23/09/2017

Souillac – finale

This last day of biking in the Dordogne region began quite misty.
We departed Vitrac at mid morning and enjoyed the autumn landscapes along the north bank of the river.
Soon we reached the Château de Montfort which, during its 900 years, has witnessed a long series of battles and sieges. First, it was taken and razed to the ground by Simon de Montfort in 1214. Then rebuilt, but again destroyed during the Hundred Years' War, under Louis XI of France and under Henri IV of France.
The whimsically looking castle is perched right on the edge of the precipice above the Dordogne.
Farther on, we were fortunate to have a piste cyclable at our disposal – but only for a couple of km.
We crossed the Dordogne once again and could ascertain the claim that this river is the cleanest of all the big rivers in France.
The clean river seen from above
The next castle on our route was Château de Fénelon, a formidable feudal fortress from the 14th century. François de Salignac de la Mothe Fénelon (1651-1715) was probably the most famous owner of the castle. He was bringing up the future Louis 16 and was also an archbishop, a philosopher and an intellectual heralding the period of Enlightenment.
The last 10 km of our biking holiday we travelled in a flat and fertile area on the south bank of the Dordogne through extensive walnut plantations, fields of sunflowers and maïs plants with cobs ready for harvest.
Then we entered the Occitanie region and said goodbye to Dordogne, crossed over and reached our destination: Souillac.
We got installed in a good room in Le Pavillon Saint Martin next to the ancient belfry ...
The Grimbergen beer has been brewed by the monks in the abbey (just around the corner) since 1128, – and it's a great beer!
... and sat down in the nearest bar with two glasses of local beer to celebrate the happy end of two great weeks on wheels in the Périgord and the Dordogne regions. 
- – o 0 o – -
Thanks for following this travel blog.
The blog will become alive again when we engage in our next adventures.

21/09/2017

Domme

Today has been hot and sunny, a true late summer day in the Dordogne valley.
We decided to bike up the bastide town of Domme, an easy 5 km from our hotel in Vitrac.
Domme is perched on a 200 m high rocky outcrop overlooking the Dordogne river.
Thursday is market day, so the town was extra busy.
The sausage stand attracted my attention with a lot a homemade specialities, including those made with meat from rabbits, bulls, kangaroos, ostriches, and donkeys (the latter with the strongest taste of them all, according to the sausage man).
We strolled around in the well-kept and lovely town, had some coffee and walnut cakes, and were ready for a siesta – like everybody else – in the warm and quiet noon hour.
The ruin of the Domme castle with the still intact prison towers is one of the attractions of Domme. 
It was here in the two towers that many members of the famous order "Knights Templar" were kept prisoners after the French King Philip IV had them arrested at their strongholds on Friday 13th October 1307 (by the Julian calendar used at that time).
The knights were tortured until "confessing" heresy and other abominable crimes. Therefore, they all faced the ultimate punishment and were executed on the central square of Domme.
It is widely believed that that unfortunate event on Friday the 13th has lead to the superstition that Friday the 13th is the worst combination of all and, therefore, a truly unlucky day.

Well, those are bygone times, so we released the bike brakes and zipped down to the hotel at the valley bottom, where it was time to take a dip or two in the big warm pool.
After the dip we dried ourselves in the sun.

Tomorrow will be our last day on bikes. 
Time sure flies when you're having fun.

20/09/2017

Vitrac

Another very cool night followed by thick morning fog that eventually cleared away around 11 am. We spent most of the morning hours visiting our neighbour in Les Eyzies: Musée National de la Préhistoire.
The museum focussed on Cro-Magnon tools and tool making as well as the fauna in this Vézère valley around 20,000 years ago.
Unfortunately, the displays were mostly catering to flint nerds and profs interested in the minute details of the making of tools. 
The numerous flint and bone fragments didn't have a great appeal to the ordinary visitor.
A few displays dealt with the mega-fauna of the period, like this whole specimen of a Wooly Rhinoceros that once fell into a tar pit and thereby was preserved. The sketch in the background is a contemporary piece of art from one of the local caves.
The exhibited examples of carved sculptures made by Cro-Magnons were very fascinating. Here is a Steppe Bison ...
... and here three horses.
We said goodbye to the lovely town of Les Eyzies and headed towards the southeast. Our next destination was the village of Vitrac on the northern bank of the Dordogne river.
After a pleasant 35-km ride we arrived at Hôtel Plaisance where we are now. The weather is absolute marvelous and the insects are all busy in the flowers of the hotel garden.
Here is a friendly but parasitic wasp enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

In 45 minutes we will proceed to the restaurant and have yet another delightful French dinner.
Bon appétit !

19/09/2017

Cro-Magnon

The Vézère valley is where the cradle of "modern" humans stood. In 1868, at about 1 km from our hotel, archaeologists found a grave with remains of five humans.
Reconstruction of the discovered skeletons but at the original grave site.
The bones and skulls showed the humans to be just like us even though they were about 30,000 years old. In the local Occitan dialect a 'cave' was called 'cro' and the cave land was owned by a man whose name was Magnon. Et viola – the Cro-Magnon humans were born. 

Interpretation – based on the finds – of how the five Cro-Magnons looked.
The visit at the Cro-Magnon cave included a self-guided tour in the forest clinging to the very steep rock face above the cave. Absolutely beautiful, and the weather was at its best!
Near the Cro-Magnon site, Eva spotted this little fellow at work:
A Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). This is a rather poor-quality snapshot that doesn't do justice to the fast and silent moth with a looong snout.

Nearby but in the other direction from our Hôtel de France lies the Pôle International de la Préhistoire, also worth a visit. 
Neanderthal man
 Focus of this museum is on the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons of the Vézère valley. 
Cro-Magnon man
Interpretation and presentation is to a large extent done by means of digital methods.

Tonight we will be dining at Le Vieux Moulin (the old watermill), followed by preparing for tomorrow's stage to Vitrac. – Stay tuned!

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil

Yesterday was a long day with fantastic experiences. We got an early start although it was yet another wet and cool morning. After an improvised 25-km long shortcut through the lush but quite uninhabited landscape we reached the valley of the river La Vézère. This piece of France has the richest abundance of prehistoric sites, shelters and caves once occupied by Neanderthals and later by Cro-Magnon humans.
The most famous of the caves is Lascaux, discovered in 1940 and closed again in 1963. We were, however, fortunate to become part of a guided tour in Lascaux 2, an underground exact replica of the original cave, – and that was an extraordinary experience! 
18,600 years-old paintings all over the cave walls and ceiling!!
Horses and aurochs were the species most commonly depicted. 
The paintings were in black, brown, red, orange and yellow nuances using pigments mixed from ochre-rich soils and biotite from local manganese-rich rocks. The application techniques included using fingers, spitting, blowpipe and moss dubbing. The largest animal on the wall was a 6-meter long aurochs, the smallest was a hand-size deer.
We spent almost 90 minutes in the cool and very dark cave, that was lit only by small torches. My Sony camera was challenged by the no-flash, high-ISO and no-tripod condition but did well. 
Two bison bulls.
Seeing this magnificent art created by some of my ancient ancestors was a lifetime experience for me, who has spent years of my own life living with and watching large animals in wild landscapes. 
During the cave visit, the aboveground weather had improved considerably. We checked out the nearby town of Montignac on La Vézère and then turned our wheels southwards along the left bank of the river.
Château de Losse is just one of many pleasant sights along the Vézère river ...
... another one is the village of Saint Léon where we stopped for a refreshment.
Farther along the river, we came upon a very special kind of habitation: 
A "city" of troglodytes. This society of cave people lived in seclusion high above the river in the hollowed out north face of La Roque Saint Christophe.
For about 1 km the whole rock face actually looks like a Swiss cheese with holes everywhere.
80 meters above ground the main living quarters once provided a safe heaven for people in times of peril.
Late in the afternoon we passed these good-tempered geese patiently waiting to provide their body parts to the French cuisine.
Finally, after 60 km of pedalling we reached our destination:
Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, aka Les Eyzies.
A village situated between two rivers and partly built into the sheer rock face.
We reside in Hôtel de France with this magnificent view:
Today, Tuesday 19 September is reserved for exploring the prehistoric sites around the town while enjoying the delightful ambiance.