Sunflowers and Aqueducts

29 Jul

A little late posting again this week due to being on the road on Sunday/Monday.  We ended last week settling in to a new house sit near Ruffec in the Charente département.  On Monday we headed to Limoges to take a look but as mentioned in my last post the temperatures have been in the low to mid thirties so staying out of the heat limited how much time we spent exploring.  Before setting out we stopped at a smart looking café and had the most unusual espresso.  It tasted full of flavour but at the same time quite sour.  Very interesting, no idea what it was but we had two each.  Limoges was very pleasant and we ended up at the bottom end of town at the cathedral which had a botanic garden next to it and a large fountain.

By the time we were ready to head out exploring on Tuesday it was 13h00 and 5 minutes down the road a thunderstorm broke.  It didn’t last long and after driving through a few nearby villages we stopped at Verteuil-sur-Charente for a coffee at a riverside café.

Cognac was our destination on Wednesday and we were amazed at how quiet the streets in the centre of the city were.  Admittedly we were there in the lunch time closure period but there were so few tourists even that we were at risk of having to introduce ourselves because we kept seeing the same people in different parts of town.  Remember that this is in peak summer holiday period and even if the locals are not silly enough to be out in the heat, tourists like us usually are.  It was odd.  Anyway, we had a look around, stopped by Martell and left it at that.  We will be coming back here in October to spend some more time while we are house sitting near Fomperron for seven weeks.

On Thursday we sought out some photo opportunities near our base.  We had been driving past fields of sunflowers and wheat but it is not usually possible to just stop and take a photo – there are typically no shoulders on the country roads and they are a little narrow.  We had also been waiting in the hope that the sunflowers would mature some more and present a more consistent view.  We also went back to Verteuil to explore some more.  It really is a pretty place.  In the evening, the parent’s of our house sitting host (who lived only 50m away) invited us for dinner and we spent a very nice evening eating, drinking and chatting.  During the night there was a thunderstorm which became quite intense from a while but we did lose power for a while.  In the morning it was fine again but because of the rain it was now humid.

We spent Friday preparing for our departure, making sure the house was clean, sorting our belongings and repacking the car.  Our early night ended up being 23h00 but the worst of it was another thunderstorm.  This one was really rough and tiles were blown off the roof, power went out, the rain poured down and thunder and lightning seemed to be centred on us.  The gusts of wind were ferocious and we had to go around securing shutters at 02h00 in the dark (no power).

In the morning we could see plenty of damage to trees, the gazebo was shredded and a few things were dislodged around the garden.  Not too bad considering but importantly, Jasmin the pregnant goat who was due sometime this week had not had her suspected triplets.  If she had dropped them now it was going to impact our travel plans for the day.  So we dodged a bullet there I would say!  Anyway we managed to get ourselves organised and on the road at 10h45 with everything in good shape for Nicky’s return.

On the road there were signs of damage everywhere for the 100km to Bordeaux at least.  There were branches down along the roads and in the woods but hardest hit were the crops of sunflowers and maize.   We stopped just past Valence to take photos of a flattened sunflower field – yesterday it was a mass of yellow flowers and today it is a mess of green stems laying flat.  The maize was also a huge tangled mess.

Saturday was also the first big day of the summer holidays so there was more traffic than usual.  It took us 45 minutes to travel 10km on the motorway past Bordeaux.  The gridlock was caused by traffic attempting to get on to the roads to the coast.  Once we got by the offending interchanges we were cruising again and arrived at our overnight hotel in Toulouse at 16h00 after a couple of stops and lunch.

St Michel de Lions church in Limoges is a Gothic granite building with a large hall and a 70m high spire.  Look closely at the columns - there is no distortion in the photo, these columns are anything but straight.

St Michel de Lions church in Limoges is a Gothic granite building with a large hall and a 70m high spire. Look closely at the columns – there is no distortion in the photo, these columns are anything but straight.

The 70m spire.

The 70m spire.

The Temple Court Mansions are among the largest renaissance houses built by the rich burghers of Limoges.  Typical of Limoges town houses the ground floor and stairs are granite while the upper stories are half timbered.

The Temple Court Mansions are among the largest renaissance houses built by the rich burghers of Limoges. Typical of Limoges town houses the ground floor and stairs are granite while the upper stories are half timbered.

The Museum of History near the river and Cathedral in Limoges.

The Museum of History near the river and Cathedral in Limoges.

Verteuil-sur-Charente was a spot we returned to a couple of times, on this occasion to sit with a coffee beside the river and watch the world go by.

Verteuil-sur-Charente was a spot we returned to a couple of times, on this occasion to sit with a coffee beside the river and watch the world go by.

The café also had a fully working water mill producing flour.

The café also had a fully working water mill producing flour.

Another view of the château at Verteuil-sur-Charente (there was one in last week's post also).

Another view of the château at Verteuil-sur-Charente (there was one in last week’s post also).

Another mill on the Charente River at Verteuil, this one I think was a tannery.

Another mill on the Charente River at Verteuil, this one I think was a tannery.

Verteuil-sur-Charente

We made a quick visit to Martell at Cognac.  We will do the proper tour here in October when we are based in Fomperron.

We made a quick visit to Martell at Cognac. We will do the proper tour here in October when we are based in Fomperron.

A small lane in the old city of Cognac.

A small lane in the old city of Cognac.

Standing on Pont Neuf looking back at the Hennessy factory.  The river is the Charente again.

Standing on Pont Neuf looking back at the Hennessy factory. The river is the Charente again.

The Hôtel de Ville in Cognac is set in a large park.  Immediately in front of the main entrance is this interesting sundial!

The Hôtel de Ville in Cognac is set in a large park. Immediately in front of the main entrance is this interesting sundial!

All around this area there are coppiced woods that are harvested for firewood.  We have seen wood piled 4m high and 200m long on some roadsides.  This is just a small sample 200m from our housesit.

All around this area there are coppiced woods that are harvested for firewood. We have seen wood piled 4m high and 200m long on some roadsides. This is just a small sample 200m from our housesit.

A pity that the sky wasn't nice and blue with a few fluffy white clouds but you have to take your chances and grab the photo.

A pity that the sky wasn’t nice and blue with a few fluffy white clouds but you have to take your chances and grab the photo.

The wheat harvest is underway and large bales of wheat straw are popping up everywhere.

The wheat harvest is underway and large bales of wheat straw are popping up everywhere.

Many of the villages in this area have these very neat hedges right on the edge of the tarmac.  Apparently they are to help slow traffic down by keeping the width to a minimum.

Many of the villages in this area have these very neat hedges right on the edge of the tarmac. Apparently they are to help slow traffic down by keeping the width to a minimum.

More traffic control hedges!

More traffic control hedges!

This is the small church at Chenommet.  It is typical of the style we have seen in several villages in this area.  The interior is very simple.

This is the small church at Chenommet. It is typical of the style we have seen in several villages in this area. The interior is very simple.

Sunflowers on the road out of Valence.  Having them below the level of the road makes it a lot easier to get a good photo.

Sunflowers on the road out of Valence. Having them below the level of the road makes it a lot easier to get a good photo.

This was the devastation on Saturday after the big storm overnight.  Sunflower and maize crops alike, almost ready to harvest, were laid flat everywhere.  On Friday this had been a mass of bright yellow flower heads like the photo above.

This was the devastation on Saturday after the big storm overnight. Sunflower and maize crops alike, almost ready to harvest, were laid flat everywhere. On Friday this had been a mass of bright yellow flower heads like the photo above.

Taken out the window from our hotel in Toulouse.  We were staying in a business park hotel right next to the Ariane display centre.

Taken out the window from our hotel in Toulouse. We were staying in a business park hotel right next to the Ariane display centre.

On Sunday morning we headed into the centre of Toulouse for a look around.   We parked near Prairie des Filtres close to the Pont Neuf.  I had my camera bag searched just to get into the park!  They seemed to be looking for glass bottles and drinking vessels and also knives.  It must be a rough place.  We only spent a short time there then explored more on foot per normal and found the Capitole de Toulouse.  This houses a public art gallery containing impressionist works by Henri Martin and Paul Gervais plus others.  It was stunning!  We ended up staying in Toulouse until 13h00 before setting off for Remoulins where we found our next hotel at 16h00.

Pont Neuf in Toulouse.

Pont Neuf in Toulouse.

The Capitole de Toulouse which as well as city administration functions houses a collection of art.

The Capitole de Toulouse which as well as city administration functions houses a collection of art.

One of the magnificent galleries in the Capitole de Toulouse.

One of the magnificent galleries in the Capitole de Toulouse.
An example of the many huge paintings.  The predominant artists were Henri Martin and Paul Gervais.  This painting is one of four by Martin representing the seasons called 'Summer'.

An example of the many huge paintings. The predominant artists were Henri Martin and Paul Gervais. This painting is one of four by Martin representing the seasons called ‘Summer’.

The guy on the desk at Remoulins warned us of serious thunderstorms predicted for the evening/night so instead of settling in and relaxing we set off almost immediately, in the heat, to the Pont-du-Gard arriving there at 17h00 and not leaving until 22h30!

I am a big fan of the Pont-du-Gard, I just think it is such an incredible human achievement, in fact the whole aqueduct from Uzés to Nîmes is amazing.  We visited here in 2005 and loved it.  There is a very comprehensive museum focussed on all things to do with Romans, water and aqueducts.  It was just a shame that the lighting was so low that many of the placards were impossible to read.  We had dinner at 20h30 on site and right on cue at sunset, 21h11, the lights came on to bathe the Pont-du-Gard in various shades.  In the distant background thunder was rolling and there were random flashes of lightning in the clouds.  All made for a memorable visit.

The Pont-du-Gard - what more can I say?

The Pont-du-Gard – what more can I say?

A photo of the Pont-du-Gard with people on it just to show the scale.

A photo of the Pont-du-Gard with people on it just to show the scale.

The Pont-du-Gard from the upper viewing point on the right bank.

The Pont-du-Gard from the upper viewing point on the right bank.

This olive tree at the Pont-du-Gard was planted in 908AD according to the placard.

This olive tree at the Pont-du-Gard was planted in 908AD according to the placard.

The Pont-du-Gard from the upper viewing point on the left bank.

The Pont-du-Gard from the upper viewing point on the left bank.

Just in case you ever wondered what the Pont-du-Gard looks like at night and in different colours…

Pont-du-Gard - the red version.

Pont-du-Gard – the red version.

Pont-du-Gard - the pink version.

Pont-du-Gard – the pink version.

Pont-du-Gard - the blue version.

Pont-du-Gard – the blue version.

Pont-du-Gard - the green version.

Pont-du-Gard – the green version.

Pont-du-Gard - the light blue version.

Pont-du-Gard – the light blue version.

That was the end of a very busy and hot day.

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