Friday, February 24, 2017

Rocamadour - A Fascinating Place

One of the places on our touring of central France was Rocamadour. This is a village built into the wall of a river valley that Jacques wanted to visit. Before leaving Saint Cirq Lapopie, the chef/owner of the hotel gave us a route to approach the village with the best view. We followed back roads through little towns which only took about 100 yards to enter the town and exit the town. Very quaint. After gassing  up in La Bastide and accidentally finding ourselves on the right road to Rocamadour, we set out on the winding road to the town.

Approaching from the suggested route, we could not see the village until we made the turn around a sharp corner and there it was in front of us. The sky brightened and we stopped on the side of the road to get a photo of this amazing site. There it was, a town, cathedral and chateau built into the rock wall of the valley. The back walls of many of the buildings, especially the cathedral, are actually the wall of the cliff.

We drove up to a small parking area and walked into the town. Very small area with a few small hotels and assorted cafes. Being almost winter, it was not very crowded (i.e. hardly a soul). From the base it was 216 steps up to the cathedral. We decided to take the elevator that was built into the cliff to save a bit of energy.

After exiting the elevator, we found the Church of the Holy Savior and the Crypt of Saint Amadour. This location is another site on the Pilgrimage to Compostello and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I never knew these pilgrims had so many stops along the way from where ever they came from.

St. Amadour really wasn't a saint. In the 12th century the completely intact body of a man was found buried in the side of the cliff as the townsfolk were constructing the church. He was re-buried and named Amandour which is an old French language name for "The Lover" (Amoureux). Somehow he became a saint over time. Not sure how. His body was venerated in the crypt until 1562 when it was dismembered by the Hugennots. What was left is in the church. It is interesting to know that those people like the Hugennots and the Capetians actually existed and were not just figures in our Western Civ books.

Through that portal was the church. You can see it is built right into the wall and the back wall of each of these buildings is solid rock. This reminded us a bit of Escher's staircases.

There is a Black Madonna in the chapel of the church.

And the wall behind the huge organ pipes is the cliffside.

On the climb to the top of the cliff, there were Stations of the Cross along the walk. It was a slow clmb to the top. 
 Once at the top, we tried to enter the chateau but there was coin operated turn style that requred 2 euro each. We had no change. A sign said for change, return to the elevator.

Seeing what we had for a descent back to the elevator, we decided to skip the entry into the chateau.
This was really an extraordinary stop on our tour. Not too many places are quite like this. Glad we took the time to find it. It was worth it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Life of a Truffle

Truffles are a delicacy in many parts of the world, especially in France. They are a mushroom-like fungus that grow around the roots of oak trees. They are not planted and raised like other edible items but are just haphazardly found in the ground. At one time, pigs were used to "root out" the truffles but now dogs can do it.
The "truffle people" find the truffles in the ground and bring them to market. Every Tuesday in Lalbenque, France there is a truffle market. It is really quite an interesting spectacle to behold.
The market opens precisely at 2:30. There are wooden benches lined up along the sidewalk which is roped off from the public. The truffle people start early by laying out their baskets or bags of truffles for the customers to appreciate,

The customers assess the quality of the truffles mostly by smelling them.

We were there early so we sat across from the "market" and had a drink while we waited for the action to begin.

As it gets closer to 2:30, the crowd starts to build. Many are buyers but most are just spectators.

At 2:30 on the dot, a person blows a whistle and the rope comes down. It is a mad scramble for the buyers to get what they want. They step across the sidewalk to the benches, money is exchanged and it is all over in a matter of minutes. The cost of the truffles varies depending on the quality but it can range from 800-1,000 euros per kilo, or more. It is strictly a cash business, no checks, no credit cards.
What happens next takes place in the kitchen. The chef at our hotel mixed his truffles into the beaten eggs the night before. The next morning he whipped up an "omelet au truffle" which ended up on our plates for us to appreciate. It was pretty tasty.

This was a very interesting "slice of life" in France. Who knew that a little ball of fungus would attract so much attention. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Back in France - Again

We are finally back in France again and time to start some new blog entries. It seems like we have been planning this trip forever. I'm pretty sure we reserved the apartment last spring and made our plane reservations in September of 2016. This year we flew on IcelandAir for the first time. We bought our tickets with credit card points so it was pretty cheap. Pam gave us a ride to the airport and we waited around for 3 hours for our flight. (It was not late, we were early.)
The flight from Boston to Reykjavic was only about 4 hours which is probably the limit of flight time before the airline has to feed you. There was nothing to eat not even  a snack of a few pretzels. They advertised a $10 baguette with ham and cheese but no one ever asked us if we wanted to buy one.
We changed planes in Reykjavic and landed on time at Charles DeGaulle and waited 45 minutes for our luggage. Jacques picked us up and brought us to his home for a delicious meal that Claire had prepared. Endives wrapped in ham with bechamel sauce. Judy's favorite dish. Thank you Claire.

After a very early start the next day we stopped for lunch in a town called Magnac Bourg. The only restaurant we found open was one called Le Compostelle.
It is a very small but welcoming stop on the pilgrimage to Compostello, Spain. Notice the shell on the sign. (click on any photo to enlarge it.) That marks the pilgrim's trail to Spain. We arrived a bit early for lunch but we were hungry. We were the first ones there but the three tables were soon filled. Two separate couples sat at a table for 4.

The woman at the bar may be the owner or at least a well known customer as she gave up her seat at a table when a second couple came in to eat. (did I say it was small?).

After getting off the highway and travelling some small roads, we found the Inn at Saint Cirq Lapopie. We have a very nice room with a small vineyard just outside our door.
The town of St Cirq Lapopie is quite charming. It is situated on one side of the valley along the  Lot River. Very quaint.

The Twin City of St Cirq Lapopie is Cahor. They are "Twin Cities" but only 30 kms apart. One thing I learned at the "Musee du Vin" in St. Cirq Lapopie is that Malbec wine which we normally think is from Argentina is from Cahor originally. The vines were brought to Argentina years ago but Malbec is still used in the wine from this region.

Cahors is also on the pilgrimage route and the route is marked with shells on the sidewalk. This is the Shell that marks the Pilgrimage Trail through town and over the bridge on its way south toward Spain. 

Here is Pont Valentre, an ancient bridge from the 12-13th century that was fortified for protection of the city. It was redone in 1850's and is in great shape now. It is a UNESCO Heritage World Site.

The Cathedral of St. Etienne is from the same era and it too is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of special interest.

We had dinner Monday night at Le Gourmet Quercynois in St. Cirq Lapopie. . It being the low season, they were out of a few things on the menu that we wanted to order but all in all we were pleased with the dinner.

After a long day we were ready for bed and anticipating The Life of the Truffles on Tuesday.