Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Hello to all the lucky northern hemisphere readers who are enjoying this most beautiful spring weather and warm temperatures and to those from the south, well don’t complain, you did have one of the best and longest summers ever, so now you are paying the bill so to speak.

We arrived back in Moissac after out dry dock trip to Toulouse and were welcomed back like old friends from home. We had asked for a booking down on the Tarn River which entails dropping down two locks from the canal and this was granted so it was exciting to be “down on the Tarn” joining "Riccall" and "Amarok", so we readily settled into the social scene there and then caught up with “old” friends from the canal and around town and even from our sister port of Castelsarrasin so the time has just flown.

We had been advised that my motor scooter had been found by some kids but it had been unfortunately dumped in the river with lots of damage so we loaded its carcase into the boot of the old Citroen and took it to the local motor bike shop only to be told that it was "kaput" as it had apparently been running when dumped so had hydrauliced and the engine was seized etc. So much for the motor scooter but some pleasing news awaited us that another boater was interested in the Citroen as his car had given up the ghost so after explaining the problems we had had and getting another Control Technique which required us to get a few little jobs done, we struck a deal so all parties are happy.

Rhonda's Comments: Celebrations with Alex and Louise "Riccall" and Eric and Polly "Amarok" - E & P sold their boat.

We have also had news that another boater has a 50 cc motor scooter of Chinese build for sale at a fair price so we will probably settle for this when he brings it back from the UK for us to look at. It has only done 75 miles and as it can't be registered in the UK and only in France, he is anxious to quit it as he has also bought a bigger bike for his own use.

Rhonda's Comment: Gill and Alan asked us over to their house for 6's.

Rhonda's Comments: We had a magnificent day out on the Tarn with Gill, Alan, Tom and Eric. The weather couldn't have been better.

After a week back in Moissac catching up on all those little jobs, including social activities and gorging on the most beautiful cherries from this area, we drove up to Toulouse to collect Daphne and Claude from New Zealand who have visited us each year and have come again for about a month. After a couple of days of looking around the local region and letting them catch up on themselves after a 30 hour flight etc, we drove to Sarlat some 2.5 hours north of Moissac where Rhonda had negotiated the renting of a house for a week at very good rates. It was a delightful house with sleeping for 8 people and offerred every facility one can imagine including an in-ground swimming pool, bbq with lots of outdoor furniture etc just 400 meters from the town centre.

The drive down to here was very picturesque with some of the best orchards (now is cherry season) of all varieties I have ever seen. Eat your heart out Hawkes Bay. If the land wasn’t covered in fruit trees it was cropped in wheat, oats, rye and so on. Talk about the food basket of France, well here it is. After leaving the rolling country, the land steepens as one enters the escarpments at the edges of the plains to find rich forests with towns dotted along the ridges and cliffs or below on the river banks so the scenery is amazing.

This town of Sarlat is rated as the second most popular tourist spot in the whole of France and I don’t wonder why. Built originally in the 13th century it offers a mixture of old and new with all sorts of tourist attractions, restaurants, shops of all types. For those people who have visited Carcassonne and enjoyed it you will be blown away with Sarlat. It is head and shoulders above Carcassonne as a tourist spot for sure with so many great attractions within a 20 km drive from here.
Rhonda's Comment: Note the price of the truffles - 250E per kg and this was the cheap lot!!

The first day we travelled to Domme which is a town built on top of a mount which gave natural protection from the marauding hordes who swept through this part of the country in the name of religion over the centuries and is still maintained in a lot of its original state affording a magnificent vista over the plains below. Goodness knows how attacking troops could ever climb the mount let alone launch any sort of attack. In the town one can ride a tractor train around the ramparts and view the scenery in comfort and marvel at the construction including the slits in the stonework which are only big enough for archers to fire their arrows at any approaching soldiers etc. From such holdings boiling fat or tallow could be poured on those poor devils below. From there we drove down to the river of La Dordogne which flows through the town of La Roque Gageac which is built on and into the cliffs. It is amazing to see homes and businesses tucked onto the sides of the cliffs with many old structures actually being cut into the rock for protection from weather and attack. On the river 4 ancient galleon style scows offer trips up and down the La Dordogne but as we were travelling by car we gave this a miss but did see some wonderful sights along the way.

As we drove on Beynac which offered little in comparison from what we had seen we turned around and came back to Sarlat for a swim in the beautiful pool which is a part of the property we have rented as a base and then Rhonda and I did a BBQ which turned out well so fully fed we then were able to watch the video Valkyrie about the attempt to assassinate Hitler. Unfortunately Tom Cruise wasn’t up to his usual standard of just eliminating all enemies before him and paid for his treason with his life. Well so the story goes anyhow.

As the next day was forecast as being a little cooler we set off to the world famous gardens of Manoir d'Eyrignac. This garden is set in many acres of rolling farm country and has been developed by the same family for many years and offers amazing sights of Topiary. With 150,000 box trees having been shaped over the years, the views of the various gardens and lawns are truly breathtaking and we hope that the photos contained herein give some idea of the magnificence of this property. With 800,000 visitors each year one gets some idea of how popular it is despite it being 20 odd kilometres away from Sarlat and is out in the true country with only B class roads to take one there. Dogs are allowed to wander through as long as they are on a leash so Harry gave of his best to assist in dampening down the very dry conditions that are playing havoc in this part of France at present. Again as the heat of the day took over we were glad to get back to our rental house for a swim and a nap and to talk about the most amazing gardens we had ever seen.
Rhonda's Comment: At afternoon tea time, the choice was amazing but I think we covered it all in the "taste test".

With Wednesday on us it was decided that before the heat got too much we would wander down into the old centre of Sarlat to witness close up the old architecture and shops and tourist spots.
The one which stands out above all others in my mind is the Manoir De Gisson which is privately owned and operated right in the centre of the town and has, and is continuingly being lovingly restored as a museum with a difference. Not only can you get close and personal with the exhibits you can handle them and sit in chairs and lounges which are hundreds of years old. Even old books and diaries are ready for close inspection and can be handled but the rooms housing the instruments of torture have to be seen to begin to imagine how cruel man can be to his fellow beings. I thought I had seen the worst of this sort of thing in the Tower of London but they were beginners compared to some of this stuff. They called it justice but who dealt it out must have been heartless in every sense of the word. Once outside one takes a big breath and says thanks that we are no longer faced with such barbarity or are we? The temperatures are climbing into the 30's now so walking is one thing which one wishes to avoid past noon so the pool has been a welcome refuge from this summer weather.

With so much to see in this area, Rhonda has had to plan each days outings to hopefully take in the best sights and attractions so the next day we set off early in the day to travel to Gouffre De Padirac where underground is the BIG word for this area. A fissure or crack in the earths crust running for 19 kms allows access to parts of it by descending on 3 lifts some 103 meters below the surface. Down at the bottom one is loaded into tin punts holding 15 persons each and floated along through these enormous grottos into groves as high as 90 meters which have to be seen to be appreciated. As it dates back to prehistoric times one can look at remains of mankind and animals plus all their fighting, cooking and survival tools. Thank goodness we did this at this time of the year as we counted around 30 of these punts ready for the madding hordes which will come pouring through in July and August. Truly a must see attraction in every respect. We left feeling fully thankful for the opportunity. A quiet drive via which also appealed as a great sight to see and to visit got us home in time for a nap and then a quiet evening meal in the centre of this beautiful old city.
As Thursday dawned a little sulky looking we decided to drive to Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac. This is also a family garden commenced in 1989 turning the chateau which as usual is mounted on top of a small mountain peak overlooking the valley and river and turning the grounds into a world class topiary garden. Photos are included in our blog. Splendid and breathtaking are some of the adjectives one could use to describe these grounds. Peacocks strut about freely giving off their call for all to hear and for the aged and infirm a small bus like a large golf cart travels along a central path of approx 1800 meters while walkways are found along each side hidden within the gardens. Offering great views over the landscape below many hours could be spent in this garden alone.

Rhonda's Comment: Daphne and Claude prepare another afternoon tea stop.

The easy drive back to base also allowed us to marvel at the great countryside, farming and cropping areas which are so prevalent. With orchards of hundreds of walnut trees in addition to grapes, cherries, and apricots etc, the crops of maize and corn are everywhere and in between any fallow paddocks are growing hay for cutting and bailing for winter stock feed.

Friday was set down for a visit to Europe’s biggest fresh water aquarium which while only being relatively new is certainly so well set up. With over 30 pools containing litres of water and 6,000 fish all set in realistic copies of their natural environment, viewing is easy and informative. From carp to catfish to sturgeons to trout to terrapins and turtles plus many other types the display tanks and rooms seem to go on forever then when you think you have seen it all you can enter the Iguana park where the largest array of Iguanas and lizards I have ever seen are available to view in their glass display cabinets followed by several settings of reptiles such as snakes from around the world including two huge Anacondas which made my blood run cold. A wonderful day out for any family and with beautiful river bank settings nearby for picnics or "pique niques" as the French write it, life seems to be pretty idyllic really.

Sadly this was our last day in Sarlat so we then set off and travelled towards a place which had long been in my "must see" categories and that is the Millau Viaduc which is the highest bridge in the world with its highest pylon reaching 343 meters above the valley. Even its length of 2640 meters is remarkable and it is only when one watches the on-site videos of the construction can one fully appreciate what a wonderful structure this is. When you consider that its complete construction over this huge valley took only 3 years to the day and offers to the French motorist the most cost effective way to drive from the Mediterranean to Paris, it is truly a magnificent feat. We can only hope that the photos we took give you a sense of the enormity, beauty and effectiveness of this amazing structure and we can assure you that a trip to see it first hand will invoke the gasps we gave on seeing it . We even went back in the evening and again the following morning when we crossed over it so as to take in as much of the views as possible.

It was a drive of some 4 hours back to Moissac which we completed with a couple of stop overs, one being at Roquefort where the world famous sheep’s milk cheese is produced. We took in the guided tour but sadly as it was only given in French we took early leave and our cheese and travelled back "home" arriving in time to unpack, relax and to relish all the wonderful places we had visited. Truly a most amazing adventure and one which we will surely remember for many years to come.