Friday, May 9, 2008

Southwest France V - Cognac, Marshes Area, and La Rochelle

Day four, we got up early, packed and headed to the next home for two nights. On the way, the scenery changed from lime stone cliffs, luscious green, small rivers, windy roads to a less hilly landscape with fields after fields of crops. We also saw more industrialized small cities (Cognac region) instead of little farming villages (for example, Foie Gras). Since we were in the area where cognac is produced we decided to stop by the city Cognac for lunch and a nice tour in Châteaux Otard. Lunch was at a hotel restaurant that had pistachio green walls inside. We had some cognac for appertif, foie gras on toast and skewers of meat for the main course. They were delicious.
We joined the English tour in Châteaux Otard where the first French King was born. The tour showed us the processes of making cognac including distillation of the alcohol, flavors for blending, and aging for the quality (Very Sepcial, Very Special Old Pale, Napoleon, eXtra Old 55, XO Gold, and 1795 Extra) of cognac. The interesting thing about the aging was the black mold which grew around the celler, fed by the alcohol from the oak barrels. Because of the aging process, we realized that not all cognacs taste like gasoline... once you get to the level of Napoleon, it tastes better. However to our taste and budget, the cost- benefits to cognac just didn't seem to be there. We are more wine and beer type of people. Still, it was a worthwhile visit.

In the next 2 hours, we drove to the marshes area and looked for our B&B. Unfortunately, the B&B address was NOT in the GPS. We were totally lost in the small villages. We stopped and went into a small shop for directions. Again, our French was very limited and so their English. At the end, the shop lady called the B&B, jumped into her car, and hand signed us to follow her. Such nice friendly country people. Our host family is from England. They decided to end their business and moved to France to have a different life style just a few years ago. Since they spoke perfect English, there was no problem for us getting a recommendation for a dinner place. We ended our forth day at a local restaurant with a nice meal.

The next day, had a tip from our host and headed for some fun. Our first stop - Abbaye De Maillezais. We walked around the ruined and took some goofy pictures then headed to second stop - Damvix where we rented/shared a boat with another French family of 4. The tour guide paddled the boat in the canals for an hour. Althought the weather was unpredictable... changed from sunny, cloudy, raining, to sunny, we still enjoyed the boat ride very much. The sounds of breeze and birds between the trees and the scene of narrow canals were just absolutely beautiful. No wonder the wet marshes area was also called Green Venice. Click Our Photo to Share to see more.

We droved to La Rochelle by the coast for a scenery change. La Rochelle is a pretty harbor town that also is a yachting center on France's Atlantic coast. We climbed up one of the towers - Tour de la Lanterne which had its inner walls covered in graffiti by prisoners between the 17th to 19th centuries.

As always, we ended our day with a wonderful French dinner...oysters for starter, various roasted greens for salad, fish for the main course with a bottle of local white wine. Ah...what could be better than this. That's what life is all about! We definitely appreciate it for what we have.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Southwest France IV - Driving in the French country road

Driving is like a treat for us since we don't have a car in Germany, and of course a road trip is always fun. We often saw things that was just a little unusual for us, and sometimes, we got a good laugh out of it. Here are some pictures to tell.... an unknown beautiful castle (wasn't unexpected but this one is interesting). Josh pulled-over the car to take some pictures of the castle. A few seconds later, another car did exactly the same.

A foie gras farm sign on the side road; we thought we could get some for later when we want to remember our french road trip. We followed the sign which led us to a super tiny road (probably only for tractors) to a what you might call a chicken and geese farm house. To our disappointment, we didn't see any people but plenty of chickens and geese running around. Moreover, one roster was pretending to be a watch dog...kept rolling.
We drove by this bunch of animal...hmm??? what are they??? They looked too small to be cows but too fat to be deers and no horns to be goats. It took us a few seconds to realize that they were "naked" sheep. They must have been shaved recently. It was quite funny to see sheep without their coats on.

Often time when Josh drove, I had one hand out the window with camera snapping away. I thought the image below turned out pretty nice. It captured the beauty of the road trip.

I'd say about 20% of the time, our GPS took us on roads like this. Not only is it a narrow dirt path, but also in the middle of woods. Oh, and our GPS was just about to run out of batteries. Can you image how stressful that was?? Getting lost ...only the naked sheep in sight and I don't speak baaahbaaah!!

Third day in Perigueux city center, at a forked intersection, and an ambulance rear ended our little Opel. Oh NO not us! You would think that an ambulance driver knows better. We got out of the car and took a look... a small dent in the back. Crap! I didn't think we would need the extra insurance when I purchased it...that was going through my mind. The ambulance pulled over in front of our little Opel...kind of odd I thought. Weren't they supposed to keep the crime scene untouched? Two French guys got out the ambulance and started talking and asking questions...&)(*UPI*&^)^%%(*^$%#$... Well, our French was limited to 'Bonjour', 'Merci', and 'Au revoir'. So we kept
#$%)(*^%$@ )&$ back and forth until Josh called the rental car company to sort things out. No 911 or police report was required...weird, we thought. The two French guys filled out an accident report and said sorry and then they left. We were not hurt or anything besides both of us being shocked and I was shaking uncontrollably the entire time. We lost interest and appetite for dinner. We decided to cut the night early and headed back to the hotel in Beynac. Just after an hour from the ambulance accident on the way back, I felt the car run over something and heard 'shit'. My heart started racing again. Josh stopped the car and said that he clipped a little deer, who jumped right in front of our car from the woods. He didn't even have time to avoid it and I didn't even see it. is that for the French country road driving experience. First an 'ambulance' then a Bambi. I guess having a GPS is not enough for the road trip. We will need some kind of motion sensor to alert us that something is approaching us at a dangerous distance. I thought that it is a pretty good idea...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Southwest France III - Lascaux, Hautefort, and Bourdeilles

I was awoke by the thunders and rain in the middle of the night. It didn't bother Josh at all. He could sleep through anything. So the next day, we woke up with the continuous rain and pretty chill weather. Since we didn't get to see the prehistoric cave yesterday, we decided to head to north of Sarlat toward Les Eyzies, Hauitefort, then turn to west toward Perigueux.

Our first stop was Grotte de Font de Gaume in Les Eyzies for the prehistoric paintings. Apparently I spent too much time to get ready in the morning because the only appointment we could get was 3pm. Who knew where we would be by the afternoon, so we headed to another one (the super famous one too), Lascaux II about 30 minutes away. We got our tickets for the French tour. Again we couldn't get in until late afternoon for the English tour. Just then we realized that only a limited number of people are allowed per day to see any caves. So we had a French guide tour. Although we couldn't understand anything he said, French was definitely easy on the ears. The original Lascaux was closed from a green disease on the stone and no longer open to the public. We saw the replica, that was painted with the same materials. It was absolutely different from seeing paintings in museums and interesting to learn how the cave was discovered by a young boy and his dog. A great experience after our third try to get into a cave.

Lunch in the same town and always good food (3 course for lunch... just as I am typing away for this part, my mouth is watering.) In the restaurant, we met three Brits who retired in the area closed by. I wonder why? Duh...just three days into our trip, we were already mesmerized by the sleepy villages, slow pace, winding roads, rich culture, food, and wine. We even thought about moving toSouthwest France! The British people gave us some tips (Cognac, marshes area by Niort, La Rochelle by Atlantic Ocean) which we followed later in our vacation.
After lunch, we drove to Hautefort to see Chateau Hautefort. The chateau is very well maintained and has a nice big garden. No camera was allowed inside of the castle thought. I did get a little French cook book from the souvenir shop. Always thinking about my 'hausfrau' responsibilities at all times.

We stopped at the Bourdeille (cute small town surrounded by a creek) and Perigueux (semi big city). We were planning to have dinner in Perigueux but lost our appetite after a couple accidents. (See SW Fance VI - Driving in the French country road.) We were both too shocked to have anything in our stomaches. Good that we had a 3 course lunch... I am still thinking about it. Ha...

Southwest France II - Rocamadour, 2 River Tour, and Cahors

Second day into our vacation, awoken by church bells, we got up and decided our itinerary - going south of Sarlat to Rocamadour and further south to Cahors by driving along one side of 2 rivers.

Seeing Rocamadour from distance, we were so taken aback by how all the old buildings sit on a rocky plateau above the Alzou Valley with a small road connected to the other side. The town was more than a spectacular view. According to the DK France guide book, Rocamadour became famous after the discovery of an anciant grave and sepulcher containing an undecayed body. Then, a serious of miracles came. It is still a holy shrine and a popular tourist spot.

Followed the winding path going down, we entered an old church and came out to a big square where Josh stood in the picture. Then it was kind of up down, up down, then a lot of stairs to go down. We didn't walk around town much since there was so much more to see but we got the flavor. I hope you do too by click on 'our pictures to share' to see more.

We had lunch at a cliff side restaurant. I had the meal of the day and Josh had foie gras salat which was fantastic. It was hard to go back with the long up hill path and stairs but we did it without taking the elevator. We figured that we would need all the walking after our meals anyway.

You probably wonder why I posted a picture of shoes. Did you notice how cute they are? We probably spent more time in this shoe store than in the old church. Josh got me a pair (the kind you just slip you feet in) when we were in Madrid. They were the most comfortable and cutest shoes. Since I could not have them all, I took pictures! Not a bad idea, right?

We started 2 river tour from a town called Figeac and drove through other towns called Espagnac-Ste-Eulalie, Grotte de Pech-Merle, and Cahors. When we arrived at the Grotte de Pech-Merle, it was just 10 minutes past 5. We missed the 25,000-year-old prehistoric site where has some ancient paintings on the walls. We only briefly stopped at the Cahors since we didn't want to drive in the dark country roads.

We had dinner back to Beynac at a river side restaurant. The food was good, at the same time we were about to be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. It's all about either to eat or to be eaten!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Southwest France I - Beynac and Sarlat

The initial plan was to visit the Bordeaux winery area and the Pyrenees (French and Spainish border). Considering it might be too much driving, we altered our plan to visit east of Bordeaux in the Dordogne and Perigux areas. At the end of trip, Josh and I were glad how our trip turned out and agreed that Southwest France is our favorite place to visit. was how we started our 9 day adventure: arrived in Bordeaux airport on time and got a car, we started on a 3-hour drive heading east of Bordeaux towards Sarlat with our camera sticking out the window snapping pictures. We were so drown to the nature beauty of the country scenery whether it was old chateaus or river crossing towns that we also stopped a few places for taking pictures. After driving 2 or so hours, we noticed that the scenery changed to be more hilly. Soon, we saw a chateaus sitting on top of a cliff amoung tons of old houses. It was Chateau Beynac.Then, our GPS (marriage insurance) told us that we had reached our destination. I was in disbelieve that we actually were going to stay in such an incredible place with an old chateau on top of the cliff, old houses down below, and a river running in front (picture on the right). Beynac is beyond imaginable. I have to admit that I didn't give Josh enough credit before the trip. I was joking with my friend how crappy the hotel Pontet Josh found for our first 3 nights in France was. At the moment I realize Beynac was where we were going to stay, I told Josh that he did exceptionally well. Later in our trip, people always recognized it and said how beauty Beynac is when we mention we stayed there. We also found out on the second to last day of our trip that part of the movie "Chocolate" was filmed here in Beynac.

It was a nice day out (around the high 80s) and we couldn't wait to explore the Chateau Beynac. We drove to the top, walked around a little bit, but opted not to go inside of the cheteau since we have seen quite a few and there were plenty for us to see later. It got so warm that we decided that we needed to go to Sarlat to get some shorts. We didn't expect summer weather at all and were desperate for summer outfits.

Geese statures in Sarlat.
It was a market day. People were out shopping and enjoying a nice day out. We purchased two pair of shorts and took a medieval walk around the city following a city map provided by the tourist office. Then, we got some food/wine (Can't have food without wine in France - it's a crime!!) and went back to Beynac to have our dinner picnic by the river ...the picture above where I stood by the river. Perfect first day!

See more pictures by click on 'our pictures to share' for the SW France -Beynac and Sarlat.