Monday, January 10, 2011

To Bordeaux ... and beyond!

So we basically drove half-way across southern France to see the city of Bordeaux. After running into a curb with the front wheels, we decided to stop. We stayed on the outskirts, and drove in the next morning to Bordeaux central. There was some drama finding a parking spot, as the signage (or listening skill) is lax.

Bordeaux is a large, sprawling city. This is due to the soft ground underneath. Bordeaux is situated near the Atlantic, and beside a bend in a large river (the Garonne). Soft, wet soil coupled with an old city and a huge population means the city goes outwards, and not upward. Like many older towns, it is interesting to be in a place where I don't have to crane my neck to see the roof.

Miroir d'eau
After heading out of the parking garage, we ended up in a square with two recruitment buses: one for the military, one for perfume. Funny little juxtaposition. We wandered around and found the Grand Theatre, the Palace and the riverfront. In front of the Palace was a mirror pool - the shallow water acts as a reflective surface. Under ideal circumstances, the mirror image is nearly perfect. There was slight wind on our day there, so it had surface ripples. There was also a great deal of construction. On the way to the Palace, we saw a monument to Lady Liberty breaking free of her chains during the Revolution.  There is an ugly, concrete open space near the monument - could be much nicer as a park. Afterwards, we headed back to the Grand Theatre and into a few wine shops. Bordeaux is known for its wine, but the time of year and our exhaustion level did not allow for much "wine n' dine". Instead, we headed back to the car through the main shopping drag. Apparently, Matt and I have a knack of unwittingly finding the busiest street at the busiest time. We had walked along Rue Sainte-Catherine earlier that day, admiring the 1.2 km stretch of generic shops. At 1600h, it was a ruddy zoo. We left Bordeaux, and headed outwards. Eventually we stopped in Bergerac, useful because it is 70 km from Sarlat-la-Caneda (this is in the travel literature). And useful because we noticed the missing front, right, hubcap.

Leaving Bergerac, we entered the Vézère Valley. I cannot (at the moment) express the importance of the area. The Vézère Valley is the site of European Prehistoric Cave Art. The famous Lascaux cave is here, as are many other caves with ancient (up to 32 000 years old) art. Lascaux itself is closed to the public, as the opening of the cave to the public has caused massive amounts of damage. Instead, visitors can go to Lascaux II - a detailed copy. There is one other polychromatic cave open to the public, and one generally has to make reservations. It is situated just outside Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil. And we happened upon it by accident! The cave, Font de Gaume, is astonishing. Our tour was in French (with the occasional "you understand me?" in English), and was fantastic. I got 90% of the info (and passed it on to Matty when required). The cave has been used for the past 20 000 years: for survival, for art, for culture. There are images of bison, horses, reindeer and mammoths. The images are painted to seem 3-dimensional: rock formations and etchings are used as representations for physical aspects. The images are black (charcoal) and red (iron oxide) and best seen with flickering, low light (like a candle). There are expressions, meaning and life imbued in the animals. We have no pictures of the inside as (rightly) photography is prohibited. Instead, we bought a book. And a postcard. And the place has stuck in both our minds.

Inside the Sarlat Church. 
Since we couldn't top that experience, we headed out to Sarlat-la-Caneda. On a Sunday. In a small town. Nothing was open. We went to a small Christmas market. Matt bought beer, made by a drunk Irish guy, living in wine producing region of France. I bought foie-gras (unconsumed as of this date) and a bottle of wine.  Not from an Irish guy, but from a little old French lady. We headed out of the tiny, shut down town to Clermont-Ferrand. At one point during the night, we had to turn around, as the mountain pass over the volcano was closed. That's okay. We found an equally terrifying route to our destination.

Map, Tire.
Clermont-Ferrand is a city of French industry. This is where the Michelin Man was born. It being Monday and France, the Michelin factory tour was unavailable. Instead, we toured the city by car as we got lost trying to escape. I did get a picture of our Michelin Map Book on the "World's Largest Tire" (another Michelin product). The other interest of Clermont-Ferrand is the volcano (Puy de Dome) nearby. This was the location of a 1975 Tour de France stage, where Eddy Merckx was punched in the gut by a spectator. That's pretty niche interest though.

Half a half-timber
We made our way towards Lyon, along the smaller roads. At one point, I screeched at Matt to turn around. Why? Because I saw a Guy Degrenne factory outlet. I bought my cutlery! It's only cheap, daily-use cutlery, but I'd been desiring it for a while. One day, I shall go to the Guy Degrenne factory and buy the expensive stuff... ooooh. One day. The reason why the cutlery factory was there is because of the town of Thiers. This is the "birthplace" of French cutlery and knives. Matt got for his birthday/xmas gift a self-selected folding knife with a "stag wood" (antler) handle. We left Thiers and the half-timber houses and knife workshops, heading towards Lyon.

No comments:

Post a Comment