We wake excited to see our friends Rhea and Will, and after a relaxed breakfast due to a flight delay, Marie heads off to the airport to collect them. I pass the time by taking Eliza for a nice walk around the town, happy I can fully indulge in some shopping- only to discover that what Marie has been saying everywhere we go is really, thoroughly true here- the typical produce shops really are all the same! As are the restaurant menus it turns out- full of foie gras and duck with nothing for vegetarians, let alone vegans (one of our friends visiting is a vegan). It’s also a Monday, so all the other shops are shut, just restaurants and tourist-focused shops open, so that maybe accentuates my experience. People are smiley toward Eliza though, so she has a nice time, and many of the shops have taster samples, so it’s not without its benefits.
The mission I’ve set myself is to buy and prepare lunch for their arrival. It being a Monday seems to mean all bakeries and other shops useful for this task are closed, so my walk through the town is pretty extensive, finally finding an open bakery on the outskirts of the opposite side of the town. Eliza falls asleep as I’m walking back so I speed up a bit, hoping to get home in time for her to have some of her nap in her bed…that all goes really well until I pause while some Australian tourists coo over her and she wakes up!
An awake baby makes for some interesting food prep, with most of it taking place while sat on the floor beside her. I try to get her interested in her toys, but she’s far more interested in what I’m doing, so ‘toy lettuce’ becomes a thing! Before I’ve quite finished, I hear the door and Rhea and Will walk in. Eliza gives them a winning smile and Rhea is literally beside herself with happiness, squealing and clapping as Eliza shows off her full repertoire of smiles and gurgly noises.
We sit down to our salad and have a good catch up, deciding to go for a swim in the river that afternoon. Chloe (who was already the source of stellar Sicily advice) has given us directions to a local river spot so Marie goes off to write them down, coming back to read them out- the highlight being ‘ignore signs saying strictly prohibited’ and we set off. The drive is pretty and perhaps we’ve become a little too accustomed to using a satnav, as we’re all chipping in to try to spot the landmarks on the instructions and guess the distances- it works out well though and we find the very clear and explicit ‘don’t you dare park your vehicle here’ signs and pull up directly beneath them. There’s one other car here and we can’t decide whether to be relieved that someone else is doing it too, so it’ll probably be OK, or worried that the other car belongs to the land owner and we’re sure to be in for it! Eliza meanwhile has gone into a very deep sleep, so continues this in her car seat on the banks of the river while we dip our toes in- ooooh it’s cold! Too cold for Eliza so it’s just as well she’s sleeping. It’s very pretty though, with lush greenery in every direction.
We pass most of the afternoon with Will and Marie skimming stones while we all stand in the river in our pants – Will’s the best at this I’ve ever seen so I spend a while trying to capture it on camera, I’m not sure how well it works though but he manages to get loads of bounces right across the width of the river. Rhea also has a go, which is somewhat entertaining, sending stones soaring up into the sky then plopping soundly into the water below- she does manage it a few times though, and I can’t really talk as I don’t even give it a try!
We’ve noticed a pretty loop of small villages to explore after our river swim, but think better of it when Eliza sleeps almost until it’s time to leave and decide to head toward the first one and then just see how it goes. How it goes is that Eliza is quite clear that it’s time to be walked about and see things, not time to be in her car seat, so we stop reasonably promptly. During the drive my body has decided it’s quite unhappy with something I ate at lunch and I make a quick dash to find the nearest bar with a toilet. I hear the others arrive shortly after me and joke with the bartender- it’s in French so I don’t know what Marie said, but I’m sure as a good, supportive wife it’s nothing to do with my current predicament!
[Marie interjecting here, to report that it didn’t in fact have anything to do with her predicament, it had to do with the bar’s dog, so there, can I have my good supportive wife medal now?]
We then sit and enjoy a beer / cider and go for a little explore around, finding a nice viewpoint over the Dordogne river, a small bakery for Will and Marie to enjoy a chocolate éclair, a castle that Rhea would quite like to live in and an array of disabled cats- one missing an ear and one missing a leg – Will makes friends with both.
The journey home from here is a little complicated, with us going both ways through the roadworks our host advised us to avoid- the little village beside the roadworks is pretty though. Eliza is quite content in the back, so it could be worse.
The next day we decide to get on with seeing what most attracted us to this region- prehistoric cave art. Rhea and Marie, with an interest in art, Will as an archaeologist and me, with a chapter dedicated to it in the History of Art books Marie wrote me, are all equally keen and we spend the morning discussing the various options nearby.
Rhea is feeling a bit under the weather and Eliza’s cave interest was somewhat variable earlier in the trip so we decide to start with Rouffignac, a cave with prehistoric art on the walls and a little train to take you deep into the cave to see the art. To describe Rhea as a bit under the weather is in fact somewhat of an understatement and whilst she valiantly soldiers on, she can be found lying down anywhere flat between activities.
We arrive and park up a little down the hill from the entrance. Many of the caves nearby have limited daily tickets so we’re unsure if we’ll get in. Marie decides to take one for the team and pop up the hill to try to get tickets, while Rhea heads off to find the local toilets. I wait with Will by the car, convinced Marie has accidentally left with the car key….a while later we’re still there and agree that I’ll go up to get them from her…I reach the top, find Rhea laying on a wall and Marie informs me that no, she left them with me. Now, the old Peugeot had a self-locking feature…we’ve not tried it to find out if this has the same, but our housemate’s Peugeot does so you can picture the scene- me legging it back down the hill, arms flailing slightly as my running style resembles Phoebe’s from “Friends”, reaching the car in a panic and yanking at the door- phew, all is well, it’s open!
Crisis averted, we have 20 minutes left to wait and Marie has been advised that there may be mushrooms in the surrounding woodland, so she’s off on a hunt with Will to accompany her, while we chill next to Rhea on the wall. Eliza is enjoying the sights and smells and the attention from other visitors. In the distance we can see Will and Marie returning with something small in their hands- could it be mushrooms? Nope, not mushrooms, but they have managed to find some little strawberries that they share with us- a little sour for Rhea it turns out, and a bit too small for Eliza to try.
It’s now time for the cave and we’re in luck- first ones through means we get the front seats in the train. It’s a surprisingly long train journey through the cave to the first stop, where a mammoth is scratched into the wall. Further along still and we pass scratches in the ceiling and on the walls. The next stop is a pretty impressive image of mammoths in a row, facing in toward one another.
[Note: pictures not allowed in Rouffignac cave, so these are lifted off the Internet – Wikipedia, Youtube and the cave’s website]
At the end, the train stops and we get out, all over the walls and ceiling are images of ibex, mammoths, goats, rhinoceros, horses, all kind of layered over one another. The effect is a little messy, by our idea of art today, but I wonder if it’s an earlier representation of perspective or some other effect or meaning that made sense at the time. We’re shown where the floor would have been at the time- really high up, meaning people would have crawled in, with animal fat candles, to draw in almost darkness, never being able to get far enough away from the images to see them in their entirety- it makes for some interesting animal body shapes, but also leaves me wondering why cavemen would venture so deeply into the cave, through such massive areas to crawl into this tiny bit to do all the drawing?
Humans weren’t the only beings to use the caves and I’m flabbergasted to see rows of bear nests (nests? I’m not sure what’s best to call them) used for hibernation, all next to one another- presumably not all used at the same time in an orderly bear dormitory, but used by many bears over thousands of years, perhaps each time making a new space rather than reusing old ones. Beside them are big claw marks where the bears have scratched at the walls. It also brings home some of the risks the cavemen would have taken in coming in to do their art in the caves.
The rest of the day we decide to chill, making dinner at home and Rhea having a bit of a sleep. This somehow revitalises her though and she stays up with Will and Marie, setting the world to rights. At 3am Eliza wakes me up for a feed, I find myself in an empty bed and can hear the emphatic debating continuing in the kitchen. ‘Er….guys….do you know it’s 3am already?!’. Discussions come to an end shortly after this and Marie collapses into the bed saying ‘there’s lots I need to think more about…I can’t justify eating meat’.