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May 13, 2006 

First day of vacation!  Our train landed in Montpellier (a central, well-sized city in the Languedoc region) in mid-afternoon, and since the car rental place was closed for lunch (12-2pm), we took a little walking tour around downtown.  We walked through the main courtyard of the vielle ville (old city), got some maps from the tourist office, split a sandwich at one of the many little sandwich shops and went back towards the train station to find the car rental agency.  After sorting through a bit of cartographic confusion we located the Montpellier branch of Hertz, and since we didn’t have anything better to do we waited for an hour until their office opened up.  Then we were off – in a nifty little blue Fiat!

In transit to Villeneuve-les-Beziers, where we were to stay for the first night, we drove past a small little harbor nested in the small town of Sete and stopped to take pictures.  The evening’s accommodations were to be at Anges Gardiens (Guardien Angels), a little B&B in a very little village along the “Canal du Midi”.  We got there in the late afternoon, and were able to locate the auberge (accommodation) without too much trouble.  It was neat, clean, and comfortable but with minimal niceties – only hand soap, no bath soap, no shampoos and bath towels stiff enough to brush a horse’s mane with (I guess she didn’t believe in fabric softener).  In short, nothing fancy.  The same could be said for the breakfasts. 

That evening, we made reservations at itty bitty little restaurant down the street a ways from our B&B and then went exploring.  The village of Villeneuve-les-Beziers consists mainly of winding little corridors, centered about a church “Eglise de Marie”.  And of course, since it had mostly narrow winding streets, there was plenty doggy dirt to be had.  We walked to the waterside, looked at the locks and then it was time to hit the restaurant – pizza for Erik and salad for me.

May 14, 2006

We woke up the next morning, well rested.  Our proprietor (Jennifer) must have done something right, because we hadn’t been sleeping well for a number of days prior to our trip.

We breakfasted, packed up, and headed out towards the seaside.

We hit the beach first – for a quick taste of Mediterranean sun and sand.  We took a short but sweet walk along the beach, and had to try out the beach-side swing set.  I mean - it WAS a swing after all!  A number of people where lazing about enjoying the balmy warm weather.  Not too many swimmers, not too much nudity.  What a pity.  But it was worth the trip.

Cap d’Adge
The Cap d’Adge is a little peninsula on the ocean side.  It’s mainly a condo city and the feeling there was quite resort-y.  The beach itself was similar to Valras-Plage.  We then went to check out the “Naturaliste” – a nudist beach.  Since there was a charge of 5 Euros to get in and we were rare’n to see other places as well, we didn’t pay to get in.  (Much to Erik’s great relief!)  But I very much planned to return on another day (to get nekkid)!!

We next visited Aigues-Mortes is a lovely medieval walled city.  We walked around marveling at the structure of the stone walls, had baguette sandwiches for lunch, and browsed through the tourist section of town.  Our biggest finds were a really cool wooden-toys store, and a really expensive handmade-candy shop.  Since it was such a beautiful day, we got some ice cream and a slurpie and browsed around some more.  Soon it was time to get going to our final destination for the night.  We left Aigues-Mortes, having enjoyed the afternoon, with our only regret being that we didn’t have time to take a tour on top of the ramparts.  Our hope was to have a chance to do so at a later time.

Upon arriving to Nimes, we reached the city center and found “les Arenes” (the Arena) and the sign to our hotel quite easily.  But we were unable to reach it because of construction!  We spent ½ hour driving around in circles, coming empirically to the same conclusion, before I finally called the hotel and found out that due to construction, the place was no longer accessible by car.  After that, it was easy!  All we had to do was park in a public garage near the “les Arenes”, and walk to the hotel.  I almost laughed at how easy it was.

We walked past “les Arenes” (the Arena) and checked in Hotel d’Amphitheatre (Recommended!).  The moment I walk into the room I knew that I had made a great choice, light from the afternoon sun streamed in from our balcony window illuminating our room in a soft glow.  It has beautiful space with a lively view just like the tour book had promised.  (All the rooms here were named after artists and great thinkers, and I asked for the Montesquieu room, by name.  Our room had a pleasant view over the courtyard with a balcony looking over all the action below including the comings and goings of three medium-sized restaurants all with patio seating.  It was cozy but lively venue below.  Again, our room had minimal toiletry amenities and a shower.  Oh yeah, I think there was a bidet in our bathroom. 
Room Unknown thing

We left our room to search for dinner and tour the city a bit.  We stopped by “le Maison Carre” (The Square House), an ancient Roman government building – probably the best preserved of its kind.  It was still in use in the present time.  The building was magnificent!  It was wonder be near such a historical piece of work.  I can remember first learning about such Roman buildings when I was in early elementary school and how mysterious and intriguing they were then back then.  Seeing the building in person really surpassed my expectations.  I was giddy.  It gave me such a feeling of privilege and honor, and I fancied myself reaching out, back across millennia to touch not only a piece of history, but a piece of the great Roman Empire.  I couldn’t believe that I was really there, really there where thousands of years back, the Roman people went about their daily business of living. 
Square House

We decided on returning to the courtyard outside of our hotel to pick a restaurant.  The food sounded okay, but we picked it in large part for the great atmosphere of the courtyard. At our restaurant – Le P’tit Nimios – we had the abysmal mis-opportunity of being waited upon by their one miserable male waiter.  I tried rabbit for the first time, it wasn’t bad but wasn’t all that memorable either.  The chocolate moose, was pretty nice.

May 15, 2006

We took breakfast in our hotel, which had amazingly light croissants (this, according to Erik).  Most of the monuments of Nimes which we were wanting to see were within walking distance.

Our first goal was “l’Amphitheatre”, aka “les Arenes” (the Arena), but we soon realized that it wasn’t open yet.  So we decided to amble over to the tourist office, near “La Maison Carree”, because we knew that it would be open.  We saw that “La Maison Carree” was open and after reading the history panels on the outside, we got in line to go inside.  It turned out that the building was being used as an art-film cinema.  Although I thought that it was great that they were continuing to put this treasured building to use, I didn’t really much fancy seeing a film so we left.  I picked up some brochures at the tourist office, on yoga offerings in the local area and then we decided to go visit the “Tour Magne”. 

The “Tour Magne” is located in “les Jardins de la Fontaine” at the north end of the city.  On the walk over there we paused to look over sections of the main canal that ran through the city, sourcing from a spring within “les Jardins de la Fontaine”.  The canal was beautiful – peaceful even.  The tranquility was in part due to the presence of several its locks, which left some sections very low on water.  At the park, there were several pools, and some with fountains, a number of which weren’t running, so there was a fair bit of stagnant water.  Nevertheless it was a lovely scene of Roman elegance and landscaping – complete with sculptures, stone steps and terraces and the accompaniment of meticulously well maintained plants.  The terraces lay into the hillside, feeding up to a trail that lead to the crest of the hill.  Part way up the hill we found a little nook, tucked away under a mossy water fall. 


Waterfall tunnel

At the top was the Tour Magne, at 32 meters high, it is two-thirds of its original height, and the most outstanding remnant of what was once a stone wall that surrounded the great Roman city of Nimausus.  With a payment of an entrance fee, we were in.  We read some panels on the history of Nimes, which describe how it had gained the honored status of “Roman Colony”, and was the home city of the family of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius.  (A side note:  Nimes was also the birthplace of denim – the cloth that us Americans are so found of.  De – Nimes  means “of Nimes”, hence we have the name, denim.)  All over town, we had seen medallions picturing an Alligator chained to a Palm tree.  Here it was explained that Augustus Nimasus, the Emperor, had commission the design of these coins and this symbol was soon embraced as part of the identity of Nimes.  We then ascended the Tour, climbing up the winding stair case; the internal tower with its spiral staircase had been a recent addition, added to shore up the failing tower whose base had been pillaged in hopes of finding some prophetic treasure.  It was a grand view from the top.

Next we walked over to the temple of Diana, yet another beautiful Roman ruin.  We were able to see all of its architecture so well in part because of its current state of ruination.  The roof was no longer in existence and so our exploration was aided by the bright light of midday.  It was amazing to think that I could wander about this place, sans entrance fee, minus watchful guards, carefree, but for a sign-posting that read “it is forbidden to climb”.  And it was so very free of people.  It was just Erik and I with the monument to ourselves.  I was Diana, and this was my temple.  Oh yeah, and Erik was my prize quarry.  It was beyond magical to have Diana’s Temple all to ourselves.
Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana Inside

Our last Roman ruin, in Nimes, was the “Amphitheatre”, aka “les Arenes”, aka the Arena (in English).  The audio guides provided, were a bit long winded.  We did learn from them that the amphitheatre was built using a series of arches, stacked upon one another, rather than the alternative Roman method of building arenas (which involved using natural land features and lay of the land to lend structure to the arena).  “Les Arenes” is very well preserved, being about 100 years older, and in far better condition than the Coliseum in Rome.  In fact, “les Arenes” is still used to house events every fall.  It was so very neat to walk along the corridors and just look out at the city, no fences or gates or anything to obstruct your view (or your path, should you wish to take a flying leap out over 3 stories of city).  (Nothing like this could ever be allowed in the U.S., obviously because some of our kind are too hopelessly stupid to know better than to fall out of open windows.  My how our laws have really made us soft and squidgey.)  We marveled at the view from mid-height seats, and shared a pre-lunch snack.  Then we wandered back to the corridors, were we found access to the top.  The view was magnificent, exciting – with the red roof tops spreading out over of all the classically Southern French cityscape, with the wind rushing through my hair, and a spectacular view of the stadium floor below.  I could almost feel the action of the moment, how exciting it must have been to watch an event here, thousands of years before, in the best seats in the house – the nose bleed seats!


We finished our tour and caught a quick lunch nearby with a view of the very same “les Arenes”.

Nimes is truly a marvel.  To see so many Roman ruins – I thought that I would have had to go all the way to Rome!  And to have had such freedom to explore, sans guards, or railings was such a breath of fresh air compared the States or even some of the jealously guarded art museums in Paris.

After lunch, we went back to our car and drove out to see Pont du Gard, once a three tiered Roman aqueduct, now a marvelous historical monument.  There was much history associated with the bridge/aqueduct.  It is an amazing feat of engineering, designed to bring water to Nimes.  At one point, half of the width of the top two levels had been removed to allow for horse carriage passage across the bridge, then it was realized how precarious it was to have removed half of this gigantic structure (it was a wonder that it didn’t collapse!), so they rebuilt removed section.  Then it was decided instead to pass their wagons along the top of the aqueduct (where the water once flowed), so for a while this was the main means of crossing the bridge/aqueduct.  Finally, there was a recent addition (1700’s) of a human foot bridge, that ran next to the bridge. 

Once we got to the bridge, we climbed up the side of the hill on Rive Droit (right side of the river), had a nice look over the valley, climbed down and walked across and then upstream.  As we made our way back and passed the bridge up close, we noticed that some repairs were being made to the bridge.  They had taken out a key brick in one of the load-bearing arches and had in place some jack-screw spacers holding the pressure required to keep everything in place.
Pont du Gaurd

We finished the day by returning to Anges Gardiens, the B&B in Villeneuve-les-Beziers, for the night.

May 16, 2006

After breakfast, we hopped in the car and decided to make an early start to our next night’s accommodations.  It was a lucky thing that we did, because we got a little lost on our way and stopped in the hamlet of Bouisse to ask for directions.  A lot of the hamlets that we had passed through looked pretty sleepy and inactive, so we felt lucky to find a nice little old lady and the traveling grocery store there.  I asked the both of them if they had heard of Domain des Goudis (our next B&B).  They both gave me directions, repeatedly, with the little old lady taking over as the grocer started to close up his truck/store.  She gave nice clear directions that eventually took us to where we wanted to go.  A curious thing about her French – it was very Sprench.  That is, she spoke French with a Spanish accent: rolling her r’s, and sprinkling in a few bene’s and other Spanish words – in, for emphasis.  It was charming.

We rolled into our B&B, Domain des Goudis, at about 1:30pm.  We met our host Michel, and upon his advice decided to drive out to Rennes les Bains for lunch.  The village of Rennes les Bains was absolutely storey book picturesque, built into either side of a narrow valley, with bridges high overhead, and a small river running below.  It appeared to be a spa destination – with lots of advertisements for medical spa care and thermal spa care stuff – not my cup of tea.  The actual charm was in the layout of the village and the access to the bubbling stream below.  There were fish, and some hearty people braving the “winter” waters.  We found a restaurant and had a nice lunch, and got dessert to go – ice cream bars which we enjoyed along the river.  I stopped to dip my foot in.  The water was shallow, though still chilly.  There was a puppy snuffling along the pebbly shallows.
Rennes les Bains

We left the town, hoping to come back at some point for a dip in the water and took Michel’s advice again stopping at Chateau d’Arques.  Here finally was a chateau after my own taste – small, purposeful and with a lovely view.  It had 4 levels, and 4 towers, one on each corner of a square building.  There was an interesting crack running along the inside of one of the towers, and you could see inside the tower, at each level, how (originating from the bottom) it was splitting away from the rest of the building.  One could also see where restoration had been done, such as the addition of cement to fill cracks, or the complete replacement of old floors.  (It seemed like chateau restoration would be an interesting profession in the French countryside.)   On the third floor, we even found an opportunistic pigeon had built its nest in one of the archery windows (all of which were now sealed from the inside with plexi-glass).  It was the first time that I had ever laid eyes on baby pigeons.  So, they DO exist!  (I had always secretly wondered…)  On the fourth floor, it was a very cozy and romantic.
Chateau d'Arques

We drove back to Domain des Goudis (les Goudis – for short), had a lovely nap and got up an hour or so before sunset to go exploring the grounds.  It was picturesque.  Seated at the crest of a hill at the foot of the Pyrenees, over looking a series of peaks it was everything that I imagined a hamlet, and French countryside living would be.  There were fields with sheep and some with horses (one very friendly pair came up to the fence as we walked past).  The compound itself was a series of interconnected buildings, each having its own sunroom built out of a face.  The layout was very ad hoc, very here and there.  There was a lovely sunroom with a giant chess set, ready for play.  There was a pool, which was unfortunately not yet ready for use because it was rather early in the season still, and they were just in the process of filling it.

After we came back from a short walk, we chatted with Michel and requested evening tea.

A short while later Michel came over to the sunroom carrying a tray with tea and slices of cake and we got to chatting for a space – me in broken French, and him in English and French, and Erik in English.  Michel originally came from Paris, but had a lot of knowledge about the history and goings-on regarding the local area.  Among the things we asked him about, was the meaning of the term “Goudis”.  He said that the word had a nebulous derivation/history, potentially being Celtic in origin, with “Goud” – meaning wood and “is” – meaning below.  In combination, the name “Goudis” might have meant “lower wood”.  We had our tea with spiced cake, finished off the evening with a “Bonsoir”, and retired to our rooms.

May 17, 2006 (A)

Castles and more castles!
Today we went to see two castles which were both archeological monuments, both ruins in various states of well – ruination.  They were both at least 800 to 1200 years old (at least parts of them, as they were repaired and expanded as needed over the centuries).

Chateau Queribus:
We parked at the bottom of the peak, where sat Chateau Queribus, and hiked up.  This was the chateau that I was most excited about seeing, because it looked so remote and stoic – almost like a fire lookout.  At the top, we explored the nooks and crannies, admired the view, reveled in the big sky and wide open spaces, and finished the tour with our very own chateau picnic a the top.

Chateau Peyrepertuse:
This large crag of an edifice which from far off looks like nothing more than a part of the peak upon which it rests, is in actuality, a double castled fortress.  It has two keeps, a small lower one and a larger second keep set slightly higher on the peak (thus the two castles).  The higher of the castles is younger than the other, having been a new addition after the initial construction.  Around them both stands a stone wall with plenty of arrow slots and a 360 view of the surrounding terrain.

Peyrepertuse Lower Castle

After our tours of the two chateaus, we drove back to Arques, walked around a near by lake and had a light dinner at local bar.

May 18, 2006 (A)

Onward, to yet another castle!  We drove out in the morning to see the picturesque (if a bit kitschy) walled city and castle of Carcassonne.  That’s when I made an unpleasant discovery.  My planning was a bit off – as in, the car rental was supposed to be returned yesterday and the train was suppose to leave this morning!  (In true engineer form, I made an “i=1” sort of mistake.  Somewhere along the line of making my calculations, I had dropped a day.).  Needless to say, the rest of our drive into town was spent with butterfly in our stomachs.

We arrived in Carcassonne around 12:30, found our hotel and got acquainted with the friendly front desk staff.  Since our room wasn’t going to be ready until 2pm we went looking for the local Hertz branch to return our rental car.  Of course with it being France, Hertz was closed until 2.  So we parked the car, found the train station and got the business with our train tickets straightened out – best of all without any financial ramifications.  (Well, at least the guy at the counter printed us something and I hoped that it meant that all would be okay.)

Then we went to the local McDonald’s down the street, bought a soda, and waited until it was time to return the rental car.  Again, there weren’t any problems or late fees – nothing mentioned on the invoice, even though the car was a day late!  The only stress came when Erik had to re-park the car and found that in order to do so he had to take the car around the block.  It turned into many blocks and 20 minutes later when he finally brought the car into view, where I stood keeping the parking spot.  Meanwhile, I had received all sorts of interesting looks (mostly from groups of guys cruising past with their sports cars and loud music).  They have a lot of one way streets in this, a very pedestrian friendly (but not car friendly) city.

Afterwards, we hiked with our packs over to our hotel to check in.  The room was apparently still not ready yet, even though it was past the initial check-in time, however they said that it would be ready shortly.  For our trouble, they gave us free coffee and hot chocolate drinks while we waited – outside on the patio in sofa seats.  Mmm, it was good hot choco.

We checked into our room in the Hotel du Pont-Vieux, room 18, (I specifically requested this room) and the view was as fairytale perfect – as the guide book had promised!  We had an unobstructed view of the North side of the Chateau Carcassonne.
Carcasonne View

We left our stuff in the room and took off to see the castle.  The most interesting sites that we toured were the ramparts (the inner and outer walls surrounding Carcassonne) and the views from atop the ramparts.  Within the “La Cite” (the mall contained inside the inner wall), there wasn’t much more than a souvenir market catering especially with elderly people’s tastes – trinkets, tapestries, doilies, placemats, pewter castings, medieval stuff, sachets of spices – ad nauseum, all for the geriatric and anachronistic sets. 

There really wasn’t much to do in the interior besides shop for old people trinkets and kitschy plastic swords or, go to eat at a restaurant.  So we decided to do the latter.  We had dinner and tried a regional dish known as casseolet.  It was a rich stew of white beans, sausage, and my favorite – duck.  As Erik liked to say, it sounded a lot like baked beans with ham – minus the ham.  It was heavy but not too much so and good, since we hadn’t had much since breakfast.  And according to Erik, it tasted like baked beans.  Well put. 

We left “La Cite” after dinner, and headed back to our room, where our enchanted view awaited us.  And we spent the rest of the evening, enjoying the view and each other’s company.  (Nudge-nudge-Wink-wink.  Know-what-I-mean?  Know-what-I-mean?   Say-no-more.  Say-no-more.)
Carcasonne at Night

May 19, 2006 (A)

We made sure to arrive at the train station extra early so that we would be prepared, in case any trouble with our tickets were to arise.  I spoke the lady at the cashier window to figure out our seating arrangement and ended up paying an extra 36 Euros, without really getting much more additional information on seating.  As it turned out, we found that the seating on our train was pretty sparse in 1st class so we needn’t have worried. 

Again we arrived at our destination, this time city of Cahors, around lunch time. This meant that we had to wait until 2pm for everything to reopen – including the car rental.  We went to look for local Hertz branch anyways since it was supposed to be near the train station and found a sign saying that it had moved.  They’d written down their new address but hadn’t bothered to put up a map, and our map of downtown Cahors didn’t list the street that it was on. 

So we had a new quest to locate the Hertz office.  (Car rentals are a pain, did I mention that yet?)  Everyone we asked – the train station, the tourist info desk, et cetera wasn’t familiar with the street that it was on, and kept referring us back to the old address.

Finally we narrowed down its location to be somewhere near our hotel.  Tired, and weighed down with packs, we decided to check into our hotel first.  Our room was a standard room on the 1st floor, with a water front view of the River Lot.  Okay view.  Then we picked up our search again for the local Hertz – which the hotel folks so helpfully pointed us toward.  Four hours after our arrival in Cahors, we finally picked up our car for the second leg of the trip.  It was a peppy little Diesel Renault with 60 miles to the gallon – you won’t see that in the U.S., not even in those trendy little Prius cars.

May 20, 2006 (A)

Early in the morning, after checking out of the hotel, we walked into town to explore an old stone bridge and to buy some groceries.
Bridge of Cahors

One of the main reasons for coming to this region, at least for me, was to see prehistoric cave art – art harkening back to the time of the Cro-Magnon.  Today, I got to have my first taste!

Grotte de Peche Merle
There were of course, no pictures allowed.  This cave was discovered in the 1940’s by two teenage boys.  The works were in good shape, and the tour was really a neat experience.  I would have to say the prize pieces in my opinion were the horse paintings, the cave pearls, and the extremely rare (one-of-a-kind) cave top.  Cave pearls are formed when a small piece of substrate falls into a small pool of spinning super-saturated water, where the spinning is maintained by the dripping of water from above.  It is speculated that the cave top was formed in a manner similar, but slightly eccentric to the way in which the cave pearls themselves were formed.

Next we drove out toward Grolejac, where our next lodging was located.  It was mid-afternoon and just starting to rain when we pulled into the driveway of, La Cachette (www.bbfrance.com/mills.html) (our next B&B).  Our room had a beautiful view over a green tree covered valley.  And to my delight, it had one of the fine marks of a good B&B – the absence of a television!

After settling into our room, our gracious hosts (Marion & John) gave us tea and we spent the afternoon having tea and a lovely chat with the both of them.  Around early evening, their other two guests, John and Karen, returned to the house and joined in the conversation.  Upon Marion and John’s suggestion, we decided on making dinner reservations for that evening and the one following. 

The place we were to go to for the evening was called Le Joaonnet (www.bbfrance.com/holleis.html).  It was yet another B&B (aka Chambre d’Hote), run by a professional Austrian chef named Konrad and his gracious wife Elizabeth.  They had been hosting a full house, housing a full party of good friends vacationing together for the week, and the other guests of La Cachette were part of the group as well (overflow, if you will). 

We arrived at Le Joaonnet early for drinks.  It’s hard to describe the wonderful feeling that I got upon entering their house.  Amazing, beautiful, warm – almost like a homecoming to a home that I never new that I missed.  Those are the words that come most easily to mind.  The stone work and the old timbers!  There books on a bookshelf by a fire place, the tiny stained glass windows in the second story roof, and a staircase leading up to the balcony that lead to the upstairs rooms.  I was told that the building used to be used as a barn.  It was like an idyllic home setting, like returning to the home you always wanted to come home to – it spoke of family, and gathering and warmth and welcome.   

The friends whom we were joining were all very welcoming despite our being strangers, all were about our parents’ age, all retired professionals.  Most of them knew Konrad and Elizabeth from Guernsey (an island in the English Channel), having had returned annually to Le Joaonnet over the past 12 years.  It was our first time in a Table d’Hote.  The food was amazing, simple, very little sauce, but made absolutely to perfection.  The portions were just right, so that even though it was 5 courses, one was not overly full.  Aperitif.  Asparagus soup – not so salty, and not your average run-of-the-mill cream of asparagus either (asparagus slices served with a puree of asparagus soup).  Tomato salad (all the tomatoes were peeled of their skins).  Green salad.  Lamb, with zucchini and potatoes – perfection.  Tea.  Cheese sampler. Dessert of fresh strawberries, with a little bit of sauce.  All the dishes were classic, well presented, and health conscious works of art – and work intensive, I might add.  The meal itself was very well paced, and best of all there was plenty of easy, lively conversation.  It turned out to be much more than just a dinner amounting to 25 Euros each, it was a party and we were made to feel like guests, friends even!  And the coolest part (I’ve been told that this is commonly done with Table d’Hotes) was that Konrad and Elizabeth sat at the dinner table and supped with us.

At some point in the conversations, we even figured out that I had tried to get reservations at Konrad and Elizabeth’s, previous to reserving with La Cachette.  But since they were full, we ended up at La Cachette.  They had been the ones who had recommended La Cachette to us.  Somehow, as fates would have it, we ended up at their table any way!

It was past 12:30 when we climbed up the stairs to our room, back at La Cachette, after a perfect evening spent with new found friends.

May 21, 2006 (A)

In the morning, John and Marion served up a wonderful breakfast.

Afterwards, we went to Domme, to the tourist center and picked up brochures. 

I called a canoe rental company to find out about rental arrangements.  And by 12:30 we were on the water, and paddling down the river Dordogne.  It was a short and sweet 2 hour long paddle.  We saw a few chateaus along the way, and gazed at the picturesque Roque de Gageac, a city perched on the water and set into the stone cliff-side.  I thought we really had best view, being outside of the city and on the water.  It was sunny when we landed our canoe, and so we bought popsicles and waited to be picked up. 
Roque de Gageac


Back at Domme we explored the city and then found a nice park and park bench and Erik took a snooze with his head on my lap.

We returned to La Cachette for some tea and biscuits.  I did some yoga and then it was time to catch our dinner reservations at the Relais de Touron.  The food was nicely presented, if a bit salty.  But the service was excellent.  After American style service (rabid and overly hovering) and French style service (hard to get a hold of, bordering on negligent) she was absolutely timely.

May 22, 2006 (A)

After another wonderful breakfast served by Marion and John, we packed up the car, and said our goodbyes – wishing that we didn’t have to leave the beautiful view and the wonderful folks that we had met during our stay.

Then we headed out to Rocamadour, following a different route than was indicated by the road signs (Marion’s directions), so that we could drive into the valley and get a view straight across the way on level with the village.  The village itself was built into the rock cliff, and was quite a site to behold from afar.

After parking we walked up, briefly glimpsed at the tourist shops and headed to the upper levels.    We walked through the corridors (and stairs) of the village church which was famous for its miraculous black virgin Mary.  The church was a stopping point for many a catholic pilgrim because of this statue.  Then we found a zig zagging path (and stairs) up to the top of the village – which had little alters at end of each switch back, each with its own station of the cross (a Catholicism thing).  There was a nice mini-park on a terrace of grass, so we paused there for lunch before finishing our ascent to the top.
Stairs...  Many Stairs.

Next, we headed out to find “Le Gouffre de Padirac” (the Padirac Chasm).  We found it, having arrived 20 minutes before they would reopen (2 hour lunch breaks, you know).  So we waited.  When it finally opened, and Erik had purchased the tickets, we took the stairs all the way to the bottom and then through the dimly lit passage way to meet our little boats and our guides.  One third of the tour was spent on the water in little 11 person boats (like Venice in a cave), with the tour guide giving us information in French.  Then we landed and walked through the caverns, glimpsing huge galleries, columns, strange shapes reminiscent of mushrooms, broccoli, medusa, and other oddities.  There were also terraced pools filled with crystal clear water, the formations of which reminded me a lot of Mammoth Hot Springs (in Yellowstone Park).  The biggest shame was that no pictures were allowed.
Gouffre de Padirac Entry

Then we drove to find our next accommodation – just outside of the town of Sergeac.  It was a hotel that had been passed through 5 generations of the same French family that possessed it currently.  Conveniently, they also had a restaurant – which is where ended up having dinner for the next couple of nights.

May 23, 2006 (A)

Another cool cave and some really cool raptors.

Grotte de Font Gaume:
I had read high praises for the artwork in this cave, the discovery of which was made by two teens in 1901.  Of course no pictures were allowed. 

Chateau Milandes:
I mainly wanted to go just to see the Falconry demonstration.   I’m just nuts about birds – particularly pscittacines and raptors.  (Oh, happy!)  But they also had a museum on Josephine Baker – a famous cabaret artist and singer of the 1930’s and 40’s.  The museum was kind of interesting, in sort of a sad and melancholy way. 

The falconry demonstration was really cool!  The best part would have to have been with the part with the owl and the part where I got to feed one of the falcons!  (And just think in the States, I would have had to sign all manner of waivers in order to be able to see such a thing – not in France!)  The falcon felt very light on my gloved hand, and it was of course – so very magical for me.  When it came time for the owl demonstration, it had landed on a perch above and next to us and we hadn’t even noticed until one of the trainers directed our attention to it.  It was that quiet.  What a beautiful and powerful creature!  The bald eagle was large and unwieldy in comparison to the other birds.  It wasn’t very good at spot landing and it seemed reluctant to take off of the falconer’s glove and would hold-on even as the trainers would try to toss it up into the air to take off. 
Amy with Bird

My hand stank afterwards from wearing the falconer’s glove, but I was too happy and enamored to care.

May 24, 2006 (A)

Yet another cool Grotte (aka cave)!

Lascaux II
Lascaux II is a man-made reproduction (down to the last scaffolding hole in the cave floor) of Lascaux I, a cave with a legendary collection of stunning well preserved cave art, which has sustained much degradation and fading of its paintings over the course of its many years in exhibition.  Lascaux I is no longer open to the public, because of damage.  They were cool reproductions, but one couldn’t help but be reminded of the fact that they were reproductions. 

Then of course, there was our charming tour group.  Among us were a couple of insipid elderly American tourist women who perked up at the mention of codes and sacred drawings.  And they just had to ask questions about if the cave art symbols had encoded meanings, “you know, like the DaVinci code”.  *Cringe*.  Another of the American women asked if “you people” were finding new meanings to these codes (one of the most divisive expressions to use, in my mind – “you people” as opposed to “us people”).  Yet a third American woman very doggedly and repeatedly asked “well how do you know FOR SURE that these caves were secret?”  Like DUDE lady – he’s just a freak’n guide, for Christ’s sake. 

Annoyances aside, the highlight of the tour was the Salle des Tauraux (the Great Hall of the Bulls).  It made me think of a really cool bedroom ceiling – all of the décor was really high up and huge with many bulls, some horses, and other figures.  It was speculated the Cro-Magnon artists used scaffolding in order to put them within brush-stroke’s reach of the ceiling.  Man-made holes in the cave floor seemed to support the scaffolding theory.

In the afternoon, we drove out to see “les Jardins de Marqueyssac” (the Marqueyssac Gardens).  Its location on the edge of a high hillside afforded pretty panoramic views of the Perigord Valley.  Standing on some of the South facing terraces we could trace the route which we had paddled on the Dordogne a few days previous.  There were plenty of trails on the moderately large grounds of the Marqueyssac, and we explored a fair number of them, stopping along the way to explore some stone huts which were made entirely of stacked stones – including the peaked conical roofs.  I had originally been drawn to this place by the lovely photos of its topiaries and I was not disappointed.  Topiaries are, as I like to say, nature the way nature should be intended – nice and orderly in all sorts of neat orderly shapes – and sans doggie doo.

Pigeon House


May 25, 2006 (A)

We checked out of our hotel in Sergeac in the morning and drove to Perigueux where we were scheduled to take the train on the day following.  I had booked a hotel close to the train station, and all was going smoothly.  The Hertz car rental place, where we were supposed to return our car, was even within sight of the hotel.  We checked into our hotel without a hitch.

Then came the snag in our plans – the Hertz was closed.  Not just for lunch, but for the entire day.  And Hertz France does not do key drop-boxes.  When we found the Hertz and noticed that it was closed, we went over to the train station and inquired there.  That’s how we found out that today was a fete day – a festival day, or national holiday.  Gee wouldn’t it have been nice for the folks at the initial rental place to have let us know that they were scheduling us to return the car on a day of citywide business closure?  I called the number on the Hertz website for France.  It happened to be a US 1-800 number, and so I talked to someone at the Hertz headquarters.  And low and behold – they had no idea that their Perigueux-France office was even closed.  And by the way, she wouldn’t be able to help me anyway.  It just so happens that in Hertz had a brilliant database that prevented her from accessing my reservation/account once the car was actually rented.  Hertz sucks big hairy donkey balls.  Down with Hertz.

It was a good thing that I had given our return schedule plenty of padding and that tomorrow (with any luck) the Hertz should be open.  We should have one-and-a-half hours before our train leaves, to return the car.

It was cloudy most of the day, so we just walked around town, found lunch, and went back to our hotel room to watch some French cartoons and movies.

May 26, 2006 (A)

This morning we returned the car without a snag and caught the train to Paris Gare d’Austerlitz.  We arrived by early afternoon, got some lunch and walked along the Seine, searching for the painter that we had come across during our first week (so long ago) in Paris.  Erik wanted to buy me one of his colorful paintings of the Seine riverside, which I had admired so much.  Unfortunately we only found other artists peddling paintings and every one of them seemed to be selling the same paintings.  We noticed this and then realized that it was probably more profitable for them to peddle prints represented as their own paintings, rather than sell originals.
Last night in Paris

Late in the afternoon we caught the train again to get to the airport, where we could catch a shuttle to get to our hotel.  We had a fair bit of trouble with incompetence at the front desk of the hotel which resulted in a 1.5 hour wait for the airport shuttle to get to the hotel (which was a 10 minute drive away).  Then there was the check in.  Incompetence, I believe that would be a euphemism.  I don’t really care to go to another Comfort Inn hotel ever again.

May 27, 2006 (A)

After 20 plus hours in transit, we arrived safe and sound and well-fed in Seattle, sans luggage, which was on hold in London-Heathrow airport.  We had had a really tight connection between debarking the first plane and catching the second one and I guess our luggage had been slower than we ourselves (running) were.  But we expected the luggage on the next day.  And still I would highly recommend flying British Airways:  roomy seats, nice food, lots of movies, and a happy crew.
Breakup in Baffin Bay

May 28, 2006 (A)

I’m already missing France.  Saying bonjour, pardon, and merci – I was really getting used to using my broken French.  And I miss their small cars, and friendly people, but not the doggy doo. 

I definitely don’t miss their weird street sign system, to sum it up, it’s more of a destination based system rather than a street name based system.  So when one is at an intersection, there might be, like 40% of the time, a sign indicating what street you are on, but it will be very small.  Instead of prominent street name signs, one would find signs, pointing in each of the possible street directions, listing what is in that direction.  So it all works out if you know where you are to begin with, and where your destination point is in with respect to the nearest city (or within town – the nearest town landmark).  If you need to find out your current street name in the hurry, best of luck, you ARE in France after all.

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