Chartres Cathedral – feeling like a pilgrim

Chartres France is synonymous with its great Gothic cathedral built in 1194-1220. I was astonished to learn that this magnificent building is the new church, built upon the ruins of four other churches, the oldest from the 4th century. It must have taken much determination and skill to build such a glorious structure before power equipment was invented.

It’s difficult to explain the scale of this building, dwarfing those entering. Some of the windows are 24 feet tall. Inside, the nave soars 121 feet to the vaulted ceilings, taller than Notre Dame in Paris. Its towers are taller than Notre Dame too: 377 ft versus 266. But until you stand there, these are just words.

The Cathedral’s massive flying buttresses allowed larger windows, installed in 1205-40.  This church is all about the light that the windows bring in. It has the largest collection of medieval stained glass anywhere: 152 of the 176 windows are original. They tell the stories of the Old Testament, the New Testament, royalty, and ordinary people.

Pilgrims have come here since the 12th century to revere the Sancta Camisa, reported to be the tunic worn by Mary during the birth of Jesus, a gift to the Cathedral from Charles the Bald. According to expert analysis, the fabric was woven in Syria in the first century. I was astonished to see it on display in one of the chapels.

Pilgrims, including us, also walked the 42 ft diameter labyrinth, set into the floor stones in the nave. The labyrinth is covered with chairs most of the time, but they are moved on Fridays from Lent through All Saints’ Day to allow this ancient practice to continue. Many walking with us were barefoot. As I mindfully took each step, I prayed and meditated, fully conscious of the privilege to do so here.

In the Middle Ages a cathedral was the center of town life, its economic hub. Here, textiles were sold on the north side, and meat, vegetables and fuel on the south. Money changers had their benches or banques, on the west. Wine was sold in the nave, and when that was thought inappropriate, the wine merchants moved to the crypt.

How the Cathedral survived intact through the ages is the story of several courageous individuals. During the French Revolution, the Revolutionary Committee planned to take the Cathedral down with explosives. Luckily, a local architect pointed out that the rubble would take years to remove, meanwhile clogging the streets. The committee listened.

In 1939, all the stained glass was removed prior to the German invasion. The Allies planned to bomb the Cathedral, believing the Germans were using it as an observation post. But an American officer volunteered to investigate. He and one soldier infiltrated enemy lines and reported back that no German soldiers were stationed there. Military commanders withdrew the order to bomb it. After WWII ended, the medieval stained glass was cleaned and re-leaded before reinstallation.

The Cathedral was only a block away from our flat so we stopped in several times a day. On Friday morning, I was examining some of the 200 statues in the wall around the choir. Suddenly, I heard a single beautiful voice inside the choir enclosure: ‘Kyrie eleison.’ A group responded: ‘Kyrie eleison.’ It was the old familiar Latin in the same melody I remember from my childhood. Automatically I sang with them, drawn toward the voices in the choir. This is the core of the church, an intimate space despite the massive statue of the Virgin’s Assumption at one end.

I could not understand the French sermon of the seated celebrant, but the soft gentle murmuring of his voice washed over me and soothed me. At the Offertory, he hobbled with a cane to the altar, hanging it from the side of the small white and green altar to free his hands. He and four other frail priests chanted the ancient words, all with their arms extended over the host. Again we sang in Latin, this time the Agnus Dei. The age-old Gregorian service gave me goosebumps. Only about 30 of us celebrated this mass.

That evening and the next, we also attended Vespers. Four women in white tunics walked solemnly to the nave, inviting people to join them. Vespers is not a service common to the Catholic community in the US, nor here either as it turns out. After the service, we talked with one of the women who was from Delaware. She’s been here a year and told us that this group is trying to bring Vespers back to the Cathedral.

The next day we attended mass in the dark Cathedral crypt, a completely different experience. Descending the steps and finding the chapel, we walked past frescoes from the 12th century, surrounded by the walls of the even older church beneath the Cathedral.

This service was completely in French, so we could not sing with the eclectic congregation, people from different parts of the world. Some knelt on the hard stone floor for much of the service. Others moved to the aisle to give themselves room to kneel and touch their heads to the floor at the moment of transubstantiation. A few knelt to receive the host. I wondered if it was just because they were at this holy site, or if they celebrated mass the same way in their own communities.

The whole Cathedral encounter is one I will not forget. It felt as if we were living there, going often, and seeing the ancient patterns of each day. I felt like a real pilgrim. What an inspirational way to end our adventure in France.

View from our kitchen window.

 

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

A class drawing the front of Chartres Cathedral.

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

The megaliths of Carnac – Stonehenge on steroids

Rochefort-en-Terre – feeling like Cinderella

Rochefort-en-Terre – sacred energy

Saumur – living it up in a villa and houseboat

Loire River Valley – chateaus and cave dwellings

Blois – a French market feast

 

 

If you like my blog, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

 

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Posted in enjoying other cultures, links to my past, Meditation, Prayer - Pule, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Blois – a French market feast

It’s typical to visit castles and chateaus while in France, but give me a food market any day. Blois had one of the best. So first thing Saturday morning, we went there to figure out our menus for the next five days. This was the biggest market I have ever seen anywhere. The 120 vendors (!) are set up in the streets along multiple blocks. It was a wonderful opportunity to stroll and mix with locals doing their usual Saturday shopping and visiting with their friends.

Of course we saw the usual fruit and veggie vendors. We planned to eat in, so we bought broccoli, cauliflower, the long milder radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, two kinds of mushrooms and two fat carrots. By this time in our journey, we were carbed out with too many batards and croissants and were craving salad. Interestingly, we never saw celery our whole time in France, though the Blois Market did have root celery.

As for fruit, that’s a great France food story. On the way to Blois, we were searching for an orchard, Les Vergers de Fontenay. Unfortunately, they were closed. However, there, in the middle of the countryside was a hut with several large vending machines.

Looking closer, we saw thin split-wood baskets of apples, pears, plums and peaches for sale! I haven’t seen split-wood packaging baskets in years. The units also had juices, melons, even eggs. We unloaded all of our heavy euro change and bought pears, peaches and different mixtures of juice. So no fruit needed at the Blois market.

We looked at the poultry vendor (too hot to roast a chicken), and the beef, veal and pork people, but what caught my eye was the fish guy’s offerings. I love preparing fish, so we bought two beautiful chunks of tuna.

Of course, there were ‘fromages de France,’ (cheeses) but our frig was already stocked with goat and sheep cheese from Saumur; we had to have something to snack on during the trips between cities. I wonder what those special cheeses were in the back case.

Actually, all the food at the market was a product of France or grown in France as far as we could tell. This was true in every food market and grocery store we saw during our trip. Admittedly, we only visited smaller towns, but people here appear to buy local and eat what is in season.

We also saw minimal local food packaging especially outer wraps, and very little of what existed was plastic or plastic wraps. Examples: the yogurt we bought in Cancale near San Malo came in glass jars. Salt came in cloth bags and glass jars, and I never saw eggs in Styrofoam cartons. In fact in one store, I had to transfer the eggs (complete with feathers) from a large container into the small six-pack carton that I bought. Vendors wrapped sandwiches and pastries in paper. In another market we saw freshly cooked beets with no pre-packaging at all. The veggie vendor in Blois did provide plastic bags, but we had to pay for them and they were sturdy enough to allow reuse, apparently expected.

We saw a couple of sausage and ham vendors. The canard (duck) sausages must be something special because they were already gone. They even had paper cones with chunks of sausage to eat on the go – more of that minimal packaging.

This market also had an olive guy who patiently posed dropping olives into a bag while we took photos (crazy American tourists), a vendor that sold only onions, and another that sold garlics – so many kinds. An elderly couple was selling their home-made pickles in recycled glass jars, and others sold fruit juices and jams.

The non-food front was also well stocked, with baskets, shoes, clothes, dish towels, and kitchen utensils. I bought an olive oil dispenser top, and a dress that I tried on over my other dress. There was even a vendor with mattresses set up for people to try out! Who buys a mattress at a farmer’s market?

Then we saw the most drool-inducing sight yet: rotisserie chickens with potatoes underneath, soaking up all the drippings, and two giant pans of paella! We bought all of it – a plump whole chicken roasted to perfection, a container of potatoes with an extra ladle of chicken drippings added, and a container of paella. Oh my. Never shop for groceries while you’re hungry.

So much for making the tuna when we got back to the flat. It was clear we’d be eating the chicken, potatoes and paella first. We left the market with enough food to last the five days we’d be here, and then some. I have no regrets. Experiencing the food is a huge part of the adventure.

 

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

The megaliths of Carnac – Stonehenge on steroids

Rochefort-en-Terre – feeling like Cinderella

Rochefort-en-Terre – sacred energy

Saumur – living it up in a villa and houseboat

Loire River Valley – chateaus and cave dwellings

Chartres Cathedral – feeling like a pilgrim

 

If you like my blog, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

Posted in eating, enjoying other cultures, learnng new things, living full out, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Loire River Valley – chateaus and cave dwellings

We spent 10 days in the Loire Valley. It’s close enough to Paris that in centuries past, nobility built summer chateaus here to escape the city. Before that, French royalty ruled from Blois and elsewhere in the valley. More than 300 chateaus dot the river valley, many of them open to the public for viewing. But the valley also saw a different kind of housing – cave dwellings. The contrast between the two could not be more different.

Cave dwellers are called troglodytes, though this name has gotten a bad rap from a rash of bad movies and the urban dictionary. The rock in the Loire Valley where troglodytes made their caves is the creamy-white colored tufa (tuffeau), laid down 100 million years ago as the sea that covered modern-day France receded.

Tufa is a soft easily quarried stone that can be dug with hand tools. The troglodytes quarried the stone, digging caves and tunnels. By the 11th century they were living in the caves, and later, added rooms with windows and doors to the front using the stone that they had dug out of the caves.

These dwellings are cool, maintaining a temperature of 54 F year-round. So the caves are also frequently used to store and age the famous wine from this region, and to grow mushrooms.

We visited Turquant, a well-known troglodyte community with cave homes, ateliers, and restaurants. Walking along the town road, one can see these buildings dug into the cliffs, occasionally sporting a vent to a deeper part of the cave. We enjoyed the contrast of the troglodyte caves with the antennae and cable dishes sprouting from the rooftops.

As for the chateaus made from the tufa, I definitely saw too many of them. At times the crowds were overwhelming. But that’s what you get when you travel in France in August.

On the Saumur side of the valley, we saw the Château d’Ussé, supposedly the inspiration for the story, Sleeping Beauty. The present owners have made the most of the Sleeping Beauty connection, setting up the story on the third floor of the castle to engage children on the tour.

We also walked from our villa to the Château de Saumur, originally a fortress to protect the inhabitants of the town against marauding Normans in the 10th century. But upon arriving at the bottom we decided that the walk up might kill us, so skipped this one.

On the east side of the Loire Valley, we stayed in Blois, and traveled out to see the Château de Villandry, the Château de Chenonceau, and a couple others I missed, opting to stay in the flat and write.

While the Chateau at Villandry is beautiful, what I really I loved was the immense gardens, covering 22 acres! The elaborate designs are meant to be seen from the windows of the chateau and the walkway above, though they are equally beautiful at eye level. And it’s not just visual; the music garden is predominantly lavender and the fragrance almost overpowered me while walking through it.

My personal favorites were the herb garden and the nine Renaissance kitchen gardens, each with a different color pattern based on the vegetables growing in it. Chateau owners in the 16th century were very interested in all the new world vegetables making an appearance in France, such as squash, pumpkins, and tomatoes. The Château de Villandry is still innovating. Recently they switched to organic gardening.

The Château de Chenonceau has been the site of some major history. In 1547, King Henry II gave the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. She made major renovations, including extending it to the other side of the Cher River. But before she could finish the work, Henry died. His wife, Catherine de’ Medici, forced Diane out, though she gave her another chateau. (I don’t think I would have been so generous.) It was she that added the two story building to Diane’s bridge, making a long gallery.

During WWI the then owner, Gaston Menier, turned the gallery into a military hospital at his own expense, complete with operating room. After being treated in the field, soldiers were moved here. A story is told that many fished in the Cher River below their windows with simple strings and poles, some from their beds.

The opulence and scale of these “homes” is interesting for a while. But I much prefer to visit the kitchens in the basement and the kitchen gardens. That’s where I’d be working if I had been born back then. In fact I’d have been lucky to have a position working at a chateau during those times, and living in a cave dwelling.

I thank God I’m living today. I also appreciate the ability to step back in time at my convenience.

 

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

The megaliths of Carnac – Stonehenge on steroids

Rochefort-en-Terre – feeling like Cinderella

Rochefort-en-Terre – sacred energy

 

Blois – a French market feast

Chartres Cathedral – feeling like a pilgrim

 

If you like my blog, please comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, gratitude, learnng new things, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Saumur – living it up in a villa and houseboat

We have finally left the region of Brittany and are now in the Loire River Valley staying in Saumur. We picked up Marilyn, the third member of our party, from the train station, and headed over to our digs at St. Georges Villa, right along the river. The manor was built in 1834, and you can see from the staircase, which is big enough to accommodate any piece of furniture you’d want to move, that it had been a large grand house. It’s still grand, just divided into smaller apartments.

Our host, George, lives in one, his brother in another, their mother lives on the main floor, and a student lives on the third floor. We are in an apartment on the west side of the house, with 12 ft ceilings and large windows that open to the river and the backyard. Right outside the bedroom and bathroom windows stands a huge evergreen tree, almost 300 years old. Actually all the trees in the yard are monsters. George and his family have been taking care of them for a long time.

This is the perfect spot from which to admire and explore Saumur, whose buildings are mainly constructed of light-colored tuffeau stone. The villa is on the island in the Loire River, with picturesque bridges on either side. It’s an easy walk into town.

At night we can see the sun setting behind the main bridge. Then another show begins when the lights of the city come on. The Château de Saumur, built in the 10th century as a fortress, and the Saint-Pierre-du-Marais Church are lit from beneath. They reflect in the water, as do the lights on the bridge. Marilyn and I walked along the river path most nights that we stayed here.

I got the extra bed in the living room on the river side of the flat. At night I fell asleep to the sounds of street music and people passing by. In the morning, I heard the birds waking up and then sheep bleating loudly. Sheep? When I asked George about them, he said they were here, on the property, keeping the grass trimmed. How ecologically fun!

We spent our days driving through the countryside and visiting chateaus. We saw fields of sunflowers, heads drooping heavy with seeds. And vineyards!

The Loire Valley is wine country, and we viewed a wine cave storing the red wine of three area vintners and then experienced a tasting. I bought a bottle for later, but truth be told, I like the Breton cider better.

As luscious as all this sounds, the highlight for me was when we transferred from the villa to the houseboat right on the river. We had all the comforts of the villa, plus the cache of being on the water. We were astonished when George told us he built the house part of the boat himself. It took 14 tons of wood to do the job.

He also built the nearby boathouse modeled after an historic public washhouse design for use along the river. George is a busy man.

At first Marilyn and I startled and gasped every time the boat hit the bank. Dianne, being the consummate earthquake-weary Californian, didn’t bat an eye. But soon we were rolling with the jostling. Frankly, the river is so low this summer that we could probably walk across, so it’s not like we had speedboats rushing past, making large wakes. We were in our own little world, many feet below the level of the main bank.

Small ripples on the surface of the water reflected the sunlight like diamonds. We watched a small plane circling over the city in regular intervals, probably a sight-seeing flight.

As dusk came on, the sun sank behind a bank of clouds and a stillness settled on everything. The river seemed to quiet down too. River ripples disappeared and the water became glassy, reflecting the buildings on the other bank almost perfectly. We could see insects flying just inches off the surface. Small expanding circles appeared where fish kissed the surface of the water, searching for a meal. Every now and then, a fish jumped into the air, splashing down and disturbing the silence. A lone frog, deep throated like a bullfrog, swallowed hard with his ‘gulump’ sound.

Sunset burst above the cloud bank about 9 pm. We could see the silhouette of a fisherman casting his rod from the north bank. A boat floated across the river and nosed into a spot at a nearby dock. A large flock of birds cruised just above the river then soared up and over the bridge. It was magical – until the mosquitoes showed up. Then it was time to dive under the covers with just enough opening to stick our noses out and fall asleep.

With the morning light we enjoyed coffee on the fantail in our jammies. People walked above us along the cobbled walkway, and we waved at them, calling out “Bonjour,” cheerfully.

After showers and an initial packing up to leave Saumur, we discovered the biggest problem we’ve come across during the whole trip: we couldn’t figure out how to use the stovetop. It wouldn’t have been a problem if we hadn’t already cracked the eggs into the frying pan. We went up to the villa to look for George, but two workmen said he had just left.

So we improvised and microwaved them. Not the same as fried, but if this is the worst coping we have to do on this journey, we will be fortunate travelers indeed.

 

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

The megaliths of Carnac – Stonehenge on steroids

Rochefort-en-Terre – feeling like Cinderella

Rochefort-en-Terre – sacred energy

Loire River Valley – chateaus and cave dwellings

Blois – a French market feast

Chartres Cathedral – feeling like a pilgrim

 

If you like my blog, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, learnng new things, living full out, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Rochefort-en-Terre – sacred energy

There’s a sacred energy in this pretty town of Rochefort-en-Terre. I found it in the quiet arbor leading up to a tiny chapel, on a hill, away from the main part of town. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On our trip around rural France, I’ve noticed that the French have a great respect for St. Michael. Almost every town has a Rue de St. Michel, and every church has a statue or image of him somewhere. Here, in Rochefort-en-Terre there’s the St. Michael de la Grȇle Chapel, a separate chapel dedicated to him, away from the main parish church.

We found the main church, called Notre Dame de la Tronchaye, Our Lady of the Tree Trunk, on the first day. The story goes that during the time of the Norman invasions in the 9th and 10th centuries, a monk hid a statue of the Virgin and Child in a tree trunk to prevent it from being pillaged. Centuries later, a shepherd girl found the statue, and the town decided to build a church on that spot.

A beautiful stained-glass window commemorates the moment, and a statue of Mary stands at a side altar in front of it, where we lit some candles. Literature at the back of the church mentioned the separate chapel.

Curious about it, I found the chapel the next day, a quiet retreat away from the shoppers and visitors in the streets. I walked through two parking lots, and then a picnic area, finally finding a wide path that led to the chapel with trees on either side. There’s a sign posted at the beginning, “Espace du Souvenir Francais,” a place to remember France. The feeling created was one of peace and tranquility. There it was, the little chapel at the end of the path.

But I was disappointed to find the heavy entrance door locked. While it’s common to find churches locked in the US during non-church hours, our experience in France is that they are open during the day. So it was odd that the chapel was closed to visitors. But a tiny grill in the door allowed me to peek in. There he was, St. Michael, the main figure on the altar.

I walked back down the path to the nearest bench, where I sat down and began to meditate and pray. This was where I felt the sacred energy. I’m not going to attempt to describe it, as I will surely sound stupid to most readers. But I know what I felt, peaceful and tranquil. It was easy to spend an hour there.

We learned that the main church uses the chapel on only one day in the year, on the Sunday after the Assumption of Mary. By coincidence, the next day was that Sunday. I thought about attending the service, but decided no – it seemed to be a personal service for the parishioners of that church. From our gite that morning, we could hear singing as the parishioners walked from the church to the chapel, and again several hours later, as they returned.

I went to the church just after noon, and saw that the statue of Mary had been removed from the side altar, and placed on a carrying platform. She was surrounded by flowers, honored on this Sunday after the celebration of the Assumption. Apparently, the parishioners had carried her in a formal procession to the chapel for the service.

So I walked back to the chapel once again, slowly allowing the sacred energy in the arbor to soak in. The heavy red door was open this time. Inside, I found an elderly man, methodically sweeping the rug that had been laid down for the service, and I watched for a while.

Then he was having some trouble rolling it up, so I entered and helped him. With many ‘Merci’ declarations, he took the rolled rug outside to a waiting van. I was alone in the chapel. I looked at the statue of St. Michael, perhaps my favorite so far, and felt a connection. Then the man came back in, motioned to me, and I had to leave.

He closed the door to the chapel behind him. And that is the last anyone will see the inside of the chapel for another year. Grasping the St. Michael necklace that I’ve worn since purchasing it in Le Mont St. Michel, I closed my eyes to savor the moment and the sacred energy.

 

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

The megaliths of Carnac – Stonehenge on steroids

Saumur – living it up in a villa and houseboat

Loire River Valley – chateaus and cave dwellings

Blois – a French market feast

Chartres Cathedral – feeling like a pilgrim

 

If you like my blog, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in Meditation, Prayer - Pule, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Rochefort-en-Terre – feeling like Cinderella

There’s a storybook quality to the pretty little town of Rochefort-en-Terre, our last stop in Brittany. As the name indicates, it is built on a large rock outcropping, and has earned France’s appellation of “Petite Cité de Caractére” or small city of character. Flowers festoon window boxes and planters everywhere, and the main squares have old stone horse troughs full of flowers, tomatoes and herbs.

Of course, there’s a castle at the top of the hill. The original 12th century castle was destroyed when the King of France annexed Brittany and punished the Breton nobility who resisted. But Lord Jean IV de Rieux Rochefort was allowed to rebuild. The castle was destroyed again in 1793 during the French Revolution, and rebuilt yet again by the wealthy American painter, Alfred Klots in the 20th century.

Everything from half-timbers to French Renaissance; check out the roof line on the one in the lower right.

Meanwhile in the medieval town, the peasantry lived downhill while the wealthier citizenry and church were closer to the castle. These buildings are beautifully preserved, with many styles from 16th-century half-timbered buildings to the stone buildings of the Renaissance.

Tourists with a bent toward shopping can find the usual stuff, but also real art in galleries and artisanal craft shops: glass-fusing, leather tanning, room perfumery, and candle-making. There are also several shops that carry interesting antiques.

The town stops traffic from entering during the day from noon to 7 pm so that visitors can enjoy themselves without worrying about vehicles. There are exceptions: an historic car picks up trash and a horse-drawn wagon sells fresh produce from the farm down the road.

At night, the town lights up the houses, creating more story-book charm. The lights go on at dusk, around 10 pm in August, and go off at midnight. It took us a couple of nights of trying before we stayed awake long enough to see them.

 

The gite we stayed in speaks to fairytales too. We’re surrounded by thick stone walls, large fireplaces on the bottom and second floor levels, and open beamed ceilings with a main beam about 18 inches thick. Sumptuous drapes separated rooms and created closets. The gas oven looked almost restaurant-worthy and the kitchen even had a dishwasher.

We loved our host who drove us and our luggage from the lower level parking area to the gite up the hill. She also thoughtfully provided us with a gift of Roquefort cheese, a bottle of wine, and a large load of bread. While Cinderella’s stepsisters may have looked down their noses at this repast, we appreciated it.

On one of our exploratory walks, we went down the hill to find a restored 16th century public washhouse using water from the nearby river. I could imagine Cinderella cleaning the step-sisters’ garments by hand at one of the stations. How nice that it had a roof to protect peasants from inclement weather while doing their laundry.

I have to reluctantly admit that in our party, I am the laundry Cinderella. Admittedly, it was not at the public washhouse, but in the depths of the gite, a height-challenged space under the house. The steep outside steps are being taken over by hearty spider plants living in the cracks, and the massive stone lintel does not budge when one bumps their head into it. Thank God it was not raining.

It’s the fair trade for Dianne doing all the driving. Still, if you’ve read some of my prior travel essays, you know I don’t like having to figure out these European machines, especially when they’re labeled in a foreign language. At least the upside of the laundry assignment at Rochefort-en-Terre is that the basement also had a dryer. But really, did my room have to be in the renovated garret on the third floor? Cute as it was, it’s a long way to the basement.

 

For other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

Stone troughs with flowers, herbs and tomatoes

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

The megaliths of Carnac – Stonehenge on steroids

Rochefort-en-Terre – sacred energy

Saumur – living it up in a villa and houseboat

Loire River Valley – chateaus and cave dwellings

Blois – a French market feast

Chartres Cathedral – feeling like a pilgrim

 

If you like my blog, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, Give back, travel as a transformation tool, travel in rural France | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The megaliths of Carnac – Stonehenge on steroids

Our destination after San Malo was the south coast of Brittany. The little port village of Portivy is on the Quiberon Peninsula. We’re staying on the ocean side, Le Cote Sauvage (the savage coast), and our gite is just across the street from the beach. First thing in the morning, I have it to myself until the fishermen show up, taking tenders out to their fishing boats anchored off shore.

But what we came to see were the more than 3000 standing stones in the Carnac region of Brittany. These are no ordinary rocks. Think Stonehenge on steroids. The several types of megaliths are menhir (standing stone), dolmen (a single chamber tomb with two menhirs and another rock across the top), tumulus (an earth or stone mound over a dolmen) and alignments (rows of menhirs). We were rock hunting.

The alignments near Carnac were especially impressive. The Menic Alignment’s stones in 11 rows stretch more than two miles, with another 1029 stones in the Kermario Alignment nearby.

But you could come across these formations anywhere. We spent five days , crisscrossing an area about 12 x 10 miles and east to near Arzan around the Gulf of Morbihan. We found megaliths everywhere. This is the largest collection of standing stones in the world. Random menhirs show up in people’s yards. Not only are they cool, but they would be a huge bother to remove. They can stand 20 feet high and were sunk deep into the ground. The stones are old, starting erection in 4600 BCE, 1500 years earlier than Stonehenge.

Some of these megaliths are well known and show on maps. Some we just found as we drove around. We went to the tiny village of St. Barbe because Dianne had heard that the church was interesting. Indeed, it was rustic, with pretty doors, statues of St. Barbe, and a fish on top of the steeple. A nearby bush provided rosemary for our salads in the coming days, and a house three doors down had a menhir in the front yard.

Just outside the village, we drove past, then stopped to examine, three huge stones in a field parallel to the small road. Behind the three stones ran two perpendicular rows of stones. A farmer was using the enclosure as a field. This was our first encounter with a grouping of stones.

The village of Erdeven had a formation of huge menhirs significant enough to show up on the map. They took our breathe away. I counted 167, but that number is disputable; some of the menhirs were in neat rows but others were placed randomly and difficult to count.

The stones seemed to mess with my mind. I had symptoms of profound relaxation, as if I had been deeply meditating and then dizziness; Dianne did too. We staggered back to the car, almost drunk-like. We were to have this experience again and again when we were among the stones, especially when touching them. The only formations that were fenced off were the alignments in Carnac, and even they have stones close enough to the fence to reach.

Not only could we wander among the stones, we could crouch down and enter the tumulus mounds. I can’t imagine being able to do that in the litigious US. One tumulus even contained stones that had carvings on them which had been painted to make them easier to see. Of course we couldn’t tell the age of the carvings; for all we know they could be graffiti. Very little of this can be monitored, given the large number of megaliths and locations.

Over the millennia, some of the megaliths were removed, used in other construction, pushed over and altered. We stumbled across one example of a formation that had been changed into a shrine to honor Our Lady of Lourdes.

We saw an example of an alteration with an entirely different intent at Carin de Petit Mont.  This large (180 ft2) elaborate cairn was started 6000 years ago and covers several dolmens. During WWII, the Germans constructed a bunker with 6.5 ft cement walls inside the cairn that could house 20 men. In the process they destroyed one of the entrance passages and two of the dolmens, one partially. But it was perfect for their purpose; the Germans used the natural facing of the cairn as camouflage.

No one knows how many megaliths were erected. The sea level has risen significantly since then and many are now under water. Indeed, Dianne told me that the last time she was here, she followed a line of menhirs down a hill and out into the Gulf of Morbihan. These were originally erected on dry land. Unfortunately, she could not find them again on this trip.

The miles of alignments could not have been constructed at one time. Some experts believe that new menhirs were added each year to the multiple rows. But other than the approximate age, and the fact that they were hand-hewn of local rock, experts do not agree on much when it comes to the megaliths of the Carnac region.

For me, the mystery is part of their appeal; we are free to come up with our own theories about these powerful stones. I find them magical.

 

For my other essays on our rural France journey, see:

Giverny – gardens behind walls

Omaha – reflections on sacred ground

Touring around rural France, relying on Brigitte

Le Mont St. Michel – stairway to heaven

San Malo – the rebels of Brittany

Rochefort-en-Terre – feeling like Cinderella

Rochefort-en-Terre – sacred energy

Saumur – living it up in a villa and houseboat

Loire River Valley – chateaus and cave dwellings

Blois – a French market feast

Chartres Cathedral – feeling like a pilgrim

 

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