Chapter Three: Sarlat-Bound (with a detour)
Day Four – In The Dark, Filet de Maitai, A Bloody Time In Limoges, Dr. Mary’s Bag Of Tricks, Introducing Madame Bleu, Unspeakable Crimes Against Humanity, Dueling Navigation Systems, A Sarlat Sensation, Mind Your Manoirs and A Great Name For Our New Business Venture
Most people relax on their vacations, unless, of course, you travel with me. Today’s schedule would be a good example of why Tuscan Tom’s Tours (even when operating in France) is not for the casual traveler.
Alarms in two rooms at the Hotel De La Paix Montparnasse started ringing shortly after five, because we had a train to catch…the 6:40 to Limoges. Our taxi got us to the station about a half hour before our scheduled boarding. Tracy and Mary, as you can see, were still a little sleepy.
Once the track was announced, and we asked a conductor (well, he did look a little like Leonard Bernstein) which car was the correct one to board, we climbed the steps onto our car and right into…total darkness.
A funny trick French train officials seem to like to play on unsuspecting, caffeine-deprived tourists is to keep the car totally dark sans any lighting that might make it possible to find your seats without the aid of flashlight, or in our case, iPhone.
Although we had four tickets in this first class car (seats 33-36) that seemingly should have been together, it quickly dawned on us (even before dawn) that there were no seats 33 or 34 in this car. Since forcing Kim and Mary to ride on the roof of the train was out of the question (hey, we had two more weeks with them for God’s sake), we sat across from each other until the lights came on to determine what the hell we should do.
When the lights eventually came up, a very nice French woman and her daughter (carrying a cute cat) came up to us and said that although two of us were in their seats, they would sit elsewhere in our car so we could all sit together. Damn French! Why are they always so nice? Next time I visit France, perhaps I’ll go back to see where they hid seats 33 and 34.
The trip from Paris to Limoges was barely more than three hours long, made even quicker by my five café-au-laits. I was ready to hit the ground running.
At the Limoges train station, we would pick up the Europcar that we would use for the next two weeks to navigate the roads of the Dordogne, Loire and Normandy. Everything was going perfectly, but as many of you know from past adventures, when it comes to our trips, “perfectly” is an adverb we rarely use.
For those that don’t know my medical history, I was hospitalized for 3 ½ months two years ago, and ever since my release I have been on low doses of prednisone, which has kept my RA from returning (minor miracle in itself). I also was on massive doses of steroids while in the hospital. Although now on low doses, the cumulative effect of prednisone for the past couple of years has made my skin so thin I bruise when the air-conditioning blows too hard on it or if the dog sneezes on me. “Old man skin,” I call it (not so affectionately).
When I attempted to open the door to the Europcar office, the door was unfortunately stuck. As I yanked on the door, the rather heavy shoulder bag I was carrying slid down my left arm from my shoulder. As it reached my forearm, the bag decided to make quite an impression on me. Even without looking, I knew this was not going to be a Hallmark moment.
With the door now unlocked, I walked a couple of steps into the office before looking down at my lower arm, which was now bleeding rather profusely thanks to a chunk of it being filleted by the bag. Thanks to the copious amount of blood, I couldn’t actually see how much of my forearm was taken out by the evil bag. I really didn’t want to know either. I was not a happy man.
Bleeding to death in the train station did not seem very appealing, but fortunately Dr. Mary (she only plays one on vacation, but does a damned good job) sprang into action, and she immediately reached into her purse that doubles as a medical bag when she is on vacation.
In fact, Mary’s purse could be equated to a clown car of medicine. She has a never-ending quantity of medical supplies that just keep coming out of her seemingly bottomless bag. I half expected her to pull out an X-ray machine with tech support when she stated, “You know Tom, I think I’ll just put some glue on this.”
OK, that was a surprise, although by this time I figured I was ready for the glue factory, so I stuck with the theme. “If I was a horse, they’d shoot me,” I said.
Trying not to waste too much time (we had places to go dammit), I started to chat with the lovely woman at Europcar, while at the same time Tracy and Mary were swabbing me down with anti-bacterial wipes and gluing my arm into a semblance of what it was about ten minutes previously. I tried not to bleed all over the paperwork, and the Europcar lady pretended not to notice the makeshift medical team working feverishly on my arm.
Glued, bandaged and somewhat embarrassed by my futility and “old man skin,” I walked with the gang to our rental car, and after the incredibly nice Europcar woman patiently explained everything about the car, we were about ready to drive off when Kim exclaimed, “Tom, you gotta take a look at this!”
Stepping out of the car, Kim and I stared at the gas tank that had a huge “DIESEL” sticker placed right above it. “Where were you in 2005?” I asked.
We activated the GPS system that, not surprisingly, spoke to us in French. Dubbed “Madame Bleu,” her “à gauche” and “à droite” requests along with the frequent “maintenant” commands would guide us throughout the French countryside, albeit not always where we wanted to go.
Our first stop would be a somber experience.
Just about half an hour from the Limoges train station is Oradour-sur-Glane, the scene of a horrific 1944 massacre of 692 French men, women and children. In June 1944, a German battalion took control of the town, and the SS told all the people in the town to assemble in the town square.
While the women and children were locked in the town church, the men were taken to various barns, where the Germans had machine guns. They shot the men first in the legs, so they would die more slowly. Of those 195 men, only 5 survived. Meanwhile the Germans torched the church, and the women and children who tried to flee were machine-gunned to death. A total of 247 women and 255 children were murdered.
I had read about visiting here, but I did know what to expect. The entire experience is incredibly powerful. We followed the Village des Martyrs sign. The cost to get in the underground museum Centre de la Mémoire) is 7€ (the 2€ audio guide is a must, in my opinion). No photos…photo below is from website.
We then walked through the museum that documents in great deal the rise of the Nazis until you come upon the information regarding that fateful day in June 1944 and its aftermath. We were very impressed how this museum was set up and how it explained, in great detail, the history of those turbulent and terrible years.
Before we exited to the preserved town that was virtually gutted by the Germans, we sat through a film that lasts a little more than ten minutes.
It is a sobering experience to say the least.
Walking through Oradour-sur-Glane is a surreal experience and you just have to wonder what kind of people could perpetrate such an act of atrocity.
We walked past gutted automobiles, places of worship and businesses that only a few days before these terrible acts occurred were the spots where the people pf Oradour-sur-Glane worked, played and lived.
Overall, we spent about 90 minutes at Oradour-sur-Glane.
Afterward, we visited the rebuilt town and had a decent lunch at Au Bon Accueil Brasserie, where the pommes frites were the star of the show.
For the second time on the trip, we had knives that would not cut our meat. “This country needs a good knife sharpener,” Tracy casually observed.
Meanwhile, my arm was throbbing, but the glue was sticking. On the road again, we started on the two-hour drive to our base for the next five nights, Sarlat-la-Canéda. In an attempt to literally drive us crazy, Mary brought out our GPS system from our 2008 Central Europe trip, the “never-in-doubt, yet seldom correct,” Lady Garmin.
When Madame Bleu would say “à gauche,” Lady Garmin would say “Turn right.” When Madame Bleu would state “à droite,” Lady Garmin would say “Turn left.” Between the dueling GPS systems, my two great map-readers (Kim and Mary) and my excellent road sign reader (Tracy), by the time we reached downtown Sarlat I wasn’t even sure if we were still in France.
Arriving on a Friday afternoon, the town of Sarlat was still pretty busy with lots of window shopping, and we were perplexed as to where we should park. One thing was for sure; the town was cute, full of alleys off the main drag where I knew I should be driving (I’ve learned my lesson over the years).
Following Madame Bleu’s (Lady Garmin had been laid off from her job about an hour before) directions, along with the keen eyes of Tracy and Mary spying a sign for our hotel, we scored a great parking place near our home in Sarlat for the next five nights, La Villa des Consuls.
The parking space was located next to a spot that had a handicap parking sign…
….so we guessed that people believed this was a handicap space, too, although it was not (we scored this space four out of the five days).
On the subject of the handicapped, Kim took a funny photo of my bandaged arm (now throbbing like a son of a bitch) that I placed on the hood of a parked, Sarlat ambulance (the laughs always come first, even when in pain).
We were all blown away by the La Villa des Consuls.
It was gorgeous, and the location could not be beat, just a short walk to the main street in the medieval area. We had booked the Montesquieu, a two-bedroom apartment (152€) with bath/shower and a veranda where we sipped wine each night before going out and sipping more wine.
After freshening up, we walked through the city getting a bearing on where we were, picked up a bottle of wine (maybe it was two) and went back up to our balcony to have wine, cheese, salami and crackers (always important to have a snack before dinner).
Speaking of dinner, La Villa des Consuls’ owner and gracious host (David) recommended we try Le Petit Manoir, 13 rue de la republique, and he made reservations for us at 8 p.m. My arm felt much better after a few glasses of wine, so off to dinner we went.
We passed the Sarlat Duck Statue that we assumed was built to honor all the quackers who gave their lives so locals and tourists could gorge themselves on foie gras.
Although it was a beautiful evening, I guess it was a little chilly for the patio to be open, so we were seated in a nicely appointed, but a tad stuffy, room at Le Petit Manoir.
It was quite formal with a gray décor. Thankfully, in a few minutes our not-so-good dinners from our first two nights became a distant memory.
Kim decided upon the 22.50€ prix fixe meal that included a Carrot/Cauliflower/Sesame Oil Soup (très bon), a Salmon main dish and Walnut Cake in a Chocolate Sauce for dessert.
Mary ordered a la carte and had the Ahi Tuna with Black Rice.
Tracy opted for the 28€ prix fixe meal that started with a Foie Gras in Brioche with a Poached Egg, a Confit de Canard with Mushrooms and Potatoes, and ended with the “Wow” dessert, Mousse au Chocolate (a white chocolate mousse with salted caramel).
Never having tried Foie Gras, I figured, “When in Sarlat, do as the Sarlatians (probably an incorrect term) do.” I had a Foie Gras Crème Brulee, Steak au Poivre with Mushrooms and Potato Gratin and the aforementioned Walnut Cake.
Once again, the knife for the steak was as dull as 2001: A Space Odyssey (ok, nothing is that dull). The four of us joked that we should open a store in France that sells sharp knives and shower curtains. Tracy said, “Hey, we could call the store Psycho.” Yes, I know…you had to be there.
With a bottle of Vin rouge, the total bill came to 140€. I was glad the tip was included, because we had dubbed our waiter Monsieur Sullen Pants.
We strolled through the lovely town of Sarlat to walk off our dinner on the way back to the hotel. Tomorrow (Saturday) would be Market Day in Sarlat (as it turned out, the most expensive Market Day I have ever attended) and our first day of exploring the delightful Dordogne.
Next: Day Five – Going To Market, Cum On Feel The Noix, Cashed Out, Chateau Hopping, Sir Bleed-A-Lot, Jardin Party, Roque & Rolling On The River, Gizzard Wizards and Where’s Anthony Quinn