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France – Narbonne

France Trip – Summer 2018:  I need to learn to take photos of all my adventures, not just things that are pretty.  We arrived in Narbonne and had one day there before we were to head off up the Canal du Midi to Carcassonne. This was our best chance to be close to the Mediterranian, which I had never seen, so we drove out to visit the beach.

No photos from me because when we got there, there was a pretty brisk offshore wind that was blowing sand everywhere and I didn’t want to risk getting sand inside my lens/camera.  The beach was a long, shallow sand beach and the water was a perfect temperature.

The excitement happened on the way back – in a crowded intersection in Narbonne (when we’d made a wrong turn and we’re trying to get back on course using the GPS) we were hit in the right side passenger door by another car.  Yay! Rental Car! Our car had some dents in both doors but the other car.. the whole bumper fell off.

The other driver asked us to follow him, to his home, as it turned out, where we were invited inside and had the fun of filling out accident report forms, in French, with the help of his family none of whom spoke much English and we did not speak French.

We had some questions about WHY he had a stack of accident reports in his home and HOW his entire front bumper fell off (and he had a bunch of twine handy to tie it back on – had it already fallen off??) But he was so very friendly. It’s a bit of a mystery, but the insurance is sorting it out.

Once we finally made it back to the canal it was time to move onto our boat for a week of travel up river to Carcassonne.

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New Mexico

Back in the fall I took one day to make a loop through the Jemez.  This is a favorite day trip of mine and each time I get to see a little something new.  This time I took a side road up to see some tunnels through a steep pass that I’d never been out to see before.

Here’s a deep red mud puddle after a rain.
One of my favorite petroglyphs on part of Bandelier.
More petroglyphs
Friendly spider crossing the road
Albuquerque knows how to do sunsets
The color on this truck was amazing: no editing!
Fall colors in the Jemez
Final sunset with the city lights below
Mountains near the train tunnels

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Tall Ships

If anyone is going to be in Kirkland, WA this week, the tall ships, the Lady Washington, and the Hawaiian Chieftain are there.  Tours are $5, sailing trips and battle sail trips are also available.  My daughter is on the crew so we popped down on their day off to deliver a care package and provide a dog for the crew to pet.

The Lady Washington is a period reproduction and has appeared in many movies, most notably, she is “the Interceptor” from Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Prehistoric Caves

In addition to the mushroom cave, we went to 4 other caves during this trip:  Lascaux 4 (reproduction), Font-de-Gaume, Chauvet-Pont d’Arc (reproduction) and one more where the kids went spelunking and rappelling (and I did not!).

The ones that I went to are all caves that have famous cave paintings in them. Lascaux is the most famous, but I think the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc paintings may be more beautiful.

The reproductions were interesting.  I had some hesitation about going, thinking ‘why would I spend my time going to a fake cave, better to just see the real one and skip the others.’  I’m glad I didn’t do that.

For Lascaux 4 and Pont d’Arc, the process of making the reproductions was just fascinating.  They are full size, to-the-millimeter, faithful reproductions of the inside of the cave. To the extent possible the paintings were replicated using original techniques.  My favorite bit: they hired a ‘professional nose’ to visit the caves and replicate the SCENT – which is now pumped into the replica, so that it will feel even more like you are in the real thing.  No photos are allowed inside the full reproductions (or in Font-de-Gaume – the only original cave I visited) so all of my photos are from the museum at Lascaux.

aurochs, horses and reindeer
yellow horse. See how much he looks like Preswalski’s horse.
closeup of the reindeer
3 aurochs and the yellow horse

This was not the only place, but Lascaux 4 was the first place we encountered armed military guards. They’ve been taking things seriously since the terror attacks.

Horses in Pont d’Arc (from Wikimedia Commons)

In Lascaux 4 the most common animals were aurochs and horses (17,000 years old). Reindeer were the most common food but were not depicted with nearly the same frequency.  In Chauvet-Pont d’Arc is by far older than Lascaux, at over 30,000 years old and had good preservation as the entrance to the cave was blocked for tens of thousands of years. Font-de-Gaume has some as old, and is primarily a bison cave. No photos were allowed here. I bought a book, but the photos don’t do it justice. The drawings aren’t in as good condition but in the dimly lit cave, with a light playing over them, much as it must have been with crude lamps when they were drawn, the animals seemed to reveal themselves more clearly.

Common to all the caves: predators were rare and were always ‘hidden’ they were in the shadows, in the cracks, hard to see. Humans were rare and crudely drawn, especially compared to the beauty of the horses and bison.

PS  We got lost looking for Pont d’Arc cave and accidentally drove past the actual Pont d’Arc – a natural bridge, and the original cave sight, although we didn’t know it at the time.

Pont d’Arc

PPS We also drove past some signs indicating that the road would be closed for the Tour de France, but I didn’t get a shot of it 🙁

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Château de Chambord

The main word that comes to mind is “ostentatious”. I mean, building a giant, spired, wood-paneled, fake-castle/palace as your summer home (or in this case, hunting lodge) is alway ostentatious, but this one really seemed to do it more.

Just look at it!

From a distance
Getting closer…
Can you see that this is a detail on the roof and it’s still enormous?

It was only used for seven weeks total by the builder (in the 16th Century), in part because it’s completely impractical.  It’s too big and open to heat effectively and there was no nearby village to supply food so everything had to be carried in for the 2000 or so guests who would arrive all at once.  But it has some really neat features.  One of the most famous is the double helix staircase.  Two staircases spiral around each other and you can stop at the internal windows and look at your friends going up the opposite stair.

Looking up the center of the staircase

And there are fire-salamanders everywhere, and who is not a fan of fire-salamanders?

Fiery king salamander

And, as usual, the gardens were vast and impressive.

There was an equestrian show at an outdoor pavilion on the grounds that I missed, and I’m a bit sorry I did because it sounded amazing.  Next time, I guess?

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Mushroom Cave

So you’ve got a vast network of damp, dark, underground, limestone tunnels.  What do you do with them?  Grow mushrooms of course. We visited a cave used to grow shiitake, champignon de Paris, oyster and ‘blue foot’/Pied bleu mushrooms.  The blue foot were my favorites, but Sylvia, surprisingly, was a fan of the Parisian.  We got to pull some directly out of the beds and eat them. Later, in the shop we purchased a half kilo and made risotto for dinner out of them.  I brought back a jar of the blue foot and have yet to decide what to do with them.

The tour was officially in French but our guide spoke English so she took the time to either translate for us or to pantomime so effectively that we didn’t need to know exactly what she said.

Of interest: the shiitake mushrooms are grown in cubes resting on the floor and they said it was important to their growth to periodically whack the cubes. I’m wondering if ‘mushroom walloper’ is a good thing to put on your resume.

Parisian and Pied Bleu are grown like this, you can see the moisture hanging in the air.
Oyster Mushrooms

Of course there’s extra tunnel space.  What to do with it? In this case a stonemason and and artist came down and carved an underground village there. Many of my photos didn’t turn out.  There were shop doors, with a cat sneaking along, trees and balconies.

 

And just outside there was this pretty little cluster of flowers.

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Troglodyte House, Poce-sur-Cisse, France

Hello again!

We’ve been away on a 3-week long trip to France and now that we are back it’s time to go through the photos. I always liked the idea of traveling with children, but it turns out that I find organizing for that many people stressful, so we kept putting it off.  Finally, I noticed that my oldest was 18 and if we wanted to do a major, whole-family trip, I had better act now.

For our first three days we stayed in a ‘troglodyte house’, a home partially built into the limestone hillside behind it.  I really love the idea that if you ever thought your house was too small you could just continue to dig into it and make it bigger.

 

This one has some remnants of an old wine press in it.  The back rooms were wonderfully cool, which we enjoyed because temperatures in France were very hot for our entire stay. A house two down from this one was for sale, and while we loved staying there, the rooms are also perpetually damp and that might get old after a while.

Church and canal in Poce-sur-Cisse
Outside the troglodyte house at night.

This little canal and bridge was in town, near the patisserie. It did not take much time at all for us to get used to the ubiquitous presence of fresh daily baguettes and pastries within walking distance.  The baguettes were inexpensive, generally .8 euros or less, which is FAR less than I would expect to pay for them in the US.

At night it was very quiet and dark, all the street lamp went out at midnight giving a good view of the sky.   In the early morning we saw hot-air balloons in the distance.  When we had free time at home, we listened to “Coffee Break French” podcast to try to prepare ourselves for actual conversations.