Friday, October 6, 2017

Lush greens and hot springs on São Miguel

Lagoa das Furnas is located on São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores.

I wouldn't call myself a geography whiz, but I am surprised at how many people I've talked to recently who are unaware of the Azores. This island group in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is the part of Europe that is closest to the United States. The Azores (os Açores) are part of Portugal and have a long history connected to exploration, shipping, whaling and the military. Nowadays, the islands' economy is based on food production (beef, cheese, fish, tea and pineapples) along with tourism.

The Azores archipelago is composed of nine islands spread out over 370 miles. There are three groups: São Miguel and Santa Maria in the east; Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Graciosa in the center; and Flores and Corvo in the west. Our trip includes visits to five islands, which we get to by plane and ferry.

While my mother-in-law and her companion encounter delays on their trip from California through Boston, Ken and I have a uneventful flights from Bordeaux through Lisbon to Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel. This is the largest Azorean island and some say the most beautiful.

A brief stop at Miradouro de Santa Iria gives us this pretty view of São Miguel.

A waterfall in a garden in Ribeira Grande on the north side of São Miguel
offers me a chance to play with my camera settings.

I find a refreshing burst of color in Ribeira Grande. 

Our apartment is located at the edge of Ponta Delgada's center, an easy walk to restaurants and what is to become our favorite ice cream parlor, Abracadabra. (Don't pass up the pistachio!)

One of my favorite things to do in a city is to visit gardens like this,
Jardim Antonio Borges in Ponta Delgada. 

Jardim Antonio Borges is not your typical garden.

On a visit to Ponta Delgada's Jardim Botânico José do Canto
I spy this massive Australian banyan tree.

Folk dancers stop by for a performance at a Ponta Delgada restaurant.

Fancy carvings adorn the doorway of Ponta Delgada's Igreja Matriz.

The Town Gates (Portas de Cidade), built in the 18th century,
are featured on official Ponta Delgada postcards.

On Day 3 we hire a cab that takes us around the island. We stop at a number of miradouros (vistas) providing amazing views of this lush green island. Our trip also includes a visit to Plantações de Chá Gorreana, the oldest tea plantation in Europe. We have lunch in Furnas where our meat-heavy stew has been cooked underground in a volcanic lava pit. Afterward we enjoy a soak in a volcanic hot spring.

Sacks of tea whet our appetite for a tasting at Plantações de Chá Gorreana,
Europe's oldest tea plantation. 

Sulfur-infused steam rises from a lava pit along the shores of Lagoa das Furnas.

Pots of stew are are buried in the caldeiras (hot springs) at Lagoa das Furnas. 

A marker signifies that a pot of cozido is buried here.

Six hours of cooking in a volcanic caldeira yields Cozido das Furnas,
a rich Portuguese stew.

After lunch, we stop at Poça da D. Beíja for a dip in a natural thermal pool. 

On another day we opt for a Yellow Bus tour to see the western part of São Miguel. Here we see what turns out to be an Azorean highlight: Sete Cidades (Lagoon of the Seven Cities). These two lakes are connected, but are ecologically different  one is blue and the other is green. Besides being an important fresh water resource for the Azores, Sete Cidades comes with its own legend of a princess and the shepherd she loved but was forbidden to marry.

Despite stiff competition, Sete Cidades on the island of São Miguel may be
the most beautiful place I visit during my trip to the Azores.

We take an impromptu hike after I misread a sign at Lagoa do Canário.

Fast forward two weeks to the end of our trip: Ken and I return to Ponta Delgada where we enjoy a sunny afternoon  and dinner in a Mexican restaurant. Those who know me know that this is the cuisine I miss the most in rural France, and I will take any opportunity to eat Mexican wherever I go. This dinner, however, includes fresh pineapple margaritas. Did I mention that pineapples are a São Miguel specialty?

Museu Carlos Machado in Ponta Delgada was founded in 1888.

A fountain and war memorial are located at Forte de São Brás in Ponta Delgada. 

A cross is seen through a window of a ruined building in Ponta Delgada.

From São Miguel we fly to the central islands of the Azores — the subject of my next post on Away to Live.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A centennial celebration of farming in Allemans-du-Dropt

Un troupeau d'oies at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

A gray autumn weekend yields some bright surprises with our visit to the 100th Comice Agricole event in Allemans-du-Dropt. Five years ago we lived in this small village in the Lot-et-Garonne department for six months and we never saw so many people and cars in town. The Tourism Office representative explains to us that the great turnout is due to the event's centennial. 

Un vieux tracteur at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Un autre ancien tracteur at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Machines agricoles intéressantes at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

A comice agricole is an event organized by local farmers to exchange ideas and experiences, as well as to strut their stuff for the public. Animals, farm equipment, local foods and music are typical of such events. This weekend's event included a dinner and fireworks on Saturday night along with the exposition on Sunday.

Machines agricoles modernes at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Une voiture bleue de cru at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Un cheval brun robuste at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Un groupe avec des instruments musicaux anciens entertain
at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Danseurs folkloriques entertain at Allemans-du-Dropt's
100th Comice Agricole

Danseurs folkloriques entertain at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Un jeune archeriste at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole 

Fromages à vendre at Allemans-du-Dropt's 100th Comice Agricole

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Tour's in town

The bastide town of Eymet in the Dordogne department is the starting point
for today's leg of the 2017 Tour de France.

Today's leg of the 2017 Tour de France starts in Eymet, just 8 km from home. In the spirit of the occasion and to avoid traffic, we ride our bikes and arrive in plenty of time for the hoopla.

The Tour festivities are in full swing as the sponsors' swag mobiles cruise past.

Eymet is a lovely little bastide with a large British population. The village has been decked out for weeks in Tour colors and bicycle-themed art.

After the sponsors go by, the bikes arrive along with buses carrying the riders.

A Tour rider stops for a word with the road crew from the UAE team.

We frequently notice that things don't start on time in France, but the Tour de France is run like clockwork. Just after the sponsors' caravan is on its way, tour buses from Bergerac arrive with the riders, and cars with the bikes on top pull up right in front of where we're standing.

A Tour rider stops for a smile and to sign autographs
before the race.

This is the third time Ken and I have seen the Tour. If one watches along the route, there's a whole lot of waiting and then a few seconds of excitement as the riders pass by. Today's experience is much different and may be the only time we'll get to see the riders this close up. Some are cool enough to stop and sign autographs before the race begins.

A young Tour fan checks out the helicopter overhead.

A big-screen TV mounted on a big rig provides a closeup view of the festivities
before the race begins. Just to the right of the screen is a helicopter.

Riders descend a ramp as they are introduced prior to the start of the race.

We join our friends near the starting line and have a good view of the opening introductions on the big-screen TV. Then, just as the church bells strike 1 o'clock, the race begins ... swoosh!

A huddle of bike helmets indicates the riders are at the starting line.

And they're off.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunny days in Brittany: Two out of three ain't bad

The Carnac countryside in southern Brittany is dotted with ancient megaliths.

When visiting Brittany in spring, one has to expect a little rain. During our first visit to this region (named Bretagne in French) in northwest France, we are lucky enough to have two sunny days. The third day it pours, causing us to cancel a planned visit to the Paimpont forest, but we console ourselves with scrumptious Kouign Amann (pastry oozing with butter) and getting acquainted with Paul Gauguin. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The seaside near our campground in Le Raguénès gives us our first
glimpse of the Brittany coast.

For this little road trip, we decide to (kinda) camp. We've booked a mobile home in a Eurocamp park, just a 10-minute walk from the sea. There are resorts like this throughout Europe. Since we're here so early in the season, we've snagged a bargain rate. Later in the summer, this place will be teeming with families making use of the water slide and outdoor pools, but for now it's quiet and nearly deserted.


Ken poses with a big anchor on the bridge to the walled city in Carcaneau.

First thing in the morning we set out for Carcaneau, France's third-most important fishing port. The main tourist attraction here is the old walled city — ville close. The well-preserved neighborhood is set on an island 1,150 yards across. The square and surrounding narrow cobbled streets are charming, and we enjoy pretty views from the top of the ramparts.

The main square in Carcaneau is nearly empty on the morning of our visit.

Boats are moored at the inner harbor in Carcaneau.

A stone man keeps watch on a wall in Carcaneau.

This window contains another little stone man in Carcaneau.

A horse sits on a rooftop in Carcaneau.


Quimper is the unofficial capital of Cornouaille, a historical region of Brittany steeped in culture, art and nature. The city stands at the confluence of the Odet, Steir and Jet rivers; appropriately enough, Quimper's Breton name is Kemper, which means "meeting place of three rivers."

A souvenir shop is adorned with ceramic bowls, a popular Quimper momento.

We spend a few hours exploring the city and have a great debate over where to eat lunch. I win, so the only thing left to do is choose from one of the dozens of crêperies here.

While in Quimper, we have to try authentic Brittany crêpes, and I choose the
picture-worthy smoked salmon with creamy leek sauce.

After lunch we wind up our visit to Quimper with a visit to Faïencerie de Quimper where the beautiful pottery for which this area is famous is created. Unlike the inexpensive knock-offs found in the local shops, this store (which also offers tours of its workshop) stocks the real thing ... lovely, but way out of my price range.

I develop a case of ceramic-envy in the Faïencerie de Quimper shop.

La Mise au Tombeau was installed in Quimper's Cathédrale Saint-Corentin in 1868.

I allow Ken to take my picture in Place Terre au Duc in Quimper.


Église Saint-Cornély de Carnac is a mixture of
architectural styles.

Tuesday turns out to be the best day (weather-wise) of our trip. With clear blue skies we've picked the perfect day to check out the Alignements de Carnac. This area offers an exceptional archaeological landscape. More than 3,000 menhirs dominate the surrounding fields and pastures.

A farmhouse sits at the edge of a field of megaliths in Carnac.

The Carnac alignments (rows of standing stones) were erected in the Neolithic era (between the fifth and third millennia B.C.). The megalithic landscape includes menhirs (lone stones), mounds (individual tombs), and dolmens (collective tombs). No one know for sure why the stones were erected and arranged this way. Through the ages, the megaliths were at various times believed to be Roman legionaries turned to stone, magical rocks, Celtic temples, or burial grounds. In the last century, efforts have been made to preserve the megaliths and the land surrounding them. Visitors can walk in the fields among the stones in the winter, but between May and September must be part of small guided groups in order to preserve the ecology of the land.

The Alignments of Carnac are a 6,000-year-old mystery. 

Stacked stones, or dolmens, in Carnac are believed to be ancient tombs.

Presqu'ile de Quiberon

Yes, the sea really is that blue on the day of our visit to Quiberon.

As mid-day approaches we head to the Quiberon Peninsula, once an offshore island. The two-lane road along the peninsula is narrow enough for us to see the calm sheltered waters of the Baie de Quiberon to our left (east) and the tempestuous Côte Sauvage of the Atlantic Ocean to our right.


Saint-Goustan in Auray was once a busy port.

Perhaps my favorite village we visit on this little trip to Brittany is Auray. After our requisite stop at the tourism office, we follow the suggested route that takes us by Église Saint-Gildas, named for a monk from Cornwall who founded an abbey near here in the 6th century. Half-timbered houses from the 16th century and narrow freestone mansions from the 17th century line Place de la République, Auray's economic center since the Middle Ages.
Auray's Saint-Gildas Church contains a magnificent sculpted wooden organ.

From the main part of town we head down a steep hill to the Saint-Goustan quarter. This port was once one of the region's busiest, but the development of the nearby Lorient port and the railroad diminished its importance.

In 1776, Auray had a visitor, one that is of particular interest to us. Benjamin Franklin set off across the Atlantic to Nantes, entrusted with the mission of asking for France's help in the upcoming War of Independence. Bad weather forced Franklin's ship to dock at Auray where he spent the night before continuing on by land to Nantes.

Auray's port, Saint-Goustan, contains a quay named in honor of Benjamin Franklin.

This little stone watcher on a building in Auray sits above a sundial.


From beneath my umbrella on the opposite bank of the Aven river, I spot
this lovely vine-covered house in Pont-Aven.

OK, so Pont-Aven may be our second choice for where to spend our third and final day here, but the little artists' colony turns out to be a charming consolation prize, even in the rain. In addition to galettes ( butter biscuits), the village is best known for its association with post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. At the end of the 19th century, the artist and his contemporaries, including Émile Bernard, Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis,  formed the École de Pont-Aven art movement, which focused on color and symbolism. Housed in an annex of L'Hôtel Julia (which has its own fascinating history) Musée de Pont-Aven contains an impressive collection of works by artists of the Pont-Aven School.

Paul Gauguin created this zincography entitled Les Dames de la mer, Bretagne
in 1889.

Musée de Pont-Aven contains around 200 paintings and graphic artworks
of the famous Pont-Aven School.

This W.C. (public restroom) in Pont-Aven has to be
one of the most unusual we've encountered.

As the summer heats up here in France, our travels cool down. For the next few months we'll be sticking close to home, enjoying local events, spending time with friends (especially those with swimming pools), and avoiding large crowds. While the next big trip won't be until fall, you can keep up with me via Lot of Livin', the blog I write for the AngloInfo website, which you can find by clicking here