The wandering interests of JamaOwl

Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Basque Country and LaBastide Clairence

Basque country is first encountered in France.  We left Toulouse on a highway running in front of the Pyrenees toward Bilbao.  In spite of being at the edge of the middle of everything, the Basque language doesn’t belong to the same family as Spanish and French (which belong to the Indo-European family of languages).  There are numerous opinions about the origination of Basque, but the most likely is that it is derived from languages that were spoken in the area in prehistoric times.

We stopped just outside LaBastide Clairence, a Basque village known for it’s white houses with wood timber painted red.  (I found a lovely green on green one that I liked.)  It is also known for the numerous artisans that now work in the village.   Lunch here included lamb cooked by the owner’s grandmother’s recipe.  It was outstanding.  We saw several pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, wearing symbols of the shell on their packs.



We spend the evening and night in Toulouse.  Our hotel was the Grand Hotel de l’Opera, right on the Place du Capitole.  This is  a pedestrian zone and had lots of room for walking.  We went for a walk toward the river, and almost immediately, T.E. found a Subway.  On the way back from our walk we let him get his dinner there (he said it was just like in the United States).  We ate at the La Florida, a restaurant on the square and had a nice meal which we ate outdoors.

Toulouse is on the Garonne River  The city was located on a hill near an old ford crossing the river; a crossroads between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrenees, and the Massif Central.  It is called “La Ville Rose” or the Pink City because of the millions of salmon colored bricks used in the buildings.  The variety in the colors of red or rose in the bricks makes the city very interesting.  It seems to all match, yet at the same time when looked at closely, it has many colors.

The next morning we were headed for Spain.

St. Cirq Lapopie

This will be a short little piece.  We stopped in this very steep village for lunch.  It is located in between the river and the limestone cliffs.  Or maybe I should say on a wide spot of the limestone cliffs.  We were let off the bus at the top of the village and dispersed to find lunch.  After our lunch, Lee and T. went down the hill to get to some steps to climb a limestone tower.  I went back up the hill and found an easier, graded slope to walk on and overlook the tower.  We then proceeded to take pictures of each other.  I couldn’t be sure that I was taking a picture of them since there were many people on the tower, but they saw me since I was virtually the only person on the slope.  I had an easy walk back to meet the bus, they had to walk back up the village hill.

Pech Merle

Pech Merle is in Lot, France.  This 29,000 year old cave still allows people in it: 200 people per day where as Font de Gaume only allowed 56 per day.  Pech Merle has a huge volume of natural air flow through the cave which helps to protect it from the volume of people.

There are so many interesting things from Pech Merle that it is hard to make choices.  Probably the best known is the horse frieze.  There are 2 horses facing opposite directions.  They are dotted with black and red dots.  The horses are outlined by the artist taking some red or black pigment in the mouth and spitting it on the wall.  The width of the line is determined by how far the arms or hands are apart when they are placed on the wall.  The legs are made by holding the elbows together and the wrists apart and spitting the pigment following the line they make.  Surrounding the horses are 6 outlines of hands (called negative hands) made by the spitting method.

This is the first cave we have visited that has mammoth drawings in it.  I think we saw 5 or 6, some that overlapped or intersected with other animals, some by theirself.  One striking one was a mammoth with several charging bulls around it.

A very unusual find is several foot prints and partial prints in the bottom of a dry pool.  There are 12 prints from an adolescent boy.  This area dried out and, after the prints were made, the calcite floor hardened and preserved the footprints.  During the last ice age the entrance to this area of the cave was blocked indicating that these prints are at least 12, 000 years old.

One of the geological formations I found very interesting was the pearls and spinning top.  The pearls or little balls are created when water comes into the cave through an intermittent waterfall.  Specks of gravel or grains of sand are caught in indentations in the pool.  They are coated with calcite and polished by the action of the water spinning them around.  The ‘top’ was originally a tiny spec trapped in a hole.  It was set spinning while in water supersaturated with  calcium carbonate.   The calcite accumulated around its rim resulting in a top.  It has been inverted next to the hole it made showing the bottom of the top.

As we walked through the cave we passed by the end of the tunnel used by the three boys who found Pech Merle.  From the place where they entered the tunnel to the point where they came to a larger gallery, the tunnel is 140 metres!


Sarlar is a medieval town from the 13th to the 16th centuries.  The Abby was founded between 820 and 840 by Duke Pepin of Aquitaine.  During the Hundred Years War, Sarlat was never taken by the English in spite of Donader, the traitor, who plotted to give up the town. He was caught, stitched up in a sack and thrown into the river Cuze.

In 1962, the Margaux Act was past in France.  This law was concerned with restoration and reconstruction.  Sarlat was chosen as one of the first towns to be restored and protected.  Work done in  1964  revealed the vast extent of medieval and renaissance art.

We started our exploration with our guide Adrian Mialet in the goose market square.  There is fine statue of three geese marking the old square. Further on we came  to a strange structure called the graveyard lantern (Lanterne des Morts) near one side of the town cemetery.   This building looks something like the green ‘pickle’ in London.  It also has been described as a shell or rocket.  It was built in the end of the 12th century (1100s) and the original use has been forgotten.  The town’s coat of arms has a salamander on it.  This salamander is like a dragon in that it breathes fire.  I wonder if this is because salamanders often come out of logs on the fire in winter.  There are lots of superstitions because of their hibernation in logs.

An interesting structural feature of the rooftops in the old town is their steepness.  They are made from flat stones that are very heavy.  The steepness of the roof decreases the amount of stone and thus the weight. There have been over 30 films shot in Sarlot and the surrounding area.  It has become the third center for filming in France after Paris and Nice.

Sarlat is known for its foie gras.  We had some several times, and also duck, another specialty.