West Virginia University in Vendée, France


Ladies of Lands and Lakes

 17 juin 2010



Look who's finally joined us!  We're happy to greet Dr. Mike this morning in front of the Atlantes where we normally have class.  Today, we're getting ready for a long trip to the south-eastern corner of the Vendée region, the Marais Poitevin.


How charming you both look, Ben and Tory, with your matching scarves "à la française"!  


Jordan is not going to let this perfectly good opportunity to take a nap pass.  She is certainly ready for the bus ride (although, what sites will she see?!!)


Once again, we begin our trip in the rain, however, this hasn't dampened any spirits, has it, Ben, Kevin and Dr. Mike?


David is avoiding the rain while waiting for the group to gather--smart man!


Dr. Mike proudly displays his "holster"--absolutely not to be confused with a "fanny pack," a French "banane," "a man purse," or a "European carryall." It is a HOLSTER!!!  How many times do I have to say it??!


Liz, Peggy and Jordan are unfazed by the rain--they can't wait to learn about Aliénor d'Aquitaine's beginnings.  Our first stop is in Nieul-sur-l'Autise where Aliénor de Chatellerault founded this royal abbey and where she is presumed to have given birth to Aliénor d'Aquitaine.


The church that is attached to the Abbey of Nieul-sur-l'Autise was begun in 1068 and clearly reflects that it was built in the Romanesque style with its rounded doorways and windows.


Groupe Aliénor, composed of Melaney, Ben and Rachael, proudly pose in front of the building that is associated with their namesake.  Aliénor, with multiple connections to the Vendée region, was an  amazing woman of the 12th century who was married to two kings (King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England), went on two crusades, birthed 10 children, was an astute business woman and had the time to fully support the gracious courtly arts of poetry, music and dance.  


Before entering the church in Nieul-sur-l'Autise, we stop to examine the stone carvings on the capitals representing the seven mortal sins. On the outside corner, a man is clutching his money bags, the perfect picture of avarice.


Here we pause to look at an interesting representation from the Middle Ages of lust.


Our guide, Beatrice, explains the history of the abbey and its connection to the two Aliénors, mother and daughter.


The Abbaye Nieul-sur-l'Autise was famous for it's elegant cloister.  The arcade promenade was conducive to silent meditation and prayer.


Here we can see how the cloister was directly connected to the church and appreciate the early signs of architectural transformation that will ultimately lead to the gothic style and its tell-tale flying buttresses.


Beatrice appreciates our group's level of French because she can tell from the students' questions that they are following along with her explanations.


Before leaving Nieul-sur-l'Autise, the group agrees to pose for a picture in front of the church.  Maybe we'll see a picture without coats before this Vendée excursion is over!  But, they all look happy, anyway.


Maybe they were happy because we were on our way to this place--the farmhouse inn where we will be having lunch with items grown and prepared on the farm.


Don't we all wish our houses looked as elegant as this farmhouse dining room?


Ben and Kevin demonstrate their table manners.  Bon travail, Ben et Kevin! 


The Terrine de volaille for starters was all we needed to put us in the mood to enjoy this great home-made meal.


This shredded beet and carrot salad was a favorite with our group--we all made sure not to drop any in our laps.


Next, we savored a fricassée de pintade (a guinea hen) with a  cocoa and orange sauce.  Finger-licking good--move over KFC!


Although not from Noirmoutier (the best place in the world for potatoes--our visit last Tuesday), these home-grown potatoes were a perfect accompaniment to the fricassée de pintade.


Incredibly, every cheese on the platter were made at the farm.  The bottom three are varieties of goat cheeses, while the upper ones were made from cow's milk.  Some of the students will never forget this cheese plate--isn't that right, Allison, Tory and Peggy?


For dessert, we had a choice of Charlotte aux fraises or au chocolat--if you put your ear next to the computer, you might just hear the sighs of satisfaction!


Instead of the nap we all needed, the other Drs. Lastingkoff propose a boat ride in the Venise Verte.


Don't be mistaken--this is hard work as our students listen to the local guides commentary on the history and the wildlife in this area.


Now that's a happy boat!


The frênes tétard, the trees bordering the channels, play an important role in the ecology of the local bio-system as they naturally hold the banks in place, as well as provide habitats for aquatic life. 


Oh, how peaceful it is . . .


Jacques Martin, who has guided several boatloads of Vendéens in the past, demontrates how the nasse or bosselle works to trap eels, a local delicacy that is great on the barbecue.


What a magnificent way to enjoy this hidden treasure, inaccessible by any other means than the "plates," the local flat boats in which we are riding.


Our guides proudly demonstrate the strange phenomenon of being able to light the water on fire--actually, they've purposefully disturbed a pocket of methane gas that has been trapped in the thick mud below.  Impressive anyway!


Here we see why this area is called the Venise verte, the Green Venice.  At this time of year, the surface of the water is covered with green, pea-like plant particles, otherwise known as "duckweed."


After Green Venice, we are off to the town of Vouvant, which lays claim to the famous Mélusine tower that we are about to see.  In the meantime, Groupe Mélusine with Emily, Peggy, Liz and Kaitlynn, proudly poses under a rendition of the half-woman, half-serpent creature from the tale bearing her name.


They are now at the base of the tower . . .


. . .from whence she flew out of the window in the form of a flying dragon to escape her manipulative, nosy husband.


Legend has it that her body dissipated into the air, leaving the scales from her tail to fall gently onto the surface of the rivers of Vendée.  If you look carefully in this picture, you can still see her presence in the ripples on the water to the right.


Our heads filled with visions of "Ladies of Lands and Lakes," we take one last minute to enjoy our peaceful surroundings.  It's been a long but magical day, n'est-ce pas?


Dr. Mike has the situation firmly under control as he checks that his holster is set for our next adventures.  A la prochaine!



Please send e-mail to   V. Lastinger or J. Orlikoff to provide feedback about this page.