Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thank You Marian and Tony

We wake up (6 AM) to rain and dampness. It is humid today. How strange. We finish packing, make lunches, straighten up and check (for the 10th time) the closets and drawers. Dave hauls everything down to the garage as we'll back the car into the garage to pack it out of the rain.

We go up to let Tony and Marian know we're ready to go and to get a photo for the blog.

We're not sure how we managed to find the perfect place for us, but les Hirondelles has certainly been that. We wanted an authentic experience, off the beaten path. Thus the village of Thézan provided that. We needed an apartment equipped for cooking and with guest rooms and les Hirondelles had that. What we weren't expecting and weren't prepared for was how much Marian and Tony added to our experience by being on site (they do actually live upstairs from our apartment).

They were always available when we needed them - no question was too stupid. They became our local tourist bureau (only better than most) giving us good advice on foods, cooking, restaurants, wines, shopping, and local activities, whatever we needed. In addition, we loved to just talk with them when they could spare a few minutes (or when we had interrupted their chores). In addition they are great story tellers and clearly enjoy the hospitality role they've carved out for themselves. They make friends of many of their guests and we hope to count ourselves among them.

But beyond the role they play as hosts, we found them "très sympa" and "très intéressant". They came to France for the same reasons we came. We have similar observations and interpretations of how the world works (or how we'd like it to work). All of this added depth to our experience of living in France and introduced us to two people whom we like very much. Tony and Marian are easy people to like!

All of this makes it very sad to leave, but we can't stay longer. Someone else has rented the apartment starting on the weekend and we could hardly invite ourselves to stay with people we don't know. Although, it is tempting. We leave, sadly, promising to be back, but unsure yet if we can make that happen or when.

Luckily our warm feelings about Thézan and les Hirondelles keeps us comfortable as we drive through the rain to Beaune. The temperature is only 12 degrees (about mid-fifties) and it's wet and grey. The drive becomes somewhat mechanical - getting from point A to point B. The scenery is probably beautiful, but it's difficult to see anything for the clouds and rain. We have decided to minimize tolls and take the A75 to Clermont Ferrand and then smaller roads over to Beaune. It works well, but takes us all day. We even eat lunch in the car (what again?) watching some Charolais cows grazing in a farm field. There's no point finding a picnic table as we'd just get wet and cold.

We're now in the hotel, but I'm pooped and ready to hunker down for the night. That might cause some friction with Dave, who's had a nap while I write this and is looking bored.

Addendum: It's now 9:45 and Dave is out for a walk. I stopped at the desk to ask about the June 2 Ascension activities as it seems that getting a hotel room right now in France and Germany is a bit difficult. But I'm assured that it's just one day and while things will be crowded in the direction of Paris or Lyon, for us going to Germany, it shouldn't be a problem. But we should be sure to fill up with gas tomorrow.

It is clear that this is a family run hotel/restaurant as I run into the chef (whom we met on our way into the hotel this afternoon and who carried our bags up the stairs at that time) and tell him that we really enjoyed his boeuf bourgignon (beef burgundy) which Dave is determined to eat twice while here. His wife is the front desk, his mother general help (she showed us our room earlier and explained all the features when we arrived). I also met their two children, a girl of about 11 or 12, named Margot who is a beautiful young woman, and a small boy of perhaps 3 who deigns to talk to me after a few efforts on my part. He is helping his dad make croissants and when I ask him if I may have one, he tells me "no". We have a lovely conversation about meeting and talking to people of other nationalities and about the work in the hotel/restaurant industry (the dad works 16-18 hours per day). I'm really glad I stopped to ask and I'm happy that we've once again fallen into a place to stay with a story. I look forward to breakfast. And I'm happy we decided to stay here to have dinner and support this establishment.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Packing up on a cloudy day

As luck would have it, today is cloudy and grey, a bit cool and damp. It has rained a bit in the night. A perfect day for packing up. We've slept in and are moving slowly this morning. The greyness makes it easier to stick to chores and easier to think about leaving.

The wine bottle collection is down to 9 still needing to be "de-labeled". We've sorted out the piles of travel brochures, and done the laundry over the weekend, so the major focus will be on figuring out how to pack 3 suitcases of stuff into two and getting them both to weigh under 50 pounds. What can we leave behind?

After lunch (omelets using up whatever veggies we had left in the frig), we decide to pick up some fruit for our lunches the next few days and fill the car with gas. Grocery shopping is easy. Getting gas proves an adventure. We can see that a thunderstorm is approaching (exciting - our first storm and much needed rain for the region) so Dave drops me at the grocery to store to go fill the car at the gas station next door. Problem 1: they are out of diesel fuel.

Now it is sprinkling and we decide to head to Murviel where we thought we had seen a gas station. Wrong. Ask Olga. She points us 4 km down the road to a small town we've never been in. We find the station. It's a full serve, one pump with no covering, at a car repair shop. A young man comes out to help just as the heavens open and it begins to pour. This isn't going to work. We drive off. (At this point I suggest we just wait till tomorrow as we're not desperate, just wanting to start off with a full tank.) We program Olga to go home and as we're about to turn onto a highway, there's a gas station with diesel, with an awning to protect us. We pull in. No deal. It's card only and won't accept our credit card. Oh well, we drive home, by which time the rain is subsiding. We'll get gas in the morning.

The most memorable part of the day was aperos with Tony and Marian. These involve super food and plenty of wine. But best of all is the conversation. We talk about France, England, and US comparing life, politics, culture, you name it. We talk, eat and drink long into the night.

Marian, I hope you don't mind my sharing the goat cheese appetizer recipe. It was so good and so easy. I'm anxious to try it at home.

Place 1/2 inch slices of goat cheese on top of 1/2 thick rounds of bread cut from a baguette. Dust with a bit of nutmeg and bake till the cheese is hot and melted inside. Invite guests to top with a few drops (to taste) of Tabasco. Delicious!

We get downstairs late and know that we'll just have to finish the last few bits of packing in the morning. Oh, and the suitcases, well, it's mostly in, but there are extra bags and boxes yet that we need to figure out. I've bagged up some of the clothes I had planned to leave behind and Marian will see they get to the collection bin. That makes a bit of room, but not enough yet. For now we'll throw it all in the car and work on the problem later. (Will we regret this?)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Camargue

For our last day of touring in this part of France, we actually headed over to Provence to the Camargue. This area is the delta of the Rhone River and is rich in salt marshes and lagoons that support a variety of agricultural endeavors. Much of the area has been desalinated and protected by dikes and now grows rice, grains and even some wine grapes.

Horses bred from the wild white stock of the delta are omnipresent and horseback riding is a big tourist industry in the Camargue.

While we saw some sheep, the primary livestock is bulls. As in other Provençal and Languedoc areas, bullfighting is a popular sport.

Any town with an arena (including Béziers) have a "feria" sometime during the year where multiple days of bullfighting are enjoyed by all. (Or most?) In France, there is a style of bullfighting where the bull isn't killed and the goal is for the matador (he has another name for this sport) to pluck a flower from the forehead of the bull and survive.

One other industry is salt recovery through evaporation of sea water. We stop at an outlook that allows us to see the shallow evaporation pools and piles of reclaimed salt.

evaporation ponds

Now that's a pile of salt

As this is on the Mediterranean, of course beaches are important and we found two types. One was out a road to nowhere with no improvements and crowded with Sunday (and Mother's Day) family outings.

The other was the town of Saintes Maries de la Mer, again crowded with families on the beach and wandering the town. This town is a true tourist beach resort. While the town's history goes back centuries (more later), as a beach town, it must have developed in the era of automobiles. The beach houses line up one attached to the other, generally 2 floors, with a terrace and often a garage on the ground floor and a balcony and living areas on the second floor. Their plaster, painted white, with bright shutters (often the blue of the sea), and red tiled roofs, these houses are the vacation homes and rentals for French families. This town was by far the most crowded tourist place we've seen since coming and reminds us that summer is nearly here.

Luckily, this town was our last stop (at 5 PM) of the day and the rest of the day was empty of tourists and cars.

The Camargue has a huge amount of acreage set aside as wildlife refuge with bird life being especially abundant. We do see some, but think that to really appreciate the wildlife here, you probably have to spend time and get into the hikes and walking paths available at some of the sanctuaries. For the most part, the sides of the road are too grown up to see the marshes and spot birds.

But in a few spots, we are rewarded. Dave hikes a short path in la Palissade where we eat lunch along the Rhone River in a shady grove complete with picnic tables and hiking paths into the unspoiled (by dikes and desalination) area that is part of a nature conservancy. There, and along the few spots where we are able to see the marshes, we find flamingos, and we think storks and some other birds. (Katie, can you identify these for us? We know one is a duck, but what kind? Are the nesting in trees birds really storks? The flamingos we got. But what's the small black and white bird nesting in the marsh grasses?)

flamingo - that we know

don't know this bird. Katie, do you know?

Katie's response: Black-winged stilt;

some sort of duck?

Katie's response: a coot (member of the rail family, not a duck)She said we were lucky to get this picture.

storks - nesting with babies

Katie, what's this behavior of the nesting stork?

Katie's response: white stork; parent is regurgitating food to feed the chicks.

We're glad that Saintes Maries de la Mer is the last visit of the day and are quite shocked at moving from the "wilderness" into a densely populated area (at least for tourist season). The story of this town is as incongruous as its appearance (Although as a beach resort, if I didn't mind lots of people, I think I'd choose this town - no high rises, lots of restaurants and cafés, easy to walk streets, a boardwalk and a beach that has sand and big rocks in several small coves.)

According to Provençal legend, the history of the town unfolds thusly: (I'm quoting the Michelin guide as I'm not sure I could get it straight otherwise.) "the boat abandoned to the waves in c 40 by the Jews of Jerusalem, which, without the aide of sail or oar, landed safely on the shore of Les Stes-Maries, carried Mary, the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Martha and her brother Lazarus, St Maximinus, Mary Salome, the mother of James Major and John, and Cedonius, the man born blind.

Sara, the two Marys'black servant left behind on the shore, wept aloud until Mary Salome threw her mantle on the water so that Sarah could walk over it to join the others. The legend continues that after erecting a simple oratory to the Virgin on the shore, the disciples separated; Martha went to Tarascon, Mary Magdalene to Ste-Baume. The two Marys and Sara remained in Camargue and were buried in the oratory."

I'm thinking that there could be germs of a novel here - I think I'd call it the Da Vinci Code or something like that.

With a stop for ice cream looking over the beach,

followed by shopping (Lynn)

and a visit to the pilgrimage church for Sara and the two Marys (Dave),

we head home. It's now 6 PM and we are in a traffic jam as we head home via Aigues-Mortes to get to the autoroute. The 25 km are heavy with people returning home from their day or weekend, at some points bumper to bumper and dead-slow-and-stop. It takes us an hour to cover 25 km and we're wondering what this must be like in the summer, since it's not officially yet the tourist season. Once on the A9 in Montpelier, we make the final 90 km home in 45 minutes and make it home just before 8.

Dinner is left over veal blanquette making life easy. We're almost done with the bidon and have only a couple of bottles of wine left, so it looks like we've planned just right on that account. Soon we will have to go back to our normal ways - more beer, less wine. All the lovely wine will simply be memories of a great wine-producing area of France. We'll have to look more carefully for Languedoc wines in the States, but our experience has been that they aren't very available... Time will tell.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Marian to the rescue!

We did a bit of shopping this afternoon and while out, stopped at a pharmacy to buy an ankle brace. They were at first reluctant to sell me one, suggesting that I could do more damage and should really see a doctor first to see if a brace was the appropriate remedy for my sore ankle. I did a bit of insisting and they sold me an ankle brace which I've been wearing since and it is helping.

When we got home, Marian appeared at the door with more help in hand. She had read the blog (it constantly surprises me who reads this blog) and brought me ice packs to solve the icing problem. These gel packs are just the right size and shape to wrap around the ankle and they even have a little sleeve with velcro to keep them in place. I'm so glad Marian is keeping track of our escapades. More than once she has turned up with just the right help at the right time. Thanks Marian.

(Marian also reminded me that we do indeed have ice cube trays and I remember that I put them in the cupboard. Sorry, Clark, we could have had all the ice you wished for had I been on the ball.)

At any rate, I've now been able to ice my ankle and the difference is remarkable. I'm quite sure now that I have been walking on a mildly sprained ankle for a few days. Duh!

But it's not all bad. We've had to keep close to "home" the past couple of days which is allowing me time to enjoy the apartment. The wine label removal project continues with only minimal success, but we have photos at least. The recycle bin is nearly full as Dave makes frequent trips to the garage to add the latest bottles to the bin. Ah, well, it will make good stories for us as well as Marian and Tony.

Tomorrow is our last touring day with Monday planned for packing. Our goal is the driving tour of the Camargue - the marshy area east of here that forms the delta of the Rhone. Among other wildlife (like flamingos) there are supposed to be wild horses. Hoping to see some.

We've booked Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Beaune in the Burgundy area near Dijon as we start our drive toward Berlin. We plan to stay the 3rd night in Bamburg and then drive to Sandra's in Berlin on Friday. Can't wait to see her. That will be the cherry on top of this vacation dessert.

We stopped for a couple of photos on the way home. Corneilhan is the village next to us (Dave and Christie biked to it) that we pass every time we head, well, just about anywhere. The vines are growing large and setting grapes. And we finally have an adequate photo of the straw-colored weeds that are now dominating the roadsides and many fallow fields.

Au Revoir Thézan

We forgot our camera last night when we saw John and Pat for dinner, so John suggested we come back this morning at 11 for coffee. Thus we've started our last Saturday in Thézan with photos of places and people who have been part of our lives the past 2 months.

John and Pat have a 16th century house in the oldest part of Thézan. The house is two rooms wide and one room deep but has 4 1/2 levels.

It had been modernized before John and Pat bought it 10 years ago and recently they have redone the kitchen. From its deceptive outside, you would never expect the spaciousness, light and airiness of the interior. Most fun is the roof-top terrace with a view of the Mairie, the rooftops of Thézan and the hills and fields off in the distance.

rooftop view with Mairie (town hall) in background

(However, it's not all roses up here. John is currently engaged in an investigation about how to keep the neighborhood cats off the terrace at night. The story involves night-time time-lapse photography with an iPod, electric fencing, and coming soon, motion-detector water spray. Did I mention that John is both techy and determined?)

We have so enjoyed getting to know John and Pat; besides our similar interests that include learning about each others cultures, they are warm and gracious and have been more than willing to help us manage living here in Languedoc. John has been schooling us in wine as he has an abiding interest and knowledge of local, regional, and more distant wine-growing regions. Pat has shared with me her passion for the local foods and regional produce. There's no better way to absorb a new culture than from people who are living it and can also appreciate your newness to it. (And it doesn't hurt that English is our common language!)

After coffee and photos on the terrace, John and Pat lead us through alleyways to find the new village trompe-l'oeil in process of being painted. We had heard that a new one was planned but weren't aware that it was being painted.

After saying our good-byes we walked back through town taking photos of doors and buildings on our way. We stopped at the butcher shop and Natalie was gracious about letting us take photos of her and the shop.

Luckily these strolls didn't take much effort or time as it's looking like I have some sort of ankle sprain. My ankle is rather bruised looking today and still quite sore. But a sprain is easier to deal with than tendonitis or a stress fracture.

(Doors of Thézan coming later.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

poppy pictures

We've tried on several occasions to take pictures of the poppy fields and even though the photos come out good, they can't really capture the expansiveness of this phenomenon. These flowers are actually quite delicate and quite ephemeral - they only last a day or two. Yet, the season for poppies has lasted over a month, with new flowers replacing those that have lost their leaves and new fields seeming to flower overnight. We and all our guests have been charmed by these lovely wildflowers that have a huge propensity to propagate everywhere and anywhere. Hope you enjoy the pictures. At times like these I wish we had the trained eye and camera skills of a professional photographer.

April 30, Thézan

May 2, kitchen table Thézan

May 6 Around Thézan

Duane as an impressionist painting

May 13 outside Béziers on our way to Carcassonne

May 19 Capestang

Yesterday did me in

I've had a sleepless night with 2 doses of ibuprofen trying to control the pain in my right ankle. And today it is no better, although not throbbing pain when just sitting (like for writing the blog). I'm wondering if I have tendonitis. I've been fighting this for a month or more, but usually, after a night's rest, the pain is gone and I'm functional until I do another stint of standing and/or walking for several hours. Today is different. Whatever position, whatever shoe, my ankle aches badly. Maybe ice will help. Of course I have to figure out how to make ice as we have no ice cube trays. (The French aren't big users of ice for cooling drinks.) Maybe a zip close bag will work. Oh, well, another challenge in living in France.

So, I'm resting the ankle. The temperature has cooled considerably and I think there was rain last night at some point because the tables outside are wet. There's a cool breeze and I'm actually wearing long sleeves today. What a change! That makes the day here in the apartment downright pleasant.

We continue to work on the wine bottle collection and are down now to a single row around the fireplace mantel. But many labels are resistent to our efforts, so photos will have to provide the memories.

Working on laundry and some cleaning chores today along with leisurely breakfast and lunch. In fact, horror of horrors, Dave arrived too late (10 AM) at the boulanger to get croissants today. We had to have regular baguette for breakfast. Unheard of! Sacre bleu!

I've been catching up on email and the blog and we've finally generated a list of tasks to be done before leaving France. One of the biggies is to plan how we'll spend the 3 days travel to Berlin. That raises our interest level considerably.

Dave has got tired of sitting around doing "nothing" (how can enjoying the terrasse count as nothing?), and has headed into Narbonne in an effort to finally see inside the Bishop's palace. He promises to be back by 6. I will spend the time doing needlework on the terrasse. Or perhaps posting more door photos.

As we go about our normal days now, there's a background bit of the same limbo feeling we had when moving from one house to the other. There's excitement about going - we miss our friends, our house and our way of life as well as all the new experiences that wait for us in Madison. But we are reluctant to clear out the accumulation of 2 months of travel brochures, sea shells and other bits we've collected here. Making decisions about what to try to squeeze into already overweight suitcases means we must leave some of the evidence here in the trash. It's a bit too much to deal with right now, so we choose to ignore it. That may make our Monday packing a bit on the furious side, but we've put off the inevitable for a day or two.

Time to hang the second load of laundry and get back to the sun of the terrasse.

Tracking the Templars

Thursday, May 26

We've started to soak wine bottles in hopes of saving the labels, knowing that it's time to start recycling our mantletop collection. The first batch from Domaine du Trésor comes off easily. But now the Beauvignac bottles (from the Picpoul cave cooperative) are not cooperating. But our plan B is to photograph the bottles before removing labels (thanks, Clark, for that suggestion).

We have a breakfast of French toast and then go to the market for fruits and vegetables. As we're down to our last few dinners here, we must empty the freezer, refrigerator and cupboard over the next few days. Seems hard to believe that we leave on Tuesday. My plan would be to hang out at the apartment for the day, starting the sorting and packing process. But Dave has other plans. It's another hot day in Thézan and I'm still drained from yesterday's adventures in the heat of Montpelier.

So at noon, armed with sandwiches and cold drinks, we head out for Peyre which is only 7 km from Millau. As it turns out the village has an awesome view of the Millau viaduct from it's Tarn river location. It must have been interesting to live there during the building of the viaduct. They would have had a birds-eye view of all the construction activities.

Peyre (pronounced Pair-re) is another village from our updated copy of the Beautiful Villages of France book. It clings to the cliff side above the Tarn river on the west side of the viaduct, opposite the direction one takes to get to the Gorges du Tarn area.

We have learned from our book that to become a Beautiful Village, a village must have no more than 2000 inhabitants, have at least 2 monuments, and agree as a town to participate in the organization. Those criteria met, the village makes application and then receives a site visit from a Beautiful Villages committee which determines the village's status on 27 other criteria, including making the town welcome to visitors. Towns can be declassified if they don't maintain their adherence to these criteria. We have visited all of the beautiful villages that are easy to get to from Béziers and they have all been spectacularly beautiful and interesting in one way or another.

Peyre proves no different. As the town clings to the side of a cliff, the parking is down at the river level and a bit outside the town. While there are a couple of "drivable" streets in town and we see some garages that you could get a car into, there would be no room for even one tourist car to park.

We walk up the steep paths to the top where there is a fortified, now-abandoned church built into the side of an overhanging cliff. There is no town per se, at least not anymore, just a collection of houses, the church and a former community bake oven the shade of whose benches we use as our lunch picnic spot.

It turns out that our plan to drive into the Causse du Larzac is a good one as it is a hazy, mostly cloudy day, the temperature on the Causse is a modest 24 (about 78) and there is a cool breeze.

We look into the church which was abandoned and sold shortly after being taken over by the state as "public goods" in the French Revolution. (You might remember that the French revolutionary government took over all the churches including their buildings, lands and assets as belonging to the public. These buildings and assets were then sold to private citizens, usually at auction. The money raised by selling this church was used to build a "new" church in the valley.)

New church in the valley

The troglodyte (a word used to describe buildings that are built into caves) church is surprisingly devoid of any church-like characteristics and what we see was clearly as much fort as church. But the outside is very interesting. Built under the overhanging rock, construction of a facade and tower were all that was required. Since it was also a fortress, there are few windows which are small and empty of glass. You can still see the arrow slits and murder holes built at places in the tower.

We wander a couple other alleyways, taking photos, marveling at the views from the terrasses of the houses. Rather spectacular scenery for aperos, we think.

There seems to be one business in the village, a potter. She explains her firing techniques (Raku and some sort of crystallization process that I don't understand). I ask her about the Beautiful Villages book and if the French use it. She says no, mostly non-native tourists. I buy a small pitcher of the crystalline type and we head out of town.

We had noticed an information sign about the Millau viaduct as we crossed into town and decide to follow that. It leads us across a small bridge and up around the shoulder of the other bank of the Tarn and eventually to a rather large visitor center built to explain the viaduct. There are some great views of the viaduct, although the photos will not do them justice due to the hazy conditions. A pretty neat discovery. Obviously, it is on the tourist and bus route as there are lots of folks milling around.

As it is only 2:30, we decide to continue our explorations by following part of the "route des templiers et hospitaliers". This will lead us to two of the towns that were part of the same commanderie as La Couvertoirade.

The first town is called La Cavalerie. The Templiers, and after them the Hospitaliers, exploited the agricultural resources through the work of the local peasants. A commanderie was founded for the Templiers in the 12th century in which the town developed. It was fortified by the Hospitaliers in the 15th century. These fortifications were attacked multiple times during the wars of religion and the fortress had significant damage as a result. Today one sees the restored bourg or fortress part of the town. It's 4 towers were all lowered to the height of the ramparts at some point and the town is making great efforts to make the center of the bourg a pleasant neighborhood.

As a result of the devastation in past history, the insides of the bourg are more open than you might expect and there is a pleasant square in the center that has benches and planters where I do needlework while Dave explores the rest of the bourg.

It's not large, clearly some houses are original with modern repairs. In other places, where there was only rubble, the land has been cleared and a new house built in keeping with the architecture of the bourg. There are still some opportunities for improvement as we note a rather large house with prime location against the inner walls of the bourg that is rather in need of TLC and is for sale as well. We think it would make a great B&B

We head out for our next town, St Eulalie de Cernon. But on the map, I spot what appears to be a look out point on a dead-end road along the way. We decide to see if we can find this viewpoint. As we head down a one lane blacktop road amidst fields of wheat and barley, we wonder if we are on the right road. But we see tall towers of communications equipment ahead and continue over the last 500 meters on a bumpy gravel tractor path. In the end we are rewarded by views over the valleys several hundred meters below us. We can even see the town of St Eulalie below us.

We notice that this Causse de Larzac seems to have soil that can grow crops as we see large (for France) fields of hay (already cut and rolled in the first haying of the season) and fields of grasses and grains (wheat and barley). This area looks richer than the tops of other Causses we've traveled. When I look on the Internet, I find that the Causse of Larzac has a more southerly orientation than the others and has indentations (little valleys) where the erosion has deposited soils that allow for the agriculture we see. But for the most part it is the same limestone we've been seeing elsewhere that is inhospitable to crops. The view is expansive, but hazy on this cloudy day. We finally make the U-turn Olga has been begging us for and she is happy now to be sending us on the correct path to St Eulalie. "Please make a U-turn, if possible" she croons in her impeccably unperturbed British accent.

Like all these small villages, we are directed to a parking lot outside the village. Like La Cavalerie, this village is located on a relatively flat area near the Cernon river. It isn't on top of the Causses, but 300 meters below, so seems to be sitting in a valley, although this valley isn't at the bottom of the Causse. Again, we enter a walled village, although this one has lots of opportunities for improvement. It seems rather run down and in need of sprucing up in most spots. Again, it seems un-touristy, although there is a busload of French senior citizens in the town. They are mostly congregated at the bar-tabac on the square, but they are on their way out as we are coming in, so we pretty much have the town to ourselves. (It is after all 5 PM)

St Eulalie de Cernon was the administrative center for the Commanderie that included La Couvertoirade and La Cavalerie and also the home of the Commandeur. It's history is much as that of La Cavalerie - begun by the Templiers in the 12th century, taken over by the Hospitaliers on the disbanding of the Templiers, fortified by the Hospitaliers during the wars of religion, sacked during the wars of religion and again during the French Revolution and sold off in parcels at auction by the post-revolution government. Along with its outlying towns of La Couvertoirade and La Cavalerie, this Commanderie was the richest and most powerful Templar / Hospitalier commanderie in Southern France. It was responsible for supplying a great deal of money and resources to their Jerusalem counterparts.

What saves this town (now just 834 people) is that the commanderie became a resort for the 16th century commandeurs and was spruced up in several significant ways that still exist. The square, the commanderie itself, and the church were all changed during this period. Like La Couvertoirade, there is an audio guide tour of the Commanderie and church which we decide to do in the hour left before the 6 PM closing time.

The church has a strange entry, a baroque door added during the Renaissance that pierces what was once the apse. The commander of the time changed the orientation of the church, moving the altar to the opposite end of the nave. This in order to create a door where the villagers could enter the church from the square rather than using the door from the courtyard of the commanderie building.

The church inside is Romanesque with added side chapels over the centuries.

We next enter the courtyard of the Commanderie where the services necessary for life inside were carried out. Stables, kitchens, and other services would have been carried out in this inner courtyard.

As we explore rooms upstairs, we see various commanderie rooms. One of these is covered with rich murals from the Renaissance improvements. The monks' dormitory shows how their sleeping quarters would have been lined with pallets of straw. The refectory was redone in the Renaissance as well and made into two floors with reception rooms on the upper floor.

The guide, as in La Couvertoirade, is worth the extra Euro we paid for its use. But as the town closes up, we leave as well, making our way back to the A75 for the fast way home. Along the way to the A75, we see several rather large herds of sheep grazing in the dusk. We stop for photos and I also finally get a photo of my sheep crossing sign I've been wanting.

Roquefort cheese, anyone?

As we head down the highway, I note that the greens of spring are changing to browns and tans, especially where the grass has been cut along side of the roads. The heat of the week has taken its toll on the plant life. As well there are now fields and highway edges of grasses turned the color of straw and waving in the breezes.

The yellows of the genêts are still visible, and at certain altitudes we still see fields of them but up close we can see that they are losing their intensity of bloom. There are still the occasional fields of poppies, but they are less intense in color than earlier. We are definitely moving into the summer season.