Category Archives: France

Remember

On June 9, 1944, Oradour-Sur-Glane was an ordinary French village. On June 10, 1944, four days after D-Day, Nazi SS troops systematically rounded up everyone in the village. Women and children were taken to the church. The men were taken to several locations in town. At a given signal, the men were all shot and the women and children at the church were gassed and shot. Only one woman and several men survived the massacre. Over six hundred people were killed of whom two hundred were children.  After the killings, the Nazis went through the town systematically and burned it down. The next day, another SS group went through the village collecting all the bodies and hiding them in a mass grave. Only a few bodies were ever identified. The accused perpetrators of the killings were later brought to trial and they were given amnesty. The city is known as the Village of the Martyrs. The relatives of the dead never recovered the bodies of their relatives and never had the satisfaction of Justice. 
Why? No one knows. It may have been a reprisal for kidnapping an SS officer or it may have been to send a message in view of the Allied invasion. 

The ruins of the city are there today. I had never heard the story previously, but it is well known in France and many school groups visit the site. There are several memorials there to remember the victims.  

             The entrance to the village has a single word in English:  

  

Questions Answered – Food and Sources

i am going to try to answer several questions from comments in previous posts. First, there was a comment that all this stuff about restaurant conversations is interesting, but what are you eating?  Since that is a topic near and dear to my heart, I’ll start there. 

Interestingly, because Burgundy is wine country, it is also home to numerous good restaurants. Since good food and wine go together, wine lovers are typically food lovers. All the vintners and buyers will only eat at good restaurants, so it is claimed that a bad restaurant can’t survive. Certainly, all our restaurant experiences in France have been good. 

Burgundy is noted for a number of dishes: escargot de Bourgogne (snails sizzling hot in garlic butter), beef Burgundy, coq au vin (rooster stewed in red wine), Dijon mustard, and oeufs en meurette (poached eggs in red wine sauce). We ate all of them except for the eggs. Our favorite was the escargot. The best we had were in garlic butter with parsley and hazelnuts.

While on the topic of food, we stayed last night at a fifteen room hotel located in an old mill that included a Michilin star restaurant. While we were planning the trip, someone sent me a list of places you probably didn’t know about; but should. Most of the places on the list were tourist attractions, but this hotel and restaurant were also on the list. I found that it was an easy stop between Dordogne and the Loire Valley, so we decided to splurge and add it to the itinerary. 

   Le Moulin du Roc is located on the banks of a stream in a tranquil garden setting. There were ducks swimming in the stream and we saw an otter at dinner.  

   Eating on a terrace beside the stream.

It was our first Michilin star experience. There was about one wait person per two to three tables, so service was excellent. The dinnerware was Limoges. There was new silverware at every course whether you needed it or not. The menu was as follows:

  • Foie Gras and bread.  Dordogne is the heart of foie gras country and I was going to skip it on “animal rights” grounds, but it was included and it was delicious. 
  • A Japanese dish of thinly sliced rare beef with a sauce. 
  • Our chosen appetizer of ceviche.  I personally prefer the ceviche at Bonefish Grill.
  • Our entrees.  Susan had lobster with coconut milk foam and I had grilled red mullet.     
  • A custard cream with kiwi
  • Macaroons (yummmm!)
  • As much as we wanted from the desert cart. I had a white chocolate cake with cherries and pistachio, a chocolate tarte, and kiwi sorbet. Susan showed more restraint with apricot tarte and a chocolate something. 

We both agreed it wasn’t the best meal we ever had, but it was very good and quite an experience. 

The other question I got is where I get all of the factual (hopefully) information I come up with. I get a lot of it from the Rick Steves guidebooks. I think they are indispensable for European travel. We get the Kindle editions, so we don’t have to lug any books around but can read it on our phones or tablets. It is not as convenient to use as a real book, but it saves a lot of weight and space. Other times I use information from publications at the travel sites or from tours. For instance, we were able to get an English tour of the cave. And in other cases, I just Google it. 

If you have other questions, just leave them as comments and I will try to answer them. 

    Roofs in Dordogne 

    There are a lot of flat rocks in France. They have been cleared from the land to make way for vineyards and fields. They have been used to make fences between fields and to build houses. In the Dordogne area, they have also been used for roofs. These stone roofs are called lauzes in French. While they were originally very inexpensive, today few people can afford them.  The roofs weigh about 160 pounds per square foot and many of them seem to have some dips in them. They will last for about 300 years. 

    Lichen that grows on the porous limestone is important to seal the roof, prevent leaks, and prevent damage from freeze/thaw cycles. Air circulation, such as provided by the small windows in the following picture, is important for the lichen to grow and thrive.   

      

     Some roofs are part lauzes and part modern materials.  

     The roof on this small castle has a noticeable repair to the roof on the small wing.  

      

     These are a couple houses typical of our favorite town in Dordogne. 

    Things You Learn at a Restaurant

    Friday night we ate in a cave restaurant in Beaune. A cave is an underground space where wine was stored, and there are many caves in Beaune. We were in a small cave with one other table. Partially into our meal, the diners at the other table arrived with their dog. This is not all that unusual as we have seen dogs in restaurants on a number of other occasions. Through the meal they spoke only French and we spoke only English. After we were finished eating, Susan asked them something about their dog. It turns out they both spoke English very well.  He works for Michilin Tire and has visited their plant in Greenville, SC and she taught English in Tokyo for Berlitz. I was very thankful I hadn’t discussed the dog with Susan during the meal. We have found that you need to assume the people around you understand English. 

    He was very opinionated and we had an hour long conversation with them. They live in southern France; and according to him, the French avoid Paris as being unsafe. He particularly wouldn’t ride the metro there after dark and he felt you took your life in your hands going into northern Paris. One of the main issues in France with the European Union is immigration from Africa and Eastern Europe. This is very much a recurring theme with everyone we have talked to in the European Union. 

    His comment on New York City was he couldn’t tell whether he was in Africa, Asia, North America, or South America. He went into the subway once and turned around and left. At one point he called President Obama a “snake”, but his real issue with him was not so much policy as that he is a poor leader. He was an advocate for a strong America, but observed it has been a long time since we won a war. If he could vote for the president in 2016, it would be for Hillary Clinton. He would like to see the European Union reduced to France, Germany, and Great Britain. Although they have been enemies for hundreds of years, he felt they knew how to deal with each other. 

    While he would certainly be called a racist for some of the things he said, he stated everything in a factual manner and with a lot of humor.  While we certainly would not agree with everything he said, it made for an interesting and entertaining evening. I find it interesting to hear what the rest of the world thinks of us.  

     Saturday we drove to the Dordogne region of France. This is another very scenic region of France that is best know for its caves with some of the earliest cave paintings discovered to date. More to follow. 

    A Drive Through Burgundy

    Today we explored some of Burgundy outside the wine growing area where we are staying. The experience here is so different from Italy where every place seemed over run with tourists. There are very few tourists and really very few people on the streets or on the roads. It can feel a little eerie like you are walking through a ghost town.  One of the consequences of no tourists is that nobody speaks English and the menus often have no English. Since our French doesn’t go beyond “Bon jour”, that makes communication really difficult. The lack of crowds and the good food here are very much to our liking. 

    So far driving is not too bad, in part because there aren’t a lot of cars on the road. While the roads can be narrow and single lane in spots, there are no tour buses and not too many trucks coming at you. However, there are a few quirks to deal with.  For one, the speed limits often are not posted.  There are standard speed limits outside of town and in towns unless posted otherwise. You have to be conscious of the town entrance and exit signs to know when the speed limit changes.  And on all but the expressways, you are going through a lot of towns.  Another significant oddity is that on many roads, right turns onto the road have priority over cars driving straight on the road. However, this is not true on major roads. So there is a sign with a yellow square standing on a corner if it is a major road and the same symbol with a slash through it if it is not a major road.  Therefore, you have to know the class of road you are on to know if you have to yield to the car turning right in front of you or not. Not to be too opinionated, but that is the dumbest driving rule I have ever heard!

    Today, we visited three small towns and an Abbey. 

     Chateauneuf en Auxois.  I know you don’t care about the details, but one of the Pot family was involved in building this chateau. There must have been a lot of money in government service.  

     The Burgundy canal. Next time we are in Burgundy we are going to try to include a boat trip on the canal.  

     Flavigny Sur-Ozerain.  This is the town where Chocolat was filmed. Susan is sitting in the window of the chocolate shop, which appears to be an empty building now. It appears that many of the small French towns are struggling with empty buildings and many for sale.  

     Fontenay Abbey founded in 1118. 

      Semur en Aixois.  The church is from the thirteenth century. The tower is one of several in town and was built in 1274. We could have spent several hours exploring this town, but we had a long day and it was starting to drizzle. It seems every village we visit here is so charming you want to explore every street. 

    A Little Pot History

    No, it’s not what you are thinking. It is the history of the chateau we visited today. The history begins in the 12th century when a fortress was built on the hillside.  It was soon abandoned due to a lack of water, and a century later the La Roche family built a massive chateau below the fortress overlooking the neighboring village. The chateau became well known when it was acquired by the Pot family in the 15th century. The Pots held numerous positions of influence in service to Philippe the Bold, Philippe the Good, and Charles the Bold. (After reading this history, I have declared myself Bruce the Prolific.).  When the French Revolution broke out, the chateau was confiscated by the French government and within ten years it lay in ruins.  It was purchased and reconstructed over a twenty five year period beginning in 1893.  The chateau is named La Rochepot after the two original owners. 

     The person who reconstructed the chateau was an early adaptor of cameras and took over a thousand pictures documenting the work. This gives you an idea of the condition when he started.  

     This is how it looks today.  

     Burgundy is noted for its use of multicolored roof tiles.  This type of roof originated in Paris at the end of the 12th century and gradually spread through northern and eastern France. During the Renaissance, preferences changed to slate roofing except in Burgundy. The use of multicolor roof tiles returned to much of Europe in the mid nineteenth century due to a renewed interest in the Middle Ages.  

     The chateau overlooks the village of Rochepot. 

    In the afternoon we did a little walk through the vineyards  

     The area is laced with hiking trails and biking trails. Many of these also are used as service roads to access the vineyards. 

     A restored windmill we saw on the walk.  

     If it’s not dark green, it’s a grape vine.  

     We learned how they trim the tops of the grape vines so the grapes get optimal sun. 

    After two rather dreary days, we had a beautiful day today and took full advantage of it. We ended the day with a little relaxation at our pool. We used the sauna on the dreary days, but the pool is better on the nice days. 

    It’s All About the Grapes

    According to Rick, there are 4200 wineries located in 44 villages in the Burgundy area.  These villages are all very small with stone houses, narrow streets, lots of flower pots, and small wineries everywhere.  And of course the villages are surrounded by vineyards. Wine making was introduced in the area by the Romans more than two thousand years ago. The wine making was perfected by monks who determined that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes were best for the climate and soil conditions. The French Revolution put capitalists in charge of the wine making, and they went for quantity over quality. This reduced the popularity of Burgundy wine, and an insect blight in the late 1800’s killed most of the vines. This forced the growers in the region to return to the grapes and methods developed by the monks, to emphasize quality over quantity, and to greatly reduce the amount of land planted in grapes. 

    Today, the French government controls the quantity of wine produced to insure quality. This has a huge effect as the production per acre in Burgundy is about half that in California.  The vineyards are trimmed to assure the right amount of sunshine on the grapes for optimum quality. While they may have reduced the land planted in grapes, there are areas where all you see in any direction is vineyards. And vineyards can be found anywhere including right behind the houses across the street from us.  

     The dark green is trees.  Everything else green is vineyards.  

     Today we made a circle tour on narrow back roads through the wine country. As you can see it was a drizzly, dreary day.  

     We also saw some fields of grain.  

     A typical village street. All the roads in the vineyards and streets in the villages were very quiet.  But there were a few workers in the fields who appeared to be trimming the vines. 

     It does appear that there is money to be made in wine! 

     Finally, I want to share this picture of our first dinner in France. The entree was a fish wrapped in a crisp puff pastry and was accompanied by five vegetables.  The carrots and broccoli were simply prepared but the rice, greens and zucchini were all very interesting. The appetizer was delicious, sizzling escargots in garlic butter and the desert was an unbelievably good soufflé with strawberry juice. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven after nothing but pasta to eat the day before. And count them, there were five vegetables included!  That would contrast with exactly no vegetables included in Italy. 

    Le Pigeonnier

    Saturday we made a six hour drive from Turin, Italy to the little village of Change in the Burgundy region of France.  Since it was a relatively long drive, we stuck to the major roads which were generally toll roads. And the French are mighty proud of their toll roads as it cost nearly $100 in tolls for the trip. The region we crossed on the Italy/France border was mountainous with some snow still on the mountains.  While the highway engineers in the U.S. seem to avoid tunnels, the Europeans seem to tunnel right through anything that gets in their way. It seemed at least a third of the route through the mountains was in tunnels. The sightseeing in the tunnel is not very good, but it is fast and direct. The most expensive toll was when we entered France where we had to pay nearly fifty dollars for about ten minutes of two lane tunnel followed by another ten minutes of two lane road with maintenance delays. 

    It was my first experience driving in a country where I couldn’t read any of the road signs. I soon learned that when I saw “gare” in a sign, I was approaching a toll booth. Susan manned the tickets, coins, bills, and credit card and you needed all of these to successfully navigate the variety of toll booths. Whenever I saw “aire” in the sign, I knew we were approaching a rest stop and there was one about every twenty miles.  Some of them were very large with restaurants, hotels, picnic spots, and round-abouts. I hope there was nothing important on the other signs!

    We are staying in an old farm house in the very small village of Change. The house was built in the late 1800’s as a former winemakers home. The bottom of the house was a “cave” for storing the wine. It was purchased in 1998, restored over many years, and rented out as a “gite” starting in 2007. The present owner purchased it in 2014 and is continuing the gite tradition. A gite is simply a house that the owner rents. I believe there are some tax advantages since the rentals encourage tourism in the area. To say that we are enjoying the house is a gross understatement.  

     This is the road we live on. Our house is the one on the far left. 

     Le Pigeonnier. Yes, that is our BMW in the front, an Avis “economy” car. The large doors on the lower level are the entrance to the cave.

     The garden in the front courtyard. We go up the steps to the right to get to the entrance.  

     A small breakfast terrace off the dining room overlooks the front courtyard.  

     There is an old water pump in the front courtyard.  

     One outdoor dining option.  

     Another outdoor dining option.  

     This pigeon house, which is no longer in use, gives the home its name.  

     We even have our own small pool! 

     And this building is our wellness center with a stationary bike, a sauna, and a shower. 

    The house is just as nice inside with a gourmet kitchen, nice artwork, historic memorabilia, and all appliances you would expect except for a freezer. It even comes equipped with mountain bikes and a biking trail passes nearby. It is extremely quiet with only the sounds of birds, a rooster, and distant church bells. I feel sure we are the only tourists in town. Best of all, on a weekly basis, it is the least expensive place we have stayed this trip. The area is beautiful and our first restaurant meal was fantastic. We love it here!