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Trip Report How to get lost in rural France, or a Paris, Burgundy, Provence, and the Perigord Trip Report.

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**I apologize in advance for the eventual length of this trip report - I'm a writer and having trouble not typing a lot. I'll split the report up by day to make it a bit easier to read. Hope you enjoy it**

Day 1

Day 1 was a long day – we flew from Vancouver to Montreal, then Montreal to Paris – a travel time (according to the clock, taking time zone differences into account) of more than 24 hours. We arrived in Paris at about 8:30am and spent far too long trying to get the hell out of CDG.

Our first mistake was in assuming that we could find our way to the metro without a map of any sort - an assumption we were to make, and regret, several times during the trip. We’d been there before, but had evidently ended up at the terminal that housed the metro link on that first trip. We quickly realized that CDG is a great airport to navigate, if you a) already were where you wanted to be, b) already knew exactly where you were going, or c) got really lucky on the first try. The signage only really started indicating where the metro station was once we’d gotten close enough to more or less see it. Not entirely useful. Some of the confusion may have been the result of extreme exhaustion.

On one of our many tromps down a random hallway, we saw a machine that dispensed metro tickets. Feeling confident, we stuck our Visa in and hoped for the best. Much to our surprise, after hearing the warnings about non-chipped credit cards, 10 metro tickets popped out. At the metro station, however, they didn’t work. After careful examination, we realized that we’d bought tickets that were good for travel within the central zone of Paris, not all the way from the airport. We joined a long line of tourists at another machine that promised metro passes that would work from the airport, only to discover (like the rest of the tourists) that it only accepted “chipped” credit cards. Not to be discouraged, we joined another, even longer line of tourists, waiting to pay cash for tickets.

Eventually we made it onto the train and began our journey into the city. Paris is Paris. There’s no other way to describe it. We walked the relatively short distance from St. Michel up to Hotel St. Jacques on Rue D’École. It felt like we were home – some of the shops had changed, but everything felt the same – I think some of the same panhandlers were still there from our last trip, two years prior.

Hotel St. Jacques (35 rue Ecoles, 01 44 07 45 45) is our favorite hotel in Paris – it’s close to the Pantheon, the metro, Notre Dame, St. Germaine, the Seine – everything you might want to see as a tourist really. The rooms are nicely decorated, relatively large (by European standards), the staff is friendly, and its right next door to our favourite wine bar (La Petite Périgourdine (39 r Ecoles)).

After checking in, we decided to go for a walk. Our first mission was to find Les Deux Magots (6 pl St Germain des Prés, 01 45 48 55 25) on Rue St. Germaine a longer walk than we’d anticipated. I have to admit that after hearing so much about the famous café, I was a bit disappointed. I found the service extremely slow (even for a French café catering to tourists and during the busy lunch hour) and the waiters a bit surly. I suppose that if I’d been particularly fascinated with the history of the place I would have been a bit more generous. I have to admit that the Croque Monsieur was tasty, although I wouldn’t go back for another one.

At this point we were both exhausted and feeling a bit grimy – the rooms hadn’t been quite ready when we arrived and thus neither of us had had our post-airplane shower. By the time we got back, the rooms were tidied. We each had a quick shower, and then fell into bed for a nap. Feeling refreshed, we headed back out for an evening on the town, thirty-something-style.

First, we walked over to Isle St. Louis to do a bit of exploring/re-acquainting. We love the shops on the island, and you can’t go much wrong having a look at Notre Dame every now and again. It didn’t take much time before we found a likely brasserie (the aptly named “La Brasserie De L’Isle St. Louis” (55 quai Bourbon) – clever, eh?) and stopped for a much-needed beverage. I had my first pastis of the trip, and Jamie had a red wine (not her first). We actually really liked this little brasserie – the waiters were extremely friendly, the location fantastic if one is interested in people-watching (not only tourists, we got to see a really fat bum have a nap on the middle of the road, plus a street performer take some time out to pick up, by hand, the horse poop donated by the mounted gendarmes that walked past). We even got a little plate of tiny black olives!

Post-beverage, we walked around for a little longer, looking for a restaurant for dinner. We had made reservations over the internet for dinner at Balzar’s, but it seemed that they’d lost them and I’d forgotten to bring the printed confirmation. We settled on a place not too far from our hotel called “Louis Vins” (9 r Montagne Ste Geneviève, 01 43 29 12 12), which boasted an impressive wine list, as well as menu items such as beef cheeks, grilled veal heads, sweetbreads, etc. We decided to stop here, mainly because everywhere else we had tried was full.

Dinner was excellent. Jamie started with a very tasty mushroom and foie gras soup (it’s amazing how foie gras makes everything taste better), then coalfish for her main course. I was a bit more adventurous, going for the aforementioned beef cheeks as a starter, and then flank steak with a tasty camembert sauce. I was startled by the beef cheeks – I had visions of big gobbets of quivering cheek plopped down on a plate and served to me, but it turned out it had been cooked in some sort of sauce and then shredded. It was good, but I’m not sure I’d have it again. I think we were the only tourists in the joint, everyone else perhaps put off by the daring menu. The people around us were locals who ate the sweetbreads, steak hache, and other oddities with gusto.

After dinner we headed to our favourite little wine bar, La Petite Périgourdine. It’s a fantastic place – the waiters extremely friendly (normally they give us a little French lesson if we ask what a word in French is), off the tourist path for the most part so it’s normally pretty quiet, and they have wine. A pretty fair selection as well. We went with a sauce number called “La Boethe” for only €18, a pretty good value for money.

After finishing our bottle of wine, we headed back to the hotel and absolutely crashed. It felt good to be back in Paris. After two years, we were finally back in our favourite city in the world, with three weeks of traveling ahead of us.

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    I've just checked your Burgundy pics which are great, maybe we were on place de la Libération (with the fountains) at the same time :-)When were you in Dijon?

    The narrow street I noticed with the antique shops is rue Verrerie for sure.
    Did you follow the owl's trail?

    I'm looking forward to reading the Burgundy episode and the rest of course! :-)
    coco

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    Hi Coco,

    I am still figuring out the details. The problem, I have discovered, is that 1 week is just not enough time to see everything that looks interesting to me. We could easily spend the whole week (or more) in the south just exploring Dijon, Beaune and nearby. We are considering spending the first 2 nights in the North (Auxerre, Vezelay or Avallon), then heading south with a stop at the Fontenay Abbey. We would spend 5 nights in the South (Beaune, Dijon or split), and spend day 8 traveling north through Noyers to spend the night in Sens so we have a short drive to CDG the next day. Alternatively, we might head straight to Dijon/Beaune from Paris for the first 5 days, then 2 nights in Auxerre, Vezelay or Avallon, and night 8 in Sens.

    I am having trouble because I had a schedule that looked like it made sense geographically, but it would have us exploring Auxerre on a Tuesday. Saint-Germain Abbey is closed on Tuesdays. I am trying to figure out if I should re-work the whole schedule so we can visit the 9th Century crypts. My husband thinks it would not be worth it. Have you seen them? Are the crypts a "must see" that would warrant scheduling around them?

    (Sorry to hijack the thread.)

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    Thanks for all the positive comments everyone - as you can see from the length of these posts, this trip report takes a while to write - it's also our journal of the trip.

    Coco - we were in Burgundy from September 19 - 22, Dijon in particular was September 21.

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    Day 2
    September 17, 2006

    Our second day in Paris turned out to be a day of epic walking.

    We didn’t sleep all that well as it turned out – a combination of jet lag screwing up our internal clocks, giant square pillows that I just couldn’t arrange to be comfortable, heat, and street noise. Our room is on the 4th floor over Rue D’Ecole – great view but a bit less than quiet most of the night, especially in the morning when the delivery trucks start their morning rounds…or when the drunken university students in the area decide to sing in the middle of the road at 3am.

    Despite all the noise and heat, we managed to sleep in until 10:30am, a ridiculously late hour for a pair of people on vacation, but damn did it feel good. While it was still fairly warm, the clouds had rolled in over night. Our original plan was to do the open top bus tour all day, but based on the ominous look of the clouds, we decided not to play that game again (last time we were in Paris we got stuck in an open-top bus during an absolutely torrential downpour). Plan B – walk until our feet bleed.

    When we’re in Paris, we tend not to eat breakfast at the hotel – there are so many other (often cheaper) options within a close walk that it almost seems silly to eat in the same place every day. After a quick breakfast at a nearby boulangerie (espresso and croissant pour moi, chocolat et pain au chocolat pour Jamie), we headed in the general direction of St. Sulpice.

    I’m not sure what I expected of St. Sulpice, having only read of it in the Davinci Code. It was definitely bigger than I’d imagined, although it was hard to see most of it as it was being repaired at the time and quite a bit of it was covered in scaffolding. In the little courtyard next to the church itself was a little expo celebrating the culture of Thailand, put on by the Thai tourist board. Lots of bright colours and music.

    The inside of the church is absolutely huge – almost cavernous – as French churches tend to be. I always feel a little uncomfortable wandering around in churches – I’m there as a tourist but for a lot of local people this is their everyday church. After a quick look about, we sat in one of the really uncomfortable chairs and listened to the organ for a few minutes.

    When we finally had our fill of the organ music and the uncomfortable heat and chairs (we had joked about bursting into flames upon entering the church, then ironically found it a bit too warm inside), we continued our death march, although we were forced to stop for another espresso not far from the church. Funny “I can’t believe tourists” moment outside the cafe – a woman asked someone on the street where the church was – the person she asked didn’t say anything, just pointed to the GIANT CHURCH RIGHT BEHIND THEM.

    We walked from St. Sulpice up Rue de Grenelle all the way to the Eiffel Tower, stopping a few more times for various drinks and lunch. I’d never really spent that much time exploring the 7th and discovered that I really like it. The streets that I saw seemed fairly small and very residential – it seemed like a place that people actually lived in. At the small restaurant we stopped at for lunch, I’m pretty sure we were the only non-locals – everyone seemed to know everyone else.

    Once we got to the Eiffel Tower we realize that we weren’t that keen on hanging around with all the crowds of insane tourists – we’d done the tower before and once you’ve been up, you’ve been up. We must be getting better at sending off the ”I’m not interested” signal, because this time the jingle-jangle men pretty much left us alone (they’re called that because, especially at the Eiffel Tower, they jangle big rings of Eiffel Tower key rings).

    As we walked down to the Seine, we decided that instead of doing our open top super touristy bus tour, we’d do an equally super touristy river cruise – not quite as good a view as from the top of a bus, but just as relaxing. Plus, we’d be off our feet for a little while, which at this point was a good thing. After the cruise, we continued across the Seine.

    At the Trocodero they were doing some sort of roller-blade event – masses of rollerbladers everywhere. One poor girl, who was evidently on blades for the first time ever, made my entire afternoon when she tried to skate down the big, long hill from the top of the Trocodero. At one point, she gathered enough speed with no way to slow down that she felt the best option would be to grab onto one of the poles of an empty display tent that had been set up just off to the side. She managed not only to grab it and hang on, but also managed to spin completely around it off her feet and come through the side. I felt bad laughing, but it was so damn funny.

    At the top, there were a group of rather insane French youths who had mastered the art of rollerblading en masse backwards down long flights of stairs. It didn’t seem to be the best idea, and I can’t imagine the state of their drawers just after the first time they tried it…

    From the Trocodero, we walked up Avenue Kleber to the Etoile, were we always schedule a few minutes on each trip to gaze in wonder at the barely controlled vehicular insanity being perpetrated in the centre of the city. I’m constantly amazed that people choose to drive through that whirling maelstrom of metal, yet it seems to work.

    From the Arc de Triomph, we started up the Champs Elysees, but soon got tired of the crowds of Chanel-wearing shoppers and gawkers, so found a convenient café on a side-street to have a beverage and rest our aching feet for a bit.

    We had actually managed to make a reservation for Balzar’s (49 r Ecoles 01 43 54 13 67) that night so couldn’t rest for that long – we walked down to Place de la Concorde, through Les Tulleries, across Pont Neuf (our favourite bridge in all of Paris), and back up to Rue d’Ecole just in time for our 8pm seating.

    Balzar’s was the first good restaurant we ate at in Paris on our first trip, and we decided to repeat that meal. I started with the always delicious foie gras, then had roasted rack of lamb with white beans, potatoes and asparagus. Jamie had escargots (you just can’t go wrong with anything cooked in that much butter and garlic), then a steack au poivre for her main course. It was as good as we remembered it, although they really cram you in there – they actually had to pull our entire table out so that I could get to my seat on the banquette. Worth it nonetheless.

    As is our tradition, we stopped at La Petite Perigourdine for a quick nightcap (i.e. another bottle of really tasty wine, then to our hotel to pass out from sheer exhaustion.

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    Great report BS,
    I would have loved to show you my town and do some parts of the owl's trail with you (or show you unknown places). It was just before "nsalerno" spent a few days in Dijon, it would have been fun to make a GTG!

    Kay I suggest you start a new posting with questions about St Germain crypt as I don't know it at all.
    There is a crypt from the 11°c in St Bénigne church in Dijon you might be interested in.
    http://dijoon.free.fr/bestof/saintbe.htm

    In the itinerary I gave you on TA, you save a day so maybe you can add St Germain crypt on your way back North...
    coco

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    Coco - I would've loved to have met some fellow fodorites, especially a local in Dijon. Jamie and I are planning on a move to the UK next year and are tossing around the idea of buying a secondary home in France - we loved Dijon so much it'll probably be there.

    Tod - that was a lot of walking, even for us. We calculated that we walked a bit more than 15kms on day 2...

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    Day 3
    Monday, September 18, 2006
    Damn Technology

    Unfortunately, Tuesday night/Monday morning was the second consecutive day of bad sleep for both of us. If anything, it was actually a bit hotter overnight, the street noise a bit louder, the jet lag a bit worse, the pillows a bit bigger and more awkward to position comfortably. We should have taken it all as a sign and stayed in bed – over all it might have been an improvement – definitely less stressful.

    We started the day as normal – dragging ourselves painfully out of bed, still exhausted and slightly dehydrated from the wine of the previous night. I decided that I was going to transfer the photos I’d taken so far from the camera to the iPod – purchased specially for photo-storage for this trip. I’d tested the setup at home and all worked as advertised; photos transferred from the camera to the iPod, then to the computer without a hitch or glitch. Feeling supremely confident, I plugged the camera into the iPod and set it up to transfer the 91 photos I’d taken so far, then went to have my shower.

    When I got back, the screen on the iPod was blank. I unplugged the camera, assuming the transfer had been completed successfully, although I fortunately decided to check the pictures on the iPod before I deleted them from the camera. When I turned on the iPod, not much happened. I could see the menus, but none of the transferred pictures. Feeling slightly worried, I opened the folder than had some of my previously transferred pictures on it – blank screen there too. Positively panicked at this point, I tried to listen to some music – it just kept scrolling through song titles without actually playing any of the song. Crap.

    I’d recalled seeing an Apple store on St. Germain the previous day (Ginkgo’s, 65 bd St Germain) and thought that if anyone had any idea what was going on, they would. I was wrong. No one had any idea what was going on.

    We found the store without much problem, and I even managed to explain what the problem was in passable French (“mon iPod, c’est frozen”) – at least the salesman understood what I meant. He asked if it was under warranty, and I replied that yes, it’s only a month old. He explained that he couldn’t even look at iPods under warranty, but that there was a warranty repair store not too far away. He gave us direction on how to get there on the Metro and sent us on our way.

    We managed to find it after only a little looking – it turned out it was only 2 stops on the Metro away. I tried to explain the problem to the guy in the store and he took a look at the unit. I quickly realized that whatever French I thought I knew didn’t include the vocabulary necessary to explain the details of a broken iPod, other than the “Mon iPod, c’est frozen”. After holding it to his ear as it scrolled through the song list, he shrugged and explained that the hard drive was fried – a two day repair. As we were leaving the next day, we had to forget about the photo storage AND the 11 gigs of music I’d carefully chosen for the two and a half weeks of driving we were about to embark on.

    Feeling a bit down, we decided to walk back to our hotel and figure out what to do next. As it turned out, we were only about 20 minutes away – I think it took longer for us to get there on the Metro. On the plus side, I hadn’t actually deleted any photos from the camera yet so we hadn’t lost anything, and we got to see a bit of the 5th that we’d never really explored before.

    We decided when we got back to our neighbourhood that we needed a drink, and maybe some lunch (we have our priorities in exactly the right order). We decided on a little café more or less across the street called “L’Authre Bistrot” (22 Rue des Ecoles 01 43 54 44 57) and found a seat. Having secured a kir and/or beer, as well as a croque paysan (like a croque monsieur, only with cured ham instead of regular ham – evidently the curing process costs an extra €0.80 per croque), we were feeling a bit more relaxed. I decided that plan B would have to do for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately plan B involved finding a store that sold CF cards.

    Again, I’d recalled seeing a camera store on Blvd St. Germain, just over in the Odeon. After a few beverages and our aforementioned Croque Paysan (the cured ham might actually be worth the extra €0.80), we headed in that direction. Of course the camera store was closed. It would have been open, but it was Monday. The one damn day of the week the damn store is closed at all. Plus it was about 1pm, so every other store around was closed for lunch as well. Except the FNAC (77 bd St Germain 01 53 10 44 44). I hadn’t actually realized that the FNAC was a technology store, but we took a look in the door as it was the only thing open at that ungodly hour.

    Despite my lack of technology vocabulary (I was beginning to suspect that this point that “c’est frozen” was not completely correct French…), we not only found the memory cards I needed (2 gigs worth), but also a little lens brush so that I could clean the accumulated gunk off my camera. The salesman was fantastic – instead of trying to sell me the super-expensive ultra-fast memory cards, he recommended the slightly-less-fast and significantly-less-expensive just-super-fast cards. I was impressed.

    I was pleased – I’d purchased technology. That always gives me the warm and fuzzies. Jamie, on the other hand, was not so much with the warm and fuzzies. We decided to walk over to the Place des Vosges – one of our favourite pictures from our last trip was taken there. We made it without incident and even enjoyed the walk, sort of, considering the aching feet and all. Place des Vosges is really nice – soon after we arrived school let out and it filled with French teens doing teenager stuff, as well as large contingents of tourists (including a group of elderly people, all wearing violently bright red t-shirts).

    We sat on a comfortable bench for quite a while whilst I wrote in my journal before finally getting bored and tired – we can only watch red-shirted old people for so long before it looses the fascination. We walked back to the hotel for a little bit before going out for dinner.

    We’d planned on meeting some friends from Canada that evening. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the email with the specific night and location, so they didn’t show. We had another drink or two at L’Authre Bistro as we waited, then finally gave up and went for dinner. We’d made reservations at an interesting-looking restaurant just around the corner called the “Sud-Ouest (can’t find the specific address – it’s on Rue de la Montagne St Genevieve, just up from Rue des Ecoles)” – the menu looked good and they were completely full two night prior, which we took as a good sign. It turned out to be the best-value meal we had in all of Paris, although we did make a minor strategic error in making our reservation.

    When we made the reservation, they asked us if we wanted “smoking” or “non-smoking”. Being both non-smokers and a bit slow, we said “non-smokers”, forgetting completely that this is Paris – EVERYONE smokes in Paris. When we got to the restaurant, they led us down some stairs and through a big cellar filled with long tables, which in turn were filled with happy diners. The room had a little fountain in a well, and one of those accordion/guitar combos that can be so annoying at times, unless you’re in a restaurant in a cellar under a building in Paris (although they did play accordion/guitar version of such classics as Neil Diamond’s “Sad Song Blue” and “the Chicken Dance”). We were led completely through this jolly room, up some stairs at the back into a fairly small and completely empty 2nd room. This, evidently, was the non-smoking area. The entire meal we got to listen to, from a bit of a distance, the laughter and music from the other room. Occasionally, people from that happy place would walk through our sad room on the way to the toilets. They pitied us, I could tell. Damn smokers.

    On the other hand, the food was excellent, and plentiful. For the set-menu price of €35, we got a kir, an entrée (we both had foie gras), a main course (I had duck confit), a cheese plate each, desert, a HUGE carafe of wine (I think 1.5L), and a massive bottle of water (again, 1.5L). We had a great time by ourselves in our little room listening to the music and eating ourselves silly. For just about the first time, we were too full to go to La Petite Périgourdine for our nightly bottle of wine. An excellent end to a marginal day.

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    Poor you, with your ipod, quelle aventure!

    I can't believe you were the only ones in the non smoking room at the restaurant, since now it is getting more and more common to see non smokers everywhere! And it is also very rare to see 1,5l carafes of wine!

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    Coco - The saga of the iPod will continue with a twist you won't be expecting...
    We were shocked, stunned and really pleased when the wine showed up - the carafe was a MONSTER - maybe not a full 1.5L, but definately bigger than a single bottle...it was actually pretty funny when she plopped it down on the table...I looked at Jamie, Jamie looked at me, we both laughed.

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    Well Scott? You do have "style".
    I am enjoying your report. My new DH and I got home on 10/17. Our visit to Paris was just sort of this ... no sites to go see, just sorta "hung out".
    Glad to know others do that too!

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    I feel for your iPod problems. For our last trip to France, I had loaded up my iPod with great music. We brought the necessary technology to use it in the rental car. I get to my seat, put on the buds and nothing! Why does it always happen like that? I can't wait to hear about its continuing saga.

    ps-love the trip report too.

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    I realize that I haven’t posted a little intro to explain our background/traveling style etc…

    My wife (Jamikins on this forum) and I are both in our late 20’s/early 30’s from the west coast of Canada (Vancouver). Neither of us have any medical issues that make traveling difficult, other than my chronic tendonitis in my knees, which fortunately hasn’t been an issue on any of our trips so far. We both speak conversational French, although Jamikins is more fluent that I am (although I can order a bottle of wine like a champion) – both of us understand far more than we actually speak.

    We’ve been to Europe several times before, with longer stays in London and Paris, and short visits to Scotland and Italy. Our first trip was one of the “whirlwind-have-to-see-everything-at-once” trips and we found it was just too much to take it. We now prefer to have a “home base” and take day trips from there – much less burn-out, plus we find we really get to know a city/area before we have to move on.

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    Day 4
    Tuesday, September 19, 2006:
    The Road to Burgundy.

    (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/radio-friendly/sets/72157594322639328/"> see photos from the trip here</a>)

    We both enjoyed another night of not sleeping very well. In retrospect, perhaps requesting a room not overlooking Rue des Ecoles may have been a good idea, although I suspect jet lag and heat had more to do with it than anything else.

    This was going to be a travel day for us – we had tickets for the train from Paris to Dijon, where we had a car waiting for us. As we didn’t have any plans for the day other than the train we slept in a little bit and spent the morning packing up our bags. Our train was leaving from Gare Lyon, which wasn’t really that far from our hotel, so we decided to take the metro instead of calling a cab.

    We walked from our hotel down to the Cluny-Sorbonne metro station through light drizzle. A few stops later, we were at the Gare d’Austerlitz station. The metro map is a bit confusing – we thought it looked like there was some sort of connection between Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare Lyon, which is across the river. Even now, looking at the metro map, there’s a little line between them. As it turns out, there is no link, at least not that we could find. We exited Gare d’Austerlitz by completely the wrong door, walked around the entire station before walking across the bridge and into Gare Lyon.

    After waiting a relatively short time at the station, we got on the train and found our seats. Our car was relatively empty – the only people near us were a couple from the Midwest USA, and an elderly French crazy lady and her dog. The Americans kept up an entertaining chatter the entire trip into Burgundy, discussing such enthralling topics as the particular species of corn grown in France (different than in the US, mainly because it’s not as tall apparently), and the difference between being a crop farmer who has cattle and a cattle farmer who has crops. The crazy French lady talked very loudly and unintelligibly to her dog – hopefully the dog understood what she was saying because we certainly didn’t.

    As the train rolled through the French countryside, the landscape slowly changed – from the urban sprawl of Paris’s suburbs and into the rolling hills dotted with tiny villages in Burgundy. I love traveling by train – you get to see so much more than you ever could by looking out a tiny window at 30,000 feet. As we headed south, we left the heavy grey clouds behind. We hoped that the real rain would hold off for a while longer.

    After collecting our bags and getting off the train, we decided that we were really really hungry. There was a Quick just outside the Dijon train station and I’m ashamed to admit that we grabbed a bite to eat there. Sometimes you just need a greasy bulk-produced crap hamburger. After our guiltily satisfying lunch, we went to pick up our car at the Europcar next door.

    We were given a bright blue Fiat Stilo, whom we immediately named “Floriane,” for the girl at the Quick who had taken our lunch order. Floriane turned out to be a bit bigger than I’d expected, although still small by North American standards – she was a 4-door hatchback with a 5-speed standard transmission.

    I’ve never really been very good at driving standard – I’ve never owned one and have only had rare occasions to drive one. My most recent experience was with my dad’s old truck – a 1-ton Chevy pickup. The clutch on that thing was not touchy and so not a lot of skill was required to get the thing moving (you didn’t even need gas in 1st gear – just slowly release the clutch and it would start moving forward). Floriane, however, was a bit touchy. I managed to stall her while trying to drive out of the parking stall directly in front of the Europcar window. Excellent.

    I managed to get her moving, and we headed out of Dijon towards Beaune. Fortunately there are excellent signs from the train station and we didn’t get lost, even a little bit. The drive between the two cities is really nice – the highway is flat, wide, and winds through endless vineyards and tiny little wine-making villages.

    45 minutes later, we entered Beaune. It was at this point that we realized that we’d neglected to bring the directions to our hotel. We didn’t even have a map of the town. This was a major strategic oversight. We’d been given the advice that if we entered a roundabout in France and weren’t sure which exit to take, the best bet is to drive around again. We figured this applied to the ring-roads around towns. We drove around the damn thing 7 times, Jamie’s patience getting thinner and thinner every time we passed the Speedy store. We finally stopped in a parking lot and found a map, which was of absolutely no use to us.

    After another revolution, we decided to pick an exit at random. It was not the right one, although we did find *a* hotel. We asked in the lobby if they had any idea at least where the street we were looking for was, and they gave us directions, which I totally messed up on leaving the parking lot. Back into the ring-road and another revolution. We picked another exit, which ironically turned out to be almost the right one. We found a sign that looked promising and followed it around and about for a while. By pure luck and coincidence, we ended up on the right road and finally found Hotel Grillon (21, route Seurre Beaune, 03 80 22 44 25).

    We settled in to our room, which was oddly decorated with wallpaper featuring small hot-air balloons and American flags. Despite the oddness of the wallpaper, the room was really nice – a large and comfy bed, two windows looking out onto the front lawn, a dresser, desk, and huge (by French standards) bathroom with a full stand-up shower! The rest of the hotel was nice as well, and the owners really friendly.

    After getting our bearings and relaxing a bit from the stressful drive in, we walked into town – only about 15 minutes. Beaune is a really quaint little town – lots of really old buildings and winding little streets – very medieval looking. Our first stop (after the tourist office for a ton of maps and brochures), this being us, was the Marche au Vins (literally, the Wine Market) (7 r Nicolas Rolin 03 80 25 08 20). For a minimal fee, they gave us a little tin tasting cup and sent us down into the cellars for a self-directed tasting. They had 15 local wines available for tasting (including a few premier crus, and one grande cru) and no one around to pester you or ensure that you were being appropriate with the pouring. We were, but have since heard stories of people spending far too much time down there…

    After thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we felt that perhaps some food would be a good idea. We wandered around a bit looking for a likely spot, and settled on Le Conty (5 r Ziem 03 80 22 63 94). There are two dining rooms at this restaurant – one on the street level, and one in the cellars underneath. We went for the cellars, because lets face it, the closer to the wines, the better. Dinner was tasty, and I have to admit that their bœuf bourguignon may have been a little bit better than mine.

    At this point, we decided to call it a night. The day had been long, and while a good portion of it had been spent on the train, the endless revolutions around the ring road had taken it toll. Our first impression of Beaune was very good – so far we loved it and couldn’t wait to explore more.

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    I had to laugh at your search for Hotel Grillon - we went around that ring road a few times ourselves searching for the hotel. It isn't easy to find - even with a map! But it was worth it - a very nice and comfortable place to stay. Anxious to read your next installment - enjoying your report very much! (We also stayed at Hotel St Jacques in Paris!)

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    Great!
    You're right about the ring road in Beaune, it is terrible!
    I think Europcar in Dijon station should give Fodorites a discount as they are more and more of them to use their services...
    It is a pity you didn't take "la route des grands crus" the departementale road parallel to the nationale. So pretty and much quieter than the busy RN74. Or maybe you took it on the way North...

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    Too funny! We also got lost trying to find the Hotel Grillon, and we actually had a map. We even got into the middle of town on streets which I'm not sure were meant for cars. After an hour of circling my husband pulled into a parking lot of another hotel and 'went on strike"

    I went in and the girl at the desk called the Grillon for me and got us straightened out. The English-speaking woman said later she almost came out in her car and picked us up.

    You were right; it was a pleasant stay. Unless all rooms were decorated the same, we also had the balloon room. Wasn't Montgolfier, a Frenchman who invented the hot air balloon? That was the only connection I could make with the wallpaper.

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    Day 5
    Wednesday, September 20, 2006: Pedal to the Metal

    The day dawned bright and sunny – our first fully cloud-free day since being in France. With such spectacular weather and a car, we felt we were absolutely required to have a driving tour of Burgundy. We’d picked up a brochure at the Beaune tourist office that had two driving tours listed – a northern tour and a southern tour. The northern one was quite a bit shorter and as we had no concept of distances and timing in the area, we chose that one for the day.

    We loaded up Floriane with our jackets, camera, water, maps, and gum (can’t go on a driving tour without a pack of gum) and headed out, expecting not to be back until late afternoon. After a quick revolution on the ring-road around Beaune, we found the right exit and headed out on the N74. Before long we were driving through some of the amazing countryside around Beaune – we wound up and down picturesque little valleys, through dense green forests and through a few scattered little towns.

    As we drove, we realized that the scale of the map was a bit bigger than we were used to in Canada – 2 inches on this thing was only 5 kilometers. Our itinerary on this northern route included towns like Aloxe-Corton, Pernand-Verglelesses, Echevronne, Boulland, and Savigny-Les-Beaune, as well as tiny villages too small to even make it on the map. When I say tiny, I mean tiny – we’re talking one lane through the village (and not one lane each way, one lane total – I was glad that it was a slow morning and there wasn’t anyone coming the other direction around some of those corners in some of those towns). It only took us about 30 minutes to get to the farthest point of the tour. We’d planned on stopping as we went, but none of the towns had anything that really looked store-like –at least nothing that we wanted to stop for.

    After an hour or so of driving, we ended up at the end of the tour back in Beaune. At this point, it was maybe 11:00am – not late afternoon as we’d anticipated. Careful analysis showed that we’d driven a grand total of about 20kms, and that the southern route, while longer, would probably be no more than 100kms – easily drivable in a day.

    Feeling somewhat reckless and adventurous, we found the D970 and headed out. The southern route turned out to be more scenic than the northern route, if that’s possible. The hills were higher (still not mountains, despite what the locals call them), the villages smaller and closer together. We found several outlooks on the top of some of the hills where we could get panoramic views of the various valleys around us.

    After a few hours of driving, we realized that we were ravenous and had to go to the washroom. Most of the towns we were driving through were still so small as to not have anything open. It quickly became a major mission to find either a café or toilet, or both. At one point, we stopped in a village for a quick look around and the boulangerie van pulled up. An ancient woman tottered out of her yard, across the street and bought some bread. I realized that if a village in France is too small to have its own boulangerie, it certainly isn’t going to have a café. I briefly thought about asking the woman who was buying the bread if I could use her toilet, but decided against it.

    We finally hit a slightly bigger town when we got to Meursault. Not huge, but it did have a few stores and there were even some people walking around (most of the previous villages looked like ghost towns, with no one about other than old ladies buying bread from vans). After driving through the main part of town, we spotted a brasserie. We found a parking spot for Floriane and headed across the street for a bite to eat. The place had a nice-looking patio which was very full, and two rooms. The first one I poked my head into was completely full of French teenagers – I’m not sure but I suspect that the local school sent their kids here for lunch. The certainly gave me an odd look, and a quickly backed out.

    The second room was available, and we found a table by the bar. It quickly became apparent that yet again we were the only tourists in the place, and from the looks of it, there hadn’t been any in there for a while. We ordered from the specials of the day (some sort of sweet pork curry with baby roasted potatoes – very tasty indeed) and watched the locals go about their lunch. One fairly gnarly looking dreadlocked gentleman was chain-smoking and chain-drinking – looked as if he was going for maximum tobacco and alcohol intake in as short a period of time as possible – later he explained that he was out on the harvest and they aren’t allowed to drink or smoke in the vines.

    After our extremely tasty lunch we walked up the road to Domaine du Chateau de Meursault (now that’s a hell of a name) for a tour and a wine tasting. The chateau itself is huge with a massive enclosed property. Jamie and I decided that we would both be very comfortable living there. The tour started somewhat disappointingly with a short wander through the upper halls to look at some apparently famous modernish art. Fortunately, this was followed by a descent into the caves under the chateau – most of which were built in the 12th century, although some were built in the seventh century (yes, you read that right – some time between the year 600 and 700). The caves were incredible – rooms upon rooms of casks of wine – other hallways with racks of wine stacked 3 bottles deep from floor to ceiling – one hallway held approximately 160,000 bottles.

    We had our own private and very portly French sommelier to explain the 15 wines we got to taste, including three of their premier cru wines. We enjoyed all of them, especially the premier crus, although we only bought a bottle of the pinot noir to enjoy later that evening.

    After the tour we hit the road again for the 2nd half of the southern route. We managed to get spectacularly lost looking for a particular village called “Hospital de Paris” – we drove back and forth through a nearby town 4 or 5 times looking for it. We became convinced that Hospital de Paris doesn’t actually exist – it’s a trick of the locals to get tourists lost and confused – we never found it. After the search, we decided to give up and head back to Beaune – we were defeated by the maze.

    After stopping briefly at the hotel to freshen up and pick up the tripod, we drove little Floriane back into town for the evening. After a brief wander through the seedy side of town (seedy being a relative term – that side had the only beggar we saw in Beaune), we went to one of the “super-touristy” cafés on the main square for a drink.

    Our appetites sufficiently whetted, we decided to find somewhere to eat dinner. We soon realized that, like in the touristy areas of Paris where you can get all the steak au poivre you’d ever want, it was hard to find restaurant in the centre of Beaune that had anything other than beouf bourguignon, coq au vin, and escargots on the menu. We headed out of the walled area of town and ended up having what might have been the best meal of the trip up to that point at “La Table du Vieux Vigneron” (6 r Faubourg Madeleine 03 80 24 07 78). I had a chevre salad, which was excellent, and Jamie had some sort of egg poached in wine on toast thing that was beyond words. I just can’t explain how good it was. I don’t even remember what we ate after that, it was that good. If you ever go to Beaune, seriously, go to this place and order the egg thingy.

    After dinner we headed back into town to take some night shots of Beaune, then it was back to the hotel to pass out.

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    <the egg thingy> are actually Oeufs Meurette (or Oeufs en Meurette) very popular (DH loves them when they're good)
    I found the recipe http://www.recipelink.com/mf/3/10280

    I'm surprized you didn't go further North on your first tour from Beaune, there is so much more to see after Nuits St Georges. Much too short when we know the golden slope is 45km long.

    In Bouilland you were just a few kms away from Chateauneuf en Auxois and its lovely medieval castle up on a hill. Very cute village and a big change in the landscape.

    I checked on my map and found L'Hopital de Meursault near Meursault but no H. de Paris, I'll ask my hubby.

    I'm glad that many parts of the popular golden slope remains wild and not so touristy. Maybe the group you saw at the restaurant was a group of harvesters (vendangeurs)celebrating the end on the grape picking...
    As a student, I used to drive those bread and pastry van and loved it.
    I was bringing bread and pastry from Dijon and sold them with a van. One of the most beautiful souvenirs of my life (selling bread in the country and meet nice people in villages). It is a great way to keep you fit (jump in and out at every stop) sun tanned and beautiful, I wish I could have kept on doing this longer... In the snow it was not that easy sometimes though, but what a beautiful countryside!
    Yesterday morning I could hear the butcher's van! 3:-O Those jobs tend to be very rare nowadays since people go the hypermarkets for their shopping... It is so handy for elder people and for those who don't own a car.
    In my village close to Dijon there are one grocery/bakery and 2 restaurants but some vans keep coming to sell cheese or meat.
    But I don't agree with you when you say that if a village doesn't have a bakery it won't have a café. Almost every village I used to stop at had a café (even a small one!) except when it was farms only. :-)

    Now what about Dijon?

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    Coco - I looked on Mappy, and indeed it's there - pretty far south in the area of Creot, Change, and Dezize Les Maranges - we saw lots of signs for it (its actually "Paris l'Hospital"), unfortuantely the signs led us in circles around and through town a few times before we gave up.

    The group in the restuarant were definately not pickers - it was a group of probably 30 kids in the age range of maybe 13 - 16ish...seeing as it was about lunchtime on a Wednesday, I assumed a school group...

    You're probably right about the cafe thing, although I can confirm that the village that we saw the van in didn't have a cafe, at least not one that was marked as such...it was *tiny* - maybe 25 people would've lived there, if that...a couple of houses and that was it...we had a lot of trouble finding anything open in that area - everything we did find was closed, other than in Meursault.

    Finally - we did want to explore up further north, but just ran out of time. We've already decided that we're going to make a return trip to Burgundy and spend a lot more time exploring the rest.

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    Then I'm even more looking forward to reading it! :-)
    Jamikins wasn't it you who tried to contact me through myhomeindijon.com? I'm afraid you never succeeded.
    I've changed my contact page a little bit and now no one can miss it! Maybe for another time... You were so close to it on place de la Libération!

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    Yes it was me! I was just so busy before I left (wrote my Chartered Accountants board exam the 3 days prior to leaving) so lots of things I just didnt have time to followup on. I adored Dijon! It is such a lovely town!

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    Day 6
    Thursday, September 21, 2006: Dijon and Other Things in Bacon

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    Another sunny day – perfect for our day trip to Dijon. After a quick breakfast at the hotel we loaded up Floriane and headed north again.

    We made it to the outskirts of Dijon fairly quickly, and I managed to follow the signs more or less towards the train station – we figured we’d been there before, how hard could it be? We missed the station by a little bit (I didn’t see a sign and thus didn’t take a turn) but fortunately ended up at the Place Darcy parking, which was closer to the city than the train station, and wasn’t even full. After parking Floriane on a parking level that I’m pretty sure was about 5 floors below street level, we headed out to explore the city.

    Our first stop, being the diligent tourists that we are, was the Dijon tourist office, conveniently located just across Place Darcy from where we were. We picked up a whole mess of brochures (we love brochures – Jamie makes scrap books out of them) and signed up for the “Owl Tour” – a self-guided two hour walking tour of all the major sights in Dijon.

    The tour is excellent with an informative guide book, and has a well-marked path throughout the city (look for the little brass owls on the streets/sidewalks. It gave us a good overview of the city as well as told us some of the history of the building and monuments we were looking at – without it we would have been lost (with us, probably literally).

    At some point during the two hours, we fell in love with Dijon. It’s an incredible little town – full of ancient buildings, quaint little pedestrian streets, fountains statues, and people. Unlike some of the other towns we’d been in, it immediately felt comfortable and welcoming. One of the coolest streets (rue Verrerie), at one point in its history, was named after our family (at least according to the plaque on the wall)! Before long we were looking at the listings in the windows of all the immobiliers in town, trying to figure out how long it would take for our companies to notice we never came back from France.

    After the tour we spent a while just wandering around. It’s amazing how many churches there are in Dijon – there seems to be more than in other cities we’ve been too. Our feet started to get tired and we became unbearably thirsty – we immediately found a little café for a refreshing beverage. I had a tasty beer and Jamie ordered a local wine. Unfortunately, it was off – I suppose that particular bottle had been out for too long, or no one had tried a glass of it yet, or something. I took the glass to the counter and explained in my best French that the wine was bad (I’m pretty sure I got it right…at least the gist of it). The waiter gave me a look that screamed “silly tourist, you know nothing of wines.” Then he tasted it – I’m pretty sure he almost threw up on the spot (it more or less tasted of balsamic vinegar). I’ve never seen someone apologize so profusely for such a minor thing – he immediately went into the bad to get a fresh bottle.

    Feeling somewhat refreshed, we continued our wandering (peering into the windows of immobiliers along the way). Jamie had developed an unhealthy obsession with seeing a mustard museum, and as we were in Dijon, what better place? The tourist map showed a museum just outside of town, and we set off in search of it. We didn’t find it (I’m not sure it’s even there any more) but did find a pleasant little garden to sit in for an hour (Jardin de l'Arquebuse). The garden was filled with locals enjoying the afternoon – sitting and talking on the benches or walking through the rows of plants. At one point we got to enjoy the drama as a large city van drove along the pathways in the garden and pulled up in front of the fountain in the middle. Two rather portly gentlemen in matching green uniforms got out. One wandered over to chat to the two guys who were weeding the gardens and spent the entire visit talking to them, while the other guy actually did the work (mainly consisting of dumping various chemicals into the pond).

    Despite the sun, it was a bit chilly out – there was a good wind blowing. We walked back into town for a look at the excavated crypt underneath the Church of Saint Bénigne. I always find crypts creepy; however this one was actually pretty interesting. It was mostly destroyed during the French revolution when the lower levels were filled in with the rubble of the apse above. It was later re-discovered and excavated, although some of it is under the existing church and has therefore remained filled in.

    To be honest, I can only spend so much time in churches and crypts before getting a little bored. They’re very nice, but most have a certain sameness that gets a bit repetitive after a while. After our crypt tour we walked to the main square in Dijon, Place de la Libération. The square has a great fountain running through the centre – a series of water jets that shoot water a few feet straight up – and several cafés around the outside. We picked one and sat down to enjoy another tasty beverage and some music (for some reason, there were any number of portable organ thingies all over the city playing the oddest music – everything from polkas to Cher – sort of cool at first, incredibly annoying after a while).

    At this point the wind had picked up to near-gale status. At the table next to us, it picked up a menu and blew it across to our table. Without really thinking about it, I put the menu back on the table and stuck a big glass ashtray on top of it to hold it down. About 12 seconds later, the wind picked up the menu again and flung it and the ashtray onto the ground. Of course the ashtray, being glass, shattered. Fortunately no one was hurt by the flying glass, at least not right away. After sitting for a few seconds I realized that some of the glass may have landed on my leg – I became concerned that it might have even gotten into my sock and would cut me when I tried to walk. I ran my thumb between my sock and my shoe and sure enough, found a little shard of glass, which lodged in the end of my thumb. Typical. I never did get that damn bit of glass out.

    With the bleeding mostly stopped, we felt it was a good time to end our visit to Dijon. We found the car and went to pay the parking, assuming that it was going to be a fair bit as we’d been there for 6 hours. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it only cost €3.00 for that length of time. The drive out of Dijon was entertaining – by this point the roads were somewhat busy and I still wasn’t the master of the standard transmission. We got out, albeit by a slightly different route than we’d intended, and drove back to our hotel.

    After a full day of sightseeing and walking we didn’t feel like going back into Beaune for dinner. Fortunately there was a restaurant across the parking lot from the hotel that had been recommended called Le Verger (21 rte Seurre 03 80 24 28 05). I should’ve known when we walked in that it wasn’t exactly our style – all gold and dusty rose décor, with a bit of an age gap between us and everyone else in there of at least 30 years.

    To say that it was a bit stuffy and stuck up would be an understatement. Jamie and I feel that we have a certain amount of class and style, but evidently we just didn’t meet the standard in that restaurant. The tone was extremely subdued (no speaking above a whisper), the expressions of the patron studied and reverential. Our response to this, of course, was to laugh. We just couldn’t contain ourselves – everyone was being so serious. From the glares and disgusted looks we received from the other patrons, this was not particularly appreciated.

    The food itself was pretty good, although a bit over the top. I’m not really sure what I had – it was bunch of stuff wrapped in bacon (can’t go wrong with stuff wrapped in bacon). We consulted a gastronomic translation guide and determined that the white meat bit inside the bacon was probably rabbit. We didn’t want to translate the “gibelotte” bit in case it meant what I thought it meant, nor did we investigate too deeply what the clear gelatinous bit was. After ¾ of the meal, I was forced to hide the remaining portion of the “gibelotte” bit under some white beans as I couldn’t eat it, but didn’t want it just sitting there on my plate, announcing my culinary shame.

    After dinner we walked back across the gravel parking lot and up to our room to enjoy the last of the bottle of pinot noir we’d purchased back in Meursault. I can’t think of a better way to end a day than with a glass of really nice wine. We didn’t have any real plans for the next day and looked forward to spending it relaxing in Beaune.

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    What a short stay in Dijon, I'm not sure you followed the owl's trail till the end. Did you touch the owl and made a wish? Did you see the market hall? Notre Dame and its gargoyles? Hotel de Vogüe and the other lovely tourist office rue des Forges? (my favourite by far)
    I have the impression that you saw only the south part of the center...
    Tell me more please! :-)

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    Coco - we did follow the owl tour the whole way around. We found the owl and made our wish (picture on my website http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb).

    Unfortunately the market was closed, but we did peak our head in (the cafe we had the bad wine at was just around the corner from the market - across from an art supply place).

    If Notre Dame is the one with the dozens of gargoyles on the front, we did see it and get an interesting picture - haven't cleaned it up yet so it's not on the website. They certainly didn't spare any expense on gargoyles.

    I'm not sure where the other tourist office is - we did see a sign for another one and followed it though a little passageway, but didn't find any office. The only thing there was a big spiral staircase and a statue of a man holding a sheaf of wheat at the top.

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    Coco...I totally agree that we did not spend enough time there! I would love to have an apartment there. We spent the whole day, and did the whole owl tour but headed back to Beaune for dinner. Too short indeed!

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    oops! sorry I didn't remember the picture of the little owl on your album (it so well known here, I can see it everywhere!)
    I'm glad you did all that. :-)
    You'll have to come back to enjoy the food market, all my guests loved it!
    You actually went close to the tourist office as it is located at the bottom of the staircase in "hotel Chambellan" on the right, they should put a big sign! ;-)
    The statue you saw at the top of the stairs is "the gardener" (It is mentioned in the brochure). I love this place and there is another interesting one just next door but it is often closed.

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    Day 7
    Friday, September 22, 2006: Mustard, Anyone?

    Out last full day in Burgundy, and we realized that we hadn’t really explored Beaune all that much – just little bits and pieces at the ends of other full days of exploring. We’d slept poorly that night so we decided to sleep in until 10:00am before heading out. Jet lag is a killer.

    We started the day well by walking the relatively short distance into town, where I headed straight for an espresso (it would be so much easier if I could take it intravenously) at a little café across from Hotel Dieu. As always, coffee was good, croissant was tasty, and Jamie’s chocolat was chocolaty. It doesn’t seem to matter which café we go to, it’s really hard to get a bad espresso in France.

    After espresso and a few minutes of sitting, I was able to get my eyes all the way open. Our first mission was the “Visio Train 2000” – a bizarre little tourist train contraption that drives around Beaune for the obligatory tourist tour. This train was weirder than normal – I guess they were playing up the “2000” bit of it – all angular and space-agey, sort of. As normal, we were by far the youngest people on the train. I don’t know what it is about the places we’ve been visiting, but we seem to be a bit on the youthful side as compared to the rest of the non-locals. At least we’re not wearing our money belts on the outside of our pants (which we’ve seen several times).

    The tour itself was interesting – we wound through the narrow streets of Beaune, and then out into the countryside outside the walls to see the vineyards. Some of the streets in town were *really* narrow – I was impressed with the skills of the Visio Train 2000 driver – if I’d been behind the wheel (otherwise known as ‘space age control panel 2000”), we’d have been caroming off walls the whole way around. Plus, we’d have gotten lost after the 3rd corner.

    We realized as the train drove back into town that it was the official Beaune Bus Tours of Elderly People day – the crowds were amazing for a town that seemed to be so sleepy during the week, which explained a lot of the discrepancy between us and the rest. The train dropped us off in front of Hotel Dieu again, which was convenient as we’d planned on taking the tour of that next.

    The inside of Hotel Dieu is a bit of a surprise if you assume that it’s all going to look like the front, which is massively imposing and very grey. The inside is absolutely amazing – a huge courtyard with the big grey wing on one side, and on the other, a building featuring what might be the most colourful roof I’ve ever seen. The hotel was original built to care for and house the city’s infirm and poor, and part of it is still used as a retirement home. It’s odd to see the non-Disney way these sorts of buildings are presented in Europe – definitely not the way it would be done at home, but so much nicer.

    The museum tour was definitely worth the two hours we spent in there. It’s self-guided, but the little brochure you get at the beginning explains what everything is and gives a bit of history behind it. As always, we found museuming to be hungry (and thirsty) work, so after leaving the hotel we visited another café to enjoy some lunch (and perhaps a glass of wine).

    After refreshing ourselves, we walked out past the city ramparts to see the Musee de Moutarde – yes, the Museum of Mustard (Jamie’s mustard obsession having not abated one bit after the disappointing lack of museum in Dijon). This time we found the Musee without much incident, but discovered upon reaching it that it’s only open from 10:00am to 11:30am. I mean honestly – it’s like France is conspiring to keep us from discovering the true history of mustard. It’s only a condiment – let us in!

    Having failed on yet another mustard mission, we walked (rather dejectedly I might add) back into the old city. If we couldn’t visit a mustard museum, we could console ourselves by exploring the more significantly open Musee du Vin (interesting in that it was both up my proverbial alley, and also up a literal alley – at least the entrance we went in). The Musee du Vin is housed in what used to be one of the houses of one of the four Dukes of Burgundy.

    The museum, while interesting, isn’t quite on the same par as Hotel Dieu. Essentially, it’s a bunch of rooms full of wine glasses, examples of dirt, and lots of rusty implements used at various points in history to trim and/or harvest grapes. They also have a very odd black and white video explaining the story of the barrel – not just a documentary about the making of a barrel, but with some (perhaps) fictional background and characterization of the barrel-maker himself, his wife, his friend (who also makes barrels), and either his son or an apprentice or both. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see the museum, but it is a way to pass a rainy afternoon.

    Like our tour of Hotel Dieu, we found that we became parched after spending an hour or so in the Musee du Vin. We quickly found ourselves at one of the many bars in Beaune’s main square to enjoy a few glasses of Premier Cru for me, and some Kirs for Jamie. It’s hard to think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

    A few drinks later, we decided that we were hungry. Unfortunately, our dinner was extraordinarily disappointing. We found a little restaurant down Rue Madeline, just past the excellent place we’d eaten in a few nights before. The one tonight seemed to be full of people enjoying their meals, and several said that they’d gone out of their way to eat there, partially because of the Rick Steeves recommendation they’d read. We couldn’t have been less impressed – especially as my coq au vin was slightly charred. To add insult to injury, I ordered the wrong cheese course – we had the option of the cheese plate (which Jamie had – actually excellent), and the “Fromage Blanc avec Fines Herbes” – as far as I could tell it was crème fraiche with minced garlic, shallots, and parsely. Not what I had been expecting (I’d been looking forward to some white cheeses with herbs right in – I’m not sure why). As it turned out, I developed a taste for fromage blanc for breakfast later in the trip, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for it after dinner.

    Thus ended our stay in Burgundy – we were scheduled to drive down to Provence the next day. After dinner we slowly walked back to our hotel, enjoying our last evening in Beaune. I was amazed at how different everything was from Paris, the only place in France I’d ever been before. I was even more amazed at how much I loved it – it seemed that everything Paris was lacking, we found and then some in the countryside. We were a bit sad to be leaving Burgundy, but were definitely looking forward to Provence – it is, after all, Peter Mayle country.

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    Thanks for the fine report on my second-favorite region of France. (First? Provence.) I especially enjoyed the episode of the wind, as we had a similar experience in Biot last month. Eating al fresco can quickly turn into an adventure.

    Did you get over toward Autun to see the roof on La Rochepot? It's another splendid example of Burgundian roof design.

    You didn't actually need to say that you're a writer! It's clear from the quality of your prose.

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    Thanks you BS, I'm sad the Burgundy part is already over but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Jamikins don't regret to have missed the Mustard museum in Dijon, people are usually a bit frustrated because it is all about the history and nothing about the processing (except if you prefer history..). It is not in the "real" heart center but not very far from the railway station (south of it, next to the canal).

    So now you have to come back to visit Autun and la Rochepot! :-)
    coco

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    We are really enjoying your trip report as your writings of Paris and Beaune brought back many memories.
    We did visit the mustard factory in Beaune and, although the tour was completely in French, the highlights were actually making mustard and sampling some of the products. We were surprised to learn that most of the mustard seed is now imported from Quebec.
    Looking forward to more of your excellent writing...

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    BS - I've so enjoyed reading your trip report of Burgundy. I was there myself last year at harvest time and stayed in CoCo's flat. I too dream of returning to Dijon and relaxing in that lovely town (oops, I'm giving away my wish to the owl :))
    Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip...soon I hope.

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    Day 8
    Saturday, September 23, 2006
    16kms to St. Remy

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb - more posted last night)

    After yet another night of non-sleeping, we had pretty much decided that we weren’t enjoying jet lag as much as we thought we would. I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were in a strange bed, or just the jet lag, but by day 8 we hadn’t had a single good night of sleep.

    We dragged ourselves up at about 8:30 and finished packing – pretty much everything was already packed up, other than the festive strings of my boxers which were hung up all over the place to dry (sink washing is an unpleasant but necessary part of travel). We loaded up Floriane and headed into Beaune for a quick breakfast – we’d discovered that that little ice cream shop just inside the ramparts up from Rue Faubourg Madeline was not only cheap but very friendly.

    Our first mission of the day was to fill up the car with gazole (otherwise known as diesel) before making our way south to Provence. Despite the fact that it sounds simple to fill up a car in France, it is. We found a gas station and pulled up to a pump. I’d read quite a few horror stories on the web about mis-adventures while filling up, and so was a bit nervous. The gas pump threw me at first – it looked exactly like the ones at home. I hadn’t been expecting that. I stared at it for a while, challenging it to do something foreign and bewildering. It didn’t. I watched the guy next to me fill up his tank – nothing odd about his procedure. I stared at the pump for a while longer, concerned that I was going to make it blow up.

    Eventually, the woman in the payment booth hit the intercom and asked if I needed help. That gave me the impetuous I needed – I hate looking like a moron in public (despite the fact that I’m so good at it). I cautiously picked up the nozzle that said “Gazole” and put it in the tank. I checked again that the big sticker on the side of the car still said “gazole” and hadn’t changed while I wasn’t looking. It hadn’t. I pulled the handle and nervously filled the tank. Nothing bad happened. I walked over to the payment booth, fully expecting to find that they didn’t accept cash, only chipped European credit cards. They took cash. I got back in the car and turned the ignition, convinced that I’d accidentally put regular gasoline into the tank and that the car was about to expire – it didn’t.

    We hit the road, and after a few false starts up various side-streets, we made it onto the A7 heading south. The French auto routes are amazing pieces of engineering – 3 lanes each direction pretty much all the way, well maintained, a speed limit of 130km/h, and massive rest-stops featuring restaurants, gas stations, and sometimes hotels.. Nothing like that in Canada. The only downside of the big auto route theory is that you have to pay for the privilege of driving on them - €9.90 to get from Beaune to Lyon. On the other hand, it seemed a small price to pay for getting there so quickly.

    After stopping for a quick lunch at one of the big rest stop, we pulled into the town of Orange, famous both for being named after a fruit and for having the biggest Roman amphitheatre in the world with its stage wall still standing. The amphitheatre is, in fact, impressive. It holds between eight and ten thousand people at once, and is still used for concerts, almost 2000 years after it was built. Apparently part of the reason it’s still standing is that for quite a bit of its history, it was used as a large, easily defendable living space.

    I found the most interesting tidbit of information on the audio tour we took was that the big statue of the Roman emperor was mass-produced and featured an interchangeable head (to make updates based on the changes in Rome easier – cheaper to ship a replacement head to France than a whole new statue). The audio tour was excellent and gave a lot of detail – in some bit a bit more than strictly necessary.

    I’m not sure if we were in the wrong part of Orange, or if it was just because we were in the middle of traveling that day, stuck between the beginning of our journey and the end, but we just didn’t really like Orange. After the amphitheatre tour, we didn’t hang around long- back to the A7 for the rest of the drive to St. Remy.

    Jamie would argue that I don’t listen to her, and I would argue that I listen just fine, she needs to stop mumbling. Either way, when she said that we needed to take exit 24, I only heard the “4” bit. I commented as we passed the sign that indicated that exit 25 was coming up that it was odd that the exit numbers were increasing, not decreasing. It was at this point that the discussion about the listening/mumbling ensued as we exited the freeway.

    Another downside of the auto route is that at 130km/h, if you miss an exit, five minutes driving t the next one means that you’ve overshot where you wanted to be by about 20 kilometers. Feeling somewhat adventurous (and a little cheap), we decided to find our way to St. Remy via the back roads, instead of getting back on the auto route and paying yet again. We followed the signs, including one that said “16kms to St. Remy” that we were to get to know very well over the next week. Eventually we made it to the outskirts of town, where we promptly got lost.

    In my defense, it wasn’t my fault – half the streets we tried to drive down were barricaded and there were diversions everywhere. Plus, like in Beaune, we hadn’t the faintest idea where our hotel was supposed to be (we had instructions on how to get there from exit 24 on the auto route, not from exit 25). Unlike Beaune, there didn’t seem to be a ring road around St. Remy – at least not that we could find. Eventually I had the bright idea of following the signs back to the A7 – at the very worst once we got there, we could turn around and follow the directions we had back, at the best, we’d figure out where the turn was supposed to be and find the hotel.

    This turned out to be a good plan, as we almost immediately saw a sign for “Hotel l’Amadiere.” We followed the signs and soon were at the hotel. We got settled in our room and relaxed for a few minutes before walking towards town to figure out what the hell was going on with all the diversions.

    As it turned out, we’d arrived in St. Remy just as they were doing their big village festival and more specifically, their parade. We found a spot near the end of the parade route and watched as townspeople marched past, dressed in traditional clothes and leading an astonishing number of donkeys, horses, sheep, and a few startled-looking chickens.

    St. Remy was a zoo – it was completely packed with people, and there was a big carnival set up in Place de la Republic, complete with rides and a full mid-way. We’d been looking forward to a small, sleepy little Provencal town, and instead had the county fair. We walked around for a while, trying to find a place that wasn’t absolutely crammed with people. As it turns out, St. Remy does have a ring-road; it’s just a bit more hidden than in Beaune. The south end of town, past the fair, was a bit quieter. We found a place for dinner that looked nice – “La Reine Jeanne,” which featured a dining room in a garden with lots of lights and trees.

    After a nice meal and some wine, we walked back to the hotel for a nightcap and bed. It had been a long, but very good day. From what we’d seen, we liked Provence so far and were looking forward to exploring it further.

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    Oddly enough, I got that idea from this forum - before I left I read a whole mess of posts about people putting gasoline in their diesel cars, about filling up and not being able to pay with their credit cards, and other problems...I'd worked it up in my mind that it was going to be a major drama to fill up. It wasn't. Even a little bit. Oh well...
    Glad you enjoyed it.

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    Scott, Excellent Report and Photos!

    It has it all food, wine, getting lost, technical glitches a little blood but no mustard. I'm glad to read about the parade in St. Remy, I was wondering where you came across the lady leading a donkey.

    I've printed the reciepe for Oeufs en Meurette Coco found. It's on next week's dinner plans. Can't wait to eat "that eggy thing."

    Waiting on the next installment. Cheers!

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    "before I left I read a whole mess of posts about people putting gasoline in their diesel cars.."

    Who could be that stupid?! Oh yeah, it's all coming back to me now.

    Great report!

    ((H))

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    I think you have to write something like you did or even "bookmark" or "ttt". If you put it into your favourites it should work as well. :-)
    BS must be writing the next instalment I suppose, I'm sure he will appear soon!

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    Day 9
    Sunday, September 24, 2006
    Drizzle in the Market

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    We were up at the ungodly hour of 7:00am so that we could visit the market at Isle Sur La Sorgue – it had seemed like a good plan after a bottle of wine the previous night, not so much at that hour, and especially with the pouring rain outside.

    Despite a lack of enthusiasm on my part, we dragged ourselves out to the breakfast room at the hotel for the requisite coffee intake. We discovered that if you get up early enough, there’s a giant slab of really tasty pate available for breaky – a great way to start the day as it turns out. After several cups of coffee and a big ole hunk of meat, we braved the torrential downpour and started out towards the market.

    As we’d left so freaking early, we got to Isle sur la Sorgue before pretty much anyone else. The town is built in, on and around a river that threads through it. Since no one was around, we found parking on the inner circle inside the bit of river that surrounds the old bit of town. We didn’t know this at first – we found it by accident after almost giving up the entire mission.

    When we first got there, we couldn’t find any signs to indicate where the market was supposed to be. While the bit of the village in the middle of the river is quite scenic and quaint, the rest isn’t. We spent quite a bit of time driving back and forth in the “other bit” trying to figure out where we were supposed to be. Eventually I took a wrong turn and we ended up in the bit we were supposed to be in. We parked out of sheer frustration and decided to try to find the market on foot.

    We picked a street at random and started walking in pretty much the exact opposite direction of where we wanted to be. We saw very few people walking around the narrow streets, but those that we did see had baskets of stuff, so we assumed that the market must be going on somewhere. After 30 minutes or so of very wet wandering, we finally found it.

    It was early enough still that not all of the booths were set up and it seemed that it was only locals shopping. The rain really started coming down and we took temporary refuge in a little café outside one of the squares that seemed the busiest. In the time it took to drink an espresso and hot chocolate, the rain seemed to relent a bit.

    The market at Isle Sur La Sorgue is impressive. The village winds around the bits of river and the market stalls are spread out along the narrow streets and alleys. We explored for a quite a while (finding, along the way, an extremely happy umbrella vendor who was selling what appeared to be very dangerous and flimsy umbrellas for €5 – we bought one each). There are stalls there that sell pretty much everything – from the requisite cheese stands, to sausage, to spices, to fabrics, toys, butchers, fishmongers, and some appallingly hideous folk-art.

    Eventually the rain let up long enough for me to scurry around and take some photographs of what might have been the most photogenic town we’d been in to date – it’s sort of like a Venice in Provence with all the canals. We enjoyed the brief moment of sunshine – the entire town seemed to light up with a golden glow.

    At this point, we were starving. We found a little place for lunch out on the edge of the market called “L’Industrie” – it was pretty much empty, and featured pizza cooked in wood-burning oven on the menu, both major selling points for us.

    When we went in, we realized that we were actually the only people there except for the staff, who was sitting down to a big group lunch. They (sort of) politely told us we were welcome to sit and have a drink, but they weren’t going to be serving lunch until noon (it was 11:30 at this point). Having a drink was something that Jamie and I could really get behind, so we did. Eventually, we did get our pizzas – they were oven baked as advertised, and extremely tasty.

    As we were eating, the rain came back, and in force. We made our escape and found the car (turned out we’d parked it almost at the entrance to the market, and didn’t actually need to walk around for half an hour in the rain). Next on the list was the little town of “Thor”, mainly because I have a friend named “Thor” (not actually is real name, just part of his last name – it is, however, what we call him).

    As might be expected, we were heading in the right direction and were completely on track when I missed a turn. It’s amazing how much of France we wouldn’t have seen if I could follow simple directions. We were now heading towards Carpentras, which also seemed interesting, even if I don’t have any friends with the same name.

    We drove through the town, looking for parking. We found the best parking lot, right next to the start of the walking tour we’d found in the Michelin Green Guide that seemed interesting. It was even almost completely empty – what were the chances? We’d figured the town would be packed and that we’d have to spend a fair bit of time looking for a halfway decent spot.

    We locked up Floriane and walked the short distance to the pedestrian-only zone in the centre of town. It was at this point that we discovered why we’d managed to find such prime parking so quickly – Carpentras is closed on Sundays. When I say closed, I mean CLOSED. We were the only ones in the deserted streets; all the stores were locked up, most with big metal doors rolled down. It was creepy, especially in the drizzle. We figured that we’d driven all this way, we might as well see what we could, so we started on the walking tour.

    Carpentras seems like it’d be a neat little town if a few stores were open and we weren’t the only ones there. We saw an old church, some roman stuff (Triumphal Arch etc), and a huge medieval gate to the city – one of the only bits of the old wall that once encircled the town (Porte d’Orange?). As it was extremely creepy being the only ones in the deserted town and there really wasn’t much to do, we walked back to Floriane and headed home to relax for a bit in our room before going into St. Remy for dinner.

    Back at the hotel, there was a small group of people sitting in the lobby chatting – presumably sheltering from the rain. We were invited to stop and join them for a bit. We went back to the room to drop off our bags and grab a glass of wine. By the time we got back, everyone except a man named Brendan had left. We sat down to chat – not realizing at that point that we’d just made a new friend.

    It turned out that Brendan was also from Vancouver, although he now lives in Seattle, London, and St. Remy. He was there because he owned one of the restaurants in town – “La Table de Michel.” We sat and talked for quite a while, getting the lowdown on the eating situation in the area (generally designed for tourists, especially in St. Remy itself), recommendation on some sights to see and more importantly places to eat. He suggested that we try his restaurant for dinner – a suggestion we took him up on.

    Dinner was fantastic – we both started with a wild mushroom dish that was superb. I followed that with the absolute best steak au poivre I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something) and Jamie had an excellent duck breast in a honey sauce. We sat at the owner’s table, and Brendan came out of the kitchen to chat with us throughout the meal (in addition to co-owning the place, he’s also a chef).

    After dinner, Brendan joined us for a drink. Before long, the head chef Michel came out and joined us as well. It seemed to be one of those situations that I’ve read about, but has never happened – sitting at the owner’s table, talking with the owner and head chef. Both Brendan and Michel are extraordinarily interesting men – Brendan’s a management consultant as well as an author, and Michel is a world-famous chef who’s getting back to his roots cooking in France (among other things, he was once the personal chef of Hugh Hefner, living and working in the mansion).

    As we talked, the rain really started coming down, putting the drizzle of the afternoon to shame – it’s been a long time since I’d seen rain that heavy. None of us wanted to go out in it, so we were forced to sit and enjoy more beverages until it let up. Eventually it did – I hadn’t actually had that much (only two glasses of wine), however everyone else was smashed. Damn rain. We gave Brendan a ride back to the hotel after making reservations for dinner that Friday night for us and our friends from Canada wheho would apparently be meeting us – they were staying at the same hotel as us this time, so unlike Paris they wouldn’t be able to brush us off.

    We didn’t really have any firm plans for the following day – we wanted to do a driving tour of the Luberon towns, but the weather didn’t look like it was going to be conducive to that option. We’d been told that the Mistral was probably going to blow in the next day and blow off all the clouds, but that didn’t seem likely. We went to bed extremely happy, looking forward to more adventures in Provence.

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    Day 10
    Monday, September 25, 2006:
    16kms to St. Remy

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)


    We got a slightly later start to the day than usual – we had to drive Brendan back into town, after the adventures of the previous night. It took forever to get going – we waited as he sent some emails, smoked some little cigars, and chatted up a Norwegian couple who looked as if they might be interested in buying his new cookbook (he and Michel had written a new cookbook which hadn’t yet been published – despite this he’d already managed to sell approximately 7000 copies).

    Finally we were off! Our first mission of the day (after the requisite coffee) was the little town of Les Baux – just south of St Remy, on the other side of an excitingly narrow and windy road through Les Alpilles. As we were driving through the twists and turns, we realized that we were finally in the Provence that we’d imagined.

    The tiny village of Les Baux is perched on a spur of Les Alpilles – houses clinging to the rocks and miniature cobblestone streets running back and forth up the hill. After a brief adventure in parking (still wasn’t 100% on the manual transmission – damn those things roll backwards quickly when trying to parallel park on a steep hill with expensive-looking cars behind you), we made our way up to the ruins of the Les Baux castle.

    The castle had an excellent audio tour, although it was a bit difficult to figure out where the next numbered marker was. The castle itself was situated way out on the end of the spur and seemed pretty much impregnable, except for one minor problem which the original builders seem to have overlooked – there is absolutely no water supply at the top. During its history, the castle was attacked and taken several times – all the attackers had to do was cut the castle off in a siege and the defenders would eventually have to give up, or die of thirst. One of the more odious tasks of the peasants who lived there was going on the daily water run (they got to use donkeys to carry the buckets).

    It must’ve been something to see before the walls crumbled. A fair bit of the castle was dug out of the rock itself – other than a few remnants of walls, the only thing that is still there are the rooms and caverns that were chipped into the cliffs. As so often happens, just as we were coming to the end of our audio tour, a large tour bus of German teenagers arrived. The German teens (they may have been Austrian, to be fair) immediately began to run around and holler at each other like complete idiots, as teenagers, regardless of culture, are prone to do. Damn kids.

    Just down the road from Les Baux, on the way back to St. Remy, is a Provençal olive mill called “Les Castelas.” We stopped for a tasting, expecting perhaps a tour of the mill etc, but just got the quick tasting of the two oils that they had available. Somewhat stupidly, despite really liking the oils, we only bought a single tiny bottle to bring back with us. We’ve actually managed to find a shop here in Vancouver which sells Castelas olive oil, however they charge $60 for a single bottle – a bit pricey, even taking the cost of transportation into account.

    We continued on the road back to St. Remy, stopping at the old roman town of Glanum. We found parking and as a bonus, it was free, despite the sign that said €2 for the day. We parked the car and took a quick look around the triumphal arch and mausoleum which were conveniently located just next to the parking lot. After wandering around them for a bit and taking a few photos, we headed off in completely the wrong direction for the Glanum site. After wandering through the olive groves at the Van Gogh museum, we found the entrance and a very large sign explaining that the Glanum site is closed only one day of the week. You get one guess as to which day it is.

    We headed back to the car (with a vow to avoid free parking – it never bodes well) and drove through St. Remy and continued north to Avignon. We ended up in the entrance to the train station parking lot, instead of continuing around to the ring road and parking at the Palais du Papes parking lot as we’d planned. As we were already there, we decided just to park the car and walk across town to the palace.

    Avignon turned out to be a relatively large town with a population of more than 80,000, most of them homeless as far as we could tell. We found the entrance to the Palais du Papes without major incident, and signed up for the audio tour.

    The palace is big. Let me repeat that, it’s BIG. I hadn’t previously realized that for a few hundred years, the papacy of the Catholic Church was actually based in Avignon. The audio tour was interesting, although a bit long. Somewhat surprisingly for a giant stone building, it was incredibly hot inside. Plus, I got in trouble at one point for taking pictures inside one of the halls (evidently photos are permitted, but even non-flash photos are banned inside, with hordes of employees running around to make sure everyone was following the rules).

    After the tour, we got on the little tourist train which starts just outside the doors of the palace. I guess some of the Americans on board with us didn’t read the big French sign which explained that it is forbidden to get off the train for any reason during the tour. Five minutes into the tour, the train stopped to wait for a group of pedestrians to cross the path. The Americans took the brief pause as a signal to jump off the train to admire the view. The look of surprise on their faces as the train pulled off without them moments later was priceless.

    I think the driver of the little train may have been insane as he took that little train around corners and through alleyways at top speed. The only other thing we wanted to see in Avignon was the remains of St. Benezet Bridge – a bridge that used to stretch from the ramparts of the old town right across the river. After a couple of centuries of floods, only a few of the 21 arches are still standing. Even the bridge had an audio tour, although the most interesting part of the bridge was the excellent view back to Avignon.

    Both of us felt quite uncomfortable in town and decided to nix our plan of having dinner in Avignon and decided to go back to St. Remy to eat instead. We picked up Floriane and hit the road. Our plan was to retrace our steps back to St. Remy – how hard could it be? I guess the turns all looked a little different in the dark because we missed our turnoff. Time for plan B – back to the ring road and around until we found a sign for St Remy. This seemed like a good plan on paper. As it turned out, there were no signs for St. Remy. Plan C – look for any other town in the right direction and head there. Unfortunately, in the dark I misread the sign for Ales, reading Arles instead (despite Jamie pointing several times that it said Ales) and took the turnoff. Who puts two towns with almost exactly the same name that close to each other where they can confuse tourists? Ales, unfortunately, was completely the wrong direction. Both of us were a bit frustrated at this point and definitely hungry.

    We hit upon Plan D – drive to Isle sur la Sorgue, which we had not only seen a sign for while driving around the Avignon ring road, but knew how to get back to St. Remy from. Plan D seemed to be a good one and before long we were barreling along dark country roads towards Isle sur La Sorgue. After finding the first town, we then aimed the car towards Cavillon – the next town in the chain that would lead us back to our hotel. Ironically, after about an hour and a half of driving we came across a sign that read “St. Remy 16kms” – as Avignon is only 18kms from St. Remy, we were really only 2kms closer to our goal and thus were effectively doing only 2kms/hr.

    It was near 9:00pm by the time we finally made it back to St. Remy. We stopped quickly in town for a bite of dinner and headed back to the hotel. As we were getting changed for bed, the wind picked up and before long was howling through the trees outside – I hoped this was the start of the Mistral which had been promised – what could be more Provençal than the Mistral?

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    I'm sorry I laughed out loud at the getting lost part. To make you feel better it sounds like something we could have done. Now that we're not so young we try to avoid large towns. You should have seen us trying to get out of Nice (without having had our morning coffee)!

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    Love the photos. I see that you shot them with a Nikon D-70. I have been thinking for awhile to upgrade to this camera. Are you generally happy with your purchase?

    Looking forward to the rest of your report!

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    I absolutely love my D70s! The pictures it takes are fantastic, the interface is easy to use, and at this point I can change most of the settings without looking at the camera using the buttons. I haven't regretted the purchase for a second.
    Glad you're all enjoying the report!

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    hopingtotravel - getting lost is one of our best things, especially when I stop listening to the navigator and decide to go my own way. I'm not sure why, but we found Provence to be particularly confusing - we got lost pretty much EVERY day, although day 10 was definitely the worst.

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    Day 11
    Tuesday, September 26, 2006: Two Women from LA and a Sweaty Guy.

    Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    Finally, a day that began with us going for a relatively long drive and not getting lost. After a hearty breakfast, we packed up into Floriane and headed towards Cavaillon. Despite some traffic due to road construction (and flying pylons hitting poor Floriane due to the Mistral), we made it to the outskirts of Cavaillon and on through to the Luberon hill towns.

    First on our tour was a village that, at one point in its history, was a bustling little town, but has been deserted for a couple of hundred years. According to the Michelin Green Guide, Oppede Le Vieux slowly got smaller and smaller as people left the isolated hill for the more populous towns on the plains. The town was actually a bit spooky. Once past the still active (in a relative sense) main square which had a few shops and cafés, you walk through a tunnel under the old Marie and into the old town. The ruined roads lead back and forth up the hill to the remains of the castle at the top. The streets themselves are worn and cracked, with trees and bushes growing up through what’s left of the cobblestones. Few of the houses have roofs, and most are only outlines of where the walls used to be.

    It looked like two of the ruins were being renovated by a couple of industrious men, and a couple of caves partway along were being lived in. The castle at the top looked like it was small but impressive. Unfortunately, after a couple hundred years of neglect and an earthquake or two, there’s not much left standing other than a few walls and two broken towers. All things considered, Oppede le Vieux is an interesting stop. It seemed that it was a bit off the normal tourist trail so it wasn’t filled with people – other than us (and the people living in the caves), there was only one other group of people looking around.

    We clambered back down to the parking lot and set off for Luberon hill town number two: Menerbes. Now this was a town I’d been looking forward to visiting for years – ever since I read my first Peter Mayle book. As it turned out, Menerbes wasn’t quite what I’d imagined after reading A Year in Provence – it was a bit smaller and a bit steeper than I’d pictured it in my mind’s eye.

    We wandered around for a bit, trying to see if we recognized anything from the books, but unfortunately didn’t. We had a tasty panini at a little café near the Marie and relaxed for a bit. To be perfectly honest, there isn’t a lot to see in Menerbes. We stood on one of the walls and tried to figure out which house was Peter Mayle’s, but gave up after a few minutes (we later heard that it was two driveways past the school on the road to Bonnieux). On the way out of town back down to the car, we noticed a little shop advertising free wine tastings. Of course we stopped.

    The guy in the shop didn’t speak any English whatsoever, but it took him a little while to realize that we didn’t speak French completely fluently, which was a huge compliments. He said that he was really impressed with how much we could speak – I must’ve learned something in all those French classes in high school. He offered us samples of all the wine he had available – I stopped after 5 reds (I was driving), Jamie went all the way through 9. We were so impressed with the friendly salesman and the surprisingly good taste of the wine that we were forced to buy three bottles.

    Back to Floriane and off to Bonnieux, our third town on the day’s hill town tour. Bonnieux is nice, but STEEP. We scored a sweet parking spot on a side street about halfway, but had a hell of a hike up the church at the top of the hill. Partway up, as we stopped to catch our breath and have a look around (but mostly to catch our breath – it was really steep) we were embarrassed to find that an old woman, presumably a local, was cruising up the steep stairs without even breathing hard.

    At this point the wind was really picking up. It was actually cold up at the top with the wind chill. We were starting to realize that this was the famous Mistral – a strong and steady cold wind. Sure enough, it was clearing all the clouds out of the sky.

    Other than the spectacular view, there didn’t seem to be much going on in Bonnieux. After a coffee for me (place we stopped at wouldn’t sell wine by the glass for Jamie), we found the car and continued on our merry journey. Next on the list was Roussillon.

    Roussillon is famous mainly for its colour. The hills it’s on are made mostly of ochre which gives the whole place a reddish-orange tinge. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if ochre is the dirt, the colour, or both. We were given strict warnings not to touch the dirt and then our faces, as the colour will immediately stain. I’m not sure if this happens a lot, as it would take quite a bit to get me to smear dirt all over my face, even if it is festively coloured.

    Roussillon was our favourite of the villages we’d visited so far that day. It seemed to be quite friendly, with lots of little shops and cafés. Granted, there were more tourists about than the other towns, but even with that it was really nice. As with all the villages, the views from the edges of the town on the cliffs were amazing and we could see all the towns we’d visited so far.

    After a brief stop for refreshment, we loaded back into the car and headed for our last stop on the day’s tour – Gordes. We’d heard that the best view of the town is a little bit before the main parking lot. We saw the turnout as we drove past it, and after paying our €2 for parking, we walked the one kilometer back to get our photo. As it turns out one kilometer after a full day of sightseeing is a really long way. We didn’t quite make it to the main spot, but found a little area that had some really nice views.

    We then walked a full two kilometers into town to have a look around. Again, there didn’t seem to be much going on in Gordes and after having a bit of a walk around to see the sights, we decided that we’d had enough sightseeing for the day. In retrospect, I’m not sure if our impression of Gordes may have been slightly coloured by the fact that we were completely bagged by this point.

    Much to our surprise, we made it back to St. Remy without getting even a little bit lost. This would turn out to be the first day since being in France that we could say that. We stopped in town to pick up supplies (wine, cheese, some sausage, olives, and bread) and headed back to the hotel to have a quiet night in and recover from our busy day.

    When we got to the front desk to get our key, we found a note from Brendan inviting us to the restaurant for dinner, as Michel was planning a special menu. How could we resist an offer like that? We dropped our day’s purchases in the room and after a quick glass of wine, walked back into town.

    Dinner turned out to be quite the adventure. Brendan sat us with an older couple who turned out to also be from Vancouver. We had a great meal and really enjoyed talking with them – Michel was on his best form and dinner was amazing. As we were eating, a couple we’d met that morning in the hotel came in on our recommendation. After the Vancouverites left, we sat and chatted with the Californians. It wasn’t long before the drama began.

    Two rather loud women and one very sweaty man barged into the restaurant. It turned out that the women were both from LA and had planned on meeting in Europe for a combined vacation. The story got a bit bizarre from there. Gwen, it seemed, had been in Munich for Oktoberfest, and was trying to fly to St. Tropez to meet Jennifer. According to her, when she got to Stockholm, all of the pilots went on strike at the same time, leaving her stranded. She rented a car and started driving south. I’m not sure at what point she’d met up with Jennifer, but they said they’d been driving all day and had decided that they had to stop for the night in St. Remy. It seemed a bit fishy to me, but what did I know?

    Larry, on the other hand, had actually been in the restaurant earlier that evening. He’d taken a cab back to his hotel, but had somehow gotten lost on the way. The girls had found him wandering around on the roads and given him a lift back to the restaurant. Larry was from Chicago, and trying desperately to sleep with Gwen, who was somewhat attractive in a plastic Barbie sort of way (Jennifer, on the other hand, was not attractive, in that obscene hardcore weightlifter kind of way). He was offering to buy them dinner, pay for a hotel for them for the night (or stay in his), and even buy everyone in the restaurant drinks.

    The story kept getting weirder and weirder as the night went on and the drinks kept flowing. Sweaty Larry got sweatier, various owners of hotels arrived to ship him and the women to their various hotels (Brendan, after some time on the phone, had managed to find them a room). What the hell – it made for an interesting evening.

    We ended the night getting a ride back to the hotel with Brendan in the nastiest car we’ve ever seen (some sort of dodgy Renault). We had a final drink at the hotel before crashing in our room. What a day!

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    Scott, I just read through all of your wonderful trip report and I want more, more, more! I love your writing style and your photos are amazing. I can relate to how long it takes to write a report because I started posting my June trip to the Dordogne in July and just finished it today.

    We stayed near Beune on our first trip to France so got to explore that area before moving on to Paris. Om another trip we stayed in Saint Remy but we never got ot the Luberon. Aren't the Apilles just like a Van Gogh painting?

    Anyway, your report brings back pleasant memories and isn't it great to have that Canadian high school French?

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    BikerScott,

    Keep it coming! Sounds like you had good adventures.

    Just FYI, the stones in the fortress at Les Baux didn't actually crumble to begin with. They were helped along when Cardinal Richlieu ordered the destruction of the entire edifice. Bad man.

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    Day 12: Wednesday, September 27, 2006
    Lounging and German Crotch

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb - more posted last night)

    Somewhat surprisingly, we weren’t feeling our best on Wednesday morning when we woke up. That last bottle of wine with Brendan at the hotel after getting home may not have been the best of ideas, as it turned out. Hindsight can be a pain the ass. We were actually feeling so delicate that we decided to skip breakfast, focusing instead on re-hydrating as quickly as possible.

    After a suitable recovery period, we went back to the old roman ruins of Glanum, just south of town. Unlike our previous attempt, we not only found it without getting lost, but it was also open, which was a nice change. The only downside was that we had to pay the €2 parking fee, although I wasn’t going to complain to loudly about that.

    Glanum is a neat little spot. It was a fairly small roman town that was originally a celtic settlement with a temple and spring dedicated to the celtic god Glanis. The romans arrived in the 1st century, however the town was destroyed in the 3rd century and the inhabitants moved a bit further north to what was to become St. Remy de Provence.

    The site was originally excavated in 1921, and as of our visit, is still being worked on. One of the things I love about sites this in Europe, as compared to historic sites in North America, is how close you can get to everything. There were very few barricades or fences, just the occasional sign reminding you that you are standing in (and sometimes on) an ancient historic site and asking you to please be careful.

    The old spring, around which the town was probably originally settled is still there and full of water. An unfortunate tourist had twisted her ankle quite badly and was actually soaking it in the cold spring water – talk about an immersion in history (I just couldn’t resist saying it).

    We spent quite a long time wandering around the old ruins, trying to imagine what it would have looked like 1900 years ago when it was a bustling little town. There was a bath house, a forum, some lavish houses and market stalls. The entire town had underground drains that were fed by the spring.

    At this point, as is so often the case, a busload of German teenagers arrived and immediately began running all over the place hooting and hollering. The sun was looking particularly bright, and my headache wasn’t being done any favours by the penetrating voices of the teenagers. We decided that we’d done as much sightseeing that day as was reasonable, given the circumstances, and that a break would be in order for the afternoon. The Mistral of the previous day had, as promised, cleared out all the clouds and it was absolutely beautiful out. It seemed that the best option would be to head back to the hotel, grab our books and some water, and sit by the pool for a few hours and relax.

    We changed into our bathing suits in our room, grabbed our books, and headed to the poolside. Other than a hairy snoring napping Frenchman and his wife, we were the only ones taking advantage of the pool that afternoon. We settled ourselves and spent an enjoyable hour or so soaking up the sun, resting our feet and reading. Our idyllic bliss was, unfortunately, spoiled by the arrival of two quite pudgy Germans who positioned themselves across the pool, facing us.

    I don’t want you to think that I have anything against Germans, other than the busloads of teenagers that they seemed to be sending all over France to hoot and holler as we tried to explore various historical sights. I would have been horrified by people of any nationality, had they sat in those particular seats facing us, with those particular bathing suits (very tight, not leaving a lot, if anything, to the imagination), with their legs spread in a relaxed manner, giving us a very much unwelcome and uncomfortable view of their Speedo-clad crotches. As I’ve said before, and still firmly believe – nothing ruins an afternoon quite like an uninvited and continued viewing of obese Speedo crotch.

    It didn’t take long before the sight of the Speedos convinced us that our afternoon lounging was at an end. I wasn’t quite finished relaxing, however Jamie was getting bored (my ability to sit and do almost nothing is nearly infinite, whereas Jamie’s is, in fact, finite). On the other hand, I was still feeling a bit off, and the crotch-show was quite frankly making me a bit nauseous. We packed up our things and headed back to the room.

    At this point in the trip, I’d pretty much run out of fresh underbritches (you could have used a lot of adjectives to describe them, but fresh wouldn’t have been one of them) and desperately needed to do some laundry. Earlier in the day we’d discovered this amazing little place which you could take all of your dirty laundry too, and leave it. Several hours later, for example after lounging by a pool for an afternoon, you could return and find the laundry washed, folded, and definitely fresh. All this for only €12! We need this at home.

    Having fulfilled our goals for the day (i.e. relaxing, not being sick all over the place from a hangover, having the laundry done etc), we decided to head back into town for dinner. We’d talked to some people the previous evening in a café before the epic soap-opera dinner that had raved about a restaurant in town called “Le Cassoulet”, which was actually also in the Green Guide that we’d been using.

    We quickly realized that being featured in the Michelin Green Guide didn’t mean the same thing as having a Michelin star, as we had what turned out to be the worst meal of our entire trip to France that night. The food was lacking in almost everything I enjoy about French cuisine, most notably flavour. Despite this, the waiter we had was most entertaining and almost made it worth the food (I’ve never seen tighter jeans, and his white t-shirt might actually have been painted on.

    After the disappointed meal, we headed back to our room for a quick glass of wine and sleep. I don’t remember if we had nightmares about giant Speedo crotches chasing us around Provence, although I may have just blocked the horror of it out of my memory.

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    Day 13
    Thursday, September 28, 2006:
    Living on the Actual Sun.

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    Apparently the Mistral had blown away our good sense as well as all the bad weather, as we had agreed to get up at the ungodly hour of 7am that morning. We were meeting Brendan in the lobby of our hotel and he was going to take us to the commercial market in Avignon for the day. It was like going to my version of Disneyland, only with more cheese of the edible variety and a LOT more wine.

    We drove out to the outskirts of Avignon with Brendan and ended up at a place called “Metro,” which is the commercial market for the Avignon area. That means, essentially, that all the hoteliers and restaurateurs go there to stock up on pretty much everything they’d ever want to get. Our first stop was the food markets, my favourite place, I think, in the whole world.

    The vegetable market was huge. Absolutely massive. Boxes and crates full of all the nicest looking veggies you’d ever want to see – peppers, courgettes, massive piles of mushrooms, tomatoes. I was in heaven. And then it got better. Next was the fromagerie, which was even bigger than the veggie section. Then the fish – a massive selection of incredibly fresh and outstandingly ugly fish. I thought that was impressive until I saw the meat department – an entire section of a warehouse that they’d turned into a giant refrigerator, filled with rows of cow bits, hordes of pork bits, battalions of rabbits.

    They saved the best for last – think of all the bottles of wine and other kinds of liquor you see in restaurants – they have to buy those somewhere. I felt like I was tripping through the daisies in that particular section – from wine to scotch to gin to beer, and all so far below retail prices that I was flabbergasted (yes, it turns out there is a markup, but I guess restaurants have to make some money somewhere).

    After playing in the market for about as long as we could, we drove back to St. Remy to drop Brendan off. We made the firm decision that if we ever end up in southern France, we need to make friends with someone who either owns a hotel or a restaurant (you need to own one or the other to get a membership). Next on the list of adventures was what might arguably be the most recognizable Provencal sights – Pont du Gard.

    As it turns out, Pont du Gard is only about an hour from St. Remy so we got there faster than we thought (ironically, we ended up on the same road that we’d been lost on when trying to get home from Avignon a few days earlier). We parked in the big parking lot and walked towards the big tourist center.

    It was at this point that we realized that we’d actually driven to the sun – holy crap was it HOT! Our first impression, before actually seeing the thing, was that Pont du Gard was extremely touristy. The visitor centre is really big, especially for France, and features a gift shop and a few restauranty type places. Not really our style. We continued walked across the surface of the sun (who knew that the sun could also be that humid – I was turning into a giant puddle of water), turned a corner, and saw it.

    There aren’t words to adequately describe how big it is. I mean it is MASSIVE. To be honest, Pont du Gard hadn’t really been on the top of my list to see, but I ended being glad we’d gone. We walked across it and up the hill on the other side to get some good angles for photographs, and ended up just looking at it for a while. The thought that kept going through my mind was yes, it’s big. It’s one of the most amazing architectural achievements that I’ve ever seen. Was that really the easiest way to get water to the town it was going to? I mean honestly – they must’ve put in a few good hours of work on that thing.

    At this point, I’d more or less turned into a big pile of goo from the heat and humidity, so we got back into the wonderful air-conditioning of the car. Next on our list of things to see was the nearby town to Nimes. The drive was uneventful, which was nice for a change.

    Despite being quite a bit bigger than Avignon, we immediately felt more comfortable in Nimes. After parking about as far underground as I’ve ever been, we started on the Michelin Green Guide tour and saw a triumphal arch that was typically arch-like, and a roman temple, which was just about as roman temple-like as you’d ever want to see.

    There were a group of young people running around in one-piece work suits and hard hats having either shaving cream fights or whipping cream fights, I’m not sure which. We never did figure out why they were doing it, or what they were trying to achieve, but we spent most of the afternoon avoiding stepping in rather large piles of foamy white stuff which had been liberally strewn over a surprisingly large area of central Nimes.

    At one point on our walk, we had a very Rome-like experience – we turned a corner, and there in front of us was a giant Roman arena. Not as big as the Coliseum in Rome, it is still as impressive because it’s pretty much all still standing. In fact, it’s the best-preserved roman arena in the world, and is still being used as a bull-fighting ring almost 2000 years after it was built.

    We did the extremely interesting audio tour of the arena and learned a whole bunch about gladiators. We’d done a bunch of these audio tours at this point, and I don’t think we had a single one in France that we didn’t enjoy. Among other things, we learned that there were very specific types of gladiators – they didn’t just fight with whatever they happened to pick up, they had assigned roles and weapons. Makes that whole Spartacus movie make a bit more sense.

    What kind of day would we be having in France if we didn’t get ridiculously lost at least once? This time, it was trying to get home from Nimes, and yet again, it was that whole Ales/Arles thing that screwed us up. I don’t know that I’ll try to drive through downtown Nimes right in the middle of the afternoon rush-hour again, although we did eventually make it out on the right road and heading in the right direction.

    We ended the evening with yet another fantastic meal at La Table du Michel – when you’ve got a winner, why stray? We had an early evening, possibly the earliest of the trip thus far – we were back at the hotel by 10:00pm. Despite the early hour, the syphilitic pricks next door to us started banging on the wall as Jamie talked to her mom on the phone. She wasn’t being particularly loud, but I guess these twits felt that it was inappropriate. Jamie continued talking to her mother, which I really seemed to piss them off, as they called up to the front desk to complain. The woman from the front desk called after Jamie got off the phone to let us know that they’d complained, but at least she had the good grace to sound embarrassed about it.

    We were so upset about the morons that we had to have a final glass of wine to calm our nerves, and I have to admit that we weren’t particularly quiet in our conversation. 10:00pm is not too late to be talking in a hotel, I don’t care where you’re from. Eventually, we decided to hit the sack - we wanted our sleep as we had a big day of driving and sight-seeing ahead of us the next day.

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    I think the day my DH saw Pont du Gard was about the point where he began to realize he was seeing some REALLY special stuff. Isn't it a spectacular shock to suddenly see it?

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    Day 14

    Friday, September 28, 2006:
    Living Large, and a Farewell to Provence.

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    What a difference a day makes – the day before, we had lunch in a MacDonald’s on the way out to Pont du Gard, today we enjoyed a meal (when it was this fine, it can’t just be called lunch) at the Michelin three-star restaurant at Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux.

    We managed to sleep in a bit, as Brendan was taking us out to meet a friend of his who worked at Baumaniere early that afternoon. We met Brendan in the lobby at 11:00am (a much more reasonable hour than the 7:00am meeting time of the previous day) and drove along the wonderfully windy road to Les Baux. We arrived at the hotel and spent a few minutes checking out the little store while Brendan went to find his friend.

    As it turned out, his friend didn’t just work at the hotel, he was the manager of the whole place. We were seated for lunch at one of the tables on the patio – the tables were set amongst huge trees, the canopies of which provided a nice shade from the afternoon sun. We had an amazing view – out over the pool and down the valley of les Baux. It seemed that there were two waiters for each customer in the place and they were all bustling around with almost vicious efficiency.

    Before lunch began, Brendan’s friend had arranged for us to have a tour of the kitchen. The executive chef came out and introduced himself, and took us on the tour – I hadn’t been expecting that. The kitchens are incredible – they were renovated a few years ago and they definitely spared no expense on upgrades. It was my dream kitchen – vast grills, rows of ovens, sections devoted to meats, fish, and cold plates. They even have their own pastry room where all the baked goods served are made fresh every day. The fridges are even more impressive – larger than some apartments I’ve seen (although generally colder than the apartments).

    After our kitchen tour, we were shown back to our table. When we first looked at the menu, we were a bit concerned – there were no prices. We assumed it was one of those “if you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it” situations. We eventually found one with prices, and decided that we were right. It being lunch, and us being a bit stunned by the prices, we decided to eat light, only going for a main course and skipping the appetizer. I had lamb, Jamie had some truffle ravioli, and Brendan went for a cepes salad. When the sommelier came out to hand me the wine list, I thought he was playing some sort of a joke. The thing was massive – probably three feet tall and two feet wide. I opened it and realized that it wasn’t a joke – their wine selection is absolutely insane. From what I gathered, they have more than 3000 types of wines available, all French, and all expensive. Sufficed to say that with the price of the main courses, we didn’t have any.

    After lunch, an older gentleman came and sat down at our table to chat with us. I soon realized that this was the owner of Baumaniere, whom Brendan also knows. He chatted with us for a while and seemed very nice – I was having another of those “I’ve only read about this sort of thing” moments. Next on the list of surprises, the head sommelier came over and offered to give us a tour of the wine cellars. Yes, that’s right – a tour of the wine cellars from the head sommelier of a Michelin three-starred restaurant. I couldn’t have asked for more.

    Let me just say that the wine cellar is impressive. Not only is it HUGE, its extraordinarily well stocked with a range of the best wines produced in France over the years. Beyond that, the part we saw was only a portion of the total stock – they keep a case or so of each type and year of wine on-site, and store the rest at an off-site warehouse somewhere. The highlight was being handed a bottle of wine which was labeled “1883” – that’s almost as old as Canada, and was bottled before the phyloxera virus destroyed the original vines in France. Just about heaven (although we didn’t taste it – I don’t even want to guess at how much it would’ve cost). After paying for lunch, we drove Brendan back to St. Remy so he could prepare for dinner service that night, and we headed back out, this time into the Camargue.

    The Camargue is a huge marshy plain more or less between Nimes and the sea. It’s famous for several things, among them very large and very black bulls, white horses, pink flamigos, salt, and gypsies (there’s a gypsy town in the Camargue with an annual gypsy festival, apparently a very cool spot to visit). The drive out to one of the main villages in the Camargue, Aigues Mortes, took a bit longer than we’d expected. We managed to get all the way there (and back, for that matter) without seeing a single bull of any colour, white horses, or pink flamingos. We did, however, see a donkey.

    Aigues Mortes is an odd little town. Despite the fact that it’s several miles from the sea, it was at one point, the only French port in the area and vital for French shipping and commerce (at least according to the little info-video in the tourist centre). It’s a fairly big completely walled city which seems to be somewhat isolated out in the middle of the marshes. As it took a bit longer than we’d expected to get out there, we only really had time to walk around the ramparts of the town, not to actually explore much of it. On the other hand, I don’t know that there’s really all that much there to see, other than the ramparts (which are impressive, and interesting to walk).

    We’d only paid for two hours of parking, and after the brisk walk in the hot afternoon sun, we were ready to head back to St. Remy. We were planning on meeting some friends from Canada for dinner - the same ones who didn’t show up in Paris. We took a slightly different route back, but didn’t make any better time.

    Somewhat surprisingly (at least for me), we found Dave and Sarah at the hotel – Jamie had planned their trip for them and had booked them in at L’Amandiere with us. We enjoyed a quick glass of wine on our patio before the mosquitoes convinced us that it was time to head into town for dinner.

    We, of course, took them to our favourite restaurant in Provence for dinner – la Table du Michel. Brendan was in fine form and treated us like royalty, and even came up with a special menu for us – a fresh crayfish salad to start and then an amazing veal main course. In addition to our visit, it was also the last night of the restaurant – Brendan and Michel only had a lease on the place while they looked for a place of their own to buy. Last word was that they were going to buy a little hotel somewhere in the area and run a restaurant in it. Dinner was, as expected, excellent and we definitely enjoyed ourselves.

    After a long and excellent evening, we all headed back to the hotel for a nightcap (well, Jamie, Dave and Sarah had a nightcap, I crashed). We had a busy day planned for Saturday – we were leaving Provence and heading slightly north and west into the Dordogne. After spending a full week in Provence, we’d found that it was different than we’d expected, but we’d enjoyed it all the same. We were a little sad to be leave, especially as we’d made some friends and really felt at home there, but were looking forward to seeing the castles of the Perigord.

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    Coco...those bulls are beautiful! We laughed the whole way, how could we drive all day and not see any wildlife??? Oh well, now we have to go back, right!

    As for what we didnt see...Peter Mayle! Ha! I think when we read his books we just pictured it differently. It was amazing to visit, just not what we had thought. Funny how you can imagine a place so differently. We had a wonderful time, none the less!

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    And don't forget the pink flamingoes!!
    Along the roads are watchout posts that you can climb the stairs and watch. There's a wonderful wild life preservation you can visit. And Aigues Morte? Staying there over night is the best experience, dining somewhere within th walled village, dining on toro testis :) and listening to a gypsy serenate you with his guitar and lyrics.

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    I am late to the party on this thread, but I just wanted you to know I enjoyed your photos. The ones from Burgundy brought back pleasant memories of my student days at the Universite de Dijon too many years ago to want to be reminded of how long it has been now.

    I have been lost in rural France many times myself but have yet to visit the Perigord. For that there is always a next time.

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    Thanks for all the comments - I'm glad everyone is enjoying the report. Sorry about the delays in posting, I've been really busy lately. I've promised Jamikins that I'll get the whole thing wrapped up by the end of this weekend, so we've only got a few more days to go!

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    On the Road Again
    Day 15: Saturday, September 29, 2006


    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    Another day of sleeping in – we were starting to spoil ourselves with all the rest, you’d have thought we were on vacation or something. All we had planned for the day was the drive from Provence up to the Périgord in the south-west of France. We’re used to driving up to 13 hours to get from Vancouver out to Cranbrook where Jamie’s parents live, so the eight hours the drive that day was supposed to take seemed like a cakewalk.

    We managed to find our way out of St. Remy without a problem, and even managed to follow all the signs to the auto route which would take us west. It’s interesting that there are quite a few big auto routes that run north-south (or south-north, depending on your point of view), but it doesn’t seem that there are a lot that run east-west. And especially none that run north-west/south-east (i.e. straight from Provence to the Périgord). The drive from St. Remy to Toulouse was nice – increasingly Spanish-looking as we went, although the road was fairly busy, mostly with very large trucks traveling just below the speed limit of 130 km/h and very expensive cars traveling just (or way) above the speed limit – an exciting combination. Floriane did very well, but had an annoying habit of beeping whenever I hit 150km/h, which could be a pain when trying to pass the convoys of trucks with a massive Mercedes trying to seriously inconvenience my tailpipe.

    At Toulouse, we turned onto the A20 and finally started heading north. The further we drove, the more the landscape changed – from the relatively flat grey-greens of Provence to the verdant hilly green of the Périgord. Despite a stop for lunch at one of the massive rest stops where I had a very tasty Toulouse sausage, we made it all the way up to the Dordogne in only 6 hours. I’m not sure if the driving time estimate we had was off, or if I have a bit of a lead-foot; either way we were there before we’d expected and had some time to kill before we could check into our hotel.

    We took the exit at Souillac so that we could take the scenic route, instead of going straight through Sarlat. We didn’t quite realize that in the Périgord, the scenic route is SCENIC. Some of the roads we were on were the narrowest we’d been on in France. We drove through forests, up and down hills, and across seemingly endless fields of corn. It wasn’t until almost a week later that we realized that despite there being corn fields everywhere, we didn’t see corn on a single menu, anywhere. Poor ducks and geese…to bad their livers are so tasty.

    By the time we made it through the countryside to Sarlat, we’d pretty much fallen in love with the Périgord. From what we’d seen so far, it was more or less everything we’d been imagining when thinking of rural France – very green, castles everywhere, little villages around every corner. Sarlat reinforced that - we wandered through the Saturday market looking for a Green Guide for the Périgord and an éclair (chocolate, for preference).

    After finding a guidebook and the all-important éclair, we got back in the car and headed to our hotel. We had booked the week in Les Haute Granges, a place that turned out to be by far the nicest hotel we’d stayed in for the entire trip. It was a bit tricky to find – we drove about 15 minutes north from Sarlat to the tiny town of St. Crepin, found a little gravel path right in front of the Marie and drove a couple hundred yards through a well-manicured lawn. The hotel is set in the midst of what seemed like several acres of lawn and walnut trees, the building itself is more than 300 years old. We got a brief tour of the property which included a beautiful breakfast room with a GIANT fireplace (I could actually stand up in it), a pool, a covered common area outside, and a massive lawn.

    We were pretty bagged by this point, and after the drive out I didn’t really feel like heading all the way back into town for dinner, so the hotel made reservations at a little restaurant up the road – literally up the road, it was only three kilometers away. After a brief rest in our room (which actually featured a stand up shower!), we headed out for what turned out to be the best meal we’d had thus far in France.

    Auberge Les Plantades is a little hotel a ways back from the road. The restaurant itself is fairly small with only ten or so tables. When we arrived and 7:30 (early, by French standards – the restaurant only opened at 7:30) we were the only ones there. There isn’t a vast selection on the menu – you can either have duck, or if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s also duck. I started with a giant amuse bouche of pumpkin (or some other squash) soup, then a fantastic foie gras and pate terrine, followed by duck confit with roasted potatoes and garlic then a cheese plate (my first taste of Rocamadour chèvre), and finally a fairly big chocolate desert. Jamie, on the other hand, had the same amuse bouche as me, then a plate of very thinly sliced smoked duck, followed nicely by a huge magret of duck on a buckwheat risotto, then the cheese plate and chocolate desert. All this for €22.50 each – possibly the most food for the lowest price I’ve ever seen. The only downside was that we were absolutely stuffed by the time we were finished dinner. We rolled ourselves back to our hotel and passed out in a food coma.

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    The hotel looks wonderful. Your whole post from today makes me want so badly to go back to the area. We drove from St. Jean Cap Ferat to Carcassone for a night, then to La Roche Gigeac. You're right; it was fun to watch the terrain change. I loved the little pointed red roofs south of Gourdon.

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    Careful - we came to the Perigord on holiday, fell in love with it, and decided to move here. It just got too hard going back to Canada. As you say
    'It was more or less everything we’d been imagining when thinking of rural France – very green, castles everywhere, little villages around every corner."

    Just what we thought, and after 12 years, we have no regrets,and havent changed our minds at all!

    Hope you wandered down to the little chateau in St Crepin, and saw the church, and did the walk to Carlucet and saw St. Genies and St. Amand de Coly and ...

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    Carlux - I have to admit that we spent quite a bit of time looking at the immobiliers in Sarlat and trying to work out what we'd do for work there...it wouldn't take much to convince us at this point.
    We did drive down to the little chateau and church at St Crepin and even took a picture of it: http://tinyurl.com/yxvcmm We tried to find Carlucet, but couldn't - the signs we were following didn't seem to go anywhere...

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    The chateau is called Laceypierre (sometimes La Cipiere) and is owned by an architect whose wife owns the Couleuvrine hotel in Sarlat. When they found it, it was really a ruin - the stream underneath the building was gradually knocking it down. It's one of our favourite places - the way you come upon it as you walk down the hill is still magical.

    They've done a lovely job, although not much of it is usually open - on the Journees du Patrimoine in September you can often go through.

    Carlucet is a pretty tiny place - but a nice walk.

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    Scott your report is fantastic! We also wondered about the corn...another thing I did not see on menus was goose. What do they do with the rest of the animal after they take the livers? We will just have to return and investigate. I guess. Can't wait to read more....

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    It is said that the meat of a fatted duck or goose tends to be dry. That is why it is served as a confit, usually with a rich sauce. But on the markets one can find smoked magret, rolled magret stuffed with liver, and other products from these animals.

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    I have been waiting with anticipation for you to get to the Dordogne. Our rental was on the property just adjacent to Les Granges Hautes, and it's quite a treat to have you now moving in next door. The road that took you to Lacypierre (which Carlux had recommended when we were in the planning stages--we, too, were enchanted) goes on to Carlucet. Being uncertain of the distance and wilting a bit under the 90 degree heat we had in September, we took the car. Carlucet is very attractively sited looking over a little valley, and its church's cemetery gets mention in the Michelin guide for its tombs set in recesses in the curtain wall.

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    Foie Gras Three Ways, Plus, a Castle
    Day 16: Sunday, October 1, 2006

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    Our first full day in the Périgord confirmed our initial impression of it – we absolutely loved it. We started the day having breakfast in the large common room in front of the fireplace – normally we avoid hotel breakfasts but we were too far out to really make it anywhere in time. As it turned out, this was a good idea – breakfast was excellent (lots of fresh bread, pastries, white cheese, and really good coffee).

    Our first mission of the day was Castelnaud, perhaps the most famous of the castles on the Dordogne River. The castle was actually smaller than I’d expected. For some reason, I thought it and Beynac were the castles from the Michael Crichton book “Out of Time” and I’d imagined them quite a bit bigger than they turned out to be. We’d also read a book about a couple who lived in a house just below the castle itself, directly below what was eventually turned into the trebuchet range (unfortunately I forget both the author and the name of the book).

    Evidently the castle was almost in ruins by 1966, when they started reconstructing it – much of it had been used as a convenient quarry for various local building projects, as so many castles and buildings have been over the years. They’ve certainly done a hell of a job – most of it is back to its original state, and is quite impressive.

    The view from the ramparts makes the trip out there worth it – from Beynac to the left to the line of the Dordogne River straight ahead, there isn’t a bad angle. The only downside of the trip for us was that not a lot had been translated into English – we’re champions at ordering wine in restaurants, but not so much at figuring out signs and plaques in a French medieval war museum.

    After stomping around the castle and its grounds for a while, we drove the short distance to the ridiculously picturesque village of La Roque Gageac. I’m not sure whose idea it was to build a village on the narrow strip of sort-of flat land between the Dordogne River and the giant cliff, but they certainly must’ve had vision. Most of the houses are built right against the cliff face itself and several have been destroyed over the years as either the river rises far above its banks, or little (and not so little) bits of the cliff itself fall on them. According to the official guide, it’s one of the most beautiful villages in all of France, and I could see no reason to argue with that.

    Besides taking pictures, the main purpose of our visit to La Roque Gageac was to take one of the river boat rides from the town down to Castelnaud and back. We bought our tickets for the 2:30pm trip and found a convenient restaurant for lunch called “La Palmier” with, as far as we could tell, the terrace with the best view in town. Talk about timing – no sooner had we been seated but the skies opened up and the deluge began. As we ate, we watched as assorted tourists scrambled for cover and a mangy three-legged dog tried to pee on as many cars in the parking lot as it could. During lunch, we discussed the many possible translations for the word “gésier”, as it featured as an ingredient in Jamie’s Périgordine salad, along with foie gras, walnuts, and duck breast. It wasn’t until we’d finished most of the gésiers that we realized that the most likely translation was “gizzard”, but we chose not to accept that until after we’d finished the salad, as it was very tasty. My pizza didn’t feature any untranslatable items, but was very good nevertheless.

    As we are very clever with timing, the rain stopped just as we finished lunch. We walked the short distance across the road and parking lot and boarded the little boat, known as a gabare. The cruise was, as advertised, very scenic and I got some great shots of the banks of the Dordogne, La Roque, and Castelnaud. The tour company provides little headsets in various languages so that non-french-speakers can enjoy the commentary, but we found that we could pick up enough of the live tour guide’s comments to catch the gist of what she was saying.

    The cruise wasn’t very long, but well worth the few dollars it cost, especially as one of our co-passengers had by far the most spectacular mullet I’ve seen in years (paired with an assortment of thick gold chains and luxuriant chest hair), and thus provided additional entertainment. After the cruise, we drove up (or down, I’m not sure which direction) to the little hill town of Domme, another on the list of the “Most Beautiful Towns in France.”

    I’m not sure why, and I’m sure many will disagree with me, but we weren’t completely enamoured with Domme. We got a slightly odd feeling in the town, and I felt it was a bit spooky – I have no idea why. We wandered around for a bit and enjoyed the view (it’s a hill town and has a most impressive viewpoint). We decided to skip the Templar tour, but did go for the tour of the grotto.

    The grotto at Domme is a series of natural caves and caverns carved out of the hillside by the patient action of centuries of water seeping slowly through the rocks, carrying the limestone embedded in the harder rock with it. It creates some amazing stalagmites and stalactites as it does this. The caves were relatively small and cramped, slightly claustrophobic, as you might expect. The tour was a bit over our heads (both literally and figuratively) – again, our ability to read a french menu or wine list can’t be questioned, but our knowledge of obtuse geological vocabulary is sorely lacking. We probably would have enjoyed the tour more if the guide had spoken a little slower, or if the elderly tourists we were with weren’t quite so rude, or if whoever it was that had the horrid B.O. had used some deodorant. Despite this, we were amazed to learn that the caves were discovered in 1912 by a group of young boys searching for their lost dog – I can’t imagine crawling through the narrow crevice below the town without knowing what was on the other side.

    We didn’t spend a lot of time hanging around after the cave tour – it seemed that most of Domme was closing up for the evening. We enjoyed a quick drink at a bar just off the big open area at the viewpoint and planned our next move. The hotel had recommended a restaurant in La Roque Gageac, and we’d taken a look at the menu before leaving that afternoon – it was decided – we were going to La Belle Etoile for dinner.

    We drove the short way back to La Roque and found some free parking, always a bonus. We were a bit early (most restaurants in the area don’t seem to open until 7:30pm) so we sat on the river bank and watched the sun go down. I still couldn’t get over the sheer beauty of the town. It didn’t seem possible that people lived here – woke up every morning and looked out on the river sliding quietly over its banks, with the castles and chateaus perched on all the nearby hills.

    Dinner was unreal. We both went for the slightly fancy €39 menu so that we could have the “Foie Gras Discovery” appetizer – foie gras served three ways. Words can’t express how good it was – quite simply heaven on a plate, with salt and some toasted bread. Although the rest of the meal was excellent, and the atmosphere in the restaurant very agreeable, it couldn’t compare with that first foie gras plate.

    After dinner, the drive home was interesting. Living in a relatively large city, I sometimes forget how dark it can get out in the country. It felt like we were the only people for miles, and as we rounded corners blindly at speed, I wished our headlights were just a little brighter.

    I’m convinced that while we were out for the day, they moved all the signs around in Sarlat, as we got spectacularly lost trying to drive through it. We eventually found our way, and made it back to the hotel. What a day – castles, foie gras, mullets…we couldn’t have asked for more.

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    OK, for us yokels WHAT'S A MULLET? Presumably not a fish.

    By the way, we agree with your opinion of Domme. Never actually found it spooky, but it is far to commercial, which really detracts from its charm. The nicest part (other than the view, which of course is spectacular) is the walk through the public garden, and along the narrow road leaving town.

    I too think that Castelnaud was the chateau in Timeline, although it isn't quite as impressive as Beynac

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    Carlux, I am really disappointed in you - surely as a Canadian you know what a mullet is - a hair style particularly popular with hockey players, from the 80's. It is short on the top, sides and front but long in the back. They were seen about the same time a lot of males and females had kinky perms. (Now don't tell me you never saw the greatest movie of all time - "Slapshot").

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    Thinking of BikerScott and Carlux's different feelings of Domme ... we stayed there for five days but never really felt at home in that town.
    It became a game to get past the front desk, coming or going, of L'Esplanade before the lady demanded pointedly if we would be eating there tonight... and her look of disappontment when we said "no".
    We walked into an open cafe on the main square for coffee in the morning. There were several tables of, I assume locals. Everyone stopped talking and stared at us when we entered. I wondered if it were interrupting a meeting of the town council.
    There is a business beside L'Esplanade where you can buy ice cream but it is also a bar. We found that it was important whether you sat on one side of a particular post as to whether you were served a drink or not. I guess they share the terrace.
    We bought some jellied fruit candies from a vendor at the Domme market - delicious, I must add. He gave us several samples. We bought a small bag of about a dozen candies. When he weighed them and demanded "treize euros" I thought I had my French "3" and "13" confused but it was €13. They didn't taste quite as good after that.
    These happenings sound trivial, and they are, but they seem to shape your opinion of a place, fairly or not.

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    I actually managed to get a picture of Mr. Mullet - I'll try to get it online tonight as it really was spectacular (business up front, party in the back).

    I was surprised and somewhat disappointed by the way I felt about Domme - we'd heard so much about it and a lot of people had recommended it, but I just didn't feel comfortable there. Oddly enough, a few days later we met some very nice people from the Yorkshire Dales in Sarlat who had exactly the same opinion.

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    Day 16:
    Monday, October 02, 2006:

    Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    It seemed like a good idea, after the previous day’s visit to Castelnaud, to visit its historic enemy Beynac. After another tasty breakfast, we hit the road and headed back to the same area we’d be in the previous day (around La Roque Gageac). Beynac was, for most of the hundred year’s war, the enemy of Castelnaud. If one was held by the French, the other was held by the English. The fact that they’re within sight of each other above the Dordogne river probably didn’t help matters all that much.

    Beynac is significantly different than Castelnaud, despite how close to each other they are. Beynac has been privately owned for years and has been restored to be as close to what it originally would have been like as possible, unlike Castelnaud, which has been turned into a medieval war museum. Some of the rooms have been converted back into bedrooms, the kitchens were decorated as if they were working kitchens, and there were swords and armour all over the place.

    We took a tour, which turned out to be a good idea. As Beynac has been left in its natural state, there aren’t any explanatory plaques around, so we would’ve been hard-pressed to figure out what much of anything was. Our tour guide wasn’t actually an employee – none of the guides are – they’re all volunteers who just really love the place. Despite the tour being all in French, we understood pretty much everything, which was a nice surprise. He told us that there are actually only four employees at Beynac – the owner, who actually runs the ticket booth, a groundsman, and some cleaners. That’s it. Most of the money you pay to get in goes directly to the restoration of the castle itself. Maybe it was because of the excellent tour, or maybe because it looked more like a castle and less like a museum inside, but we both liked Beynac more than Castelnaud.

    After seeing as much of the castle as we could, we decided that we were really hungry. The town down below Beynac is really small, but we managed to find a single little restaurant that seemed to be open for lunch. We sat down at one of the tables on the patio and waited for the waitress to come to take our order, or at least give us a menu. I eventually asked for one, as it seemed that she wasn’t going to be taking the initiative, and this evidently offended her, as she actually threw one at me. We took this as a sign, and ducked out as soon as her back was turned.

    We got back into the car and started our search for a likely lunch location. We ended up driving a fair way until we hit the somewhat bizarre little town of St. Cyprien. Okay – it wasn’t actually bizarre, just really small. We found a little restaurant on the main street through town, and other than some spandex-clad cyclist who came in, we were very obviously the only tourists around.

    After lunch, we hit the road again and continued our driving tour, exploring little towns such as La Bugue (which we went to for the name) and St. Cirq (which was *really* small). Mainly, we just enjoyed the scenery, driving through forests, across fields, up and down valleys throughout the area. The Périgord is really beautiful and the more we saw, the more we wanted to stay.

    At one point on our tour, we came across a weird old house/fort that had been built into the side of a cliff that hadn’t been in any of our books or on any of the brochures we’d picked up. We pulled off the highway and bought our tickets to La Maison Forte de Reignac. It had only been open for a year and wasn’t absolutely complete yet, which is why it wasn’t in any of the books yet. We were the only one there and explored the rooms by ourselves.

    It was interesting, but slightly odd – the rooms were chock-full of period decorations, but the isolation and silence inside made it slightly creepy. It was built on the site of a troglodyte settlement and bits of that can still be seen up at the top. I don’t know that I would go out of my way to visit Reignac, but if you happen to be driving past, it’s worth a stop.

    We were pretty much sight-see’d out by this point and decided to head back to the hotel and spend the afternoon lounging by the pool. The sun was out and it was fairly warm. We opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed a few hours of sipping and reading, taking the opportunity to recharge our batteries.

    Having been happy with the previous two nights’ dinners, on the recommendations of the hotel, we decided to for a third. They’d suggested a place a bit farther north, near the town of Souillac, called La Meynardie. We’d been warned that the food was excellent, but that it was a bit of a mission to find, especially in the dark. This wasn’t an exaggeration. We were good until we saw the sign guiding us off the main road onto a little side-road. We drove down this for a while, winding back and forth through some serious countryside (including driving through two separate forests).

    Eventually we found it and it turned out to be worth the drive. Dinner started with two amuse bouches – the first a plate with some sort of cheese in pastry, a spread of foie gras on toast, and the leg of some sort of very small creature. There was much amusement when I asked the waiter if it was a frog’s leg, as it looked like it was about the right size and I’d never seen one before. He laughed and said that it wasn’t, in fact it was a little bird (I never did figure out what kind). We saw him a few minutes later talking to one of the other waitresses, and they booth looked over at us and laughed again. How was I to know?

    Dinner was excellent – we had foie gras, I had a massive steak, Jamie scallops, a cheese plate, and a fantastic dessert – all this, plus a half-bottle of really good Pecharment wine, all for only €95 for both of us! I love France.

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    Not to be Outdone by the Mistral…
    Day 18: Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    We may have offended the gods of Karma by talking too much about how strong the Mistral was. I was rudely woken before dawn by the sound of pouring rain and howling winds – a storm of epic proportions had rolled in and was pounding the Périgord. I wasn’t able to get back to sleep, and finally got out of bed feeling like I had gravel in my eyes and cotton packed in my head.

    After breakfast, we carefully made our way out to Floriane, dodging flying walnuts along the way (the hotel is surrounded by walnut trees, and this was a STRONG wind – deadly edible missiles were flying everywhere). We drove an hour or so south again, this time to the old medieval town of Rocamadour, perched on and built into its cliff face.

    The end drive to Rocamadour from Sarlat isn’t particularly well marked. We arrived at a T-intersection with, as far as we could see, no signs to indicate right or left to get to the town (we didn’t realize we were already there). We chose right and pulled into a parking lot to see if we could find a map or street sign somewhere. As soon as we got out of the car, we realized that signs were unnecessary – we were actually parked in the scenic viewpoint parking lot overlooking the old town. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that the town was designed specifically to look that incredible from that parking lot – it is just too incredible to be by chance.

    The top bit of Rocamadour is still used as a church, with more church bits and town spilling down the cliff. We turned around and headed to the top of the town, finding a small but mostly empty parking lot, which was also free. We should’ve realized that this meant we were probably in the wrong spot, but we got out of the car for a bit of a wander. We quickly discovered that the top bit, which is still the church, is off-limits to tourist – I think it’s where the residents of the church below live, or a monastery. We walked dejectedly back to the car, but on the way noticed a little sign for an elevator down to the lower parts of the town.

    It turned out not to be an elevator at all, but a somewhat rickety-looking funicular. We paid our nominal fee (parking is never free) and boarded the sideways express down to the village. First stop on the tour was the church area. There were services going on and lots of people about – evidently Rocamadour is somewhat popular on the pilgrimage routes even now. We even managed to accidentally wander into one of the chapels as they were distributing the sacrament. We found a stairway that led further down to the non-church bit of the town and looked for a place to have lunch.

    There isn’t really a lot going on in Rocamadour, especially as you near the off-season. We managed to find a little café that served pizza, so we stopped in for lunch. The rain had let up by this point, but it was still windy and fairly cold, so we were glad to sit inside to warm up (and use the bathrooms).

    After lunch we took a quick walk around the town but didn’t find all that much to hold our interest – we’re not big on shops selling mass-produced and slightly tasteless catholic tourist knick-knacks, and thus didn’t even bother going in to most of the stores. We found the funicular again and paid yet another nominal fee to ride back to the top. We could’ve walked, but it was a very steep hill and we were feeling very lazy.

    Back in the car, we headed for stop number two for the day – the grotto at Lacave, just down the road from Rocamadour. We cleverly managed to time our arrival at Lacave for 2:00pm, during everyone’s lunch (by everyone, I mean everyone in France, between noon and 2:30pm).
    We were forced to have a coffee in the little café across the street while we waited – Jamie read brochures and I entertained myself by swatting flies and watching the wind do unnatural things to the local trees.

    Eventually, at the very moment the minute hand of the clock on the wall ticked to 2:30, the entire staff of the Grotto at Lacave arrived in one large passenger van. We filed into the waiting room with the group of other tourists that had turned up by this point, bought our tickets, and sat down to wait until 2:45, when our tour was scheduled to begin.

    Oddly, it felt exactly like we were waiting for a train as we sat in that waiting room. This turned out to be a very accurate feeling, as there’s a slightly rusty little train that takes you deep into the mountain next to Lacave to the Grotto. We piled onboard at exactly 2:45 and began our journey into the heart of the mountain.

    The caves at Lacave certainly put the little holes in Domme to shame – they’re bigger, better lit, more spectacular, and the tour is definitely more interesting (although, again, it was in French only. Our geological vocabulary didn’t get any better, but the tour guide did make an effort to speak slowly, and explained things in English after the French when he could). There were signs everywhere explaining that photography was permitted but flashes weren’t. Not only this, the guide mentioned it several times – I managed to get a few decent shots without my flash, however the somewhat annoying people in our tour group either didn’t think the big “NO FLASH” signs were intended for them, or just didn’t care. It was at this point of our trip that I realized that I detest tourists. A little self-loathing never hurt anyone. The guy that really got me annoyed was the older gentleman who had a nicer camera than me (and that’s saying something), yet couldn’t figure out how to change the settings to take a picture without the flash. The way I look at it, if you’re going to spend that kind of money, you should at least learn how to use the damn thing. It’d be like buying a Ferrari, but not ever working out how to get it past 2nd gear.

    After Lacave, we headed back to the hotel, where we were going to have dinner that evening. The hotel is very definitely a family-run affair, and two or three nights a week, you have the option of having your dinner made for you. We got back a bit early, grabbed our books and a bottle of wine, and settled ourselves into the chairs in front of the fireplace in the big common room. We learned, talking to someone at the hotel, that we were experiencing the worst storm in recent history in the area – there had been gusts of up to 130km/hr in our area, and up to 170km/hr on the coast. There were trees down all over the place, and driving had been a bit of a challenge trying to avoid all the branches and other debris on the road.

    There isn’t much that is finer than sitting next to a giant fireplace, in France, with a good book, a bottle of wine, and your spouse beside you while a massive storm rages outside. We sat and read and relaxed for quite a while, until the other guests of the hotel started arriving for dinner. After chatting with them for a few minutes, dinner was served.

    Somewhat surprisingly, this being the Périgord, the first course of the meal was Foie Gras, which is always a good thing. We then moved on to (again, big shocker) a very tasty duck confit served on gésier risotto (we were okay with the concept of eating gizzards at this point – we’d survived the first batch and had discovered, much to our delight, that they’re actually pretty tasty). Immediately after the main course, and just as they were about to begin preparing our dessert (chocolate mouse and ice cream), we lost power. It came back on briefly, then went out again. Candles came out along with Plan B for dessert – they quickly whipped up a nice Chantilly and hauled out the homemade grappa – useful either as a strong beverage or an engine degreaser, depending on the circumstances.

    The power didn’t come back on and we ended the evening in the dark, with only candles to light our room. We fell asleep to the sound of the wind howling outside, hopeful that the power would be back by the time we woke up (if I don’t get my morning coffee, things are not good).

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    Scott, we went to many of ther same places as you when we were in the Dordogne in June so your report is bringing back lovely memories. My husband wasn't impressed with gizzards but we both enjoyed Lacave. I took photos but never noticed signs forbidding flashes. Like you we combined it with our visit to Rocamadour. Interesting how so many of the caves were discovered by young boys and dogs, isn't it?

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    Moolyn - we had trouble with the gizzards until we really thought about the foie gras we'd been eating...intellectually both are on about the same level in terms of grossness, and we really like foie gras...
    There was a sign about the flashes at the beginning, and our tour guide did his best to get people to stop using them - it was like having the paparazzi in there - they just wouldn't stop...

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    Scott: I've enjoyed your travelogue and photos immensely as they bring back fond memories of our recent stay in the Dordogne and long ago trips through Burgundy and Provence.

    You mentioned a site overlooking Rocamadour that appeared off-limit to tourists. I believe that it used to be a monastery, but is now used by the local diocese as a conference and retreat centre. At any rate when we were there, we noticed a sign on the gate with a menu, so as it was lunch time, we walked in and asked about it and were led through halls to a large dining hall. We asked if it would be possible to sit outside, so they set a table on the terrace with a panoramic view of the town and valley. We were the only ones sitting there! The meal was a 3-course prix fixe with wine for €10. A memorable meal. Needless to say, the main course was cuisse de canard, but no salade de gésiers (which I had come to enjoy).

    Our base for the two week stay was La Roque-Gageac which we loved, and I was amazed that in that time we never travelled much beyond a 30km radius of town and still didn't see everything we wanted.

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    Foie Gras at Dinner, for a Change
    Day 19: Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    We were starting to slow down – our internal batteries were getting low after almost three weeks of traveling. We started the day off slowly, not having slept particularly well after the epic storm of the previous night. By the time the sun came up, the rain had stopped, and while it was still fairly cloudy out, the day looked like it might brighten up a bit.

    After breakfast we drove into Sarlat to see how much smaller the Wednesday market was than the Saturday market. We parked at our usual spot, up near the tourist info centre above town, and walked the short distance into the old part of the city. While the market was a bit smaller than on Saturday, it was still fairly busy. It seemed that the Wednesday market focused more on food and things that the locals might buy, whereas the weekend market catered more directly to the tourists.

    We wandered about for a while – we can spend hours looking at all the carts and stalls in French markets. I even managed to buy some (almost) Laguiole knives for only €20 – you can hardly tell they’re not real Laguiole, even if you’re as close as 5 feet from them! In addition, it seemed to be cèpes season and most of the vendors had baskets piled high with the giant brown mushrooms – some of the things were bigger than my head (and no, I’m not exaggerating – I’ve got the photos to prove it).

    We spent quite a while exploring, stopping several times to recharge my caffeine levels at various cafés around town. Of course we had to buy some foie gras – we found a sampler pack that not only looked tasty (5 different styles of foie gras) but was also small enough to fit in our already full suitcases. We were also forced to buy some walnut oil, as we could hardly leave what seemed to be the walnut capital of the world without it. Eventually we got tired of fighting the crowds, and had seen pretty much everything we were going to see, so we got back into the car and started driving.

    Our goal was to see the cave paintings in Lascaux II; however we noticed the sign for nearby St. Genies as we drove and had heard that the church there was interesting. We took the exit and drove down into the village to find the church – it didn’t take long. While the church looked interesting from the outside, it was closed so we couldn’t see inside. We tried to look around the village for a bit, but there isn’t very much of it to look at – St Genies is small. As there was nothing to do there, we left.

    It didn’t take long to reach the parking lots for Lascaux II (and Lascaux I for that matter). There weren’t many people around, and we didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets (I’d heard horror stories about epic lines and throngs of people). We joined the small group waiting for the English tour to begin.

    Soon enough we got underway – the 20 or so people in the group with us crammed into the first room so that we could get the introductory lecture on the history of the Lascaux site and the Lascaux II reproduction. The caves themselves were discovered (or rediscovered, depending on how you look at it) in 1940 by yet another group of enterprising teenagers who found a hole in the ground and thought to themselves “I bet we’d stand a good chance of killing ourselves if we crawl down that little itty-bitty hole in the ground…Georges, you go first” (one of them was really named Georges). They found paintings which were later dated as being somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15,000 years old.

    The carbon dioxide from the breath of the 12,000 or so visitors a year was starting to damage the paintings and the entire site was closed down in the 1960’s. It wasn’t until the 70’s that work began on the Lascaux II interpretive centre – it took 11 years for artists and historians to re-create exactly the two most famous chambers in Lascaux – the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery. They did a hell of a job – apparently the features of the rocks are exact to within a few millimeters and the paintings themselves are almost photographic reproductions.

    Despite the fact that it’s a reproduction, the Lascaux II tour is incredible. It’s almost dizzying to stand in the bottom of the chamber and look up at the animals all around you – they’re bigger than I’d imagined and circle the entire room – it almost feels as if you’re standing in the middle of a herd of bulls. I’m glad we went in October – apparently in the middle of summer, they take tours of 40 people at a time through there, and the tours run every 10 minutes between 8:00am and 8:00pm – that’s 70 tours/day, which means around 2800 people file through there. Our smaller tour group was just fine by me.

    After the tour, we contemplated wandering through the woods to find the site of the original cave entrance, but decided that a) we were tired and b) it’s just a closed-off hole in the ground. We got back in the car and started back. We decided that the best plan of attack would be to go back to the hotel and have a quick nap and possibly a glass of wine (although not at the same time, that’d be a feat, even for us) before heading out for dinner.

    Our excellent sense of timing was working overtime again – no sooner had we arrived back in our room than the skies opened up and the torrential rains began. We watched out the window for a bit, and I managed to sleep for a while. The rain cleared up just as we were getting ready to head back into Sarlat for dinner.

    We arrived in town a bit early, so had a drink at one of the many cafés around the main square. It’s amazing how quiet Sarlat is when the market is gone and the tourists have all left. As much as we liked the town during the day, it’s so much better in the early evening, when you have the medieval streets and alleyways almost entirely to yourself.

    Dinner was at one of the fancier restaurants in town – Le Présidial. For a change, both Jamie and I ordered from the cheaper set menu – normally we’ll go for the fancier and more expensive side. In this case, even with the cheap menu (€26) I had a foie gras terrine starter, duck cassoulet (also known as heaven in a dish, with duck), a cheese plate featuring more local cheese, and finally a nougat desert. Jamie’s dinner was similarly impressive, starting with 12 escargot stuffed with duck confit, then breast of duck with poached peaches, the cheese, and then a chocolate mousse. All this, plus a half bottle of wine and a kir for Jamie to start only came to €78 – one of our cheapest dinners yet!

    After dinner, we grabbed the tripod from the car and wandered around the almost deserted town, getting some really good shots of the empty streets. I sometimes feel nervous when I’m out and about at night with my camera, but not in Sarlat. We spent quite a while wandering around before finally deciding to call it a night and head back to the hotel.

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    BikerScott,

    The inside of the church in St. Geniès is not particularly interesting, because it was redone in the 19th century after the roof caved in, I believe. But you missed the chapel above the town which has traces of old frescoes, and it is the stone roof ensemble around the church and the manor house next to it which is the real reason to visit the town. The local boulangerie has an exceptional almost flat bread.

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    My husband missed the most exciting thing in the market at Sarlat (to me). I had always thought of Border Collies as dogs that herded sheep. Here came one through the center of the crowd herding about a dozen large geese!! The crowd was aplauding and the Border Collie knew it was for him as he herded them right into their pen.

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    Day 20 - Thursday, October 05, 2006:
    It Never Looks as Far on a Map

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    We got up at the usual hour and had another excellent breakfast in the common room. Our plan for the day included visiting the medieval town of Figeac and some of the other villages to the south, as well as doing another load of laundry (I was getting close to an underbritches emergency).

    We hit the road and started driving towards Sarlat, eyes peeled for a full-service laundromat like the one we’d found in St Remy. As we drove past on the road just before Sarlat, I spotted a sign just next to the big Hypermarche. We pulled off and took a quick look – much to our dismay it was a self serve. Not to worry – we’d seen an ad for a laundromat in Sarlat itself on the tourist map – this one had to be full serve. We drove through town and found the appropriate parking lot and walked the short distance to the shop. Again, it was self service. We didn’t want to spend the entire morning sitting in the Laundromat in Sarlat, so we packed our bag of dirty laundry back to Floriane and headed south, towards Figeac.

    We eventually realized that the distance on the map was a bit misleading – it ended up taking us a full two hours of driving to get all the way to town. It turned out that our normally exquisite sense of timing was a bit off, as we’d arrived at 12:30 – lunch time in France and it seemed that all of Figeac was out. We took this as a sign, and found a little bar for a little light lunch of our own.

    Lunch didn’t take that much time, and our only real plan was to do the walking tour from the Green Guide, however with everything shut down for lunch, that didn’t seem like the best idea. We’d noticed a self-serve laundromat on the way and decided to take the opportunity to get my damn underbritches cleaned. We grabbed the bag of laundry from the car along with our books and sat down to watch things spin.

    After reading a few chapters of our books, the laundry was done. We dropped our bag back off at the car and started the walking tour. We had mixed feelings about Figeac. It looked beautiful at first glance – lots of medieval houses that seem like they haven’t been touched for at least a couple of hundred year. As we walked, that impression became stronger as we noticed all the broken windows, chipped walls, and boarded up stores. Even after lunch, Figeac didn’t really get noticeably busier, and we didn’t ever feel all that comfortable there.

    After finishing the tour, we didn’t feel like spending any more time in Figeac. We grabbed the car and headed towards the hill-town and famous church of St. Cirq Lapopie. Again, the drive took a bit longer than we’d expected and by the time we got to St. Cirq, we were a bit tired of the trip. We drove up to the top of the hill were St. Cirq is precariously perched and discovered that we didn’t have quite enough change for the parking lot close to town. There were two other parking lots, one way above town, and one way down at the bottom of the impressively steep hill. Neither of us felt like walking that far, especially up and down the hill, so we turned around and left, stopping briefly on the way to take some pictures of the beautiful village.

    Instead of driving back the way we’d come, we decided to continue on to the A-20 and take the fast route back up to Sarlat. This seemed like a good idea on paper, but again, turned out to be quite a bit farther than we’d expected. Fortunately, the drive between St. Cirq and the auto route turned out to be the most scenic and exciting of the entire trip. The road winds up (or down, I’m not sure which direction) the Lot valley, wedged tightly between the Lot river and the cliff face beside it. At points the road cuts under the cliff – not quite a tunnel, but certainly not beside the rock either. It’s a bit unnerving to have several hundred tonnes of stone hanging over your head.

    We eventually made it out to the A-20 and it didn’t take too long to get back to the hotel. I’d pretty much done all the driving that I wanted to do that day, so we choose to go back to the little Auberge Les Plantades up the road – I felt like I could handle three kilometers, but not much more than that.

    Dinner, as with earlier in the week, was fantastic. We both went for the same dinner this time – the foie gras terrine and then the duck breast with chorizo sausage on a wheat risotto. As we left, we told the waiter (and owner, I assume) that it was our favourite restaurant in all of the Périgord – it combined the best of French rural hospitality with really good food, and an excellent homemade vin aux noix (walnut wine), which goes a long way in quality restaurants.

    We got home fairly early and enjoyed a nice glass of local Pecharment wine before collapsing in bed. A long day of driving and some really beautiful scenery, ended with an excellent meal – a good day in my books.

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    Ah, I wasn't the only one mildly terrified by the road into St. Cirque. I've been on remote logging roads in both Oregon and Alaska--but yeh, that thing about the overhead rock.

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    cigalechanta - maybe it was because it was pouring rain and dark that you couldn't really see where you were driving, and exactly how much rock was hanging over your head as you went...it wasn't bad near St. Cirq itself, but as you headed away from it towards the A-20 (don't remember the name of the town the on-ramp is at...it's a fairly long drive though)...or maybe it was because we'd just been told a few days prior how a great chunk of the cliffs at La Roque Gageac fell on the town a while ago...

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    Day 21: Friday, October 06, 2006
    Two Out of Five Ain’t Bad

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    By this point, I have to admit that I was getting a bit tired of the traditional French breakfast. I can really only eat so many croissants at the start of the day – sometimes I just want a nice egg or a bowl or cereal or something. Can’t get tired of the coffee though – there’s nothing better than good French coffee. Except, possibly, French wine. Or Calvados. Or foie gras on little rounds of toast. The mission for Day 21 was to drive north for a change and explore Périgueux. We’d seen quite a bit of the south Périgord but hadn’t really ventured north past where we were staying. There didn’t seem to be a lot up there, at least on the map, but we figured we’d give it a try.

    The drive to Périgueux from Sarlat is nice, except for the bit as you enter town – it’s a bit industrial. It only took us about an hour, and after some brief panic and a few circles around a big park area at the edge town brought us to a conveniently located parkade near the tourist office. After securing Floriane, we went to pick up our usual stack of brochures and maps from the office, and immediately went for a coffee.

    Périgueux is separated into two sections – the old Gallo-roman side of town and the medieval side. The Tourist Office offers tours of both sections on different days, and we signed up for the Gallo-Roman tour that was being offered that day. The tour didn’t start for a few hours; however we had a self-guided tour map of the medieval side, which we decided to explore.

    Unlike Figeac the day before, we immediately liked Périgueux. The town seems open and bright, with lots of people around – and as far as we could tell, not too many were tourists. The medieval side of the city seems like it’s fairly well preserved with a lot of old buildings and houses around. The walking tour was interesting and we got to see a fair bit of the city. There was a small market going in one of the many squares throughout town – not as big as Sarlat’s market, but still worth a look.

    The market is also viciously efficient – promptly at one o’clock in the afternoon, the street cleaner machine arrived in the square were the market had been (and still was, for a few tardy vendors). They started driving back and forth in the giant washer/sweeper machine, pedestrians and the few remaining vendors scrambling out of the way. Mere seconds after the street cleaners left, a wave of small cars descended on the once bustling square, and it instantly became a parking lot.

    We were so entertained by this display that we decided to have lunch (non-sequiturs are fun any time of day). We found a likely looking restaurant on the edge of one of the busier squares and sat down to yet another pizza and some wine. Pizza, like morning croissants, was getting a bit old – we have noticed that in certain regions of France, it’s hard to find much variation in menus from place to place. We rested our feet and enjoyed the wine for a while, waiting for our 2pm tour to start.

    Finally, we wandered back to the tourist office to join our tour group. One of the great things about traveling in what is nearly the off-season is that tours are still being offered, however there aren’t any tourists about to spoil it. The tour we were on was supposed to be all in French, however the Norwegian couple who were the only others on the tour with us mentioned that they were as comfortable in English as in French, so the guide switched for us, which was nice.

    I find it amazing how much of the roman roots of so many towns and cities remain almost 2000 years after most of it was built. The gallo-roman side of town has quite a few features still standing, although not always in its original format – the old broken tower is all that remains of a temple to one of the roman goddesses, and the old arena was torn down in the 3rd century to build a massive protective wall around the town (10 metres high and 3 metres thick in places – they were serious about their walls back then – it was so big, a few current houses are built using the old wall as a foundation. Granted, they’re very narrow houses, but still).

    After the tour we decided to head back south. There wasn’t much that we wanted to see up north considering how tired we were – after 3 solid weeks of tramping around the country, we were feeling a bit more relaxed about missing a few things here and there. It was about 4:30 when we left, and we rolled into the parking lot of our hotel at about 5:30 – not bad time, especially as we didn’t get lost very much at all on the way home.

    After a brief nap and the requisite glass of wine, we drove out to Vezac to eat a restaurant called “Relais des Cinq Châteaux,” which had been highly recommended to us. The main selling point for us of the restaurant is that evidently 5 castles can be seen from the parking lot – evidently 3 of them are only visible in the daytime as we could only see Castelnaud and the châteaux built by Beynac to keep a better eye on Castelnaud.

    Dinner was reasonably good (and included a foie gras starter – for those of you keeping track at home, that makes seven consecutive meals which have included foie gras – I LOVE France); however the floor show was fantastic. Sitting not to far from us was an elderly British couple who gave every appearance of being on a date – they chatted about various things in very proper Queen’s English for quite a while. It felt like listening to an episode of “Keeping Up Appearances”, except without Hyacinth.

    After dinner, we took a few pictures of the two châteaux’s that we could see and headed home. We’d saved one of our bottles of Meursault Pinot Noir to enjoy on what was going to be our last evening in the Périgord. While this wasn’t our last night, we felt that the penultimate night was a good enough reason to pop it open.

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    Day 22 & 23: Saturday, October 07, 2006 – Sunday, October 8, 2006
    One Last Liver

    (Check out the accompanying photos from this trip at http://tinyurl.com/w5rlb)

    Our last non-travel day in France dawned bright and sunny. We’d managed to sleep in a bit later than usual, and were feeling very relaxed about our plans for the day, as they included almost nothing. We started with a leisurely breakfast in the common room before getting ourselves together and heading into Sarlat for the big Saturday market.

    The Saturday market is quite a bit bigger and far more crowded that the Wednesday market – in addition to all the food stalls, there were any number of merchants selling vast quantities of espadrilles, little plates with built-in spikes for the efficient grinding of garlic (and, presumably, fingertips), and other assorted bits of crap. We puttered about the market for a couple of hours, amusing ourselves by walking very slowly in front of people, stopping rapidly in the middle of narrow areas with no warning, and standing for long periods in front of stalls that other people obviously wanted to look at. Okay – we didn’t do that, other people did, only to us (damn tourists, I assumed). Despite the hordes around us, we did manage to find some things to buy – a bottle of truffle oil and a bottle of walnut oil (already having bought some almost really nice knives and foie gras earlier).

    After a very nice lunch somewhat away from the market area (which, of course, included a foie gras course), we decided that we’d had enough of the throngs of people in Sarlat and would head back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon of relaxing, reading, enjoying a few glasses of wine, and packing for our trip home.

    At 8pm, we headed over to the common room for what was going to be our last dinner in the Périgord. The power remained on all night, unlike our previous attempt at dinner at the hotel – this evening we enjoyed a Périgordine salad (yes, with gessiers), roasted duck breast, a fantastic warm goat cheese plate, and finally the chocolate fondant desert we’d missed the last time. Full and slightly sad at the thought of leaving, we got to bed at a reasonable hour so that we wouldn’t be quite so exhausted for our full day of travel.

    Sunday was another beautiful day – perfect for our drive to Toulouse to drop off poor Floriane and catch the train back up to Paris. The drive down to Toulouse was uneventful, until we actually entered the city. The map book we had was reasonably good for driving around the countryside, but just wasn’t detailed enough to be useful once you’d crossed into the maze of streets and alleys in any French city.

    Fortunately the signs in Toulouse aren’t that bad, and we managed to get to the area of the train station relatively painlessly, although driving through a market wasn’t much fun. We realized when we found the station that we had no idea where to drop the car off. We did a quick pass past the front, not seeing anything that looked like a car drop-off. We realized at this point that we’d neglected to fill the tank before arriving.

    While signage for train stations is excellent, trying to find a gas station isn’t quite as much fun. We ended up having to drive around for about 45 minutes before we finally found a place at which we could pay cash (we did find one quite quickly, but it only accepted chipped credit cards). After filling up the tank, we made our way back to the train station to try to figure out where to drop off the car. We decided that the best plan would be to find a parking lot somewhere and wander around until we saw the car rental drop off.

    It took two passes, but we finally found a parkade at the train station. I took my little parking chit and drove up the ramp. On the second level, I noticed a sign that said something about rental cars on the third level. I drove up that ramp and was confronted by a little parking-ticket taking machine, into which I shoved my ticket. The gate opened and I drove forward, only to realize that we’d found the car drop-off area completely by accident. We parked poor Floriane and unpacked our things from the trunk – we were going to miss the old girl; she’d been a fantastic car. A quick calculation showed that we’d driven almost 3,500 kms in just under three weeks, and had only had to fill up the gas tank 4 times. You can’t ask for much more than that from a car.

    We took the elevator down to the station itself, and after a brief and slightly frightening walk past a group of homeless folk to get cash at the only ATM in the area, we settled down to wait for our train. It didn’t take long before our gate was announced and we boarded our car – we’d managed to score first-class seats on a seat sale and settled in to enjoy the 6 hour trip.

    The ride was fairly uneventful as we watched the countryside roll by. The afternoon faded into evening, and finally into darkness as we reached Paris. We grabbed our bags from the front of the car and walked towards the metro, finding our way back to Hotel St. Jacques somewhat late in the evening. We quickly stopped into La Petite Périgordine for a snack and a final bottle of wine before retiring to our room, tired and sad.

    France had captured our hearts – we’d discovered that there is so much outside of Paris that we’d never dreamed existed – or rather, we’d dreamt of it, but didn’t think it was really out there. It sort of felt like going to Disneyland, and then discovering that it was all real. We spent most of the trip home plotting our return, hopefully to a small cottage that we would own somewhere in Burgundy or the Périgord (or a massive châteaux with an army of staff – we’re not picky). We talked about the places we’d seen, the people we’d met, and most importantly, the endless gallons wine we’d drunk and the battalions of geese and ducks that gave up their lives for the foie gras that we’d eaten.

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    We bought one of those spiked plates (espadrilles?) and love it! great for other things beside garlic.
    Great descritions and pictures Biker. Thank you for rekindling memories with your trip report.

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    Sorry for the delay in responding..

    Glad you enjoyed the report Robjame - my next mission is to add another 30,000 words and turn it into an actual book...look for it on bookshelves in the travel section :)

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    Looks like, if I get to go anywhere in France this year, it will be Compiegne, north of Paris between Paris and Amiens. I have sort of agreed to exchange with some folks. The reason I say "sort of" is because they do not seem overly anxious to buy tickets. Generally we do that around April for these swaps, as right now the air fare to France for the summer is high and it tends to go down when the pressure to fill seats is on for the summer. Not yet.

    I have a deposit down on a trip on the train across Russia (thatis with elderhostel), so that will be canceled or pushed into 2008 if the France deal goes down.

    I would use my Compiegne base as a central point to do day trips (and get lost) to some of the cathedrals in northern France. Another possibility is an over night into Belgium to some of the sites connected with the Battle of the Bulge. My Dad, now long deceased, was in the battle and I have always wanted to go there. Bruges is another possibility as I have not been there. While Compiegne is only 80km north of Paris, I am not as interested in visiting there as I have been many times. Might go for a day trip on the train to see a special exhibition, but that is about it.

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    A few comments from a resident Perigourdine - the little non-frog's legs you ate at the Meynardie were almost certainly quail's legs/thighs. they often serve them there, and they are much smaller than frog's legs.

    We actually like Figeac a lot, because it is not so touristy as Sarlat (living 15 minutes away we are in and out of Sarlat several times a week, and still love it, but in the summer it's a little hard to take) To us, Figeac is somewhat the way Sarlat was before it was quite so restored. In fact we were on a tour of Figeac a few years ago, and the guide said that they have never had the same amount of money that Sarlat received. And so their approach was to try to restore houses for people to live in, rather than to restore them exactly as they were 400 years ago. This means that they were eligible for housing grants, at a time when the restoration grants were not so plentiful. Particularly in the spring /summer/autumn it's a lovely place. A little triste in the winter though.

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