Terii’s Cycling Babble


Homeward Bound And More Fog
October 10, 2013, 5:20 am
Filed under: Misc

For September 22 – Begun September 23

Took a little convincing and reassurance to get Jens to agree to head home. He admitted that he was longing for Uppsala too, but didn’t want me to miss out Carcassonne since I’d been eager to see the place for years. There was no way I had the endurance to leap into walking around the walled town in just half a day’s more rest.

The fog had returned over the night and stubbornly lingered so I wouldn’t have gone for a early morning even had I the strength to pedal up a hill.

Any thought of trying to get tickets to one of the caves with paintings was squashed by further research into obtaining them as I mentioned before.

So, around 8 am, we were checking out and heading to the little cafe that opened early enough for us to have coffee, croissants and orange juice. This time, I managed to scrape together enough French to try ordering it. It would have worked except Swedish kept throwing itself in randomly. Jens was laughing at me, “NOW you can speak Swedish.”

I was a touch sad to be leaving the Les Eyzies area. The time there had been wonderful and fun. I didn’t regret not getting the chance to cycle. The days had been too full and fascinating for any such negative emotions. And it all was stuff I never would have been able to explore as thoroughly with the trike to worry about.

Climbing above the mist

Climbing above the mist

We climbed out of the area around Les Eyzies and broke through the fog into a world of sunlight and blue skies. The way the mists hung in the lower valleys and dales was stunning and the Canon clicked every chance I spotted. We were going too fast (highways) with no place to pull over so not so many photos and quite a few of them were snapped through a bug streaked windscreen.

This is an 'Ecoduct'

This is an ‘Ecoduct’

As we zipped along, Jens and I discussed what routes to take. Did we want to go into Luxembourg? Jens also wanted to know how far away was Munich, but it was waaaay out of the most direct route. We also toyed with the idea of Berlin. Or anything else we might want to see.

Something caught my attention while looking at the maps. The Black Forest.

I’ve not researched much into the different regions of Germany over the years. What little I have done, the Black Forest was one section that did catch my attention. Early indications had been that the place is covered in cycle routes which always intrigues me. Cycle routes and ‘forest’ combined will always make me go, ‘Hmmmm.’ Not to mention the recipe I found for the cherry fudge (which I still tease Jens about) is called ‘Black Forest Fudge’.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Why do I tease my husband about fudge? For years, Jens and I had only passingly known each other. Maybe 6 conversations in 4 years. Then one day, I sent a childhood friend of Jens’ and the friend’s girlfriend some of my Black Forest fudge. He invited Jens over for pizza and a football (soccer to Americans) match and shared some of the fudge with Jens. The next thing I knew, Jens was talking with me over Messenger, e-mails. We became very good friends and then… well, the rest is history.

Today is scenery day!

Today is scenery day!

So, to this day, I still tease it was the fudge Jens fell for. Goofy, but it still makes me smile. It makes Jens roll his eyes and kiss me to shush me.

Any-hooo. I saw that and asked Jens if we could maybe stop there for the night. By the time we reached it, we’d have been on the road for 8 hours or more.

Jens was surprised at my interest as I’d never mentioned it except in brief passing when we were still unsettled about what this vacation was going to be. When it first came up, Jens said ‘Tuscany!’ and I said, “South Germany, maybe Black Forest!’

I loved the light rays cutting across the mountains

I loved the light rays beaming across the mountains

At a rest stop, I showed him the area on the map. We were going to be passing fairly close to it any way. Less than an hour out of our way to get to the smaller roads which might offer a scenic region. While we were very eager to get home there wasn’t any particular rush. With ferries and such, the earliest we’d be home either way was Wednesday. So, Jens said it would be interesting.

After that, I started looking on his phone for hotels during the rare moments we had internet.

One thing I didn’t expect of the Black Forest region was for it to be so mountainous! Okay, it’s not the Alps or the Rockies, but very up and down except along the valley floors between ridges. I realized if I ever was going to ride it I’d need to do some serious building up.

And it was so beautiful! The valleys were cleared for crops and pasture, still green from the summer’s growth. Higher up the flanking slopes were the trees of the forest.

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room

The hotel I chose for us to check out first almost made Jens walk away. Didn’t take credit cards. Beyond that, he thought it was the best one of the trip. I was less impressed. The bed wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the one at Le Cro-Magnon not to mention it had ‘illusion pillows’ identical to those on the ferry. Huge, gloriously puffy looking, yet flattening to nothing as soon as your head hits them.

After that, we headed back to Titisee, a tiny village sitting on the shores of Titisee Lake which we could actually see from our hotel room window in spite of being 3 miles away. We found a little cafe to eat. I had bratwurst fried in onions. Jens had schnitzel. Then we wandered around briefly, looking through the windows of the closed shops.

Back at the hotel, I struggled with the internet to look for someplace to cycle. Like I’d planned in Salers, I hoped to find a nice stretch of mostly downgrades to go racing along with plenty of gorgeous scenery to stop for photos. I found one not too far away and went to sleep with a sense of anticipation.

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Cursed With Fog!
October 9, 2013, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Misc

For September 21st – Begun September 22nd

The fog! It haunts us!

Woke yesterday morning to disappointment. Outside our hotel window, the village of Les Eyzies was cloaked in fog. It lay as thick over the village as it had in Salers. The ticket sales for the caves were supposed to open at 9:30 am. We decided that with only 80 available per day, we’d try to do the caves the first morning. If we didn’t get tickets then we’d try again on the 22nd.

The place looking promisingly empty as we arrived. We looked at the signs for cost and such. Then Jens said, “It’s closed on Saturdays!”

“Good thing it’s Sunday.”

“No, it’s Saturday.”

I felt my heart drop. “Are you sure?”

He pulled out his phone so I could see the date myself. True enough. Saturday.

Maison Forte de Reignac

Maison Forte de Reignac

So, we went back to the car and began to drive, trying to decide what to do while waiting for the fog to lift. First we went to ‘Maison Forte de Reignac’ (a cliff chateau) in hopes that opened at 9, but no. 10 am. It was a reasonable assumption that most places opened at the same time.

Misty Morning Animals

Misty Morning Animals

We also explored the way to ‘Village Troglodytique de La Madeleine’. Narrow twisty roads with pretty views across pastures with horses and cows turned ghostly in the misty day. We found the parking and entrance to the village some distance from the bigger road in case we decided to visit it when it was open.

By then, it was a bit after 9 am and still waiting for the fog to lift. Also hungry we turned back to Les Eyzies.

Between the the chateau and the village where our hotel was is a goose farm. The Dordogne region is apparently quite famous for fois gras. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a dense paste of goose liver. Rather, fattened goose liver. So, just outside a tiny little village you would miss if you blinked, are the sheds and ‘pastures’ for geese on one side of the road and on the other, where they make and sell their product.

Waddling half-grown geese

Waddling half-grown geese

The geese were just being turned out. The juvenile geese came parading out just as we turned into the parking lot. They’re so clownish with their fuzz and waddling gait. Hundreds streamed by on their way to the open grassy area waiting at the end of a fenced path. Some stopped to snap-up a few fallen leaves from the trees. They really seemed to especially love the ones with a bit of red or green, even to the point of squabbling when a whole field of plants lay ahead.

Pretty building in Les Eyzies with a backdrop of cliffs

Pretty building in Les Eyzies with a backdrop of cliffs

The parade done, we headed on to Les Eyzies where we found a little cafe open. Coffee for Jens, juice for me and croissants for us both. If anything in France has met or exceeded my expectations, it’s been the fresh baked croissants. Better than any I’ve had anywhere else. I might be ruined for those.

Legend of the Door of Time

Legend of the Door of Time

Tummies quieted, we zipped back to the mansion. Even at 10 am, the fog hung stubbornly on though it seemed a little clearer on the roads. Jens suggested a couple times that maybe I should go riding instead as the visibility wasn’t so hampered that I’d be in additional danger of getting hit because of it. I pointed to the trees that quickly became no more than dim outlines and the valley and cliffs beyond utterly hidden. “There’s no real scenery. Hopefully when we come out of the chateau.”

Glad of my poles!

Glad of my poles!

The climb up to the entrance was work, but I was in good spirits, anticipating the tour. I used my walking poles to lessen the impact on my back and knees.

As we came up to the ticket window, I collapsed them with no intention of thumping around on the floors inside with the pointy metal ends. The woman’s English was broken, but she asked for the poles and assured us in a cross between English and French they’d be waiting for us. It was just fine to let her hold them for us as Jens would have spent most of the time with them while I took pictures.

Veiled Views

Veiled Views

Well at de Reignac

Well at de Reignac

Bless him, he played pack-mule for me. Camera bag with the long lens inside instead of the camera, tripod in its bag and the loaned guide book for the chateau. Adding the poles to that would have made it difficult for him to climb some of those narrow, uneven stairs. He was determined to leave me unburdened so I might be able to continue longer and have my hands free for the camera.

Taping our receipt to brochure for a chateau, she explained that our visit to the site earned a discount there. She handed it to us with more coupons for two additional sites as well.

Blurry 1500's Kitchen

Blurry 1500’s Kitchen

The chateau is completely furnished as it might have been in the 1500’s. Apparently, these defensive cliff mansions/castles were quite common in France during the middle ages and a little later, but this one is the only example that is in near perfect condition, the rest gone to ruin like most of the of cliff villages.

The kitchen had a cheerful fire on the hearth, bowls of apples set here and there. Table and cooking utensils. Trophy deer-head on the wall. I tried to get the best shots I could in the lower light levels. Jens suggested the tripod, but I felt a self-conscious plopping it down. I guess I need to work on getting over that.

Spear Points.

Spear Points.

I loved this bone carving of a salamander

I loved this bone carving of a salamander

Best place to get over my ’embarrassment’ of using the tripod would have been the next room over. It was a museum room of prehistoric finds in the area as well as recreations of different types of arrows. The lighting was electric rather than fire and murky daylight of the kitchen, but dimmer. Made it much harder to get good photos of the arrows and carvings. A display of skulls showing progression from Lucy type to modern.

Blurry Dining Hall - Sensing a theme here? :P

Blurry Dining Hall – Sensing a theme here? 😛

Chapel's Bell

Chapel’s Bell

Less Blurry Interrogation Room

Less Blurry Interrogation Room

View From Watch Post

View From Watch Post

The castle was fascinating and clearly made for defense beyond the fact it was wedged into cleft in a cliff. Everywhere I turned there were slots for arrows and rounded holes for the later use of muskets. Sometimes these even opened into other rooms of the chateau as if anticipating last stands once the first defenses were breached.

Outside the windows, the fog remained. Inside, Jens and I started coughing off and on. Three of the fireplaces had warm blazes happily pouring out smoke and clearly the chimneys weren’t very effective at siphoning it out. Naturally, it grew thicker as we climbed higher.

And we did go higher where it opened out into what would have been a stunning view of the valley and cliffs on another morning. I explored a few of the more exposed areas which would have been best for standing guard against attackers. Jens tried to follow me at one point, but as he rounded a wooden wall, he jumped back and had to turn around to face the cave as vertigo hit him. The edge had been closer than he expected and the abrupt view down had caught him off-guard. Another area was enclosed, but he stayed away from it, already shaken from the first encounter of heights and wary of the wooden floor.

Main Salon

Main Salon

Other rooms in the chateau was a dining hall, a main salon which would be the equivalent of a living room in modern times, a large ‘general’ room where stairs would have taken one up to the watch levels or down. From that chamber was a tiny chapel, a prison cell as well as opening two other rooms. One large and furnished as a questioning room and another tiny one smaller than the prison cell.

It struck me a little odd to have the prison cell so close to the main salon. The gentle woman of the manor being soothed by the sobs and pleas of a chained man in the next room over as she does her needle point?

Blurry Master's Bed Chamber

Blurry Master’s Bed Chamber

By the time we stepped out of the lord’s bed chamber into the open air again, we were coughing quite a bit from the smoke. Small wonder people lived so short a time back then. Probably choked to death from all the soot in their lungs before they turned 40. It was a relief to return to air that smelled only of fog. To think I’d thought the smell of hearth smoke to be a homey scent that lent a nice hint of realism to the chateau when we first arrived.

We went into the gift shop and discovered a museum of torture in a cave on the other side of it. That was… unsettling.

Random Church

Random Church

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always known the Middle Ages were a brutal and cruel time. Granted, the current state of the world isn’t exactly a warm fuzzy place in areas, but seeing some of those devices or even reading previous unknown details about items I thought I knew (whips for example) only to discover a whole new level of disturbing, chilled and repelled me.

Seriously, I recoiled when my eyes scanned a tidbit of sickening cruelty on the placards previously unknown. I had to retreat before seeing the entire display and lose myself in the task of trying to pick something to send back to the parents. What things used to be so common place and casually inflicted on fellow human beings! Ugh!

It was about 11:20 when we made the short steep hike back to the car. Still the fog clung on.

Tobacco crop & cliff with signs of old habitation

Tobacco crop & cliff with signs of old habitation

Clearly seen remains of walls & windows cut in solid stone

Clearly seen remains of walls & windows cut in solid stone

So, we looked at the coupons we had. One was for a site called ‘Cave of the Sorcerer’ which had prehistoric engravings. I don’t remember what the other was for. The brochure was for a chateau, the more common kind, somewhere.

Basins with drains at Cave of the Sorcerer

Basins with drains at Cave of the Sorcerer

I checked the opening times for the cave and found it, at least, was open on Saturday. We decided to chase it down, hoping we might get to see inside. I wanted to see some kind of prehistoric art in case we didn’t manage to get tickets to other cave the next (this) morning.

We got a bit lost, but in such a pretty area, random detours like that are a pleasure rather than annoying. We corrected the mistake and arrived at the Cave of the Sorcerer around 12:15.

The woman in the gift shop was nice and spoke passable English. The tour would begin at 1 pm, but there was the remains of a Medieval defensive cave just outside we were welcome to explore during the wait, also a museum through the other door in the gift shop. She warned us that part of the Medieval area required quite a bit of ‘athletic ability’ to get into.

Could it be? A break in the fog!?

Could it be? A break in the fog!?

The stairs up to the first level of the cave were steep and uneven. I slipped once. In the rock over head, was an obviously man-made wall and window.

There was little to see in the lower sections, but a bit inside the short, narrow cave was a heavy wooden ladder and a pair of dangling ropes. Peering up the ladder revealed a narrow hole. Jens climbed up to the top rungs first. He reported it was quite tight. Above the last step of the ladder was a crude, high stone step, a sliver of a ledge really, which would require tricky balance and huge step up followed by two more, not as high and much larger for better footing to finish the climb.

Windows in 'safe room' masonry wall

Windows in ‘safe room’ masonry wall

Putting his feet firmly back on solid rock, Jens said it would be tight and difficult to do with everything he was loaded down with. He suggested I at least go to the ladder top for a peek.

Up I went. Climbing the ladder was no real problem, but I saw what he meant about climbing the last 3 rock ‘steps’, probably being generous calling them that. That same sense of ‘Carpi Deim’ from the burial mounds in Denmark still remains I guess because I called down, “I’m going up!”

It was awkward at best. Trying to use the ropes while boosting up through a narrow hole that required a bit of a backward lean and trusting my grip on something that had no real solidity. I expected my knee to scream when I had to tuck it almost to my chest to put toes on that first narrow ledge barely as wide as a hand. But for once, the deep flex didn’t send a knife of pain through the joint. The last two weren’t so bad, but I was still shaking and panting for breath when I shook loose the ropes and scrambled into the room proper.

Lovely French country buildings

Lovely French country buildings

It was small, perhaps just a little bigger than our bedroom at home. In natural shelf like areas along the wall, shallow basins had been chipped out for whatever people needed to put in them. More marks on the floor. Jens climbed high enough to boost the camera bag in so I could take pictures.

I lingered there for a few minutes. Trying to imagine the terror of these people’s lives that they had to find and adapt such places for survival. Sad in so many ways.

And it was this way all up and down along the river. Nearly every cliff-face I saw had at least a few evenly spaced, horizontal square holes cut. I’m not sure I’d have noticed them before seeing La Roque Saint-Christophe. But once I’d seen them up close, they popped out everywhere.

Getting back down was actually a little more heart-pounding then up had been. Backing into the cleft and clenching the ropes for dear life, my feet blindly groped for the steps with Jens’ voice as direction. The fumble for that last tiny ledge with my left toes and nearly able to kiss my own right knee was the worst. Stepping onto the ladder a relief. I was giddy once I came back to the ground. I’d done it!

Ladder & little nook beyond

Ladder & little nook beyond

I was overheated and still trembling as we found a bench to sit on near the engraved cave entrance. It had been hard, nervous work getting up and down through that narrow little space.

A couple minutes after 1 pm, the woman walked up with the key to take us into the cave. We were the only ones for that tour. Sadly, no photos were allowed. Her English for explaining the tour was actually very good, better than her random English. “e stepped in and she gave us a quick history of the cave.

It was small. The smallest of the ‘visitable caves’ with prehistoric art. It’s quite a bit larger than it used to be as the men who discovered it in the 50’s had enlarged it for tourists. The people who left the etching would have had to wriggle in like worms and do the work flat on their backs. Thanks to the floor being cut down, the space is almost 10 feet high in some areas.

Closest to the entrance, oldest carvings were in the range of 19,000 years old. One a bison and the other a horse. The bison’s head and part of the horse’s lower legs were missing because medieval villagers had hacked the cave opening a little larger to accommodate bundles of food stores during times of conflict. There are signs there might have been more carvings, but they were lost due to the activity during the medieval time. The shifts in light triggered by the guide really made the images stand out amazingly well.

Left side of the medieval 'safe room'

Left side of the medieval ‘safe room’

Then she asked us to wait a moment so she could go clean the condensation off the mirror. That done, she called us down the narrow ramp. There were five figures carved on the ceiling there, at such an angle in the curve of rock, the easiest way to view them was by the mirror’s reflection. These were ‘only’ about 17,000 years old. There was a group of three animal heads. Two European bison or maybe aurochs with deer/gazelle like animal above them.

There was also a very crude representation of a horse. Extremely simplistic, so much so, I did better drawings when I was 5 or 6 years old. On the other hand, it was also potentially highly symbolic as shapes representing female reproductive parts used as the shapes of the horse’s legs.

Window View

Window View

The last image on the rock was the one which gave the cave it’s name, “Cave of the Sorcerer”. It was also one that is extremely rare. There are something like 350 sites in France with examples of prehistoric cave art. That amounts to thousands of paintings, etchings and bias relief sculptures. Animals are most common. Body parts like perhaps just the lower part of a body, or outlines of hands or genitalia as with the horse turn up occasionally.

More rare are the human figures, but with animal heads. Those are believed to be portrayals of shamans in animal masks. Depictions of full, completely human figures are the most rare of all. From all the hundreds of sites with thousands of bits of art work there are only TWO fully human images.

One theory of why is the possibility that stone-age man believed that putting the paintings or etchings on the cave walls was to capture the spirit of what was drawn. So, if a man’s image was put on stone, then his spirit too might be snared. The same way some tribes living in prehistoric fashion fear cameras, believing their souls would be captured in the photograph.

Entrance to 'Safe Room'

Entrance to ‘Safe Room’

The sorcerer figure, definitely male, was holding a small triangular shape. She told us that archaeologists believe it represents an instrument. She hesitated and then apologized that she had never been able to pronounce it correctly in English. She gave us the word in French and described it as a flat lozen shaped object with one narrow end tied to a cord. When whirled it makes a low, but loud groaning sound.

“Bull-roarer,” I supplied when realizing what she meant.

She brightened. “Yes! How do you say it again?”

I repeated it again, slowly and then offered, “It’s ‘bull’ like a male cow and ‘roar’ like a lion.”

She nodded and said it over a few times to try setting the word in her memory of English.

So, we were privileged to see one of the rarest examples of stone age art in France and perhaps the world. We didn’t have to stand in line for 4 hours to get tickets, risking fist fights.

Another safe room, but inaccessible

Another safe room, but inaccessible

The guide also explained that the cave had a total of 28 etchings, but sadly, the others were out of reach. She pointed to a tiny crevice in the back of the cave. Hard to believe anyone larger than a young child could wriggle through. Those who opened the cave to the public in the 50’s didn’t enlarge that section because doing so would have damaged and destroyed a number of etchings.

She also explained about how quite a few years ago, some archeologists had tried taking plaster impressions of the paintings and found that bits of stone loosened by lichens and mold came away.

“Will this cave be closed in the future to protect the carvings?” I asked.

The question seemed to catch her by surprise and she looked up at the etchings over head. “Yes, I believe so. Not next year or even the one after, but perhaps less than 10.” The number of people who come to places like this change the caves, increasing temperature and humidity levels as well as introducing spores that allow molds and mildews to thrive, eating away the rock.

Sunshine!

Sunshine!

She told us that Lascaux II may be closing in the not too distant future. Lascaux II is a near perfect copy of two of the original Lascaux chambers, down to fractions of an inch. The problem is, it was crafted just 100 yards away from the original and part of the same cave system was used. The sheer number of tourists still affects the real Lascaux because of the small passages linking the copy to the original. Also the vibrations from the constant traffic, especially buses brings its own damages to the true Lascaux.

I can understand and agree with the need, though it pains me that I might never see some of those caves with the beautiful examples of primitive painting. At least I did get to see one of the rarest etchings in the world.

How la Madeleine Village might have looked at its prime

How la Madeleine Village might have looked at its prime

Even days later, Jens was still saying the cave was one of his favorite moments of the vacation. More than the time in Bruges even.

Ruined castle on cliff above la Madeleine Village

Ruined castle on cliff above la Madeleine Village

We came out of the cave and blinked at the unexpected glare of sunlight. In the short time we were inside, the fog had finally cleared!

I debated with myself about a ride. The problem was by the time I went back to the hotel to change, went to a starting point and readied the trike, it would be almost 4 pm. Too late to ride for more than half an hour or 45 minutes. More time to get ready than I’d have pedalling. I decided I’d go in the morning.

Jens kept asking if I was sure. It took some time to convince him.

Cave with cottages

Cave with cottages

An example of both types of lizards running around la Madeleine

An example of both types of lizards running around la Madeleine

Honestly, I was having a wonderful time seeing the historical, and prehistorical, things with him. Sharing and doing stuff together and both of us really enjoying ourselves. It wasn’t like he was going along with things he had no interest in to humor me. If he wanted to do that, then he’d be on a bike beside when I went riding. He was genuinely as interested in the sites I kept pointing the way to.

I also admitted to myself that if I were riding my trike, I would be missing out on things like the cliff chateau and climbing into the hard-to-reach room. Leaving the trike alone for an hour or more while I ran around ruins or preserved ancient sites would have only made me anxious and I’d have bowed out. Just 15 or 20 minutes when I ate at that cafe in Damme just outside Bruges about had me jumping out of my skin with the trike out of sight.

Close up of a cottage with small oven

Close up of a cottage with small oven

Scenery and riding would be nice, but exploring ruins of the past with the hubby was much better! I can get miles by doing loops around home. Less chances to spend quality time with Jens.

So, with almost perfectly sunny skies, we returned to ‘Village Troglodytique de La Madeleine’.

We paid the fee and were given a guide book. Off we went on our self-guided tour. The site appeared rather unassuming at first glance. Lovely, tall old trees with paths crossing the sloped ground. We followed the paths and found the village.

View down la Madeleine's 'Main Street'

View down la Madeleine’s ‘Main Street’

Small ruined building

Small ruined building

The place was crawling with darling little lizards. They scurried away from just about every surface. Probably they were just as happy to see the sun as we were and desperately needed to recharge by warming up. I took almost as many photos of the tiny reptiles as I did the village ruin.

la Madeleine Village's River View

la Madeleine Village’s River View

The first section was a collection of houses built in the shelter of a large cave. You could see some of the old cottage walls. It surprised me that they allowed people to go into the cave. Toward the back, huge blocks as large as Cadillacs had fallen from above. Still, it was neat to see.

Sheep pen below a living quarters

Sheep pen below a living quarters

Doubling back past the path down, we found a much more built area. Walls closing off parts of the cliff except for arched doorways. Under the shelf of rock above, more masonry walls stood and signs of horizontal post holes chipped into the solid rock. Sheep pens and more homes.

Chapel at La Madeleine

Chapel at La Madeleine

Up a narrow flight of uneven stairs was a small building which stood against the cave rather than in it. Curious, I climbed up. It was a tiny church. Beautifully built with vault arches, gothic columns and windows. A stone alter stood beneath one window. In a rock hollow dug out of the cliff-face which made one wall of the church was another, older alter. I called Jens up to see.

I have to say, the chapel stitched photo came out beautifully. Just shows I should have stopped worrying about what others might think about my tripod and used it at de Reignac. The overlaps for the chapel were taken with the tripod and using the shutter timer to completely eliminate camera shake. Lesson learned.

The kitchen's oven

The kitchen’s oven

There were two chambers completely set into the side of the cliff. With masonry front walls pierced by proper doorways, they were secure chambers. One was identified as a cloth-maker’s shop by the items of archaeology found within. The other was a kitchen, built at the same time as the castle above (1200’s), it was used up until the 1800’s.

Intermittent (Sacred) Spring

Intermittent (Sacred) Spring

A sign marked the site of an intermittent spring that probably had a sacred significance since prehistoric times. It was dry while we were there. A little sign listed the years where water has trickled or gurgled through here in recent times. 1978, ’80, ’82, ’83, ’85, ’94, ’95 and the last time was in 2001.

End of the street

End of the street

Chateau of 'Petit Marzac'

Chateau of ‘Petit Marzac’

We walked to the end of the site and doubled back once more. This time, we climbed back up and started walking around the outside of the ruined castle that stood above the village. Sadly, it’s falling apart too much for people to get close to. I still liked seeing it though.

Scenery while searching for the ruin

Scenery while searching for the ruin

I was fairly wiped as we trudged back through the trees to return the guide book. Still, when Jens asked if I wanted to do something else, I said I wanted to at least find the location of the ruined chateau. We could decide if we wanted to take the time to do it the next day after we went into the caves of Font-de-Gaume. The paintings there might not match Lascaux for quantity, but they are very close in quality from what I understand.

Hard to see, but it's all down hill

Hard to see, but it’s all down hill

Stairs leading up to a small cave opening

Stairs leading up to a small cave opening

After quite a bit running around we finally found the parking lot which was still 800 meters (0.5 mile) to the chateau itself.

Honestly, I was so exhausted by the time we laid eyes on the ruined chateau we should have ended the day right there. But so much to see! So much to do! Jens and I were supposed to head to Carcassonne by lunch the next day. So, without letting my hubby know just how worn I was, we set off on the half-mile downhill walk.

Wonder what was built here

Wonder what was built here

I was completely intrigued upon laying eyes on Chateau de Commarque. The structure stood as an amazing display of ruin and intact walls. Without meaning to, we’d paid the entrance fee and I began climbing stairs to pass through the portcullis gate.

Troglodyte Stable & Living Area

Troglodyte Stable & Living Area

There were even troglodyte ‘cottages’ under the foundations in the form of a cave area where niches had been turned into bed alcoves. Another area displayed as a stable for live-stock and another space as a kitchen/pantry.

Thought this was a pretty shot

Thought this was a pretty shot

Defensive Tower & Ruined Grand Salon On High

Defensive Tower & Ruined Grand Salon On High

The ruined rooms pulled me on in spite of the growing ache and weakness in my legs or the throbbing in my feet. I’d walk a few steps and then stop to take several photos.

I love ruins! Can you tell?

I love ruins! Can you tell?

Then we crossed over the rough wooden bridge into the main defensive portion of the castle. A tiny courtyard with a ‘grand gallery’ on one side. A small ruined tower in the middle.  One side was a larger tower holding several floors as well as a narrow, tall room apparently once used as a silo.

Ruins & Distant Castle

Ruins & Distant Castle

Up we began to climb the narrow, spiral stair case. The steps were uneven thanks to centuries of wear and too small to use my poles. It felt like it took me forever to climb to the second floor and then onward to the top.

Fires my imagination.

Fires my imagination.

Jens impressed me by going all the way up and even stepped out onto the top of the tower. He stayed away from the edges, but he stood beneath wide sky and surrounded by open air though he knew how high he was. On the corner of the main tower was another, much smaller one. Probably a watch tower. A modern steep, stair-like ladder actually went up over the door out of the main tower.

I found some reserve of strength to make that final push to the tipy-top of the castle. As I climbed, I called down to Jens, “You wouldn’t be able to make this! Climbing out over open air above the door!” He hollered back something about how little I was helping with comments like that.

Instead of standing on stone, the ladder led up onto a wooden platform built above the tower’s roof/floor. That railing kept you back from the stone edge. I took a picture of Jens just below. I really am proud of him for coming up into the open from the main building. I stretched the camera out to take a picture of him looking up at me.

Getting down to ground level was it’s own merry hell of an adventure. My legs were noodles and my feet killing me. A wobbly toddler would have out-run me. Jens had more trouble getting down the stairs than he had going up. Up, he kept his eyes… well… up. Going down, he kept looking down. The difficulty came when he was passing an arrow-slit in the wall and he’d see the ground far below. Vertigo would make him dizzy and he had to stop to force his eyes away and regain his balance.

I was very, very proud of him. It would be like me wading through a mile long kiddy pool full of leeches.

Ruined Grand Hall

Ruined Grand Hall

We were almost the last people to leave the ruin. Jens went to take photos at the spot marked as the best view of the castle and I wobbled over to return the guide book before beginning the half-mile walk to the car.

And the castle again

And the castle again

The man at the kiosk for the tickets and small drinks and snacks asked if anyone was still there. I told him about the cuddly couple on top of the highest tower and how they hadn’t passed us on the way down. I think he was hoping to leave 15 minutes early, but had to wait on them.

On the slow, up-hill creep back to the car, Jens admitted he was exhausted too. I was beyond exhausted. Exhausted would have been stopping BEFORE the castle. My back and knees hurt. I had no strength in my legs. I made each step only through sheer force of will. The thought that I couldn’t make it and would collapse before reaching the car crossed my mind a few times. I was also broiling hot and could have wrung out a cup of sweat from either my shirt or hair.

Somehow, I stumbled all the way to the car. I never would have made it if not for my poles.

On the way back to Les Eyzies, the cramps began. The muscles in my legs and feet started to feel like they were pulling apart. Could have been dehydration or perhaps lack of salt. I’m gonna guess salt as badly as I was craving anything remotely salty. Even the salt licks in pastures were starting to look good.

That I had pushed myself way too far was quite clear. Jens asked what time did we have to be at the ticket office for the cave paintings. I told him I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. We even spoke of heading home. Jens insisted we wait until we knew how I felt the next morning before deciding anything rash. I think he was looking forward to Carcassonne and knew how long I’ve been wanting to see it.

The Ruin From a Distance

The Ruin From a Distance

So, here we are. I’ve let Jens sleep on a little more as I’ve decided we’re skipping the cave paintings. Even 8:00 would have been too late to arrive for the 80 tickets a day. Most people arrive around 6 am or earlier and I didn’t wake up until 6:30. It’s no use going, waiting for hours only to find out there’s no tickets left.

As to Carcassonne? I can barely move this morning, tottering around like someone 150 years old. Half a day’s rest for the drive south wouldn’t be enough and Carcassonne would require a lot of walking. That could lay me out for a week or more, perhaps even send me to a doctor for having wrecked my back or knees.

Jens will be rather torn about not going on. Part of him wants to go home. I know it. The other part wants to make me happy by taking me to a place I’ve wanted to see half my life. He also wants to see it for himself. I think I can talk him around.

As for the idea of a ride this morning? Well, even IF a heavy fog wasn’t blanketing the region, I’m not sure I could turn the Sprint’s pedals more than 4 or 5 times.

So, another chance to ride thwarted. Ah well. At least the trike is with us even if the wheel’s haven’t spun since the ride around Bruges.



Better and Better!
October 1, 2013, 4:44 am
Filed under: Misc

(September 29th – This is going to look a bit messy as I try to cram in an insane number of photos.)

Written on September 21st for September 20th

I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether to spend 1 full day in the area (and therefore 2 nights in the comfortable hotel) or just half a day on my Sprint, streaking down the mountain sides through stunning scenery from the highest pass near Salers before driving on to the Dordogne Region 3 hours away.

Lovely Room View

Hotel View Evening of September 19th

Hotel View Morning of September 20th

Hotel View Morning of September 20th

Small Church Across From Hotel

Small Church Across From Hotel

When I awoke and pulled back the curtain, I saw the weather was adding it’s own vote to the choices. The evening before, soft rolling mountains  made a lovely backdrop to the view from our hotel room. Yesterday morning, the stone building and near trees were visible through a haze of gently falling rain and fog. Everything beyond was a thick veil of pearly gray.

One of Salers larger cottages

One of Salers larger cottages

Jens stayed on the optimistic side. “We’ll have breakfast and look around the village first. Maybe even drive to where you wanted to start for the short day to see how it is.”

L'eglise Saint Matthieu (Church of St. Matthew)

L’eglise Saint Matthieu (Church of St. Matthew)

That’s what we did.

Interior of St. Matthew's in Salers

Interior of St. Matthew’s in Salers

Salers is very small, but we still took 2 hours looking around. We ambled slowly, admiring the buildings and tiny streets. I was in an absolute photo-frenzy. “Ooh! Look at that narrow, steep sloped cobbled road between dark stone buildings!” at every turn.

Beautiful even in Rain

Beautiful even in Rain

I just LOVE these streets!

I just LOVE these streets!

The first bit we walked took us to a tiny little ‘central’ square where the church took up one quarter of it. Very impressive, but I think not the highest building thanks to the hill/mountain on which the village sits. That goes to what is/was what I think is part of the castle higher up.

A tangle of medieval alleyways.

A tangle of medieval alleyways.

I was thrilled when I saw the church door open. Quietly I peeked in and Jens followed. It was on the dim side for photos in the church, but I was reluctant to set up my tripod. An older woman who clearly lived in the village gave Jens and I both a disapproving glare as she passed us on the way out.

And Around This Corner...

And Around This Corner…

And Around That Corner!

And Around That Corner!

Knowing better, I didn’t take it personally or even as the ‘French Rudeness’ Americans often hear about. It was the same glare any church matron, strong in her faith and ways, would give a camera snapping tourist intruding in her holy space.

Village Chateau?

Village Chateau?

Granted, I haven’t found anyone like that in Sweden. I was actually warmly welcomed when I’d gotten pinned in a church during a funeral service once, in spite of sweaty, dusty cycle clothes, battered sneakers, ball cap, camera bag and water containers while smelling of sunscreen. Even the widow hugged me for my ‘kind words’ when I offered apologies for intruding and condolences for her loss. If anyone should have objected it would have been her.

And 'click!'

And ‘click!’

'Click!' some more!

‘Click!’ some more!

The woman’s glare didn’t deter me from taking photos, but I decided it would be perhaps over-the-top disrespectful in her eyes if I plopped down the tripod. I settled for using Jens’ shoulder where I had to.

Flowers!

Flowers!

View from the park into valley below

View from the park into valley below

Salers Cattle

Salers Cattle

Then it was out into the village again. We peeked into a souvenir shop where I looked around for something for my family and Jens for his. He picked up a fridge magnet for his dad who collects them. It has a picture of one of the horned, red cows specific to the area around the village. There’s even a statue in one of the village squares, which if we puzzled out correctly, honors the man who developed the breed.

By the time we went to the car to drive to the pass I’d tentatively decided to speed down, I’d taken over 110 photos just of the village.

High above & ghostly in the fog

High above & ghostly in the fog

The weather didn’t improve as we headed out. The fog made Jens additionally nervous. The narrow country lanes here in France tense him up already so he didn’t really need the additional stress. The little rural roads make Swedish single lane country roads look like interstate highways. Given there was often a sheer drop on my side, I can’t really blame him. Throw in fog, yeah. I was nervous too. We made it above the tree line and found a sign that Jens suggested I take photos of though it was all in French. I think he wanted a chance to catch his breath.

Bet it's beautiful on a clear day.

Bet it’s beautiful on a clear day.

High on a ridge over the road, I spotted the silhouette of a Salers cow. If I’d had time, I would have swapped to the long lens, but I didn’t want to lose even the distant shot.

That was one thing that surprised me about the drive along that steep road. Even on the areas where the ground fell away to the valleys below in nearly sheer drops, it was fenced with either barbed wire or electrified. It baffled me that they made such an effort where, clearly, cattle couldn’t go. Right? I’d not seen goats though I suppose they could have been lurking below, unseen in the cotton wool that was the fog.

Visibility wasn’t improving and finally I decided that it would be just too dangerous to attempt the downward plunge. The roads were wet, cars wouldn’t be able to see me until maybe too late. Condensation and puddles could wet my brakes, leaving me unable to stop quickly at a critical moment.

Still thick on the heights, but lifting below

Still thick on the heights, but lifting below

Mostly though, it was the lack of visibility of the scenery. I can rack up photo-less miles by doing loops around home any day of the week. I wanted to ride through the gorgeous landscape, collecting photos of what was around me as a I went. Just racing wildly through a featureless world held no real appeal.

It took a little longer to convince Jens, but finally he agreed. He didn’t really want me riding in such conditions as well. We said good-bye to the cow on the ridge and turned back west.

Lower down, the fog did begin to break-up, giving pretty, cloud veiled glimpses of forested hills and lush pasture land. Also, the inevitable fields of corn.

The day was going to be a long drive, but once the fog shifted to drizzle, at least we could see more of the countryside. We’d stop from time to time when random things caught my eye.

Village on the Dordogne

Village on the Dordogne

Once it was Jens who wanted to stop when we came to a river. By then, the rain had stopped and the clouds had that clumpy look they get before they start breaking apart. There was a convenient parking stop right at the beginning of it so we walked to the middle of the bridge. Pretty stretch of water with a village on its banks. There was even a man fly-fishing in the brisk current and water weeds waving like a woman’s hair in the wind.

Reflections

Reflections

Bits of blue sky and brief moments of sunlight were appearing when we stopped along what might have been the same river in a town. There were a pair of lovely arched bridges spanning it.

Chateau de Losse

Chateau de Losse

The rest of the way was following the river, which I think was the Vezere. Jens asked if there was anything I wanted to see along the way. I looked up to the higher bank on the other side to point at something through the trees. “Yes, that!”

We pulled over into a handy space across from Chateau de Losse. The higher bank gave it an interesting angle and the undercut bank of solid rock was impressive as well. Though the chateau was open to the public, I just wanted to find the hotel we hoped to stay at. We’d made no reservation, just hoped for the best. It was already coming up on 4 pm by this point.

As we came into Les Eyzies, Jens stress levels again rose. The village isn’t very complicated in layout, but crowded. Cars all over the place, tourists streaming along the walks and randomly crossing the streets. Though I watched for our hotel, I missed it at first.

“We just passed it!”

“Passed what?”

“The hotel!”

“That yellow building?”

Site of first discovery of Cro-Magnon Man

Site of first discovery of Cro-Magnon Man

When I answered yes, Jens voiced a few doubts about suitability for habitation of the place. I think the wisteria covered front triggered those, but the fact of free parking for the guests right across the street won him over into giving it a chance. When we walked in, I felt quite smug at his surprised reaction at the site of polished wood, warm welcoming colors and neatly kept interior.

We walked up to the reception desk and the man gave us a smile and ‘Bonjour!’. I answered back and asked… in French (at least I remember that much) if he spoke English.

Medieval Stone Wall at La Roque St. Christophe

Medieval Stone Wall at La Roque St. Christophe

He said a little. I asked if he had a room available. He checked and answered yes, would we like to see it first? That sounded like a good idea, so we followed him up. Simple but comfortable, clean. Actually, a very close second to the room in Salers even if the style was more traditional.

As we headed back down the stairs to conclude rental of the room, a man came in. Not much taller than I, he was the thinness of someone who’s rarely sat still long enough for anything he eats to convert to fat. He was in a full cycle outfit of jersey, shorts, shoes and helm. With a very clear American accent, he started to work his way in broken French in an attempt to get directions to Sales.

Shows how the frames were built using holes chiseled in rock

Shows how the frames were built using holes chiseled in rock

The hotel clerk gave us a questioning look and we indicated it was fine, we’d wait. The man and his wife were doing a week long cycle tour in the area.

The cyclists sent on their way in the right direction and our room settled, Jens asked if there was anything I wanted to do as there was still a couple hours or more of good daylight. I said I wanted to get a look at the place I hoped to start my area ride.

Jens was willing and we went out the door. He started across the street to our car, but I said, “This way!” and took a sharp right along a dirt and gravel track that passed by the fronts of a few buildings next to our hotel. Baffled, my now less-stressed hubby followed.

Evidence showed this was a smokehouse

Evidence showed this was a smokehouse

There, around the tree shaded corner, another path followed the side of a building toward the cliff face rising above the village. A fenced off area with the world heritage sign announced we looked at the shallow rock shelter where the remains of the first ever example of Cro-Magnon man had been found. As a matter of fact, our hotel’s name was Le Cro-Magnon and the site was almost behind it.

No one else was there and, admittedly, it’s rather tucked away. Without the significance of the find made here, it would be unimpressive really. Still, I’ve always been fascinated by the finds of prehistoric man, or even historic man up to about the 1600’s. Still, to me, the older the better! So, Cro-Magnon is good and the location of the first find was inspiring for me to see.

Carved shelves, a medieval safe & holes for fittings

Carved shelves, a medieval safe & holes for fittings

Though it was about 5 pm when we arrived at the turn for La Roque Saint-Christophe, we made the final narrow drive to the parking lot, even passing through a narrow rock crevice just large enough for a car. The site was open until 7 pm and except for the 2 hours walking around Salers, we’d been sitting in the car. I felt confident and strong enough to make the attempt at looking at the place.

Amazing. It is the largest cave shelter in Europe. Habitation dates back some 50,000 years, including indications that Neanderthal’s stayed there before the arrival of Cro-Magnon and then later modern man. It was used right up through the 1500’s as a full medieval village. There was a smithy, churches (yes plural), butcher, cloth maker as well as various houses. Even stable areas to bring livestock up during times of escalated conflict. A barracks and armoury. In the rock you could see where holes had been chiseled out to put down horizontal beams for floors above. Cabinets and shelves and basins. Rings carved out of the solid stone for tying rope or using hooks. Crude stairs going from one level to the next.

The main 'village strip' of the site

The main ‘village strip’ of the site

Deep Cut Stairs

Deep Cut Stairs

Lower Level

Lower Level

Stretching nearly a kilometer long, the site has five levels though only three of them are accessible to the public for safety reasons.

Church area with recreated fixtures

Church area with recreated fixtures

I was absolutely thrilled with the place though all that really remained where the parts chiseled into the rock. Here, a partial wall hewn out of the floor. The rings in the ceiling where ropes would have hung hams or sides of beef in the ‘smokehouse’.

There was even a medieval ‘safe’. A near perfect square about 8 inches deep by 1.5 feet high and 1 foot wide hewn into the wall. It had a place to inset a small door with hinges flush to the rock when closed and another slot where a the equivalent of a medieval deadbolt would have locked home. Someone definitely wanted to keep something secure to go through so much work.

Burial Spots in Church Floor

Burial Spots in Church Floor

Some areas had props to help imagination along. The smithy had anvils, hammers and more. Cooper’s shop with a rings, staves, mallets and other tools of the trade as well as a couple of finished barrels. The church area even had a wooden alter and rough bench pews, not to mention a bell hung on the cliff face above and in front which you had to lean out over the railing to look up at. Within the church area there were also shallow hollows chipped out of the floor where a few the more important people would have been interred.

View to lower level

View to lower level

The Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase

The barracks area was the most recreated area. They’d even built the outer medieval wall with beam and plaster medieval design. Inside were examples of weapons hung and sound affects of clanging weapons and people speaking. The barrack’s kitchen was also outfitted out how it might have looked with the furnishings, pottery and utensils of the time by archaeological remains were found.

Claustrophobic isn't it?

Claustrophobic isn’t it?

Oh and the views across the valley were beautiful as well!

View From La Roque St. Christophe

View From La Roque St. Christophe

In spite of time on my feet and all the climbing I felt fine when we returned to the car for the drive back to Les Eyzies for dinner.

View of the cliffs from restaurant

View of the cliffs from restaurant

Nice finish for a good day!

Nice finish for a good day!

We cheated a little with supper. Instead of trying to puzzle out a menu of French cuisine without the help of English subtitles, we went to a pizza place. A cheerful and friendly woman greeted us with bubbling enthusiasm and took our orders. I head steak and fries. Jens had a pizza of some sort. I also thanked our hostess profusely when she brought a decanter of cold water. We finished up with dessert. Jens had a platter of cheese with bread to finish his wine and I had something called an Iceberg. A mint and chocolate ice cream sunday.

Then it was back to a night of blissful sleep and anticipation of my ride the next morning.