andrée to be even more lively in his stories and explanations.
I can understand most French reasonably well, but I must urgently learn to speak better French. Bonjour. Est-ce qu'on ne vous dérange pas? Quel beau château! Bonne Journée! Bon Séjour, est-ce qu'on vous dérange? C'est très joli ici et vous êtes très gentile. On peut avoir l'addition s'il vous plait, si ça ne vous dérange pas. Nous espérons revenir souvant, mais on ne veut pas vous déranger!
It's all so very simple, and French is such a courteous language.
Thursday July 18:
Marie-Andrée and Pierre have raised the pennant of green and green white diamond shapes. The house ghost Baudar is know to teasingly put knots in the pennant when it's still out at night. Baudar was the châtelaine's amant centuries ago until the master had him thrown in a well.
Saskia calls the farm La Maugerie (http://www.la-maugerie.com) in Thoury, a little way up north, to reserve a room for the coming night.
On our way there, we visit the castle of Chambord (also on the internet). From a distance it's it's a fantastic and especially impressive castle-of-castles, but up close it's a clumsy, unpractical stage prop. So many kings have built it for so long, that one king needed to start restorations of the oldest parts while starting to build the second half of the final structure. An additional wing destroyed any symmetry that might have originally been there but these amendments only helped to give the essentially hopeless building a more dazzling air from afar. It does make you dream when you see it first, and the next time you first see it, and the next.
La Maugerie, just six kilometers down the road, is an example of neat renovation of a farm shed. Roomy, comfortable, clean and light. Here as well a delicious meal for us and the other 4 guests. On a pasture next to the shed, American Paint Horses celebrate the fall of night with a gallop, practicing their sliding stop, just barely crashing through the fence. They succeed in attracting the attention of their owner, our host, who gets up to speak with them.
Friday July 19:
Before heading homeward, we drive to Chambord again, to be amazed one more time and we visit what's announced as "spectacular equestrian show". "Must be a tourist trap," we think but "anyway we'll sit and relax in the sun." Proved to be a costumed demonstration of the cream of the crop in classical horse riding, by reasonably good actors who are very fine riders on magnificent horses.
We then drive on and even around Paris, cutting through the clogged traffic around it best we can. We stop at Senlis, a Romanesque city where everything looks old and original. Very pretty town, very good restaurants, and the hotel is Romanesque chique on the outside while carefully retaining a big noisy improvised mess on the inside. A tiny hole of a room, no heating except for the heavy duty power blow drier which I used to heat up the little place. Expensive too, and the breakfast was delivered with an indifference that was almost hateful. Hostellerie de la Porte Bellon: Don't go there. It stinks. Pas de valeur. Schweinerei. Eto nitsjevo.
Saturday July 20:
Almost home, we paused for one last attraction: an ice cream on the three-table terrace in downtown Werchter, very close to home. The hospitality approach north of Paris takes some getting used to. After a log while the waittrass appears (the menu reads in capital letters "we prepare your food using fresh ingredients. This takes time so we expect you to be patient.") When I ask what kinds of ice she has, she sighs loudly and tells me to look for myself inside, as it gets tiresome to have to say it every time someone asks.
Food at takeaway New Asia in Booischot (015-224548) is great, though, and the wine from the boxed bag that I still had is good as well. It rains heavily and the phone just went dead after a lightning flash but Internet is working and in these circumstances that's what counts.