Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Coots, Geese, and Swans

Kew Gardens is a lovely, huge green area with many large conservatories or green houses to display plants from an ocotillo cactus of Mexico and the largest indoor plant, a Chilean Wine Palm, to live butterflies enclosed in a tropical area.  We found a Christmas tree sized Douglas Fir on the grounds and looked for the redwood grove, but it eluded us.  There was an amazing amount of things for kids to do from taking a tree canopy walk to climbing like vines.

We discovered a beautiful lily pad pond.  Near that was a pond with a beautiful bridge to use as a crossing to an original Japanese Mikuna house that is made of wood with a thatch roof.   A mother coot and two small ones were wading close to the bridge while many Canadian geese and at least five swans were swimming on the other side.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Off to Colleges?

As the concessioners (over 60) that we are, we went by express bus to Oxford at half price: four GBP.  That is about $6 each one-way for a 100 minute journey.  Did you know that the University of Oxford, the oldest in Britain, is made up of 39 colleges in which you have a tutor, your personal tutor, for most or all of your studies, and that you study exclusively in your chosen area?  So if you chose to study history, you probably would not study any science or math.  There are lecturers as well, but they stand before 200 or 300 students in courses that many people have to take.  Our informer did not go into much detail, but he stressed that Oxford and Cambridge were unlike most universities in that you had a tutor, did not change your area of study, and only studied your field.

These colleges began as part of churches educating young people and just grew until they were united in name as the University of Oxford.  The University has no jurisdiction over the individual colleges.  We took a walk around several of the colleges:  Christ Church, St. Mary the Virgin, Brasenose College, New College, Queen's College, and Magdalen (Mordlin) College.  At St. Mary's I climbed the tower and had great views of the city.  Many of the colleges have now started charging admission for visitors, so we skirted them still enjoying their spires, towers, and high reaches.

Grades for recent exams were just released this last week.  Journalists reported in the abundant free papers that too many students are getting the highest marks, and there is not enough room at university for all who want to attend.  Students willing to put off beginning their studies often take a gap year to travel, gain experience in their field, or study abroad.  I thought that was a great idea.

About half way through, we followed a three foot passage, St. Helen's Way, to the Turf Tavern, a great old ale house.  Today was one of the few days in which we have had to contend with rain.  The patio chairs were wet, but it was warm and dry in the pub.  Fortunately we only encountered the rain when we were catching our bus on the way back to Greenwich.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Boats and Meridians

The National Maritime Museum has an incredible array of real boats, toy boats, model boats, and memorabilia about Britain and her naval history, including Nelson's uniform coat and pigtail when he was shot.  

The Royal Observatory Greenwich is located at 0 degrees 0'0" Longitude, the Prime Meridian of the World, which defines Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  There was a very long line of people who wanted to get their picture taken standing over it.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Guess What We Did Today

Did you guess that we went to a museum today?  You're right!  In fact, we went to two of them.  Both were close to where we were staying.  The first one was the Albert and Victoria Museum where everything in the world that might have been buried, burned, or blessed has been donated, given, or purchased.  What an eclectic mix of objects; everything you could imagine and beyond:  Bernini's Neptune and Triton, a plaster cast of Michelangelo's David, Vivienne Westwood dresses, Ming Dynasty vases, Rodin sculptures, church altars, Raphael paintings, aprons, teapots, Dale Chihuly glass pieces, architectural models, you name it.  One exhibit scattered throughout included seven small structures designed and built by seven architects around the world.  They reminded us of interactive Burning Man projects in which we could climb or stand inside.  You could spend months in these buildings and still not see everything.

The second museum was right across the street, The Natural History Museum.  It was packed with kids and their families, most of which were in line for the Dinosaur Hall.  It is the only portion in which you had to stand in line...about 15-45 minutes.  I enjoyed it, but my favorite was the Mineral Hall and Vault.  They have so many rocks and minerals, including four great samples of benitoite from San Benito, California.  We  have only seen broken, tiny eighth inch pieces at the Panoche Inn, but these were beautiful dark blue, one inch pyramidal pieces.  The Vault held gorgeous gemstones that have earned places in history through thievery, political unrest, or gifting.  There are two dodo birds in the Bird Hall....

And Then There Were Two

Very early this morning another half of our group flew off to Santa Barbara.  We are on our own.  Sometimes it feels like we left something back in the room.  But as we work our way from place to place, that feeling disperses because you have to work at finding your way. 

And finding our way included arriving at the wrong place just because our map did not have the new museum listed.  Our destination was the Tate Museum, as listed on our map.  Arriving there, it is now the Tate Britain.  As nice as that is, we really wanted the Tate Modern.  Now if we had only looked in the opposite direction while we were gazing at St. Paul's Cathedral and the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge, we would have seen it two days ago while on our Thames River cruise.  It has a giant tower and the name of the building in plain view in very large letters.

The museum itself  has over 65,000 works of art inclucing several of the artists we have seen on this trip:  Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Joan Miro, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Eduardo Chillida.  There are also big spaces for performing arts.  As most museums in London, it is free except for special exhibitions.

Not having enough of museums yet...we left for the British Museum.  On the way we walked the Wibbly Wobbly footbridge and ate lunch at Cafe 101, a small restaurant run by the Salvation Army.  Few tourists there.

Arriving at the British Museum, the first thing we saw was the Rosetta Stone.  It is amazing.  After looking at many of the treasures of Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Jericho that Britain acquired many years ago and knowing about how treasures of Iraq and other places in the Middle East have been destroyed or disappeared over the last several years, one could almost be glad that so much is sitting here in this museum. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Day in the Life

Today was the only whole day Kathy and Austin had in London, so they got to choose what we did.  Of course, we had to muck about figuring out transportation and boarding passes for the airport, arranging housing for Jim and Becky's last six days, and eating breakfast.  We finally got started about 11 AM and were off on the bus to Buckingham Palace to see if we could see the Changing of the Guard.  Since it happens every other day, we hoped to see it, but we didn't, besides, we were too late.  No matter. 

We headed on towards Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament.  At the entrance to Downing Street we peered down towards #10.  No one seemed to be about except some folks getting their picture taken in front of it.  They must have had some pull as most people cannot get onto the street as of 2005.

For the main adventure of the day, we took a river cruise down the Thames to Greenwich from The Eye of London, a gigantic ferris wheel like structure.  There was a Ricky Gervais type guide on the boat, so we enjoyed the commentary about the buildings we saw on the way.  At Greenwich we ate lunch with most of us enjoying traditional fish and chips. 

Back on the boat, we got off at the Tower of London.  It was nearly ready to close, so Austin decided to tour a naval ship that was commissioned in 1936 until 1963.  The Belfast played an important role during World War II by destroying a German ship that was four times its own size and helping in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

We had not been on the London underground yet, so we made our first foray late in the day.  It isn't much more complicated or easier than the metros in Madrid, Barcelona, or Paris.  You still have to know where you are, where you are going, and which line to follow.  It is probably easier to take a bus if you know which one will take you to where you want to go.  Or you could take a taxi, which Kathy and I did coming from Charring Cross Station.  There is lots of construction going on about the city in readiness for the Summer Olympics in 2012.

After checking out Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, we had a bit of supper at the Eastside Bar and Restaurant, a part of the Imperial College campus where we are staying.  The beer and food are a good value compared to restaurants off the site.  Saying good bye to Kathy and Austin was hard tonight.  Our adventures together are nearly over.

Canterbury Tales

It really is pleasant to be in England where the people really are cheery, friendly, and helpful.  As we were trudging down the narrow sidewalk in Dover looking for our B and B, a woman walking from the opposite direction stopped and asked us if we were finding what we were looking for.  She confirmed we were going in the correct direction.

Patricia, owner of the East Lee Guest House gave us great directions to catch the bus to Canterbury, the bus driver happily told us he would take us to London or Canterbury and gently placed our bags in the storage area of the bus, and finally, the tourist information lady directed us to our next B and B, let us know she could provide cheaper tickets for the Roman Museum, and wished us a lovely day in Canterbury.  My watch band had come unglued and needed to be repaired.  I stopped in at a shoe/watch repair shoppe where the owner quickly and competently reglued it at no charge.  How cool is that?

The Canterbury Cathedral was so different from the other cathedrals we have visited (and you have read about here).  It is the Church of England or the Anglican Church.  There are no images or figures of Jesus on the cross, there is only a simple cross on the altar, and women are part of celebrating the service.  We saw the crypt, the treasury, and parts of the building that ranged in age from the 7th to the 12th centuries.  There were many, many highly detailed leaded glass windows that portray the various stories from the Bible; these enabled the early residents of Canterbury to know them since most could not read.

Late in the afternoon we were able to attend Evensong, a daily worship service in which, today, the Northern University of Illinois Chamber Choir sang the prayers and responses.  It was simply beautiful to listen to their voices magnified and echoing in the high vaults and domes of the cathedral. 

While in Canterbury we poked around in the little shops, spent some money on clothes, and sat down to have tea and tarts on a little patio while watching the people wander by us.  Our quaint Tudor House B and B looked as if it had been a part of Canterbury for hundreds of years, complete with cracks and creaks.

Tomorrow we meet Jim and Austin, who will be flying in from Norway, in London.  Hopefully, we will get them to share photos and stories.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cliff Notes

We had a smooth ride from Paris to Calais on one of the efficient, clean and fast European trains that make travel within Europe so easy.  Calais is a blur because Becky and I just had time to catch a cab to the ferry.  Another hour and a half of floating pleasure complete with a glass of complimentary champagne (B's planning paid off again), and we were in Dover.  The White Cliffs were visible from miles away.  We got ourselves to the B and B and decided after lunch to walk up to Dover Castle and to the top of the cliffs.  Well, we hiked up and around and through the woods and over the hill and dale (whatever that is) and along the busy road for two hours, but we made it.  There they were, the tops of what we had seen before.  But we did learn how important and celebrated these distinctive white cliffs are to the British and many others.  We came down on a path that we had found on our arrival and made it down in 25 minutes.  Kathy

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Last Day in Paris

What would you do if it were your last day in Paris?  Jim and Austin cannot answer that question because they left this morning for Norway at 8 am.  Kathy and I made sure the Picasso Museum was closed for two years, then we headed to a local market.  It was small, but the sharp eyes of Kathy discerned a small black coin purse laying next to a fish.  She pointed it out to the fish monger who looked up to find the little elderly Parisian woman to whom it belonged.  When he saw her wandering over to the fresh vegetables, he ran over and handed it to her and thanked Kathy profusely on his way back to his stand.  Major crisis for French woman averted by observant California tourist.

Next I introduced Kathy to the BHV, a huge department store of 8 floors.  We availed ourselves of their services and headed to the nearby Pompidou Centre to view their modern art.  One floor was a special exhibition of the works by the women held in the collection:  Elles@pompidoucentre.  It was extensive and amazing. 

Taking a break for lunch, we went back to the 5th floor restaurant with views of the Seine at the Bazaar de L'Hotel de Ville.  It poured rain as we sat and ate lasagne, bread, and a mixture of salads, dessert, wine, and cafe with other Parisians.

The rain stopped, and we returned to the Pompidou for the next floor of their main collection.  And that is what we did all afternoon.  It was so luxurious. What a great museum.  Big open spaces, plus lots of interesting nooks and crannies where old films illustrating the periods of art were playing.  I saw a copy of the Surrealist Manifesto.  One section was art created between 1905 and 1945 and another section featured artists working through the 60s.  From the large windows there were (post rain) fabulous views of all parts of the city.

For supper we wandered into our neighborhood marche, discovered various meat tangines, couscous, and mixed vegetables, and ate with the locals.  John, Erin, and Kylie came back around 8:30 pm, and Kylie is staying with us while they go out to eat and stroll on their last night in Europe.  They leave here in the morning about 4:30 am, and Becky and I are leaving for the train station at 7 am.  Much too short a visit, but sweet.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What To Do In Paris

Jim and Becky got back to the apartment first, so here is their day:  First we checked out BHV, the local department store that has a huge hardware store in its basement; sort of like Home Depot in a very old city.  Things and things and things are for sale.  We ate a sandwich on the 5th floor with great views towards the Seine. 

Next we took a cruise up the Saint Martin Canal 4.5 km for two hours that began in the old moat of the long gone Bastille, now Paris' Marina.  We rose in four double locks (about 80 total feet) and went through three turning bridges and one that lifted.  Many foot bridges passed inches above the people on the top level of the boat.  The cruise ended at Parc de La Villette, a site of a huge mirrored geodesic sphere, a submarine, the Science and Industry Museum, and many other gardens and buildings.

Our last adventure of the day was a metro ride away to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur.  We saw it from afar nine years ago, but climbed all the steps and toured the inside today despite the crowd of tourists.  It is free to pass quietly through its side aisles.  Perhaps many tourists go there to sit on the steps which are reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome and enjoy the view of the city.

Or you could walk, like the rest of us, from our apartment in The Marais to Notre Dame, passing the Pompidou Centre, a building that was built inside out.  Everything that is usually hidden, like the plumbing, is featured all around the outside.  It is strange to see an inside out elevator. 

After feeding tiny birds from your hands, you could then walk to the Louvre and spend the next three hours seeing everything possible.  After you walk through the Jardin des Tuileries, which is next to the Louvre, stop for a bite to eat at a table under an umbrella where a woman might exhibit a phobia of birds.  Continue to walk all the way down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, where you can see some military exercises.

Lastly, you could walk to the Eiffel Tower where only two of us (John and Austin ) had the energy to take the stairs up to the second level.  Finally, catch a taxi with a driver that combines speed and agility at the wheel with a lively vocabulary and the hand and arm gestures to match.  Kathy

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our Apartment in Paris

We flew to Paris this afternoon. (We did see the huge Miro mosaic wall at the Barcelona airport).  Two cabs and an hour later we climbed two floors to our tiny Paris apartment with its book lined walls and impossible staircase to a tiny second floor. It is such a different living experience for us all on this trip, and it is a good thing we all enjoy each other.  We are on the Right Bank in the Marais.  Tomorrow we are going to the Louvre (Kathy and Erin), Parc de la Villete (John), the Sacre-Coeur (Becky), Eiffel Tower (Austin) and the BHV Hardware Store (Jim) and all of the above (me).  Shoud be an interesting day. Kathy

Ramblas Ramblings

Daily life on La Rambla is an everchanging, unchanging process.  First, there are tourists, tourists, and some more tourists whether it's midnight, noon, or anywhere in between.  There were a lot of people in various costumes attempting to engage tourists into interacting with them: exchanging photo ops for a few euros.  Several women were princesses in elegant and colorful gowns.  Two were mythical winged creatures, one of which so frightened a woman that she fell flat onto her behind.  Fortunately she had a sense of humor about it all.  Another man was portraying himself as a baby in a buggy.  All of his body other than his head was hidden in the buggy.  A couple painted completely from head to toe in contrasting blues and greens rode on mounted bikes with skulls on the handlebars.  There were two guys close to each other who portrayed Johnny Depp's movie characters Edward Scissorhands and the pirate, Captain Jack.  Perhaps the most popular character was the headless person sitting in a chair with a hat suspended above where his head should have been.  Young children were particularly taken with him. 

There were the countless purveyors of postcards, periodicals, plants, birds, ice cream, souvenirs, whistles, and the local food products such as wine, sangria, beer, and tapas.  If you sit down at a table on a terrace, it costs more than if you stood at the bar or took it to go.

The Erotic Museum hasn't changed much from the first time we were here, and it is directly across the street  from La Boqueteria, the local market, with perfect piles of endless varieties of fruit, nuts, vegetables, candy, beans, breads, eggs, fish, seafood, and meats.  It is the easiest place to buy your picnic lunch..

Austin and Jim became fascinated with the shell game grifters.  It looks so easy to spot under which tiny box that tiny white pea of a ball is hiding.  "Look at that...that tourist over there just won a 50 Euro bill!"  Having a room three floors above the walkway let Austin get some close up views with John's camera.  Soon he could identify two other shills working with the shell box handler.  One was a tall, dark haired German tourist with a bag slung over his shoulder.  He was always the easy winner.  We wondered how many times he won that same 50 Euro bill over the course of the day as we saw him two days in a row winning.  Another was the young woman who would give a little hand gesture to the shell handler to point out those with more than simple curiosity, whereupon, he would move closer and show the 50 Euro bill he was willing to pay you if you played the game and won. 

Austin said that when the police were headed their way, the grifters simply melted into the crowd in opposing directions then meet up about a 100 feet away after the police had moved on down the street.  Perhaps there was a fourth person who kept a lookout.

Jim and I saw a game going on this afternoon about 2 PM.  Two young twenty-something girls were thoroughly caught up in the action.  The shell handler "fumbled" the boxes and made sure the girls "thought" they knew where the ball was located.  They each reached deep into their bags and pulled out a 50 Euro bill to match the one the handler had in his hand because they were "sure" they knew where the ball was, and the handler was going to pay them double if they won.  It seemed a sure thing to them.  I was an arm's length behind them saying, "Rick Steves says, "You'll never win. "  I was outshouted by the shills, but then I did not want them to notice me. 

Of course, they did not win.  When the handler revealed that there was no tiny white ball under their chosen box, they uttered little gasps of dismay.  The other shills in the crowd attempted to console them.  Hopefully, they learned a lesson about a sure thing.  Later, discussing these observations and events, it was revealed that a couple in our group had experienced something similar in their life and had lost or given up in time so they did not lose.  Hopefully, we disabused Austin of his desire to beat those guys by choosing the other box.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Miro, Miro, On the Wall

There is a superb museum in Barcelona to display much of the work of Joan Miro thanks to his foundation, his wife, and his collectors.  From his early beginnings until his death, this museum is the showplace of one man's study of art that is his life's work. 

He began painting by studying with masters in Barcelona, then headed off to Paris at 27 to learn and experiment and develop and mature.  At one point he said he wanted to annihilate painting so he worked in many other forms of media.  Even though he worked on canvas and paper, they became his models for what he eventually produced.  Some of it may look improvised, but he has books full of notes of his ideas and discoveries about his evolving work, and nothing was improvised.  It was a well thought out endeavor to create something new, something different.

Miro was a man that spent time with and learned from other creative people.  One large room in the museum is devoted to homages by his friends and followers to him; true testimony to how much he was esteemed by others.

We all were impressed with an artist we really did not know much about before today other than a few pieces of his paintings or a sculpture that some lucky museum has on display that we had previously admired.  When we fly out of Barcelona on Thursday, we will look for his huge tile mosaic that is the centerpiece of the airport.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"But, My God, They Were Travellers"

Kathy and I hit the narrow streets of Barri Gotic to sample the offerings of shoes, dresses, shirts, and any other thing that drew our interest.  We did not purchase a lot, but there is more to pack...oh no.

The best find was near the Arc De Triomf: WOK, a Japanese restaurant advertising a buffet.  For those of you who know the Crazy Buffet in Tampa, Florida, these folks are a close second.  It's smaller, but definitely the place for sushi, shrimp to peel, other seafood, fish, and meat to grill to order as well as vegetables, paella, noodles, lychee and an array of other fruits, flan, chocolate mousse, and jello, if you prefer that.  We plan to drag Jim there tomorrow.

Today is Monday so most museums are closed, but MAC BA, Barcelona's Museum of
 Contemporary Art was open.  There were many artists with unusual ideas and unique
names.  Our favorite artists were George and Gilbert, sculptors from the late 60s and 70s.  One of the pieces they are most famous for are The Ten Speeches.  Here is the first speech:  "They weren't GOOD Artists  They weren't BAD Artists  But, My God, They were Artists".  Hence, our title.  It was fun to make up our own speeches about women, dogs, travellers, you name it.

Sagrada Familia

Yesterday a group of us walked to the Sagrada Familia, the cathedral designed mostly by Gaudi and continued after his death in 1926 by other architects who followed his ideas as best as they could. Many of his papers and design ideas, like so much else, was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. 

My favorite thing about this imposing, soaring monument is that it has been in the process of construction and will be for generations.  It is an expiatory cathedral,  funded only by donations.  Trades people in Barcelona often spend the last two years of their career working on the cathedral.  Like the early cathedrals, no one now alive will see its completion.  I couldn't help but think of the Watts Towers.  Gaudi was very ill as a child and spent a lot of time walking in nature, and it is all there in concrete and stone.

We stayed for two hours then ended the day by walking down the Ramblas, a wonderful space for walking, looking, eating and drinking, enjoying street performers, artists and, for me, looking out for pickpockets.  We came back exhausted and intact.  Another great day.  Kathy

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Busker Festival

Catedral de Barcelona was our first stop today.  As the locals worshipped by watching the priest celebrate mass via monitors because they were so far back from the altar, we tourists were allowed to wander in the back 1/3 of the church, view the smaller chapels, and make a donation to light an LED candle.

Learning the subways commanded a lot of our time, but we managed to get to the funicular that led up to Montjuic, Mount of the Jews, to go to the Miro Museum, but it closed early on Sunday, and we were advised not to wait.

Throwing our hands up in the air, we headed to the beach.  Little did we realize, but Barcelona is a beach city.  Miles and miles of beaches are literally full of 1000s of people, all sorts of people doing all sorts of things.

Today was the last day of a Busker's Festival.  For Barcelona this meant many street musical groups, not itinerant performers.  We saw several including an African style group with ethnic instruments, a ska group, the Pullup Orchestra from Switzerland which had a lead singer that sang rap to the brass band's antics, an Orcesta Atipica whose members' faces were painted white integrating artistic features as they sang acapella, a jazzy foursome, and a rock band.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

We continued on through the Pyrennes today with Jim driving the narrow winding roads.  We saw sharp peaks without any cover of trees, bushes, or grass.  There were many ski areas.  We saw cattle grazing along the narrow flat spaces by the road and heard their bells clunking. 

 Becky had found a mention of this old monastery about 11 kms further into the mountains, and we decided it sounded interesting enough to drive up.  It was a wonderful  experience.  The monastery, formerly a convent, was consecrated in 1150. 

In the main chapel was a multi-faceted wooden sculpture. The group of figures representing the scene of the descent from the cross were carved in 1251 and seemed to me to have a very modern feel.  In 1426 apparently an intact piece of communion wafer was found on the Christ figure's head, and the piece has become even more venerated. 

What really impressed me was what happens to sound in this dark cavernous  Romanesque space.  It doesn't echo but has an eerie slow fade into nothingness.  It seems to go on and on around the space. Wonderful and strange.  There was an associated museum with other artifacts from the history of the monastery.

Tonight we have joined Erin, John, Kylie and Austin and are together in an apartment in Barcelona.  After our late pizza some of us viewed the Sagrada Familia lit by huge spotlights. Tomorrow will be another bright and hot day in this city of Gaudi, Miro, and Picasso.  Kathy

Friday, August 6, 2010

Puigcerda, the Hidden Gem of the Pyrennes

When we left La Roque Gageac, we knew we did not want to follow the road all the way to the Mediterranean coast.  At Tolouse we headed south to Andorra and Spain.  The mountains were really beautiful in their summer raiment of verdant green forests and meadows filled with wildflowers.  Our road led us through tunnels, the first of which was 2 kms long.  We could have taken one 4 kms long, but we chose to drive over the top of the mountain, Col Puymoyens, instead.

Immediately after entering Spain, we headed to Puigcerda, a small city with lots of inexpensive yet quality shops, a tower that avoided bombing during the Spanish Civil War, and a great older hotel with pine flooring and great views of La Cerdanya valley.  It literally twinkled as we looked out before heading off to our beds.  We got back to the hotel just as life on the streets was heating up. 

Up early, I was the only one in town. The views from the hotel are of a long valley with mountains on all sides.  There are villages spotted  across the landscape of the 10 or more miles we can see in three directions.  We are eating cheese, yogurt, peaches, strawberries, and bread in the room before we are off to Barcelona.  Kathy

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Feet Don't Want to Walk

John, Erin, and kids left this am heading south for Barcelona.  We will meet them at the apartment in two days.  Becky, Jim, and I decided to walk to Domme, a few kilometers away, and started down a lane that parallels the already very busy main road that passes in front of our village.  After walking through a walnut grove, we realized that from then on it would be walking through a narrow strip of freshly cut grasses with nettles within inches of the busy traffic.  Jim decided this was not the way he wanted to spend his day and turned back, but Becky and I trudged on lugging our picnic lunch and finally made it to the bridge leading into Cenac. 

On the middle of the bridge is a fairly fresh plant with a ribbon with French colors sitting beside two bronze plaques honoring two local heroes of the resistance who were captured, tortured, and thrown from the bridge in 1944 by the "German hordes".  We're not sure of the translation of the word hordes, but it is obvious that the memories are still there. 

We ended up finding a nice grassy spot above the river for lunch and  wandering around Cenac. There was no energy left to walk up the hill 2 km to Domme.  The walk back was easier, but we haven't done much, especially since we knew there was a circus setting up in town.  We are thinking about leaving a day early and heading south.  Kathy

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Canoeing on the Dordogne

"Cloudy with a high of 73 degrees and some rain," said the forecast.  All seven of us decided this was the day to get out on the river in two canoes and one kayak.  We headed downstream with a good current from Carsac where the bus had left us to drift or paddle 25 kilometers to St Vincent De Cosse (Les Milandes).  Now how long do you guess that the trip took us?  We stopped about three times...once to eat the food we took with us, once to get some drinks, once to look for lost sunglasses and glance at photos we could purchase as souvenirs.

 The scenery was bucolic: pastures, fields of corn or tobacco, soaring vertical cliffs full of niches, caves, and the occasional carved door where someone may have lived once upon a time, chateaus perched precariously on an eroded limestone outcropping, farmhouses tucked into the green forest, rows of perfectly planted trees, groves of walnut trees, small clusters of buildings situated high on the distant hills affording defensive positions in olden times, the rare bird or duck, and at least five arched stone bridges.

We found that we weren't drifters; we paddled most of the way.  There was the threat of splashed water, but more often we tried to out maneuver each other to be the leader of our pack.  Austin was the most agile in his kayak, but he also had to paddle the entire 25 kms by himself.  We are definitely a bit stiff in unexpected places today, but it was a wonderful experience.

Oh, including stops, the whole trip took us about five hours.

No liability waivers or safety briefings typical in America, just a bon voyage and off we went. The wide lazy Dordogne echoed with the songs of French, German and English tourists sharing the river. The river banks were scattered with family farms, cliff faces with ancient cave dwellings, castles growing out of the rocks high above the river, small villages packed with tourists, snack shops, and families having picnics.

Just as our trip ended, it started to rain. We waited for the bus under the oak and poplar trees on the edge of a small farm. Austin and Kylie kept busy running through the corn field, and we all smelled the tobacco flowers which really don't smell at all.  Next we had a slow crawl home on the impossibly narrow roads, and then the local pizzeria provided dinner. We ate way too much and then ordered ice creams and crepes with nuttella, banana and whipping cream. The waiter brought us an extra crepe, but I couldn't send it back because there was already a misunderstanding regarding me complaining that the food was taking too long, but really I was just ordering water.  French is a bit rusty.  The evening ended with a family game of charades and me working late. Tomorrow we head toward the sun.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Les jardins suspendus

Kathy, John, Erin, Kylie and Becky set off for what they thought was a 'quick trip' to the market in Sarlat (just a 15 minute drive away). We quickly found that Sarlat is THE tourist destination of our region, as there were 1000s of people roaming the street and lines of traffic everywhere. Forty-five minutes later, and without finding the market, we escaped the madness but were determined to make the trip worthwhile, so we followed the signs to 'Marqueyssac - Les jardins suspendus', or, the overhanging gardens.

It is a private estate completely  restored and finished in 1997, set atop an amazing ridge with incredible views to the valleys below everywhere you look. One section of  the garden was intricate topiaries of boxwood, sometimes whimsical. There was even a labyrinth that Kylie and Kathy circumnavigated. A majority of the garden was more like a park, with trails leading through the deciduous forest to vistas, fountains, tree forts and waterfalls. The trails, although very safe, followed along precipitous drops, literally straight down to the valley below They weren't for those with a fear of heights.

Kylie really enjoyed the resident peacocks that roamed the grounds and joined us at our table for lunch. Kylie, Austin, Erin and John are off to Bordeaux for the night on Wednesday.  -John

Monday, August 2, 2010

Off to Gouffre

Believe it or not, it was cool and looked like it was going to rain all day again so we cancelled the canoeing for a day and drove off down the long and winding road to Gouffre de Padirac, an underground cavern complete with river.  Once there we waited with the hordes of other tourists in the long and winding ticket line for two hours.  And believe it or not, we all thought it was worth the wait.  Becky

This place is a geological curiosity with a round opening in the earth, perhaps 200 feet across.  At the bottom, three hundred feet down, begins a series of tunnels that wind deep into the earth with limestone formations and subtle sandy yellow, red, green, and beige walls.  Everything was wet and slick with dripping water, and along side our walkway was slow moving clear water.  We descended for a long time then got into boats that held 11 people.  A guide poled our bateau on towards another room where we started walking again through some magical caverns. Everyone but moi walked the stairs up and down.  I took a series of elevators. 

On the way back to our house around 8 pm, we stopped at Rocamadour, a village that appears to be carved out of the rock it sits around and on top of.  It has been a place of pilgrimage during the 12th century and continues to draw pilgrims devoted to the Black Madonna.  We are home and happy.  Goodnight, Kathy

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Reunion

We spent a quiet first day in La Roque Gageac.  Becky and I were up early and walked down to the fast moving but glass like river which reflected the trees across the way and the buildings and cliff behind us.  This very small village is literally built into the cliffs.  We can see the stone constructions high above and open caves that sheltered people through the ages. We had breakfast on our tile terrace that is covered in vines with small purple grapes.  We had half expresso, half hot milk with baguette and Nutella, and yogurt.  Later there were exciting electrical storms that spread down the valley, and rain that turned the river below.  It is an idylic place.  Our house is the middle one.

 Erin, John and Kylie joined us this afternoon after they spent the morning in Toulose.  Erin ran two hours this morning after flying yesterday.  Tomorrow we will spend the morning on the river in canoes, and Tuesday we plan to go to Lascaux Caves and will try to see others as well.  The wine has been wonderful in Spain and France and somehow very luxurious to have a bottle brought to the table to share over dinner.  Kathy