Lascaux II & Montignac
12 Aug 2014
|We woke today from our hotel in Limoges to the terrible news that Robin Williams has died. We went downstairs to eat our breakfast, and the TV was on with almost every store on the news about him. It has been a very sombre 24 hours.
After breakfast however, it was time to shake off the unhappiness, and see some new things. We loaded up the car so we could make a quick getaway, and played games with the parking meters so we could get 3 hours out of a 2 hour meter. Not sure if we were just lucky, but we never got a ticket.
There were 2 places to the old town, one out of the square the hotel was in, and up the hill. One out of the square and down the hill. I suggested we go out and down, as this would lead us to the old Palace and the river. Up the hill would lead us to some churches, and we'd seen a few of those already. I was secretly hoping to visit the Museum of the French resistance, but unfortunately it was shut today.
We crossed one of the roads and cut across an alley, which lead us to near the museum was. We planned to continue across this main road, and over to the Gothic church (there are 3 churches in close proximity, we are only going via 1). Tess started to walk up the street, so I followed her, as I assumed she was going to the pedestrian crossing. Nope. She was going to cross the street, but had looked as if she was crossing the street in Australia. All I could do was yell "LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!" at her as I saw a group of cars approaching. Luckily for us, they must be used to mesmerised tourists, and they pulled up and let her cross without any incident. Not sure my heart will recover, and I'm also sure there's a good 3 months taken off my life!
We then ventured down the hill we saw a square which is now predominantly restaurants in a bunch very old houses. They were the cliche medieval house, with each floor getting slightly larger than the one below it, and with vertical painted lines on the facades. I stopped to take some pictures here, and then went into the adjoining square, where the great Gothic Cathedral was.
We took some pictures here, but didn't go inside as we had given ourselves a time limit on how long we would stay in town. We continued on, past the "palais" which is now a fine arts museum. We walked around the side of the palace, and found some beautiful gardens at the rear. They were staggered on different levels, with each terrace getting larger as it went down the hill. The level we were currently on had a square of trees, and just to the side of it was a fountain surrounded by flowers.
We took some photos here, then went down some stairs past to the next terrace below. Near the stairs there was an "Orangery". I had understood the literal implications of the word, but never really knew what the purpose of an "Orangery" was, so I googled it. Orangeries were only ever in the rich folks houses (palaces) and were used to grow Oranges and other citrus fruits, in climates that would get snow and frosts. Over time, the use of the Orangery moved to grow other foods, such as pineapples etc. This was the first Orangery I'd ever seen in France, that wasn't an art exhibit or a restaurant. Obviously the buildings convert well for modern tourism!
On the next terrace, there was a lovely manicured grass garden, which was completely symmetrical. I had looked over this when I was up a level, but the picture I took had a working van in the middle of it. Now I planned on taking a picture on the same level, until a rather unusual gent came down, and stripped off all his clothes except his shorts, and proceeded to walk along the gravel paths in between the grass garden. It was like he had a mental disorder, like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as he walked at a very deliberate pace, and only ever on the gravel, never on the grass. He also seemed to walk the grass from the left to right, then crossed back over like a figure 8, to the left again.
I went down to the next level, where Tess was already taking close-ups of the flowers, and looked at the various water features here. There were some fish in each of the water features, and people walking their dogs and reading books. It wasn't particularly large, but it appeared to be a common visiting space.
We then descended further, however this was down a long set of steps, and down to the road level. This would have been 20m below the previous terrace, and showed how the palace grounds were once used as a military fort. It would be quite difficult to have mounted an attack from the low grounds here, near the river.
We crossed the road (at the designated pedestrian crossing) and went to an old bridge, called the Pont Saint Etienne, which stretches across the Vienne river (a tributary of the Loire). This bridge is part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. This was rather coincidental, as we are heading to Rocamadour in a couple of nights, which is also part of the same pilgrimage. The bridge was used to get linen to the population of "washerwomen" who lived on the adjacent bank, and who cleaned the linen for the wealthy in the river. Some of the old buildings on that bank are still standing, which makes the bridge look all the more beautiful to look across.
From the bridge, we walked up the hill to the road bridge, so that we could shoot pictures back to the Pont. After this we started the climb back up the castle steps, and through the various terrace's until we were back near where we started.
There was another group of fountains here, this was coreographed in 2-3 minute cycles, so we sat and watched these cycles a few times, then walked back (carefully) to the car.
Tess has volunteered to do all the driving today, as I will do all the difficult driving around the Dordogne villages tomorrow and into Rocamadour.
The drive through the Dordogne is particularly pretty in my eyes. You drive up hills, and down the other side, and all before you see green fields and heavily wooded areas. The Dordogne is currently my favourite part of France. If I could, I'd happily retire here, such is its beauty, charm and peaceful way of life. Maybe I have my rose coloured tourist glasses on, but I feel calm here.
We had decided on our way to Sarlat-la-Caneda, that we would take a visit to the caves of Lascaux II. The drive took us about 90 minutes, and brought us into the town of Montignac. Tess missed a turn off to go to the caves when we arrived in town, and we found ourselves in a one way only street. This was probably fortuitous, as it made us drive around the township. On our way through, we saw signs saying where to buy tickets for the Grotto. Both of us thought this was a bit odd, as we were still 12km away from the caves. However, we pulled into a car park, and I went for a walk to check it out.
Fortuitous indeed. During summer, you can ONLY buy tickets to Lascaux from this ticket office. It was about 3:40pm, and the next tour in English, was 6.40pm. I bought us tickets, and walked back to the car, and told Tess we'd best get comfortable as we were going to be here a while.
We got out and took a walk around the city. It was quite warm, and the sun was stinging with its heat, so we stopped in a cafe and got a cold drink and a snack. We then went for a walk down to the Vezere river after looking at the shops. I bought one of my brothers some crystals from a shop, which had come out of the hills near the caves. Hope he likes them.
We had a coffee a bit later on, and then decided we'd go back to the car a bit early and head to the caves, so that we didn't risk getting lost and missing the tour. It wasn't very hard in retrospect, as there wasn't much else we could go see. We parked the car and then waited for the tour to start (after visiting the souvenir shop!)
The tour was taken by a very, very funny woman. She had said she usually only takes Spanish tours, and wasn't really prepared for an English one, but I thought she was great.
The caves at Lascaux II, are a millimetre perfect recreation of the caves at Lascaux I. These caves were reproduced, as the first caves, which were discovered in the early 1940s, had become damaged by the million tourists who had come to see these marvellous prehistoric paintings and dared to breath in the cave.
The breath from people has toxins and bacteria in them, which caused the cave walls to go green. To restore them, they had to clean the caves with anti-bacterial agents (cave penicillin). Unfortunately, by doing this, it slowly, slowly started to affect the colours of the paintings, so they had to close the caves down. But because people still wanted to see them, they recreated these copies at Lascaux II. The caves are 40m long, and took 6 years for them to be repainted by a single woman, who used the same paint types and techniques to recreate the images. The original caves were much longer, but apparently 90% of the art works were in this 40m of caves.
The caves show pictures of animals, such as bulls, horses, deers, goats and a bear on the walls. The paintings were done high up on the cave ceiling, and therefore, needed scaffolding to reach. The pictures are also done showing movement, perspective, and as our guide put it, perhaps show the worlds first recorded comic strip. One of the paintings appears to show a horse moving along a wall. It could be five different horses, however the picture makes them look identical in shape, just in a slightly different size, as if the horse is moving away from the painter. All of these things (movement, perspective, scaffolding) were thought to be created by more modern eras of man, however these works are somewhere between 15-20,000 years old.
They have been able to carbon date items found on the bottom of the cave, which were found intact and undamaged. The guide said that the paintings themselves cannot be carbon dated, so they've had to go buy the items found on the ground only.
These caves were incredibly impressive, and left me wanting to go visit more. Of course, that's probably not going to be useful, as the other grottos are likely to be copies of originals as well, to help preserve the real paintings.
Tess and I were both very pleased we took a detour to go visit here. Today was a really nice break from Castles, Chateau and churches.
We left the grotto, and headed to our final stop at Sarlat, where we had a late dinner, and a stop in a tiny motel room before we move on to one of my most anticipated days of the trip.