Driving like a madman, and a lazy canoe ride down the Dordogne river
BIRON, France - This is a wonderful, crazy country. On Saturday, I found a woman who insisted on walking me three blocks so I could find a sandwich shop.
Monday, I couldn't convince a guy selling sausages to cut mine into slices, even though he had a huge knife, so I ended shelling out $10 to buy one to cut my $5 duck saucisson. Thanks.
Mind you, earlier I had spent a couple hours with a thoroughly wonderful canoe guide and then later I met a charming woman selling wine and foie gras at a shop carved out of the rock in the most exquisite little town, called La Roque Gageac. And the woman that runs my lovely B and B here in Biron is as helpful as all get out.
Anyway, it's a country of contrasts. And strange road signs. As I was driving through some thoroughly lovely countryside dotted with fields of asparagus and red poppies, I kept seeing signs telling me to slow down to 70 kmh or what have you because I was going through a tiny village. A couple times I spotted'
tiny villages maybe 100 meters apart, but you'd get 40 meters outside the village and they'd suddenly
advise there was no speed limit. 60 meters lately, I swear, there would be another one that said, "Oops, here
comes another tiny, perfect village with stone houses crowded inches from passing Peugeots and Renaults, so better slow down to 70 again."
You'd speed up for maybe five seconds, then be told to slow down again. I know the French like to drive like the wind, but that does many any sense to change speed limits twice in the blink of an eye?
On the other, I do find I'm getting into the French way of driving. I've got a Renault Magena (with a GPS that doesn't even recognize the most common of tourist towns) and it's got pretty good pep and a nice road feel. I've suddenly found myself doing 90 kmh on winding, country roads and thinking nothing of it. And I ate cassoulet last night and have had foie gras twice in two days, so I'm definitely into the French way of doing things.. If I suddenly start liking Jerry Lewis movies, somebody shoot me...
All that aside, Monday was a HELLUVA fun day at the office. It started with an incredible canoe ride down the placid Dordogne, with remarkable villages and castles every 10-15 minutes over a two-hour journey from Vitrac to Beynac. Killer views. Later I took a detour out of the Aquitaine tourist region to make a quick visit to Rocamadour, which is a village and series of chapels carved out of the limestone and might be one of the most spectacular sights in all of France. There are about 200 steps to get from the bottom of the "village" to the chapels above. It was a former stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and folks used to arrive and go up the steps on hands and knees to show their dedication to the good Lord.
I, on the other hand, merely walked. But it's still a reasonable number of stairs, so I felt slighly purified.
And I did duck into one of the chapels and said a prayer or three, so I guess I'm not doomed to hell on any immediate basis. Anyway, it's a beautiful spot but kinda touristy. I didn't feel any connection to anything quite real, although there was a nun sitting high up near one of the chapels drawing in a large book as she looked out over the scenery.
On the way back I stopped in a La Roque Gageac, a stunning village on the Dordogne I had passed on my morning canoe trip. I walked up some steep streets to check out the homes perched under the rock face and
stopped to try some local wines. I ended up chatting with a lovely woman who makes bamboo art and sells wine on the side to indulge her creativity. She and her husband live in a home under the cliff that her husband's family has had for 600 years. Wow.
A great drive from there to my incredibly warm and beautiful hotel/B and B in the shadow of the lovely Chateau Biron, called Le Prieure de Chateau de Biron as it's the old priory for a magnificent chateau/castle that sits high on a hill in rolling countryside dotted with horses and black-and-white cattle. A beautiful part of the world, and a lovely B and B with great rooms and warm service. You can tell one of the owners spent time in America - 30 years in Kentucky, I think she said - as they actually, wait for it, have....CLOCK RADIOS in the room. What a concept!
Europeans will give you flat screen TV's and mini-bars and maybe a coffee or tea pot, not to mention wonderful soap and shampoo bottles you can take home with you, but a clock radio so you can actually see what time it is or set an alarm? Harder to find than Velveeta at a French fromagerie....