Terii’s Cycling Babble


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.

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