Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Roman Day in Provence

Pont du Gard: second tallest Roman ruin in existence today.  Only the Coliseum in Rome is higher.
A wonderful and busy way to spend a day in Provence is to have a theme.  With all the Roman ruins around the town of Arles, it made sense to have a Roman day.  In the morning we visited the Roman arena in Arles.  It is a spectacular sight.  Also in Arles, there is a Roman Museum.  This excellent museum is perfect to give background and meaning to the Roman ruins which still stand.  This museum is small enough to see in one hour.  The curators have selected high-quality original items to display.  This is able to show what a Roman life was like 2000 years ago.  There are also models showing what the town of Arles was like under the Roman command.  I highly recommend a visit.
Statue at the Roman Museum in Arles:  Bad Hair day.
Roman Theater in Orange
From the Roman Museum, it is an easy drive to Orange.  Here is the largest Roman theater with a freestanding back wall.  The theater is huge and held up to 20,000 spectators.  Included with admission is a audio guide which describes the theater during the time of the Romans.  This is also very educational and fascinating.  Although the Roman theater is very difficult to photograph because of its size, it is still worthwhile to visit for its cultural impact.

From there it is another short drive to the Pont du Gard.  This is lit beautifully at sunset and really makes 2 statements to me.  The first is how important water was.  This entire structure was built simply to transport water.  The second is how amazing the Romans are to have constructed such a elaborate monumental aqueduct.

After all of these travels, we were exhausted but had a day never to be forgotten.
Pont du Gard at Sunset

Arles Market Day

Tradition of Arles Market Day:  Bread for Sale
The city of Arles has the market on Wednesday and Saturday.  The Saturday market is traditionally the largest.  However the first Wednesday of each month is unique with more vendors coming to sell their products.  We happened to be visiting on the first Wednesday in the month of June.  Walking down by the Rhone river, we found the wonderful traditional market.  Just about everything was for sale from bread, cheese, strawberries, citrus, vegetables, sausages and more.  Nonfood items including leather goods were also for sale.  Some samples of the food were given.  I particularly liked the cheese samples and olives.  We bought several delicious items that we ate later that day at a picnic.
Radishes for sale
Sweet strawberries at the Arles Market



Wonderful fresh colors of the Arles Market



Vendor at the Arles Market
Provencial Cheeses:  The samples tasted great and I bought a slice for later.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Arles Roman Arena

Arles Roman Arena
The Roman arena in Arles is just one of many fascinating things to see in this wonderful, sunny provincial town.  This arena is still in use today for many civic activities.  It is a marvel that this has stood for 2000 years and continues to be functional.

The Romans took the concept of an arch and created a whole world.  This arena itself is one arch after another.  Hundreds if not thousands of arches are used to build up this magnificent structure.  Because this is a circular building, you can get different angles of light simply by walking around the building itself.  As I did so, I found that view from the inside corridor that I liked.  The arches make a simple but beautiful view.  The light is what gives this all energy and power.

St. Triomphe Church in Arles

Ancient Arles Church Facade
They say the early bird catches the worm.  I say the early photographer beats the restoration crew.  During my visit in the city of Arles, I got up for a morning walk and wandered down to the town square.  The ancient St. Triomphe church has a wonderful façade with apostles, Christ, creatures for minting centers as well as a army of saints and sinners at the final judgment.  In the morning I found this completely uncluttered, free for inspection and beautiful.  I walked right up close and could see the expressions on everyone's face.

Later I returned to go inside the church and I was surprised to find a hydraulic lift, scaffolding and lots of barricades blocking the view.  Apparently some work was being done to clean up the statues.  This was done during the daytime working hours.  Visiting during those hours, a traveler would not get to enjoy the uncluttered beauty.  I was glad I had come earlier.
Close-up of suffering sinner

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Garden of Marqueyssac (Jardin de Marqueyssac)

Jardin de Marqueyssac and Manor
The Garden of Marqueyssac sits above the lovely town of La Roque-Gageac.  Right across from this cliff-top garden is the imposing Castelnaud castle.  Anyone visiting the Dordogne region should consider a visit here among the many other spectacular sights.  It is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, taking a break from the castles.  Instead, you will find yourself wandering through lovely manicured gardens.

You can wander through various trails, getting lost.  A cliffside trail gives wonderful views of the Dordogne River and ends at grand view point.  You will certainly enjoy it.  My personal opinion is that this is a notch below some of the other spectacular places in the Valley. 
Bush Heads at Garden of Marqueyssac
Typical View from the Cliffside Trail in Garden of Marqueyssac

La Roque-Gageac: Looking for Details

Quai de la Riviere:  a sign in lovely La Roque-Gageac
The perfect little town of La Roque-Gageac in the Dordogne region of France is the location that I stayed for 3 days while visiting this region.  The region has a lot to offer with the incredible castles of Beynac, Castelnaud, the picture-perfect town of Sarlat, rolling hills and farms, the living river and the Garden of Marqueyssac. 

After a lovely dinner, I wanted to capture some of the gown itself.  This is a little challenging because it sits between the river and a cliff.  It is very narrow and you really cannot step away from the town to see it entirely.  Instead I tried to focus on the details, smaller parts of the whole.  Hopefully that will satisfy.
Boulangerie in La Roque-Gageac
Burst of Sunlight at the End of Day
Window Treatments
Step into the Past
Shooting into the Sun

Sunrise from Domme, France

Dordogne River, taken at sunrise from Domme
Sitting atop a hill overlooking the Dordogne River Valley, the town of Domme is in a strategic position.  I'm sure that is why it was initially founded centuries ago.  In the safety of modern times, getting up here takes a little bit of time.  From Cenac town, you can follow the signs going up switchbacks to the town  of Domme.  Take your time on this climb.

Once he reached the town, a series of signs will tell you which way to travel in the narrow streets.  The streets are primarily one-way.  Following the signs will take you in a counterclockwise circuit through the town.  You will pass an ancient cemetery on the northeast corner of town.  Right after that there are areas to park your car and enjoy a wonderful view.  Looking north, you can see the lovely Dordogne River and the beautiful, manicured farmlands stretching as far as the eye can see.

Sunrise is an excellent time to visit because of the lighting of the landscape.  On my visit, I had clear skies.  Clear skies are uninteresting in a photograph.  Whenever this happens, I try to focus my lens a little bit below the horizon.  Here are a couple of shots that I was able to obtain.  The first photograph is taken at  105 mm.  The last photograph is at 24 mm.  Both were taken with the 24-105 mm F/4 L lens.  I tried to emphasize the beautiful curve in the river as well as the reflection of the bridge in the water.
Wider View of Dordogne River Valley at sunrise. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Beynac Castle in Dordogne, France

Beynac Castle
Beynac Castle is a splendid monument to the Middle Ages.  This castle was part of the Hundred Years War and was possessed by the French during that battle.  It has been meticulously cared for and is in wonderful condition . . . except for the cobblestone street leading up to the castle.  I happened to be traveling with a child in a wheelchair and the cobblestone was very difficult for him.  Apart from that, this is a wonderful sight to see.

The castle has a commanding view of the river.  The river takes a turn here and the castle was at the elbow of that curve/turn.  You can see down river and upriver easily.  This is a very strategic location.  There is another castle on the other side of the river that was British during the great war.  This is easily seen and also imposing.  The name of that castle is Castelnaud. 

There are plenty of opportunities to get artistic with photography here.  The ancient stone, the stairways, the beautiful views of the river, the old leaded glass windows are some of the things that attracted me.  I'm sure there is much more that can be found here.  Your creative juices can be put to good work.

The tour of the castle itself guided.  Most of the rooms are empty although there are a few tables or displays here and there.  The view of the surrounding countryside is peerless.

It is fun to note that several movies were filmed here.  I am most familiar with Drew Barrymore's movie "Ever After."  Beynac Castle served as the home of the villain.  Drew Barrymore walked out of the castle door pictured above.  It was there that she met her handsome and humbled prince who had come to save her.
View looking from the castle top
View looking up the Dordogne River
Cloisters
Spooky Stairway
Castle top is great for views all around the valley
The Main Beynac Castle Assembly Room
Artistic shot through the ancient glass
Student traveling through the castle, stopping to rest
View of Dordogne and the Beynac Castle Chapel

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cheverny Chateau

Cheverny Chateau
Cheverny chateau is one of the most popular in the Loire River Valley.  It is not the biggest and it does not sit beside a lovely river.  However it has more charm than the others.  The small village of Cheverny is centered around this wonderful Castle.  There is a parking lot at the entrance to the town.  Walking 2 blocks through the lovely street leads to the entrance of Cheverny. 

You have an option of seeing the castle alone or also attending the Tintin museum.  I was traveling with my children and we decided to see the museum and the castle together.  We arrived around 4 clock in the afternoon.  It is good to time your arrival late in the afternoon because of another event that is free: the feeding of the dogs.  This is also called "La Soupe des Chiens" in French.  More about that later.

The Tintin museum is a very nice, clean museum that celebrates this wonderful comic book character.  Many of his books and other trinkets are available in the gift shop as well.  It's a fun stop especially if you have children.
Wandering through the Tintin museum

The feeding of the dogs is very exciting.  This happens every day at 5 o'clock.  There is no admission or tickets required for this.  Inside the grounds, next to the exit from the Tintin museum, is the dog kennel.  We arrived about 20 minutes before the event.  The dogs were standing around waiting.  About 15 minutes before 5 o'clock, the dog trainer had them all go into one area and closed the gate.  He then proceeded to bring in a wheel barrel full of chicken parts.  He spread them out in a long line.  Then he poured out pellets of dog food on top of the chicken meat/parts.  This did not smell very good.  However the dogs were barking, howling and clearly became excited.  They must be hungry.
Hunting Dogs browsing before Dinner

Then the dog trainer has the dogs come into the area where the food is located.  However he has a lash/whip that he keeps moving back and forth to keep the dogs away until they are all ready to eat.  At that moment he stops the movement of the lash, says a word and chaos breaks loose.  The dogs jump all over each other in order to get to the chicken.  They eat as fast as possible.  It is amazing to see.

Dog Trainer keeps the dogs from eating too soon
Cheverny Dog Feeding
After that spectacle, we entered the formal château.  The furniture in rooms are decorated so beautifully that one cannot help but be impressed.  The rooms are like they were several hundred years ago.  Someone could actually live there because every detail is accounted for.  Besides bedrooms and a beautiful kitchen with china, there is also a room for armor, a playroom for children and a library.

The staff were particularly kind.  I would certainly recommend a visit to this wonderful château if you are visiting the Loire area. 

Lovely French Garden
Modern Wedding Dress in an ancient room
Different View of the Chateau

Armor Room
Old French Clock

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lovely Sarlat, France

Sarlat Cathedral
Sarlat, France is in the heart of Dordogne region.  While visiting this area, my family took a day trip here from our headquarters in La Roque-Gageac.  The drive is a lovely, pleasant short trip.  Parking on the southern part of town, we began wandering into the pedestrian only streets.  There are many lovely villages that we had visited in France but this exceeded them all.  It exceeded my expectations.  Wonderful restaurants, old buildings, interesting shops and a lovely town square invite one to wander and explore.

On this particular day, we arrived in time for a Catholic mass and the cathedral.  The cathedral is beautiful inside and out.  Hearing the sermon, music and absorbing the French culture and religion is a wonderful way to spend an hour.  The massive column that was near my seat in the church have the names of soldiers who had died in World War I inscribed.

After church, we sat in a square and listened to a cello player.  Then we wandered around the church.  The ancient lantern to the dead commemorates those who died in the black plague.  In the short time of 3 or 4 days, one third the population died in this town.  That is astounding to consider.  The monument is very sobering.
Cathedral ceiling
Lantern to the Dead, the oldest structure in Sarlat
Typical walking street
For lunch, we had crapes in the town square and then felt free to explore.  I kept wondering when we would reach the end of the beautiful town and find the "regular" town.  To my delight, the entire town is gorgeous and there is no bad part.  Every time we turned a corner, more beautiful restaurants, alleys and homes kept extending outward.  This town is extremely photogenic.  It is also very laid back.  I get the impression that fine food is the most important thing here.  That is just as it should be.

Anyone visiting the Dordogne region of France should definitely visit Sarlat.  The town is easily seen in about 4 hours.  That is a very leisurely and pleasant 4 hours.  Enjoy.
 
 Lantern, Cathedral Tower and blue sky
Sarlat Building
Lovely French windows and flowers