This was our only driving trip of the 2008 “travel season.” It started with a desire to go to Oradour-sur-Glane, and to visit our two Key West friends who live in the Loire Valley. Then I read an article in The New Yorker about cave painting, looked on the map, and found that the caves of Lascaux were near our path.
Tuesday, 9/2/08 … Lascaux Caves
We took an early train to Perpignan where we picked up our rental car from Hertz. A note about Hertz: often the most expensive in the U.S., it is likely to be the least expensive in Europe. And it’s a professional organization that does not give me trouble about Collision Damage Waiver insurance, which I never want.
We headed roughly north and west, past Toulouse toward the caves of Lascaux. But first you have to go to nearby Montignac to buy your ticket. Gypsy (our GPS guide) took us there without difficulty, although I cannot imagine getting there without the GPS. We got the tickets and a light lunch, then drove another 2 km to the cave site.
Lascaux caves were discovered by accident by three boys in 1940, when their dog fell in a hole and they went down to rescue it. It is called the Sistine Chapel of cave art, with a series of colorful drawings painted between 15,000 and 17,000 years ago. The caves themselves are now closed to protect the original drawings, but a brilliantly executed replica of several of the major rooms has been created for visitors. Tours leave every 15 minutes. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s spectacular. When Picasso saw the drawings in the early 1940s, he said, “We have learned nothing. They knew it all.”
Who painted these drawings? What rules determined what was painted and by whom? Why were the drawings made? These unanswered questions fill your mind as you imagine primitive oil lamps lighting the deep underground, paints and brushes created from the available materials, a social network that supported the painters while they did their art. They preceded us by 750 generations (15,000 years/20 years per generation), but they understood and communicated in a way that moves us today.
We left Lascaux and made our way to Limoges, where we had a reservation at the Jeanne d’Arc Hotel. Our room was fine, but the promised internet was not functional. We found a local Italian restaurant, heard American voices at the next table, and made new friends with Howard and Marla from Chicago, on their way to a wedding in or near Toulouse.
Wednesday, 9/3/08 … Oradour-sur-Glane
The next morning we drove to Oradour-sur-Glane.
On June 10, 1944, after having little or no contact with the Nazis, an SS detachment rolled into Oradour, collected all the inhabitants, and murdered 642 people including 205 children, allegedly in retaliation for French Resistance attacks nearby. After much debate, the survivors and the French government decided to leave the burnt out buildings and vehicles exactly as they were in 1944. We walked in a light drizzle past the dead buildings and imagined the living people. The cemetery had more flowers than any other we have ever seen. There is a museum, an excellent documentary film, and a newly constructed town. What barbarity we humans inflict on each other.
We returned to Limoges late that afternoon, and with little inclination to explore the town, had dinner in the same restaurant.
Thursday, 9/4/08 … Lemere
We set out for Lemere in the Loire Valley knowing we needed more gas to get there. With half a tank, I did not think that was a problem. I was wrong. We passed gas stations, but all were closed, some permanently and some for lunch. As the needle sank, I imagined us spending the night in a field. Finally, when the tank must have been within a drop of dry, we found a station with an automatic pump. Of course, our American credit cards did not work, but fortunately my Credit Agricole bank card did.
We arrived at Carol and Karl’s wonderful country home in the late afternoon, and were directed to the left extension of the home, Maison Gauche, where we had stayed two years before. All of the work fixing up this property was done by Carol and Karl; their taste and skills are impeccable.
At dinner that night, we were joined by Pierre and his beautiful American wife, who had been a model; Pierre was at one time a famous New York City hair dresser. But before that, when Pierre was a little boy, his father was an active member of the French Resistance. We asked, Pierre answered. Later, Carol said she had never heard him talk so expansively on the subject. It was a fascinating evening, and Carol’s dinner was terrific.
We spent much of this day driving in our car, with Karl playing tricks on Gypsy (our GPS). She would say go this way, he would say another, thus prompting the “recalculating” of a new route. In between, we visited Chinon, where we had a very nice lunch.
For dinner we went to a spectacular restaurant literally carved out of a rocky hillside.
Our goal for these two days was simply to enjoy the company of our friends, and that we indeed did.
Saturday, 9/6/08 … St. Julien de Chedon
The drive from Lemere to St. Julien de Chedon skirts south of Tours and takes a little over an hour. Our friend Liz has lived in St. Julien de Chedon, near Montrichard, for about 30 years. Her wonderful house sits up on a small hill. We started with wine in Liz’s garden and more good conversation.
Liz has high speed internet so I was able to attach my computer via Ethernet cable and update the political blog Pat and I started to support the Obama campaign.
Liz organized two great dinners for us. The first night there are three other guests, Karen and Craig, and Ann, all Americans who are now part-time or full-time residents of France. Great wine, great talk, great food.
We drove a short distance to the fine old town of Montrichard, and from there to a visit at Karen and Craig’s house, then to pick up Ann for an authentic lunch at a small country restaurant. More play with Gypsy, although Liz certainly needed no navigational help.
Dinner guests were Peter and Dana, Americans who now live fulltime in France.
Monday, 9/8/08 … Le Train Bleu
Today is our 24th wedding anniversary, and we have big plans in Paris, but first we have to get there. We drive to Tours, where we find the Hertz office at the train station and drop the car.
While waiting for the Paris train, I use the men’s room. Or try to. The men’s room is broken. Ok, use the ladies’ room. Put in the coin, open the door, and find … a women sitting on the toilet. Who is more embarrassed? Probably me. When my turn does come, I learn that the door cannot be locked from inside, but I have no visitors.
We arrive at Gare Montparnasse, take the Metro to Gare Lyon, thankful again that we have improved our packing habits. We are early, so we go outside and have a glass of wine at an outdoor café across from the station.
At 1:00 pm, we re-enter the station and go up the stairs to what is probably the most elegant railroad station restaurant on this planet, Le Train Bleu. It is like eating at Versailles. This was our treat to each other in celebration of our life together.
The service and the food matched the ambiance, and a remarkable thing happened. My steak, which I had ordered medium-well, came pink in the middle. Of course, monsieur, we will fix that immediately. While I was patiently waiting, the waiter arrived with a platter of veal and potatoes. What is this? Just something to eat while we cook your steak more. The steak was back before the veal was gone.
Later, I went to the men’s room and guess what, it was broken and I had to use the ladies’ room. No adventures this time.
Le train Bleu was a wonderful extra Paris treat to add to the earlier four weeks. Soon after lunch, we boarded the train to Collioure, with one change in Perpignan.