When down in the south of France, I also made a tour on what is named “Le Train Jaune” (The Yellow Train) in the Pyrenees area. This spectacular line raises from 427m (1400 ft) at Villfranche-de-Conflent to 1492 m (4895 ft) at Bolquère-Eyne (the highest French railway station), before going slightly downhill to (almost) reach the Spanish border at Latour-de Carol. The line opened in 1909-10, already then electrified (by a third rail). Some of the original units are still in operation. The gauge is different from the “standard”. The total length of the line is 63 km (39 miles). There are some 19 tunnels and a large number of spectacular bridges, including the Viaduc Séjourné and the suspension bridge Pont Gisclard.
Today the roads in the area are quite good and the train is rather a tourist attraction. I joined it (back and forth) only for the more spectacular part from Villefranche to Odeillo-Font Romeu, a well-known ski resort, close to the highest point. The trip (one-way), some 38 km (24 miles), takes about 1 hour 50 minutes = some 25 km/hour (15 miles/hour). It’s slow, but that’s good – you have the time to watch.
Sitting in the train, it’s hardly possible to take any good photos of the spectacular bridges, so I “stole” two from Wikipedia.
The starting point is thus Villefranche-de-Conflent, a Unesco World Heritage site, completely circled by walls from the 17th century (Vauban), when the area became French.
Climbing the valleys and mountains…
… you reach the top (Bolquère-Eyne) and a broad high valley, the little village Odeillo and the close-by Font-Romeu, which was developed to a major resort in the 1920’s. Today it’s especially popular for skiing and is also a place where sport teams – athletics, soccer, rugby… - make altitude training.
The little village Odeillo is especially known for its solar furnace from 1970 – the world’s largest (?). The temperature at the central point can reach 3,500 °C (6,330 °F). It’s generating one megawatt. (The largest nuclear power stations produce 5 or 6,000 times more.)
The flora is different when you reach a little altitude.
The coastline southwest of Sète – until you reach the Pyrenees and get close to the Spanish border - is quite flat with sand beaches, lagoons, marshland… a paradise for birds.
There are some interruptions, with a few rocky hills, often with the remains of some fortifications. Here is an example – Gruissan with its “Tour Barberousse”, all that remains of a 10th century fortified castle. The old town, to a large extent built by stones from the demolished castle, surrounds the hill by circular streets. On the nearby beach you can find a great number of chalets built on stiles – to escape from periodic flooding. Nowadays they are protected from the sea by a dike, so the ground floors are habitable.
Getting close to the Spanish border and the Pyrenees, the landscape changes radically. We are reaching the “Vermillion Coast”… and also the Catalan culture and language... and Collioure.
There are some records of a “Castrum Caucoliberi” as early as 673 and, being so close to what took centuries to establish as a real border, this place has, of course, had a high strategic value for a long time. The present Castle of Collioure has a long history, starting with the Knights Templar during the early 13th century, then being transformed by the Kings of Majorca during the 13th and 14th centuries, further transformed by the Habsburgs Charles Quint and Philip II during the 16th century and finally by Vauban by the end of the 17th century.
Apart from the beach, the port and the castle, the town must also be visited for its charming streets and alleys – and of course bars and restaurants.
The place has been appreciated by many artists, especially during the early 20th century. Here are just a few examples.
Close to Collioure is a place named Paulilles, now a protected area, a recreational park, close to the sea. Previously you found here the French Nobel Dynamite Factory, founded in 1870 and closed in 1991. Of some 80 factory buildings only a few have been saved, serving as museum, restaurant… Among the documents in the museum I saw a letter by Alfred Nobel, written in Swedish, to a local collaborator.
I will get back to my trip to the southwest of France, but first I wanted to show you some Paris events during last weekend. There were a number of ecological interventions – Paris is preparing the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, “COP21”, and there will be more events.
Sunday was “a day without cars” in Paris, however only in limited parts in the centre of the city. I show you some pictures from the Champs Elysées and the surrounding streets, Place de la Concorde, Rue de Rivoli, Place Vendôme, Opera Garnier, Boulevard Haussmann, Gare Saint Lazare…
Walking down the Champs Elysées, I got mixed up in a crowd of journalists interviewing the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, surrounded by some colleagues from other European cities. I managed to be almost in the frontline.
Another more modest event took place Saturday in “my” little park, Square des Batignolles. The city employees who take care of our “city trees” explained their work…
… and invited the kids to climb a tree and to slide down a zip line.
I went to visit some places in the south-west of France, starting with Sète (where I have been before – see post here). I must not forget that this is meant to be a blog about Paris, so I will try to make this short… - just show you some pictures, impressions...
As you can see from the top picture, I was met by a windy Mediterranean, but the weather soon changed for the better.
In the port, among the armada of yachts, there were also a number of sailing boats, ready to leave for a race, “The Generali Solo”.
If you want some proof of the much better weather the following days….
Sète is also a commercial and… fishing port, much to the pleasure of the seagulls.
A general view of the centre and one of the canals – Sète is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of Languedoc” (the name of the region). From the top of the “Mont St. Clair” you have a nice panorama of the city….
… and also of the long flat coastline, with beaches, salt production, vineyards… all the way down to the Pyrenees – which you may see vaguely on one of these photos…
… as well as of the “L’Etang de Thau”, the largest of the lagoons you can find along this flat coastland, known for all kinds of seafood, but especially for oysters.
I can’t resist against showing some local street art. Easy to recognize the artist of the one to the left: “Seth” (see previous posts here and here). (By the way Seth and Sète is pronounced in the same way in French.) The other one is by “C215”.
To finish… some proof of the blue sky and some seafood lunch.
… and as usual, some maps, also indicating some other spots I visited during my too short stay down here. I will try to make it brief in some coming post(s).