Friday, January 6, 2012

The Ride to Town

Where we are staying, there is a bike trail that goes all the way to Sarlat. This piste cyclable is about 12kms long and follows the route of the old railroad tracks which were removed and replaced with bike path. It is certainly winter now.

Lots of caves in this soft rock

There are quite a number of old castles and houses built right into the rock in this area

Definitely the coldest bike ride I have ever been on

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012, It Begins Again

Well, Happy New Year. One month ago, to the day, we left our little Portugal perch for a multi-modal travel day that took us all the way to France.

Early on Dec. 1st, we took our last walk into town. Our first walk had been hot and sweaty and just six weeks later we were looking at frosty fields and wearing many layers, carrying our bags down into the valley and back up to town.

We waited anxiously for the bus, hoping we were at the right stop, that the website was accurate, and that the schedule on the locked office door was incorrect. The bus did indeed pull up, a few minutes behind schedule, and took us all the way to Coimbra, where we transferred to a bus to Porto. In the city we ate our rolls, cheese, and pears for lunch and then wandered towards where we hoped to find the metro stop that would take us to the airport. We had plenty of time, so when we did accidentally find the metro, we didn't go right away. Instead we walked up the long promenade where people were clustered and vendors were selling fresh, hot chestnuts. Porto is incredibly hilly, and we walked up away from the crowds and sat at a small cafe for a cafe com leite and a barley coffee, yum. I wandered into shoe shops and almost bought a pair of knee high, faux-leather black boots for 20 Euros.

The metro in Porto is lovely, much of it above ground once you're out of the center city, and now I have a new favorite metro stop - the Porto Airport. The Aeroporto line ends (terminates) at the terminal, with grass growing between the tracks. At the gate for our flight we tested our bags for size - Ryan Air does not quibble. You must prepare your boarding pass in advance or pay a fee, and it must be cut part-way across along the dotted line for easy removal. You have no assigned seat. If your bag doesn't fit in the test crate (and they test), you must check it for an additional 40 Euros (more than our two tickets cost, combined). We watched a young man with a small rolling suitcase lose his umbrella because it didn't fit in his one piece of luggage. Really? An umbrella? Little old ladies were instructed to stuff their handbags into their already overstuffed suitcases and a lot of frantic re-packing went on while we waited in line. We had shipped two boxes ahead, so our bags were within the limits.

After a chilly wait outside in line, we were shepherded like school-children across the tarmac and towards the plane. And yes, they do squeeze extra rows into those Ryan Air planes by making the space between rows almost non-existant. The seats do not lean back. But you cannot beat the price.

From the plane we saw glimpses of the Pyrenees, covered in snow and glowing slightly pink in the sunset. The north coast of spain looks incredibly bumpy and the west coast of France seems sandy. We landed in Bordeaux just after sunset and then waited for the shuttle bus to the train station - and then waited in traffic while trams, that do not go all the way to the airport, rolled by. We had plenty of time. Enough time to buy a couple of sandwiches and our tickets at the station. Once on the train, where we assumed we were free of customs and immigration, we had a harrowing few minutes while a fleet of police looked at our passports forever, wondering why they were making a phone call while looking at Joshua's passport, and then breathing a sigh of relief when they smiled, handed us the passports back, and walked on. Yikes, France.

We were collected by our friends Karen and Anthony, who are renting a house not far from the amazingly beautiful city of Sarlat. Our day ended with an hour plus car ride on dark, winding roads, and we slept like babies until mid-morning the following day. Multi-modal exhaustion.

During our two weeks with Karen and Anthony they took us around a bit to show us the sights.

This is the Dordogne River from the village of Domme

Domme is a very beautiful little town at the top of a cliff

We went to Sarlat-la-Caneda at night for the Christmas fair

where they had camel rides

Magical and spooky

And we went to the Chateau de Beynac and walked to the top

The Chateau itself was closed, but we got the idea

The traditional roofing material is rock, an almost completely lost artform

Then Karen and Anthony headed off to the US for the holidays, and we've had a quiet, productive couple of weeks here since then. Lighting fires to keep warm, going for frosty bike rides, and drinking lots of lemonade.