Saturday, 18 November 2017

Saint Seurin d'Uzet - Chilly potterings in the SW of France

Saint-Serin d'Uzet (also called Chenac-Saint-Seurin-d'Uzet since a merger) is a small village on the right bank of the Gironde estuary, South West France with a tiny port, a church and a chateau. The day we visited it was offering howling wind and icy temperatures.

It is, however, caviar which is its greatest claim to fame. It was the most important producer of caviar from the female Sturgeon fish in France and possibly only one of two important suppliers in Europe in the past.

Around 1920 a white russian got the inhabitants to start producing caviar. Fifteen years later it was in full production and in the 50s the annual production reached 3-5 tonnes. The sturgeon became rare and fishing for it was outlawed from 1982. The museum was not open and functioning when we visited.

The village is in the heart of Pineau country meaning lots of a particular wine from the Charente region and the village is included in the area that produces cognac.

In this part of France's geography the estuary is near and so the river is very, very wide and it was difficult to see the other side of the river. We watched container ships moving up and down the river to Bordeaux while the weather made up its mind to rain or not.

We were surprised to see an ancient roman town being excavated. Originally it was by the sea but over 2000 years the sea has retreated leaving some cliffs so the old village is stranded a bit further inland though can be subject to flooding at times.

The old church is still functioning of sorts but I doubt there are many avid church-goers here. The population is small and sometimes seasonal.
The church is quite old with Roman style architecture. The sea comes up right alongside.

While in the area we visted Royan near the mouth of the Gironde. It's a beach resort sort of place but wet, windy and cold when we visited so we had to use our imagination as to how it might seem in Summer.
The houses have some interesting architecture.

 I finished off my visit to this area by sharing a little Kiwi culture; making a pavlova in the kitchen of a local couple - she French, he American.

We stayed a night with them before heading back home. The internet networks can certainly facilitate unexpected meetings and sharings.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Bordeaux - chic in its own right

I had been told that Bordeaux was a more chic version of Paris, the sort of Paris that Paris itself wanted to be. That piqued my curiosity.

As we arrived from driving through roads bordered by vinyards I really was impressed by the eighteenth century architecture along the Garonne river. The river travels over 600kms from Spain to empty into the Atlantic at Bordeaux.

Beside the river sits the city with it's Place de la Bourse water mirror. The day was hot and many families were making the most of the thin film of water supplied now and again by the municipality. Practical and aesthetic. Well laid out with generous spaces this city seemed cleaner than Paris. Trams help with getting around but it's easy to walk it. I toddled into a bookstore and came away with a travel guide on the area, in English. I tried on hats in a specialist hat shop and admired recent collections of Villeroy and Boch tableware. Shopping is varied but the usual big brands are everywhere.

Lunchtime dictated a meal in a specialist steak restaurant l’Entrecôte which operates on 4 levels so the staff get a daily workout negotiating the stairs with trays of steaks and fries. There is no menu here. The only thing you can order is a steak and fries and because they specialise they do it so well. Scrummy chips with an inhouse sauce for the steaks, cooked to whatever perfection you wish. I really did enjoy the meal. This restaurant is part of a well-known chain of restaurants all providing the same thing.

Another restaurant in the town at the other end of the scale is Gordon Ramsey's Le Bordeaux located across from the Grand Théâtre. Too expensive to even bother to cross the road to look at a menu..

The theatre is like an opera house but we were quite disappointed in it. There wasn't much to see. Yes, there's the grand staircase, yes there's a nice painted ceiling and the theatre has a big stage but when we visited the stage was in blackout. Trying to walk across it in almost pitch dark was unpleasant. There's a cute little souvenir shop but almost nothing of interest to see, wasted spaces other than a foam construction near the entranceway. The building façade dates from 1780 and the theatre hosts operas, dance & music performances.

The Place des Quinconces  is one of the largest public squares in Europe. It was laid out in 1820, two years after the trees nearby were planted. The fountain and column, created between 1894 and 1902, are a memorial to the Girondins, a group of moderate, bourgeois National Assembly deputies during the French Revolution, 22 of whom were executed in 1793 after being convicted of counter-revolutionary activities.
Much of this fountain statuary was removed during the German occupation, destined to be melted down by them to make canons but later found in Anger where it had been secreted. The bronzes were reinstalled in 1968 so what we see now is completely restored. I had the good fortune to come across a volonteer guide at the fountain and the old man enjoyed explaining to me the various parts of the design. They are allegorical symbolising vices, freedom and the triumph of the Republic. Bordeaux is easy to get to via the TGV train from Paris. We needed a lot more than 4 hours to explore this city so plan accordingly. I'd like to come back one day to to explore a lot more of this beautiful city.