Friday, May 14, 2010

Beynac Mark Last

This is our last night in Beynac. We head south to Mirepoix tomorrow, with the Cunninghams.

We have done a lot of motoring these past weeks, but a real highlight was a morning walk we did yesterday through the Beynac hinterland. Leaving the Cs to their own adventures we cranked out one of the five walking tour maps we had bought from the tourist info joints for 1 euro a pop. A similar map to the one we used on the Tremolat walk (where we got lost - you remember).

I have used up all the superlatives, but you could not find a nicer stroll than this one. It took us (again) through tiny hamlets, up muleteer paths, plunging into deep, dark forests, and past yapping (almost biting) dogs. Cuckoos were cuckoing off to the left of us. Magnificent views of Beynac and Catlenaud chateaux appeared, then disappeared on our right. All this within 6 km of our house! Farms, horses, geese and ducks. Magnificent!

Of course we got ourselves lost. Happily not as bad as last time, but enough go
miss the lovely church at Cazenac (we drove there today, so don't worry). The length of the walk was 11 km. The joy in our hearts was 123%! It was great to stretch the legs after so much motoring over the last few days. The Cunninghams had been to a 3km-garden attached to the third chateau we can see out of our window at 'home', so we had buckets of adventures to share over dinner.

The plan is to pack and clean tomorrow (Saturday) morning, have lunch at the appealing (and cheap) restaurant attached to the caravan park and then hoot off to Mirepoix early afternoon. Should take about 3 hours.

Go Maggies!


"We were wrong"

There are two changes necessary for earlier posts that cannot go uncorrected:

1. The fields outside our windows here at Beynac (the other side of the Dordogne) are bigger than the MCG. At least one Manuka and half an SCG bigger, in fact.

2. The aperativ purchased on our Strawberry Festival Ramble contained no oxalis whatsoever (as earlier reported). In fact, it was brewed only out of dandelion. The error came about because GCR was GCRed by Ken Cunningham.

Whilst writing my blog that day, I asked KC what else the aperativ was made from other than dandelion. He said, "oxalis". This was a deliberate lie and he has since confessed as much. He says that he did not expect that I would have written this in a blog. But I didb(because I believed him)!

... Call that friendship?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not Just Another Cave

After a lovely walk in the morning today (real time), The Ramblers, minus Ken and Nada, hoiked ourselves off to a cave containg real rock paintings. Here was the perfect counter to Lasceaux, for that one reason. Though it was not the only one.

The early inhabitants of these valleys were nomads who followed the bison and the antelope across the landscape. Here were the ideal conditions to record the key incidents and personnel that punctuated their lives. Here also were the ideal locations on which to record them - deep within the many caves that are to be found in these verdant valleys. The cave paintings at Font de Gaume.

Unlike the fake at Lasceaux, this cave is the real deal (at least that's what we were told). This guide took guiding to a whole new level. Her enthusiasm for her task was evident from the care she took in creating an atmosphere of awe and respect for the subject matter. [This approach was reflected in the fact that only 200 people per day are allowed through. No exceptions. No booking, no admission. Heaps of people turned away at the door.]

Throughout the tour through this very narrow cave, audible (genuine) gasps could be heard from the 11 of us. Our guide was able to manipulate the simple lighting system (her torch and laser) to give us an idea of what the paintings - of bison, antelope and horses - would have appeared to the artists. They shone out from the gloom, almost taking on a life of their own. Picasso is said to have remarked something about having learned nothing of art since the time of the making of these pictures.

It is not known how long these paintings will be open to the public. They are very fragile, and already the paintings at the entrance to the cave (now protected by an iron door) have been destroyed by the movement of air in and out of it. Just how fragile can anything BE?!!

The tour lasted about 45 minutes, but felt like only 3 seconds. It was a real highlight of our Ramble. Get over here quicksticks and look for yourself!

More Rambling later

The Rambilng Roses

Fiasco at Lascaux

One of our jaunts, to which I have already referred, was dubbed 'Fiasco at Lasceaux' because of a number if incidents that I now convey to you by means of this blog. The trip was to the caves of Lascaux, where (as I have ready outlined) there are re-constructed caves containing re-constructed paintings that have been painstakingly copied from the originals. The purpose here is to allow visitors to view these many-centuries-old cave paintings made by cromagnon man lots and lots of years back.

The day of the fiasco began with us running late, dashing away from the strawberry festival (at Beaulieu) a little later (and earlier) than we really should have. Ken hurtled us along the D-rated roads to get to Lasceaux at the time designated on the ticket, arriving moments before the allotted time. No need to rush, really, as the show did not get under way till some time later. Half an hour ...

The next problem was that the ticket office had overbooked the session. By 100%! Twice as many bodies crammed into the tiny cave (sadly, the most realistic aspect of the cave reproduction). Shoved up against fellow tourists (no good-looking ones in this group) we shuffled through, trying to listen to the guide vainly insisting on silence for his little speech. He did well.

Interesting in its own way, the experience could only be described as a fiasco. NadA managed to elicit a grudging apology from the chap in the ticket box, her French more than adequate to convey our collective dissatisfaction with the session.

This blog has been a bit laboured, I know. The reason for this has been to contrast today's visit, which I shall relate in my next blog. But only if you are good!

See ya!

Ramblin' Rosey

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Potholer Rambling

Today we did some potholing. Same town as the train, but out a bit. It's called a 'gouffre', and the entrance consists of a wide gaping hole on the top of a cliff. Having parked the csr at the bottom of the cliff, we walked up the steps to the entrance (on the outside of the hill), paid our 9.50 euros and then climbed down the 450-odd steps (metal, very steep on the inside of the pothole) down to the bottom of the open bit. Thence down Agee more steps along a cave, and finally, in the total dark, but for a few lights, at the water's edge. When it was our turn, we hopped into our boat (dinghy-sized, flat-bottomed) with 8 other people (including the ferryman) along this amazing underground river. Water had been falling around us (and sometimes on us) in curtains. Some wetness on us, but no discomfort. The water in this river was a cool 12 degrees and as clear as a really clear thing (it was really clear). Stelagtites everywhere, including a really huge one that had a name. A French name. Cannot remember the name.

The ferryman handed us over to another guide at the end of the river, who took us for a walk along, up, down, in and out of the risty-twisty caverns and then back to the boat. While the ferryman made a good attempt to inform those of us who only had English, the guide made no such effort. When I commented on this to Dear Jude, the French lady sitting in the boat next to Jude said that his French commentary was indecipherable to her, so there was no reason to feel left out. To his credit, this young-ish (35-y-o?) guide spoke in a most animated way and when I was at the front of the group, made sure that I caught his eye and nodded and laughed in all the right places. At least I made HIM feel happy! No tip from any of us four, though.

Appazzas there are creatures living down there: a blind shrimp and a teeny-tiny crustacean (2mm) that you couldn't see, even if you could see it. Which we didn't. There were also some little ferns growing, but only directly under the artificial lights that enabled us to see in this otherwise pitch-black environment.

Another fabbo Ramble, believe you me!

So long for now!

The Ramblers

Rail Rambling

Ah! The train. The steam train. We had seen a tourist train idemtified in one of the travel guides and decided to run it to ground. Turns out that the one in the book was no longer on service, but that there was one that ran from Martel return to St Denis. And guess what? WE WENT ON IT! Along with a most cheery group of elderly French citizens.

Turns out that Ken and Nada are huge train freaks like me and we heard of some of their train trips. They have been on the Trans Siberian Railway, for example. How good would that be?

This journey was only short, but very scenic, running along under the brow of a ridge, stopping at two ancient stations, before dropping down to St Denis at the end. Back up the slight hill, it stopped at the second station, where the same girl who sold the tickets jumped out and sold souvenirs from the little station house. Back on board the 'guide' continued his obviously riotous commentary (given the reactions of the ancient passengers from the tour group) as the train whistled and tooted, chugging along as only your steam train can.

There is something marvellous about steam trains. The people who restore them, the people who run them and the people who write about them. Both on the day we enquired about it and the day we hopped on it there was a chap who had written a book about the train and the line. A very beamy and chuckly chap. He was selling his book (all in very good French) and was signing each copy he sold. He maintained his jovial attitude even after I explained that it was no good to me because of the language barrier. The ancients were buying copies hand over fist, however and he seemed to be making quite a killing.

We all hopped on board Ken and Nada's Renault Clio and rambled off to our next adventure - rolls fo lunch at some grouse village or other down the road. Hoo rooster for now. Gotta keep Ramblin', cos we're Ramblin' types of guys!


I arks youse: Who would ever think that The Ramblers would effect some of their rambling by canoe? Hands up. Who of youse predicted canoeing? No one, except maybe Fran Vaughan, who did the same trip down the Dordogne with Peter (and doubtless Jono) a few years ago.

Well, we did it. Sixteen kms of sheer delight. Two canoes. Four people, drifting down the river, gliding past fields, camping grounds (empty before the arrival of the summer crowds), chateaux, cliffs, under bridges and past other canoes. Hoot, hoot, hoot and HOOT! It was truly spectacular!

We stopped off at a little village that hugs the banks of the Dordogne - Roc de Gagne (I think that's the name) and walked up the tiny backstreets and back down to the main street for a coffee. Wonderful. Then back into the canoes and onward down the river.

I saw an otter-type animal that was sitting on a fallen tree. It slipped into the water before anyone else could verify its sighting, but I truly rooly saw it. We totally failed to see the marble remains of a Roman Road that crossed the river at a shallow piping, nor the extremely well-camouflaged buzzard nests in the trees. However, we did stop at the little beach in the river bed directly opposite our house and took some photos. To a French person, our stay at this tiny beach would have been classed as unusual, since neither Ken nor I attempted to skip stones across the surfac of the water. This appears to be a national pastime for your French chap. Especially if there are girlfriends or small children around to impress.

A bit past our place, and under the last of five bridges saw us pull up on the True Left bank to await the arrival of our Canoeing Organiser, who drove us back upstream to pick up our car. There are quite a few companies that organise this type of service. In summer it would be bedlam on the river with the huge numbers of canoes stacked up on trailers ready to be swung into operation with the onset of summer.

The weather held off for this canoe trip, though there have been times when we have been unable to avoid storms that roll up the valley from time to time. One of the fiecest unleashed its power as we walked into a lovely little restaurant just up the street from our joint. Boy did it pelt down! It followed up with a stunning rainbow as an enchore. What a day!

I'd better get Ramblin'! The train trip will have to wait for another blog ...



Sunday, May 09, 2010

Spelling and grammar

Re-reading some blogs, I realise that there are errors of spelling and punctuation. This is annoying. First there are inadvertent errors made because I am typing on my iPhone (eg "thin" instead of "think"). Second are the errors made as a result of the auto-correct facility (eg "it's" for "its"). Also on the iPhone it is only possible to edit the first half of a blog. The second half is inaccessible.

All I can do at this point is to apologise for this and to say "sorry" and to promise to rectify the situation as soon as I am able. How does that sound?



Beynac IV

Since the Cunninghams have arrived we have been wizzy-dizzying all over the countryside. The four of us fit into K&N's Renault Clio very comfortably and Ken zips along the King's highway at a goodly pace.

Today, for example, we hooted off to a strawberry festival at Beaulieu, some 76 km and 2 1/2 hours away. This seems a long time for a short trip, but that is because it is. The festival itself was wonderful in its rustic simplicity and charm. For example, there were two bands playing at each end of the village. Each consisted of saxaphones, trumpets, flutes, one or two tubas, a side drum a cymball and a snare drum. The first band we came upon was most notable for its liveliness and vigour. The snaredrummer leapt about, almost dancing in time with the band. He was aged about 12 or 13. He was really getting into it, and was sacrificing nothing in terms of musicality. The other band was equally as entertaining, but much more disciplined under the powerful direction of a trumpeter. The bands seemed to hail from different villages in the region.

The rest of the festival comprised stalls of mainly food set up along the streets of the village offering samples of their produce. This included srawberries of course, heaps of them. Also various hams, cheeses, aperitifs (including dandelion and oxalis wine, of whic we bought a bottle) and sausages. These last were of the solid, slice-off-a-bit-at-a-time and have-it on-a-cracker along with your aperitif before dinner. You know the sort. We bought a couple of these from a very French-Farmer looking chap whom we had seen at a previous market in Salat a couple of days ago. The truly wonderful thing about him was that he had a photograph of himself inside the sty with several of his pigs. In the photo he is carrying the most enormous axe you would ever wish to see. He is clearly in the first throes of Step One of the process of pork sausage manufacture. Thankfully, none of the subsequent steps were presented in pictorial form.

The only other aspect of note for the srawberry festival was a ginormous strawberry tart. It was said to weigh 800 kgs and some 8 metres in diameter. It is much, much bigger than the one at Vergt, which is only half that size. That festival is next week. Our huge tart was sheltering under a great big tent, which was just as well, because it was raining a finch and we all had our umbrellas unfurled. Altogether it was another great morning.

Afternoon was spent at a reproduction of a cave that contained reproductions of cave paintings. No one is allowed into the original cave because it would get wrecked. Bit of a rip-off, I suggest, given the stretch of imagination needed to carry one's mind from the copy to the original - especially given that the original was located nearby. The cave and it's paintings were very good, though, it must be said.

Got some sleep-rambling to get int now, so bon nuit to all!

YBPs, The Ramblers!