May 26, Sarlat

Left Toulouse today after I finally found the street that my window overlooks. Big farmers’ market in progress, I bought some clementines, and was late catching the bus. We decided we all really enjoyed Toulouse: you could just walk out the front door of the hotel and go anyplace, and it would be interesting.

Breakfast: see above; actually, Toulouse might have offered the best breakfast of any of the hotels. I fear my collection to Nutella packets might not expand. Though, sadly, despite intense scrutiny and fiddling by hotel staff, and many anxious glances from hotel guests, the espresso machine did nothing but spit murky warm water. Alas.

The countryside on the way to Rocamadour was just wonderful. I listened to Il Divo, and exclaimed over every herd of the beautiful Limousin cattle, every gaggle of geese, or ancient stone bridge that must be centuries old. One interesting sight was a pile of pieces of stone, they looked like slate, in the middle of a field. It had the general size and shape of a coffin, and a little fence around it. I fervently hoped it was an ancient cairn, waiting to be excavated and explored. Sometimes the bus veered to close to an old building, right near the road, or a rocky outcropping, that if the bus window had been open, I could have touched it by just putting my fingers outside the bus. My admiration for the bus driver expanded considerably on the route.

Rocamadour hardly seems possible. Whatever could have been the point of climbing the impossibly high cliffs, and literally digging a castle, chapels, and town out of the rock face. Yes, it was easy to defend, but what was the point of being there? Yes, it was on the road to Compostella, though everywhere we’ve stopped is on the road, too. At any rate, the bus driver dropped us off at the top of the mountains, and we slowly descended, past the castle, then the chapels, and down to the commercial area. The chapels were the best part. Look at the photos, and you’ll see one largish church, and several small chapels, not all accessible. There were, interestingly, TWO black madonnas, the famous one, in a glass and gold case, inaccessible, and another one in another chapel, close enough to touch, with a filmy silk cape clasped around her. It was interesting to see several model boats suspended from the ceiling, but apparently the madonna rescues sailors while also performing land-locked miracles. A bell, which I missed, suspended above her, is supposed to ring spontaneously every time a sailor is miraculously saved. A marble tablet on the side of the chapel lists the numbers of accredited miracles, beginning in the mid 14th Century. But in the context of so much faith, such trust, it’s very hard not to believe, to hope for a personal miracle. So I lit a candle.

There were amazing numbers of bicyclists who had somehow survived the trek up the mountains, on the narrow, shoulderless roads, to the heights. The bikes deserved their own photo. Some of the cyclists were finding the narrow, rough stone steps almost impossible in their cleated shoes.

We were on our own for lunch. So I bought some cute cheeses from a cute formager, whose dog, Topaz, sprawled across the step into the shop, almost preventing access. Add a baguette from down the street, a clementine from the farmers’ market, leftover chocolates, and voilà! Lunch is served!

Back on the bus, and on to Sarlat, our last long stay on the trip. The hotel is right in town, but this isn’t my favorite room. And there’s no wi-fi, apparently knocked out by last night’s storm. Hmmm. We had a lecture on the history of the Périgord in the hotel lobby, and the pictures from the overhead projector were rendered almost transparent by all the sunlight. Then we set out to explore the marvelous medieval architecture of Sarlat. It has a huge number of very old buildings, and it was enough to experience what it would have looked like four hundred years ago, with photos of everything, though I did manage to snap a few. It didn’t seem to have all wires buried, as I’d heard, but still looked way authentic. I’d like to come back to explore a little more. The cathedral was marred by the two smoking, beer-swilling spare-changers on the front steps, though maybe it was an accurate depiction.

Dinner was at the restaurant, literally, down the road, Le Bistrot de l’Octroi. Yum. There was a delicious creamy asparagus soup for starters, then a grilled lamb chop with interesting accessories, including a little bowl of creamy potatoes, and great mustard. I was feeling brave enough to tackle the chop, but found very little meat on it. Hmmm. Dessert was a little glass of fresh strawberries with a rolled cookie and slice of kiwi. The wine was included, and much appreciated.

The tv works, and I saw a little soccer before crashing.


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