Our departure from Carcassonne is not without its hitches. While packing, I decide to leave Eliza to ‘swing free’ on the bed, mid nappy change and carry on clearing away in the living room. Sometime later, the calm, relaxed tone of my wife wondering ‘Heather!? What the F***?!?’ can be heard emanating from the bedroom… ‘What do you think nappies are for?! she’s p***** all over the bed!’
Hmmm….what to do? Guess we’ll have to erm, let it dry out and assume he’s going to change the sheets before he sleeps in his bed again…and erm…hope it’s not seeped down too deep? Feeling guilty but unsure what else to do, we pack up and leave in search of breakfast. It’s not a remarkable breakfast but it looks good- a half warmed up, half cold in the middle croque monsieur from a bakery chain.
From here, we’re keeping all our fingers and toes crossed for a long, long morning nap as Sarlat, our next destination, is a three hour drive north up the motorway. It starts well and Eliza is asleep by the time we’ve joined the motorway…it doesn’t end well though and she’s awake again 2 hours later. We consult the map for a good stop off and notice that the village of Saint-Cirq Lapopie is relatively nearby so hop off the motorway to stop there for lunch. Marie already has it on her radar, as a pretty hilltop village near to some caves she wants to explore. ‘Relatively near’ on the map turns out to be a forty minute windy drive while Eliza objects in the back, so we’re very glad when we finally arrive.
Beautiful is an understatement. We’re surrounded by deep green hills, the wide, calm Dordogne river passing below us and the village opening up in front of us with the church as the centrepiece. The village in front of us, beside us and then…behind us, as we follow the signs for the parking. We’re led past the village and out the other side, up and up the hillside into a parking lot which turns out to be surprisingly close to the village on foot. It’s baking hot sun so we bag a spot in the shade and promptly discover a poonami in the back of the car, which gets sorted out on the car park tarmac, for lack of a better option.
We walk down to the village, Marie regretting instantly her choice of jeans for the day and us both wishing there was a cooler way to carry Eliza than in the sling, but she’s just a bit too heavy to carry for any distance in our arms now. We’re both quite thirsty so head straight for lunch, choosing a place specialising in salads with local goat’s cheese, smoked duck and foie gras (we’ll pass on the foie gras thanks!). The salads are good, with a hearty portion of potatoes on the side and Eliza enjoys her first taste of cucumber and watermelon, which are both a hit…ish. We don’t think she exactly swallowed any food, but she had a good munch and had both going in and out her mouth a few times.
From here we set out to explore the village. Now, here is where you get the difference between Hev exploring a village and Marie exploring a village. The key question being- are the inside of shops considered an integral part of the village worthy of exploration? I think so, heading straight for the craft shops and typical food shops we are passing. Marie disagrees on this, wanting to see the outside of the buildings, the church, the views of the river below… we decide to compromise on seeing these first and then going in a few shops. A few steps further and I’ve stopped to buy an ice cream, seeing ahead of us a big mound with a viewpoint out the top and knowing instantly that this is our next destination. It actually isn’t as hard a climb as I’m imagining (it’s still blistering heat, otherwise it wouldn’t be a problem at all), and the views are pretty cool from the top.
From here we head downhill, aiming to make it down to the river to dunk our feet in. Meanwhile, Marie has been messaging our AirBnB host to explain that we’ve had to stop and will now be arriving 3 hours later than we’d initially said. She’d not had a response for some time, but now receives one- the lady is not impressed and would like us to know that she likes to go to nice places on Sundays too and does not have internet on her phone, which we should apparently have known, so we should have texted her instead of using the app, she won’t be in at 6, when we’re now planning to arrive, but we can try calling her daughter who may be home then…this leaves us both feeling a bit miffed, but we decide to continue enjoying our walk anyway.
The village is really pretty, with narrow, cobbled streets and rose bushes with gorgeous full flowers. We visit a saffron museum, which is mostly a saffron shop, a pottery shop and some other ones selling clothes and jewellery….then we see an ice cream shop selling rhubarb ice-cream (pretty much my favourite flavour of anything and I’ve never seen rhubarb ice-cream before)…I can’t have another ice-cream though surely…maybe on the way back up…
We continue downhill, realising we’re about halfway to the bottom, having come quite a way already. It’s still baking hot and the people walking the other way look far too hot and bothered to be having a nice time…Marie meanwhile is having a bit of a hard time with her swollen knees rubbing against her jeans as she’s walking, from the car incident the night before. She calls quits on the expedition and I happily agree with both Eliza and I also feeling too warm in the sling we’re wearing. This brings us quickly back to the ice cream stall and it’s delicious! The shop owner has a suggestion for cooling Eliza down too and wets her sunhat, explaining that her husband is a roofer and does this on hot days. I’m a little concerned it may give her brain freeze, but it seems ok and she seems happier for it, so we have a sit in the shade to cool off.
From here, it’s a pretty steep climb all the way back through the village toward the car. As we approach the top of the village, there’s still quite a way to go to get back to the car. I leave Marie with Eliza and the bag, offering to bring the car down to them and head off on what turns out to be a long and steep uphill climb, owing to the fact that I’m easily confused with directions and wind up climbing twice and high as needed and then having to walk back down to the car…great, I’m so soaked by the time I’m done that I decide I’ve had the medicinal benefits of a sauna for free- everyone else is also really pleased by our car being stopped in the middle of the road on the way down…perfect! We have timed things well for Eliza though and she falls asleep as Marie places her into her car seat, giving us a very relaxed and enjoyable scenic drive down the hill and alongside the river.
Despite the arsey message from our host earlier, we are greeted by a friendly woman outside her ceramics shop and led upstairs to a two bedroom apartment. She greets Eliza in French and then Italian, when she hears our tales of enthusiastic Italian elderly ladies, and is perfectly friendly and welcoming. Downstairs, her shop showcases her clay art, which seems to be a celebration of curvaceous women and women’s fertility, unsurprisingly I quite like it. Marie later picks the image with the largest bottom and claims she looks just like that (she doesn’t).
Marie settles in with Eliza/ collapses from the heat and rests her knees while I go out on a search for dinner. The mini market I’m sure is open turns out to be closed, as is the boulangerie next door. A little further is the main high street and just off it, lots of little restaurant filled side streets. My brief search finds lots of reasonably priced three course meals that all seem roughly the same- about 15 euros for a starter involving foie gras, a main involving duck and a dessert- should be nice and easy to eat out with our vegan friend then! I return to give Marie the option of this or takeaway pizza, she chooses the pizza.
There’s a takeaway pizza place directly opposite our apartment and I have a link to their online menu, but our host recommends another one. My limited French is enough to explain that we’re getting a pizza, but not enough to clarify whether this recommendation is based on the best pizza around or based on which one she thinks will be open on a Sunday. We decide to follow it anyway and also agree that Eliza would enjoy a walk to the pizza place, so I take her off in my arms. We say hello to a bench full of elderly people on our way there and back and to a couple with a dog sat enjoying an aperitif on the terrace of the restaurant. Eliza enjoys watching the dog. After some time staring at the menu, and then going back again to double check the name of the chosen pizza, I’m ready to order. Orders are taken at the bar and I ambitiously order a pizza with gorgonzola on it, requesting that it’s only put on half the pizza (in French guys, in French- and the barman didn’t reply to me in English!). While waiting for the pizza I asked for a glass of water (also in French, but that’s less impressive) and then had a brief conversation with a toddler (also in French) who was trying to tell his family that a baby had entered the room.
Now came an unexpected challenge- carrying a baby in my arms and keeping a pizza flat in my hands for the walk back which seemed at least twice as long in my new predicament. It worked though, mostly, there was a small slip at one point but the pizza barely suffered for it. Opening and closing the front door with a baby in arms and while keeping a pizza flat was almost a step too far. Having survived this and climbed the stairs I knocked on our apartment door and called ‘pizza delivery’ – Marie thought this was a ‘hello’ and remained relaxed on the bed while I struggled with the door ‘did you not hear me?’ I asked, once in ‘yeah’ – ah apparently ‘pizza delivery’ is not equivalent to ‘please open the door for me’ – she has a point there! Now comes the moment of truth- has the pizza survived these challenges? We’re in luck, it has, although Marie is in the most luck as the egg on the pizza is pretty much entirely in the gorgonzola half- bless her she tries spreading the egg around without spreading the gorgonzola. We enjoy our pizza dinner and a relatively early night, looking forward to our friends arriving the next day.