Friday, June 17, 2011

Food, friends and the Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Port

After some serious traveling in the past two weeks, we were ready for a weekend at home. A month or so ago we had gotten in touch with our friends in Chatenet and found this weekend to be mutually available for them to come visit us in Clermont-Ferrand to return the favor of wonderful hospitality we were shown on our visit at the end of January. I spent Friday awaiting their arrival while watching the streets being barricaded on the next block and cars being towed left and right, wondering if they were ever going to be able to find parking, or even our apartment!

All worrying was as usual for naught, as they arrived in the late afternoon in high spirits, and we immediately sat down to some important business; eating. This proved to be a recurring theme of the weekend, as meals are a focus of any Latvian gathering. The evening was spent enjoying a long dinner while watching the activities out on the street. The blockades turned out to be for a running festival, Courir Clermont, which qualifies runners for similar, national, race(s) later in the year. The Rue Blatin - Place de Jaude corner was the finish point for about 7 different categories of races. Max and Lauris got reacquainted over toys while the adults caught up on the events of the past months, and it was late before the last slices of peach pie were eaten and everybody headed to bed.

The next morning was a much anticipated morning by at least two people in the apartment, as we had brought back some salmon from Bergen and decided to wait until Saturday morning in order to share it with our guests. On freshly-baked croissants lathered with Philadelphia brand cream cheese (a very recent addition to store shelves in Clermont) the smoked fish was more delicious than the samples that prompted the purchase in Bergen had promised. We lingered over coffee until several naps later, and then headed out in the sunny Auvergne day.

Our first destination, Place de Jaude, had not yet regained its form after the dismantling of the Courir Clermont tents. The water fountains had not been turned back on and were definitely missed. The Opera is also being renovated, and one end of the Place is cluttered with construction pods and equipment. We didn’t stay long, but headed east past Marché St-Pierre, Musée du Ranquet with its beautiful spiral stone staircase and up Rue des Gras with Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption standing guard at the end. We arrived during the French lunch, and so were not able to climb to the top of the tower to see the view of the city, but our guests indicated they would have time the next day and so we headed further to Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Port.

Founded in the sixth century but burned down by Vikings, the present day structure was rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries. The edifice is now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. With the mosaic of multicolored stonework on the outside and the raised chancel, the church is striking and I recommend a visit to both inhabitants and visitors of Clermont.

A detour through Place Delille before heading south to Jardin Lecoq. There the boys enjoyed a snack before energetically engaging the playground structures, and both were not quite done when it came time to leave. A stroll past the fountain and a glimpse of the swans in the pond perked them right back up. But the adults also needed a snack, so we headed home for lunch, refreshments, naps and games, not necessarily in that order. Lunch merged right on into dinner, and with charades and good times it was midnight – a late hour for parents of one year olds - before we even noticed.

Sunday brought the opportunity for our guests to see the interior of Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, but soon came au revoirs and their departure home. After an evening stroll to Place de Jaude we also turned in, and remarked how luckily Monday was a holiday; it would give us time to recuperate after a non-traveling, yet full weekend!

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