Week 5 Champfleuri Centre de Vacances

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We are now finishing up our time at Champfleuri where we have volunteered our services for a couple of weeks. Champfleuri is a protestant camp and retreat center just north of Grenoble, France which is also a French Bible School in the winter. It is in the heart of some incredible mountains and Les Sept Laux is a ski area only a few minutes away.

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Joanne got right into things by planting a spring crop of flowers the first day.

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One can be distracted by scenery like this! These are the Chartreuse Mountains just across the valley and we look out at them as we work.

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My job was to help refurbish the interior of a building they call “Chalet” which is to be used as a dormitory for up to 11 people.

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I was able to work with French building materials and tools which was an enjoyable learning experience.

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Joanne worked in the kitchen as a Sou Chef with a French cook “Emme” and she really had a good time with new spices, the incredible French cheeses and some really great recipes! The French put such a high emphasis on quality food and service that a facility like this does not serve what we would call “camp food” by any stretch of the imagination!

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Every night we would go to sleep with a Cookoo bird making its call. Sometimes up to 15 cookoo’s in a row! The bird is about as big as a pigeon and grey, but very illusive, so we don’t have a picture of one, but we will show you a picture of a typical village in the hills of Mount Belledonne.

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Champfleuri Centre de Vacances is associated with the Torchbearers organization and Paul and Joanne have been interested in their ministry for a long time. If you would like more information you can go to http://www.torchbearers.org/

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Tomorrow we are driving through the French Alps to Italy and staying the night in Parma (you know – Parmesan Cheese) and then on to Florence for five days…but more about that later.

We are glad to get your comments as you visit our page!

Paul and Joanne

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Week 4 Arles The Mistral Winds Pont Du Gard

Hello from the top of a Roman Colesium!

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After the stunning sights in Carcassonne last week we were eager to venture into the Provence region and explore the Roman antiquities of the area. Up first was a 3 hour drive (we take all the non-toll roads) to Arles where we first checked in to a campground and then had second thoughts and found an Ibis. Security was the issue.

Arles is a bit scruffy and significantly non tourist oriented, but has some excellent Roman architecture as well as being a location where Vincent Van Gogh maintained a studio and was able to be quite prolific.

The Mistral winds blow down from the north at a steady 30 knots for three days while we are in Provence. You can probably tell from the photos!

We visited the Amphitheater.

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We visited the Coliseum. The detail and sheer scale of the construction is amazing in all these Roman structures.

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Various Van Gogh sites are listed on placards, but much has changed since Vincent trod these streets, so we were only able to really document two of these sites as having any resemblance to his art work. Below is a look at a cafe in the day. He painted this at night.

This is what Van Gogh saw:

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This is what we saw:

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We are to do volunteer work at a retreat center named Champfleuri, so we set out to our destination by way of Pont Du Gard. This structure is an aqueduct delivering water upstream to a critical garrison in the Roman military network. Joanne and I visit a museum describing the building of this structure and then walk a quarter of a mile to view the aqueduct. It was striking to walk around a bend and see this for the first time as its sheer scale is overwhelming.

Perhaps you can gain a sense of the size by trying to spot Joanne (in black) at the foot!

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As we drive along we see much beautiful scenery and continue to be impressed at the beauty of France!!!

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Next week – on to Champflueri!

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WEEK 3 Sarlat Carcassonne Cathar Castles

We begin the week by driving to Sarlat. The caves in southern France contain petroglyphs that are not only old (15000 BC) but of exquisite presentation as well, showing perspective, detail, and utilizing the three dimensional characteristics of the cave wall to emphasize the anatomical features of the animal they are depicting.

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The drawing above is taken from a cave called Lascaux II and is very striking to see in person.

We then drive on and pass another cave (Cougnac Grotto) where a tour is just starting, but is in French and we say that we want to go anyway. The cave is both geologically interesting and has some beautiful cave art in the farthest reaches of the cave. Our guide pulls Joanne and I aside frequently to give us some explanation in English – much appreciated!

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On to Carcassonne – a medieval walled city commissioned by the Romans and then by the Pope. The lower walls are all that is left from the Roman era, but the city on the hill is beautifully preserved and we stay up late to get some pictures of the city when it is lit up.

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We camp at Carcassonne for three days overcoming a deflating air mattress – fixed at 3AM and drive north 30 km to the Cathar Castles. The Pope built up Carcassonne to defeat the heretic Cathars and establish his presence in Southern France. It turns out that the Cathars were a stubborn lot and withstood his attempts to dislodge them from their fortresses until the French army came to his assistance in around 1250 AD and ousted the Cathars from the Pyranees and Alpinines.

We hiked up to some of the ruins of these fortresses and found them to be of monumental proportions and we gainded an understanding of how the builders were able to withstand outside forced for three hundred years.

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We are on to Arles and parts Provence next week!

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Sunday and Steve Leaves :( Oradur Sur Glane Today

The sad day of parting with Steve has arrived. We took him to Charles De Gaulle Airport – Terminal one. I hope he has a good flight home. We all enjoyed traveling together AND will always wonder “Who will the dwarf Tuvould serve?” as a reference to the Bayeux tapestry on which this question hung. Anyway…

Joanne and I turned the 90hp Berlingo south and once again traversed the flat but fertile center of France. We marveled at all of the agriculture as the kilometers rolled on under our wheels.
After several hours the Terrain began to develop into undulating hills with creeks or bogs at the bottom. There are many varieties of trees and the new spring leaves form many varied textures and shades.

We come to the turnoff to Oradur Sur Glane and drive 30 km to a WWII memorial site. We walk through a burned out village unchanged since 200 Nazi SS troops rounded up all of the women and children, forced them into a church and the tear gassed and hand grenaded them. The church brass bell lies on the floor a molten disfigured mass as a testament to the incredible heat.

The men were rounded up into the town square and shot. All together nearly 700 people died including 196 children. There are many reminders of the events of the wars in France and one like Oradure Sur Glane, left alone for 70 years as a silent and powerful warning, has just one powerful word at its entrance — Remember.

Tomorrow we head for the caves of Sarlat. I apologize for any typos as this text is tough to edit on my Kindle Fire.

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Day 15: Fountainbleau and Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte

Today we leave Bourges for about a two hour drive to Fountainebleau.

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It’s a place most associated with Napoleon, including his abdication speech at the steps of the outside staircase; but also the home at one time of every king and queen in France!

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We thought we’d see mostly Napoleonic references there, and it did house his Emperor’s chair on display.

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But so much more was also seen from other reigns of France’s monarchy as well.

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Then off to Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte.

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It was a home owned by Nicholas Fouquet who was finance minister under King Louis XIV.  It was during his reign in the 17th century that he put Fouquet in jail after a party where the king concluded Fouquet couldn’t have afforded such opulent living conditions, including the expansive garden out back.

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Fouquet would never return to Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte and would die in the same jail as the man in the iron mask.  By the way it was D’artanian who was the musketeer who arrested Fouquet at 2:00 a.m. the following morning of the king’s party.  This is also the Chateau that inspired the Palace of Versailles in design and Louis XIV even stole the tapestries in Vaux Le Vicomte for his own!

(Note: Tomorrow I fly back home and this blog will be taken over by Paul and Joanne who will be updating it for the rest of their trip, still two months and counting!  They will be giving overall updates from now on approximately every two weeks.  Thanks for staying plugged in and continue to do so!)

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Day 14: A Chateau and a Cathedral

Today we leave Amboise and the Loire valley for the last time and check out a lesser touristed chatea; the Chateau De Valencay.  

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It’s about 30 minutes South of Amboise and is one of the best appointed chateau’s we’ve come across so far.  

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Valencay started in the 10th century with a stone tower that was eventually added so that by the 18th century Talleyrand took possession and made it what it is today.  You might remeber from your American history that Talleyrand is also the French diplomat who helped in the sale of the Louisiana Purchase to the United States.  Talleyrand was also the minister of foreign affairs to Napoleon.  It’s also at Valencay where the Spanish King Ferdinand VII and his court where exiled for 6-years.  Then it’s off to the town of Bourges.  On our way we stop at the town of Saint Florent Sur Cher for coffee and notice what appears to be another chateau in town.  

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It ends up being one of the buildings the city has taken over for a city hall!  If only all city hall’s could look so good!  In Bourges is the Cathedral of Saint Etienne.  

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If you thought Notre Dame in Paris was big, this one is even bigger with the longest nave in France at 400-feet.  

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The feeling is one of astonishment when you go inside realizing it dates to when Eleanor of Aquitaine was crowned there in 1137.  The whole church was built in only 55-years and is overwhelming for a first time visitor.  

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There’s even an astronomical clock inside that was built in 1424 and still is working—that’s well before America was even found by Columbus!  We noticed Mozart’s requiem will be performed there at the end of the month.  

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It would be fortunate to hear such an oratorio in this setting.  For now we head back to Bourges with a planned trip to Fountainbleau tomorrow!

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Day 13: Leonardo and the Loire Valley

Inventions and chateau’s—that’s the theme today!  It was King Francois I of France who decided he wanted the intellectual company of Leonardo Da Vinci, so he arranged for da Vinci to leave Italy and spend the last 3-years of his life at chateau Clos Luce.

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I guess if you’re king, you can make these kinds of requests!  Chateau Clos Luce is in the town of Amboise where we spent last night in an Ibis hotel, not quite the chateau where da Vinci lived, but then again we have electric lights and running water, something even the king didn’t have in the 1500’s!  So da Vinci brought the Mona Lisa with him to the chateau along with his yet unfinished “John the Baptist” painting which he finished at Clos Luce.  He also brought with him drawings for his inventions.  They were never built in his lifetime, but you can see what they would have looked like at Chateau Clos Luce.

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Next we head to Chateau Chambord.

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It’s one of the most amazing chateau’s ever built with over 400-rooms in what began as a hunting lodge for King Francois I (not unlike the original concept for the Palace of Versailles).  Chambord is known for it’s roof like city of spires and towers on over 900-acres of hunting land.

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There’s also an indication da Vinci’s designs played a role as well in building Chambord with a central double helix staircase and other da Vinci influences.

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The it is off to Chateau Cheverny, one that is still privately owned with the current owners having it in their family for over 600-years now and counting!

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It’s said to be one of the best furnished chateau’s in France since many had their furnishings removed after the French Revolution and sold.

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It’s certainly well preserved with expansive gardens as well.

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Only a few more chateau’s to go until Fountainbleu in a couple of days!

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