shewhomust: (bibendum)
I am not entirely sober after a delightful lunch with [ profile] durham_rambler and [ profile] desperance and other persons who do not LJ. In the course of which [ profile] desperance made mock of my many unfinished holiday narratives. Very well: cover me, I'm going in. The first page in the notebook (because of course I rip them out as we go) finds us back in 2008, following the Meuse from source to sea - though downstream of Maastricht, so I must learn to call it the Maas. We were attempting to follow a route suggested by a book I'd found at the library, a baffling combination of interesting and attractive old towns, pleasant relaxing countryside and baffling and infuriating road diversions - and every now and then, when we least expected it, returning to the Maas, which seemed for now to have left industry behind and surprised us with a broad expanse of recreational waterway.

In Hoensbroek, looking for the castle, following odd glimpses of an intriguing building, we came instead to the zoo: an area of grassy parkland in which a variety of animals mingled behind a wire mesh fence: a raven perched on the fence to talk to the ostrich (and I was so charmed at this that I badly annoyed a family of cyclists - remember, there are no pavements, only cycle ways). The ostrich strode off, nearly getting its feet entangled in a baaaaby goat. A lady walking her dogs paused by the fence while her scotty dog went nose to nose with two hens: three small white beasts together. There were deer, too. (My notes say "separating the geese from the goats".)

Lighting the white streets

We paused in Thorn. I'd remembered the route as taking us to a string of 'white towns' but the internet tells me that the 'white town' is Thorn - particularly dazzling on this bright autumn afternoon, the white painted buildings and sharp shadows quite hard to see in the dazzling sunlight. When we'd had enough of that, we found a pretty back path, where a stream ran through woodland past the back doors of the town.

Then we got lost again, and I can't decipher the next paragraph of notes, but struggling to navigate what should have been a straightforward route was a leitmotif of this holiday, so perhaps that's appropriate. And eventually the old road north brought us to Arcen in time to watch the sun setting over the Maas.

Perversely, the next day, which we'd scheduled to be simply 'a short drive to the ferry' was more fun than we'd anticipated: there was sunshine, broad flat fields punctuated by trees, waterways, even windmills. And just to put that zoo in context, we saw small groups of deer kept in domestic gardens as people in other places might keep sheep or hens. And so we came to the King of Scandinavia, and home.

End of story. How does it go again. Oh, yes:

shewhomust: (bibendum)
I'm still working my way through the photos I took on our trip along the Meuse in autumn 2008. Sometimes it has seemed that I am never going to catch up with myself, that I will always be distracted by more travels, more photos - and very agreeably distracted, too. Nonetheless, I aim to sort my photos, post the best of them to Flickr, transcribe my jottings into some sort of holiday posts. And yesterday I actually reached the end of the photographs I had taken during our day in Maastricht.

It was my sister-in-law, GirlBear, who originally suggested Maastricht as a town on the Meuse (or Maas, at this point) worth visiting: increasingly, my default strategy is to avoid large towns. And it was [ profile] durham_rambler's brother, dcweather, who mentioned Valkenburg as somewhere he had once stayed on a school trip. Add to this the guide book I found in the library, which recommended a route through Limburg, and it all came together very neatly. We found ourselves a hotel in Valkenburg, booked ourselves in for two nights, and spent the intervening day exploring Maastricht.

The centre of Maastricht is small, and completely charming. We found reasonably central and reasonably affordable parking (though with hindsight, we'd have done better to take the bus) and followed our noses through the old streets until we found the tourist office, where we bought a map with recommended walking tour. City walls, arcaded streets, sculpted decorations on house frontages, autumn leaves everywhere, it's all in the details. If you're interested, have a look at the pictures.

At first I thought I wouldn't - couldn't - choose just one picture to represent a day in the city, and then I opened the notebook in which the enire day is summarised as "A day in Maastricht - where the cyclists take no prisoners," - so it had to be this one:

How many bicycles?
shewhomust: (bibendum) not the same as Belgium in twenty-four hours.I would have liked longer to explore - after all, the idea of spending a holiday following the Meuse had its origin in the Ardennes, the wooded area shared between France and Belgium. We might have used our day in Monthermé to visit Bouillon, if we hadn't gone walking instead - ah, well, another time!

Dinant waterfront

So we followed the river out of France and into Belgium, and came to Dinant, where we spent the night at a B & B called "Au Fil de l'eau", right next to the Meuse and just along from the tourist office. THe town is stretches out along the narrow space between the river and the rocks, with the citadel perched up above it. There's a church with an extraordinary bulbous spire, there are interesting shops and old houses, there's the birthplace of Adolphe Sax (inventor of the saxophone) and we wandered about exploring until the light was completely gone.

More photos of Dinant.

The next day was grey; there was no sunshine on the Meuse at breakfast-time, though we had a fine view over the river from the upstairs room, and a good breakfast too, with the first home-made jam of the trip (on our previous visit to France, a year earlier, home-made preserves, some more successful than others, had been a recurring theme; this year, though, we didn't see any until we left France for Belgium).

Back on the road, industry gradually became a larger and larger part of the landscape. The river ran between dramatic walls of rock, and equally dramatic quarries. A blanket of grey dust relected back the grey of the sky.

We stopped to look round Huy, a town I'd never heard of, but which evidently has quite a history: according to Wikipedia, it's the birthplace of both Peter the Hermit, whose preaching did so much to launch the First Crusade and Jean-Joseph Merlin, inventor of the roller skate. Brass scallop shells set into the cobbles suggest it's on one of the pilgrim routes to Compostella. We enjoyed our walk around the old town and the market, but crossing the river was a mistake, leaving us tired and hungry and looking for lunch in the wrong place, We became fractious, and failed to find the post office...

Pictures of Huy.

Along the road into Liège we began to wonder how much further it would be practical to follow the river. The huge industrial buildings were not beautiful, but there was a pleasure in seeing the Meuse as a working river, busy with barges. Eventually, though, we tired of continually adjusting our course, threw in the towel and took the motorway to Valkenburg. Even so, we arrived late and weary. I had not realised quite what a tourist centre it is - but this had one benefit, that there is a dense agglomeration of pavement cafés (all offering slight variations on the same menu) the like of which I had not seen since Budapest. We opted for the tapas.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Drawing courage from having set out the unfinished threads of holiday posts, and starting from the front page of my little paper notebook: I left off in the little town of Monthermé in the Ardennes, on Sunday evening when everything was closed. Our B & B was on the edge of the village, looking across the main road to the Meuse; our room was small and a little cramped, not because it was mean but because our hosts had tried to fit in everything we might conceivably need (with frills on it, if possible). We spent two nights there so we could go for a walk - this, after all, was the stretch of the river we had glimpsed en route to somewhere else on a previous holiday, and which had given us the idea of returning to follow the river along its length.

Full circle

Monthermé lies within a loop of the Meuse, and the walk we chose climbed up the steep valley sides and over the ridge. I'd be happy to stick to the high ground, but this was one of those exhausting French routes in which the GR - the waymarhed route - no sooner sees a decent track than it plunges off the edge of it. The strenuousness of the walk may have been partly our own fault: at the top of the first ascent, there was in theory a route around the foot of the rocky outcrops, but we didn't find it, and ended up clambering up and down the Quatre Fils Aymon - both the rocks on the skyline and, later, the statue of the epic heroes which overlooks the town of Bogny. I'd have been happy, having come back down to the river, to take it easy on the return journey and follow the green cycleway home along the river, but [ profile] durham_rambler was stern, and so there was more climbing up rocks, and precipitous descents through the forest, and weeping and cursing and magnificent views, not to mention the post-industrial site of L'Echelle, and while parts of it were very interesting, I could have done without it.

The following morning we cheated, and drove up to a couple more viewpoints which we had failed to reach on foot. Then, on the recommendation of our host, we went to Aldi in search of the Macon Villages he had served at dinner the previous night.

North from Monthermé, a narrow strip of France on either side of the river projects into Belgium: this was the most scenic drive yet. For much of the way, the road was close to the river, with great slabs of rock breaking dramatically through a brocade of autumn foliage.

We lunched at Givet, close below the border. [ profile] durham_rambler refused to wait until we reached Belgium for the much anticipated moules frites; I had an andouillette, and while I noted that this was "v. nice", I seem to have been more impressed with the accompanying assortment of vegetables: 1 leek, 1 chicon, 1 turnip, 1 inch of carrot and 1 runner bean.

And how could we say goodbye to France without hitting a hypermarket (Intermarché, on this occasion) for what we refer to as "the trolley dash"?
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I know there is a recurring theme in my holiday posts of the pizzas we have eaten in incongruous places (ie not Italy nor England*), but I don't seem to have tagged the relevant posts. Anyway, we didn't eat any pizza in Brittany this autumn; perhaps because in Brittany when you fancy a light meal consisting of dough with a tasty topping, you can eat crêpes, and that's what we did.

There was a pizzeria in Josselin, where we spent our first night. It was called - presumably in an appeal to Breton patriotism - 'Breizh Pizzas', and it was closed. We would still have gone to the crêperie next door, even if it had been open, and we enjoyed our meal there, though I admit I don't remember much about the crêpes. What I do remember is the floor show, which was provided by the young woman whose job it was to write the menu of the day on a blackboard. She was taking great care over it, with plenty of flourishes and curly capital letters: velouté de potiron aux châtaignes, échine de porc aux deux purées (poireaux, carottes) - when an elderly gentleman dining alone began to heckle her: No, that's wrong, it should be 'au' not 'aux'... There was a reason, which I don't now remember - possibly it was that the word following didn't begin with a vowel? - but she found it convincing, and began rubbing out the 'x's**. At which point the debate became more general.

We didn't eat pizza in Roscoff, either, despite the appeal of the Pizzeria Marie Stuart - why would you call a pizzeria after Mary Queen of Scots? [ profile] durham_rambler suggested it was the Rizzio connection.

A year earlier, we had failed to eat pizza in Bogny, on the Meuse. We found ourselves in a small town which was closed on Sunday evening, and our hosts at the B & B recommended an Italian restaurant in the next village. It was an odd-looking place (some sort of post-industrial, or post agro-industrial, conversion?) - we had a fine view of it on our walk the following day:

Pizzeria du Moulin

but inside it was a classic Italian restaurant of a certain era. One wall was decorated with a mural of an Italian scene, with the inevitable fucking gondolas, and the wall facing it with a mural showing the Ardennes: the forest, the boar, the river...

Instead of pizza I ate escalope milanese as they used to serve it at the self-service restaurantat the Porte Saint Denis in Paris forty years ago: well, I could have had pasta as an accompaniment, but I admit I chose chips instead (the chips were excellent). There were rum babas for desert, the kind shaped like an outsized cork which you buy in a jar of syrup; they were served with ice cream and spray-on whipped cream and that red sauce the local kids call "monkey blood". The wine was Sicilian, and very good.

*I accept that it wouldn't be particularly incongruous to eat pizza in the US, but I'm sure I haven't posted on the subject.

**He was wrong, of course. She had been right in the first place.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
There were times on last autumn's trip when I felt I was losing my handle on France: I tend to assume that I know how to find the things I want, where to stay, where to eat... When our night on a trout farm was followed by a failure to find any lunch, self-doubt set in. Other factors may have been involved - things were noticeably more expensive than the previous year (not just because our pounds bought fewer euros, the actual prices in euros seemed higher, and bought less) - and we still had a good time, but I was disappointed in my inability to read the townscape and find the café...

Beerless in Stenay )

Lunchless in Mouzon )

Clueless in Montherme )

ETA missing footnote: * perdre le nord translated by my Collins Robert as 'to panic, go to pieces'. Losing my religion, in fact.
shewhomust: (Default)
The oddest place we stayed on our European trip last autumn - yes, oddness appears to be flavour of the weekend - was the Auberge de la pêche à la truite.

We found it in the Logis de France guide, a listing of small independent hotels, it was the only hotel listed in any of our guides in the area where we wanted to stop for the night and in retrospect, it was entirely our own fault: there was a clue in the name 'Trout-Fishing Inn'. Then again, we've stayed in perfectly ordinary hotels in Scotland where we were the only guests in the resturant not discussing where we would go fishing the following morning, so perhaps there was some excuse. The address was given as Lacroix sur Meuse; we pictured a hotel by the river. But our instructions led us out of the little town, up a side valley, further and further into the countryside, with no destination sign-posted except - finally we put two and two together - the trout farm.

Evening by the waterWe could, I suppose, have decided that no, this was not what we had in mind, and driven on. But how much further would we have had to drive? We were ready to stop. Besides, although driving into a trout farm felt wrong, not us, it was peaceful, quiet, and the wooded hillsides were all the colours of autumn. The Auberge was slightly scruffy - some loose tiles on the outside staircase up to our room, the usual slightly random electrics - and the restaurant turned out to be one of those where the menu is more interesting than the cooking. But our room was enormous, an so was the bed, with a black and chrome headboard which was pure Hollywood art deco, The bathroom was spacious, and had a window (I'll forgive a lot if the bathroom has natural light). And although instead of the broad flowing Meuse, the waterways were narrow artificial channels packed tightly into a field, it was still pleasant to stroll along the banks in the evening, and watch the shoals of fish, and be soothed by the running water.

In the morning, we woke to see the silvery mist rising from the water, and drove off in clear sunshine. Not far from the auberge I solved a mystery which had puzzled me the previous year: from time to time along the road we would pass a patch of meadow which was particularly rich in flowers - wild flowers, I'd have said, if they hadn't appeared in such sudden riots of colour. Now we passed one which was displaying a notice, and all was explained: the Jachères fleuries is a collaboration between a seed company and the local hunting associations to brighten up the countryside and encourage biodiversity.
shewhomust: (bibendum)

Au prix Goncourt
Originally uploaded by she_who_must
We pulled in beside the Meuse, in the little town of Goncourt. The river was by now broad and slow-moving, and the sun glinted on the smooth water. On the far bank, there were cows in the field. We got out to stretch our legs, and to see what was to be seen - this was, after all, the family home of the Goncourt brothers, diarists of the literary world of nineteenth century Paris - and who founded the prize which is named after them, France's most important literary prize. Not that we expected to see any sign of that, and we were admiring the decorative woodwork of the old houses when - a charming tribute, to name the local shop after a literary prize. Only in France...

Since the importance of literary prizes in Britain seems to be measured largely by their cash value, it's probably worth recording that the Goncourt currently stands at 10 euros. But it does wonders for the winner's sales.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
There's always a point, holidaying in France, where we find ourselves driving through vineyards. Last autumn, since we'd chosen to explore the north and east of the country, that took longer than usual to happen, but nonetheless, we were skirting the east of Champagne, the north of Burgundy, sooner or later, surely...

We saw our first vine driving up the valley of the Blaise, following the iron industry heritage route from Saint-Dizier; the heritage centre was basking in the autumn sun, closed of course, with a lazy stream lapping round the building and an elderly vine propped up at its door. Still, we wouldn't be leaving the country without having seen a single vine.

Degustation in Coiffy )

When we had made our purchases we left, driving down from Coiffy le Haut at the top of the hill through the vines - at last - which cover the steep slope down to Coiffy le Bas. One little triangle of vines was surrounded by parked cars, and filled with people gathering grapes on this last day of the harvest. And that was our farewell to the vines.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
One last foodie post, before the feasting is over...

Red bike

After we had found the source of the Meuse, we overnighted in the little spa town of Bourbonne-les-Bains. The picture isn't particularly relevant, except that it's my favourite of those I took in Bourbonne, and perhaps it conveys some of the flavour of slightly quirky, somewhat faded grandeur. After we'd walked the length of the Grande Rue (which didn't take long) and climbed up out of the valley to look back onto the town (and then scrambled back down the short cut past the casino to our hotel) we decided that we didn't fancy eating in the sister hotel, which had a dining room. That left the pizzeria 'Le Jardin'. At five o' clock it had looked so closed we weren't at all confident it would ever open again, but by dinner time it was packed, and bustling - a good sign.

I had crudités - this used to be a staple of French restaurants, a selection of small salads, often grated carrots, celeriac rémoulade (in a mustard dressing), sliced tomato, and often too something local or unusual. I remember a deliciously fresh yet earthy lentil salad in Le Puy... Now crudiés seem to have been displaced by the many variations on a green salad, served with goat's cheese on toast, otr with slivers of meat and cheese, which is often exactly what I want for lunch, but a bit overwhelming as a first course. Even here, the alleged crudités was a bowl of lettuce topped with shredded raw cabbage (red and white) and celeriac, in a mustard vinaigrette. After all the rich food we'd been eating, any sort of raw vegetable was a delight.

Instead of pizza we opted for the local spciality, a caquelon vosgien. The caquelon is the shallow eartherware dish, in which potatoes, bacon, munster cheese and rather a lot of cream are baked together - and then, to cut the richness of the dish, flambéed with mirabelle eau de vie. This is my idea of comfort food, and I ate it very slowly. I was certainly too happily involved to notice any pause in the service, but when our caquelons were removed, the table was cleared by the man who had been visible cooking behind the counter, not by the young woman who had served us hitherto. She reappeared with a toddler in her arms, followed by two older children, all of whom had come to kiss their daddy goodnight.

And our ice cream was brought by a very blond little girl, slightly older still, though probably not old enough really to have been delivering the generous slug of eau de vie poured over the mirabelle sorbet.

We asked for a local wine, and were served a pinot noir vin de pays des Côteaux de Coiffy, which was made just down the road. The initial impact was quite harsh, but it - or maybe we - mellowed as the bottle progressed, and we decided that the next morning we'd go and see if we could find the producer.
shewhomust: (Default)
The source of the Meuse

Here's the logical centre of our autumn holiday.

The plan was to find the source of the river Meuse, and then follow it downstream, through France and Belgium and the Netherlands, until it either reached the sea or became so urban and industrialised that it wasn't fun any more. It didn't quite work out like that, and, as I said back in October, considering that we set off with that overall plan, the trip felt less like one unit, more like a sequence of events - but here, at least, is an undeniable fixed point, the source of the Meuse.

It isn't very impressive. For one thing, it rises very close to the Marne, in the department called, for that reason, the Haute Marne, so we had for some time been following a major river, often braided with a complex pattern of canals. For another, the countryside, while pleasant, is not dramatic; the Meuse doesn't rise in the mountains (as far as I can discover, the source is about 400m up). A finger post directs you through the village of Pouilly-en-Bassigny to a monument by the roadside, from below which seeps a puddle - and that's it.

Still, the locality makes the most of its claim to fame; as you drive off, towards a sequence of villages all called "something-or-other-sur-Meuse" another sign invites you to detour down a farm lane towards the first bridge over the Meuse, the first resaurant you come to is called 'la Source de la Meuse'. As arbitrarily chosen destinations go, it's a good one.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Cookbooks are the perfect holiday souvenirs, and this beautifully designed book on the cuisine of northern France has obviously been put together with that in mind. There are cryptic remarks in dialect, there are remarks about how and when things are traditionally served and the lavish colour pictures include typical northern scenes as well as the finished dishes.

The organisation of the book, too, works better to call up memories and images of the north than for the cook's easy reference: after a brief introduction by the author (who - naturally - no longer lives in the region) it is divided into 'the dishes of my childhood' ('my mother's rhubarb tart' - and I could be cynical about thhis, but then again, why shouldn't her mother have made rhubarb tart? it's a sort of sweet quiche, rhubarb baked in a pastry shell, with an egg and cream custard); 'cooking with beer' (includes beetroot soup, the 'welsh' which had so disconcerted us last year and grandma's recipe for rabbit cooked in beer, but with olive oil substituted for grandma's lavish quantities of butter); 'la grande cuisine du ch'Nord' (I don't know what makes these recipes 'grande cuisine', but the chicory soup looks good) and 'in the skin of a Ch'ti' (again, I don't know what theme this selection is meant to express, but it includes mussels and chips as served at the annual 'braderie' - the flea market which takesover the city of Lille, and an apple cake also called 'flamiche des corons', a coron being a pit village).

On the basis of that last one, which I have already tried (and it was excellent - but maybe next time, more apples and less cake), they eat well in the corons. I note also that whenever I had to look up a word I didn't know - vergeoise, cassonade - it turned out to be a kind of sugar...
shewhomust: (Default)
TulipsAndrew Morley claims to have invented the expression Street Jewellery, to describe those wonderful enamelled iron advertising signs which used to decorate the streets (and whose miniature reproductions now decorate our refridgerators). But the streets have more than one kind of adornment - and in France there is a wealth of decorative ironwork in the gates and railings, balconies and door-panels. The town of Saint-Dizier, in the Haute Marne, is particularly rich in this sort of jewellery, because it was a foundry town, specialising in decorative cast iron - and because in the early twentieth century, the foundry went into partnership with the architect Hector Guimard to put his designs into production. Guimard is best known as the designer of entrances to Paris's metro stations - but there are some wonderful pictures of his other work on the Cercle Guimard's web site, if you have the patience to work through the site (clue: it's no good clicking the word "English", it isn't a link...).

Saint Dizier has a very enterprising tourist office, who have put together a booklet of themed walks (the historic heart of the town, a walk along the canal) including two walks spotlighting the gems of the collection. It's an unusually small scale form of tourism, walking down residential streets looking out for the panels in the door of number 39, the balcony at number 30, the railings across the window at number 21. Next year the museum will reopen, and there will be more formal touristing to be done, for for the time being, we enjoyed drifting through the streets with a clear conscience.

Other attractions of Saint Dizier include the Miko ice cream factory which has been concerted into a cinema, and the coin in the slot pizza machine (offering those classic pizza variations raclette, tartiflette and alsacienne).
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We stayed a couple of nights at the Cheval Blanc, Chamouilley, a pleasant village beside the canal. The hotel is also the bar-café on the square, and the lady who I assume to be the proprietress was behind the bar when we arrived, showed us into the restaurant in the evening, and was back in the café the following morning at breakfast. I don't know if she ever sleeps, but she was smiling and helpful despite the long hours.

Dinner on our first night was:
Aperitif maison
kir pétillant, made with sparkling wine and a discreet quantity of mirabelle liqueur - subtle and delicious

Foie gras maison
served with pain d'épices grillé and compôte de mirabelles - yes, more mirabelles. I like mirabelles (and besides, we were almost in Lorraine). Foie gras with gingerbread toast was a new one to me, but worked extremely well.

Pavé de boeuf aux morilles
steak in a dark, rich mushroom sauce, with a little bundle of green beans tied round with bacon, half a tomatoe with some sort of herb topping, and mousseline potatoes - all very tasty, but the least interesting course of the meal

from which we were served with quite alarmingly generous quantities of cheese: I chose Munster, Chaource, Reblochon and the most local selection, a Troyes persillée - a cream cheese with parsley, (and garlic too, so that the end result was not unlike Boursin

Chocolate indecipherable
You may all mock me now, but I can't read my note of the name. It was, however, a fine chocolate mousse on a crunchy base, with something syrupy at its centre, which I know from the menu to have been apricot liqueur, but could not have identified by taste. This was served with one of the many ices of the trip, a mandarin sorbet.

And there was a delicious bottle of Madiran 1998 to drink - I know ten years is not an exceptional age for a wine, but it's exceptional for us, and it had matured well.

ETA: For the purposes of the "Which wine with which food?" game, I note that I drank the last of the apéritif with the foie gras, as you would a dessert wine, and it worked beautifully. I don't thinbk it would have been as happy with the Madiran, which had softened somewhat from the levels of tannin I'm used to in younger Madiran, but not that much!
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Somewhere, I'm sure, I must already have written about a feauture of the French roadsides: the life-size black silhouettes standing - I assume - at the locations of fatal accidents. I started seeing them, all over the country, a few years ago - and was thoroughly spooked by them. As a road safety campaign it's more vivid than our: "Last 3 years: 92 accidents" type notices.

This year, they were much diminished. Literally, too. The full size figures - all identical, as far as I could see - of indeterminate gender have been replaced by smaller silhouettes, fully dressed. Perhaps they represent specific individuals, but they are no longer Everyman.

Perhaps the campaign is becoming more familiar, and so less effective. For the first time this year I saw a silhouette with a poster stuck on his chest, like a sandwich-board man.

And where have the old ghosts gone? )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We arrived at Vitry-le-François after a picnic lunch, thirsty for coffee. I liked the look of the place - we drove into town past a triumphal arch, and parked by a spacious square, with a fountain representing the river Marne. We found a friendly café, where we studied the map provided by the Tourist Office, and decided we had time for a stroll around.


"Ah," said the lady who walked past as I was trying to frame a photograph, "vous admirez nos jolis bâtiments en peril" - you are admiring our lovely endangered buildings. Yes, that's exactly what we were doing.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Catch a falling starTipped off by our friend Sue, we visited the Museum of Art and Industry housed in the old swimming pool in Roubaix.

Unlikely though this sounds, it does make sense. Roubaix is one of those towns which was once industrial and very prosperous, and as the industry failed became less prosperous. So it has a number of wonderful buildings, left over from the glory days, which have survived because it never went through the period of demolition and replacement that continuing properity would probably have caused. Now it is busy reinventing itself as a lively cultural centre. (Does this sound familiar?) Among its neglected assets were the collection from the museum (which had closed down in 1940, during the war, and never reopened), and a magnificent art deco swimming pool. And someone had the bright idea of bringing them together.

This has been beautifully done, with great respect for the original building. THe main gallery is the pool itself, its width reduced by walkways along its length, the original lion's head fountain at one end balanced by a monumental ceramic arch (originally made for an international exhibition in 1913) at the other. Along the sides is displayed the museum's sculpture collection, impressive for quantity rather than quality, but gaining great charm from its unexpected setting. Between the pool and the outer walls, the shower cubicles have been left in place but opened up, the municipal green and cream brickwork providing display cabinets for smaller items, so that you can, for example, look through a group of Picasso's ceramics to the pool beyond. More works from the collection have been hung on the outer walls, and care has been taken to give priority in this area to those with aquatic themes.

Beyond are more conventional galleries, displaying other aspects of the collection, which is - well, uneven might be the best word. An attempt has been made to find a coherent thread, to take the visitor through a sequence both logically and chronologically, but it is clear that the museum has what it has, and the criteria by which it acquired it were not purely aesthetic. Once we'd worked that out, we relaxed into enjoying the show.

As witness... )
shewhomust: (Default)
Hard choicesIce cream is not usually my choice of dessert, but somehow this holiday I seem to have eaten more of it than usual. Sometimes there wasn't much option: rising prices meant both that we were more likely to stick to the cheaper menus, and that those menus themselves were less exotic - the final course was often ice cream, or a choice between ice cream and coffee. Sometimes, though, the ice cream came in flavours that were hard to resist. I ate my share of vanilla, but I also ate a coupe of speculoos, pain d'épice and chicorée (spiced biscuits, gingerbread and - chicory, I think, though perhaps it should be endive). I don't remember what flavour accompanied [ profile] durham_rambler's sugar tart, but I know it was a hard choice to make.

Other ice creams I ate were:

  • mandarin, accompanying a very luscious chocolate dessert at the Cheval Blanc (perhaps I'll write about that later),

  • coffee and vanilla in a 'coupe Irish coffee' with whiskey and coffee - if I were making this myself, I'd make sure the coffee was hot, but other than that it was my kind of pudding,

  • mirabelle - also accompanied by a generous slug of alcohol,

  • cinnamon, accompanying apple and almond tart,

  • half of [ profile] durham_rambler's nougatine,

  • and a dinky little helping of raspberry sorbet as part of a dessert platter.
shewhomust: (Default)
Mostly the north of France is somewhere we drive through, on the way to or from the Channel ports; unexciting agricultural landscapes dotted with little towns of red-brick terraces, war memorials and military cemetaries. I thought I knew pretty much what the area had to offer Yet here was an entry in the guide book with a name I did not recognise at all: Bergues. It sounded promising: a medieval walled town with outlying Vauban fortifications -

It was all that, and more. We parked by the canal, walked halfway round the walls, then turned into the town, towards the belfry (part of the transnational World Heritage Site, Belfries of France and Belgium) whose carillon played tunes for us as we browsed the market and then completed our circuit of the walls. At the far end of the town, all that remains of the Abbey of Saint Winoc is a pair of towers, one square and massive, the other an elegant polygon crowned with a spire.

Brick buttressesAnd almost everything was built, not of stone but of brick. It took a little time to sink in, since the brick was mostly a sandy colour rather than the familiar, homely red - brick the colour of stone, and used like stone in style and function: brick churches and brick city walls, Gothic brick, Art Nouveau brick and neo-Gothic brick (the belfry, for example, was destroyed in the Second World War, and defiantly rebuilt). What with the height of the belfry, the brightness of the sky, the market stall clustered around its base, my lack of a wide-angle lens and my own limitations, I didn't manage to photograph it to my satisfaction: but I was quite pleased with this tiny corner of the nearby church.

It turns out, too, that Bergues has recently become quite famous, in its way, as the setting of the hugely successful film Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.
shewhomust: (Default)
At the very end of our last trip to France, I started to notice that the roundabouts were sporting rather - umm - ambitious decorations. Instead of the familiar arrangement of, say, rowing boat at a fetching angle with bedding plants spilling out of it, one roundabout in Wimereux displayed a miniature hot-air balloon, in what looked like topiary. I was fascinated, but since the roundabouts tend to whizz past the car at great speed, there were no photos.

This year, however... )

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