Vive la France!

Vive la France!

Welcome to my blog -- follow us as we travel around France.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dordogne - Day 3: Dordogne River Valley, Sarlat, & Geese

Today I fell in love with a new region of France:  The Dordogne.
The day started out with lots of promise for a clear day, and it was a gorgeous day.  We decided to go back to the river, retracing our steps from our drive on Sunday when it was grey and rainy. 
We drove directly to Beynac and got there in time for the 11:00 boat trip up-river.  The boats are reproductions of 19th century craft used to transport goods up and down the river.  It was a lovely day to be on the water.  It is a 50 minute trip, and the boat goes very slowly upstream with a very quiet motor, and drifts back downstream.  There were other people on the boat, but it was so peaceful and quiet.  We really hated to go back. The views of Beynac, especially the chateau high above the village are spectacular from the water. 
In several places along the cliffs you can see where there are either natural caves, or caves that were carved into the face of the cliff.  Many of them have been faced with stone, with windows and doors.  We saw similar caves along the Loire River – and some of those are still being lived in.  Here, though, I don’t think we’ve seen any that are being lived in – there are stairways and trails leading up to them, but many of those are barricaded. 
After getting off the boat, we looked in a shop and on the way back to the car, Mom noticed the tiniest hummingbird we’d ever seen.  When I saw it initially, I thought it was a bumblebee.  It was taking nectar from geraniums, and couldn’t have been more than 1 ½ inches long from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail.  I was able to get several good pictures of it with Mom’s camera – the battery had died on mine.  (Note:  Turns out this was NOT a hummingbird, but rather a sphinx moth.  There are no hummingbirds in Europe.  This moth is often mistaken for a hummingbird and it can hover and flies much like a hummingbird.  Here is a link for more information: - added 10/28/10)

After Beynac, we decided to go back to Domme, but stopped in La Roque Gageac for lunch on the way.  The starter of goose gizzards and foie gras was very good, but the main course of sliced rare beef with a sauce wasn’t very good.  It was a cut of meat that should have been braised, and was very tough.  We decided not go back to Castlenaud because the chateau doesn’t look very accessible for Mom.  So, we went right to Domme – I really like that village.  It sits high on a hill with a fabulous view of the Dordogne Valley.  Beynac, La Roque Gageac, & Les Eyzies all are squeezed between the river and cliffs, but Domme stands by itself, making it much more spacious with nothing between it and the sky.  We walked around Domme and spent quite a bit of time looking out over the valley.
Since we’ve been on this trip, Mom hasn’t been happy with her hair, and the shower situation in this house makes it difficult for her, so I decided she should get her hair done.  We found a hair salon in Sarlat, and she got a new French hair-do.  It really looks nice and I think it should last for the remainder of our trip. 
Later in the afternoon , we walked down the main shopping street in Sarlat and had a cup of coffee.  Sarlat is a very interesting town with lots of old buildings.  There was some sort of demonstration going on in the main square, so we stayed up on the main street.  The crowd of demonstrators was quite vocal.  I’m not sure what they were demonstrating about.  There was supposed to be a general strike today, but it only impacted certain industries.  The French are also unhappy about the government’s plan to increase the retirement age from 60, so it could have been that.
While we’ve seen quite a few ducks around and about, we’ve seen no geese.  So, this evening we went to a goose farm.  It’s not far from where we’re staying and it is a farm that Rick Steves featured on one of his TV shows and is highlighted in his guidebook.  They have 300 geese and they buy them when they are babies.  For the first 4-5 months, they live outside and eat green corn.  The entire field is sown with corn, and when it gets a certain height, they let the geese in the field and the geese eat the corn to the ground.  Today the two fields were about three-quarters eaten.  The geese are also fed corn, wheat, and barley grains.  When the geese are about 4-5 months old, they are moved 150 at a time into the force-feeding shed where they are force-fed corn 3 times a day.  It takes the farmer 5 hours a day to feed the geese.  They are fed this way and kept in the shed for 28 – 34 days, and double their weight during this time.  They are then processed 25 at a time.  They are 100% processed at the farm, and they have a special laboratory where the meat and liver (foie gras) is processed (cooked and canned).  This is all done under extremely sterile conditions.  The woman told us that geese have been force-fed for 6,000 years, beginning in Egypt.  It is considered to be humane as in nature geese fatten themselves up before their annual migrations, and it supposedly doesn’t hurt the geese.   The feathers are given away for use in pillows, etc.  Apparently, not many people raise geese anymore and that is one reason why goose foie gras is much more expensive than that made from duck liver.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that is area is also well known for walnuts and there are large walnut orchards.  Walnuts are being harvested now, and we often see people picking them up from under the trees.  They also have walnut trees at the goose farm, and the woman who showed us around showed us a gadget a friend sent her from California for picking up walnuts.  It’s a wire basket on a long handle that you roll along the ground and the walnuts are pushed inside through the wires.  It’s a back-saving device and now everyone in the area wants to have one, but they aren’t to be found here. 
The foliage here is beginning to turn and while most trees are still pretty green, there are splotches of gold and red throughout the area.  It is difficult to describe how beautiful it is here in the Dordogne, and we had such an enjoyable day today.

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