[MAD] Mary Ann & Don

Archive for January, 2010

France Days 5 & 6: More Sarlat

Posted by madkingblog on January 17, 2010

We didn’t take a lot of pictures on Thursday, but wow, it was such a cool day. We slept in a bit, probably too long since the hosts had to come knock on our door – we had told them we wanted breakfast so I think that had had it ready for awhile.   While we were eating we saw a group of four (two couples) heading out and didn’t think much of it.  We had also seen another woman staying there the night before.

Later that day, we had a reservation for a tour of the Grotto de Font de Gaume!  A prehistoric cave with drawings, settled by stone age people during the last ice age, about 25,000BC. It’s hard to even comprehend how old these paintings are, most only survived because calcite formed over them preserving them. This is one of the few sites that still has the original drawings. Most sites are now replicas because allowing too many tourists in with body heat and breath deteriorated the originals.  At Font de Gaume there is a team of scientists working to preserve the artwork and the number of people allowed in per day is limited. No pictures were allowed of course but it was wonderful and I can’t believe how insightful it was to see and how much I learned. For some reason, and this is probably just personal, but the most fascinating thing I learned was that the animals were never drawn fighting, but always affectionate (one drawing I remember well was a dear licking another dear’s forehead) or running together, but never any type of violence. When our guide made this point while I was looking at these drawings it gave me a very peaceful feeling and in an instant struck me with many thoughts that completely transformed what had been a stereotype in my mind of the burly brute caveman often portrayed in movies or what have you.  With just this small piece of information and the original evidence in front of me, I instead saw an early human trying to understand the world around them and focusing on the greater things in life… affection, connection, cooperation for a common goal… and expressing themselves through art. Even more, they were skilled artists, the drawings are sophisticated with perspective and shading that give 3 dimensionality and the illusion of movement with torch light. These drawings are from a people so much more complex and aspiring than our modern day portrayal, or the perception of the majority, gives them credit for. These drawings are from a time SO long past that it felt like a true privilege and fortune just to be viewing them, especially the real thing. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, I highly recommend it!

Another cool thing about the tour, was that when we first arrived we realized the entire group (only 8 of us total) were from our B&B, hahaha, the same people we had seen the night before and that morning. We all went our separate ways afterward, and Don and I spend a little bit of time driving and walking around this itty bitty town next to the caves and even tried to make it up to the building in the picture below that was built into the rock wall, but we just couldn’t figure out how to access it, haha, it was strange.

Anyway, we finally made it back to the B&B and decided to go sit in the common area and have some wine we had picked up back in Carcassonne (a Rose made from Shiraz!). Our B&B mates started returning and we drew a crowd in the common area filled boisterous fun conversation full of recommendations and pouring over tour maps and guides! It was loud and awesome.  Two of the couples stayed the longest, opening some wine they had picked up and getting to know us, and we all decided to go to dinner together.  They had a recommendation for a place called Le Petit Manoir.

We had an “apertif” which is basically a liquid appetizer of your favorite alcohol (gotta love Europe!) and this is the first time I’ve ever had a Violet Royal which is a variation on the Kir Royal and as the name suggest, it’s purple.  Don and I continued our adventures in French dining by again ordering without knowing what we would end up with, and once again we were both pleasantly surprised with a delicious dish.

The best thing about  dinner was the company.  We all had a great time sharing our appreciation of the actual “thrones” in the bathroom, commiserated over lack of ability to read the menu, and had an all around great and funny conversation. Russell, Tania, Darell, and Kathy, we had SO MUCH FUN, you guys rock.

Friday we slept late (after all, what are vacations for) and decided to spend a day of leisure around the city. We didn’t want to feel that we missed out on just experiencing this midieval city itself… this captivating step back in time… this is when we got the most pictures of Sarlat.  We took tons, but these are the highlights.

This night, our last night in Sarlat, we had dinner at the Le Quatre Saisons, or in English “The Four Seasons”, and this was definitely an adventure in French dining to remember! This is an expensive pretentious place that gets creative with the food.  For instance, my pork filet came out only partly cooked on wire and a bird’s nest looking contraption which they set on fire with a mini torch to finish cooking at the table.  We had some kind of sauce that came in what looked like test tubes and a straw for drinking. LOL. Oh ya, and the appetizer was served on a wooden plank with holes for long sticks holding foie gras wrapped in cotton candy.  I can’t even remember all the weird stuff they served and I’m sure it all sounds strange but every bit of it tasted phenomenal! We didn’t get any pictures, only a video that I might upload later.

We hit up the Saturday market  before leaving the next day, grabbing some cheese, bread, and marinated olives for the 5 hour drive to the castle we were staying in for a night.  This turned into the eeriest yet funniest experience! So the next blog to come… CRAZY CREEPY CASTLE NIGHT!


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France Day 4: Drive to Sarlat

Posted by madkingblog on January 11, 2010

So much for posting everyday!  At this rate it will take me a month to get through our whole trip. O’well, it’s worth reliving for a month!

Wednesday morning we had breakfast with the british couple at our B&B in Carcassonne again, and had another great long conversation with them. They were really great peeps. They even helped me figure out how to ask our host in French about the post card our friends Michelle and Aaron had left for us when they stayed there a few months before us.  Turns out, the host found the postcard and, not being able to understand English, figured it must have been for her. I guess she threw it away or just doesn’t remember where she put it because she didn’t offer to get it or try to find it or anything, hahaha, I guess she isn’t very sentimental about things the guests leave for her. =)

We finally hit the road for our next destination, the medieval town of Sarlat! We drove through beautiful countryside and winding roads… this day and drive is another one of the reasons we fell in love with southern France.

We were taking pictures of all the churches we came across in an attempt to get a picture of a Church that our friend Michelle missed getting a picture of while she was there but wished she had! These are the three we managed to get below, and we thought for sure the last one was it, but we most likely did not get the right one, we’re not even totally sure we took the same roads! hahaha.

This last church was so awesome we drove closer and took more pictures! It was in ruins and is now dedicated to fallen soldiers of World War II if I remember correctly.

The entire trip to Sarlat was on tiny roads like the one below through gorgeous countryside and small villages that made you want to stop and explore…

We took a recommendation from one of the guidebooks and stopped in Domme on the way.  A hilltop village with gorgeous views. We showed up during their “siesta” time.  Apparently this Spanish tradition spills over into southern France, we couldn’t find anything open between 1 and 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  The town was sooo empty which actually made it kind of fun to run around this village feeling like we were the only people there.

After Domme, we headed back out and finally arrived in Sarlat.  We had to find some parking on a major road that runs sort of “behind” the city and then search out La Lantern with our bags in tow.  We found it down a narrow alleyway and it was work dragging our bags all that way.  It was amazing…right in the heart of the “old city” and our room felt a little bit like heaven.

We settled in that evening and went for dinner at l’Octroi which was recommend by our host and apparently means the “tax collector”.

I guess the building used to be where taxes were collected and paid.  The food was awesome and our first Foie gras. Although now that we’ve educated ourselves on how it’s made (force-feeding ducks and geese) we won’t be having it ever again, which is fine with us because it just wasn’t really our thing.  On average, Europe’s standards for raising animals for food are much better than in the United States, so I think foie gras is an unfortunate exception because it is considered part of their heritage. Anyway, the dinner was really great and we hit the sack after that!

Much more Sarlat to come…

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France Day 3: The Pyrenees and Cathar Castles

Posted by madkingblog on January 5, 2010

Tuesday morning we slept in a bit, had a late breakfast alone and then headed south into the Pyrenees.  The drive was amazing… inspiring beauty mile after mile. We stopped for an espresso in a Brasserie in some tiny little village and it was just awesome to be among and listen to the locals (not that we could understand a word they were saying).  As we drove, we couldn’t get over or stop talking about how wonderful of a drive it was… then… things got crazy.  =)  We were letting the GPS direct us and after a few hours of driving the road just got more and more narrow, then became one narrow lane barely wide enough for our small car, then we found ourselves in the Gorges of Galamus, a “terrifyingly sinuous” single-lane road, overhung with rock, cut into the cliff wall of a 500m gorge.  Harrowing is probably a good word to describe what this stretch of road felt like.  I was driving and we were both praying to not meet oncoming traffic, which we did twice.  We were not taking pictures at this point as we were scared for our lives, but this I found on the internet…

…see that cut out in the cliff wall where the people are standing on the left side of the picture, ya, THAT IS THE ROAD!

Once we made it through this area, I put my hand over my heart and started breathing again. Hahaha, I may be making it sound more dramatic than it was, but seriously, it was TENSE and GORGEOUS! And it left quite an impression on me! The nice side effect was that after that, the one-lane roads we had been driving seemed safe, seriously, for the rest of the trip I wasn’t the least bothered by the narrow oncoming traffic/brush with death roads of southern France.

We continued down into the Pyrenees through the sunshine and trees. We finally found the Cathar castles and amazing mountaintop views! The first castle we found was Puilaurens, but it was closed due to the late season, and we got really worried that all the castles may be closed because of the season.  We still got some great pics of the outside of Puilaurens.

That possibility that all the castles were closed was a real bummer, but we continued on and found Peyrepetuse open and almost devoid of people, which made touring it a great experience!  There were stretches of time we were completely alone in the ruins of this castle. I could say a lot about how amazing this place was and it’s mountain top vistas, but the pictures speak for themselves…

As you can see from the moon out in that last picture, it was almost nightfall by the time we were done with Peyrepertuse so we only got to tour one Cathar castle, but I would find it hard not to believe it was the BEST!  We headed home and had to spend a LOT of time programming the GPS to take as an alternate route… we were not trying to navigate the Gorges de Galamus at night! On the drive back we stopped in one of the small mountain villages at a bakery and got some treats to hold us over until dinner. YUM, French pastries are heaven in your mouth. We made it back to downtown Carcasonne and had dinner at Hotel Terminus.  The food was very French and very good.  It was our first traditional French dinner!  And we called it a day!

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France Days 1&2: Carcassonne

Posted by madkingblog on January 3, 2010

We left the states on Saturday and after three VERY long flights we arrived in Toulouse on Sunday and still had an hour drive to our first B&B in Carcassonne,  Ecuries de Saint-Croix.  It was immediately clear what an awesome find this place is (shoutout to Michelle!). It was down a one lane road that runs right up to the walled city, but far enough down that road to be in the country.  We pulled up to a horse and two country dogs that didn’t mind us at all.  As excited as we were to be there, we hadn’t really slept in more than 24 hous.  We were so tired we went to bed around 5pm, woke up at about 2am and almost immediately went back to bed to sleep through the night.  So we kind of missed our first evening in France but man that sleep felt gooood.

Monday morning we woke up for our first french breakfast, aaahhh and yum.  This is one of the best parts of B&Bs in Europe, they know how to do breakfast.  The bread, the cheese, the croissants, the preserves, the fresh juice, the strong coffee… I could go on!  Our host spoke almost no English… but she made sure we were taken care of.  Shortly into breakfast we were joined by another couple.  Don asked “Do u speak English?” to which the guy replied “We are English”. Haha, nice.  We had such great conversation with them, we must have sat there close to two hours.  Near the end of our conversation we found out they film documentaries. A lot of them in the US.  We are searching for several of them now to watch but the only one we could find so far is Monster Quest which looks like it will be very entertaining. It’s more of a for fun type of documentary. We will be watching soon!

We finally got out and about that day to visit the old walled city, trying to get used to the one lane two way road that we had to take in and out of the B&B. The walled city was very cool but it was actually much smaller than I expected. We took a guided tour that actually started with a self guided walk along the rampart walls.  This offered some great views! Then on the guided tour we learned the history of the city and how it got its name, which means Carcas rings/sings out!  Carcas refers to a woman (who is most likely fictional) who saved the city, in a very unconventional way, and then rang the church bells in celebration.

We had lunch inside the walled city at a cool little pub like place.  Ham and cheese crepes… and they were delicious.  Dinner however, was another matter.  We went to downtown, outside the walled city, so we could find a power converter and have dinner.  We couldn’t figure out though when places opened for dinner since they were all closed! Tired from walking ALL over the place we finally sat down in a pub and had a beer.  After I painstakingly used all the French I know to pull together a sentence to ask what time the restaurants open for dinner, the bartender answered in perfect English, “eight”, haha. We were so hungry, by the time restaurants opened, we just picked the first place we came across, an italian place, and it was quite good.  Not very French, but good.  And then it was good night Carcassonne!

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