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Paris, Oradour, Sarlat and more trip report

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Apr 12th, 2007, 04:44 PM
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Paris, Oradour, Sarlat and more trip report

The Give France a Chance Tour

First, many thanks for the invaluable advice, opinions and reports of all the excellent Fodor�s posters, including but not limited to: Carlux, StuDudley, ekscrunchy, StCirq, moolyn, Jody, Anselm and Margriet, robjame, Ira, bikerscott and jamikins, Mr. and Ms. Go, Michael, and all the rest of you.

I traveled with a friend who hadn�t been to France in over 15 years. She was quite reluctant to go back, having found the French very, very intimidating when she lived in Paris for about 6 months as a shy nineteen-year-old girl. So I concocted the Give France a Chance tour on the premise that the adult-her would love France in a way that the teenage-her never could. Guess who was right?

I�ll try to make this a fairly short report but there is one long, tedious part at the beginning�my apologies. Also, I�ll try to post photos soon. I did manage to take pics of everywhere we stayed, so Fodorites can see the good, the bad and the ugly. And yes, there�s a little of each.

Itinerary:

March 28: SFO-CDG via Schipol on KLM.
March 29: Paris. Hotel Danube, rue Jacob.
March 30: 10am train from Gare d�Austerlitz to Limoges. Pick up car and to Oradour sur Glane.
March 31: Oradour to Sarlat. Villa des Consuls.
April 1-5: tour the area. Villa des Consuls.
April 6: 9:30 train Brive la Gaillarde to Paris. Hotel de la Place des Vosges
April 7-9: Paris. Depart from CDG on the 9th.

Paris part 1

We got Euros at an ATM upon arrival and took a cab into the city, as we were just too fatigued to deal with other options, although I had researched them here and had all my little notes, etc.

What to say? It was cold. It rained a little. We were pretty jetlagged. We walked around, taking snapshots of places we hadn�t seen in a while, and ended up having dinner at a pizza place by the Pompidou. There we sat next to an older Moroccan man on holiday. He told us that many years ago he was stationed in the U.S. who rarely gets a chance to practice his English, so we all spent a nice evening talking about his time in the States decades ago, his yearly visits to Paris, a place he �has always just liked being in, walking around in.� His wife, at home in Morocco, had preferred to stay near the grandchildren. But Paris keeps calling him. It was a lovely evening, all the lights reflecting off the rain-slicked streets.

Next morning, up and at �em. We took, after much discussion with the guy at the Danube about the best course of action, the Metro from Mabillon stop to the gare. Easy and not too crowded around 9:30. Bought a carnet.

Aside--For those of you who may be planning a first trip to Paris, the gentleman working in the Metro station saw us lumbering down the stairs all in a tizzy with tons of luggage, and came out to help us get our tickets. Don�t worry! Most people in Paris are unbelievably nice.

The train ride to Limoges in 2nd class was uneventful.

And now an afternoon in Limoges

Some of you may recall that this was my first time renting a car/driving in a foreign country and I was fairly apprehensive.

Arrived in Limoges and WARNING! the National Citer office has moved. It is not at 6 rue Gay Lussac. Nope, it�s not there at all. The address I had from Novacar was incorrect and thus my carefully printed out mappy directions were essentially useless. Got to the office to find a For Rent sign. Uh oh.

Did I mention I �speak� only the barest courtesies in French? My �Quel est votre profesion?� wasn�t going to help me in this situation. The woman in the info office in the train station didn�t speak English. Neither did the woman in the (health care product company office?) building next door to the former National Citer office. Neither did the people in the office beyond that. Or the next place. Being a fairly polite tourist, I always went in and said my Bonjour and proceeded to butcher my idea of how to ask my question in French but no one had the slightest idea what I was saying. This was pretty humiliating; these people were obviously thinking, Turista (touriste), what are you doing babbling on incomprehensively in our place of business?

My cell phone wasn�t working. It had worked in Paris but, standing out there in the cold, we couldn�t get it going in Limoges. There�s some lesson here other than I�m a bit of an idiot, but I haven�t yet decided what it is.

After much back and forth, one woman waved me up the street, �C�est la, c�est la!� I thought, �Okay, but I know it�s not c�est la.�

I continued up the street and there was the Regional Tourist Office for Limousin. Hallelujah. It looked dark inside, but if you ever find yourself in this situation, just go ahead and walk in and call out �Bonjour?� and they�ll come downstairs and turn on the lights. I was by now getting in the habit of throwing myself on strangers� mercy, and thankfully a very sweet young woman working there soon got to the bottom of this.

As it turned out, the lady at the car rental office had waited for us for an hour and then had to go to the airport to pick up some English clients. Yes, this office is a one-woman operation. She�s quite a gal, too. So we would have to wait another hour to meet her at the rental office, which was, by the way, only a block away (across the park).

Anyway�although the girl in the regional tourist office asked if we�d like to wait there, we (I) were feeling a little sheepish by then, so we (I) acted very independent and said, oh, no, we�d manage. And we did. We managed to stand on the sidewalk outside the car rental office for an hour until the National woman returned from the airport.

She was extremely nice and apologetic, and this turned out to be the only glitch in the entire trip. She upgraded us to a Citroen V5 (?), a four-door pretty large-ish sedan. It looked great and I thought looked great in it. At last! I�m finally behind the wheel and ready to roll. And, whoa mama, stick shift. It�s been a while, but I felt like I was really driving again. Bye bye, Limoges. After a few turns around the ol� rondpoint, that is.
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Apr 12th, 2007, 04:59 PM
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Leely, I'm very impressed with how quickly you are posting your trip report. You're off to a great start. Keep up the good work!
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Apr 12th, 2007, 05:01 PM
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Great to read this Leely. You strike me as the type of person who makes the best of any situation that you are in! Wherever you are bound to have a good time. More, more, more.
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Apr 12th, 2007, 05:28 PM
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Can't wait to hear more. You helped me out last year on my Africa trip,thanks. We are going to the Dordogne in Sept so I'm waiting for the details...especially the bad and ugly!
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Apr 12th, 2007, 05:31 PM
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Oh Leely, I'm hooked. Don't bother to make it a short report. Long would be perfect.

Anselm
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Apr 12th, 2007, 05:38 PM
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I'm happy to hear you stopped at Oradour.
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Apr 12th, 2007, 05:41 PM
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Oradour sur Glane

Within 20 minutes (19 of those circling the same 4 blocks in Limoges) we were out in the countryside. Lush, green and pretty.

The previous night I had emailed Logis de France and attempted to reserve a room at the La Glane, one of 3 hotels in the new village of Oradour. After all that hassle in Limoges, I was glad I had done so, and we arrived to find we did in fact have a reservation. Not that we needed one!

Ill post my thoughts as well as websites or email for the various hotels in a separate section, but heres the short version: it was fine.

Dinner was at the hotels sister restaurant, Milord. This is an old-school restaurant with an old-school décor and old-school cooking. We were, I think, the only people staying at the hotel and one of three tables dining that evening.

I forgot to bring my Marling Menu Master--and my Paris guidebook, any Paris guidebookso ordering was an exciting-yet-dangerous game of French Roulette throughout the entire trip. I spun the barrel and got an enormous brick of foie gras, some grilled apples, onions and some sweetish hearty country bread as the entrée. My first foray into foie gras and I enjoyed it but it was HUGE. And of course I had ordered steak for my plat, wanting to try the Limousin beef.

My friend went with the Salade dHiver, which was good and involved the (to us) mystery ingredient gesiers as well as chestnuts. She liked it, but once again this course was gigantic. We both had the beef filets for our plats and they were quite good. The accompanying potatoes were shredded and rolled into balls and wrapped in bacon, normally my idea of heaven, but it was a little too oily. There were also some tempura-style vegetables on the plate and something else I can't quite recall; this was really gilding the lily, in my opinion.

Dessert was profiteroles for me and a fruit-covered crème brulee for her. Nothing to rave about, but, hey, I am in France and I am not going to skip dessert. Oh, yes, I had the cheese course as well and enjoyed whatever on earth they served.

All in all, a fine but not spectacular meal, with some strengths and some weaknesses. Madame was kind and put up with my French with no audible laughter. With two aperitifs, a bottle of Cahors and a bottle of Vittel, we came in at around 75-80 Euros or so for the both of us.

The Martyred Village and Memorial Center

I feel creepy following a detailed dining report with our visit the next day to the sobering Memorial Center and Martyred Village. Theres nothing I can say that will do justice to this place. The Memorial Center is well-designed and impressive. The Martyed Village is extremely moving and you will most certainly cry. We spent about three hours there. I learned about the village and its inhabitants, about the Vichy government, about the Resistance, about post-War France, about many things. I am glad I went and highly recommend a visit.

http://www.oradour.info/
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Apr 12th, 2007, 05:57 PM
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Cigalechanta, I can't believe I forgot to thank one of Fodor's most respected France-goers. Thank you!
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Apr 12th, 2007, 07:38 PM
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Leely, I don't need thanks, I LOVE to share what little I know but this is for those that don't know about this village:

http://www.oradour.info/
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Apr 12th, 2007, 07:55 PM
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Oh wow! You have me giggling already. Can't wait for more.
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Apr 12th, 2007, 08:10 PM
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mea culpa, I didn't see your url.
Glad it made you giggle, amwosu
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Apr 12th, 2007, 11:45 PM
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Enjoying your report Leely! I agree with AnselmAnselm - do not bother to keep it short!
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Apr 13th, 2007, 03:03 AM
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Leely, it's sometimes better not to know in advance what something is. Gésiers are gizzards, not at all disgusting, but off-putting for some people.

I don't know if I would have eaten them the first time if I'd known. Now, when something on the menu has gésiers, that's what I'm having. Sometimes, they're just cooked in broth and are stringy but very tasty; at others they are en confit, which means they've been simmered for a long time in goose or duck fat, which makes them tender and wonderful.
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Apr 13th, 2007, 08:12 AM
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I don't know why people have (potential) problems with gésiers. I always thought that giblet gravy was very traditional in the States.
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Apr 13th, 2007, 09:55 AM
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We liked the gizzards; it was more of a quantity problem and in fact my friend ordered a similar salad later and, if I recall, one other time. She became a bit of a gesier connoisseur and declared the ones in Oradour the most tender.

Giblet gravy: my mother always removed the giblets before serving. Perhaps it's done differently in other households.

Other random thoughts:
The Limoges train station is impressive, a very attractive building. I was disappointed all my waiting and wandering in Limoges never took me to the "old town." I think I'll revisit Limoges and the Limousin in the future.
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Apr 13th, 2007, 12:45 PM
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This series contains some photos of old Limoges:

http://www.photoworks.com/share/shar...7712BB7B&cb=PW
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Apr 13th, 2007, 01:28 PM
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Michael, thank you for the photos. I knew I was missing the charming part of Limoges.

Sarlat and environs, plus further afield

As the rest of the trip flew by, with many, many highlights, Ill forgo the day-by-day.

We got lost (a lot!) on the way down to Sarlat, but once we cleared Limoges it was all very pretty lost-ness on tiny country lanes. For those of you with driving-in-France anxiety, I cant say enough how easy and pleasant it is once you get used to it. I live and work in athe same city and so use public transportation almost exclusively. We found ourselves oohing and ahhhing our way through the lower Haute Vienne (an oxymoron?) and the Perigord Vert. It doesnt take much, people.

Consequently, it took us about twice as long to reach Hautefort as I had anticipated. No big deal, really, except we sort of had to give short shrift to the gardens. This was one of those ill-planned starvation-vacation days. No lunch, itsy bitsy breakfast. We arrived in Sarlat right aound 6 p.m. on market day. Parking wasnt a huge issue, but lets just say I got to know that ring road intimately. And by the end of the trip I felt as if I were married to it.

Villa des Consuls is wonderful. More on this in the hotels section, but this was a great choice for us. We rented the Fenelon studio.

While basing ourselves in Sarlat was a good choice for us, primarily because I was both the main driver and the wine-lover, I can imagine that traffic and parking into and out of the city during high season would be a drag. Also, after driving to Rocamadour, Carennac, Chateau Castelnau Bretonoux, through Martel, and some other places in one day, I didnt really feel like driving much the next day. I can see why people might split their time up, although nothing was too far to reach in a day trip.

Speaking of Rocamadour and Carennac and Castelnau Bretonoux, WOW is that part of the Lot stunning. I might even give it the edge over the Dordogne. But then I think about some of the lovely spots in the Dordogne and I simply cant choose. The longer we stayed, the less we did


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Apr 13th, 2007, 01:29 PM
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My favorites

Castelnau Bretonoux. Do not miss, although knowledge of French would certainly enhance the tour.
Cadouins Abbey and the cloister
Carennac. So pretty. Met some great dogs and old people there. Nearly had a panic attack driving across that long, very narrow, is this for cars? bridge leaving town.
Chateau des Milandes, Josephine Bakers chateau.
Sarlat. Do the self-guided walking tour even if you dont stay in town.
Domme surprised me. We sat around in the park watching the men play boules from a discreet distance. Enjoyed driving and parking here because it challenged me. Had my third and final, Is this for cars? moment in this lovely town. (I drove on what may have been a hiking/riding trail but thats another story.)
All roads lead to Beynac. At least the way I end up understanding the maps.
Chateau Castelnaud. Video games in the medieval weaponry exhibit. Very cool.
Meeting Fodorite Mariarosa and her husband for drinks in Sarlat. Theyre both charming, witty and glamorous.

We didnt canoe, choosing instead to enjoy the river on a gabare. We cruised with Gabares Norbert because I remembered reading that StuDudley had used that company. We were the only people on the boat who didnt speak French, and although we had the audioguides in English, the guy translated his spiel to us every few minutes anyway. Everyone on the boat would then turn and look at us and nod as he did so. Sly dog.

I cant say there was anything that truly disappointed me, but Im one of those people who LOVES vacation. We could have stayed much longer.

Another aside--At Castelnaud we picked up a book in English that appears to be aimed at 5th graders. Maybe 3rd graders. Its called Chronology of the Kings of France. I probably should be ashamed to admit that reading this greatly enhanced my visit. I would go someplace and some French inscription would have the word Chlotar or Clovis or something on it, and I would get that smug flash of recognition: Oh, Chlotar! I know all about Chlotar. Try it!

(Important!: Clovis and Chlotar and Chlodomir and the rest of that crew have nothing to do with the Aquitaine. I just love their names, especially Chlotar.)

Next up: restaurants, hotels, and Easter in Paris.
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Apr 13th, 2007, 02:06 PM
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Leely,

You also missed a major porcelain museum and an enamel museum, the latter in the former bishop's palace. There is also a showroom of the master works of the compagnons du travail.
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Apr 14th, 2007, 08:30 AM
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Hi Leely, I am really enjoying your report. Keep it coming!! Also, I would love the ISBN # from the book you mentioned if you still have it and would pass it on. I have been looking for a simple layout of that information and haven't been able to track anything down.

A history book by Alistar Horne comes close and is very well written but it is a 600 plus page book and I was hoping for a timeline sort of layout. thanks....lynda
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