Apples and the Virgin

Last weekend reminded me how lucky we are to be in such a beautiful part of France and how nice it is to get out of cities sometimes.  Since the weather was still nice, we made as many outdoor plans as possible, which included visiting the last tourist attraction on our list, the statue of the Virgin, and also an epic hike to the “Fête de la Pomme” (apple festival) in the nearby town of Chambeyrac.

The virgin, officially the “Statue Notre-Dame de France” on the Corneille Rock is probably the most touristy thing to do in Le Puy, which explains why it is the only place I have seen asian tourists so far.  A giant statue of the virgin isn’t usually that exciting, except that it’s on a huge dyke (way bigger than the one in Aiguilhe) and has an amazing view of the city.  You can even go up into the virgin; there’s a tiny spiral staircase on the inside and some windows that you can stick your head out of.  It’s kind of freaky, since you can’t tell if there are people above or below you on the stairs and there’s only room for one person at a time, but the views are worth it.  The statue itself is kind of interesting too because it was built out of 213 melted-down cannons that had been used in some war with Russia.  The baby Jesus’ head weighs over a ton!  (When I told Igor that, he said ‘well, he has a lot to think about’ haha)  We were lucky to have a beautiful day with no wind to ‘mount the virgin’ as we say (‘monter’ is ‘to go up’ in French, which makes for some interesting word play).  Check it out:

so many hills!
you can see St Michel d’Aiguilhe in front, and the little castle on a plateau in back is the town of Polignac
Polignac in the distance
view from a window inside of the virgin
can you see me?! Thanks to Igor for the pic

 After visiting the virgin, we decided to stop by the cloister at the Cathedral since we were in the area.  (Because honestly, how many times are we going to walk so far up that hill?  It’s exhausting!)  The Statue de la Vierge was built in the 1800s, but the Cathedral and cloister are from the 12th century!  It’s insane how old stuff here is.  Sometimes I walk around the old town and see signs on the buildings that say when they were built.  Most are 15th or 16th century, but I’m assuming churches last longer and are better kept up so there are a few 12th century churches in the area.  Crazy.  The one in Le Puy is quite beautiful, the facade is very colorful and there are some amazing views from there as well, since it, like everything in this city it seems, is on a hill (but not a dyke this time).  It’s also super famous (among Catholics at least; I had never heard of it before) because it’s a starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostello in Spain, so a lot of Spanish tourists come to Le Puy.  A lot of them stay in the hotel across the street from us, and once we saw one through the window, naked and smoking a cigarette.  Awkward.  Other than having a lot of Spaniards, though, the Cathedral is beautiful and the cloister is so peaceful.  Igor and I were very glad we stopped by.

Cathédral Notre-Dame du Puy
the cloister

So Saturday was filled with religious touristy stuff, and then that night we went to the Carnival that’s in town.  I went on a ride called “Super Bowl” that was like an extreme tilt-a-whirl that emitted strawberry scented hookah smoke and flames, and we ate a lot of churros.  Somehow we got ourselves up early enough the next morning to make the long trek to the Fête de la Pomme, which everyone thought was in Polignac, but was actually in Chambeyrac, a good 4 kilometers away from Polignac.  See the confusing sign below:

Apparently Chambeyrac is in the commune of Polignac but is a different town, or something like that.  Igor and I first went to Polignac because we wanted to see the château.  Polignac is about 4 kilometers (or 2.5 miles; it sounds more impressive in kilometers) from Le Puy, and half of it is uphill.  It was a pretty intense workout, but we got to see lots of pretty views on the way, like this one:

We also saw cows, horses, chickens, and a few cats and dogs in peoples’ backyards.  It was awesome!  The cows looked confused as to why we were walking on the highway, and the horses were frolicking happily.  When we got to Polignac, we learned that the château is only open in July and August, but at least Igor got a good picture with the sign!  We walked to the lookout point and checked out the view, then got some sandwiches, asked for directions, and continued our trek to the Fête de la Pomme.

The journey was totally worth it, mostly because of this:

Apple donuts and fresh pressed apple cider.  The donuts were amazing – a ring of apple dipped in batter, deep fried then covered with sugar.  The cooked apple goo on the inside was heavenly, and they were very hot, fresh out of the fryer!  These little things were so popular that the people making them couldn’t keep up with the demand.  I waited in line for probably 25 minutes and it was the first time I’ve seen little old French ladies get really upset.  They were all claiming that someone had cut them in line (because with French organizational skills, obviously there was no clear line, just a giant mob of hungry French country folk) and then someone would buy a dozen and we all had to wait even longer, since they could only really make 5 donuts at a time.  It was a pretty hilarious fiasco.

The apple cider was also a very impressive ordeal (this time it was organized! amazing!).  First, there was a giant truck filled with apples and an assembly line of people peeling, coring, and throwing out the rotten ones.  Then they somehow turned the apples into mush, and then they put the mush into a press.

Lots of people from the town, young and old, took turns pressing the apples, and the cider came out from a little spout in the bottom.  Then I think they filtered it, then poured it into bottles.  The bottles were all old 1 liter bottles from water, soda, etc.  The town must have been collecting used bottles for some time, since they had hundreds of them!   The Fête de la Pomme also included horse carriage rides and a little brass band of all ages that wore matching yellow coats.  It was very small town France, and very cute.

Jennifer is happy when she gets apple donuts

We met up with some of the other assistants in Chambeyrac to drink cider and eat donuts and cheese and bread (because cheese and bread are sold at almost every function in l’Auvergne) and we all had a nice walk back just before sunset.  Now we have 5 kilos of apples, 2 bottles of fresh local apple cider, and I even pet a horse on the way home!  Overall, it was a very successful weekend!

The Fête de la Pomme gang, left to right, back: Hannah (England), Igor, me; front: John (US), Juan (Spain), Sioned (Whales), Nuria (Spain)
Polignac
Le Puy at sunset
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