Thursday, October 14, 2010
There was thick fog when we woke up this morning, and when we left the house, the car thermometer showed 7 degrees centigrade – very chilly. By the time we arrived in Rocamador, which is in the neighboring Lot Valley and about an hour’s drive from here, it was still foggy.
It is amazing that there can be a site attracting 6 million tourists a year, but the road up to it is only 2 lanes, and narrow at that. But, it makes for a much more scenic trip. I have to hand it to the French who have worked hard to preserve their historical heritage, and have added modern and efficient infrastructure where it makes sense to do so, such as the autoroutes and TGV trains. It does make it somewhat difficult for the people who live here, though, because they can’t do just anything they want to their property – any improvements have to be vetted and approved to ensure that they stay true to the local architecture, etc.
Rocamador was a pilgrimage destination going back to the 10-11th centuries. At one time there were about 8,000 people living there just to support all of the pilgrims that came there to pay homage to St. Amador and the statue of the Black Madonna – miracles have been attributed to both. During the wars of religion in the 16th century (Catholics vs Protestants), the site fell into neglect until the 18th century when there was a bit of resurgence in interest. Now it is a major tourist attraction in this area.
It is built on 3 main levels from the river valley up the wall of a cliff. At the top is a chateau that isn’t open to the public. The next level down is the “sanctuary” level and that was the interest of the pilgrims. The buildings on this level will built right against the cliff with the rock face being the back wall of the structures. There are seven chapels built around a central courtyard. The main one of interest is the Chapel of Notre Dame, which houses the statue of the Black Madonna. This level is reached from the village level by a Grand Staircase. Pilgrims would climb those stairs on their knees, and stop periodically to pray as they ascended. The lowest level is the village, which is pretty much just one main street with shops, restaurants, and hotels. The shops are pretty touristy. The river is still quite a distance below.
Fortunately for us, there are two elevators. One is an incline lift that takes you from the top Chateau level to the Sanctuary level. The other is a regular elevator that takes you to the village level. The shafts for both were drilled (or blasted) into the rock of the cliff. There is a charge for both lifts – apparently, they are owned by different interests – but we felt it was about the best 12 euro investment of the trip.
The sun finally came out while we were exploring the sanctuary level, and it turned out to be a glorious day, but still a little on the chilly side – there is a definite nip in the air.
We had lunch in the village – a crepe with chicken, mushrooms, and bacon with a blue cheese sauce. It was very good with a cup of sweet cider.
We got back to the house about 4:00 and had a bit of a rest before going out to dinner in Sarlat. We had dinner at Chez Vicky in the old part of the town. It is a popular restaurant. For our entrée we had a salad with confit of duck gizzards (gizzards that had been cooked then preserved in duck fat – they are so tender), and dried duck. For our main course we had duck breast with foie gras and truffle sauce. There was a bit of a problem in the kitchen – our salad plates where still on the table when the waitress brought out our main course. She said something to the other person, and took the plates back to the kitchen. It was still quite a while before our salad plates were cleared and a few minutes after that before our main course was brought out. I took one bite – it was stone cold. Of course, the waitress was not any where in sight. We sat there for several minutes looking at our plates and waiting for the waiter or waitress to come by. Finally, I attracted the attention of the waitress, and she came over. I politely said in French, “miss, this is very cold.” She apologized and took our plates back to the kitchen. It was probably close to 10 minutes later before we got our dinners back. We could tell that it was still the same pieces of duck, which had been reheated, but the foie gras, potato, and sauce was new. We were happy with the result, especially since the duck was cooked more thoroughly than it was at first, but still pink and tender. We had walnut cake with crème anglais for dessert. All and all, it was a very good dinner.
It was 9:30 when we left the restaurant – we weren’t even the first ones to arrive at the restaurant – and 10:00 when we got back to the house. I was able to find the way in the dark with not problems, though I think Mom doubted that I could.