Bordeaux, Lyon, and Beyond

June 1. Thanks to the few trees on the outskirts of the Château near a few miles from the center of Bordeaux, I was able to actually sleep through the night. I found my way back into the city center and parked near the jardin public as I wanted to check it out. I walked through the area and found a café called the Orangerie where I downloaded some applications using Wi-Fi. The proprietress got cross with me even though I asked to use it and didn’t sit down. So I hurried off to the monumental fountain dedicated to the memory of the Girondone, the party that was destroyed during the French revolution. Then I headed to the beautiful building which is the opera house and decided I’d come back when it was open at 1 o’clock. I continue wanting my way through the streets and found my way to the waterfront where I took in the spectacle of the Parliament buildings. One of the buildings is now a museum to the national customs and I inquired about the length of visit and decided I didn’t have enough time to really take it in. Further on I saw a nice exhibit on the architectural elements in Bordeaux dedicated to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. I wanted into that building and found out that it was a patrimonial architectural center which had a great exhibit on the protection of the architectural elements in the city beginning in the early 1900s thanks to a few dedicated individuals. I discovered that that Bordeaux is the second city in France behind Paris having the most numerous UNESCO protected elements.

In 2013 they started a program to document and catalog their historical buildings. They have a philosophy which allows for modification rather than strict preservation. I saw a video on some of the ways that homes have been modified in the area and conversations with the owners. It was really nice to see one in particular the man in his garden and how proud he was of his little garden in the middle of the city. That was a big element. French love green space and gardens and another man sold houses and was saying that having a small bit of yard was a huge selling point in any city. I learned a tremendous amount about the history of the city, and watched a film about its development as a port city. It mentioned the changes between the British and French occupation of the area. It’s interesting because as part of Aquitaine it was occupied for 400 years by the British. So it has a different feel than other areas of France. Although to be fair the whole Occitaine area which is just south of Bordeaux and stretches east and south to the Alps and Spain has a different feel as well having not been part of France until much later. In many ways King Philipp the Fair’s massacre of the Cathars was simply pretext for stealing Occitaine. I had been particularly bothered by that history as I related to the Cathars for their Gnostic views of religion. I’ve always wondered what was really behind the power grab. Many people were killed and tortured and accused of being Cathars but I’ve learned that very few actually were. Most were simply resisting the church and nobility’s power grab.

I spent another hour or so wandering the streets with a map of the important historical sites in the old town. I made the mistake in Lyon later that day thinking I was in the old town but missing most of the old town until night when the cathedrals had closed. I regretted it and thought about returning but it was such a mess entering the city and finding parking that I decided against it. I’ve had enough of cities for a couple of days.  I saw several important old city gates one of which was dedicated to Charles the fourth would be in the English king after his triumphant battle against the Italians. There’ve been a lot of battles here. I like Bordeaux. That’s why I ended up staying an extra day. It had a lovely feel and a very happy mix of immigrants and people from Spain, Portugal, and Africa amongst others. Like Marseilles it had historically been a real melting pot. The history exhibit in the patrimonial building gave me a much better sense of how it was different from other places I’ve been in France.
On my wanderings I came back to the main Cathedral and looked at the City Hall which was originally the bishops home or palace. No wonder. The bishops had all the money and all the power. I think some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen were Bishops Palaces. I took a photo from the entrance and then wandered over to the cathedral which was monumental and impressive. The Southern gate was a monumental portal carved of stone similar to that which I saw at Moissac. One of the apostles depicted was that of St. Jacques, the patron saint of all pilgrims. He wore a small bag with a shell on it over his shoulder depicting him as a traveler. If I have a patron saint, he must be mine.

Interior of the church was fairly empty like most of those that I’ve seen in France thus far. A big contrast to many Catholic Churches I’ve seen in southern Germany which are incredibly ornate and decked out. Many of the characters in France were severely looted during the hundred years war, the 30 years war, and the revolution. Between those periods and others, it’s probably a miracle than any of them are still standing at all. Another factor is that some of the areas in France had became protestant and were punished for it later. There was a Catholic reform. Where after church after towns were protestant the Catholic Church would come in and a Catholic order would build a huge monastery and reform the people.  I was near a coffee place that I’d seen the day before called SIP. The owner was very nice and also interested in coffee. She started it because in general people in France over roast their beans and don’t drink lattes or cappuccinos much just coffee and straight espressos.She was surprised that I knew so much about the process of preparing the beans. I explained that been on a coffee farm in Costa Rica and was interested in the whole process of coffee making. She had sent several months in Australia and loved New Zealand, She told me about her place, I got a wonderful cold press Ethiopian which I vowed to try again as it is the cradle of coffee, Not only that it it was very smooth ad pleasant.

After having a pleasant sit, I wandered off and found yet another church, this time one that had been built by a monastic order. The monastery had been destroyed by the king of France who wanted to enlarge the city’s fortress because the people of Bordeaux were rebelling against paying taxes. It was a very rich port. Almost all the wine from the south made its way up the Garonne or Dordogne on small flat bottom boats. As Bordeaux was on the confluence of both rivers, it got its wealth from the shipping of all the agricultural goods from the south to Northern Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and even the US. Even slaves were sent to the Caribbean from its ports. All that was left was the church of Notre Dame, which is apparently one other loveliest baroque style churches i France. this was hard to believe as Paris must be full of such churches, though the revolution hit Paris perhaps harder than other locations in terms of material destruction of governmental and church property. I marveled at the sculptures and lovely altar as well as the stained glass and other ornamentation. As usual it was overdone. That’s what Baroque was all. Like Queen Anne architecture. Baroque was the inventor of overdone. I wandered back to the opera building and was happy to get a look. Unfortunately my phone had died (no battery left) so it was a picture of the eyes. The staircase was royal and it was very kind that they allowed people to have a look. In most towns in France that had an opera it was closed. I had lucked out in Toulouse because they had opened it up for the day when I was there.

I continued looking for nice architectural elements. Next to the Notre Dame church was a covered passage that reminded me of Paris. It turned out that a man from England had designed it. As I’m an architecture hound, I was very happy in Bordeaux. I definitely want to go back and explore more of the neighborhoods. It has truly earned the UNESCO world heritage site badge of honor. I walked back along the Garonne River, admiring the architecture just north of the now destroyed fortress. That area was reserved for protestants and foreigners. The wealthiest of those immigrants who were predominantly Irish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Africans built stately homes in that area. They were mostly merchants and traders working the import export trade. There were some really lovely neighborhoods there, narrow streets and pretty little shops with vegetation along the streets. It’s amazing what you can do in a medieval burb.  I found my car and much to my relief had no tickets. Thus far I haven’t had a parking ticket even though I’ve been in paid areas. It’s probably ticketless now. Someone told me I had to go online to pay but it was lost on me. To my chagrine, my handy phone would not charge. I sat for 10 minutes waiting for it to charge but to no affect. I finally whipped out the map I’d gotten at the tourist office and decided to follow it as best I could. I made my way to the bridge and across, then took a wrong turn and headed back. Finally rolled down the window and asked a motorcyclist which way to Lyon. He indicated that I was headed in the right direction. It was a miracle, as there had been many other streets I could have take.

I pulled over into a shopping area and asked if I could charge my phone. A man walked me into a barber shop. The owner was definitely the hub of the community. He was Moroccan. I didn’t realize there was a Spanish and French Morocco. He was from the Spanish side, so I spoke Spanish with him and French with the other guy. Boy my head hurt! He had an iPhone charger as well so after 10 more minutes or so my phone finally had enough charge to start. I was relieved, as I thought I’d have to drive without it. He was incredibly kind as were the other guys in the shop. He said I could follow him as he was heading in that direction in case I didn’t get my phone started. It left a very nice impression on me, these generous strangers.  By this time it was almost 8pm and daylight was fading fast. It had been staying light till 10pm or so. I’d been able to squeeze a lot in to a day. I was on the autoroute, the pay as you go prison where you can’t see the towns or get off the highway. I found a stop and used the wifi to download applications that I hadn’t been able to for a while, as well as audiobooks like Harry Potter and A Time of Gifts. It was late and I got back on the highway then looked for the next exit. I found a small town and a dirt road next to a stream where I parked and slept for the night. Inside as it had been raining that day and the ground was muddy.

I woke up and followed the signs to the medieval village of Donzenac. Eric had told me that any word ending in ac in France was Occitaine. Like Cognac, another village in France (as well as an apertif) which I’m sure originated there as well. Donzenac was a lovely village. It turned out that Catherine De Medici had been Lord of Donzenac in the 1500s. Donzenac was enroute from Toulouse to Paris and an important town with a bustling economy. Modern corporations have nothing on the interlocking directories of royalty in Europe. I went to the tourist office and asked for a walking guide or map, which I did in every town. That’s how I’d learned as much as I had about the other towns I’d been in France. I followed the plan and went to the chapel of the Penitent Blanc which were a particular order in France. I can’t remember who made them up now but I know there was Penitent Gris, Blanc, and Noir. Probably other colors as well. Each was made up of a particular sector of society: merchants, craftsmen, and the like. The chapel had an untouched up statue of St Jacques my patron saint (of pilgrims). Inside there was an exhibit on the epis which are the strange roof ornaments that I’d seen in Rouffignac as well. There was a myth that they would protect the inhabitants from heavy rain (orage in French) and magical spells. It was the last thing put on the house. Potters are making them again. What really interested me was the lovely carved altar piece, probably wood, which had been thoroughly restored. A real masterpiece. There was also an ancient marker stone with carved shells on its top indicating that pilgrims to Compostela were welcome and could find shelter here. I knew of the existence of these markers but it was the first time I’d seen them in the flesh.

I walked the outside of the town walls and admired the various gates and old homes. One in particular was called out on the map, which had originally had 3 floors and was open to the sky but later had a roof put on. It was the oldest house in the village. I liked this town. I bought some pastries and bread and asked a nice couple with a child in an old camper the way to Lyon. They pointed it out and I headed to my next destination. The scenery between Brive and Lyon was stunning. Lots of deciduous trees and greenery, then conifer, then volcanic peaks. Very picturesque.  About 5 miles from Lyon the traffic came to a standstill. They were doing major roadwork and it required going one way and doubling back the other way. A nuisance and 30 minute delay. I finally arrived to the riverside and old town around 4:30. Parking was another problem. I was thankful to have such a small car. I could fit into spaces that my Mazda 3 wouldn’t have been able. I spied a spot but had passed it and starting backing up. As luck would have it a police van was behind me. My experience of the police in France was that they were very gentle. Nothing like police in the US. They waved me back indicating that they would wait for me to park. I waved a thanks and slipped into the spot. My GPS had indicated that the old town was on the other side of the river. I wandered up and asked a kind bar man if I could use the bathroom. Thank goodness as my bladder was about to burst.

I saw a gaggle of teens in front of the train and bus station and headed up a narrow set up steep stairs. I thought I’d go blind and not follow any particular itinerary. As it had been really difficult to get into Lyon I didn’t anticipate coming back the next day so I thought I’d have to see as much as I could before nightfall. The stairs led to a plateau with many catholic schools. Kids were streaming out from various places and I followed them down another set of steps to the river. I bought a sandwich in a boulangerie and then followed them on the pedestrian bridge across the river. Lyon struck me a bit like Bordeaux. A lot of old architecture mixed with modern additions like the new pedestrian bridges and walkway along the river.  Did I mention that it was another 95 degree day? So much for climate change being a hoax. Thanks Trump. Him pulling the US out of the Paris accord has been all over the news here. I’ve been listening to French radio discussing it. I expected it, but am very saddened at the prospect. Locals said this was the average temperature in July and August, not June 1. I walked along the river, dipping my feet in the water and doing what the locals did: enjoying the cooler air by the water. Then I headed toward another river which was parallel (or maybe a bend in the same river)? On the way I walked through some grand pedestrian areas and a lovely fountain and big square. There were military police with armor and machine guns stationed in many places. I found out later that there was a demonstration that day and that the marches or protests had been getting more violent lately. I followed the people and ended up crossing the second river and encountering the immigrant part of town. Mostly Arabic speaking people there, and I got the sense of much more poverty and difficult living situations. I felt a bit uneasy and decided to head back to the more affluent and touristic areas.

On the river I spied a huge pool and people clamoring to enter. The aquatic center is located right on the river back. Very aesthetically pleasing. Half the crowd or more seemed to be having poolside drinks and hanging out. How very French! I crossed a different bridge and found myself in a huge square. There were fountains and I had a seat and checked emails while watching some girls having a water fight. I originally thought it was a boy and girl, as they were amorous, but then discovered that they were both girls. Openly gay. I didn’t get the sense of stigmatization of gayness in France. I walked on and found another pedestrian area. Often these areas have nice architecture but the shops are all chain stores. I like to find the alleys off these places to see the real history. I found one such place, a sign honoring a man who had studied under Pasteur and been the first veterinarian in France. Then I saw an abbey which dominated the city scape, and marveled at its architecture. The church and state had all the money in those days. So the architecture was rich.

I found my way back to the main river bank and noticed a lovely white marble building with a Jewish star. So this was the synagogue. I saw a man enter a code and let someone in. It was Friday night so the sabbath was just starting. The man crossed the street and stood near me looking at his phone. I started a conversation with him about the synagogue and Jewish community in Lyon and what happened to them after the war. He said many went to Israel and were Ashkanazi. He asked where I was from. I told him how upset I was with Trump pulling out of the Paris accords. We talked about climate and the political situation in the US and the violence which has been directed at Jews of Lyon necessitating him being a guard for their prayers. He was a very kind man and I was glad we met. I bid him farewell and walked across the bridge. Crossing the bridge I noted that it seemed much older and more historic than the other side. I found out that it was the old town and that my GPS had steered me wrong. This was not the first time. I walked into a lovely church and admired the ornamentation and woodwork. Then I walked on and saw a theater company. It was a kind of comedy theater company. Later I came upon a famous puppet marionette theater company which had been started by a man from Lyon. A nearby square had a memorial to him. I walked some stairs to try to reach the cathedral on the hill which I’d seen before. It turns out to also be the site of Gallo-Roman ruins, including an amphitheater. At the top of the stairs was a park with two huge stone heads bearing the theatrical masks, copies of heads found nearby. I found several beautiful viewpoints overlooking the city, which was nice as the sun was just setting. There were hords of people streaming up the hill (they’d taken the funicular). Apparently they were heading to a concert which was being held in the ruins of the ancient amphitheater. What a setting!

I found a small sign pointing to the church garden and walked along its paths. What a find. There was lavender growing in clumps, lovely roses, and a meandering path along the top of the hill with amazing views of the city. It backed onto the cathedral which I finally saw at the top. What a wonder! I wish I had another day to explore. I think I will come back in the fall to see the tower and cathedral’s interior. There was a giant statue of Pope John Paul II with a speech he gave regarding the cathedral and its importance. The glow from the setting sun shown on the facade of the building and I took some photos. The setting sun cast a rosy pink glow which looked liked artificial lighting. I quickly headed down the hill as the first menacing drops of rain fell and dark clouds gathered ominously. A stiff wind blew and I knew we were in for a deluge.

I walked through the narrow streets at the base and marveled at the medieval and Renaissance architecture. Lovely restaurants and shops lined the walk ways. Ice cream is making its way onto the national stage. Slowly, as French are much more fond of pastries. There was a great ice cream place with 40 flavors, all natural. I had to order. I got pistachios, currant-rose, and marzipan. Yum! As I ate and looked in windows the rain started coming down in earnest. I, like the passers by, were all in shorts and t shirts. Some wore hats but most just walked unprotected from the rain. I peered in the window of a museum dedicated to miniatures and costumes. I admired a miniature of a printing shop and a weaving shop. It turned out that silk was a very important economic asset in Lyon. Someone had asked the king to grow silk using worms here and had been granted permission. That’s how it worked. You had to get formal permission from the king to do anything. Spent things don’t change.

I found my way back to my car and asked someone how to get to Geneva. I followed his advice and luckily my phone still had 1 percent battery left so I was able to get directions. It was 10pm when I left. I headed back onto the autoroute but decided to find a place as soon as possible to park and sleep in the car. It was a very industrial area so I kept driving till I could see nature and trees. I finally found an exit and got a brief glimpse of a castle on the banks of the lake, a small one about 30 miles south of Geneva. I headed up into the forest and found a logging road, and found a place to park on the side of the road and made my bed. Another wet night so I slept in the car. The back seat with my mattress had become a familiar spot. Three nights in a row!


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