Europe 2012: Day 35, Amboise to Sarlat

View of the Dordogne River from Beynac, France.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Woke at 5:45am.   It is cloudy.

Today we leave for Sarlat.  We need to catch the 7:40am train out of Amboise.

We have our last breakfast at the B&B – tea, hot chocolate, warm croissants, fruit, and warm French bread with orange marmalade.   I paid the hotel bill without complaint.   Last night the internet access was very good with only a couple of signal losses between 6pm and midnight.  In the end, it looks like the internet provider was the cause of our internet frustration.   Orange, the French version of AT&T, has been having service problems for days, or so we have been told by a number of locals.  We apologized to our hosts for being such a bother.

The cab arrived at 7:15am to take us to the train station.    The train left the station on time at 7:40am.  So begin our day of travel to Sarlat – a small French town known for its food and prehistoric caves.  We will be riding three trains today.   We get into Sarlat at 1:07pm.   Our tour starts at 2pm.   We have our fingers crossed that all will go well.  We will be traveling to the southwest region of France known as the Dordogne. 

So, what did we learn from our stay in Amboise?

  • No matter how well you plan a trip through Europe, there will be problems.   There will be times when things will be hard and frustrating – that is why we call it a “foreign” country.
  • As much as we try, we can’t keep all the French Kings, Queens, and their mistresses/lovers straight.

Train rides can be very relaxing.  But today the train is full.   There are some people with tickets with reserved seating but we are not any of them.   We play a little musical chairs with the locals at first.  Eventually we settle in to available seats.   I have the precious laptop and am writing my blog.   I am at least four days behind in my postings.   I must write things down before I forget so I keep a notebook on the day’s events.

Overall, the train rides and transfers go smoothly.   We make it into Sarlet six minutes late.  However, the taxi the hotel arranged for us is there with a jolly young man who takes us directly to the hotel.  The man at the hotel was expecting us and within ten of minutes, we are in our room, unpacking our backpacks of all unnecessary items, and heading out to meet our tour guide.   We grab a sandwich on the way.  We arrive at the bus stop with 10 minutes to spare!   “Boom, boom, boom!” my DH says.   He gives this arrival a 10!

Our tour guide is Chris (of Ophorus Excursions), a nice young man who sounds like an American – but he’s not.   Turns out he learned English in school.   He also has a degree in history and languages. He is awesome!   Also on our trip are a middle aged couple from Hawaii (French history buffs I guess by the way they challenge our tour guide on people, places, and dates) and a retired couple from Australia (who are here on a four-week French language course).  They are all friendly and we got along quite well.

First stop after a long and winding trip up the hills is Beynac.  Beynac is listed as one of the “Most Beautiful Village in France.” It is truly lovely and the views of the valley below are spectacular!  Interesting fact – villages like Beynac were financed and developed by the French Kings.  After taking the land, they built these walled villages and offered houses/condos, public services (like water and garbage collection), and convenient markets to anyone who felt the need for protection from marauders or to those who felt farming was a drag.  But most importantly, such villages offered the King an effective way to collect taxes.  Without a centralized location for the people of the kingdom, taxpayers would simply hide in the woods whenever the tax collector trotted by.

Yep, the French Kings were some of the first urban land developers.

Street of Beynac, France. Notice the blue sky — it was a lovely day!

Our next stop, a lazy river cruise down the Dordogne River.  This river is a hot bed of activity during the summer months.   The French bring their families here to camp and canoe down the river.  And why not – the river is smooth as glass and the weather is warm and sunny and just plain perfect for a lazy afternoon.   My DH and I nearly fell to sleep on the boat – the gentle movement was that relaxing (even with 30 other tourists and a tour guide yapping away in French).   The sights along the river, the stone canyon with its prehistoric caves on one side that the bushy green trees on the other, are all magnificent!

View of houses and caves from the Dordogne River, France.

Our last stop was a village named Domme.  Domme is also listed as one of the “Most Beautiful Village in France” and it is truly lovely too!  This was the location for a number of scenes in the movie “Chocolat”.   The main attraction in this village is the old stone castle (with wooden spikes implanted in the ramparts) that sits high on the cliff.  It is privately owned and apparently the owner (an old women with a care-giver) still lives there.   Getting up here, even by car, seems to be treacherous — the roads are winding, steep, and narrow.  But the views of the surrounding countryside are to die for!

View of the castle in Domme, France.

Once we were at the top of Domme, the only way down was to follow a steep, narrow, winding stone pathway.  This path can be tricky in that you need to watch your step and pray that your shoes have enough traction to keep you on your feet.   As a matter of fact, if it is raining tourists are not allowed to take the path – the tour company does not want to take the insurance risk.  Lucky for us, it was a gorgeous day without a drop of rain!

The tour ended around 6pm and we are back in our home base of Sarlat.   We walked down the main street of Sarlat, a pedestrian walkway free of cars and lined with food stores selling the regional specialties.   Did I forget to mention that Sarlat is the gastronomic center of France?   Some of the best food in the world is served here – Foie Gras, truffles, and walnuts.

Square in Sarlat, France.

My DH and I went back to the room.  The internet was fast and dependable – what a relief!  We checked emails and did some research for a restaurant for dinner.   We settled on a place called The Bistrot, recommended by Rick Steves.  When we arrived, we were seated right away.  We were then completely ignored by our waiter.  Ten minutes in, no menu, no silverware, no water.  The waiter passed us three times with menus in hand.  I noticed that the waiter was arguing with another waitress.  Being tired, we had no patience. We decided to leave – nothing good would come from us staying here.

Thumbs down! This restaurant should be called “Le Angry Waiter.” (Sarlat, France)

We wandered around for a while and settled on Le Glacier, a bistro with open tables on the main square.   We were immediately seated at a table, had menus, and water within a matter of minutes!   The menu had lots of options and reasonably priced.   I ordered a Tuna Salad.  My DH ordered the Cassoulet!

My salad was OK but not executed well – the lettuce was wet and the dressing became a watery puddle on the bottom of my plate.  But the tuna was good and the other veggies fresh.

On the other hand, my DH’s Cassoulet (a regional specialty) was amazing!   This Cassoulet had white beans, a duck leg, and sausages of pork and duck that were simmered in a tomato broth and herbs for hours and hours.  It was thick, flavorful, and decadent!  It was so fattening! It was so good!!!  So much for his vegan diet.

Back at the hotel, we both fell asleep.  It was a long day.  Unfortunately, we did not get a tour to see the prehistoric caves;  for an unknown reason, they did not offer them that day, instead they tried to push an expensive private tour on us — bastards!   Instead, tomorrow we will explore Sarlat — we think we like this place.

Quote of the day:   “Keep your fingers crossed!” – DH in regards to our tight schedule.


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