Friday, April 29, 2011

Lac de Guéry

Our guests took the early train back to Paris for a few more days of sightseeing, and after a lazy morning in the apartment we felt we had to take advantage of Roberts’s day off and maybe a hike was just the thing - we hadn’t had enough in the past three days.

We had both agreed while Hiking in the Mont-Dore region that Lac de Guéry was a spot we would return to. Monday turned out to be the day. Lauris fell asleep just before arriving so we all took a nap in the car before setting out on one of the marked trails. The trail we chose took us past the lake up to a waterfall before cutting through a meadow. We had a small snack there, lounging in the sun with a view of the Chaîne des Puys to the east. All the hikers passing us carried bouquets of daffodils and soon after passing through a pine forest and emerging in another meadow, I had a bouquet of my own.

The drive out to the lake was about one hour, and we weren’t ready to return home just yet, so we decided to check out nearby Lac Servière. Where Lac de Guéry was a valley that was closed off by a basalt flow, Servière is a former crater, and from our perspective on one end it looked like it might be the end of the world, as behind it was a small sliver of ground and then only sky. We circled the lake before our accumulated fatigue accompanied us on our drive home.

Puy de Dôme

Joyeux Pâques! Our celebration here in Clermont-Ferrand was not the normal Latvian Easter. It started quite sedately, with brunch in our little apartment. Roberts and Matīss brought back fresh baguettes and almond croissants in addition to beautiful tulips, and we drank our coffee leisurely before commencing with the Latvian tradition of “olu sišanās.” Each person selected an egg, then started tapping eggs with the others, until only one unbroken egg was left. I believe it is because of the lengths I went trying to color eggs by the traditional Latvian onion skin method (described in the Lieldienas post), that this year I emerged victorious!

Then we all piled into the car, this time headed northeast. My French teacher had passed around a flyer for the 17th annual marché de potiers in Gouttieres. Only an hour away, we decided to stop by and see what the fuss is about before continuing on to the big event of the day, another hike. The trip was beautiful, the road led us through fields covered in dandelions with the view of the volcanoes always on the horizon.

The pottery festival was very well-attended; there were cars parked on the roadside leading into and well out of the little village. According to wikipedia, the pottery makers and ceramists come from all over France to present their work and the event brings over 10,000 visitors to the village over the weekend. The artisans had set up in the main town square next to the church and a nearby tent had coffee and refreshments for sale. Although I found a ceramic dish that had a scarab beetle for a handle to be the most interesting piece, I finally purchased a beautiful blue square plate. After Matīss posed with several very interested cows in the pasture next to our parked car, we headed south to Puy de Dôme.

The inactive Puy de Dôme stands 1,465 meters tall and is only 10 kilometers outside Clermont-Ferrand. Although there will be a tram to the top starting in 2012, the road currently is closed and the only way to the top is by foot along the Chemin des Muletiers. A sign posted at the beginning of the climb states that the climb takes 45 minutes, and from beginning to top, the trail vertically climbs 350 meters. More information on Puy de Dôme and the weight of air/Pascal, its spiritual importance, or the TDF antenna at the top which makes the silhouette unmistakeable in the Chaîne des Puys, click here. Along with its 500,000 annual visitors, the volcano may be best known for the occasional stage finish in the Tour de France.

Once at the top it started to drizzle, and although this signaled our descent we were also treated to a beautiful double rainbow. At the bottom we warmed ourselves in the little brasserie while Laurīts finished his nap, then packed up for the drive back into town. There is a fantastic viewpoint overlooking Clermont-Ferrand just before city limits that months ago gave me my first impression of the town, and we stopped again with our visitors for theirs. It is amazing how visible Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption is, even at such a great distance.

The day was not complete without a small tour of downtown. We started at the Cathédrale and stopped at le 1513, a crêperie, for dinner. We have found the great atmosphere and traditional Auvergne food to always satisfy, and this time was no different. The meal was topped off by a coffee and chocolate ice cream wrapped in a crêpe before smothered in chocolate and topped with almonds and whipped cream, and the evening was topped off with a night time stroll through Place de Jaude.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gorges du Tarn part deux

Breakfast in our castle was simple, a buffet with fruit and pastries, and coffee served with hot milk. We packed the car and crossed the street for our next adventure. Les Bateliers de la Malène (Malène being the name of the town) was touted online as a good way to see the gorges from yet another angle. Small, flat-bottomed boats can take on four grown-ups, and after an hour-long tour with narration (seulement en francais) down through the narrowest sections of the gorge, everyone is delivered safely back to the boat launch. Despite the cold weather I was extremely happy that we made the trip, the guide was knowledgeable and the scenery fantastic. We were able to see portions of the gorge not visible from the road and scenic overlooks, and everything looks grander when viewing from the slight rapids or peaceful flow of the river. Many of the rock formations resembled people and objects from this angle; we saw Yoda, a man and woman who I think resembled Latvian folk dancers with full folk costume, several mushrooms and a wolf howling to the moon. The rocky stream bottom provided a good backdrop to see every trout in the cold clear water, and I’m pretty sure Roberts’s mind was on fishing for big bass back in Michigan. We traversed the river all the way from Malène and its hydroelectric damn to the Pas de Soucy, the point where the Tarn disappears beneath a rockslide, and then our batelier expertly steered the boat ashore where a van with driver and boat trailer awaited our exit. The ride back to the launch site was fast but anxiety-filled as our driver navigated the narrow, winding road with the confidence born of a hundred trips up the same route. Once buckled back into our little rental car, we crossed the river and again headed up the southern cliffs of the Tarn.

After continuous hairpin turns we stopped at the cave chapel and statue of the Virgin Mary that provided an excellent view of Malène and its surroundings. Originally we were going to continue on to two cliffs with reportedly excellent views of the gorges, but with the drizzle and cold we decided to skip the 30 minute hike and instead continue on down the river. Our team also appeared to have had its fill of excellent views for the morning! We wound our way back down through the town and headed west, pausing several times at viewpoints to snap some photos and peer down into the gorge. We passed the Détroits, or narrows, of which the view was much better from boat, then stopped to climb a lookout tower overlooking the Pas de Soucy. The most recent rock slide was due to an earthquake in 580, but the legend behind the giant boulders in the bed of the Tarn is as follows; the devil was fleeing from Saint Énimie and when she realized she would not catch him, she called on the rocks for help. One particularly large rock, the Roque Sourde bruised Satan but he managed to escape through a crevice in the river bed to return to hell.

Upon reaching the town of Les Vignes we turned north, climbing up the Causse de Sauveterre to reach Point Sublime. This lookout overlooks the Tarn from a height of more than 400m/1,312ft. A quick glance at the clock reminded us that if we waited too long we would not be able to eat lunch at one of the local brasseries (a lesson learned on previous trips – serving stops at exactly !) and we jumped in the car and wound our way back down to Les Vignes.

Roberts telling a fish story
After lunch (and yes, we did try aligot, the local specialty of a mixture of mashed potatoes, local cheese and cream) we crossed the river and wound our way back up the opposite side. Following signs to La Bourgarie we found the trailhead for the Baousso del Biel trail. The drizzle had stopped and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds, so we prepared our hiking gear and set out for yet another way to experience the gorges: on foot. Lauris was quite content in his baby carrier, and we were in high spirits as we set off along the edge of the Causse Méjean south. Our first small detour from the main path came soon, to see the pas de l’Arc, a natural pointed arch formed by erosion of a large rock jutting from the main cliff. We soon discovered this was not a trail for someone outfitted with a baby carrier, and so Roberts and Lauris waited up top while the rest of us made the trip down and back up. Once reunited (and I have mixed feelings whether or not the climb back up was worth the view of the arch) we continued on, eventually arriving at the namesake of the hike. This giant arch measures 40m/131ft to the arch roof, and is the largest natural arch in the region. It was worth the hike – look close to see the blue, white and black specs in the picture below!  We learned later that its magnificence was not as admirable when viewed from the road. After a fruitless search for the connecting path that would lead us in a loop back to the car, we finally retraced our steps along the top of the gorge with Lauris fast asleep in the carrier.

Tired from the 8km hike, we watched the last section of the gorge through the car windows, stopping only a few times for pictures before le Rozier which marks the end of the Gorges du Tarn. But our journey was not yet complete; first we stopped in Millau for a quick coffee and a glimpse of downtown, then we drove to the Millau viaduct. Roberts, Lauris and I had seen it from a different angle as I wrote about in Week in Motion, but this time we approached it from the bottom. Preparing and eating our sandwiches while watching the sun set under the bridge was a memorable moment and a good way to end this tour in the Languedoc region.

Our guests kung fu fighting by the Viaduct

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gorges du Tarn

Our visitors arrived Thursday evening after a few days in Paris. Matiss, Roberts’s brother, and his girlfriend Indra both live in Rīga, Latvija, and we were very happy to welcome our first visitors to Clermont-Ferrand.

After a breakfast of croissants and pain de chocolat Friday morning, we were on our way to the Gorges du Tarn. The Tarn river begins in the uplands of Mont Lozère at an altitude of 1,575m/5,167ft and eventually reaches the Causses region where it flows through the gorges it has created; impressive ones, over a distance of more than 50km/30mi. Before entering the gorges we stopped to eat lunch east of the little town of Ispagnac on the banks of the Tarn. Cheese and charcuterie on a baguette washed down with a glass each of beer (wine later!).

Continuing west we crossed the Tarn to Castelbouc, named after the enormous billy-goat that was supposedly seen in the sky over the castle when the lord, who chose not to join the Crusades, died. The ruins of the castle are on a steep rock over 60m/200ft high, standing guard over the village whose houses back right up against the cliff.

Soon we entered Ste-Énimie, where we stopped at a sidewalk café to enjoy the sun and the view of the river. The town was a hotbed of activity, with kayakers, bicyclists, RVers and other tourists strolling through the town and preparing their equipment for the next stretch of their trip. After finishing our coffees we crossed the bridge and headed south away from the river, winding our way up the southern cliffs through tight switchbacks until we reached the Causse Méjean plateau.

Our destination was Grotte de l’Aven Armand, an enormous underground cavern. An assistant of famous speleologist E-A Martel found the crevice known by local farmers as l’aven, or “the swallow hole” in 1897, and after initial exploration it was named after Louis Armand, the assistant. A 220yd tunnel has been excavated for access and leads to the foot of the 244ft-deep chimney the explorers first came through. The gallery measures 195x325 feet and is 146 feet high. The guided tour gives historical and scientific information while visitors walk among the giant stalagmites, some 80ft in height with bases 10ft in diameter of amazing shapes and colors. It was like entering the world of Dr. Seuss and the Truffula trees! I was glad we made the detour; it added on an hour of driving-time and a bit of stress to get there before closing time (), but was a good deviation from the scenic viewpoints and gorge-following. During our tour, at one point we passed another chimney that seemed to descend endlessly into the darkness, and according to our guide there is still exploration currently underway of some of the caves departing from the main gallery. Once above ground again, we took a quick look at the unassuming chimney leading downward to the gallery (the original l’aven) before retracing our route back to Ste-Énimie.

Our next stop was Cirque de St-Chély, with its gorgeous little village on the south bank of the Tarn accessible only by a bridge from the scenic D 907. With its little Romanesque church, a waterfall that seemingly flows directly from underneath a chapel, and easy access to the river, Roberts and I agree that we will return and stay at one of the gites. There was definitely a big difference between Ste-Énimie and St-Chély-du-Tarn in terms of tourist volume, and it was reluctantly that we returned to the car to continue our trip west.

We passed Pougnadoire village, whose houses were embedded in the rock, then Château de la Caze, a 15th century château that looked straight-out of a fairy tale. Then, just as the sun started its descent beyond the gorge, we arrived at our 16th century castle hotel. After a delicious three course meal we enjoyed a glass or three of wine in the beautiful courtyard before turning in for the night.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Please see English below!


Kaut vēl neesam ievākušies dzīvoklī, ar lielu sajūsmu gatavojos uz Lieldienām. Mums brauc pirmie ciemiņi, Roberta brālis Matīss ar savu draudzeni Indru, un šīs būs Lauŗa pirmās Lieldienas, kā arī mums visiem pirmās Lieldienas Francijā.

Esmu svinējusi latviskas Lieldienas Čikagā (Illinojā), Džordžijā (A.S.V.) ar savu vecmammu, Cincinnati (Ohaijo) ar Roberta omammīti un tanti Mary Margaret un ğimeni, un pagāšgad Grīnvilē (Dienvidkarolīnā). Citas pilsētas, cita kompānija, bet viena lieta nemainās; sīpolu mizās krāsotas olas! Džordžijā tām parādijās azalea ziedu nospiedumi, Dienvidkarolīnā, būdama stāvoklī ar Lauri, gandrīz uzdevu krāsošanu pusceļā, jo smaržas lika manam vēderam griezties.  Un sen atpakaļ Čikagā daudzreiz apnika ēst olas jo nokrāsojām tik daudzas. Un tā šogad pirms pāris nedēļām izskaidroju šo paražu manām I.W.C. draudzenēm. Es lūdzu viņām krāt sīpolu mizas, un sarīkoju nedeļā pirms Lieldienām satikšanos mūsu dzīvoklītī, lai krāsotu Lieldienu olas.

Pirms nedēļas veikalā skatijos pirkt olas, un tā atklāju pirmo šķērsli. Clermont-Ferrand nepārdod baltas olas. Skaistās brūnās oliņas kuŗas A.S.V. pārdod visos „organiskos” veikalos, šeit tās ir vienīgās olas pieejamas. Sākās lielā meklēšana. Es pati izmeklēju trīs veikalus pirms zvaniju palīgspēkiem. I.W.C. diskusiju lapās uzdevu šo jautājumu un pat feisbuka grupā lūdzu vietējos draugus palīgā. Aizvakar manas draudzenes Marion un Marine pavadija pāris stundas zvanot visiem vietējiem veikaliem, tirgiem un pat lauksaimniekiem, velti meklējot baltas olas. Un tā vakar sanāca mammas ar saviem bērniem un maisiem pilniem ar sīpolu mizām, bet olu krāsošana nenotika.

Aizvakar vakarā tas, ka olu krāsošana izkritīs, bija jau samērā skaidrs. Joka pēc nopirku sarkanos kāpostus un 10 brūnās olas (te nepērk duci, bet desmit), izmēğināt, vai tās uzņem krāsu. No rīta rezultāts; nevis skaisti lillā/zila ola, bet tāda pļurīgi brūna/zila. Rādiju draudzenēm, viena pat bija nopirkusi pāris kastītes „visgaišākās brūnās olas” kuŗas viņa varēja atrast un mēs visas piekritām; nākamgad olas importēsim jau pāris nedēļas pirms Lieldienām!

Esmu drusku bēdīga, ka Laura pirmās Lieldienās nebūs sīpolu mizās krāsotas olas. Bet tagad domāju, kā saistīt latvisko ar vietējo. Pirms nedēļas neiznāca atrast pūpolus, bet tos jau Dienvidkarolīnā un Džordžijā nevarēju atrast. Varbūt jādabon paskas recepte no vecmammas? Šeit Francijā ir ierasts meklēt paslēptas šokolādes Lieldienu olas, esam jau pieraduši ar Roberta ğimeni meklēt Lieldiena zaķa paslēptos groziņus. Protams cietvārītas olas kuŗas nav nokrāsotas ar sīpolu mizām vēl ir derīgas uz sišanos. Un Svētdien noteikti iesim šūpoties lai aizbaidītu odus. Tomēr svarīgākais, baudīsim mūsu pirmos ciemiņus te Francijā, skaisto laiku un pateiksimies par visu to ko Dieviņš mums devis.


Although we have still not moved into our apartment, I have started Easter preparations with much enthusiasm. Our first guests, Roberts’s brother Matīss and his girlfriend Indra will be here, and this is also Lauris’s first Easter as well as our first Easter in France.

I have celebrated a Latvian Easter in Chicago, in Hillsboro, Georgia with my grandmother, in Cincinnati with Roberts’s grandmother, aunt Mary Margaret and family, and last year in Greenville, SC. The scenery and participants keep changing, but one thing remains constant; eggs colored in the Latvian tradition of boiling with onion skins after wrapping with blades of grass, leaves etc. to leave designs in the brown color. In Georgia my eggs showed faint color from the azalea petals I used in the wrapping, in South Carolina I almost had to quit halfway through because of the impact the smell had on my pregnant senses, and a long time ago in Chicago I remember coloring so many eggs that by May I was sick of eggs and could not eat them again until June. And so a few weeks ago I explained this tradition to my I.W.C. friends, asked them to please save their onion skins and organized an egg-coloring playdate the week before Easter in our apartment.

A week ago I discovered the first hurdle while in the store shopping for eggs. There are no white eggs for sale in Clermont-Ferrand. Those beautiful brown eggs which are sold in all the organic aisles in the US supermarkets, or which I used to get from my coworkers that raised chickens back in Georgia, those are the norm here. The great search was on! I went to three stores before calling in reinforcements. After posing this question on the I.W.C. discussion forum and in a Facebook post, I enlisted local help. A few days ago my friends Marion and Marine spent hours on the phone calling local stores, markets and even farmers, searching for œufs blancs, without result. Suggestions included painting brown eggs white, using ostrich eggs, and buying my own white chicken. And so yesterday many of the moms from the mother and baby group came to my apartment with bags full of onion skins and items for decoration, but the egg coloring did not take place.

Instead of coloring eggs, the 3 boys worked on the plumbing
When the night before last it seemed pretty clear that we were not going to find any white eggs, I bought a head of red cabbage and 10 eggs to see if they would absorb any color. Another Latvian coloring technique involves boiling the eggs in the cabbage to produce a bluish/purple color. This morning’s result was not the anticipated beautiful deep blue, but a brownish sludge. I showed my friends, one of whom had even bought a few boxes of „the lightest brown eggs she could find” and we all agreed; next year we specially order/import white eggs a few weeks before Easter!

I am sad that I will not be able to continue this tradition for Lauris’s first Easter. But this also has me thinking how to incorporate the Latvian with the local. Maybe I get the recipe for „paska,” a traditional Latvian Easter food, from my grandmother? Here in France I understand that it is popular to go on Easter egg hunts, and since we are already accustomed to searching for the baskets the Easter bunny has left us with Roberts’s family, this might be a fun activity. There is also the Latvian tradition of swinging as high as possible on Easter Sunday to keep the mosquitoes at bay for the rest of the year. And finally all hardboiled eggs are used in the “sišanās,” where one person taps the egg of the next, with the last unbroken egg the winner. But as I brainstorm, search the internet and discuss with my international friends their Easter traditions, I remind myself that Easter is not only about eggs and rabbits. Most importantly, Easter this year will be for enjoying the company of our first visitors here in France as well as the beautiful weather, and thanking God for all the blessings He has bestowed on us this past year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


The lesson learned in my last entry about hiking with the Michelin guide as the sole source of direction was reinforced Sunday on our exploration of the nearby spa town of Royat. A large, thermal spa terraced on the slopes of the Tiretaine valley, the waters were utilized first by the Romans who built public baths there. Royat is also home to Royatonic, which I’ve heard much about from other expats here in Clermont-Ferrand and will definitely come back to! After reading blogs such as Cabes in France, I’m a little nervous about going alone the first time. Between the various steps you must take before getting in the pools, I’m nervous about walking into a men’s locker room or mistaking the foot wash bath for a hot tub! For sanitary reasons, they also do not allow the board shorts which are the norm for men’s swimsuits in the States, and so before Roberts can go, he will have to invest in something a little plus petit

We first strolled through the Parc Thermal, taking a short break at the playground, as well as learning (Lauris) to roll down the grassy hills. There were several interesting old caves and gated-off areas, one of which must have been the “Washerwomen’s Cave”, the Grotte des Laveuses, where several springs gush from the volcanic walls before flowing into the Tiretaine. However, it was very difficult to reconcile what I was reading about in the Michelin guide to what we were seeing, and soon we grew hungry and decided to head on to Parc Bargoin to eat our picnic lunch.

As Lauris napped in the shade, we ate our baguette, saucisson sec and fromages, topped off by Reese’s Pieces cups Roberts brought back from the States. As far as I can tell, the French are not big on peanut butter, and so some of my favorite chocolate (plus peanut butter) snacks are either  not available, or I have still to find the proper substitutes. The park was planned by Jean-Baptiste Bargoin in the 14th century. There is an abundance of tree species (over 600 according to the website), including redwoods and other American trees. I was on the lookout for the largest maple in France, over 250 years old according to our Michelin guide. But alas, I did not find it. Maybe this is due to translation error (there was a giant platanus, a plane-tree) or maybe the tree is one of the recent casualties to park safety, or maybe we just didn’t see it (although a tree 7.5 meters in circumference should be hard to miss!). Has anyone seen this tree? 

The large platanus we did find
These two parks are only a short distance from our apartment, easily accessible by bus, and I believe now that we know they are here, we will be more frequent visitors. Maybe to the spa as well? (Hint, hint Robert!) (As you wish… he replies)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hiking in the Mont-Dore region

I believe we have learned a lesson; the Michelin green guides are wonderful for sightseeing and driving, but not the most accurate resource for hiking! Saturday we had two goals in mind, the first to try out our new baby backpack, and the second to see two waterfalls in the Le Mont-Dore area. The backpack turns out to be a wonderful investment, we finally settled on the LittleLife Freedom child carrier from REI, but with one hitch – Roberts had to bring it back from his business trip to the US. As I neglected to consider dimensions for the return trip home, Roberts was forced to wear it as carry-on and so received many an inquiring glance and even a “did you forget your baby? WHERE is your BABY!?” from well-meaning passengers. But the carrier after one hike is working well, with plenty of room for baby paraphanelia - and it can handle Lauris up to 40 lbs.

On Saturday morning we packed up and drove southwest, stopping once at a scenic viewpoint overlooking the roches Tuilière et Sanadoire. Tuilière was once the chimney of a ruined volcano, and Sanadoire is all that remains of a volcanic cone. We continued past Lac de Guéry (to which we must return) through Le Mont-Dore until we reached La Bourboule. Both are spa towns with skiing nearby in the winter. At this point the Dordogne river is still a stream, and the Cliergue, our destination, a creek. We may have had a hint that we were in for an interesting hike when we could not locate the starting point, nor the landmarks that were supposedly near that point. Using the Cliergue as our guide, we headed upstream on a narrow access road with Lauris in the backpack and the gurgle of the stream in our right ears.
According to our guide, after a 15 minute hike we were supposed to take a path to the right that cuts downhill to see the first waterfall, the Cascade de la Vernière. Supposedly a 3 km round-trip, but at about 3 km we had not yet passed a path that could reasonably lead us to the stream. We did encounter a map, and sure enough, we had passed both waterfalls about 1.5 km back! Thus, we backtracked along the stream until the topography proved too difficult, and then cut uphill. This way we at least caught a glimpse of the second waterfall, the Cascade du Plat à Barbe (owes its name of “shaving dish” to the dip worn in the rock by its waters). On our way back to the car we noticed a trail leading downhill towards the creek that we had dismissed on our way up due to the barbed wire fence across it. And another one a bit further. And several trees felled across the path.  Noticing a little worn footpath leading around it we ignored the Deliverance banjo music and followed the minimal path downhill. After climbing over and skirting around five additional felled trees, we ducked through one more barbed wire fence to finally reach the waterfall, which turned out to be impressive at 6-8 meters high, and beautiful! Note: we obeyed every single PRIVE (“no trespassing, private”) sign we saw, it was only the barbed wire fences that we detoured around… with very much respect to the landowners of course, but also trusting that the Michelin guide’s invitation to seek the waterfall as a permission slip.

In Bourboule we explored Parc Fenestre with its planted sequoias and beautiful gardens. There were many activities for children such as bumper cars, a mini rollercoaster, even a high-C.O.P.E type of activity. We settled for a quick slide down the giant slide, because the cable-car that links the park with the Charlannes plateau was not yet running. An interesting little factoid about Bourboule is that the catalyst for the spa reputation was the discovery of arsenic in the waters by chemist Thénard in 1854. When the news spread, every home-owner in the town began exploring his property in hopes of finding his own spring, and each person did his best to excavate faster and pump more than his neighbor. There are actually two springs in Bourboule – a hot spring that is 140° F and a cold spring that is 66° F. Their waters contain metalloid arsenic and are used to treat respiratory diseases and dermatoses.

The boys relaxing Parc Fenestre, with the slide visible in the background
From this point we headed north to la Banne d’Oranche, a basal outcrop rising from a grassy hillock which are the remains of the central chimney of an old volcano. Although we did not hike the last km to the viewing platform on top, there was quite a view of the Dordogne valley with Puy de Sancy, Puy de l’Angle and the Dômes mountain range off in the distance. On our way home we paused at Lac Chambon and the Chateau de Murol, both beautiful, but left to explore for another day. We had to get back in time after all, for a too-rare girls night out!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pool time!

What a long week! With Roberts working in the US since last Sunday, Lauris and I have been spending lots of time with all of our new friends here in Clermont to help the days pass more quickly. Thank you to everyone who had us over! Only I may have to learn how to better invite myself over for dinner, although so far “help! Roberts is out of town for a week, can I come over for dinner?” seems to be working…

Halte garderie update: I believe Lauris is feeling more comfortable spending time at daycare. Thursday he spent close to three hours there, and I was told he only cried for the first little bit. He ate his entire lunch, attempted to gain access to the garderie's documents and cash box, and was in good spirits when I picked him up. This is good news for my French lessons, hopefully I won’t miss any more class.

Thursday for the first time I ordered pizza from Pizza Yvon, the trailer on the corner next to Jardin Lecoq. It has delicous pizza (when there are no potatoes on it!), is close to our apartment, and the proprietors are quite the characters, which is why up until now Roberts has done the ordering. I didn’t want to risk an order by phone, so I stopped by to give them my commande… the Marseillaise (chorizo, merguez, poivron, oignon and fromage) but SANS pomme de terre. The man frowned; you must have pomme de terre on this pizza! Non, non, sans pomme de terre, s’il vous plait. Je n’aime pas les pommes de terre, Sam I am. Finally he acquiesced, only to tell me that I must have it sooner than the 30 minutes I proposed. But that too was resolved, and I headed across the street to the park to let Lauris walk around. After bumping into another mother from the IWC playgroup we ended up back at the pizza place 10 minutes late… Uh oh! Some scolding looks, jabs at a wristwatch, and finally an offer of wine while I wait. Non, merci! No, but you must try! Oui, oui, you must! Non, merci… Then something I did not catch at which point I had to tell him I don’t speak French. This elicits a loud merde! Then a five minute monologue to all the other customers waiting around for their pizzas, I assume about non-French speakers! But before too much longer I was on my way home with my pizza, sans pomme de terre.

 The weather has only been getting warmer and warmer, I would really like my shorts from the shipment please! And so our busy week culminated in a visit to my friend Marine’s house, to grill out, take a dip in the pool and play with her three children, of which Maël is only a few months older than Lauris and so makes a perfect playmate. I was honored to be present for his inaugural walk! After a wonderful day spent relaxing outside, eating delicious food and watching Lauris charm everyone, I have decided that there is at least one thing Americans and the French have in common; the love of grilling when the weather gets nicer, and not only the love of grilling, but grilling with a cold beer in hand! My friend from French class, Joanna, joined us for dinner with her family, and the sun set to the sounds of childrens’ laughter and conversations in four different languages. A wonderful evening, and merci beaucoup! to the hosts!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Amboise fountain

“Augstu laim’ un prieku, no sirds vēlējam! Lai zied rozes, lai zied neļķes, tavā dzīves celiņā!”
“We wish you the best of luck and happiness! May the roses and carnations bloom in your walk of life!”
Mūsu mīļam tētim un vectētiņam novēlam daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā!!!
(We wish my father, Lauris’s grandfather a very happy birthday!!!)

We’ve been celebrating all week, the birthday as well as the beautiful spring weather, with long walks around town, repeated visits to the Jardin Lecoq and time spent eating and relaxing on our little balcony. On a recent walk we found another of Clermont’s fountains, this one a little more famous than the previous two. The Amboise fountain is the oldest operational fountain in Clermont, and the factoid I found most interesting is that it has been moved several times.

“In spite of five centuries of existence and successive moves, the beauty of its Gothic structure and the delicacy of its Renaissance decoration have not been dimmed. An inscription in Latin recalls that the fountain was made in 1511, for the Bishop of the diocese of Clermont. It was installed in front of the Cathedral’s southern entrance... This magnificent fountain enabled the people of Clermont to fetch water which had come directly from Royat, in 1573. In 1808 the fountain was moved to the Place Delille, and then to the junction of Cours Sablon and the Rue des Capucins, in 1855. In 1962, finally, it arrived in Place de la Poterne at the top of the Clermont knoll.”

The location is perfect, there is a beautiful view north of the town and the mountains, including Parc Montjuzet and Puy de Dome. We enjoyed the small park and ate our lunch sitting on one of the benches listening to the water of the fountain, before reluctantly packing up and heading home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption

The most famous treasure of Clermont-Ferrand is the great Gothic cathedral located in the heart of the old town. It is built entirely of black lava stone, which makes it highly distinctive. Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption is the largest cathedral constructed of the material.  Its elevated location in the center of the city and its two enormous twin spires allow it to be visible from great distances.

History in brief according to
In 1248 bishop Hugues de la Tour contracted Jean Deschamps with building a new cathedral. The choir, transept and beginning of the nave were finished in 1295. Pierre Deschamps took over for his father, and the raising of the towers of the transept arms was completed by an anonymous master from 1325 – 1340. Pierre de Cébazat continued building until the Hundred Years War. In 1884 the final parts were completed and the finishing touch of access steps on rue des Gras were built in the early 20th century. For a more complete history click here.

On Sunday Lauris and I ducked into the church to explore the inside, having passed by at least fifty times without finding the time to explore. The two rose windows were streaming sunlight, and a bit of restoration work on the south interior did not diminish the effect of the magnificent nave and transept. We wandered around looking for the staircase that I had heard leads to the top of one of the towers. I thought that I had found the door, but luckily the guardian of the church approached us at that point (I must have looked lost, as well as being lost!) and after paying a small fee the door was unlocked and we started up the spiral staircase.

After a long climb up we emerged on a small rooftop. The view of Clermont-Ferrand was magnificent, and although the volcanoes were slightly obscured by clouds and fog, Puy de Dome still took my breath away - or maybe it was the view combined with carrying Lauris up over a hundred stairs. After some reflection and a few photos, we heard thunder rumbling in the distance and took that as our invitation to descend, taking one last walk around the nave to see the organ on the west end. As we walked home, I kept looking back to catch glimpses of the giant spires standing guard over Clermont-Ferrand.
Puy de Dome off to the west

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The fountains of Clermont-Ferrand

After a few rainy days, Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were finally sunny and warm. Lauris and I resumed out wanderings through the city, pausing at several of the fountains. In Clermont-Ferrand, the fountains are not only in parks and main plazas, but also in tiny little out-of-the-way courtyards and back alleys. One of my favorites is the fountain of Place Delille. This place is a hub of activity during both day and nighttime. During the day parents shuttle their children to and from the nearby Massilion school, the sidewalk cafès are bursting with students and the tram and bus stops deliver newcomers. The global headquarters of Michelin group are but two minutes by foot, and thus one always sees corporate employees one their way to and from work, eating lunch and running errands.  

A second favorite is the Fontaine du Terrail, which I found while geocaching. The cache had gone missing, but the Place du Terrail made the trip worthwhile. A quiet little courtyard in the back streets behind the Cathédrale, I imagine the inhabitants of the upper storey apartments wake in the mornings, throw open their shutters and enjoy their coffee while watching the courtyard come to life. The inscription around the top of the fountain is so worn as not to be legible, but an engraved 1684 gives an idea of the age.

The antiques store on Place du Terrail

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