22 May 2017

The café on the bridge

I mentioned earlier that there is a restaurant/café on the bridge over the Cher River at Saint-Aignan. Here's a view of it from up on the château terrace. The restaurant is actually on the island, and you can see that there are really two spans over two branches of the Cher here.






A little farther down the hill that the château sits on, you can catch a glimpse of the restaurant, called Sur le Pont, through the trees.

Sur le Pont is only two or three years old. If you remember, last year at this time it was flooded by high water coming down the river.


Once you're on the bridge, if you look over the edge you have a good view of the restaurant's outdoor seating area, which is a very pleasant place for lunch in summertime. There's a roll-out awning to provide shade on really hot, sunny days (if there are any during any given summer).


In the photo above, you can just see the outdoor patio in the lower right corner. That's part of the château up on the hill on the other side of the river.




Here's the restaurant's contact information, plus a short list of some of the things you can order for your lunch. It's closed on Weds. (mercredi) and Thurs. (jeudi). The lunch menu goes for 16 euros.

21 May 2017

Rooftops and ruins

From the terrace of the château in Saint-Aignan, high above the streets, you can enjoy beautiful views of the town's old rooftops.


One of the town's major landmarks suffered a major fire a few years ago. It was a convent called Les Bernardines, which you can see below. The building had stood empty for years, and the fire completely destroyed the old roof beams and the interior of the building.

2017 photo

2012 photo

Here's what it looked like before the fire, in a photo I took in 2010, also from the château terrace. Notice the man standing on the peak of a roof in the foreground, staring down into a chimney.


The photo below shows what the Bernardines convent looked like up close in a photo from 2006.


At one point a developer wanted to buy the old building and turn it into a luxury hotel, but the town nixed that idea. I wish I could have seen the interior of the building before the fire.

20 May 2017

C'est la France, après tout...

The shop in the first two photos below used to be a charcutier/traiteur's boutique. A charcutier is a pork butcher, and a traiteur is a kind of caterer. Such a shop is called a charcuterie and the closest equivalent in the U.S. would be a delicatessen. This one closed down five or six years ago, to be replaced by...


The shop called La Dentellière a few steps up the main street from the church, and a few steps off the market square in old Saint-Aignan. Dentelle means lace, and the la dentellière is the lacemaker — a woman because the word is feminine.


Along with the window displays showing the kinds of garments you can buy in the shop, there are posters advertising the big zoo, Le Zooparc de Beauval, Saint-Aignan's major tourist attraction. It's on the south side of the town and has, yes, lions and tigers and gorillas and, especially, giant pandas, for you to see and admire.


Another shop that seems to be an institution in Saint-Aignan is the bakery (above) called La Pâtisserie du Château. When we first arrived here it sold mostly pastries and some bread, but the bread was not made by a boulanger on the premises.


Now the shop still sells pastries, but it is really more of a boulangerie than a pâtisserie. Ownership of the business has changed several times over the past 15 years, and the bread now is excellent. It's made by an artisan boulanger in the back room of the shop and is always perfectly fresh and crusty. The sign above, on the corner of the building over the front door, says the business is now called Belle Époque Boulangerie. But the old name is still painted on the front of the shop.


The church is right behind the bakery, and the shop next door is one of the half-dozen or more salons de coiffure scattered around the town. The full name of the business is Diva Coiffure Mixte — mixte means women, men, and children are welcome to come in to have their hair cut or done up.

19 May 2017

Boutiques

Splashes of color. That's the phrase that comes to mind when I look at these images. Old French towns are pretty gray, in reality. Bold colors are the accents that help make them picturesque.

This customer seems to have color-coordinated his wardrobe and accessories with the dark red theme at the David Audas butcher shop.

One of the oldest houses buildings in the old town is now a gourmet grocery store that also sells souvenirs and gift items.

The bar-tabac called Le Lapin Blanc (The White Rabbit) is a Saint-Aignan institution. It's just off the market square so gets good Saturday morning business (though it was only 9 a.m. when I took this picture).

Au Bigouden is a family-owned-and-operated restaurant specializing in Brittany-style savory buckwheat crêpes, dessert crêpes, salads, and ice cream concoctions.

18 May 2017

More views of the church in Saint-Aignan

Here's a view of the collegiate church — l'église collégiale — in Saint-Aignan. It's a main feature of the town's "skyline." A collégiale is a church that, hierarchically, stands between a cathrédrale and an église paroissiale (a parish church). Both the cathédrale (presided over by a bishop) and the collégiale are home to a "college of canons" or religious community that holds daily worship services.


The Cadogan Loire guide says that the front tower was a 19th century addition to the much older Romanesque church at Saint-Aignan. It looks to me as if the top section — the belfry, I guess — is much newer than the old structure that it sits on. Just look at the difference in the stone.


Below is a close-in view of the church's old "porch" — the main entrance into the church — which is the street-level part of the tower in the photo above.


Above the front archway of the church tower are engraved the words RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE — LIBERTÉ ÉGALITÉ FRATERNITÉ, as you can see more clearly in the next image. That's the French revolutionary slogan. I've only seen it on one other church building, and that's over in the nearby town of Chémery. Unless memory fails...


The church's other tower, below, is different in style and architecture. It stands above the transept, which is the center of the cross-shaped building's floor plan.


Finally, I'll post this view of the church, taken, like the first photo in this post, from across the Cher River, but a little closer in.


Tomorrow I'll post some photos of less monumental subjects. Saint-Aignan street scenes...

17 May 2017

L'Eglise collégiale

Here are three photos of the church in Saint-Aignan, including one of the front and one of the back. The town's main street runs behind the church, so along with the church's profile on the town's skyline, this is the view of it you are likely to see first.


I say these are three photos because the second one (below) is an enlarged crop of the first. I thought the couple passing by the church was too picturesque to pass up. They were coming back from doing their market shopping and didn't appear to notice me taking the photo.


The front of the church faces away from the old town and toward the château instead. It's a massive pile of rocks, as you can see. This "soaring tower is a 19th century addition to the large Romanesque building beyond," says the Cadogan Loire guidebook.


The interior of the church was also radically "restored" in the 19th century. The most interesting part of the building is the crypt, where there are wall paintings from the 12th to 15th centuries (photos here).


The older parts of the church date back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Above is the view of the church's other enormous tower as seen from a little street just off the market square.

16 May 2017

Both sides now

This is a long-zoom panorama of the château at Saint-Aignan. It's the view from the north that you get when you drive into town and across the bridge, coming from the city of Blois. It looks almost like a row of grand but attached city houses.


From the south side, however, the appearance of the building is completely different. It looks more like what it is — a Renaissance-era château. The wing on the right, where the little car is parked, is still inhabited by the owner of the château, I believe. She's elderly, and her husband died a few years ago.


Visitors to the town and residents are welcome to go up to the château's main courtyard/terrace and see the outside of the building close up, but they are not allowed inside. I hope that someday — in my lifetime — the building will be opened up for visits and tours. I'd be very curious to see the interiors and the grand staircase. The old place certainly looms over the town and the river valley.


We are having summertime weather right now. Temperatures are supposed to hit the 25ºC mark this afternoon — that's close to 80F. Or, if you believe the forecasts on Télématin, I could get even hotter. That's more like July weather than May weather. We got a lot of good gardening work done yesterday.

15 May 2017

Le pont de Saint-Aignan

The bridge at Saint-Aignan used to have a mill on it. You can see the old stone constructions under the bridge that were part of the installation. I'm not sure when the mill was torn down, but it was not that many decades ago.


There is also a restaurant on the bridge, or on the island just across from town. The Cher river splits at Saint-Aignan because of the island, which is used as a playground with swings and slides, as well as a park where fairs, markets, and outdoor concerts are held. On the other side of the bridge is a swimming pool complex with indoor and outdoor pools.


Nowadays there is often a lot of traffic on the bridge, because the zoo on the south side of town has become such a big tourist attraction. The bridge is narrow. There has been talk for decades about building a second, modern bridge, but so far nothing is in the works that I know of — at least not for the immediate future.


By the way, look how low the water level in the Cher is fight now, compared to what it was like during the flooding in May and June 2106.



One other main feature of the Saint-Aignan bridge is a monument to the memory of American soldiers who were stationed here in 1917-18, toward the end of World War I. The American base was a behind-the-lines hospital and supply station for troops fighting in northeastern France. As the legend on the war memorial says, "Half a million American soldiers passed through the supply depot at Saint-Aignan, and 853 died in the region."

14 May 2017

Shopping in Saint-Aignan

Yesterday morning the weather was sunny and bright. I took advantage to drive the two miles down to Saint-Aignan to get a few things at the market. I parked on the main street down below the château and walked across the bridge to take a few photos. Here's one showing the château and the church.


Meanwhile, here's a view of just one of the dozen or so market stands that are set up on the little square in the old town. My mission was asparagus, strawberries, and cucumbers. Got'em...


It was about 8:30 a.m. when I arrived at the bridge. I took hundreds of photos, actually. You can expect to see more the them here over the coming days and weeks. You can click or tap on the images a couple of times to enlarge them to full size.

13 May 2017

Mijoté de veau aux légumes

As I do three or four times a year, I bought a rolled-and-tied veal shoulder roast at the supermarket a few days ago. I thought about making the stew called blanquette de veau, but this time I decided to cook the roast whole rather than untying it and cutting it up into smaller pieces. The shoulder is a cut of veal that needs to be simmered or braised in liquid.


I had carrots, turnips, mushrooms, onions, and potatoes in the fridge or in the cellar, so there was my dish. Rather than cook the veal without browning it first, as I do for a blanquette, I first gave it a nice crust and color in some oil and butter in a big pot on high heat. Then I put it on to simmer in white wine and broth (veal here, but vegetable or chicken broth would be good too). Use just enough liquid to nearly cover the meat and vegetables — the meat and vegetables will also release some liquid as they cook.


The carrots, onions, and yellow turnips went into the pot with the roast, the liquids, a couple of bay leaves and some salt, pepper, and allspice. Start it on top of the stove, and then put the pot into a slow oven (160ºC/325ºF) for a couple of hours. The white (purple-skinned) turnips, which cook quickly, and the mushrooms wait and get cooked separately before going into the mijoté, along with their flavorful cooking liquid, when the roast and other vegetables are done.


When everything is basically cooked, I mix a couple of spoonfuls of potato starch (you could use corn starch or no thickener at all) into three-quarters of a cup of cream. You can stir some of the hot veal broth into the cream and starch mixture to loosen it up, and then stir that into the stew to make a smooth, slightly thickened and creamy gravy.


It turned out to be really good. It's the kind of food I like. The meat is tender and succulent, the vegetables tender but not overcooked. Oh, I also put a lot of dried oregano into the cooking liquid because Walt had just cut and dried oregano leaves from our garden. And I garnished the servings of the stew with some fresh parsley that we have growing in pots on the terrace. Serve with wine and bread.

12 May 2017

The vineyard in May, and "locusts"

It's been a couple of weeks now since we had that string of freezing mornings. The vines that produced new growth early were damaged by the freeze, as you can see in the second picture below. Today is the second Ice Saints day, but the weather is damp and mild. We had evening thunderstorms yesterday.


The vines that started growing later seem to be growing well. It must be a question of grape varietals. Some varieties are early bloomers, and some start growing later. I think the ones above are Sauvignon Blanc, which is the primary white grape around here. The one below obviously started too early.


All around the vineyard there are a lot of small trees that are called acacia locally, in French. They're not acacia, actually, but a false acacia that was brought in from North America. Over there, they're called "locust" or "black locust" trees. They are just starting to flower now:


The acacia/locust wood is very hard and resistant to rot. It makes good support posts for the grapevines. And the white flowers of the locust tree are good to eat. People pick the flower bunches — they are very fragrant — and cook them in crepe batter as a sweet treat.

11 May 2017

Same and seasonal

We had a very beautiful day yesterday and I got my spring tilling duties done. I know I've posted photos like this many times before, but this blog is my record of life here for my own purposes. I often look back at past years' posts to see how things have evolved and whether we ought or want to make changes.


The other part of the record-keeping right now has to do with the dogs, of course. Here's a nice portrait of Callie the 10-year-old border collie that I took yesterday afternoon.


The two dogs are spending a lot of time together, both indoors and outdoors. Today will be an indoor day, because rain is predicted. That's also why I did the tilling yesterday — when the rain starts, often it rains every day for a week or even two. It's better to take advantage of dry, sunny spells.


I tried to take a nice portrait of Natasha, but she wouldn't sit still. "Squirmy" is the word that comes to mind. And then she's very curious about the camera, so she tries to lick the lens. See result below. I got a head start on the day today because 'Tasha woke me up at 4:30 this morning, and I thought I'd better take her out to pee and poop.


Finally, the peonies are blooming right now. There are 8 or 10 giant flowers on the bigger plant we have out along the path through the back yard.


Today's a cooking day. I'll spend the morning in the kitchen peeling carrots, turnips, and onions. Washing mushrooms. Cooking a veal roast. And taking photos of it all, probably. I may end up posting some of them, or not...