Sunday, March 31, 2019


While I waited on the cathedral's porch, I looked up and saw that I was being watched by gremlins. In this case, the gremlin looks like a sheep. The column capitals are beautifully carved and some of the arches are adorned with colorful paintings of what are probably saints.

The dark volcanic stone is prominent throughout the cathedral.

Saturday was a beautiful day here at home. I got the deck power-washed and ready for summer. The table and chairs are set up for sitting and the grill is uncovered. I can't wait to grill the season's first steak!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Up to the cathedral

Once we made it up the hill to the cathedral, we faced two steep staircases to reach the entrance. A little more effort and we were on the porch looking westward.

The west front of the cathedral in Le Puy-en-Velay.

The front doors of the cathedral were locked, and the stair to the cloister was gated shut. I waited on the porch with Tasha while Ken went around the south side looking for an entrance.

Looking westward from the cathedral's porch.

He found the entrance near the transept and went in for a look. When he was done, he stayed with the dog while I went inside.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Old lace

Le Puy-en-Velay is famous for three products: la lentille verte (green lentils), la verveine (verbena liqueur), and la dentelle (lace). The city's situation as a major stop on the pilgrimage route(s) to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle helped to spread its reputation and products around France and the rest of Europe.

A lace shop in the center of Le Puy. Looks like they've had a problem with the door.

I got some major (for me) work done in the back yard on Thursday. One section of the "lawn" grows thick and fast in the spring. It had to be cut. But first I had to pick up winter's fallen branches and twigs. Then I had to change the oil in the lawnmower. And finally, I had to wait for the morning dew to dry up. But I got it done and now the grass looks better and will be easier to cut when I get to the rest of the lawn.

Thursday, March 28, 2019


Some streets in Le Puy-en-Velay are narrow. Very narrow. This one is called la rue traversière des Tables. I think that probably means something like The Tables Street Transverse, a street that intersects the rue des Tables and creates a short cut to another street.

La rue traversière des Tables connects the rue des Tables and the rue Adhemard de Monteil.

I only know of the usage of "transverse" in English from New York City. There are four streets that cross Central Park from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West: 65th, 79th, 86th, and 97th. Where they cross the park they are called the 65th St. Transverse, the 79th St. Transverse, and so on. I imagine the word traversière has a similar meaning.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


While we walked through the maze that is the old center of Le Puy, little views opened up here and there out over the larger town. That's because the old center is built on the side of a hill. Streets wind up and around the hill toward the cathedral offering pedestrians little slivers of the view below.

The newer "ville basse" (lower city) is built at the foot of the older "ville haute" (upper city). Mmm, pizza!

And yes, there are still cars in the old center. Most of the streets are single lanes and one-way, but people live in town and need access to their homes. Not to mention businesses that need deliveries and refuse that needs to be removed. Some of the streets have access bollards that only residents can activate. This is not a part of town you want to drive around to see. Best to park below and walk up.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Making our way up

The first goal of our morning walk in Le Puy (besides parking the car) was to get to the cathedral. The path was pretty clear from the map and soon we were staring up at the west front of the building.

The romanesque cathedral was built between the 11th and 13th centuries.

We still had a climb ahead but it wasn't too difficult. We took our time, and took photos along the way.

Monday, March 25, 2019

A walk around the old town

Le Puy-en-Velay is not the most picturesque city I've seen, but it has plenty of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. We parked in a lot on the boulevard that circles the old town and walked in, and up, toward the cathedral.

A souvenir shop selling postcards, of course, along with lace and probably lentils, both products for which the city is known.

There were people around, but it was not crowded. That may be because we were there on a Thursday at around ten in the morning. People would have been at work or in school and not wandering the streets. I imagine that there are plenty of tourists in town in the summer months when the weather is good. While we were there, in March, the days were chilly and windy.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Le Puy

This is the central part of Le Puy-en-Velay. You can see the south side of the cathedral, its tower and dome, hugging the hillside. On top of the volcanic rock formation is the much larger than life statue of Notre Dame de France. It's made from cast iron and dominates the city. There's a stair that visitors can climb up to the base of the statue, but we didn't take it. There's an admission charge, and we really didn't feel up to the climb after having just "climbed" up into the central part of town. Plus, we had the dog with us. And it was chilly. Excuses? I got a million of 'em.

You can see the stair winding its way up from behind the cathedral to the statue up on the rock.

Saturday was as nice as predicted and we got outside for a while. I got the snow peas planted and Ken harvested the kale that overwintered in the garden. He's cooking it up this morning and will put it into the freezer for future meals.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Views of Lavoûte-Polignac

The château of Lavoûte-Polignac is built on a rocky bluff above the Loire River, but it's hard to tell that from the vantage points we had. At one point, we pulled off the road near a railroad bridge and climbed down the riverbank and under the bridge. After a short walk, we got this view:

The château rises from a bluff above the Loire, a much narrower river this close to its source.

The view is of the eastern end of the castle. You can easily see that the castle is a narrow building, much wider in one dimension than the other. Poor Tasha had to stay in the car while we adventured to the photo spot. Having just had a walk, she didn't mind too much.

The castle's southern façade.

On the home front, I made some progress in the garden on Friday. I got the small tiller out and tilled the soil along the back edge of the vegetable plot. Then I put up the fence that will serve as a trellis for a crop of snow peas. I plan to plant some of the seeds today. I also trimmed down last year's oregano, daisies, and Jerusalem artichokes to make way for new spring growth.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Another castle on the Loire

Except that this part of the Loire Valley is about 400 kilometers (a four-hour drive) from our part of the Loire Valley. Just north of Le Puy-en-Velay is the town of Lavoûte-sur-Loire, and just outside of town is this rather large château, Lavoûte-Polignac.

The château sits in the deep valley carved by the young Loire River in the mountains of the Auvergne region of France.

We drove up to the grounds and parked and took a walk, with Tasha, right up to the front door, which was locked up tight. The castle was closed to visitors for the winter. We hadn't planned to go inside, but it would have been nice to get into the courtyard and see the front of the place. Oh well.

Entering the town of Lavoûte-sur-Loire. When you enter any town in France, the speed limit becomes 50 km/h unless otherwise posted. The yellow diamond means we have the right-of-way on this road.

Still, we were able to see the castle's back side by getting some distance and taking photos from across the river.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


I liked how this crumbling stone wall looked against the hillside. I passed it on one of my morning walks with the dog, up the hill behind our gîte. The mornings were chilly, but not really cold. Even so, we saw some patches of snow in shady places.

You can't see them in this photo, but there were cows grazing in the pasture on the upper left.

I have many more photos of the trip to the Auvergne to share. I'm trying to balance them with the pictures that Ken is posting so that we're not showing the same thing at the same time. Not that it matters much. We see things in different ways most of the time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Hope springs eternal

This is a spring up on the hill behind the house we rented in Le Puy-en-Velay a couple of weeks ago. It's quite a fancy setup, with two flows and stone basins to hold some of the water before it runs out to a stream. We saw a couple of similar springs around, all with the "non-potable, do not drink" symbol. I wonder what, if anything, the water is used for, or if the whole thing is just a remnant from another time.

Water springs forth from the ground in the volcanic hills around Le Puy.

A spring is une source in French. As opposed to spring, the season, which is le printemps. Or spring, the coiled bouncy thing, called un ressort.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

A little more Tuesday than Tasha this week. There she is outside the gîte in Le Puy-en-Velay during one of our morning walks two weeks ago. The part of the building we stayed in is not visible in this shot; it's behind the ruins of the barn and dovecote.

Tasha wonders what's inside that old barn. A cat? A rat? A pigeon?

I'm cat sitting this week. One of our neighbors went down south for a few days to see her daughter and new grand-daughter. I go over to her house to let the cat in and out and feed her (the cat) twice a day. This is the neighbor who did the same for Bert while we were away.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Crossing over

There are still a lot of passages à niveau (railroad at-grade crossings) in France. The main road between Saint-Aignan and the city of Blois has one. There's another not far from it. The sign in the photo is for a grade crossing just outside of Le Puy-en-Velay. It's a standard sign warning motorists of the crossing and that it's protected by a barrier that descends when a train approaches. I don't think there are many trains on this particular line.

The three angled red stripes on the sign mean the the crossing is 150 meters away. There's another sign with two stripes at 100 meters, and a third with one stripe at 50 meters.

The line that serves Saint-Aignan, however, has quite a few daily trains. It's not a main line, but it is one of the few east-west lines in the region. The line carries enough traffic to have been electrified a few years after we moved here. There are local trains of course, but also some longer-distance trains that speed through our little station, not to mention freight trains that also barrel through. Looking at the configuration of our crossing, just east of the station, I think that eliminating it would be a major construction job, likely involving depressing the roadway beneath the tracks. An underpass like that would have a serious impact on access to the businesses around the station. I have no idea whether there is a project to do that, but I wonder about it.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Power distribution

When I was in college, I worked between semesters as an office temp. Several of my jobs were at the power company in San Francisco. The jobs weren't particularly challenging, which meant I was good at them with minimal effort. Along the way, I learned a few things (very few) about electric power generation and distribution.

These look like transmission lines.

There is a difference between power transmission and distribution. The big power lines we see held up high by large steel towers and spanning long distances are usually what are referred to as "transmission lines." They move high tension power from generating plants (gas, coal, hydro, nuclear) to substations where the electrical power is "transformed" to voltages that customers can use. The power is then sent through lower tension "distribution lines" that are strung from common telephone poles, or underground conduits from the substations to customers. Often, that power is once again transformed locally before delivery to residential customers.

That is the sum total of what I learned by answering phones and typing letters for the electric company.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Tartelettes au citron

Ken found these little lemon tarts at the bakery that was closest to our gîte. They were quite tasty. Before we visited this particular bakery, we got some little strawberry tarts from the bakery in the big supermarket nearby. I have to say that the supermarket's tarts were every bit as good as the traditional bakery's tarts.

I wonder how many times a day the baker has to pipe the word "citron" (lemon) on his tarts.

My first instinct is to think that bakeries make better breads and desserts than supermarkets. But these days, the supermarkets' bakeries have improved and are giving the traditional boulangeries and patisseries a run for their money. That's good on one level (better products), but bad on another (putting small bakeries out of business). We often buy baguettes at Super U and Intermarché. They offer four for the price of three, traditional baguettes and whole grain baguettes. And you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them and the baguettes from the smaller bakeries.

Of course, the smaller bakeries make many different kinds of breads and pastries that you won't find in the supermarket. And the overall quality is better in many of the mom-and-pop bakeries around us. The trick is to find the good supermarket products and continue to patronize the smaller bakeries when you can.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The tunnel

There are five tunnels along the Voie Verte (Greenway) recreational trail. Because it used to be a rail line, viaducts and tunnels were built to keep the slope minimal. When we walked the trail north from our gîte, we came to one of the tunnels, called Taulhac, after about twenty minutes.

Tasha looks for the light at the end of the tunnel. We didn't go far enough to find it.

The tunnel is lit, but when I entered I couldn't see the other end, the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel." Tasha and I walked for a while inside. The tunnel curved around toward the east. When I got to the point where I couldn't see the the entrance, and still couldn't see the exit, I turned us around to head back.

The tunnel is where you see the round "Vous êtes ici" (You are here) marker. Our gîte is where "Le Riou" is marked.
The map is strange because north is down and south is up.

It turns out that the tunnel is 1.1 kilometers long, just under three quarters of a mile. I missed that information when I looked at the sign. It was a little spooky not being able to see either end from inside, and I could tell that Tasha wondered where we were. It was nice to get back out into the sunshine.

Where we entered and exited the tunnel.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Greenway

A few steps from our gîte was a section of la Voie Verte (the Greenway). It's an old railroad right-of-way that's been converted to a bicycling and hiking trail. The trail is about twenty-five kilometers long and, because it was on old rail line, the grade is very gentle.

The section of the Greenway near our rental house. The gentle slope made it a nice place to walk.

The trail goes through several tunnels and over some viaducts. The path is wide and well maintained. It was a great place to walk with Tasha, and she could be off-leash. Not officially, but there were very few people around (I think I saw two cyclists) when we were out walking, so I took the leash off.

Tasha enjoyed her walks on the Greenway.

We also did a few walks up into the woods and hills behind the gîte, again without the leash. Our road was a dead-end and there was almost no traffic. Trails and tractor paths lead out in almost every direction. And the views were great!

A view of Le Puy-en-Velay from the Greenway.

The only downside was the weather. It wasn't too bad most of the time, but it rained enough to make some of the paths through the woods muddy. But what the heck, we're used to that.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


The gîte we rented in the Auvergne had three nice bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. I decided to publish photos of all of them in one post so as not to drag this out. Two of the bedrooms had double beds and the third had two single beds.

Two single beds in this room.

As with many gîtes, guests are expected to bring their own bed linens, meaning sheets and pillow cases. Pillows and blankets are often supplied. Some gîtes offer linens for an extra charge, but we took ours along in the car.

The biggest bedroom, although my photo doesn't show it all.

The beds in this place were fitted with mattress and pillow protectors and bedspreads. Pillows and extra blankets were available in the closets. The owners told us not to worry about making or stripping beds at the end of our stay because they change all of it between guests. All we had to do was take our sheets and pillowcases off.

The green room. We didn't use this one, and kept the door closed during our stay.

The bathroom was nice. It felt newly re-done. The only window was small, on the north side of the building, but the room was bright and well-lit. We liked the towel warmer, which is really more of a towel dryer. No cold and clammy towels! These are becoming standard items in gîtes these days. The last four places we stayed had towel warmers installed.

The bathroom.

All in all, it was a very comfortable place to spend a week. My only complaint, if you could call it that, was that the living room needed a second coffee table. I improvised and used a wooden chair from the green bedroom as a side table.

The closet and window in the twin-bed room.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Here she is, looking up the stairs in our gîte, wondering what Ken was doing up there. We were packing up and preparing to leave on Saturday morning.

Who's making that noise up there?

Today, Tasha goes to the groomer. She really needs a bath and some trimming, but mostly she needs a good brushing. Her undercoat is really thick and I'm not good at brushing it out. The groomer has a special table with a harness for the dog so she can really get in there with the brush.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The ground floor

Our gîte was very comfortable and modern. We had internet wifi, and the television service was fiber-optic, although it was just a basic subscription without all the fancy channels. The kitchen was well-equipped, with a gas stove top, electric oven, microwave, coffee maker, dishwasher, and clothes-washer. A half-bath was tucked under the stairs.

The living room. The stone in this region is black volcanic rock. It's everywhere.

The living room was very roomy, and equipped with a wood stove. The owners included firewood in the rental price, but since there was underfloor radiant heating, we really didn't need fires. Still, I turned the heat down and built a fire two of the nights we were there, just for the ambiance.

The kitchen, bright and modern with everything we needed to prepare meals. Except the food.

The upstairs bedrooms were heated by electric radiators, but we never turned them on. We both like sleeping in cool rooms with blankets. When we checked out, it turned out that we didn't use much electricity at all, so the owners decided not to charge us for it. That was very nice of them.

The wood stove is the same model as ours at home, but a size bigger.

We didn't use the clothes washing machine, but we did use the dishwasher, twice. We had brought a good amount of food with us and ate our meals in the gîte. It was too chilly for picnics out on the road. Most of the windows faced south, which meant that we got a lot of bright sun when the sun was out. Tasha and I got to sit out in the sun for a short time on two afternoons.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A week away from home

We've just returned from a week-long stay in the Auvergne region. We rented a gîte (vacation rental house, pronounced zheet) just outside of the small city of le Puy-en-Velay in the département de la Haute-Loire, not far from the source of the Loire River. The occasion was Ken's birthday.

The gîte is an old farmhouse, lovingly restored. The owners are a brother and sister who grew up in the house. The attached barn on the left is home to about a dozen chickens and roosters. We enjoyed some of their eggs during the week.

The place we rented is a four hour drive south from home, mostly on autoroutes, with the last hour on smaller highways. We had heavy winds and rain during the first couple of hours, but then things calmed down the further south we got. The region around le Puy is mountainous, formed by volcanoes that are long extinct. In fact, the word puy (pronounced pwee) refers to a mountain or other formation of volcanic origin. The mountains and volcanic "chimneys" make for some pretty scenery, very different from what we're used to in our region.

The entrance to the gîte's closed courtyard and the ruins of some the farm buildings attached. The round tower was pretty cool!

There is some local wine around le Puy, but the area is more known for its cheese, two in particular: Saint-Nectaire and Fourme d'Ambert. We didn't visit either of the cheese towns, but we certainly ate some of the cheese. And brought some home with us.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Not hobbits

This is a very short door. Since it's not round, I know it's probably not the door to a hobbit's house. It's too short for me, but it's just right for Tasha. Not that she can open a door.

The door was locked, we couldn't figure out where it lead.

And, speaking of Tasha, she's got a grooming appointment next week. She's I'm really looking forward to that. The fur around her toes really needs to be trimmed.

Friday, March 08, 2019


I recently walked under a high-tension line and looked up. It was an electrifying experience, almost shocking. I got such a charge out of it that I exclaimed, "Power to the people!" Now, in my current state, I imagine a conductor leading an orchestra playing an AC/DC tune. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Ohm...

Looking up into a power line pylon.

That is all.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Blow me down

The wind howled on Wednesday. There wasn't much rain at all, unless you count the twigs and branches "raining" out of the trees. The cleanup will be fun. Not.

A big branch hanging off a tree. Fortunately, it's not one of our trees.

Even Tasha is a little tired of walking in the wind. After the novelty of chasing the leaves that blow by wears off, she's ready to get back into the house. I don't blame her.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Des œufs de poule

Someone offered us some fresh eggs and we gladly accepted them. Ken hard-boiled six of them on Tuesday before it occurred to me to take a picture, so here are the remaining four. We ate a couple with mayonnaise, œufs durs mayonnaise, a French café staple and a common restaurant appetizer. They were delicious.

Fresh from the hen's, uh... well, let's just say "fresh from the hen."

We're having another wind storm. The first one was on Monday. Now it's happening again. Ugh. You know how I hate the wind. And the yard is covered in fallen branches. Again.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Sprouts from Brussels

Well, these are not really from Brussels. In French, they're called choux de Bruxelles. We ate these with our leftover Thanksgiving lunch on Monday. The turkey was tasty and so were all the trimmings. We froze a turkey last December and roasted it on Sunday. We still have a bunch of leftovers. Turkey sandwiches!

First the sprouts get steamed, then sauteed in butter. Yum!

We finished the cranberry sauce and the sprouts. And the squash. I forgot to take a second batch of stuffing out of the freezer, so that will hang out waiting for another time.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Not exactly roadside

This is the property that belongs to whom I refer to as the Artsy Organized Neighbor. He's a retired guy who lives down in the village, but he owns this property up near the vineyards and keeps all kinds of "stuff" in neat piles on one end, stuff like firewood, but also old roof tiles, signs, construction machines, and the old trailer you see in the upper left of the photo. He maintains a path into the woods that ends on the edge of a ravine. He has recently planted a collection of old roadside markers in a straight line through the woods where we often walk with Tasha.

The line of roadside markers extends for a distance into the woods from here.

The mayor once told me that the AON used to work for the highway department. That explains a lot.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Another sunrise photo

I took this one about two weeks ago when we were having clear nights and frosty mornings. I had almost forgotten about it. Now we're having cloudy nights and warm mornings. Less frost, more mud.

Looking roughly toward the northwest at sunrise last month.

We're having Thanksgiving dinner for lunch today. Back around the holidays, Ken bought a whole turkey and we put it into the freezer. We also have some extra stuffing in the freezer along with some roasted winter squash. Now the turkey is thawed and ready to be roasted! Over the river and through the woods...

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Everybody must get pruned

This parcel hadn't been touched when I took this photo last week, but since then I've seen the pruners out there getting it done. They were two of the vineyard workers that we've come to know over the years, but who we hadn't seen in a while. We both wondered if they were still employed by that particular grower. They are, they've just been working in some of the other parcels farther from our house.

A sea of vine canes. Each trunk will only have one cane left when the pruners get done.

This parcel is just beyond the one pictured in yesterday's post. That one has already been pruned. Both V. and J.-F. were happy to see Tasha and she even let them pet her. She's known them since she came to live with us, which will be two years in May. Time flies!

Friday, March 01, 2019

Now that the sun is gone

It happened. The clouds came back and the temperature dropped. It's not really cold, but cooler than it has been. We're expecting rain toward the end of the weekend. So, here's a photo of a bright sunny morning in the vineyard!

That's my shadow stretching into the vine rows.

We're making stuffed cabbage for lunch today. Ken had blanched and frozen the outer leaves of a savoy cabbage a couple of weeks ago when we made a pot-au-feu (essentially a boiled dinner), and today's the day we'll use them. I'll grind some pork shoulder and we'll make up a stuffing for the leaves, then roll them for the steamer. Yum!