Category Archives: France

Château de Chenonceau

During our last Christmas road trip, we made a stop by the Château de Chenonceau, one of those castles of the Loire valley that stands out among the rest and which we had wanted to visit it on ground since we flew over it in 2015.

Chenonceau_family

As the brochure of the visit tells, and the different panels along the rooms and corridors let you grasp, the Château de Chenonceau is a Ladies’ castle, due to the several women that left a mark in its configuration and history.

The first castle did not cross the river Cher, and was located at the small island between the gardens, where today stands alone the Marques tower (see the aerial view below), built after the castle was burnt down to punish the Marques family, the first proprietors of the castle.

The Marques family facing problems, the chamberlain of the king, Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet, maneuvered to get in possession of the castle, which they started to rebuild to their taste, used if to host French nobility and to project an image of themselves.

Chenonceau_aerial

They adopted common initials (TBK) that they displayed around the castle.

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They created an aspirational personal motto while building the castle: “S’il vient à point, me souviendra” (i.e. if I get to the end of this construction, I will be remembered).

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Years later, in 1535, being the castle in possession of Bohier’s son, it was taken by the king Francis I (to cancel out unpaid debts). After his death, his son, king Henri II gave it as a present to his mistress Diane de Poitiers in 1547. It was Diane who built the bridge to join the castle with the opposite river bank, and it was that move that started to make it unique.

At the death of Henri II, her widow, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane to exchange Chenonceau for another castle, the Château Chaumont, and made Chenonceau her favourite residence and a place full of intrigues for the years to come. She closed the bridge into a gallery (multi-storied), she added several rooms and bedrooms, made gardens more magnificent, gathered art collections and hosted parties.

Corridor

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Ever since, the castle was to be linked to French royal family and later French nobility. There is a telling name of the power of the running family, that of the “Five Queens’ Bedroom“, named after Catherine de Medici’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law:

  • Daughters: Queen Margot (wife of Henri IV), Elizabeth of France (wife of Philippe II of Spain),
  • Daughters-in-law: Mary Stuart (wife of Francois II), Elisabeth of Austria (wife of Charles IX) and Louise of Lorraine (wife of Henri III).

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Once a widow, after her husband was assassinated, Louise of Lorraine, would retire herself to pray at the castle. A room would be decorated in black, being that another of the landmarks of the castle, under restoration at the time of our visit, though.

Further women would contribute to the enlightenment of the castle in the following centuries, renovating it, bringing in artists and writers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire or Rousseau. It even played the role of hospital where over 2,000 injured were attended during Second World War.

IMG_20171228_125855410-EFFECTS

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Belén laico republicano

El pasado 9 de noviembre se publicó una decisión del Consejo de Estado francés sobre la posibilidad de instalar belenes en lugares públicos. En muchos medios (sobre todo en aquellos radicados en España) rápidamente se recogía la noticia como que el Consejo de Estado sí lo permitía.

La opinión del Consejo de Estado había sido requerida, dado que la instalación de belenes en distintos municipios había sido objeto de denuncia, y los respectivos tribunales administrativos habían fallado en distinto sentido.

¿Qué dice exactamente la decisión del Consejo de Estado?

Le Conseil d’État rappelle la portée du principe de laïcité. Celui-ci crée des obligations pour les personnes publiques, en leur imposant notamment :

  • d’assurer la liberté de conscience et de garantir le libre exercice des cultes ;
  • de veiller à la neutralité des agents publics et des services publics à l’égard des cultes, en particulier en n’en reconnaissant, ni en n’en subventionnant aucun.

Le Conseil d’État juge que l’article 28 de la loi de 1905, qui met en œuvre le principe de neutralité, interdit l’installation, par des personnes publiques, de signes ou emblèmes qui manifestent la reconnaissance d’un culte ou marquent une préférence religieuse.

En raison de la pluralité de significations des crèches de Noël, qui présentent un caractère religieux mais sont aussi des éléments des décorations profanes installées pour les fêtes de fin d’année, le Conseil d’État juge que leur installation temporaire à l’initiative d’une personne publique, dans un emplacement public, est légale si elle présente un caractère culturel, artistique ou festif, mais non si elle exprime la reconnaissance d’un culte ou une préférence religieuse.

Pour déterminer si l’installation d’une crèche de Noël présente un caractère culturel, artistique ou festif, ou si elle exprime au contraire la reconnaissance d’un culte ou une préférence religieuse, le Conseil d’État juge qu’il convient de tenir compte du contexte dans lequel a lieu l’installation, des conditions particulières de cette installation, de l’existence ou de l’absence d’usages locaux et du lieu de cette installation.

Compte tenu de l’importance du lieu de l’installation, le Conseil d’État précise qu’il y a lieu de distinguer les bâtiments des autres emplacements publics :

  • dans les bâtiments publics, sièges d’une collectivité publique ou d’un service public, une crèche de Noël ne peut pas être installée, sauf si des circonstances particulières montrent que cette installation présente un caractère culturel, artistique ou festif ;
  • dans les autres emplacements publics, compte tenu du caractère festif des installations liées aux fêtes de fin d’année, l’installation d’une crèche de Noël est légale, sauf si elle constitue un acte de prosélytisme ou de revendication d’une opinion religieuse.

[…]

Si uno toma la molestia de leer la decisión, en ella se aclara, que:

  • los belenes con un carácter religioso quedan prohibidos,
  • se permiten aquellos que presenten sólamente un carácter cultural, artístico o festivo.

La decisión va más allá y ofrece una guía para distinguir los casos, dando especial relevancia al emplazamiento público donde se quiera instalar el belén:

  • la instalación en edificios públicos, o en sedes de colectividades queda prohibida, salvo circunstancias particulares que muestren el carácter cultural, artístico o festivo,
  • en otros lugares públicos, como plazas, se entiende el carácter festivo y queda permitida la instalación, salvo si se considera un acto de proselitismo o reivindicación de opinión religiosa.

La decisión del Consejo de Estado se apoya en el artículo 28 de la ley de 1905, que dice lo siguiente:

Article 28

Il est interdit, à l’avenir, d’élever ou d’apposer aucun signe ou emblème religieux sur les monuments publics ou en quelque emplacement public que ce soit, à l’exception des édifices servant au culte, des terrains de sépulture dans les cimetières, des monuments funéraires, ainsi que des musées ou expositions.

Por último, tenía curiosidad por ver cómo se menciona el laicismo en la constitución francesa, donde queda recogida en el artículo primero dentro del preámbulo:

ARTICLE PREMIER.

La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. Elle assure l’égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction d’origine, de race ou de religion. Elle respecte toutes les croyances. Son organisation est décentralisée.

La loi favorise l’égal accès des femmes et des hommes aux mandats électoraux et fonctions électives, ainsi qu’aux responsabilités professionnelles et sociales.

Desde hace unos días, en la escuela (republicana) maternal a la que acude mi hija se ha instalado un árbol de navidad con su preceptivo “belén laico republicano”, con carácter cultural, artístico y festivo, donde se representa una ciudad moderna con un Santa Claus.

belenrepublicano

En el caso español, tenemos el artículo 16 del título primero de la constitución española que define que ninguna confesión tendrá carácter estatal.

Título I. De los derechos y deberes fundamentales

[…]

Artículo 16

  1. Se garantiza la libertad ideológica, religiosa y de culto de los individuos y las comunidades sin más limitación, en sus manifestaciones, que la necesaria para el mantenimiento del orden público protegido por la ley.
  2. Nadie podrá ser obligado a declarar sobre su ideología, religión o creencias.
  3. Ninguna confesión tendrá carácter estatal. Los poderes públicos tendrán en cuenta las creencias religiosas de la sociedad española y mantendrán las consiguientes relaciones de cooperación con la Iglesia Católica y las demás confesiones.

Y a partir de ahí, belenes en colegios, ayuntamientos, plazas, concursos patrocinados por ayuntamientos para elegir el mejor belén, insultos a quien se aleje de la doctrina, etc. Todo ello muy español.

¡Se armó el Belén!

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Montolieu, “village of books”

Yesterday, I was referred via a tweet from my friend Javier to an article about a village in Spain, Urueña, a village with more book shops than bars. I strongly suggest the reading of that article (here, in Spanish) as the village seems to be wonderful, a destination for a future trip to Spain.

The article refers to a couple of other such “Village of Books”:  Wigtown (United Kingdom), Tuedrestand (Norway) and Fontenoy-la-Joûte (France). This reminded me of another village of books in the South West of France which we visited last November, Montolieu. What best occasion than to share some lines and pictures about Montolieu than today April 23rd, the International Day of the Book.

In fact, it is interesting to know that there is an International Organisation of Book Towns (see here the article about it in the Wikipedia in English and French – more descriptive). There are about 40 such villages, a couple of them in Spain, some 7 of them in France; the first one to become such a Village du Livre in France was Bécherel, the second, Montolieu, in 1989.

Montolieu 1Montolieu is located some 20 kilometres North from Carcassonne in the Aube department (1), and it has about 800 inhabitants, 15 book shops and a museum about book making (Musée des Arts et Métiers du Livre). We visited a few book shops, made some purchases, walked around the village and had a traditional lunch over there.

However, when we visited the village it was almost winter time, freezing, and the village was nearly deserted. I imagine that Montolieu is best visited in spring or summer, in order to enjoy lunch in a terrace and longer walks between the book shops (not all were open in last late November).

Until we come there again, I leave some pictures from that first visit.

Montolieu 2

Montolieu 4

Montolieu 3

(1) It is also just 5 km South from Saissac and not far from Lastours, two other small villages in the region with nice castles. See here a post I wrote about a flight excursion we did over the Cathar castles with some pictures of them.

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Flight excursion to Rocamadour and Saint Cirq Lapopie, via Montech and Moissac

Rocamadour is a small village built in the gorges of a tributary to the Dordogne river. Several of its houses, churches and shops are partially built within the rocks. With about 500 inhabitants it receives 1.5 million of visitors per year, making it one of the most visited places in France and a major attraction for pilgrims, who among other things come to see a black Madonna in a chapel in the rock carved by Saint Amadour, hence the name of the village.

On the way to Rocamdour, flying from Toulouse there is Saint Cirq Lapopie, a small village built on a cliff over the river Lot. Both Rocamadour and Saint Cirq Lapopie are two of the most beautiful villages in the Midi-Pyrénées region and an obvious destination for an excursion, on the ground (which we did years ago) and flying.

Last Saturday, my father in-law and I booked a plane (a DR-400-120) at about 14:10 to fly over those places. In the way we would fly over Montech, to see the “Pente d’eau” from the sky (1), and Moissac, to see the Pont-Canal du Cacor, a bridge over the river Tarn made to allow the canal Lateral (an extension to the canal du Midi) to continue its course towards Bordeaux.

The flight would be over 175 nautical miles (over 320 km) and would last almost 2 hours with the integration to the aerodrome circuit, though in the end we spent 2 hours and 10 minutes with the rounds we made around the different spots. The navigation went rather well with no other help than the chart, compass, heading indicator and VOR (no GPS nor tablets). We had some doubts at a couple of points but we quickly found ourselves, once with the help of the controller.

Navigation log.

Navigation log.

This was the first flight in which we used the GoPRO video camera that I got last Christmas together with the suction pad to stick it to the windshield. With it we were able to have over 90 minutes of videos recorded that I have tried to shorten into the following 7 minutes:

At some points in the video the ground below seems to move slowly: we were flying at between 180 and 200 kilometres per hour, but at some 1,500 to 2,000 feet (500-700 m) above ground that is the way it feels. Be assured that the closer you get to the ground the faster it feels :-).

In the chart below you can see the route we followed: departure from Toulouse-Lasbordes (East of Toulouse), waypoint EN, Labastide-St. Pierre, Montech (South West of Montauban), Moissac (West of Castelsarrasin aerodrome), St.Cirq Lapopie (via Cahors) and Rocamadour (North West of Figeac).

Chart

Lastly, some pictures with the images of both villages and the flight log as used after the flight.

St Cirq Lapopie.

St Cirq Lapopie.

Rocamadour.

Rocamadour.

Rocamadour.

Rocamadour.

Navigation log as used after the flight.

Navigation log as used after the flight.

(1) See here a post I wrote about it.

(2) Actual engine running time: LFCL-LFCL: 2.17 FH (2h10′, with the aircraft registered as F-GORM, with an engine powered with 120 HP) (taking off and landing from runway 15).

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100km of Millau (2015)

I had doubts I would ever put myself to the test of an ultra marathon or a 100km race again after having completed the “100km de Millau” in 2011.

Jose, whom I ran with that time, suggested at times to do another one. Manuel, with whom  I have trained often and now regularly runs ultra marathons, had often suggested to join him in one. My brother Jaime had also indicated that he would like to try once. I never go tempted by those calls…

… a couple of months ago, Manuel mentioned that he would run Millau and asked whether I was interested. I passed on the baton to Jaime, who almost immediately said yes. And thus, we subscribed ourselves to the race.

Running bibs the night before the race.

Running bibs the night before the race.

Pasta dinner the night before the race.

Pasta dinner the night before the race.

We didn’t specifically train for this race. Jaime didn’t almost find the time to train, except for the weekends. I took a look at some training plans and the amount of dedication required put me off. Thus, I decided to simply keep running a moderate mileage of between 40-60km per week on average and knowing that this would suffice to complete the marathon satisfactorily, go with that as training and rely on the mental side and experience for the rest.

The circuit of the race and the profile remained unchanged from 2011. This helped a lot, as I remembered several parts of the race, profiles, etc. (1)

Perfil de la carrera.

Profile of the course.

Our race strategy was rather simple this time: run a marathon in a ~6:20 pace, aiming at about 4h30′, stopping briefly in the supply posts, reduce at least in half the time spent changing clothes and shoes in Millau (km 42) and Sainte Affrique (km 71)… and so we did. We basically followed it to the point.

Breakfast the day of te race.

Breakfast the day of te race.

Leaving the hall towards the starting point.

Leaving the hall towards the starting point.

Which pacer do we follow?

Which pacer do we follow?

Departure line.

Departure line.

One last picture before we start running.

One last picture before we start running.

We started running at the intended pace. We first catched the 13h pacer, the 12h pacer, the 11h30 pacer… we knew we wouldn’t arrive with them but wondered why we were overtaking them. We asked their estimated arrival time at the marathon and it was slower than ours (though they wouldn’t stop then and would keep a faster pace in the second 58km than what we intended). So, after about 10km we went forward with our 6’20″/km rhythm.

When you see the profile of the complete race you may get the impression that the marathon runs along a flat profile. It certainly does  not. There are some spots, especially right after the half marathon, which are very demanding. We took them easily even if kept running in them. At about the km 28, we softened the pace to avoid meeting the Wall. And so we did. Again, running this marathon at a leisure pace was a great experience. In the end we spent some 14 minutes longer than planned (~4h42′), but the timing was good enough.

At Millau (km 42.195) we changed clothes, but kept the pause shorter than we did in 2011 (just less than 20′). Departing from Millau was difficult again: getting the muscles to work again after a little resting time. We needed to keep running for just about 5km until the first hard climb to pass under the viaduct. We did so. Even if I had some pain in the Achilles tendon when running uphill.

Km. 47, it is tough...

Km. 47, it is tough…

At the viaduct we took again some pictures, plus another at the 50km mark, even if changed to a smaller one (in comparison to 4 years ago). Descending towards St. Georges Luzencon we took a conservative pace as we did at the beginning of the false flat course towards St. Rome de Cernon. However, after some minutes of soft climb I felt again pain in the Achilles tendon and I had to walk at some stretches combining it with running.

Highest viaduct in the World, definitely worth a picture.

Highest viaduct in the World, definitely worth a picture.

At St. Rome, we took a quick preventive massage. Followed by a good supplies ingestion. Funny enough, just leaving the village, I was still eating some bread with foie gras and drinking (both hands occupied) when some spectators cross checked my bib number with the local newspaper, found my name and started cheering me! I found it funny: being cheered for eating and drinking :-).

After St. Rome, it came the climb to Tiergues, which we walked up. In the descent from the top of the hill towards Tiergues itself (at km 65) we met Manuel who had some muscular troubles himself (but he nevertheless would finished in a very respectable time of 11h22′). After the supply post at Tiergues we continued running down to St. Affrique.

We arrived there with some 40-50′ in advance in relation to the timing we did in 2011. And again, we kept the stop in St. Affrique to the minimum time needed for changing clothes, eating and drinking. Another 20′ and we went. Started running just to the outskirts of the village before starting the long(est) climb back to Tiergues, about 7km. At the top we were about 1h10′ ahead of the time we did in 2011.

I remember one of the volunteers at Tiergues (ex km. 65, now km. 77) who was continuously making jokes to runners, very loudly, all other volunteers laughing with him. I told my brother that I wouldn’t have minded to stay there partying with them. However, after a few minutes of eating (some hot soup) and drinking (some beer) we re-started running to complete the uphill climb and the downhill descent back to St. Rome.

Once you start the descent to St. Rome you know you have made it. You’re about a half marathon from it. 22km. In the (almost) worst of the cases you can slowly walk them to the end and it would take you a mere 5 extra hours… so what? But then you run and it takes half of it.

At St. Rome I needed some attention from the podiatrist to heal a blister. It did more bad than good, as instead of just removing the liquid and drying it out, she introduced some other disinfectant liquid which kept the pressure and left me in pain for a couple of days.

From St. Rome we had another gentle descent down to St. Georges. At mid-way point (Pont du Dourdou) there was the supply post in which the play rather loud and very animated music, a kind of discotheque. I would not have minded to stay there either for the remainder of the night. But we still had 15km to go. At the time I was already making numbers knowing that we wouldn’t finish under 14h but confident that we would under 15h.

We kept running down to St. Georges where we stopped to take some more soup, coke… one more kilometer and up again to the viaduct, walking again. Once you run under the viaduct on the way back you’re less than 8km to go. It – is – done. At the descent down to Raujolles we noticed the sign post with the 8% descent (meaning that from km. 47 you had a nice 2km-long 8% climb!).

By then we had been over taking runners and walkers for some time. Some of whom were not stopping at supply posts and would overtake us during those pauses. At Creissels we took the last bit of soup, chocolate and water. And there we went down to Millau. Again, to Millau. Millau.

The bridge crossing the river Tarn in the entrance of the city is at about the 98th kilometer. This time again, I put then on the Spanish flag to complete the last two kilometers with it. We again took some pictures at the emblematic sign post at the km. 99 in the streets of Millau.

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Posing by the km. 99 sign post.

We kept running in the Avenue de la Republique afterwards called Charles de Gaulle, we then entered the Parc de la Victoire and again we sprinted to climb the metallic structure allowing us to enter into the Salle de fetes de Millau, crossing the finish line in 14h39’21”.

Four years later, again, objective accomplished. The 100km of Millau completed. Another ultra marathon finished.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

This time we employed some 35′ less than the previous time. We basically reduced the time spent in long pauses, we ran a faster marathon and needed less medical assistance. However, we ran slower the last 22km (we consumed there some 35′ more, or half of the time-cushion we had at Tiergues).

This time, for me it was very much less mentally demanding. I remember that in 2011 I had many doubts at some points. If Jose had not been there, I may had dropped it between km 60 and 71. This time I didn’t have any doubt. I was cheering my brother and myself from km. 25 every now and then. Knowing that we would make it. Again, no matter the time.

The following days, again, I had a terrible pain in the legs, similar to those you may have after the first marathon you run (especially if not well trained, as it was my case back in 2000). However, after a week I could start running and training again. A much better recovery than 4 years ago, when I suffered from a serious tendonitis.

I don’t know if I will run another time in Millau, or even another ultra, but this time, yes, I felt comfortable with knowing that it was manageable and that if needed, it can be done yet another time.

(1) It also helped that I had written a detailed post about it in this blog, to which I came back for references.

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La corrida pedestre de Toulouse (2015)

About a month ago, on the evening of July 3rd, it took place the XVI edition of the “Corrida Pedestre de Toulouse“, arguably the most popular race in the region with a participation of about 5,000 runners among the two distances, 3 and 10km (4,089 finishers in the 10km).

In the previous post I stressed how satisfying the experience is of running a race end to end in the company of friends. In the case of this race, I was lucky enough to have my friend Jose visiting us in Toulouse (being an aerospace professor, he made a study trip to Airbus during those days). Thus, we subscribed together to the race and we ran it again end to end together (1).

The Corrida is always a nice run as it goes through all the main streets of Toulouse. This year the organization had announced a revised circuit which had been measured again (2). Strangely enough during the race itself the circuit was also different to what had been announced! [PDF, 782KB] See it below:

 

But the essence of the race is kept: very good atmosphere in Capitole square both before and after the race, the chance of running through the main streets of downtown Toulouse (Alsace Lorrain, Saint-Rome, Metz, Quai de Tunis, Pont Neuf, Pont Saint Pierre…) emptied of cars for the occasion.

My friend Jose and I finished in the 534th and 535th positions in ~46’19” (that is among the first 13% runners; though that is aided by the amount of casual runners who take to the streets on this day). That is about 3 minutes slower than it took me last year.

Jose and I running the last metres (right side of the photo).

Jose and I running the last metres (right side of the photo).

Within Airbus, we also arranged a team of above 30 runners to take part in the race, with the result of winning the companies challenge with accumulated time among our first 5 runners of 3h20’27”!

(1) To be honest, I lost him at the km 7 when he took some 10 metres of advantage that extended to some 50m  by the 9th kilometre, but he then waited for me so we effectively completed the last stretch together again.

(2) In the previous years there had been complaints that the circuit was shorter than 10km. That had also been my experience (9.63km).

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Montech water slope (Pente d’eau) at Canal du Midi

The Canal du Midi (1) connects the Mediterranean sea with the Atlantic Ocean. It was built at the end of the XVII century under the supervision of Pierre-Paul Riquet. At the time it was one of the most remarkable civil engineering works and that has deserved its recognition as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Along the canal there are plenty of beautiful spots and some oddities. Some weeks ago, we visited one of the latter ones: the Pente d’eau of Montech, that is, a water slope. What is a water slope?

When two water streams at different heights need to be connected we are used to see water locks (think of the Panama Canal, or Suez). In the Canal du Midi there are dozens of locks (65 to be precise). However, engineers in the 1970s employed a time-saving different approach. Instead of having the boats go through 5 such locks at Montech they constructed in parallel a water slope, thus saving 45 minutes in the route.

Canal du Midi to the right, water slope to the left.

Canal du Midi to the right, water slope to the left.

See below the panel with the explanation of the concept at Montech:

Explanation of the water slope (in French).

Explanation of the water slope (in French).

See here the explanation given by the Wikipedia.

See below a couple of pictures showing the diesel locomotives and the canal.

See here a good scheme to ease the visualization of the concept prepared by the L’Association Culture Loisirs Entente Sport (LACLES, see here their blog post with the complete explanation).

Water slope scheme (prepared by L'Association Culture Loisirs Entente Sport)

Water slope scheme (prepared by L’Association Culture Loisirs Entente Sport)

Unfortunately, the water slope is not working nowadays. Nevertheless it’s worth a visit to the place, to get a glimpse of such an engineering feat.

(1) To be precise the Canal du Midi (originally named “Canal royal en Languedoc”) connects the Mediterranean sea with the river Garonne in Toulouse. From there, another canal, the “Canal Latéral de la Garonne” makes the connection to the Garonne itself at Bordeaux, where it is navigable down to the Atlantic Ocean. The combination of both canals is called “Canal des Deux Mers“.

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