Perigord, Loire Valley, Normandy, Paris.
06.10.2015 - 21.10.2015 18 °C
Day. 24 continued.
Airports seem to bring out the worst in people. Courtesy and kindness are left outside the building. Everyone is in a hurry to get through security. No one smiles or engages in any kind of acknowledgment of each other.
Then it is a mad rush to get onto the plane with three oversized carry ons that are then forced into the overhead compartments, only to then sit and wait for the plane to leave.
Upon landing as soon as the plane hits the Tarmac people stand up and jam the aisles with all their carry on to stand and wait a half hour for the doors to open and then push and shove to get to baggage claim to wait another half hour for the rest of their luggage to arrive.
Otherwise nice people turn into nasty, take no prisoners, travellers. Ironically probably more than half these people are going on vacation or visiting loved ones and should be happy.
Sadly I can be part of the above at times as well, so need to be conscious of that.
Toulouse is another big airport but we managed to collect our luggage and pick up our rental car with out any problems.
A little tiny Peugeot will be our transportation in France. Everyone thinks they are Mario Andretti here, and drive like maniacs. The speed limit on the freeway is 130 but most are going faster than that.
I was able to buy a good map of France in the airport so combined with the GPS we should be ok.
Once we got out of the city we programmed the GPS to take some of the smaller roads. Our flight was delayed in Paris so it is already 5PM and a two hour drive to our destination, but it appeared the alternate route only added a half hour.
I re read the email from the manager of the apartment we are renting in Sarlat and see that they close at 6:30PM, no way we will make that. I tried calling and skyping but nothing seemed to work, and finally at 6pm he called me. An arrangement was made to leave a key and he emailed directions how to get into the apartment.
We went through the town of Cahors which was beautiful but a number of roads were under construction. Our GPS kept us going in circles for a half hour until finally we just decided to wing it until she caught up.
We call our GPS she as we have a female voice programmed. Sometimes we imagine a tiny woman inside the GPS typing away on the computer 'map questing' everything. Sometimes she sounds a bit angry when we go off track. " turn around when possible".
After three of four times we expect her to yell :
"what's the a matter with you? turn the f*#% around"!!!!
It was getting late now, so we stopped at a grocery store to pick up something for dinner and breakfast tomorrow as we figured everything would be closed when we got to Sarlat.
On the road again we drive down tiny twisting secondary roads through the county. Around every corner we exclaim OMG OMG. The scenery is amazing. Tiny little towns that are so picturesque.
It's getting dark now though, and these roads don't have lights and include a lot of corners. The speed limit is 90 on these roads, we find 50 fast with all the corners, but locals don't.
We finally got back on a two lane road and arrived in Sarlat at 8PM. We are staying in an apartment inside a walled medieval city so need to park outside the walls, which we do. I have a map that he emailed me, but we are so tired and find it very confusing.
A local man and his wife helped us, we were wandering around in the dark in these narrow alleys with three story stone buildings around us. Street names are on the walls of the buildings, but turns out our street did not have a name plate where we were which is why it took so long, and it was so dam dark.
We finally found it and went into the entrance and up the circular staircase. The building is from around the 17th century. I am told we are on the second floor, but in Europe I forgot that really means the third floor. There is only one apartment per floor, no numbers, and so I kept trying my key in the one on second floor until a man came out and pointed to the floor above.
Oops. Guess that has happened before.
We are so happy to be here, we are so happy to be anywhere we are so bagged. A lovely little one bedroom apartment with kitchen. Slept like a baby.
The view from our apartment:
Looked out our windows and we're thrilled with where we were. Things look so different in the daylight. I see little street sweepers that look like they are made just for these narrow streets, followed by a street cleaner. These tiny cobblestone roads are spotless. It looks like a lot of the buildings are made of limestone and the roofs are some sort of clay or slate.
We had a very leisurely morning, laundry and unpacking and having long cups of coffee, and then went out to walk around and explore. Every corner was a photo op and so amazing. Sarlat is so fantastic, we just love it here.
We came upon the tail end of a morning market and bought some olives and four different kinds of tapenade which are so good. We just wandered the streets taking pictures and drinking in this beautiful little medieval city. We are going to look at hiring a guide for a couple of hours to give us a walking tour and history.
A trip to our travel agent to pay the balance, it ends up costing just under $100 CAD per night which is great. We don't have wifi in our apartment but we can use it at the tourist info or the travel agency. We arranged yesterday to call Taylor on Skype today at 4PM (7AM his time).
We were outside in an alley talking on headphones into my iPad and got strange looks from folks as they passed by. I always feel like a weirdo talking into an IPad, but so good to connect with him.
We could smell a coffee roaster nearby so went in and bought some coffee and then to a bakery for bread and a grocery store for eggs and produce. I love picking up groceries at tiny little shops that specialize in one or two things.
Doug is doing really well with speaking French, and I am fumbling along, speaking Spanish French and English all at once. Most people are very kind however.
Dinner was in a lovely little restaurant and Doug had the special, foie gras ( goose liver pate which is made in this region) duck confit and a bunch of other things, a three course meal. I had a small green salad with goat cheese and walnuts for almost the same price.
Doesn't seem fair somehow.
Day 26, October 8.
Twenty minutes driving from Sarlat we find the hilltop town of Domme, another medieval town. In the area of Dordogne, above the Dordogne river this walled city is from the 13 th century, from the times of the Templars.
We parked the car at the top and wandered around for a few hours. It is the last day for the open market in the town square, tourist season is over and not many of us there today. The weather is very warm and the sun feels great. We bought some beautiful strawberries in the market and Doug found some spiced sausage and I came upon a some fresh goat cheese which complimented our bread and tapenade that we brought with us. We found a picnic table in a park and enjoyed our feast in the warm sun overlooking the valley and river below.
Ten minutes away is the town of Roque Gageac, another town from the time of the Templars. The dwellings look as though they were all once in the cliffs, but now, since the 17 th century, the charming homes and businesses are on the hillside and between the edge of the river and the cliffs behind. It is known as one of the most beautiful towns in France and I have to agree.
The scenery in this area just gets better all the time.
Driving 20 minutes north west this morning we arrived at the small town of Tursac, where we find some UNESCO heritage sites to explore. Here we find cave dwellings that have had inhabitants 20,000 years ago. Over the years they built into the caves according to the time period, seeking refuge from invaders. It is quite fascinating.
I am managing to get my work outs in
There are a number of these in the area, and one has original paintings by some of the first cave dwellers. Unfortunately however that one is closed to the public and a replica is open next to it, which we chose not to visit.
We had been to similar caves in both India and Turkey, but these dated back further than them.
There are a number of buildings built into the rocks on the hillside.
We drove down some small roads exploring the area which we both enjoy doing. I would love to spend a month here and just paint and read, which was actually the original plan but as usual it got out of hand and we added more destinations. Next time.
I am thrilled with where we are staying, but would not choose a walled city for an extended period. It can be quite dark in the apartment with the narrow roads and high walls around you. I would want a garden to sit in for my morning coffee or to do some art. And I would want to be able to ride a bike. I will look into that.
Day 28, Saturday.
Market day in Sarlat meant there were more tourists than usual in the streets. Vendors set up stalls for blocks selling everything from foi gras to tea towels to produce. Doug and I wandered for a couple hours and picked up some groceries from different stalls and then headed back for lunch and a rest.
The young man at the information centre suggested that we rent a smart phone with headsets to have a private audio tour of Sarlat, instead of a live guide. I wish I would have insisted on a real person, as it was quite frustrating for us this way. There was only one smart phone with both headsets plugged into it which meant we had to go at the same pace, something that we are not good at doing.
We did learn a lot about the colourful history of the area however and ended up in nooks and crannies that we probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.
A coffee in the town square to people watch for an hour seemed like the right thing to do, being our last night here. The weather again is just the right temperature.
Back to our room we made some dinner and packed up for our drive north tomorrow to the Loire Valley.
The drive started out on the smaller secondary roads through some small towns and beautiful scenery. At 1:00 we decided to go into the next town and what a stroke of luck that it happend to be Betrome. A lovely little town on the water which is known as the Venice of the Perigord ( this region of France). We wandered around for about an hour to stretch our legs and explore. There is a huge abbey that rings the bells at 1:30pm and they ring and ring for around half an hour. It sounds beautiful.
A small cafe with a tiny courtyard provided a wonderful lunch and coffee to help us get back onto the road for the next part of our journey.
We decided to take a larger road to make better time and ended up arriving in Amboise at exactly 6PM, the agreed upon time.
Mirellle was waiting for us at or home for the next four nights, a cave apartment built into the rocks. It is very charming, she has a great sense of style, and right in the centre of everything we want to do.
A bike ride in the Loire valley was something that was on my list so,we walked to a small bike shop down the road and were outfitted with two 18 speed bikes with baskets. Helmets are optional in France so Doug got one and I didn't. I should have I realized.
The owner did not speak English so we tried to understand his instructions to the bike trail, but spent the next hour asking people and going in circles.
A fellow from the other bike shop came and gave us instructions that we could finally make sense of.
A short ride through the suburbs of Amboise and then we are one bike trail for most of the journey. There are a number of trails here going from town to town and different chateaus. A lot of people do bike tours over a week or more from place to place and you can arrange to have your luggage sent ahead for you.
There are a number of hills at the beginning and the end but we managed them okay and for,the most part no traffic. Vineyards, forests, sunflower fields and small towns are on the route. The weather ranges from warm to cool but overall very pleasant for riding.
We were heading for Chateau chambreaux and ended up going on the road for the last hour to the chateau, which you couldn't see unless you paid to get in. We were tired, hungry and a bit grumpy at this point. We stopped and grabbed a sandwich and headed back. Doug looked at the map and figured we could go,down this riverside path to see the chateau on the other side, so we did. It was a very rough path but voila. There it was in all its splendour. I was so happy.
We marvelled at the site for a bit and then headed back. I thought he said it was around 20K but that was each way. We were so tired, but had to keep going.
About 10K away from Ambrosie, not sure what happens, but my spoke broke, chain came off and it all just broke. I could not move my bike. A lovely young local couple walking their dog and one year old son called the bike shop for us and he came and picked us up. I felt bad for breaking his bike, and he felt bad that his bike broke on me.
So bagged we slept very well tonight.
Our little 'gite' or apartment, is half way between the two main attractions in Amboise, the Chateau Amboise and the Chateau Clos Luce. Today was spent visiting both of these, the first being Clos Luce, the home of Leonardo Da Vinci. King Francis the first invited Leonardo to live here when he was (Leonardo) 64 and he lived here until he died at age 67. The king was a patron of of the arts and there was a tunnel from the chateau to where Leonardo lived so that Francis could come and visit him and have discussions.
It was nice to see an artist who did not die in poverty and was recognized for his genius, as so many of the great artists of the past died penniless.
This was his bedroom
The chateau had many models, small and life size, of the inventions and artwork of DaVinci. The gardens and grounds were beautiful as well
We had lunch at the chateau, trying a French dish of buckwheat crepes, or pancakes. They were quite good.
A rest at home then off to visit the Chateau Amboise. We rented the headsets and learned more about the history and monarchy of France.
We had planned to go biking again today but there was a cold front and the route we wanted to do was in the forest, so we decided against it.
A drive to the town of Blois, about half an hour away and a bit of a walk around for a while, we took in the Church of Saint Nicholas.
On to Chateau Chambord where I said I didn't need to go inside another chateau, but I lied and we did go inside. There was a double staircase which was quite impressive, the pictures don't capture it unfortunately. One goes up and one goes down on the other side. It was designed my DaVinci as well. There were so many spires on this chateau. We enjoyed the drive there and back through the countryside.
Our time in our little cave room in Amboise comes to and end and we spent the first half of our drive north on the main highways. Everyone drives so fast, 130K. They do observe the , only go into the left lane to pass, rule however. I was nervous being around all these trucks going so fast, and then seeing that some of the drivers are texting while doing 130KPH !
We are in our little Peugeot the size of a shopping cart.
I was happy to be on the secondary roads for the second half. We pulled into a picnic area for our premade sandwiches. France has picnic tables and little park like areas quite often on the roadsides.
A turnoff to buy bread and we found ourselves in a beautiful medieval town on the hill. They had a very usual church and the buildings were lovely. This is the town of Domfront and another lucky unplanned find for us.
It is very cold today and a bit windy. I dug out my winter clothes again.
When you buy food it is rarely labelled organic or non GMO. It is just assumed that you know it is pretty much all organic non GMO. The food prices, even with our dollar being so low, are quite good. We prefer cooking ourselves to going to restaurants much as we both find French food quite rich.
I am back on dairy again while travelling, having an egg in the morning and eating yogurt and some cheese. The milk products here are amazing, goat and cows cheese fantastic, fresh and tasty. Some of the cheese is so raw it tastes like a cow smells, if that makes any sense. And the yogurt......think Greek yogurt only better.
The smaller roads are so lovely with the rolling hills, fields of patchwork colours of the freshly plowed brown earth of the fields, bright yellow crops of mustard, corn waiting to be harvested, and various shades of green winter plantings.
Our stop for the next couple of nights is Port en Bessin, on the northwest coast of France. We are on Omaha Beach and very close to Juno Beach. This is Dougs part of the trip as his father and uncle were in WW2
For something different we booked into a camping resort where they rent out mobile homes. It is a lovely resort, very well maintained and quite big. There only seem to be a couple of people here however, being off season. The restaurant was quite good and we enjoyed our meal before heading to bed.
Well I guess this was not the place I thought it was going to be. In Norway we stayed in " camping places" and could rent towels and sheets upon arrival. I put in a request with the booking here but it ended up that we only got sheets. Turns out they don't have towels or dish cloths or dish soap . You are expected to bring everything. They gave us a paper towel type bath mat and we will adapt and use one of those each for towels.
It all adds to the adventure.
As I mentioned, this was Doug's part of the Journey in France and last night he looked at the map and realized that we were no where near Vimy Ridge. Well I have a lot to say about that but will keep my mouth shut for now.
Last minute scrambling to change things, Doug said he would pay the difference in costs but it turned out that it saved us money in the end. Hmmmm. That's a good thing. Right?
Most of the day was spent at the Juno Beach Memorial Centre, located a half hour from where we are staying. We are on Omaha Beach, but of course wanted to see the Canadian site.
It was one of the best memorial sites relating to Canada's involvement in the Second World War that we have seen. A lot of emphasis was also on the effect the war had on the people living here in Normandy as well. It was not a big museum but packed full of first class information and exhibits. There were two short movies as well which were very moving.
We walked the beach and today was a cold windy blustery day which made the experience even more real. All of those boys as young as 17 and 18 landing on this beach, most of whom were killed right away.
A very touching and thought provoking day
There were a number of young university students working there, from all over Canada. They sign up for a 7 month posting and say that it is a fabulous experience and opportunity for them.
On the way back we stopped at the Tapestry museum in Bayeux. I did not know what to expect but was quite amazed by this exhibit. It is a hand embroidered tapestry, about two feet high and 270 feet long. It was made to tell the story of the battle of Hastings, or war of 1066, and as most were illiterate at the time they told it in pictures. Admission included a headset which explained each set of pictures which were numbered. Bayeux looks like an interesting town, but we must move on tomorrow.
A day driving north to Vimy today. We stayed on the main roads to make better time, but France has a lot of toll booths on the main roads. We paid around $50 in tolls today. If you just want to get from point a to point b it is a lot faster, but will cost you. I agree with this system however, a user pay instead of just on taxes. We prefer the back roads but time was an issue today.
We arrived just before the guided tour at 3PM which was great timing. A lovely young university student from Alberta gave Doug a copy of his grandfathers enlistment papers from the first world war.
She then took us on a tour in the tunnels, 9 meters under the ground. There were around 20 of us on the English tour, Canadians and English tourists. It was so interesting. I learned so much about the First World War.
The Canadian trenches are only 50 meters from the German ones. The German look outs are far more protected the Canadian ones. Unlike what they portray in the movies the trenches are not straight but curved, which was better for their security
The land around is all hilly with big craters that were from all the shell blasting . There are still unexploded mines and tunnels that may be dangerous so the grassy area is all roped off from people. Only sheep graze there now.
We then drove to the the Vimy memorial which is very impressive. It is huge and the sculptures are amazing. All the names of the Canadian soldiers who died or went missing at Vimy are etched in the stone work
Travel day again today. We left at 830Am and made our way to the airport in Paris to drop off our rental car, which went with out a hitch. We then took the train downtown and then to our rented apartment. We have a two bedroom apartment in the Bastille area that we found on Airbnb and it is great.
Lana and Cheryl's arrived from Iceland a few hours later, we spent time catching up and then went out for dinner at a pub close by and bought groceries for tomorrow's breakfast.
Paris. The hop on hop off bus was a great way to spend the morning. We went on the top deck, managed to snag the front seats and do the entire route without getting off, just getting a great overview of the city.
At 1:30PM we went to the Louve with our pre bought tickets. This was the only time we could get as everything else was already sold out.
After a quick bite to eat we started to explore, but ended up going on our own as we travel at different speeds.
I was in heaven at the Dutch masters painting exhibits. Some the paintings are so huge.
I made my way over to the Mona Lisa, and it was a so crazy crowded. People were pushing and shoving it was insane. I thought watching the people almost more interesting than the Mona Lisa.
We had agreed to meet at 5:30PM in the cafe, but I was done by 4:15PM, and Lana was there too. We were both overwhelmed by the crowds and ready to head out.
We took a a cab home and had planned to go out tonight but ended up just eating dinner at home.
There is a big police presence here, but there always has been if I remember correctly. Young men and women in full padded gear, a few guns and holding machine guns patrol the streets. They are friendly, I have said Bonjour and. asked directions etc and always met with a pleasant response.
Advance tickets were bought for the d'orsay museum to avoid the lines, but we still had to wait 45 minutes in line anyhow. A very busy museum once again but some amazing paintings and scuptures. The lighting was much better than the Louve and some of the pictures just popped off the canvas. It always amazes me to go to some of these museums and see original Cezanne, Degas, Monets just to name a few.
The top floor had displays of modern furniture which was interesting.
We only allowed ourselves 2 hours here as we had other things to do, and then hopped back on the hop on hop off for another go around.
Trocodero was our first stop to have a photo op in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was a zoo again, I can't imagine what it must be like in the summer.
There are many young black men from Senegal selling trinkets of the Eiffel Tower and such at all the tourist spots. It was the same in Venice where they sold knock off purses. I feel so sad for these guys, I have read that they are brought over with a promise of a better life, only to be practically a slave to sell these items to pay off thier debt. Like what happens to young girls but for other purposes.
I bought a selfie stick from one just so I could talk to him and help him out. He has been in Paris for eight years. Doug asked how he liked it and he looked sad and said " it's hard here"
We got back on the bus and got off at Notre Dame just to take a look and snap a few pictures. We were all pretty much done by now so grabbed a cab home.
Dinner, packing, finishing this blog and then ready to fly to Israel, Tel Aviv, tomorrow.
My impressions of France. Loved it!!! I can see why people spend time here and buy second homes. Not Paris so much for me, I prefer the small villages. The southern part was my favourite area. I can see myself coming back to spend more time if the universe allows. We shall see. But for now, another adventure awaits!!