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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My First Visitor -- Tracy

My friend, Tracy, came to Le Puy recently to spend a week with me. She is my first visitor from the USA. We spent our time together talking, eating, driving the French countryside, and just enjoying each other's company. Here we are picnicking in a public park on one of our drives.

Salami, cheese and fresh baguettes. What more could you want? 

We also went out to several restaurants in Le Puy--and I highly recommend all of them.

Here we are at L'Ame des Poetes, a vegetarian nouvelle cuisine place in Le Puy. Eluiza from the Centre joined us in this delicious repast.

Here's a close-up of our shared dessert. Beautiful presentation.

There was supposed to be a Thai restaurant, but we couldn't find it. So, we went to the Paris-Saigon restaurant and had French-Vietnamese fusion dishes.

At Marco Polo, we had Italian pasta, the best-cooked pasta I've had in France so far besides mine. (They tend to over-cook the pasta and it falls apart.) Tracy had pesto, and I had an anchovy and olive sauce. 

On her first night in town, Tracy joined participants in one of the groups visiting the Centre at L'Ecu D'Or.  Fantastic meal!! Fantastic people to share it with.

One of the good things about the restaurants in LePuy is that they try to use local meats and produce. Most of the food raised is also organic and it definitely does NOT have genetically-modified products as GMOs are banned in Europe. The food is real, which is the main reason it is so tasty. Well, French cooking and its sauces help a lot, too!

At Le Chamarlenc, Tracy had boeuf bourguignon and I had veal in sauce. Delicious! This was one of our favorite restaurants--and Tracy's last night in Le Puy.

One day we just stayed at the International Centre and cooked a dejeuner of rice and mixed vegetables. Dîner included chicken, salad, and more vegetables.  Sorry there are no photos. We were too busy cooking.

Lac Bouchet

We went to Lac Bouchet and trekked twice around the crater lake that was formed by an ancient volcano. We also had tea and cappuccino at the restaurant on the lake. A lovely afternoon on a beautiful day.

The restaurant at the lake has a full selection of meals, drinks, and ice cream. There's also a lodge for overnight stays where the air is fresh. A forest surrounds the lake.

A fisherman awaits a catch on the unpolluted, serene, glassy lake that is almost completely round.

The Cathedral of Le Puy 

We walked up the stairs to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is the highest point in the city of Le Puy. This church was built during the 11-13th centuries. Its stone is basalt and comes from the volcanic rock that surrounds this whole area.

Here is a look at the steps leading to the Cathedral. Fortunately, we were already halfway up the steps in nearby Place St. Maurice (left of the steps) where I had parked the car in order to avoid having to make the climb.

A view of Le Puy from the Cathedral. The city has 25,000 residents.

The Healing Stone. According to legend, a sick woman received the order to climb the mount of the Cathedral When she reached the top, she noticed a flat stone where she lay down and fell asleep. Around her gathered "a multitude of angels and saints..." When she awoke, she was healed. Today, pilgrims continue to confide their sufferings to the Virgin Mary by regularly laying the stone.  

A beautiful, small, stone archway near the Cathedral. I can't resist taking photos of these medieval arches and stone streets. There's something intriguing about them.

The Cathedral cat that hangs around in a nearby neighborhood. He let me pet him once

We went to Vichy, which is famous for its healing waters. We wanted to take a hot springs bath. We discovered, however, that the places to partake the healing waters were far more elaborate than we expected. You must make an appointment and then stay for treatments over a period of time, like a month. Instead, we found several fountains that provided water for free. 

At the fountains we brought back 6 bottles of Celestins water for Eluiza, who is still recovering from a fractured shoulder. You can either drink the water and/or apply it to your skin. Eluiza did both and reported that it relieved some of her pain! So our trip was purposeful even though it wasn't what we expected.

Vichy dates back to the time of Julius Caesar, who had a spa built there 2,000 years ago. Emperor Napoleon III (1808-73)--and his entourage of several thousand--made Vichy his primary summer resort. Many of the city's buildings were erected at this time and this also made the city unique for its elegance. From the 1880s to 1940s, Vichy was like a high-class Las Vegas with casinos, high-end restaurants and, of course, brothels. It is still a wealthy area.

According to Nathaniel Altman, author of The Ultimate Guide to Taking the Waters (2000), the Vichy spa hosts 12 springs, of which 6 are used for drinking. There are cold springs (Celestin, Parc and Lucas) and warm springs (Hôpital, Chomel and Grande Grille). There are also 2 well-equipped thermal establishments which feature mud baths and colonic irrigation as cures for rheumatism and liver problems. Altman describes the qualities of the Vichy water:

"The source of Vichy Celestins, the most popular water used for drinking, emerges at 21ºC (71ºF) through strata of aragonite rock, formed by water-borne mineral deposits over millions of years. Layers of calcium carbonate have eroded over the centuries, contributing to Vichy's unique natural carbonation and mineralization. Vichy's low level of carbonation and high mineralization give it a taste that many associate with Alka-Seltzer. Vichy water has been used to treat stomach disorders, normalize biliary secretions, alleviate the symptoms of gastroesophagal reflux, provide relief from food and drug allergies, and reduce the symptoms of colitis."   Nathaniel Altman

The Thermes de Vichy uses modern hydrotherapy methods using the waters of Vichy. 

Tracy checked out the lobby area of the Thermes de Vichy.

These volcanic-basalt tubs were used at the Thermes de Vichy in the 19th century for water treatments until 1902.  

The Centre Thermal des Domes spa is an example of Neo-Moorish architecture. The hall features frescoes by the symbolist Alphonse Osbert. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to go inside. The Centre was built in 1816-17 and reconstructed around 1874.

Vichy has a World War I memorial, which is quite a common site in France. The war's total number of military and civilian casualties was more than 41 million. There were over 18 million deaths and 23 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. Many people, including the students at Oxford University in England, made a pledge to never wage war again. Unfortunately, after 100 years, that pledge still has never been realized.

Vichy is also famous for its role in World War II. It was seat of power in the unoccupied "Free Zone" of France;  the northern part (including Paris) was occupied by the Nazis. World War I hero, Marshal Phillippe Pétain was appointed by Albert François Lebrun, the last president of the Third Republic (1870-1940). 

Pétain was known for outstanding military leadership in World War I, particularly during the Battle of Verdun (Feb 21 - Dec 18, 1916), which France finally won. He was sometimes nicknamed "The Lion of Verdun."

During World War II, Pétain ordered the French Government's military leaders to sign an armistice with Germany on June 22, 1940.  He also established an authoritarian regime that reversed many liberal policies like the independence of women and a free press. His government advocated central planning, tight government control over the economy, anti-Semitism, and anti-Bolshevism. His government was also regarded as a symbol of collaboration with the Nazis; it was suspended in late 1944 when the Allies liberated France. After the war, Pétain was tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Because he was a war hero, he spent the rest of his life in prison until he died in 1951. 

Opera House

Views of the beautiful central park of the city.

A white, wooden colonnade surrounds one of Vichy's smaller parks.

Beautiful buildings grace the downtown area. Here are just a few of them. I especially love triangular buildings set on a corner on Boulevard Russie. 

Vive la France!!

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