Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dordogne, Part II

Hello again from the lovely Dordogne region! I can't believe my stay here is almost finished, but at the same time, I've really taken advantage of all the cool stuff to see. Even though it's only been three days since I've update, I fear this may be a long one and I won't get to finish it in one sitting!

So, on Thursday, in the morning Fabienne and I tackled some weeding. This isn't your usual stoop down and pick out a few little leaves weeding. This was grab a big hoe and pull up giant bushes of weeds, while trying to avoid the good plants. Luckily it was the morning and until 11am the sun hadn't fully crept over the trees and cast herself full force on us. Once 11am came, however, I was a goner. It was some real tough work! However, I kind of like weeding in a way. There's this great crunching sound when you've split the roots of a big one and are ripping it from the ground. Makes you fell all manly and powerful.

That afternoon I went sightseeing. First, I went to the beautiful town of Beynac. Beynac is built into the cliffs along the Dordogne river. It is extraordinarily picturesque and is the cite of many a medieval film. We stopped first at the bottom, near the river, and I put my feet in. I figured, I've swum in the Atlantic as early as May and as late as October, it can't be that bad. Oh, it was. And because it's pretty much rained all of the month of April up until just this week, the river is swollen and moving fast. So I couldn't go all the way in, had to settle with just my feet.

After we headed up the town. Like I said, the town is built into the side of a cliff, so walking up was obviously a big mistake. It was steep and the weather was hot. Despite this, the town is gorgeous. The homes are made of the creamy colored stones that you find throughout the region and you can also see roofs made of hard stone. Apparently this is very rare, very old, and very costly. When we got to the top, we decided not to go into the 12th century castle but to go to see another. I later learned this was a mistake. Apparently it's gorgeous inside the castle- bummer.

After walking through the whole town, we headed to see another castle called Castelnaud. This one to me seemed a bit more traditional, something we Americans imagine a castle to be. This castle is from a bit later, the 13th century. It is built up on a big hill, so the views from the town and castle are amazing.

We then headed over to Sarlat. Sarlat is a gorgeous town that is quite popular among tourists. It has narrow, winding medieval streets, interesting squares with cute restaurants, and lots of old buildings. The town is great for just wandering around and seeing all the different streets and alleys. While walking back to the car, I listened in on an English tour group. We were standing behind the main church, and there were these stone sarcophagus looking things in the ground. Apparently they are the burial site from the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries. That's pretty darn old.

On the ride back to Paunat (where I'm staying) we passed amazing homes that are literally built into the side of the cliffs and are made of stone so that they the people in there are literally living in the rock. The region is also where many cave people live (it's where you can find the worlds oldest cave paintins, at Lascaux). You can see these great holes high up in the cliffs. Apparently today they know that the cavemen had built wooden stairwells to access and live in these caves and they had used the echo from the caves and the cliffs to communicate long distances. Very cool.

The next day, Friday, I worked all day. It was the longest day I'd worked so far, and by the end I could feel it. At one point, however, Fabienne and I took a break to go swimming in the brook that runs along the side of the plot of land she has. The water is fresh and clean- Fabienne drinks from it regularly while working. I had a very romantic image of farming before I cam here, and this lives up to it!

That night, we saw a very hilarious French film called Radio Stars. The film was show in a near by town called le Buisson in a one room theater. I don't think I've ever been in a theater that small- amazing! the film was about morning radio hosts who need to travel around France to bring up the ratings. I was worried that I wouldn't understand it all- comedy can be quick talking and difficult. But it was great! Definitely would recommend it if you can catch it with English subtitles on Netflix or something!

Apparently I don't work on the weekends, which is great. Yesterday, Saturday, in the afternoon I took the bike and went to whats called the "Gouffre de Proumeyssac." It was basically a giant underground hole that has a ton of beautiful stalagmites and stalactites made of calcium. I didn't really think it would be that cool, but in fact it was awesome! After walking down towards the giant cavern, you stand on a platform and look out into the darkness. Then, the guide puts on music and they have a really cool light show that illuminates all the different aspects of the cavern. You get to see this show a second time when you're down on the cavern floor on the opposite side, giving you a second look. The guide then walks you through the cavern and explains the history of the cavern (such as how the formations are made over time, how the cavern came to be, how it was found, etc.) and shows you how the water that still falls from the cavern ceiling is allowed to fall on objects and subsequently petrifies them, making them into porcelain. You also get to walk into a narrow bit of the tour and see some rare triangular crystal formations. Overall, a really beautiful and unexpected success!

I then biked over to the medieval village of Limeuil. At the tourist office, they have a self-guided tour that you can take. Limeuil sits at the meeting point of the Dordogne River and the Vézère River. On the tour, I walked past the old gates of the city, the old jail house, the former whore house (always a winner), the church, and the former ramparts of the city (the castle that had stood there once has since been destroyed).

Today I waited around quite a while because in the morning Fabienne asked me if I wanted to see a castle and some really old houses. I thought we'd go right after lunch, but in fact we didn't go until around 4:30pm. Nevertheless, first we went to the chateau de Puymartin. It is a castle originally from around 1270, though it was destroyed during the 100 Years War and then rebuilt around 1450. The castle is privately owned by a descendant from the owners of 1450. Because it is still owned by the original owners, you only get to see a portion of the castle.

The visit is quite nice, despite being short, and you get a guide included with it. The rooms are furnished with many beautiful pieces from different centuries, and the guide was super knowledgeable about when and where all the pieces were from. There is one special room that normally visitors do not get to see, but since we were a small group we got to see it. It was a room meant for meditation and has rare and very old black and white paintings of Greek mythology. We also went to the top of the tower where supposedly the ghost of the white lady is. Apparently, Thérèse de Saint-Clair was locked up in the tower because her husband was extremely jealous. He left her there until she died and then buried her body in the walls. Supposedly people have been claiming to see her ghost for centuries.

Afterwards, nearby we went to "Les Cabanes du Breuil." These are old stone huts from before the mid-15th century, though they don't know exactly when they were built. The stone homes are similar to the stone rooms I was telling you about, except they are completely made of stone. They placed the stones just right so that they didn't need any kind of cement, which I thought was pretty cool...

Anyway, headed to Montpellier really early tomorrow, so I don't have time to post pictures. Will try and do soon!