Monestary Madness and Pre-Historic Caves

Trip Start Jan 17, 2010
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of France  , Languedoc-Roussillon,
Saturday, March 6, 2010

    St. Guillem le Desert is a gorgeous midevil city tucked away in the hills.  It was founded in 804 by St. Guillem, or William of Gellone, the cousin of Charlemagne, or Charles the Great.  The city is based around a Monastery, which has been there since the town was founded.  During my trip we spent the morning getting a tour around the town and learning about the difficult lives of monks, including prayer something like 8 times a day including 1am & 5am and breakfast at 8am- in silence.  Apparently it was common for well-to-do/ noble families to send their second sons to Monasteries because not only was it giving a gift to the church, they also were giving all their inheritance to their first son so this way they didn't have to worry about the future of their younger son.
    In the afternoon we had a couple of hours to explore the town, and after eating lunch and walking around some other students and I climbed to the top of a hill with ruins on it.  The beginning of the climb had a nice path that traversed the side of the mountain.  Then the path split, with the nice path continuing to farther down the hill, and the other path going through the brush onto a cliff with a sign forbidding the path because it was too dangerous- so I went up the cliff!  After a while the path disappeared and it was more like mountain climbing with a purse than hiking.  Once at the top the view was amazing!  We could see down onto the town as well as the hill/mountain range all around us.  Unfortunately we couldn't spend too long there because we had to get to the bus to head to the caves.
    Our tour of the caves started with a cheesy video about their formation: basically ancient rivers flowed through the mountains carving them out and as the water table moved down streams flowed out of the mountain down into the river.  As the water table moved down even farther the places inside the mountains that used to have these streams dried up and became caves.  Therefore, the caves with the highest elevation were the oldest and had the oldest stalactites and stalagmites which were millions of years old!  In one cavern that was enormous and had beautiful stalactite/stalagmite formations (one even looked like a giant birthday cake- the type people jump out of,) we saw a light show.  It was also pretty cheesy, especially the music, but it did help to point out all of the incredible things in the cavern.
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