Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

From Salers to Cahors, France

 

When we got up, it was drizzling again. We went down for breakfast . . . it reminded me of being at camp. I know I sound grumpy, so first-world, but I am telling you exactly how I felt. I did not feel like a treasured guest. There was a limited breakfast buffet. There was a coffee machine. (Am I in France?? A coffee MACHINE??) Some milk cartons, yoghurt, small fruit plates are available in the small refrigerator. And there is a boil-it-yourself egg boiling machine where you put the egg in and set a timer so you will know when it is done, except that we didn’t know what the numbers meant, it wasn’t like a real timer.

Grumble grumble grumble, it’s rainy and we are getting toward the end of the trip. I’m not so bright and shiny anymore.

We had breakfast. There were croissants, French croissants, with little packets of butter and jam. Aargh.

We strolled around Salers once again. I would like to tell you that I was a good sport, but I only pretended, and at the first drops of drizzle, I said “enough.” We packed up, checked out and headed towards Cahors. It’s another 2 1/2 hour day, only this time we are taking main roads.

Shortly past St. Martins we saw a Carrefour, and it is on our side of the street. We know a lucky break when we see it. Today is November 1st, most filling stations are very closed, and here is one open. There is a line, but it is open, and the prices good. We send thanks in our hearts to the limo driver who gave us such good advice.

We are sticking to the major roads, which we finally figured out are A roads, which are also often toll roads, and D roads with larger numbers, like D2 and D13. It’s the D1304 (just a made up example) that lead us onto narrow scary roads.

We are also so impressed with French drivers. No one is speeding, no one is honking. It’s almost like being in an alternate universe.

(This is the day, that, after we got home, we were notified by Hertz that we had received a speeding ticket and would be contacted by French authorities for payment. If I read the notice correctly, it appeared to be about 24 Euro. We’ve never received a notification, or a bill, or at least not yet. But we also never saw the camera. AdventureMan says at one time he knew he was driving too fast and slowed down, but now we understand better why the French have become such good, polite drivers. There are cameras everywhere.)

We make the drive quickly, and while the day brightens occasionally, we also have frequent showers, and never a blue sky. Sticking to the main highway is boring. We leave the slate roof country, and enter back into beautiful castle country.

Google takes us directly to our hotel, the Best Western Plus Divina Cahors, and we even find parking nearby. We think there might be paid parking under the hotel, but we don’t know, and don’t bother yet with the bags.

Why did I choose this hotel? It had a great location. I love a view. It was an easy walk into historical Cahors. It seemed to have parking. And breakfast. Best Westerns generally have reliably good breakfasts.

As it turned out there was paid parking under the hotel, but also a great free parking lot just outside the hotel, so my husband brought the car to the front door, we grabbed all our bags, I waited while he parked and came back and we dragged the bags a short distance to the elevator.

When we got to our room, we were totally wowed. It is clean, modern (not normally my thing, but I loved the way this was done) and even on a dismal day, the room seemed bright and welcoming. The desk clerk was very helpful, and gave us the name of a place to eat, just blocks away.

 

 

 

I just wish I had taken a photo or two of the bathroom. The shower had four shower heads. The towels were very thick, fluffy and plentiful. There were thick terry robes for both of us. These small luxuries make me feel happy.

These are the towers on a bridge outside our window. You might think that sky looks a little blue, but it is just shades of gray.

We take our umbrellas and walk to downtown Cahors, where we find the Brasserie d’Isa. It is full of laughing people, people greeting one another, people sipping wine and eating good food. We love the place.

 

I order a salade d’autonne, which has pears and blue cheese, walnuts and walnut oil and is light and delicious.

 

AdventureMan has an omelet aux fines herbes, with pommes frites, and he, too, is delighted. When we first got to France, we were eating all the time, and we are so happy to be eating lighter once again.

Well, lighter means you can have dessert, doesn’t it? I have a very light cafe’ gourmand, with tiny tastes of all kinds of things, which I divide with my husband. Very light, wouldn’t you say?

 

It’s still raining, and we haven’t seen anything of Cahors. I tell AdventureMan we really have to just walk down this street to the Cathedral, and then we can go back to the hotel. The rain gets heavier, even two umbrellas isn’t enough, our clothes are getting soaked, but we get to the cathedral, I take a photo and we head back. No, it is closed, so we don’t go in. It’s All Saints Day, a holiday, the church is closed.

It is a church on the pilgrimage route, however. AdventureMan, with his sharp eyes, spots the telltale scallop shell on the street we find to go back to the hotel. It’s raining hard. We don’t even window show, we just scurry back to the hotel.

 

The next morning there really is a little bit of blue sky over the bridge.

 

 

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Food, France, Hotels, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , | Leave a comment

Leaving the Perigord for Salers, in the Auvergne

Morning in Domme:

Major gate into Domme, the Porte de Tours:

 

 

Around thirty five years ago, when our son was young, we visited this part of France, and spent a lot of time in the caves, and also at Castlenaud, a castle near Beynac with an impressive medieval war machines and weapons museum. It was July, and hot, and there were other visitors, but not a lot. Castlenaud was wired for sound, and the music was wonderful. I went to the ticket person and asked what the music was. It was Monteverdi, Un Concert Spirituel.  Once back in Germany, I searched until I found it. It’s one of my favorite CDs to this day. I learned a little more about Monteverdi, that he was sort of the Jimi Hendrix of his day, mixing human voices in ways they had never been mixed before.

 

Here is a close up of one section. It is mountainous. The roads are tiny!

 

On our way to Les Eyzies, and Castlenaud, on that trip, we spent the night in Salers. I knew nothing of Salers other than that the town was roofed in slate; it was a poor area, but rich in slate.

We had stayed at a hotel called Hotel Les Remparts, which had a fairly simple menu with steaks from local cows; many of these same cows were in the valley below the hotel, busy munching and making the milk which goes into the famous Cantal cheese.

As the three of us walked through Salers after dinner, we came to a church entry where the door was open, and maybe five to seven people were in a candle lit entry hallway singing old sacred music – sounded a lot like Monteverdi, with wonderful echoes bouncing around off the old stone wall. It was magical. Even our ten year old son was spellbound.

It was a little bit of a drive from Domme, three hours, but I really wanted to visit that hotel once again.

 

Once again, Google took us on some very strange roads until my husband begged me to use the map and stick to the main roads. Honestly, he was right. We had been on some mountain roads, one lane, with French drivers going must faster than we were comfortable. And here’s the thing. The French used to be crazy drivers, with terrible wrecks, and now, we can hardly believe it, but there has been a huge cultural shift and the French are law-abiding, safe drivers. We knew on these narrow, single-lane roads, with no protection from steep drop-offs, that WE were the problem, and I agreed with my husband, and we kept to the larger roads.

French bikers along the route:

(very careful, well-behaved bikers)

Even so, it took us longer that we had hoped, or maybe it seemed longer.

At one point, I remember AdventureMan pulling over and saying “Take that picture! It may be the only sun we see all day!” and he was right, it was drizzly and very dreary, and it colored our impression of the drive.

Our first sighting of one of the slate roofs. Can you see why I love them? Look how lovingly they have been cut to have a curved bottom. I try to imagine how to cut slate so that the thicknesses are so much alike.

We are getting near to Salers, but we are tired and we need to stop. We stop in St. Martins, at a hotel and they tell us no, they don’t serve until dinner but that is a really good little Bistro just off the main road to Salers, and to stop there. We do, at Le P’tit Bistrot. The place is packed, but the waitress likes us. “You are American?” she asks, with a big smile. Some customers are leaving and she puts us at that table, and cleans it off.

“I’ll check with the chef to see what is left,” she tells us, and hurries to the kitchen. Coming back, she points to the daily special and tells us we are in luck, that there is still a little left. It is turkey. We are hungry. Fine with us.

This stuffed tomato was wonderful! Tasty, and artistically done. Simple salad, good local bread.

I apologize. We really were hungry. It’s a good thing my husband reminded me I had not taken a photo. The turkey was perfect, moist and fork-tender, with a home made gravy. Even the rice has flavor. So simple, and so good.

AdventureMan had french fries (actually, pommes frites) with his, and said they were hot and fresh.

The rain had not let up as we left (pardon the splotch on my lens) St. Martin’s.

And we arrive at the Hotel Les Remparts in Salers – still raining.

As we checked in, we could hear cow bells. When we got to our room, we opened the windows and the cow bells were so loud, I thought maybe it was a recording. No, then we spotted the cows, and as they munched the grass and raised their heads, the tinkle was incessant, in a good way. I loved the sound of those bells.

Salers is wonderful for walking, even though today it is a little dreary, and the cobblestones are slick. Salers is a little isolated, tourist season is over, and it is October 31st, which we think of as Hallowe’en, and it is in France, too, but it is also the night before All Hallows Day, which is a French national holiday, in the solemn religious sense of the word holiday. Almost everything will be closed.

Just before dark, the sun lights up the clouds and we have a little brightness:

You can dimly see the cows.

There is a little white cat in the bottom right of this photo, as some hotel guests’ window saying “please, please, can I come in?”

What I had originally been photographing was this roof, all planted with greenery and herbs, but the cat distracted me 🙂

I love the way the French will find a way to grow a garden in the tiniest spot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dinner that night was disappointing. I had thought that pate’ cepes would be some kind of pate’ made out of mushrooms, but AdventureMan rightly guessed it would be pork with mushrooms, more pork than mushrooms. My main dish was pork, so much like barbecued pork that I might have been back in Pensacola, and it was accompanied by their famous truffade, which was a heavy potato and cantal cheese dish, so heavy and glue-y I couldn’t eat it. For dessert I ordered the pear torte, which turned out to be a little bit of pear on top of a custard. My bad, I ordered these things, but I didn’t have to eat them, so I didn’t.

When I was young, and we would dine in France and Germany, my father would say we had to eat things or we would hurt the chef’s feelings. I love being a grown up. I don’t have to eat it if I don’t want to, LOL.

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Food, France | , , | Leave a comment

Domme: One of the Best Days in the Dordogne

That title is misleading. We had so many best days, but later in this post you will learn why this one sticks out in my memories. Some days of the trip are cloudy, like “which day did we do this?” Other memories come out crystal clear.

(I just spent an hour of my life learning about Google’s Activity record – holy smokes! – and how, if I had had my location tracker turned on, I might have been able to provide you with the hilariously indirect routes we ended up on getting from place to place in the Dordogne. I am tempted. I don’t live a life with anything I need to hide. And yet, the thought of being TRACKED and a record being kept makes me uneasy.)

 

So arriving in Dome is kind of Wizard-of-Oz-y.  It’s a very old city, built on a high hill, and streets are old and narrow. It’s sort of like those labyrinth puzzles you used to do as a kid when you needed to get from here to there. In this case, we totally depended on the Google lady, who said “turn right here” or “go 100 feet, turn left and then immediately right at the next street.” Getting from the entry gate, at the bottom of the hill, to L’Esplanade, at the top of the hill, was an exercise in indirection and circularity.

We got to the top.  We could see our hotel.  We  had read about the parking, that there was no parking at the hotel and if you were very lucky, there might be parking on the street. There was not a single parking spot on the street. Even this late in the season, there were many tourists, and tourist buses, and some had drivers parked in no-parking places, with the engine on, ready to go and circle the city if the police came.

We decided to park in the pay lot, which had a lot of spaces. The night before, we had prepared our carry-bags with enough clothes for dinner and the next day, so we didn’t have to carry in our bags. It took us about 15 minutes to figure out the instructions. We put in the maximum in coins – I think 5 Euro, and that would take us to seven PM, when if we saw a parking space, we would move the car, and if we didn’t, we would put more money into the machine.

When we walked in, we received a very cordial and friendly greeting; the receptionist was Dutch and spoke English wonderfully. She told us that at seven, the parking machines are no longer monitored, and we are safe until ten the next morning, so that was a relief. She showed us to our room. You can see our room in the photo of L’Esplanade from the path, above; it is the corner room, one story up, and has a balcony.

The room was gorgeous. Maybe not quite so spacious as our room(s) at Domaine de la Vitrolle, but very spacious for France, and beautiful. And just wait until you see the view. My heart sang. I wanted to stay on that balcony and just soak in that view.

 

 

 

 

We can see all the way to La Roque-Gageac!

Beautiful Perigord farmlands . . .

Day is fleeting, and AdventureMan wants to explore, and rightly so. We are only in Domme for this one night. It was hard for me to leave that balcony; the view just sang to my heart.

Domme is walkable, and beautiful. There is something else about Domme – there are cats, lots of cats, and there are dishes out, hidden under benches, or visible on a step up to a house, or at the side of a doorway into a church. I imagine the cats keep the rats away, but it is lovely to see them repaid so generously and lovingly. The cats all looked very well fed.

Here is another church built in the same style as that of the church we saw in Audrix. I’m going to have to find out about this architecture. Domme is an old Templar town; I am wondering if this style is an indication of a Templar population?

 

 

Look at this barrel roof! Is that not beautiful?

 

A view of the church from the market square. We attended the market the next morning, but it was very small, and there is only so much hand-made soap I can buy!

The above photo was taken from in front of a very cool bookstore, which even had a large English section. They had thousands of books in all genres, all languages, and new and used books all together. It was a little bit of heaven, right there on the main square.

 

 

 

Actually, I lost my husband. He went into the bookstore, I took photos. I went into the bookstore, he wasn’t there! I tried to call him, and it did not go through. I knew if I went back to the hotel, we would eventually fine one another, but I kept looking, and we were both on the main square, just in different places. I too this photo in front of the wonderful book store.

 

 

Beautiful city coat-of-arms, no?

This was a wonderful place for us. We found this building, with these arched windows (which I love) and my husband found a plaque telling us it was the former mint, the man who struck the coinage for the area. As we went around the corner, looking in the window, AdventureMan said (very brave man!) “I think we need to go in there.” I had not been paying a lot of attention, I was looking in a window where the you could see the jeweler’s studio, with works in progress, which was fascinating. My husband was right, there were some beautiful pieces. I tend to buy jewelry in places just like this, where you can find original pieces, and, well, jewelry and silk scarves transport well. 😉

Inside, we met the jeweler’s son. As I picked out some pieces, my husband and him started a conversation, and as it got more interesting, I joined in. He talked about his family coming to Domme to seek new opportunities and new markets, and how wonderfully it had worked out for them.

I found the lovely chain-mail inspired neck;ace below in the tip of my stocking on Christmas morning 🙂

We talked about all kinds of social issues in France, and economic issues. We were all very cordial. At one point, Julien paused and then asked us, very haltingly, “You seem to be such nice people. How could you have elected a President like Trump?” We grimaced; it is a question Europeans ask us a lot. How could a country with the values we claim to share elect a man with no moral compass? He was horrified at what is happening in our country, and sad at our descent into corruption.

It was a hard conversation, and we all hung in there. At the end, we all hugged, and hoped for a better, more peaceful, less greedy world in the months and years to come. Sometimes the hardest conversations are those most worth having.

 

Meanwhile, back at L’Esplanade, we were eager to see what dinner would have to offer. L’Esplanade is well known for excellent cuisine, and we had reserved for dinner back when we made our hotel reservation. The dining room is lovely.

 

We think the settings are beautiful. There is a room where you can go have cocktails if the dining room is crowded and you have to wait, but tonight we only share the dining room with four other parties.

We order from the fixed menus. Our first course comes, a celery veloute’. It is a cream of celery soup, you can see it in the center of that great big black plate with a little recess in the center for the soup.

 

This was my main course, a little trout steak, decorated with a . . .potato chip. The little cubes of sweet potato were delicious.

AdventureMan had duck, again, decorated with a potato chip. He said the taste of the duck was exquisite.

His dessert was “Fig Three Ways” or maybe five, we couldn’t figure it out.

I loved my dessert, the raspberry sorbet part. It was decorated with passion fruit.

At the end of the meal, we were served this perfect little cookies.

This was another very quiet, very dark night of great sleep.

The next morning, we had breakfast in what I would call the garden room, and the owner’s family were all there, too, eating breakfast on their way to school, work, etc. It was really fun just being able to see them all eat, converse, be a normal family eating their breakfast together in the hotel. I loved it.

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Food, France, Geography / Maps, History, Interconnected, Political Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Values | , | Leave a comment