Breakfast is the same as yesterday, except that they've offered us some cold cereals, including a Kellog variety that claims to offer some fiber. We wolf our breakfasts down, pay our tab (wine, coffee), and load up onto the bus.
This morning's destination is Sarlat, a town whose basic form remains that of a medieval village. On Saturday mornings, the streets of Sarlat turn into a huge market for products of all kinds -- duck and goose goodies; goat and bovine cheeses; breads, walnut cakes, pastries; wines, brandies, and aperitifs (Noix -- walnut -- seems to be a particular favorite aperitif flavor, here in southwestern France); leather goods; clothing -- new and old; hats... you name it. Our favorites were the produce vendors. The range of produce is wonderful, and the colors are a treat to behold. The mushrooms are incredible, including huge, fresh cepes, chanterelles, oysters, and girolles. There were several varieties of strawberries for sale, at €2.00 to €2.50 per pint. We got some smallish ones to share with the group. They were moderately sweet and very fragrant. Beets seem popular, but for some reason, they only display them without the greens, and already cooked. I wonder why.
We also enjoyed chatting with a Dutch woman who moved here with her husband many years ago. She now sells organic herbs and spices and candies. She struck up a conversation in her excellent English, waxing eloquent about their changed life. They moved here to give their children a better environment to grow up in. She and her husband go out walking on Monday mornings, following intricately detailed maps that show every last detail of the region, and historical significance of paths and buildings. She clearly loves the Dordogne/Perigord region, and equally enjoys talking about it. Only commerce draws her away from our conversation...
Unfortunately, the weather turns from a leaden, threatening sky, into a drizzle, into a rain. No picnic today! Kristen suggests going off the main drags (such as they are!) to seek out a restaurant. Brig decides that she wants more mushrooms for lunch. We stumble on a place ("La Salamandre" -- Sarlat is known as the City of Salamanders, apparently). We each have a mushroom omelette, Brig's is with cepes, mine with girolles. Each comes with some butter lettuce with a vinegrette, and a serving of pommes sarladaise (you just can't have enough garlic or duck fat!). The cepes turn out to be the favorite for both of us. Their flavor is very difficult to describe -- it's deep and intense, for a mushroom. The girolles, which look much like chanterelles, have a surprisingly tart taste to them. It's not a flavor I would have expected from a mushroom. Total price, €26.50. Kind of expensive, for lunch!
We're going to have to see if cepes are available at home. They ought to at least be available in dried form, I suppose.
Back on the bus, we take a brief side-trip to Beynac, one of the two villages in which the movie, Chocolat, was shot. The river scenes, and the scenes on the steep road were shot here. (The other "location" scenes were shot in Flavigny -- see 10/2.) The river on which Johnnie Depp docked his barge is running pretty fast. Canoeing here would result in a pretty quick trip! There's a steep walkway up the hillside that leads to a château. The rocks are rather slippery in the rain, though, so Brig and I abort our ascent.
Another hour on the bus, and we're at a scenic overlook of our next destination, Rocamadour ("rock lover"). It's a town built into a limestone cliff. We enter at the base of the cliff, with Tony performing some admirable bus gymnastics, getting us to our parking spot. To reach our hotel, around halfway up the cliff, we take an elevator built into the limestone. At the top, we find the entrance of the hotel to be guarded by a rather large, black, lethargic dog. We grab our bags from the shuttle car and step over the guard dog into the hotel.
Our hotel room, number 19 in Hotel St. Marie, affords a wonderful view of the village. From the bedroom, one can look down 150 feet or so to the main street, and across the valley to another limestone cliff and the road that winds along it. From the bathroom, there are views of the limestone cliff face on this side of the gorge, with buildings of varying ages, from 12th century to 20th. I notice the view as I finish working on the laundry and start hanging stuff up in the bathroom. That's the best view from a toilet that I can recall!
Rocamadour had been a stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Various miracles have been ascribed to events and artifacts in Rocamadour. The place takes its name from a legendary hermit who decided to make it his spiritual refuge. Things just got bigger from there, and chapels were eventually built into the limestone. Supposedly, a long-dead body was discovered in the limestone, perfectly preserved. This fellow was dubbed Saint Rocamadour, and a reliquary was constructed for him in a crypt, well up in the cliff. The main action here started in the late 12th century, and there are still several well-preserved chapels and friezes from that era, including one that remains surprisingly clear and colorful, despite its exposure to the outside air. This frieze is, of course, protected from direct exposure to the sun or rain, based on its orientation and location.
Dinner is in Hotel St. Marie's restaurant. We begin with a salad, with bits of sliced duck gizzard, a slice of smoked duck breast, and topped by (say it in unison!) duck liver paté! Okay, I like the flavor of the paté, and I absolutely adore the far-too-small duck breast sliver. The gizzard slices are entirely nondescript, though. They're certainly not objectionable, but neither are they anything special. And they're covered in duck grease.
The main course is cassoulet, a "bean stew". I love the beans, but they are topped with a duck drumstick; a disk of sausage that I find very reminiscent of a big, fat frankfurter; and long chunk of a much more coarse, much darker sausage. I should have done what Brig did: leave the sausages behind. They just didn't do much for me (other than to raise my serum lipids!). The bean stew and the duck meat were very good, though. We shared a liter of the house red with Joan and Phil, as well as considerable stimulating conversation on raising children (not that we had any parenting experiences to share!) and cultural and family dynamics.
I should note that we now seem to have as many as three people who are trying to avoid any more duck products. Dina, our Lawn Guyland native, and our tour's youngest member, started out with a prejudice against duck. She stopped eating quackers a couple of days previously. Kristen seems to be doing a decent job of accommodating her, and her fellow non-lovers of waterfowl. Me? I'm still open, though I very much look forward to gorging on broccoli when I get home, to flush my system out!
Dessert was a chocolate mousse cake, atop a thin pool of vanilla and cherry sauces, and sprinkled with a relatively coarsely ground cinnamon. There wasn't a crumb left in the room!
There's a "mini-train" (i.e., a tram) ride that runs every half hour after dark. The cliff and its buildings are lit up, and the train features a narration, played as it winds its way across the road on the other side of this gorge. Most of the tour members take the train. Brig and I (and Phil and Joan) decide against. Brig and I retire, while Phil and Joan step out for some air.
Shortly after we get back to our room, I start hearing the tram. Looking out the window, we can easily see it across the gorge. I turn out the room lights, and start waving my spooky blue LED keychain light at them. Tomorrow morning, we'll see if there are any reports of the miracle of the blue firefly.
There's no television in the room. It's just as well -- the news wasn't particularly encouraging on CNN this morning. Israel is doing moronic things again...