Sunday, August 19, 2012

Travel: Dordogne Day Four

So today on the Cookinfrance Itinerary the group was supposed to spend all day in the kitchen, making a vegetable and poached egg salad, a tarte tatin, and searing the duck breasts (“magret”) that we had butchered off the ducks on the first day. However, we (I say “we”- I was a bit embarrassed so I got Nick to talk to Jim) said to Jim that basically, as I am a chef as my job back at home, I really didn’t want to spend my holiday in a kitchen (a bit of a bus-man’s holiday I suppose!) so we said that we would not do the cooking today and go out and explore the region- do some sight seeing. Any way, considering everyone else on the course was leaving Saturday morning, and we had to leave Friday morning (because that’d what Sudocrem gave us as a prize), loads of the prep-work during the week was for the “final meal” everyone was having on the Friday night. Which we of course weren’t going to be involved in, so we thought we’d leave everyone else to it.

So first of all we decided to check out “Le Regourdou Neanderthal site”, a site where it said in the guide book they had found the remains of pre-Neanderthal man, and also loads of bones of ancient animals. What also drew me to this attraction was the fact that is said there were real brown bears there!!! Awesome!! When we got there, every hour a guide took a group of people round the place, explaining in French as they went. We were given a guide thingy however that explained pretty much everything they were saying to the group in English. This place was amazing, and the story behind it crazy. Basically about 1km down the road, there was also a big attraction called “Lascaux caves” (which was a load of caveman wall paintings and things). When these “lascaux” caves were randomly discovered in the 50’s by four little boys walking in the countryside ( their dog got stuck inside the cave and when the boys tried to get him out, they ended up stumbling over all this cool stuff!)- a guy in a house nearby suddenly thought “Hey, I bet theres loads of this prehistoric stuff round here, maybe theres some stuff in my garden?”. So this guy dug MASSIVE holes and things in his garden for over TWO YEARS (notice theres no mention of this guy’s wife, lol, she must’ve given up in the end!!), without finding anything- then suddenly, he struck gold! He found a burial chamber (like a crude stone coffin thing) and inside this was the remains of a “Cro Magnol” man. Cro Magnol man is even older than neanderthal man. Not only did he find this intact skeleton, with loads of hunting trophies and flowers placed around him, but they found next to him the skeleton of an ancient MASSIVE bear! There is knowledge that many groups of prehistoric man worshipped bears, as they believed they were immortal (through not fully understanding their hibernation process) and it was believed the prehistoric men in this area were part of some sort of bear cult.
After this discovery this man continued his obsession with bears, and decided he would buy a couple of brown bears from a zoo in France, and then set up a pen for them in his garden! What a nutter! There were 6 bears there in total, all of which had to be seperated into three groups of two, because apparently if they kept them all together then the alpha male would kill the cubs/ the other males would all start fighting etc etc. However awesome it was to get so horrifyingly close to these cute looking but scary animals, I did feel really bad about the conditions they were being kept in. They were in really really small areas/pens and a lot of them were walking round in circles- a sign of an unhappy animal. I don’t think its right to keep animals in such confined spaces- there really was almost no room for them to walk around. In fact I would almost say that if this was in England I don’t think laws would have allowed those conditions. I hope maybe that the WSPCA find it and sort it out. I wrote a whole long big email to them when I got back but when I tried sending it to them it made me try and create an account with them and I was like, hey, screw you WSPCA, I’m trying to report a serious animal welfare problem and you won’t let me unless you have all my contact details and get me on your mailing list, wtf?

Anyway, slightly going off topic, but the dig site, museum, bears, and story regarding the whole site, was absolutely fascinating- and I really would recommend it.
Our next stop was the Chateau at jardins de Losse- a beautiful and historic 16th century chateau containing amazing period furniture, tapestries, and weapons- and also the gardens surrounding the chateau were superbly maintained. The stories about the gardens was that although the people that did conservation on the castle and the gardens didn’t know how the original gardens would have looked like in the 16th century- they studied drawings, paintings and tapestries all over France to see what was fashionable for gardens at the time, and based their designs on this. In the gardens were classic Italian style architecture and garden patterns (fashionable in France in the 16th century apparently) and plants that were popular during that era, often due to their scent- there were many roses, lilacs, honey suckles etc. There was also a cool (perhaps with a bit more modern interpretation!) bamboo maze that after I went into I figured was designed for little children, as it was very small and the pathways very little. Cute though.
We found out half way through the guided tour (again spoken in French, but were given an English guidebook) that we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the chateau, but Nick managed to get a few cheeky ones in before that- some of the Tapestries in this place were out of this world! After the guide, we decided to have our picnic in a cute little picnic area they had set up right near the chateau, on the way to a riverside walk. Doesn’t it look scrumptious! All these lovely things we bought from stalls and markets whilst we were on holiday, and a nice crusty baguette we had bought from a boulangerie whilst we driving through Montignac earlier on. Nicest picnic I’ve ever had in my life I think!
On our drive away from the chateue, we decided to stop off at a really cute little village called St Leon de Vezere, mainly because we noticed it had a post office, so we figured we’d have a relaxed drink at one of the little bars there and write our postcards. We found the prettiest looking cafĂ© covered in foliage and I have a lovely relaxed drink here whilst looking at the scenery. Also we ended up chatting to this older guy (mainly because I noticed he had the most adorable dog) from Austria that I am seriously not joking sounded completely like a Bond villain. He was saying funny/nice things about being on holiday in the Dordogne region for about a week, and that nowadays the dog is in charge of him and his partner’s holidays, not the other way around, which was hilarious. But I still kept thinking about him saying “How long will you be staying here, MR BOND! “ Haha! It’s funny the random people you meet on holiday isn’t it? This place was the nicest little village with two lush looking restaurants and friendly people around though- the kind of place you love to accidentally stumble over when you are on holiday.
Our next and last stop (we were deciding which attraction to go to next and since this place shuts fairly late and looked quite interesting we chose this) was the Maison Forte de Reignac. This has got to be the most amazing and alive museums/sites I have ever been to IN MY LIFE. The site (a set of very high cliffs) had been inhabited 20,000 years ago by Cro Magnol man- and then was built upon and lived in up until the Renaissance! It had a great defensive position and the entire castle that had been built around the rocks had loads of defensive structural functions within it- like holes in the walls to pun canons through and slitted windows to shoot arrows from and things like that. The museum as I said before, felt so “alive”- even with all the period furniture, stuffed animals, and artefacts in all of the rooms (each of which had a very detailed and fascinating description of in the free English guidebook they gave us) there was also lit fires, lit candles, bubbling pots/stoves in the fireplace, and food hanging from the ceilings/ on the table. It felt like we were intruders into a Renaissance man’s house- you could completely imagine what it would have been like to live there during those times.
I couldn’t praise this attraction any more- this was the best part of our holiday, and one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen in my life. If you go anywhere in the south of France- find this place and check it out! You can’t let yourself miss it!
At the time we were visiting, the attraction also had an extensive exhibition on the history of torture. This is something that had been to L.A, London, Mexico, Italy, Spain, and loads of big museums around the world but during July this was currently being displayed at this place. MY GOD. You kinda think that things aren’t going to shock you anymore, because you hear terrible things on the news about murderers, and you watch horror films all the time- but this exhibition completely got to me. There were all these different ancient torture mechanisms all round this room with explanations as to how they would have been used- like iron maidens and guillotines and spiky iron chairs and things. What was messed up too was some of the descriptions said “and this is still used as a method of torture in south America” or “this is still used by the US secret services currently as torture for terrorists”. Makes us think how messed up we all are really- to have come up with some of these devices.
Also, I didn’t know this about the guillotine- first of all, that it was originally a Scottish invention, but then it just got popular in France when Mr. Guillotine brought it over. Secondly that the last person to be executed by guillotine was in France in 1977. I was like, wtf?? In the seventies?? So whilst all the Beatles and Motown was going on people in France were still being executed by guillotine!?!? Mental!! I think one of the most messed up ones in this exhibition (apart from maybe “the saw”- where they literally strung you upside down and sawed you right down the middle- and often you wouldn’t die until they got to the chest because the blood was all at your head) was something called “The Jock’s Mare”, pictured last. They would make someone sit on it, with weights on high legs, then make them rock back and forth. Eventually the person would die of infected….”down there” and essentially this thing would split this person in two.
See, I told you it’s all a bit horrible isn’t it?? After I came out I was all white and felt a bit shaky, I was like “Nick, can you buy me a cornetto or something, I need cheering up after all that dreadfulness!”. After this we decided to drive to our last location to have our final meal of the holiday- the little village of Les Eyzies. I have been mentioning all the fascinating prehistoric things all around the area- well the National Prehistoric museum is located in Les Eyzies, but of course it was shut by the time we got there. Amazing looking place though- the museum had been hulled out of the rock just like many of the castles and settlements in the area had been too. We bought a few goodies in a shop that was just shutting down (Nick bought some Foie gras to bring to one of his friends back home, and I bought an awesome 16 piece amuse bouche set for like 10 euros or something equally as absurd!) and then found a little restaurant to eat in.
I can’t remember the name of the restaurant we went to, but the food was 50% brilliant, 50% lame, and I suppose the service left a little to be desired. The waiter was horrifically attractive (haha!) but dreadful at waiting tables, we heard an Irish couple next to us saying “it’s like faulty towers here isn’t it?”. Very Manuel, but French. For starter nick had a goats cheese salad, and I had the soup of the day, which happened to be Sorrel. His salad was quite generous, rather simple but pleasant enough. My soup was incredibly boring actually- just tasted of….i dunno, you know when soup just tastes of “soup” and you can’t really pick out any distinguishable flavours? Certainly couldn’t pick up any sorrel from it. Rather disappointing, and a far cry from the beautiful pink garlic soup I had the night before.
Mains then went marvellously for me, but rather disappointingly for Nick. I ordered one of the specials, “Lapin” something something, which I knew was rabbit, so I thought I would give it a go. Turned out to be roast saddle of rabit, in a really delicious thick onion gravy, served with sweet red cabbage, sarladaise potatoes (not as nice as the potatoes at the restaurant last night- much more claggy) and “vegetables”- which I reckoned was some sort of cauliflower gratin thing but it was hard to put my finger on it. The dish was unusual but incredibly delicious, rabbit is a bit fiddly when it comes to bones but if it’s cooked properly is a fantastic meat, never dry, and comes off the bones easily. Nick’s main, Duck with cep mushroom sauce and fries (he had to go for that option again after last night I suppose!) was really disappointing. The duck was dry, it had not been served with much sauce at all as you can see, so when Nick tried to get the waiters attention to bring him more sauce, he just came back to us with a few mayo and ketchup packets, by which time the fries and duck had gone cold. Felt very sorry for Nick at the time to keep feeding him bits of my rabbit, haha. We did consider getting puddings (well, I did anyway!) but it took so long to get the waiters attention, we just went straight upstairs and paid for the bill. Which the staff got wrong and we ended up paying about 20 euro less. Their mistake I guess, if the service was that bad I wasn’t going to question them making a mistake on the cheque- that’s just them continuing their bad service and is utterly their fault.
Shame that our last meal wasn’t the best, but we had such a nice time on this holiday it didn’t dampen our spirits. We loved the Cookinfrance location, the villages surrounding the area, the fascinating museums and medieval villages scattered around the place, and we LOVED the food. We both thought that the Dordogne region was so jam packed with things to see that we will definitely will be coming back here again, perhaps to a slightly different part of it. We might have spent a bit of money- but it was still an amazing free holiday, a prize that was really worth it! Cheers Sudocrem, for introducing us (I would dare to say) to the nicest region of France!

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