Carcassonne and Sarlat
The next day it was the train to Carcassonne. I checked into my hotel and headed straight off for the castle. This is the famous place that was under siege and things were starting to look desperate, until Madame Carcas took the last pig, fed it the last handfuls of grains, and hucked it over the castle walls at the siegers, where it splatted at their feet, spraying fresh grain everywhere. Apparently the siegers took one look at this and figured there was so much spare food inside that they had better go away and bother someone else. Or so the story goes. Anyways nowadays the inside of the fortress is full of the usual little French shops and cafes and swarming with tourists.
This part of the world is particularly well known for cassoulet, which is a fancy kind of franks and beans really, cooked white beans with maybe some confit duck and a few varieties of sausages for flavour. And they are also famous out this way for pate du canard, which is pate of duck liver or else the goose liver. I had dinner at a very nice place in town where I ordered the pate du canard for my appetiser and the cassoulet, which turned out to be a monstrously huge dish. There was an Irish couple next to me who spoke to me for a while and shared their wine with me. Dunno what it is with people who offer to share their wine with you after you say you don't like wine, as though they are drinking the one special wine that tastes like no other wine in the world that's all of a sudden going to convert me to liking wine. Anyways it was nice of them, and I figured the wine would help break down some of the fat.
The next day I was off to see Sarlat, which, according to the notes I had made during an intensive period of study of European maps and travel routes in 1999, had a "beehive caves du mort". Cool, pammie's a sucker for beehive shapes. So I get out there and it turns out to be an exceedingly cute little town with a tourist information center that has a nice walking map to follow. I find my beehive cave du mort which turns out to be vaguely beehive shaped and possibly held the bones of some fellahs who worked at the church nearby. Hmm, so much for coming all the way out here to look at this disappointing beehive thing (I had had a similar experience in Greece which also has an imaginary beehive structure) but the town was very cute. It was almost worth considering retiring there someday, except for all the tourists.
My hotel had a little pool and everything so I sat by the pool for about an hour, to prepare my glowing white body for the Mediterranean to come later in the trip. I haven't been out in the sun for something like two years now. Getting to Sarlat was a bit of a drama too, with three connections, and one long stop at lunch. I found a local place that had a dreaded buffet for starters and then no menu whatsoever, but they gave me a plate of grey flabby roast lamb and very garlicky cassoulet. I ate the cassoulet and left the lamb and just had grated carrots for my starters!
I had dinner that night at a nice outdoor place. So far the weather had been nice and sunny and warm, although I was blowing my nose with allergies a lot. There were two outdoor eating areas, my side with all the other civilised French fellahs, and then a tour group of extremely loud Americans on the other side. There is a vast difference between the way the French and the Americans approach the dinner table. On the way to the restaurant, the French are no doubt debating the various merits of this particular restaurant over another. They get shown to the table and immediately they study the menu. There is no idle chitchat about their cable TV connection or the other topics of their daily life. There is no telling the waiter to come back to take their order later because they were too busy talking about other stuff. No, everyone at the table debates what they will have for dinner and there is a big discussion. The waiter comes and is grilled for information, then the order is placed and there is an air of expectation of what is to come. Everyone sits quietly at the table, chatting, sipping wine, generally behaving themselves. But the yanks on the other side of the garden were all over the place, wandering from one table to the next, getting up to do this and that, with waiters trying to do their job with a largely absent diner.
They reminded me of that North American phenomenon which I had also noticed on my trip to Vancouver a week or so before: the dreaded female scream-laugher, the one that thinks every single statement is hilariously funny and also has one of those piercing shrieks AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!! In a piercing scream that can and probably does etch crystal glass, shatter small mirrors, disintegrate Waterford chandeliers, cause cave stalagtites to drop, and souffles to fall. And the more they drink, the more frequent the screaming gets. I was surrounded by French people on all sides and at one stage the elderly French couple sitting next to me mentioned the screamer, not sure exactly what they said but if I had enough French I would have suggested talking up a donation to get her some kind of tranquiliser or sedative and having it sent to her table on a silver platter with our compliments.
Anyhoos. For dinner I had pate du canard again and duck confit for my mains, yum.
The next day I was off to Perigeux, which is the capitol of the Perigord region and the capitol of fois gras production, you can even go on tours to see the duck and the geese getting grain crammed down their faces to swell their livers up, cool. Ecotourism. This is also where all of the ancient cave drawings are. In fact the caves are between Sarlat and Perigeuex, but I thought it would perhaps be easier to get transport to the cave drawings from Perigeux seeing as how it was the capitol and everything. But no, turns out, there is no transport to the caves. You have to have a rental car or take a taxi there. And you have to buy a ticket to see the cave paintings. A year in advance. And you can only buy the tickets at the caves themselves. So, I can take a 36 euro taxi ride out there to potentially not get into the caves at all. What's a girl to do. Have pate instead! Woohoo. I consider going to the movies seeing as how the Da Vinci Code has just been released. The French actress Audrey Tatou is in it, and from all the advertising she's getting you wouldn't even realise there was anyone else in it. Ah well, I give it a miss, I didn't like the books much. Actually it was a bit of a scene getting to Perigeuex in the first place as there are no trains directly from Sarlat to Perigeuex even though they are not all that far apart. I had to have three connections, two of them by bus, with a long lunch stop, which is normally a good thing, except they stopped at a place that didn't have a cafe that sold food, just drinks. How inconsiderate.