Chapter Nine: Cave Exploration, Gas Problems & More Of Uzés

Chapter Nine:  Cave Exploration, Gas Problems & More Of Uzés

Day Nine – Breakfast in Paradise, Are You Sure This Is Right, Private Tour, It’s The Statue of Liberty, Lit Up, Road Block, Nurses Aid and Pay Pal, Médiéval Jardin, A Sad Day For MaiTai, Castle Keep…Out and Never Drink This Before Dinner

Ah, the good life. We took our breakfast on the patio of L’Albiousse, where we gorged ourselves on fresh banana nut muffins, fresh fruit cocktail, yogurt and coffee. I was ready for a nap after that, but Tracy reminded me we had just woke up.

In order to circumvent the Deliverance area, Guillam provided a paper map as back up, and we were on our way to be cave dwellers.  Located a little more than a 1/2 hour north of Uzés is the Grotte de la Salamandre, which we read opened at 10:30 a.m.  We followed the signs until the signs mysteriously disappeared, but eventually we reached a parking lot, and surmised it must be for the cave. As we pulled into the wooded parking lot a little after 10 a.m., we were surprised to see no other cars. “Do you think it’s closed?,” asked Tracy.

                           

The sign said it was open, so we started our 700 meter (7% grade) hike along a nicely maintained path, which included signs describing the local flora, fauna and cave.

The Aven de la Salamandre (the natural entrance of the Grotte) was explored for the first time in 1965 by a team of speleologists from Uzès and Nîmes. According to the literature, “After a 50 metres descent on a cable ladder, they were surprised to discover a vast area about the size of a football field, very richly adorned with titanic crystals of an incomparable aesthetic. The first expedition was organized for twelve cavers who spent eight days exploring the cavity under the eyes of French television and the lens of Jack Bercand. The press covered the event for the whole duration of the exploration.”  The ticket office loomed head.

We arrived promptly at 10:30 and, lo and behold, they were open and we were the only people there.   After only three seasons of opening to the public, the Grotte de la Salamandre has received 2 stars in the Guide vert Michelin. The cave is closed between November 1 to March 14 so the bats can hibernate during that time, unlike the bats of the San Diego Padres that hibernate all baseball season.

While admiring great views of the surrounding scenery, the very nice, English speaking staff chatted with us for a bit.  Being the only guests on this beautiful morning, for the €11 admittance free we received a private tour. Pretty cool!

There was a tour where we could rappel down into the cave. Not knowing the ropes or wanting to make Tracy a widow at such a young age, we took the regular walking tour.

The lighting inside the cave was magnificent, and the pathways easy to navigate.  Our guide told us about 40,000 visitors per year come here.

                                                     Colored lights illuminated the “crystal giants.”

Along the way, our guide showed us stalagmites and stalactites, two ice formations I have have often confused since my geometry class at San Diego State. These formed such entities as the Statue Of Liberty, a Pipe Organ, Sea Creatures, Stacked Plates, and Drapes among others. Unlike Font-de-Gaume and their fake cave wall bison (I’m sticking to that 2012 story), you really could see these forms clearly.

I started singing “I Only Have Ice For You,” but Tracy quickly reminded me we were the only ones on the tour.

The tour, usually about 90 minutes, but a little shorter this morning since the guide didn’t have tourists asking stupid questions, was very informative and beautiful. At the end of the tour, as we stood on the belvedere, our guide flicked a switch, and the entire cave was illuminated like a Christmas tree.

For those who’d like to know, there are 54 steps down and 86 steps up. Our France cave experience for this year was now in the books.

The walk back to the car was all uphill, but not difficult, and by now a total of four cars were in the lot. Leaving the parking area, we noticed our gas gauge was a tad low, so this was no time to make mistakes since we didn’t know where a gas station was located and our GPS would not work in this area. The paper map also did not show where I was.

In true MaiTaiTom European driving tradition, I immediately made a wrong turn out of the lot and within a few miles the road ended into a mountainside. My navigator was less than happy with my directional skills.

Our destination was to be La Roque-sur-Cèze, but we detoured to a town north of La Rique where our GPS said a gas station was located.  The station was located next to a grocery store.

We put our credit card in the appropriate slot…it was rejected.  We put another credit card in…it was rejected. Before the kind “Euro Tom” changed into angrier “College Tom,” Tracy suggested I inquire in the grocery store.  The lady inside said she’d be out when she could.

Another car entered the gas station, and a young guy got out and we attempted to explain our problem.  Speaking perfect English, he said he would use his credit card to pay for our gas, and we could give him cash.   Damn French…they’re always so nice.  He put his credit card in…it was rejected.  Again…it was rejected.

Finally, he went inside the store and coerced the lady to come outside, and we both finally got our gas when he persuaded her (nicely) to accept cash. It turned out he was a nurses aid who traveled this area going to people’s homes. He probably didn’t expect to have to give aid at a gas station.

Back on the road with some lovely vistas…

…we stopped quickly at La Roque-sur-Cèze.

It was pretty hot, so we walked up, up, up and up, and found that nothing was open for lunch, and it wasn’t even 1 p.m. yet.  This was another cute, yet empty town.  We wandered the streets looking for humans.

                                                              

We didn’t find any…

                                                 

…however we did catch a small church on the walk back down that taunted us with a sign for a restaurant.

                                        

We did run into one four-legged friend who was horsing around near the parking lot.  I asked him if there were any restaurants in the vicinity.  He just shook his head and said, “Neigh.”

I had wanted to see the nearby waterfalls, but hunger pangs were pinging so we were back on our way to Uzés, where we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a café along the main drag that I had circled the previous day.

Le Jardin Médiéval was our first stop after lunch. Located in a little refuge within Uzés, it has a €4.50 entry fee.  There are small trees, herbs and gardens throughout the grounds.  All of the 400+ plants are “wild” and are the same plants used by the people of the Middle Ages.  Since I am long past middle age, I moved on.

                      

It was kind of a waste since by late September, nothing was in bloom. Perhaps, springtime would be a better, especially if you’re interested in the plants of the region.

                                                                          

There’s a small art gallery at Le Jardin Médiéval that we ducked into.  I believe all the paintings here are replicas.

           

This picture reminded me of why I am afraid of cranes.

Then came a moment that will live in ignominy. Inside the walls of Le Jardin Médiéval is the Tour du Roi Panorama, a 100-step tower with, what we’d been told, magnificent views over the city.

                                                       

I had never met a tower I didn’t like and couldn’t climb…until today. I started up the narrow circular staircase holding the rope to help you climb to the top. The rope is very close to the rugged and uneven stone walls, meaning someone on blood thinners (that would be me) would have hands that looked like mince meat after the climb.

Reluctantly I deferred, and Tracy made the climb to the top, while I received my free libation you get here for visiting.

                      

After her descent, Tracy said I could have really been Sir Bleed-A-Lot had I made the climb, but that the views were terrific.

Depressed, I quickly made my way to the Place aux Herbes…

                                      

…where a couple of glasses of wine eased the pain.

Tracy stayed in the Place while I attempted to visit Le Duche, the castle in the middle of Uzés.  Unfortunately, it had closed early for an event, which was on the one hand sad, but it did save me €18 I could use on more wine later.

We meandered through the streets of Uzés for about a half hour…

…and still had time for a short siesta at the hotel.  For dinner, Guillam recommended le comptoir du 7, which turned out to be a great choice.

We stopped at the church one more time to pay for our parking the following morning.

On a slightly chilly evening at le comptoir du 7, we were told that the outside courtyard was located in an ancient stable.   I always enjoy a meal in a stable environment, so we made hay and hoofed it outside.

                    

Our amuse bouche, a velouté butternut squash soup with whipped mousse, was delicious.

Always on the lookout for a new apéritif, I decided to try Pastis. A tall glass was offered with a small amount of liquid. As I put the glass to my lips, our very nice waiter said, “Oh, no, no, no. You must add water.”  I quickly found out why.  This was licorice to the 10th degree. One sip,and my taste buds suddenly went to another planet. I put it off to the side and decided I would try it after dinner.  Thankfully, within a few minutes my taste buds returned to normal.

We ordered a bottle of 2014 Château de Cazeneuve Les Calcaires. It went much better with dinner than Pastis.

I started with an incredible tuna tartare, with mango, passion fruit, lemon pearl and wasabi cream. I followed that up with beef in a bacon purée of artichoke, black carrot and confit of tomatoes.

                                                             

Tracy also dined happily with a beef carpaccio, pesto, parmesan cheese in a celery and confit of tomatoes purée.

She loved her confit of beef cheek, eggplant, tender potatoes and rocket salad (aka arugula).

Our dessert of caramelized pineapple, almond crumble with vanilla sauce and lime capped off a wonderful dinner.

I don’t think I can overstate how much we enjoyed Uzés, L’Albiousse and our two dinners there. I would highly recommend this as a base, and it could be a place we return to in the future, as we did not see everything we wanted.

We packed our bags again, because tomorrow we would head to Pézenas, where we would spend the next five evenings. On the way, we’d check out Roman ruins in Nîmes (Yes, Tracy actually liked these ruins…no bull), stopped off in the walled city of Aigues-Mortes and finally got to Pézenas and another incredible lodging choice.  We would find out driving in Pézenas can be something of an art, and it’s best to have a really skinny car.

Next: Day Ten – Getting Agrippa on Nîmes, Historic Temple, A Walk Through A Vomitory, Canal Zone, Tour Of Death Heat March, Oh Diana, Tracy Aigues Me On, Stop! Stop! Stop!, You Could Burn Up Here, Ramparts Last Gleaming, Hop On In, Will the Car Fit, Church Bells Are Ringing and This Might Be A Little Too Quiet.

 

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