Three days in the Dordogne region of France, part 1

beynac 2The riverside town of Beynac-et-Cazenac, with the church and chateau perched at the top of the town

Happy Monday all! We recently got home from ten days in France –  this trip marked a transition for me, as it was the first family vacation we’ve taken without our two oldest children, who now work and live in different cities. I think our youngest may have missed the company of his siblings after spending ten days alone with his parents….

Anyway, I’m planning to write a blog post about each segment of our trip, plus a post about driving in France. I also have a few other ideas swirling around in my head, so if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Early in our trip, we spent several days in the Dordogne region. The Dordogne refers to both a river and a department (county) in the southwest/south central part of France. It’s a beautiful, mostly rural region with small towns, villages, castles, canoeing and prehistoric caves, many with cave paintings from over 20,000 years ago. The river itself is amazingly lovely, with some of the cleanest water in France. The villages rise steeply along the river, and chateaus and castles are dotted along the hillsides.

dordogne river 2The beautiful Dordogne River

We spent four nights at Hotel La Hoirie, just south of Sarlat la Caneda (the main tourist hub, often just called Sarlat), which I chose for two reasons. First, it had air conditioned rooms, and at the time I booked our trip, the temperatures in the area had been in the mid-high 90’s for several weeks (self-knowledge is a wonderful thing…I knew that without A/C at those temps, I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would be a total grump, thus negating the idea of a fun vacation). Second, despite being on vacation, I still needed to train for my upcoming bike tour through the Czech Republic, and the hotel is only one kilometer away from the Sarlat Voie Verte bike path, a 29 km railway line which has been converted into a pedestrian and bicycle route. I arranged a four day bike rental from Liberty Cycle, with visions of getting up early’ish each of the four days and riding 20-30 miles each morning before heading out to sightsee for the afternoon and evening. The path passes through several towns, so my husband and I had even planned to ride together one morning and stop for breakfast along the way.

**You can feel that there’s a story coming, right? RIGHT???**

We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, after stopping to pick up my rental bike. At that point, my stomach was a little upset, but I attributed that to being carsick from the windy roads. The hotel is GORGEOUS – it’s an old thirteenth century hunting lodge, with several old stone buildings, beautiful gardens, a swimming pool, and a restaurant with a lovely outdoor terrace. We had dinner reservations at the hotel restaurant (really good food, if a smidge pricier than other places we ate), so after checking in and dropping our bags in our room, we walked out to the restaurant. Before we even got a chance to order, my stomach started feeling worse, so I left without eating and returned to my room and went to bed.

**You KNEW there was a story coming – if you are easily grossed out, you might want to skip the next paragraph!**

Around midnight, I woke suddenly with that horrible feeling that I was about to puke. My side of the bed was about five feet from the bathroom door…but nope, I didn’t make it. If you’ve ever seen The Exorcist, it was like that – vomit spewed forth all over the floor, the walls, myself, and the bathroom. My husband is my hero…rather than running over to sleep in our son’s room for the rest of the night, he gamely got up and helped me. I think we finally got back to bed around 4 am, after which I fell into a restless sleep.  Once we woke up, my hubby ran and picked up ginger ale, Sprite, crackers and Rice Krispies for me. I slept most of that day…finally dragging myself into the shower around 6 pm, then venturing out to the hotel garden for a brief respite in the fresh air before taking the dirty towels (securely tied up in the plastic laundry bag from the room) to the front desk and trying to say in French “Please throw these towels away and charge them to my room; I was very sick and used them to clean up vomit” (Thank goodness for Google Translate!)

**First day in the Dordogne – no bike ride, no food, 719 total steps for the day, but successfully covered hotel room in vomit, showered and sat in garden for ten minutes before getting rained on**

hotel la hoirieJPGThe one photo I took that day, while sitting in the hotel garden

The next morning, I was able to get up and gingerly participate in the day’s activities, although I again wasn’t able to do my planned bike ride. We drove along the river to the town of La Roque-Gageac (considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, for good reason), where we tried to get tickets for a boat tour along the river. The tours were sold out for most of the day, (the months of July and August are high season) so we jumped back in the car and continued on to Beynac-et-Cazenac.

beynac crepe myrtlesBeynac had the prettiest crepe myrtles!

We were able to get an afternoon boat tour in Beynac, then wandered up the village’s steep streets to the church and the chateau. Once we got back down to river level, we sat and watched the multitudes of canoes heading down the river. Canoeing is a very popular pastime on the Dordogne…if I had been feeling better, I would have loved to float down the river in a canoe, but the one hour boat ride was fun and interesting – the narration was in French, but the guide gave us quick highlights in English and also gave us a copy of the narration in English so we could follow along.

beynac canoersCanoeing along the river is a great way to enjoy the region!

After our boat tour, we drove to Chateau Castelnaud-de-Chapelle, which is a medieval chateau/fortress with a museum of weapons. It was a fascinating look at medieval warfare and I learned lots of details about the Hundred Years War. From the tower of the Chateau, you could see three other chateaus/fortresses – they really could all keep an eye on each other! These are the kinds of things that get the history nerd part of me excited, so I loved our visit here.

castelnaud

For dinner that night, we drove back to Beynac and ate at La Petite Tonnelle. The food was absolutely delicious, the staff was friendly, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner on the terrace.

**Second day in the Dordogne – no bike ride, stomach still queasy, ate one light meal, failed to get pics of restaurant, but sat on a boat and somehow managed to survive 12,350 total steps for the day without fainting**

Since I’ve reached 1200 words, I’ll stop here for now…stay tuned for the next installment in the adventure! As always, thanks so much for reading!

A Day Out in Baltimore

water-3199668Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I’m adding a new post to my Wednesday Wanderings series today. For Mother’s Day weekend back in May, I traveled to Baltimore to spend time with my sister, aunt and cousins. All of our mothers are gone, so we spent Friday and Saturday that weekend celebrating the fact that we had, and are, kick ass moms. We laughed, shopped, chatted, ate and just generally celebrated being together for the first time in over a year. On Sunday, I met up with my son and a family friend in downtown Baltimore for a day of exploring. It was such a fun day!

me and boysMe and the boys!

We started late morning at Miss Shirley’s Cafe at the Inner Harbor for brunch. They don’t take reservations, and of course everyone was eating out for Mother’s Day, so we were told it would be a 90-110 minute wait. No worries! We walked a block over to Barnes and Noble, where we spent a lovely hour and a half browsing (and buying) books. I’ve read that due to Amazon, brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes and Noble are in danger, so was happy to do my part to keep B&N alive 🙂 Once our wait was over, we headed back over to the cafe.

Miss Shirley’s focuses on southern food, and does it extremely well. Their menu is extensive, which makes it so very hard to choose. I debated between breakfast and lunch; cinnamon danish waffles were calling my name, but I decided to go with a cup of vegetable crab soup and the jumbo lump crab & corn grilled cheese sandwich. I figured I was in Maryland, so I should enjoy the chance to have crab while I could! I also tried a Shirley’s Crush – the Orange Crush is a Baltimore alcoholic specialty and Miss Shirley’s version was oh so yummy! The service was great and our food was delish; we longingly eyed the dessert menu before deciding that we were just too full to order anything else. If you’re in Baltimore, I highly recommend a stop here for breakfast, brunch or lunch (Miss Shirley’s is open 7am-3 pm). They have three locations, but the Inner Harbor location is handy for exploring the waterfront after you eat!

water-3279614Fells Point – Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Afterward, we drove down to Fells Point and walked around, poking into some of the shops and enjoying the waterfront views. Fells Point is an area along the harbor which was first settled in the 1760’s by William Fell, a Quaker, who built a store here. After the ship yard was established, the neighborhood expanded to include homes, stores, and bars. The Fells Point Ship Yard produced over 800 ships, including the Continental Navy’s first frigates and the speedy “Baltimore Clippers”  (Click here for more details). The area was home to seamen, sailmakers, merchants and sea captains. Now a residential area, there is an open air market along the waterfront that has been operating since 1786. It was also the setting for Annie’s house and the pier where she sits along the water in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Fells point

One of my favorite activities when traveling is to find hidden, quirky places and things to see.  I dug around on Atlas Obscura and found quite a few in the Fells Point area, so the boys indulged me. “It’s Mother’s Day; we’ll go anywhere you’d like” were their exact words; what great people they are! We found the Fell Family Cemetery, tucked between two townhouses at 1609 Shakespeare St; the “Vote Against Prohibition” ghost sign painted on the side of a building at the corner of Shakespeare and South Broadway; and the Shot Tower, where lead shot was made by dropping molten lead from a platform at the top, forming perfect spheres as it fell into a vat of cold water at the bottom. Built in 1828, the 234 foot high shot tower was the tallest building in the United States until the Washington Monument was completed after the Civil War (for more details, click here)

**Fun fact: Back in the 1910’s-1940’s, companies would pay building owners for the use of their walls, and hired roving street artists, called “wall dogs”, to paint advertising signs on the walls. Now they are fading so have become known as “ghost signs” – there is actually a book titled Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America**

Fell Family Cemetery

Fell family cemetery 2The Fell Family Cemetery, 1609 Shakespeare St.

IMG_9878 2“Vote Against Prohibition” Ghost sign

shot towerThe Baltimore Shot Tower

That morning, my husband sent me a text, saying, “Tomorrow is our bulk trash pickup; is it okay if I put our living room out?” Yes, indeed, he put the entire living room into the bulk trash…the rug, sofa, two chairs and ottoman included! After our much-loved sectional succumbed to the effects of boy and dog jumping on it, we had cobbled together an old sofa from my dad and a couple of garage sale/discount store finds as a temporary measure while we hunted for new stuff.  Our “temporary” solution lasted four years; my husband decided that putting it all out in the trash would force us to finally get our behinds in motion and buy a new couch. So the boys and I even did a little couch shopping at Su Casa Furniture, a fun and inviting furniture store.

**Three months later, we still don’t have living room furniture, but we have bought a new rug – baby steps!**

old couch with dogThe “temporary” couch – dog approved, but not terribly pretty!

fort-2498672Fort McHenry – take the water taxi out and enjoy the history!  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Inner Harbor at Baltimore is a great destination – there are shops, restaurants, free music performances, a huge Barnes and Noble for book lovers, the Baltimore Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Fells Point, etc.  A water taxi takes you to various points around the harbor and out to Fort McHenry, bombed by the British during the War of 1812. It was during this battle that Francis Scott Key wrote our Star Spangled Banner; he watched the bombardment from a ship in the harbor. Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles baseball) and M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens football) are very close to the Inner Harbor as well. History, entertainment, good food, sports and shopping; all in all, a fun city in which to enjoy a weekend!

baseball-3363346Camden Yards – home of the Baltimore Orioles.  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As always, thanks so very much for reading and let me know if there are any places you’d like me to explore and write about!