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Western France - 2013
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For our return to the UK we decided to forego the delights of flying and drive up the western side of France and then take Le Shuttle via the tunnel. This allowed us to bring back loads of things that we can get over in Spain but not in the UK and others, such as wine, which is a silly price in the UK. So we loaded up the car and off we set. Our first stop was Zaragoza, in the north of Spain and, it turns out, a beautiful city.
ZaragozaBasílica de Nuestra Señora del PilarBasílica from the bridge
We happened to drop on the main fiesta week in the city so it was quite busy but that added to the buzz of the place. There was still plenty of room for everyone. There are two cathedrals, this is the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar or, as she is more commonly know, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The tower is just too large to be able to be taken in the same shot as the church! And here is the view from the other side, the River Ebro side, whilst standing on the Puente de Piedra, literally, the Stone Bridge.
River EbraPuente de PiedraThe Fiesta parade
There was a lot of water flowing in the Ebro and it was a very muddy brown, testament to the unusually wet weather that Spain has had this year. And you get a good idea of the colour and amount of water in this shot. The bridge is now restricted to pedestrians, buses and taxis which makes for an interesting tussle if you wander the wrong side of the bollards! The fiesta ends with a parade of the usual religious statues and, in Zaragoza's case, these larger than life puppets. As you can see from Darryl stood near them they must have looked impressive in the parade. Unfortunately for us that was the weekened after we'd left.
The main squareDancing in the streetWe are the Champions
In the square outside the Basilica and with the other Ctherdral (La Seo) in the background, they were preparing the 2 stages ready for the free entertainment provided by the city So that evening, after dinner, we went out to see what the entertainement was. Here is an impromptu break dancing being displayed by the local youths. Not for money, as you may have thought, for there was not a begging bowl to be seen; simply for the pleasure of it. And it was. And here's what we got to see. A Queen tribute band. Actually not bad but so loud it was distorted when standing near the front so we had to move back a bit with the music literally ringing in our ears. Goodbye Zaragoza.
BordeauxThe Garonne RiverBordeaux Parks
As we left Zaragoza we headed for the Pyranees and into France. We wanted to go over the middle of them rather than the lower roads to either side so we had to do it alone as our sat-nav was having none of it. It wasn't as impressive as we thought it would be. Beautiful, yes, with pretty viallages and flower filled window boxes, but not stunning. And so we arrived in Bordeaux. This is the Bourse Palace at the side of the Garonne River. The Garonne River is deep, as you can see from the cruise liner that was docked. The weather had also turned a little grey and decidedly colder so Bordeaux is where the jumpers, unworn for many months, came out of the cases. There are many lovely squares and parks in Bordeaux. This is taken from the park surrounding the Jardin botanique de Bordeaux. As you can see the weather was being kind to us.
Dead Tree SculptureMore traditional gardenPoitiers
What do you do with a dead tree? Well, in Bordeaux, they give to an artist and he cuts and carves it into an interesting sculpure, that's what. This is actually a small public garden in the middle of a square that we passed through on our way from the city to the hotel. And usually spend a few minutes sat contemplating the beautiful flowers. The following day we left for Poitiers for a lunch stop-over on the way to Tours, our next night stop. This is the town hall in Poitiers. We were going ot have lunch in a bar overlooking the square but the prices were a bit imaginative so we settled for a sarni and a bottle of Coke from Carrefour which we ate on the top level of the multi-storey. Living the high life indeed!
Tours, Loire valleyPont WilsonTours Cathedral
After lunch we drove to Tours and checked in to our next hotel. Wandering around the town we walked across the River Loire. This is view from the main bridge, Pont Wilson, named after the US President, Woodrow Wilson as Tours was a major US military base in WW1. The bridge has collapsed a number of times since first being built in 1765-1778; the last time it collapsed was in 1978 but thankfully the rebuilt bridge, built true to the style of that which collapsed, remained stable whilst we walked across it! Although the religous significance of the building passes us by, we couldn't failt to be impressed by the majesty of Tours Cathedral. So much stained glass, of all eras eight up to the 1960's, is on display - far too many to photograph.
The CloistersCircular Stained Glass windowChâteau de Chenonceau
Although costing 3€ entrance fee, the Cloisters are well worth the visit. The money goes towards the restauration which, as you can see, is well worthwhile. It is just not possible to give a feeling of this window in a photograph. Stunning. There are so many châteaux from which to choose but this one, Château de Chenonceau, seemed to get the best recommendations. Originally built in 1513 so that the drive you see approached the front doors over a drawbridge and moat made out of the Cher river which ran behind it.
Château de ChenonceauThe Gallery,Château de ChenonceauThe Kitchen
It was then extended so it bridged the river completely between the forest on the far side and the wonderful gardens on this ... ... which results in this wonderful gallery and another above it on the second floor not to mention the servants quarters in the roof. Normally teeming with people we got this shot by good fortune as it was a grey and chilly day which had kept the crowds away. The nice thing is that the chateau is laid out as we can imagine it would have been when occupied though the kitchen would have hotter and steamier than it was if that were the case.
FireplaceBalconyThe gardens
With no central heating but with the wood just behind the chateau, I'm sure the fires were kept fully stoked and the rooms warm. But in the warmer weather one could step out onto the balcony and appreciate the gardener's handywork without leaving the house. And no more so was the gardener's trade shown to it's best than in the vegetable and flower garden. To this day they keep the house stocked with fresh flower displays. Here the dahlias are providing a riot of colour well into October.
Salvias and LavenderChateau from the gardenRain and return home
And the salvias and lavender, amongst others, providing the sights and smells necessary to keep the chateau looking good. And here is the view that everyone takes of the chateau as it spans the Cher river. During WW2 it acted as an escape route from the Nazi occupied zone on one side of the Cher to the 'free' side on the other. And finally we made it though the Channel Tunnel on Le Shuttle and into Kent to be met by rain, spray and horrible driving conditions all the way up the motorway network. Welcome home!

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