Friday, 19 May 2017

French Holiday Part 12 - Béziers, Limoux and The Pool

Friday 15th July 2016

So how long did the band go on for last night?  I have no idea. Chris was still awake at midnight and it was still going strong then.  However he then dropped off, so it did not disturb us to any great extent.  

We woke that morning to the horrendous news of the carnage in Nice – Chris picked up from conversations in the boulangerie that something had occurred and we are grateful to have Sky news to keep us in touch with the world.

So today the plan was to visit Béziers in the morning and take the trip on the boat down and up the locks in the afternoon.  This, however, was not to be as the boat was fully booked! We booked for Monday, so hopefully it will be third time lucky.

As we had planned we took the Petit Train into Béziers.  

There was a good commentary via headphones, so not only was it a stress free way to get into a town we were unfamiliar with, but it was also very informative. It afforded a few photo opportunities, but you had to be quick as it was rather bumpy.  The route took us down from the locks alongside Le Canalette which at this time of year is little more than a damp ditch.  Across L’Orb with the Pont Canal (this bridge takes the Canal du Midi over l’Orb) on our right 

And distant view of Pont Neuf and the cathedral on our left 

Past the Polygone which is a new area of commerce 

We never found out what was behind here, but you would think it must be fairly grand to warrant such a splendid gate! 

The train then made a detour off the road into a park.  It whetted our appetites to such an extent that we went back on foot later in the day 

We alighted from Le Petit Train in Allées Paul Riquet right by the man himself 

It is slightly unfortunate that the local birds have been using his head for target practice.  I believe that Winston Churchill did not want a statue of himself in Parliament Square in London for this very reason.  He is there, but has some sort of electrode inserted inside him which deters birds from landing.  I believe his sentiments were something along these lines ‘I do not wish to have pigeon crap all over my head for the rest of eternity’!  If you look at the bottom photo we think these are a representation of some of the instruments Riquet used in his work.  

Friday was the day to visit Béziers as along the Allées Paul Riquet there is a flower market and what an riot of colours and smells. Definitely worth visiting even if you aren’t going to buy.  It is a visual & olfactory feast. 

Does anyone know what the plants on the far right are?  They looked like velvet.

 And at the end of the Allées Paul Riquet another delight – the theatre 

From here we made our way to the Cathédrale Saint Nazaire passing on our way the Palais de Justice – well it was until 13 Jul 2016 (2 days before our visit!)– it appears to have moved to new premises in the Poylgone.  

Before entering the Cathedral one must stop and take in the magnificent views.  Please note in the top right picture the building with the very tall chimney that I captured from the other side when we visited the Etang du Montady.  Bottom left is the car park at Fonserannes and bottom right is the sight of the bottom lock and you can just spot the Pont D’Eau – more about that on Monday.

There are also far reaching views of L’Orb & Le Monts du Caroux.

And so to the Cathédrale Saint Nazaire – I am glad I managed the distant shot from Fonserannes as that is the only way to get a feel for the dominance of this building over Béziers.  Up close it is not as big as you think it will be from the distance, but it is still a magnificent building and worthy of a visit.   In UK terms we would probably expect it to be a called a very large church.  

Some information for those who read French - I do have to agree that it is a beautiful fortified church

And so we ventured in.  I have certainly seen bigger and more awe inspiring churches, but there is plenty of visual interest to delight the eye. 

Stained glass windows which are notoriously hard to photograph, particularly with a camera which serves me well, but has few refinements.  The picture of the circular window certainly does not do it justice, but hopefully you will get an idea of how magnificent it was.  

Intricately carved choir stalls and a marble altar rail – both so very tactile.

Looking back from the altar one’s eye is drawn up to the vaulted ceiling, the magnificent window and one has to marvel at the organ pipes.  Something I would love to hear playing.   

You can also see the sheer size of the pulpit which is set in the centre of the congregation.  I am sure that has seen some fire and brimstone preached over the years. 

Now looking from the back towards the altar 

The sheer intricacy of the altar deserves a closer look

On either side of the nave just leading up to the choir stalls are the Stations of the Cross from the 1st to the 14th.  The paintings above them are superb, but the light was not good enough to get a good shot.  

There are, of course, plenty of statues

And finally in side chapels at the rear of the cathedral there was a photographic display showing the Cathedral and other parts of Béziers over the years, through the seasons 

We particularly liked these two showing L’Orb in flood and it's normal summer level. 

From there we made our way back to Allées Paul Riquet via the imposing Marie where all the flags were at half-mast in respect of all those who lost their lives in Nice yesterday.  Three days of national mourning had been announced and all planned son et luminères and firework displays had been cancelled.

This caught my eye in a gallery window – very odd! 

And it was not much better inside! 

We also passed this rather imposing entrance to the police headquarters 

The buildings in the city are magnificent 

With some amazing architectural features 

We passed through several squares all with busy restaurants and people making the most of the sunshine 

One thing that will remain in our minds is the very clever use of many umbrellas of a multitude of hues to shield passers-by from the sun as they promenade down the many narrow alleyways.  

So here we were back in Allées Paul Riquet and it was time for lunch.  With so many restaurants to choose from we had to hope we would make the right choice. 

Sadly we didn’t.  We both opted for a Caesar Salad expecting lettuce, Caesar sauce, Gran Padana and lightly grilled chicken.  This is what we got.
The lettuce, Caesar sauce and Gran Padana were all fine, but the chicken – oh what an abomination!  It was deep fried!  Chris fared better than I did – all three of his pieces were light in colour like the piece at the front of my plate.  My other two pieces were in very over done thick, crinkly batter and were as dry as a bone.  We never did discover what the meat on the sticks was, but to me it had a jelly like texture and was decidedly unpleasant.  When the bill came it was described as Yakatori, but the menu definitely said Chicken Caesar Salad both in French and English.  All that can be said was it filled a hole!

We had time before our return train to walk to the other end (from the theatre) of the Allées Paul Riquet (the street is 600 metres long) to the park. There we discovered the park is called the Plateau des Poetes and covers 5 hectares.  It was laid out in the English style between 1863 and 1867 by the brothers Bülher, who were famous landscape gardeners.  It is a sanctuary for birds, wildlife and humans in the centre of a busy city.  

So who are the poets? Viillenerve, Injalbert and Magrou were Biterrois (born and bred in Béziers) and the fourth (Victor Hugo) is included as he spent a lot of his life in the town.  We only found Villenerve and Hugo, but we did not have time to explore all 5 hectares.
We found three memorials – First and Second World War Memorial, with, once again, the flags flying at half-mast

one to the members of the resistance and finally to those who lost their lives at the time of the liberation in 1944.  There is evidence all over this part of France of the torrid time they had in the dark days of occupation during WWII. 

There is a water course that starts at the top left, goes round to the intricate structure on the right and ends bottom left with a row of beehives behind the water, well away from the public.  

Tree lined avenues give welcome shade and a few flowers here and there delight the eye 

We found a bench in the shade to sit, rest our legs and read our books whilst enjoying the peace and quiet surrounding us before heading back to Allées Paul Riquet to catch our Petit Train at 15:30.  It was, inevitably, running late, so we found another bench to while away the time whilst we waited.  This was a very different experience – there were people on a nearby bench set at 90 degrees  to ours and an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair to the right of our bench.  It was not until we had sat down that the aroma hit us and we realised we were among the down and outs of Béziers!  We felt it would have been rather rude and somewhat pointed had we got straight up and moved away, so we stuck it out.  We were glad when the petit train approached and we could move off, catch the train and head back to the car.

We bumped our way along some very narrow streets – there was not much room for error and pedestrians had to take a very deep breath in and think thin! 

Then it was out of the city over Pont Neuf with a view of Pont Vieux on our right the bridge we went in on on our left 

We both loved Béziers and we are not sure why it has taken so many years before we paid it a visit.  The Petit Train is definitely the way to go in – not only because it saves trying to find a parking space in a city we do not know, but you get a good overview of the city.  The total trip takes around 50 minutes.  They do have open top bus tours as well, so maybe next time we will see what they have to offer.  They certainly would not get anywhere near the narrow streets the train took.  

So ended a really good day and as it turned out we were glad the boat was full as it gave us more time in the city which was definitely needed. 

 Saturday and Sunday 16th July 2016

The lovely hot weather was well and truly back again and looked set to remain that way until we left in a week – yes just one more week to go.  The four weeks had sped by much too fast.  Saturday we decided to head for a place called Limoux – about 1.5 hours away.  It is quite a distance away, but it is somewhere we visit every time we are down this way.  Why you may ask?

La Grande Cave du Sieur d’Arques – the home of Cremant and Blanquette de Limoux.  We discovered this sparkling wine on our first trip 19 years ago and have been picking up supplies for ourselves and as presents ever since.

We set the sat nav and off we went taking the autoroute round Carcassonne.  We followed her until we got to Limoux and that is when the magical mystery tour began!  There is a brand new out of town shopping area which she detoured us through (useful to know there is a huge Le Clerc for a few supplies and some fuel on the way home) and then along a very bumpy road by a disused railway track and what used to be the railway station.  They were all areas that were completely new to us.  We ended up driving through the square full of diners in the middle of the town.  A part of Limoux we did not know existed!  In all the years we have been here we have only ever driven through and had no idea there was a lively welcoming centre to Limoux.  (I wrote the words whilst we were in France and when we got home I checked our photos from previous trips only to discover we had been into the centre in 2000!Senior moments R'Us!).  After a lot of wriggling and a couple of about turns we made it to the Cave only to find it was shut for siesta.  We had expected it might be, so it was not too much of a shock.

We had spotted a picnic site on the outskirts of Limoux, so headed there to eat our lunch.  There was a table in the shade and the surroundings were quite pleasant

It was rather too near the road, but the traffic was fairly light, so it was not too intrusive.  It served its purpose, but it is not somewhere I would choose to spend the afternoon.

Back into Limoux on the correct road this time and we spotted a brand new cave

We ventured in, but found it rather unwelcoming, so we hot footed it to the cave we have been using for years.  Suitably stocked up we headed back to Bize. 

There was, however, one other thing that had to be done whilst in Limoux.  I am sure many of you will know how the French love to make features of their roundabouts?  Well there is one in Limoux that we have always found particularly attractive – it features a man – possibly a jester/clown.  Well shock horror; he is no longer on a roundabout!  Instead he is on an island on one side of the road.  We think there have been some changes to the road layout, so I guess he was a victim of development, but at least they have kept him even if he is in a slightly different format.  Once home I discovered when checking the photos from 2011 that he had moved back then,  Another memory lapse, but at least our memories are equally bad – some sort of compatibility!!  So here he is in 2016 and in need of a trim.

This is him on the roundabout in 2000. Note here his face is pink and he is sporting googles which is probably why I always thought of him as a pilot.  As you will see above there are now no googles and it looks as though he has a white mask on his face,

2011 – and recently trimmed

On the big roundabout at the entrance/exit to the town there is this rather splendid revolving wine bottle.

On our way home we called into Homps to get another couple of bottles of wine – more presents.  We do not make a habit of loads of presents when we are away, but we do like to give something to the children and also the friends who have had Monty for the entire time deserve more than a little something!  Anyway I digress – who did we find in Homps?  Yes none other than Winnie!  She was in the spot that we had on our second visit until Le Boat moved us on.  

Sunday 17th July
A chill out day round the pool

It was bright, sunny and hot again, so what should we do on a quiet Sunday – well it was a good day to take some time out and relax. We were able to enjoy a lovely slow start to the day.  The first thing on my agenda was a visit to the boulangerie.  It is a busy little shop.  There were 7 in front of me and by the time I left another eight were waiting in the queue.  I have been very restrained over the last four weeks and only had fruit for my breakfast, but today I decided to treat myself, so the order at the boulangerie was for un croissant, un croissant amande (my favourite), au placquet (a slightly wider loaf than a baguette), un café éclair (Chris) and un tarte citron (me).  A real blow out day, but very nice it was too.

After a very relaxing morning we went off down our own private steps from our terrace

Through the gate to the river below where on a hot, sunny Sunday it is the place to be.  Whole family groups congregate

They even bring the cot for the baby

But look out for escaping pushchairs!! Our daughter will empathise with this scenario – I was not quite quick enough to catch it on camera, but it escaped down the slope into the water and had to be rescued. Thankfully it was unoccupied at the time and the lady did not have to take her trousers off to retrieve it!!

Children can play safely on inflatables with no chance of being blown out to sea.  

At varying times we saw an alligator and a shark!!

Small boys can have fun with an awesome water pistol only incurring adult wrath when they miss their aim and hit someone – one will never know if they really did miss!

How about fishing from a boat?  We know there are fish to be caught as we peeked into a small girl’s net

I am not sure where this young lad thinks the surf is, but he was having fun 

Now this looks like fun.  Do they make it (there were two of them having a go)

Sometimes yes

And sometimes no!

We found some shade for me with sun for Chris along the river bank and sat for a while to enjoy the atmosphere.  Then it was time to take the plunge!  Oh boy what a shock – we knew it was cold from previous years and it has not warmed up in the interim.  It is cold enough to make you gasp as you enter.   The water comes off the mountains, but here is the proof that we both braved the water. 

Then when you have had enough you can drip your way through our gate, up the steps and go straight into the shower.  Bliss.

Later that evening we spotted this chap with his snorkel and fishing net (you can just see the green pole sticking out of the water) – he was definitely looking for something, but we have no idea what!

Now in the months of July and August it is forbidden for dogs to be on the beach, but hey this is France!   They were all young dogs and were having a great time together.

I mentioned earlier that we were having an unhealthy eating day food wise – well we balanced it a little bit at dinner time when we must have had our ‘five a day’ in one sitting!!  A French salad ‘a la Gash’!  Very tasty it was too.

Then the final treat of the day – those cakes.  The French certainly know how to do things with style – beautifully presented and in such a pretty box.

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