Saturday, October 24, 2015

Madrid popurrí

Iglesia de los Jeronimos

One of the many benefits of having Ken's mom visit: Her participation in an international Pickle Ball tournament provides the perfect excuse to visit Madrid. Here are some miscellaneous memories of another one of our favorite Spanish cities.

Almost there: Madrid's skyline from the car

Broadcast tower in Madrid

Prado Museum Cason del Buen Retiro building

The Fuente de Neptuno in the Plaza de Canovas del Castillo in Madrid

A welcoming sign on Madrid's city hall.Although it looks old and flashy,
the Palacio de Comunicaciones was built in the 20th century.
Originally a post office, it became the seat of city mayor in 2007.
Notice the welcome sign.

Ken always likes to help tidy up.

Getting chummy with Charlie at Plaza Mayor

Optical illusion mural betwtween two buildings in Madrid

Inside the Reina Sofia museum

Arlene and Ken at Casa Benigna, where we had an amazing
lunch. If you go, make a reservation, then knock on the door
when you arrive. And give our regards to Norberto.
Patella at Casa Benigna in Madrid
La Violetera by sculptor Santiago de Santiago
in Parque de las Vistillas

Fountain in Parque de las Vistillas

Pope John Paul II statue at Catedral de La Almudena

Outside the gates of Palacio Real de Madrid

We enjoy an unexpected concert at Palacio Real de Madrid
One of the most famous paintings in Museo Thyssen-
Bornemisza is this 1488 portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Inside Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

In case you missed it, you can read my post about Madrid's beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Two bastides and an abbey in SE Gironde

If you find yourself near the end of the Dropt valley at the southeast edge of the Gironde department, not far from Duras, you may want to make brief stops in Pellegrue, Monségur, and an abbey in between.


On a recent quiet Sunday, we head to this small village (pop. 1,029). We park near at the war memorial and walk about two blocks past traditional stone houses to Église Saint-André, a 12th-century Romanesque church. Notable is the doorway comprised of four arches, and a belltower on the the north side.

In the course of development of the church square, archaeologists found remains of a Gallo-Roman settlement, a Merovingian necropolis with monolithic limestone sarcophagi, and graves from the 11th century. They also discovered walls of a Benedictine priory and part of a medieval castle.

On our way downhill toward the town center, we pass a modern fountain, Font de Godemine, located in an ancient square.

The bastide is surrounded by the traditional covered arcades, and a large 19th-century iron market hall sits in the center. Wednesday is market day in Pellegrue.

Pellegrue’s war memorial

Église Saint-André de Pellegrue

Arched doorway of Église Saint-André de Pellegrue

Font de Godemine in Pellegrue

Pellegrue’s 19th-century covered market

The clock belltower on Pellegrue’s tourism office

Abbaey de Saint-Ferme

Wednesday would be a particularly good day to visit this area, because it’s also the day that guided visits are offered at the Abbaye de Sainte-Ferme, located about 10 minutes away on D16 toward Monségur.

Situated on the road to Compostelle, the abbey was founded by a Benedictine order of monks in the 12th century.

The large imposing Romanesque abbey, which has not been occupied by monks since 1770, contains carved capitals sculpted by les maîtres de Sainte-Ferme — the masters of Sainte Ferme — and an 18th-century fresco portraying justice.

Abbaye de Saint-Ferme is open for guided tours from 2:30-6 p.m. on Wednesdays, but visitors can enter the church and courtyard at any time. 

Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Exterior detail of Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Entering the courtyard at Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Courtyard of Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Interior of the church at Abbaye de Saint-Ferme


After our stop at Saint-Ferme, we continue down the road to our next bastide: Monségur. Here, the town square is dominated by a big 19th-century iron-and-glass covered market, even larger than the one we saw an hour earlier in Pellegrue. (Friday is market day in Monségur.) The population here (1,600 in 2011) supports a nice variety of businesses and even a movie theater.

The name Monségur means “hill of safety.” Like many bastides, the town was founded by a charter granted by Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III of England/Duc d’Aquitaine during the English occupation of the area.

We take our obligatory peek inside the village church, Église Notre-Dame and then stop by the Tour du Gouverneur. The former governor’s residence contains pillars inscribed “ebrehim” and “brehim” — the meaning of these words is a mystery.

Each July since 1988 the town has hosted Swing de Monśegur, a three-day swing jazz festival, which draws fans from all over France. Look for me there next summer.

Monségur’s large iron-and-glass covered market

Covered arcade in Monségur

Église Notre-Dame de Monségur

Detail above the door at Église Notre-Dame de Monségur

Colorful interior of Église Notre-Dame de Monségur

Tour de Gouverneur à Monségur

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Madrid's Park of the Pleasant Retreat: El Retiro

Unusual tree in Madrid's Parque del Retiro

The Gardens of El Buen Retiro, or El Retiro, have a royal history. El Buen Retiro means "the park of the pleasant retreat," and I could not agree more. On our recent trip to Madrid — our first — we have a generous amount of time to spend in Retiro as mi suegra (mother-in-law) is playing in a Pickleball tournament at the park, and Ken and I have time to pass between matches.

The path near Puerta del Ángel Caído in Parque del Retiro

Here's a brief timeline of El Retiro:

  • 17th century: The Gardens of El Buen Retiro are created by order of Felipe IV as a leisure estate for the royalty of the House of Austria.
  • 18th and 19th centuries: Under the reigns of the House of Bourbon, lots of trees are planted, and a Royal Zoo, Royal Jetty and the Jardin de los Caprichos (king's private garden) are created. During the Spanish War of Independence, the park suffers serious damage when it is used as a fortress and quarters by French soldiers. Later, Retiro is restored, and in 1868, the park becomes city property.
  • 20th century: El Retiro is used as a venue for several international expos. The Palacio de Cristal and the Palicio de Velázquez are built for the exhibitions and remain standing today. The Cecilio Rodriquez Gardens are incorporated into the park, and the Chopera Sports Center is built.
  • 21st century: I finally visit Madrid and spend time in El Buen Retiro.

According to the Go Madrid website, the 19th century Palacio de Velázquez was originally built for a national exhibition "to celebrate the mining, metallurgy, ceramics, glass-making and mineral water industries. When the exhibition was over, the government decided to maintain the pavilion, which it intended to use as a museum for overseas exhibits. Nowadays, it is owned by the Ministry of Culture, and is used for exhibitions organised by the Museo Reina Sofia."

Palicio de Velázquez in Madrid's Parque del Retiro

Mural on exterior of Palicio de Velázquez in
Parque del Retiro

The beautiful Palacio de Cristal was built in 1887 to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines. The architect was Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, who also designed Palicio de Velázquez. Palacio de Cristal has a London counterpart, built 36 years before.

Palacio de Cristal in Madrid's Parque del Retiro

Palacio de Cristal in Parque del Retiro

Detail of the Egyptian fountain in Parque del Retiro

The Great Lake and monument to Alfonso XII in Parque del Retiro

Statue of Berengaria, Queen of Castille, along Paseo de la
Argentina, or Statues Walk, in Parque del Retiro

Black swans on the banks of one of several lakes in Parque del Retiro

El Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid or Royal Botanical Garden is located on the southern end of Retiro park. Its 20 acres contain roughly 30,000 plants and flowers and 1,500 trees from five continents. Our visit isn't in the most colorful of seasons, as many of the flowers have passed their prime, but we savor a quiet hour within the garden walls.

A sculpture in Madrid's Royal Botanical Garden

Water garden in Madrid's Royal Botanical Garden

Early autumn color in Madrid's Royal
Botanical Garden

Next time: I step out of the park and into the city streets of Madrid.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Paris stroll, Tuileries style

Jardin des Tuileries

The oldest garden in Paris wasn't named for a king or queen. Jardin des Tuileries was named for the tile factories which stood on the site when Catherine de Medici built the Palais des Tuileries in 1564. A century later, André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV's gardener relandscaped the garden, creating its formal French style.

On our recent trip to Paris, ma belle-mère and I spend a bit of time in the Tuileries garden, which offers a sunny respite from our visit to the Louvre. (Incidentally, the museum is far from crowded on the September afternoon we are there).

Dotted with comfortable seats and shady snack bars, Tuileries is a popular spot for strolling and relaxing.

Jardin des Tuileries

Snack bar in the Tuileries garden

The garden also offers art lessons en plein air with its many statues and sculptures.

Jules Ferry, prime minister of France (1883-1885)

'Theseus Fighting the Minotaur'

'La Comedie'


Julius Caesar

The garden also contains ponds and fountains, and, of course, flowers and trees. The maximum height of Tuileries trees is 2.2 meters, and the trees are carefully shaped to accentuate the axis that runs from I.M. Pei's Pyramid through the Arc de Triomphe to la Defence, 6 kilometers to the west. Each spring and fall, 7,000-square-meters are planted with around 70,000 plants and bulbs from the gardens at Saint Cloud, according to the Louvre website,

Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

Fountain in Jardin des Tuileries

Fountain in Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries extends from the courtyards of the massive Louvre museum to the Place de la Concorde. Musée de l'Orangerie, which houses eight Monet's Water Lillies murals and other impressionist paintings, is located here, and just outside the garden borders, one can walk along the Seine. Which we do, before saying adieu to le soleil and head back to the Louvre.

Bronze of Rodin's 'Le Baiser" outside Musée de l'Orangerie

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

'Joanie on a Pony' gilded statue
adjacent to Jardin des Tuileries