Saturday, April 18, 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015 - Rain!

We are moving slowly this morning. Sky is overcast and it's cool outside. Barb and Dale were gone before we got up which makes us feel like something's missing this morning. After a leisurely breakfast of our usual croissant and coffee, we head to the butcher down the street to buy some meat for the next two days. Dave drives because he wants to stop at the wine shop Roxanne and Cyrano  to fill the vrac bottle.

Have I told you about vrac? You bring in some sort of container - for us we have a 5-litre plastic jug that once had a pretty bad but very cheap wine in it. Then you take it to a wine dealer, usually a wine cooperative, and they fill it directly from their vats. Dave purchases a Bergerac AOC for 2 Euros a litre. 2 Buck Chuck à la français.

The butcher shop is small with just enough room for a couple of customers in front of a glass case. There are two other customers ahead of us which gives us a chance to check out the options. On our turn, we ask for a whole roasting chicken and his recommendation for a steak for grilling. He sells us 2 slices of rumpsteak.  We've invited Jeri and Paul for dinner on Saturday.

Back at home, we have lunch and plan our afternoon. Since it's threatening rain, we again decide to stay in the neighborhood, this time heading south a bit to find a castle that appears in the front of "The Most Beautiful Villages" book and a town in our list of most beautiful villages.

Berbiguieres is just across the river a few miles from us. We know nothing about it except that it has a castle. Internet research turns up a bit more info: it's in town and it's private and it used to belong to the same family that owned Castelnaud and Fayrac. We're not too sure where we'll find it, but we head off in that direction.

It's a cool little town even if it is raining. We check out the church which has bells to ring Clark's heart. Then we don raincoats since it's now raining enough to get us wet (and make a spot on my camera lens).

Dave and Clark find good photos of the chateau

and I find some good examples of the May 1 Labor Day poles. I find "un pin" (a skinny pine tree all decorated) in front of the mayor's office expressing gratitude to the elected officials.

We pass a door with an exceptionally detailed set of lace curtains. This is a common window covering all over this region although not always so decorative.

One of the chopped off trees is sprouting leaves and beginning to show some green.

Back in the car, we continue down the road another 10 miles to Belvès, another beautiful village of the Dordogne.  It stretches out along the top of a long cliff. The rain has stopped and we wander around what is clearly the old center of town while we wait for the tourist office to open at 2:30.

Inside the tourist office, we are given a walking map that has English notes. We've also noted that some locations have explanatory panels which also have English translations. This will be a fun town to look around in. There is a tour at 3 pm of the Troglodyte cave houses and our tour guide will be the lady from the tourist office. That's great because she speaks excellent English. We wander a few minutes more until it is time to meet at the market square.
This part of the 13th century fortifications now is part of the hospital

In 1902, the square next to the fortified tower was the goose market.
This photo is on the side of the hospital
Janis in front of white wisteria

Belvès market square
Belvès side street

I remember drinking this in my younger years

Just a cool door
Troglodytes are people who live in caves carved out of the limestone. In the case of Belvès, these caves disappeared from view when modern roads were built through the main part of the city.

At one time there was a large dry moat between the location of the market square and the tower across the street. This moat, we're told, was created by the action of a stream running down the valley, but by the middle ages, the stream was dry. The moat provided a defensive position outside the medieval walls. It was also where people threw anything they didn't want.

The moat was filled in when the modern road was built in the 19th century. In so doing, the caves were covered up and forgotten, only to be re-discovered in the 1980s when a van driving on the street fell through the roof of one of the caves. At that point, excavation and research was done on the caves and it was discovered that each side of the ditch had about 20 caves dug into it.  Starting in 1991, the city began to offer tours of the caves under the market square and now you can see 8 of the homes.

From the 13th to the 18th centuries, the poorest of the poor lived in these caves, dug out of the limestone using flint or iron tools. Because the limestone is so porous, it is easy to chip away, however, it's still a huge project to dig out a rock shelter. Each cave was one room occupied by one family including children and any farm animals the family owned.

Doors in each cave opened to the dry moat ditch.
Troglodyte door

There was no natural light, except through the door so oil lamps were used that ingeniously burned the wick while preserving the oil to be used again.
oil lamp

Rain would work its way through the porous rock causing the caves to be wet at times.

Early cave dwellers built fires anywhere on the stone floors with no venting to the outside. Next, people dug crude chimneys with a hole above to vent the smoke,  As time passed, fireplaces were enlarged and better fashioned for cooking and heat.

Pottery jars for storing food, grains and water were made using a crude version of a potter's wheel.
earthenware jars for food storage

pottery wheel

At some point, small wooden sleeping lofts were built near the top of the cave with a wooden ladder to reach them. Sinks were dug into the stone.
Walnuts were important for their oil for cooking and burning and their meat to supplement their diet. Stone presses were created to extract the oil.

This tour presents a glimpse at the difficulties of being poor in a war-ravaged country in the middle ages.

Once out of the cold of the caves, we decide we need to head home. We have a chicken to cook for tonight and steak to marinate for tomorrow night and a stop to make at the grocery story for stuff we need.

Home to cook dinner.
Chickens come with heads on them here. Maybe next time I can figure out how to ask the butcher to remove the head for us.

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