Bonjour! We drag our, uh, selves down to breakfast at just about 9:00, with departure scheduled for 9:15. Breakfast turns out to be coffee, baguettes, croissant, jam, and slices of fruitcake. (Juice was also available for the less tardy tour members.) We quickly learn that our little "miracle of the blue firefly" was indeed seen by the petite train riders, and instantaneously figured out by our tour members. They knew it was us. Shucks.
A word about this region: The Rocamadour area consists largely of soft limestone, and numerous gorges, such as the one in which this town is constructed, have been carved out by water. This leaves behind limestone mesas, called causses. The area is known as the land of the causses.
All this limestone makes for some interesting touristry. Not only does it provide building materials and sites for "miraculous" towns such as Rocamadour, but it also can be carved by natural forces into gargantuan caverns, such as our first destination of the day, La Gouffre de Padirac. Gouffre (pronounced "goof ruh") is variously translated as sinkhole or gorge. You choose. You enter the cavern by way of stairs or elevators that take you to the base of a 100 foot diameter circular hole in the limestone, taking you nearly 400' down. We hoofed it. (Hey, we need to at least make an attempt to burn off some of the duck and goose fat we've been consuming lately!)
Before we get off the bus, Kristen warns us that we might want to bring some waterproof coverings, as it can get pretty drippy down there. I tell Brig that I'm not afraid -- I'm used to chinese torture. She laughs, and says she needs to chat with Phil (a psychotherapist), and then maybe Les (an attorney)...
The caverns are pretty cool. After the descent, you ride a gondola on an underground river, and over the "Lake of Rain". Our gondolier runs a mildly informative and mildly amusing patter, breaking into English when he can. When telling us we were over the deepest part of the lake (around 60 feet), he says, "Do you want to see?", and tips the boat to the side. That kind of thing. It reminds me of the Jungle River Ride at Disneyland. When you arrive at the other end, you walk on pathways and stairs that lead you around the lake and through the cavern. The most impressive thing about the cavern is its height -- as much as 300 feet. At its highest point, there might be only 20 or 30 feet between the top of the cavern and the surface.
Upon your return to the gondolas, you are asked to be certain to return to the same one you took when you arrived. Why? I suspect it's so that you remember your gondola number. You see, during the ride back, someone takes a photo of the gondola and transmits it to the end of the line, where it is displayed on a monitor. The suckers -- I mean tourists -- can then buy a lovely souvenir photo before they leave. €10.00 for the small image, €14.00 for the bigger one. Brigid wanted one, for some reason...
Overall, Padirac was worth seeing, but Carlsbad Caverns this ain't. Special mention goes to Brigid, Dina, and Kit, who also walked up the stairs to the surface.
Then, we have lunch in a cafe in Loubressac, another pretty little town. This restaurant seems designed to handle busloads of tourists, but we also saw a family (of 8 or so) stop in for lunch. What's for dejeuner ce jour?
We start with a very nice salad -- the French would call it a crudité, since it consists only of vegetables, including some cubed beets.
The next course is a piece of roast chicken (wing and thigh, in most cases) and potatoes cooked in duck fat. The chicken is very good. The flesh is very light for thigh meat. It's quite possible that this bird didn't spend its life in a cage.
Dessert was a choice of pomme tarte (apple tart) or "Rocamadour A.O.C." Whazzat? A.O.C. stands for Appelation d'Origine Controlée, i.e., one of the French ministries has deemed this particular goat cheese formulation to have met the standards necessary to call it a Rocamadour cheese. It looks like a small, chalky white hocky puck. Inside the rind is a very soft, flavorful cheese. Alas, Brigid still cannot abide goat cheese. When I ordered one of each (tarte and Rocamadour), I hadn't realized what the latter would be. I finally get it, though. Oh well, I enjoyed the cheese, and Brig enjoyed the slice of apple tarte.
One last stop before returning to Rocamadour: We visit a "fortified" wheat mill, built by Cystertien monks at the end of the 13th century. The mill walls are 1 to 2 meters thick with stone, and the entrance used to be within an area that could be quickly and easily flooded when necessary. Our guide apparently lives in the mill, in exchange for maintaining it and giving tours. According to Kristen, he has a very pronounced southern accent that makes him difficult to translate. She characterizes him as enthusiastic, amusing, and possibly a couple of cards short of a full deck.
Actually, what I found to be the coolest thing about this mill is that it is still in operational condition! The mill is actually grinding wheat into flour, as we watch.
The rest of the evening is on our own. Brig and I take a brief respite in our rooms. I read a little, write a little, and then review the photos on our 256M CF card, selecting three dozen for deletion. I quickly determine that it is impractical to use the Nikon camera to delete images from this big a CF card. It takes many minutes just to delete ONE. Instead, I preview the photos on the camera, identifying the ones to discard, and then remove them using the TRGPro's CardPro utility. One word of advice: Be certain to set the "sort by" selection to "None" before loading a big CF card! Otherwise, the TRGPro will hang for a looooooong time.
A French lesson is scheduled for 6:30 PM, but Brigid is unwilling to get out of bed for it. So, I finish with the CF card cleanup, freeing over 20M (good for another day's shooting -- perhaps two days).
By the time I've finished with the cleanup, my stomach starts claiming to have beeen neglected. Yeah, right. Eventually, Brigid comes around, and we head in search of some dinner. We find it at the place Kristen recommended earlier, Jardins de la Louvre. It turns out to be a pizza place. We each order a salad -- one is a crudité, and the other is a "3 cheese" salad, with walnuts. We also order the pizza du jour, of saumon fumé (smoked salmon).
We ordered too much food, darn it! It turns out that the salads are huge, for a French restaurant. I thought Brigid would take the three cheese salad, but it turns out that two of the cheeses are goat cheeses, and the third is a rather strong bleu cheese. And Brig isn't crazy about walnuts, either. So, Brig takes the crudité and I work the cheese salad. It's delicious, but here's more saturated animal fat for my poor, abused cardiovascular system. We order a 25 cl (1/3 bottle) carafe of the house red wine, in hopes of "cutting the fat", a meaningless concept.
We just barely finish the salads, and then we get our pizza. In addition to the smoked salmon, there are morsels of smoked whitefish. Too much to eat, but we tuck it away.
After paying up, we take a walk, to try to get a good view of the town. It turns out that you don't have to walk very far to see what you're looking for. We get a great shot of the illuminated city, and then we zip up the steps, and try to get onto the ramparts. No such luck. Despite persevering on dark and potentially dangerous walkways/stairs, we reach nothing but locked gates. Too bad. Well, at least we got some exercise. And a little excitement at walking on such deserted and dark paths, and suddenly passing a few people who have popped up out of the night.
Enough. Bon nuit!