Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rocamadour - A Pilgirmage, of Sorts

Rocamadour, located on the edge of the Lot Valley, in the Perigord  Noir, is a rock city built on the top of a hill.

It has been inhabited by one kind of civilization or another for about 10,000 years, but it is best known for the hoardes of Christian pilgrims that have trekked up its stony steps, singing hymns and praying to their savior and saints since about 1,000 BC. In medieval times as many as 20,000 pilgrims a day passed through the city gates, of which there are 7. The gates were opened and closed as necessary to control the numbers of people within the city.

The town, built on three levels, today services more more tourists than pilgrims. The bottom level houses hotels, tourist shops, and restaurants. The middle level, or cite religiuse, is a haven of 5 chapels built around a small plaza, and is reached by stone steps, or for the less religious, an elevator that costs about 3 euros round trip.

We did see a couple of groups of pilgrims, identifiable by their kerchiefs and hymnals, and heard the reading of the scriptures as they made their way to the sacred chapels. But I digress.
The third level of Rocamadour, is reserved for the most devout worshipers. There is a small inn, available only to pilgrims, and a church which requires silence to enter. 
We were pleased to survey the ancient architecture and the famous Black Madonna, one of about 200 in the world. I left my camera below, so have borrowed this picture from Judi.

One of the prettiest sites of this rocky precipice occurs after dark, when the night time illuminations cast their golden light on the rock. The view below is of the cite religiuse.

The following photo is the view of a small watchtower across the valley from our hotel room balcony, awash the morning sun.

 Our pilgrimage was not one of a religious nature, but certainly offered a memorable experience. Simply walking over the ancient cobble stones, breathing the sweet, incense and beeswax candle scented air within the chapels, hearing the scriptures and hyms of the devout, gives one a sense of place and continuity from antiquity to modern times.

I have a renewed appreciation for the labors of those who,  without modern tools and machines, could build such a magnificent and wondrous place. 

Should you find yourself near Rocamadour, I would heartily recommend the hotel Le Terminus del Pelerins.... Hotel keeper Genevieve was born here and her pride in her sweet little hotel and restaurant shows in her attention to detail. Vive la France! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Never Bored in Bordeaux

Our friends Sylvia and Len live about 55km (35 miles) from Bordeaux, and even though it doesn't seem like far to drive, traffic in the city center can be a tangled mess, serving only to jangle the nerves of those who are supposed to be out for a days entertainment. 
The solution we sought is to take one of France's efficient trains, and leave the driving to SCNF. 
We drove to a nearby station in Jonzac, a 15 minute drive, and boarded the local "Ter" run to Bordeaux. The cost was about 25 Euros per person round trip ($33.00), but motorway tolls, gazole, parking and trolley fare would have easily cost half that amount.
Len hurrying to catch the train...
Happy Travelers! The trip takes a little over an hour, and is a nice way to relax and watch the countryside pass by. Miles of grape vines surround this grand old city which gives its name to the age-old Bordeaux Appelation, 

We left the train station for a nice stroll along the river toward the heart of the city. Bordeaux is the second largest city in France, and it's beautiful old buildings date back to about 1200. Many buildings are replacements for others much earlier.
The waters of the Garonne are always a bit muddy as it continuously picks up silt on its 375 mile journey from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic. Bordeaux has several city bridges which span these chocolate waters, this one called the Pont St Jean, and serves as a bridge for  pedestrians, electric trains and automobiles. 

We walked past the AquitaineGate which has stood on site since 1752, when it replaced its predecessor, the St Julien Gate which was built in the 1300's. 
The day was overcast and threatened rain, so the photographs belie the beautiful golden color of the Sainte-Macaire stone from which much of the city was constructed. The ravages of coal smoke, auto exhaust and acid rain had taken its toll on the stone, and about 5 years ago or so a program was begun to clean the stone and restore the city to its former glory. 

Squares and plazas abound in this lovely old city, many ringed with restaurants, such as this one where we ate lunch to the music of a medieval fountain. 
After lunch, we wandered thru the crowded narrow streets, 
bought a pair of fashionable French shoes for fall, and took a rest for a drink of water at a sidewalk cafe. 
This brand of water is more popular than Perrier, but has a more intense gassy taste. 

A wander back along the river, past the financial district "Bourse",

and old shops like this one, made us realize how blessed we are to experience the joys of travel. 

Tomorrow, off to the Dordogne!