Rocamadour

This is the second most important, not To mention popular, destination in all of France, after the iconic Mont St Michel. I believe it is also the second most important catholic pilgrim site after the Camino, as a consequence of the Chapel of Notre Dame, which houses the “black Madonna”. 

The name Rocamadour derives from the local dialect which refers to a hermit who lived in a cave on the awesome limestone walls – ” roc amator” – he who loves rocks. Each to his own, I say.

And another thing, lest you think that the Roman Catholic Church has suddenly become inclusive and celebrating diversity, sadly it is not the case. The black Madonna was a not quite pure white statue carved from walnut wood which over the millennia, has been blackened by the soot and smoke of burning candles!

During July and August upwards of a million tourists visit Rocamadour each month! Thankfully I arrived early September when the numbers drop dramatically: 999,999. Seriously the town was decidedly peaceful.

The other quaint custom is that pilgrims even today are required to climb the 223 steps of the Great Stairway on their knees and once at the top they enter the chapel and are presented with a medallion, a parchment certificate and a list of local orthopaedic surgeons.

The original medieval pilgrims not only climbed on their knees, but wore chains around their ankles! A rather wincing vision that is to this day recreated at the biennial meeting of the local chapter of the Rocamadour Masochists.

Gourdon to Rocamadour

The day dawns bright and sunny with a typical crispness that belies the coming heat ! It’s breakfast and I am the only cock crowing in the hen house – 3 Canadian women I guess in their late 60s are about to set out on much the same tour whilst about 6 Austrian woman who appear to also start a cycle adventure are all set up with brand new ebikes and cycle clothes that suggest they have travelled to Gourdon via Milan.

I am fascinated by the lack of obesity in the French population, given their enjoyment of food and wine! Then the penny dropped – the vast majority still smoke.

However we passed several fields of literally thousands of ducks. I think ducks are to France what lambs are to New Zealand. Around the bend in the country road was a huge factory that manufactured Pate de Fois and every other known way to butcher, press, grind or extrude duck meat into edible offerings. I suspect from the almost snow like appearance of the fields, that a duck down Doona factory would supplement their income…nor to mention fertiliser.

So the point of this preamble is that the factory, much like a wine cellar in the Adelaide Hills was open for tastings, so in I went, to be confronted by a customer who was one of the most obese humans I have even seen and who was adding to his gigantic shopping bag all manner of things “ducky” which cost him at the Check-out out about Euro 100.

This was a delightful ride, which the notes suggested was the shortest of the week but made up by it being the most hilly! It was dead easy! A pleasant cycle less taxing than the ride to Norton Summit and certainly not as arduous as the freeway path . It’s all downhill literally from tomorrow.

The Dordogne seems to specialise food wise in duck and walnuts.

“Canard de Duo” with Chips! The “two” refers to a ducks drumstick and half a breast.

A few pictures of several quaint villages on this first day which turned out to be cloudy with occasional warm spitting rain – a pleasant relief

A separate blog on Rocamadour to follow.

Gourdon -the Dordogne

I arrived from Toulouse by fast SNFC train at 9:30 and met up with Simon who set up the road bike ( new!)

Then Cliff who went through the cycle itinerary- which looks fabulous and I think relatively easy over the week.

Gourdon is a delightful bustling town perched on a hill with castle and church as are all towns and villages. It was also the day of an agricultural show with shiny new machines along the main road

As always, photography is so much better than words and so here are a few pictures of the township

Toulouse

It is precisely 24 hours since the Emirates B777 departed Adelaide and I am now sitting in the Nice airport, for a 5 hour wait till the flight to Toulouse with EasyJet. The universal aviation rule is that the flight opens 2 hours before departure, including bag drop, so I sit forlornly in the domestic terminal with my luggage tightly held between my legs – no such thing as an airline lounge in Nice.

The A380 that flew me from Dubai to Nice

Clearing customs and immigration was a true French farce. The immigration gendarme opened my passport at a blank page, stamped it and passed it back – taking less than 10 seconds whilst eyeing off the attractive young Emirates stewardess in the adjacent queue.

It’s 5 am in Toulouse waking up in a very basic but clean Airbnb, whose only redeeming attraction is that it’s 340m walk to the railway station. I slept well for 7 hours.

The taxi ride from the Toulouse airport to the city gave me a brief look at the old town and I hope to explore it a little on the way back