Dordogne and The Lot - France

Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
Trip End Jul 01, 2008

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Friday 4 April - Saying goodbye to Dublin. 
We had packed, sorted, cleaned, vacuumed, sorted and packed some more over the last few days.  Today we finished the vacuuming, emptied the catcher, put the vacuum in the cupboard locked the door and left.  Then I got nostalgic. But it didn't last long. For the past two years we had called Dublin home. 
We got caught in traffic on the way to the estate agents.  The estate agents office where we were supposed to drop off the keys was closed so I had to wait and go to the office next door.  Then we got caught in even more traffic. 
Despite reassurances that the way to the rental car place was known, we went the long way round all the time saying "there must be a service station around here somewhere."  But there wasn't, not from the centre of the city to the airport.  There is of course one right next door to the rental car place but knowing that would have taken all the stress out of the day.
We found the car rental office but by this time we should have been checking in.  We then missed the shuttle bus and had to wait another 15 minutes for it to come back.
We entered the Aer Lingus check in area to an announcement of "would the last passengers with reservations on the Aer Lingus flight to Bordeaux proceed to the check in counter."  Danny went up and said "arrhh, I think that might be us."  The check in lady gave us a suffering look, made a call to check that she could still send bags through and proceeded with the paper work.  My bag was 21 and Danny's was 27 kilograms.  She asked what other bags we had and then scowled at us. She said that she should charge us but she was prepared to consider this a warning for us and next time we would be charged.
Danny was very pleased as he did not think it would be 27 kilograms.  He had repeatedly told me that 'it would be fine.  It won't be a problem.  It'll fit.  It will be under."  So we got away with it and Danny was then able to claim that his well formulated master plan of getting there late and forcing the lady not to charge us was all coming together nicely.  I was sceptical; although pleased that we hadn't been charged.   
His plan unfortunately unravelled when we got to Bordeaux when we found that while we, the overweight passengers with the overweight cabin baggage were delivered, the overweight bags were not!  Yikes!  My dread of having to hold discussions about lost luggage without even a slim grasp of the French language disappeared when a nice English gent helped us with the paperwork and asked for an address where they could deliver the luggage. 
While Danny had been working with the luggage man I went in search of our car lease representative.  The paperwork said they would only wait 30 minutes after the plane's arrival and given the trouble with the luggage we were running short of time, yet again!  I finally found him and he turned out to be a nice, elderly French man who spoke hardly a word of English, so it matched my French perfectly.  So with one word of the other's language we managed to work our way through the lease contract, find the car, and figure out how it all worked. As he was patiently explaining how to work the indicators, air conditioning etc in French for the third time we got a call to say that our bags had been found.  They were so fat they had been put on the oversized belt; how embarrassing.  All's well that ends well.  We obviously have some culling to do before we pack for the return flight.  We do not think Qantas will be so kind.  However, given that we had to bring sheets, towels etc it might not be too difficult.
We have a Peugeot 207 that had only 4 kms on the clock when we picked it up and is a delight with lots of room. 
Thanks to my Sat Nav Christmas present we found our way without a glitch to Le Bourne.  We walked around the little town with its pretty market square and ornate buildings had a simple dinner and collapsed. 
Saturday 5 April  
Went for an early morning walk around the town, down through the town square and to the river which had broken its banks and was slowly making its way around the seats and garbage bins on the banks.  We past what looked like part of the walls of the city with a round tower and a pretty bridge with 8 arches.
We headed to Alvignac through pretty towns, vineyards with huge chateaus and through burgeoning springtime countryside that was sunny, peaceful and perfect as we listened to our CDs.  It was a magical day and 21 degrees. 
Our cottage is actually part of a farm house that was built in the 12 century.  The walls are three feet thick and there are large, worn stones for the floor.  It is furnished with huge pieces of dark antique furniture which are nice but add to the darkness inside.  This is a huge fireplace and you can only try to imagine who must have stood in the same place several hundred years ago to cook dinner.  Danny has earned his Boy Scout fire starting badge and has mastered the fireplace and we have had a couple of roaring fires, although the place is still a little cold.  We are in the middle of the French countryside with only fields, sheep and an occasional chateau steeple to see from the front of our cottage.
Tonight we had dinner at a pizzeria in Alvignac.   The restaurant was decorated with posters and tapestries of sitting bull.  The connection between an Italian restaurant in France and American Indians eludes me.   The bill was 26 euro for four beers and two main courses which is so cheap and a pleasant change to Dublin. 
Sunday 6 April.
Our first view of the town of Rocamadour took our breath away.  It is magically perched on the side of the 400 foot cliff and rises in three stages.  Half way up the cliff there is a group of massive buildings. The chief of them is the church of Notre Dame (1479) containing a wooden Black Madonna and pilgrims have been coming for centuries to pray for cures. On the summit of the cliff stands the château built in the Middle Ages to defend the sanctuaries.  Below the churches is a never ending line of shops and restaurants which have to be there to serve the 1 million summer visitors. 
It is a stunning town in an amazing location. 
Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 April
We have cruised around the Dordogne Valley taking in the picture postcard villages comprising tiny, charming cottages that look more like doll's houses than real dwellings. There are lots of raised concrete garden beds full of large tulips of every shade and daffodils.  We have seen Chateaus perched on hilltops and fields full of dandelions and relaxed looking cows.  It has been peaceful and beautiful. The photos say it all.
Wednesday 9 April
We spent a few hours today walking the cobbled streets of Sarlat around the chateau and through the narrow alleyways.  Sarlat became a prosperous town at the end of the 8th century when the Benedictines established a monastery there. It is a lovely town of honey coloured buildings with shuttered windows and exposed wooden beams.  We had it pretty much to ourselves and were able to pour over the local specialty of walnut liqueur, walnut cake and everything else walnut in the shops.  We also drooled over the cakes and pastries in the patisserie; they are works of art.    
We then went to the Grottes de Cougnac to view the prehistoric paintings inside the caves which were only discovered in 1952.  They are not really paintings as such but outlines of deer and mammoths.  It was amazing to consider that they were done 10 000 to 25 000 years ago. 
Thursday 10 April
Well the Dublin weather has finally arrived in France.  Today was wet, windy and cold.  We went to a little town called Gramat where we stumbled across the market in the square selling clothes, handbags, sunglasses as well as fresh produce including local cheeses and meat.  We then headed to Park Animalier which is a zoo dedicated to the breeding of endangered species including wolves and lynx.  We had a nice couple of hours wandering around looking at the bears, bison and yak and saw some very pretty ducks and some chicken with very fluffy feet.
Friday 11 to Monday 14 April
The lousy weather has forced us to curtail our activities a bit.  However we have expanded our French vocab to 50 works thanks to French television. 
We headed back to Sarlat to catch the weekly markets which held a stunning array of local products, sausage, cheese and organic fruit and veg.
We went to Beynac which has to be one of the most stunning villages we have ever seen. There is a chateau situated on the very top of the cliff and the village flows down the hill to the banks of the Dordogne.  A lot of the houses are covered in flowering wisteria and the air is heavy with the scent of climbing roses. Once again the photos say it all.  There are a number of similar villages in the area that have a chateau perched on the top of highest rocky outcrop with houses at its feet.  You can see their round turrets of the chateaus dotting the countryside.   
We have followed a few of the recommended driving itineraries and have taken in the rolling green hills and what seems to be an idyllic rural French existence.  It seems a very relaxed way of life and explains why so many English make the move.  
On Monday we headed to Cahors where we got hailed on as we walked along the banks of the Lot River.  We walked across the bridge with the three towers with is the landmark of Cahors.  From there we went to the resistance museum which was full of photographs and information about the resistance movement in the Lot region and profiled the leaders, major activists and their unfortunate capture and torture by the Germans.  It was interesting to see many of the towns we have visited had been a site of resistance action.
From there we went to Saint-Cirque-Lapopie, a village perched on a cliff about the Lot River.  It is made up of a network of ancient streets and lovely old buildings that are home to artists and jewellers.  The streets are so narrow even a donkey and cart would have difficulty getting through.  We had a panoramic view of the Lot Valley from the top of the village. 
Tuesday 15 April to Thursday 17 April
We have made a formal complaint about the weather and are awaiting a response.  Today is another cloudy, cold, misty day.  Hopefully it will improve in the afternoon as it often does.  
Tuesday we went to Argentat which has a lovely stretch of buildings along the banks of the Dordogne and Wednesday we spent our time strolling the streets of Rocamadour taking some photographs and appreciating the wild flowers including white daises, tiny blue flowered groundcover and purple irises.   
Wednesday we returned to Rocamadour to look at the old buildings and walk the streets one more time.  It rained all day Thursday so our trip to Gourdon was a bit of a wipe out.  It is probably a pretty enough town in the sunshine but we got caught in the rain and caught in its ring road so we headed home to end a quite day. 
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