October 31st

    The group played bridge this morning at the second house, and then headed to Piriac for lunch. After lunch we did a bit of sightseeing on the roads between Piriac and Le Pouliguen before settling in for the conclusion of our bridge game, dinner, and our trophy presentation. Nicole assembled for us a wonderful last supper from leftovers from the previous dinners.

    Fernando (1st place), Denys (last place), Sandi (2nd place), receive their awards from Mistress of Ceremonies Carol Silva
    Fernando (1st place), Denys (last place), and Sandi (2nd place), receive their awards from Mistress of Ceremonies Carol Silva

    The winner of our bridge contest was Fernando. Sandi was in second place, and Denys earned the opportunity to spend the next three months studying “the book”. Congratulations to all of our competitors and kibitzers.  We hope to see those who could not make it to Le Pouliguen at our next event in Atlanta on January 31st, 2015.

    October 30th

    I am greeting the sunrise this morning. Our veranda’s view faces east across the bay toward the mainland. The sun has not yet broken through but four contrails in the distance are a brilliant pink, foretelling a nice sunrise.

    Denys, Fernando, and I went for a bike ride this afternoon while the girls and Eddie went shopping in La Baule. We rode a six mile route that took us along the oceanside close to our houses, through the harbor, and through the town of Le Pouliguen. Lots of bicyclists were out enjoying the sunny fall day. The terrain around Le Pouliguen is flat, making our ride quite easy.

    October 29th

    Skies this morning are beautiful and blue – boding well for our drive up the coast to Le Pouliguen today.

    We had a delightful breakfast with other guests staying at the B&B this morning, particularly a couple from Belgium who spoke English comfortably. The husband works for a chemical company and the wife is a high school French teacher. We had a good time comparing education approaches between Belgium and the US with them.

    The B&B was a real sleeper. The exterior was not inviting at all. I was ready to pass on it before Jan went inside and gave it her approval. The interior was nicely done and the host was very friendly and helpful. Breakfast was great, and the B&B was located a few minutes from the tram that took us into the Old City.

    We were the last of the group to arrive in Le Pouliguen. The Williamsons, Raders, and Armisteads gathered on Saturday and the Silvas arrived yesterday. The Williamsons are hosting the gathering and arranged for two houses to accommodate the group. One is a bed and breakfast run by Nicole’s cousin and the other is an oceanside private residence owned by a classmate of Nicole’s. Both are beautiful. We are currently staying in the oceanside home with the Williamsons. Our second floor east facing bedroom overlooks the ocean and has a private veranda that we will use in the morning to watch the sunrise. Life is difficult here in France.

    October 28th

    We arrived in Bordeaux today. It was a rainy day, but it cleared enough for us to catch a tram into Old Town for dinner.

    Bordeaux is an interesting diverse city. Lots of students were on the streets tonight. The streets in old town are interesting – no cars allowed that we could see, only the trams. The streets have been tiled and are now wide pedestrian walkways. The shops along the streets are very modern, not unlike what you would see on Fifth Ave in NYC, well lit, and filled with the latest styles.

    October 27th

    Daylight savings time ended in France at 2:00 AM this morning. I neglected to reset my watch and have been an hour off all day. Mom prefers to remind me that I have been a bit off since she first met me.

    Today is our last full day in Sarlat, so we will wrap up a few loose ends that we wished to see while here. First is the Gardens of Marqueyssac. The Gardens are associated with a Chateau, but the real attractions are the gardens and their view of the surrounding countryside. The gardens are perched on the top of a several hundred meter high hill alongside the Dordogne River, the major river flowing through the Dordogne Valley. The garden’s walking paths offer great views of the river and a number of magnificent chateaus on nearby hilltops (one of which is our second destination this afternoon.)

    During our walk we ran into Richard and Sally from Nottingham England for the second day on a row. They are a delightful couple we met yesterday at Maison Forte de Reignac. We had a nice chat with them there and we continued our chats today as we strolled along the paths at the Gardens of Marqueyssac. It turns out that Richard and I have a lot in common with our work in the IT industry.

    Chateau de Castelnaud was our last destination today. The chateau was initially built in the 1200s and after falling into disrepair has been repaired and opened to the public. As with the Gardens of Marqueyssac, in our opinion it’s main claim to fame is its views of the Dordogne River and Valley and the other chateaus in the area. The climbs up the Chateau’s steps were a bit much for Jan, so we limited our visit to the lower areas of the Chateau. Even with this limitation, our visit was thought provoking. In addition to their exhibits of daily life in a chateau of that era, the chateau offered an extensive display of armaments used in the 13th – 16th centuries and videos characterizing the evolution of chateau or castle design as the tools of war evolved over the same time frame.

    October 26th

    Saturday is open air market day in Sarlat. We walked around town amongst the market vendors. Jan made a few purchases. The scene is not unlike a market day in the US with many small vendors exhibiting their wares under small shelters. The main difference is that the main streets of the town are turned into pedestrian walkways with vendor shelters along both sides of the streets. We stopped for a coffee in one of the squares and watched several larger vendors break down their displays of food products. There must not be a French FDA as food handling was quite casual and cooked chickens etc appear to be transported unrefrigerated. We have noticed this elsewhere in France as well.

    During the afternoon we took one of our signature cross country rides (via GPS guidance over shortest route with unhurried pace) to a close by area (20km) with several cliff dwellings. We did not know what to expect at our destination, but the countryside we rode through was beautiful. It was similar to the mountains of north Georgia. We drove through many small isolated communities of a half dozen buildings or so and assumed they were family farms. At each enclave the grounds were neat and well groomed, and the buildings were generally well maintained. Fields were neatly tilled as if in preparation for next spring’s crops. The main exception was fields of sunflower plants. Dead plants were left on the fields with flower heads intact. We assume this is to allow the seeds to dry before they are harvested. The sunflower fields must be beautiful when the plants are in full bloom.

    Roque Sainte Christophe Fort et Cite Troglodytiques

    A cliff face that has allegedly been occupied for over 55,000 years. We could not get close to the cliff face as they were in the process of filming some sort of documentary. It was easy to see why the cliff location was picked by early residents of the area. The cliff offered shelter and defense and the nearby Vezere River provided water.

    Maison Forte de Reignac

    A fort and residence built into sheltered areas in a cliff face. It has allegedly been occupied for over 15,000 years. I entered expecting a hokey exhibit similar to Rock City in Chattanooga but was pleasantly surprised to find a well done and thought provoking exhibit of life as it must have been over the centuries at this location. We enjoyed our trek through it.

    Vezere River and Valley

    The Vézère is a 211 km long river in southwestern France. It is an important tributary to the Dordogne River. Its source is in the northwestern part of the elevated plateau known as the Massif Central. It flows to the southwest.

    The Vézère Valley is famed for its prehistoric cave systems, containing numerous cave paintings and hominid remains. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) collectively designated these a World Heritage Site in 1979.

    October 25th – Mom’s Birthday!

    Today we drove from Rocamadour to Satlat du Caneda, a distance of around 50km. On the was we toured the Grotte des Merveille in Rocamadour as described in yesterday’s post.

    We shopped for a few essentials at a Carrefour retail store in Sarlat. The store was similar to a Super WalMart with a full line of merchandise including soft goods, hard goods, and groceries. We attempted to buy fuel there but their pumps were unattended and their card reader could not understand that our Visa card was a credit card and not a debit card. So much for the RF chip equipped credit card we ordered especially for pumps like this one.

    We had a wonderful birthday dinner at Le Bistro de l’Octroi in Sarlat. Food was excellent and the service was top notch. Clientele were all locals except for us. The restaurant was recommended by our hotel – a good sign as we are staying at this hotel for three nights. I think we got Mom’s 39th year off to a good start.

    October 24th

    One of my favorite sayings is “sometimes even blind pigs find acorns”. I now know how they feel when they find one.

    Our overnight location tonight – Rocamadour – was picked purely due to its geographic position. It is a comfortable four hour drive from Creissels and on a line from Creissels and our Dordogne Region destination Sarlat-la-Caneda which I had already picked. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking into the town itself. I expected us to hit town, get a good night’s sleep, and hit the road early. The hotel’s rating was on the low side, which worried me, but it’s location trumped the rating.

    It turned out that the town of Rocamadour was the “wow” moment of the trip to date. Our first view of it was a glimpse of what appeared to be a hill town sculpted in relief into the side of a cliff face. As we got closer it turned into a town, and our GPS took us up its winding approach road and through one of its (very) narrow town portals (close-our-car-mirrors narrow a la our earlier experience with Tony and Diane in Cetona). Jan had a worried look on her face and I wasn’t sure what was in store but we trusted our GPS and headed down the two donkey wide road. She (the GPS) stopped us at a three donkey wide spot in the road and said “you are at your destination”. Now what? We spotted the hotel and Jan guided me off the road as far as possible so we could unload the bags and I could carry them up to our third floor room (no elevator, hence the hotel’s rating). Parking at the hotel was not prudent if we wanted an unscathed rental car, so I drove it down to the parking lot in the valley below, then hiked back up to the hotel. By the time I rejoined Jan I felt like I had hiked Mt LeConte again!

    The rest of our evening was very nice. We had a nice glass of local red wine at the hotel and then walked about the town looking into store windows (Jan) and exploring interesting nooks and crannies (me). We found a casual brasserie for dinner, and ate at a patio table that overlooked the valley below and the Church of Santa Maria a hundred meters above.

    But wait, as TV pitchman Billy Mays used to say in his infomercials, there is more!! This morning on our way to Sarlat la Caneda we visited the Grotte des Merveilles, a cave close to Rocamadour which contains a number of cave drawings made by cro-magnon residents of the area 25,000 years ago. Mom and I joined a tour (in French with English subtitles) of the cave and learned lots about caves in general and the art of early man. It was fascinating. Photos were not allowed, but we will carry the mental images with us for years.

    October 23rd

    Aix is a beautiful city worthy of being on any European itinerary. Another day here would be nice but it is time to move on to our next destination Creissels. Our accommodations there are in a 12th century castle. Mom hopes they have updated plumbing.

    Our drive through the Cevennes National Park and the Cevennes Mountains was the highlight of our day. The scenery reminded us of the US western high plains with its mixture of rocky terrain and smaller trees, only much lusher.

    We got into an argument with our GPS – she wanted us to take a side road that was not wide enough for two cars to pass (actually I made a wrong turn and she tried to make me look manly by quickly adjusting her route to reflect my error) but Jan put her foot down so we retraced our steps and continued on the original route.

    Our lunch stop was at a small restaurant in the outskirts of Quissac.

    We stayed at Chateau de Creissels which operates in a castle in the beautiful city of Creissels. As was mentioned earlier, the castle was reputedly built in the 12th century. Parts of the castle burned in the 18th century, and the guest rooms – which were quite modern – were built in the section that burned. Dinner was served in what must have been the castle’s wine cellar or cold storage room. The structure was similar to the wine cask storage areas we saw in Multepulciano – it was underground and shaped like a Quonset hut but made of brick. It must have been a challenge to construct as the castle is perched on a stone base.

    While Mom was resting before dinner, my camera and I walked around Creissels in search of interesting shots. We found a number of streams flowing through the city through a combination of natural stream beds and waterfalls interspersed with small stone aqueducts. I asked the hotel staff about the aqueducts and was told they were constructed in the 8th century. They were quite nonchalant about it, similar to us telling someone about a house in Atlanta built in the ’30s.

    The cliffs around Creissels and Millau seem to have quite an active community of paragliders. Two or three cliffs were in regular use during my walk, and at one point I could see four paragliders soaring around one of the cliffs.

    The Millau Viaduct, located within view from our hotel, is a beautiful modern suspension bridge. Each of its six plus support towers is taller than the Eiffel Tower. The bridge was built in the past ten years, and Mom and I suspect that it’s construction and the influx of construction crews and technology may have contributed to the city of Millau’s interesting mix of old and new architecture. We really enjoyed walking around Millau before we left town Thursday morning.

    October 22nd

    We spent last night in Marseille, and instead of a second night there, we moved on to Aix-en-Provence this morning. It is early afternoon and we are preparing to leave the hotel and head into Old Town for the afternoon.

    It is evening now and we are back at the hotel resting our feet. We enjoyed a delightful afternoon randomly wandering about the streets of the old city. The entryway into the old city is marked by the Fontaine de la Rotonde, a beautiful fountain built around 1860.

    Fontaine de la Rotonde periodically springs into life.  The fountain is fed by springs under the city of Aix.
    Fontaine de la Rotonde periodically springs into life. The fountain is fed by springs under the city of Aix.

    Other highlights of our walk included Eglise du Saint-Esprit (Church of the Holy Spirit), stops for coffee, and people watching. Aix is a university town full of a diverse population of young people. It was fun watching them interacting with each other and enjoying the mild fall afternoon. Regardless of age, the people here were stylishly dressed. If their styles are predictors of US styles, expect to see short skirts, dressy shorts, and colorful scarves next year.

    Jan taking a break while I take a few photos.
    Jan taking a break while I take a few photos.

    Interestingly enough, we did not see any other US tourists during our walks. I expected to see quite a few as we did in Italy.

    Everyone we have met in Aix has been welcoming and helpful. For example, on our way back to the hotel this afternoon, we stopped for a few moments to consult our map and make sure we were making the right turn. Very shortly a young French couple came up to us and asked if we were lost or needed help.

    Language has not been an issue. Most we have approached know enough English to answer our questions, and if they don’t, the Google Translator iPhone app is our friend. Thank you Google!!

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