Angouleme and Around–Old and Older

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Angouleme is a small city just to the east of us, known mostly as being the center of a comic book  festival and museum, a classic car race in September, and  the beautiful  Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Pierre.

Our first stop was the large glassed in Les Halles market, which had many fish vendors, butchers, and produce and cheese stands. We bought some already-cooked large shrimp, two different chevres, and some gloriously-good smelling white peaches. We were prepared with our ice packs, for once.

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It’s a short walk through the pedestrian zone to the Cathedral. It’s been added to frequently over the past 900 years, but the impressive facade is medieval carving in a particularly high form. The designer was a bishop who was also a noted artist. The facade is chock full of figures, with the Ascension and the Last Judgement spreading upwards.

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My favorite portion is a little frieze illustrating the Song of Roland. Poor Roland, after heroically fighting the Moors in the center,  is dying his dramatic death on the right.

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The interior of the church is much less interesting, and it’s fun to walk around the exterior to see the additions in different styles.

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By now the rain had started in earnest, so we walked around just a bit. The city is built on a hillside, with the old ramparts lined by a walkway. There are some beautiful old buildings in town.

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Angouleme has invited comic book artists to create murals around the city, the tourist office has a walking trail to follow to find them. Pretty cool.

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We peeked at menus at the many restaurants around Les Halles, but nothing really appealed. I checked good old Michelin, and found recommendation for a place in the lower town, one of the “good food at good value” listings we generally have good luck with. It was a bit of drama driving there with the GPS, Angouleme is full of twisty, heavily-trafficked streets. L’Art des Mets was along a drab street, but inside is a contemporary, attractive little place with husband in the kitchen and wife serving. The 3-course lunch menu had two choices for each course, all for 16 euros. And it was all delicious–a cool tomato soup with a little side salad, my salmon wrapped in pastry (Larry chose the pork, which sadly they had run out of–they apologetically offered him the salmon or sea bass, and brought over 2 glasses of champagne), and cherry clafouti with apricot sorbet for me, something decadent and chocolate for Larry.

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The rain looked to be ending, so I consulted my Google map to see what might be interesting for the afternoon. When we were visiting the La Forge gardens on Saturday, I had somehow missed someone had told me that there was a site of prehistoric rock carvings in the town, so we headed back to Mouthers-sur-Boeme. We found a small sign pointing down a small street to La Chaire a Calvin. The street ended at an abandoned factory and millpond, with a house at the end. Past the house, we followed a dirt path through the woods to a fenced-off large rock outcropping. The rocks form a large shelter, you can certainly imagine people dwelling underneath.

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At this site were found many animal bones, a crude sculpture of a jaguar head, some bone and stone tools, and one human molar. Etched into the rock wall, you can just make out three animal shapes– 2 early forms of cattle, and a wild horse.

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As we were heading toward home, we stopped in to see yet another signposted 11th century church, Eglise Saint Pierre , this time in blink and you’ll miss it Eraville.  As I was looking at the facade, a gentlemen in the vineyard next door cake running over, asked if I wanted to see the church, and ran to his house for the key. Although he had no English, he was happy to tell us about the ongoing restoration of his town’s church. The floor had been dug out to get to the original floor level and they repaved using the found stones, and they’re gradually uncovering some of the original wall paint.

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He was thrilled to have people come see what they’ve been doing, and then told us about the earliest church in the area, an 8th century unconsecrated chapel just outside Châteauneuf-sur-Charente)

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Down a street outside the town, next to a chateau, is this tiny, tumble-down Romanesque Eglise Saint Sirin. The roof obviously caved in at some point, since the wooden rafters are quite new. Bare, dark and austere, it is nonetheless moving in its simplicity. You could probably put 30 people in here, likely the former population of the village.

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Since we were in Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, we stopped in to see the beautifully elegant (you guessed it) 12th century Romanesque Eglise Saint Pierre. Carvings of a similar standard to those in Angouleme, and sympathetically restored during the 19th century. Unlike in Angouleme, the interior capital carvings have been preserved.

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More tortured souls outside.

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And how cool is this–there’s a snail shell, the long-time symbol of the Charente. (and after seeing the hundreds of snails that have to be picked off our landlady’s garden every morning, its no wonder the local people took to eating them in self defense.)

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Best easy dinner ever–cooked shrimp, lemon mayo, cool white wine.

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And we turned on the tv for the first time in three weeks.

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