A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

Dordogne, France Report - another couple days with our kids

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July 10, 2011

Our kids are really enjoying the place we're staying. They still have their rough moments - DD#2 is being especially demanding as I attempt to write this.

On Sunday, much of France shuts down. The stores and restaurants are mostly closed. Some touristy things are still open such as the Font de Gaume cave. We were lucky enough to have an English guided tour through the only cave in the world with prehistoric cave paintings which one can visit. They were all of bison, horses, and reindeer. They predict that they were 15,000 years old. Our guide was very passionate about the subject and made the experience very interesting. They only allow 200 people per day into the cave. They will likely cut back to 80 people soon and many predict it will be closed to the public forever at some point. Carbon dioxide and temperature variations damage the paintings.
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Next we checked out the nearby La Roque St Christophe - a prehistoric and middle ages settlement formed into a natural rock shelter in a cliff. The kids enjoyed exploring the ancient rock formations. It's the largest natrual rock shelter in Europe. They predict around 1,000 people lived here! I think it must have been a unique living arrangement even in its time.
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Here's a replica of what the village probably looked like:
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The kids seemed particularly tired so we headed back for nap. DH gave me some lovely solo time to visit Beynac - a not-to-be-missed picturesque village. I drove the new car by myself and did just fine. Beynac was very pretty. It was a steep walk to the castle on top! Most things were closed, being Sunday, but I found a couple souvenirs near the top. Natrually I was low on cash (most places don't take CCs it seems) so I headed back to the bottom to the ATM and BACK up again. Good exercise for the day!
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For dinner, we treated ourselves to the evening meal at our accommodation - Le Chevrefeuille. The owners are also accomplished chefs and put out quite a 5 course spread! It was particularly good because the kids could eat and go play with the other children while we lingered. It was and probably will be our most relaxing meal on our trip. We had duck on a mango/walnut salad, soup, cheese, tapenade, dessert. Tasty!
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July 11, 2011
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Our last day in the Dordogne region. I really think we got a feel for this region during our six night stay. I have been to several regions in France (many yet to be discovered) and found the Dordogne to be the most relaxed and casual. There are definitely fine-dining options everywhere but so are shorts, sandals, and just-went-swimming hair-dos.

We had an especially easy day. After a short run among sunflower fields, we enjoyed another lovely breakfast. I love the fresh fruit, muesli, yogurt combo!

We stopped for picnic supplies in St. Cyprien and also walked around the sleepy little town. Our big event for the day was a local waterpark - Parc de Loisirs. The kids were castle/caved-out and I think we all needed a mindless day jetting down waterslides and staying cool in near 90 degree temps.
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DD#2 even tried one of these trampoline contraptions:
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We came back, cooled off, and headed off to our third and final meal at La Merenda in Meyrals. It was just so convenient and nice to sit outside with a view of the countryside.
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After quite a tantrum from DD#2 (I'm glad we're leaving tomorrow for that reason - it's embarrassing to show our face around this delightful B&B after that scream-fest), girls are sleeping before 10pm. A miracle. I do think we'll miss this beautiful place.
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We're off to the Pyrenees tomorrow. It will likely be a 4-5 hour drive. Our stop is Argeles-Gazost near Lourdes. The main attraction is the Tour de France!

Posted by familyineurope 12:42 Comments (0)

Dordogne - Canoe Trip, Castelnaud, Sarlat, and More!

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July 7, 2011 - First full day in Dordogne.

We are lucky to be staying at a beautiful Chambres d'hotes called Le Chevrefeuille. The grounds are big with play equipment, gardens, a pool (a huge hit with the kids), and plenty of picnic areas. There's a playroom and communal kitchen area. Our room has two exposed rock walls and bunk-beds. The girls alternate who stays on top each night! The morning breakfast is great too. They have pretty much everything you could want - including mini boxes of sugary cereal for the kids. They love it!
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The middle part of the complex:
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Our first outing was to the small village of La Roque-Gageac. It's nick-named "the rock" because the town clings to a rock cliff. We walked up some narrow passageways up to a church that overlooked the river. We were amazed by just how old everything seemed. Apparently the Dordogne River floods the town every year.
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Next we moved downstream to Castelnaud - an imposing fortress castle guarding over the river. We had a small picnic before heading into the castle. This castle was especially fun because we could enjoy it at our own pace. We rambled up and down narrow staircases and the girls tossed small pebbles into a very deep well. What a difference from King Ludwig's castles in Bavaria!
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The castle from the river:
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By now, the girls were aching to get into the pool. We went back and spent time swimming. We were lucky to meet other friendly English-speaking people at our b&b. They directed us to a town nearby, Meyrals, for dinner. What a great find! We were able to try foie gras and canard confit (duck in its own fat) - both regional specialties. Foie gras is a huge deal around here and we've seen it for sale EVERYWHERE. I think it's an acquired taste. We liked it but didn't love it. Sorry all you foodies reading this! The duck, on the other hand, was tasty.
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A few notes about the Dordogne region. The roads are incredibly narrow and windy. Some people drive SO fast on them despite barely having enough room for two lanes. I haven't dared drive and have to keep a keen eye on the road so I don't get car-sick. There are a lot of English-speaking people in the region which is nice. The region feels relaxed and slow-paced. My to-do list was pretty big upon arrival but I've already limited the number of activities. We've been travelling for nearly 3 weeks now and need more down-time. This is the perfect place to accomplish that task!
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July 8, 2011 - Dordogne river canoe trip!

We started our day with another nice breakfast. We made arrangements to take a 4-person canoe down a scenic stretch of the river. The river is very calm and requires quite a bit of rowing. I guess that explains my blister! The views were great and we couldn't have had better weather. We stopped a couple of times for snacks and to relax on the rocky banks. DD#2 was especially in the zone and loved watching for leaves and water plants. Canoeing the Dordogne is quite an operation. There are many competing companies and hundreds of people partake everyday. It was still relaxing despite the river traffic.
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After the 3+ hour canoe trip, we came back for more swimming and snacks. The French eat dinner very late. Many restaurants do not open until 7pm. We decided to eat at the same place we'd been the night before because it was nearby, delicious, and reasonable. We opted for easy pizza and beer. Another nice day that just flew by.
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July 9, 2011

After a leisurely breakfast (lots of friendly English-speaking folks here including a family from California), we headed off to a farmer's market in Le Bugue - another little village up the road. We bought local strawberries and a roasted chicken for lunch. I also found some fun duck-themed souvenirs.
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We then headed to a funny little village/amusement park called Le Bournat. It's supposed to be a replica of a 1900s village complete with artisans and kid-themed rides/attractions. It was a little hokey and the kids were only interested in the rides. Still, it was a nice place to have our picnic and spend a few hours.
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As always, we headed back for our afternoon swim. DD#2 took a much-needed nap after an explosive tantrum. So fun. Travelling with our lovely children 24/7 can be very challenging at times. I know we're privileged to have this opportunity but everyone sure has their less than stellar moments.

After everyone seemed back to normal, we headed to Sarlat - the largest and most well-known town in the area. We found a restaurant that had hams hanging from the ceiling and had a yummy - and very cheesy - meal. The best part was wandering the lovely little pedestrian-only streets after dinner. There were many secret passageways to explore and rocky old architecture. The stone roofs were incredible. I especially enjoyed our evening stroll around this town.
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It's after midnight now and I apologize for any misspellings. Time for much-needed sleep!
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Posted by familyineurope 13:28 Comments (0)

Chamonix, Last Day in Annecy, & Drive to Dordogne!

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July 4th - Happy 4th everyone (belated)

It was kind of strange to spend the 4th sans fireworks or celebration. We managed to see some pretty extreme and awesome scenery in the alps! We were lucky enough to score big with great weather in Chamonix, France.
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We got up early in Annecy and made the hour+ drive to Chamonix. We had pre-purchased all-day passes to ride as many gondolas/trains/lifts as we could. The kids were pretty cranky in the morning but nothing could spoil this view.
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We took the biggest and best gondola ride up to the Aiguille du Midi to have a close up view of the biggest mountain in Europe - Mt. Blanc. The structure at the top of the mountain is truly remarkable. After our two gondola rides, we took an elevator up to the top of a rock.
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Ridiculously beautiful. Enough said. We took tons of pictures. I'm only showing a few mostly because downloading them is taking. so. long.
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After seeing Mt. Blanc up close and personal, we took a cog-wheel train to Montenvers (Mer de Glace). We were able to see - and walk through - a real glacier! Once we got off the train, we took a small gondola down to the entrance to the glacier. Sadly, the glacier continues to melt each year and the number of steps to reach the ice tunnel increases each year.
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After our train ride, we found a nice outdoor restaurant in Chamonix where we refueled. The girls were completely worn out by this point. DH was kind enough to wait in the car while I rode a small gondola up to the top of Le Brevent for one last view. What a great day we had!

We arrived back to Annecy in time for more gelato and crepes for dinner.
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July 5th - Last day in Annecy

I began our last HOT day in Annecy with a short run. I was happy to see that another market was getting started! DD#2 and I set out to gather peaches and pastries for breakfast.
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We took a drive up Le Semnoz to a pretty but distant view of the mounains we'd seen yesterday. After the kids played on a playground at the top of the hill, we spotted another summer luge. It was closed for lunch so we settled in at a ski resort and had wine and cheese while the kids played. The best part were the cows roaming beneath the chair lifts. Many wore cowbells and it was music to my ears!
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This luge was even better than the one in Germany. There were fewer people and the price was better. We each had three very fast runs!
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We made our way back and had another final round of gelato. We were sad to leave many flavors untasted! After lots of hunting for dinner, we settled on a cafe where DH had a croque monsieur and I had a salad nicoise.

Annecy was lovely but a little touristy for our tastes. We were pretty hot our last night and some loud teenagers were outside our room until late. The location of the hotel was great but the traffic getting there was difficult. Overall, Annecy would have been better as a 2-3 night stop rather than 4. DD#1 had quite a fever at one point. Luckily, the pharmacy had Children's Advil and her fever broke. She's feeling much better now.
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July 6 - drive to Dordogne

This is the shortest entry of all. We left Annecy after another breakfast of croissants. Mmmmmmmm! The 6 hour drive took us through central France and was quite uneventful. I drove over two hours and enjoyed going 80-90mph on the autoroutes! Woohoo! Too bad the tolls were so crazy expensive.

We arrived at Le Chevrefeuille Chambres d'hotes (b&b) and loved the buildings and outdoor areas. The Dordogne region was already fascinating with its narrow winding roads, ancient looking buildings, and rustic appeal. The pool wasn't too shabby either. We stopped at a Carrefour grocery store and stocked up. We finally had a shared kitchen facility and could keep perishables. We had a nice picnic dinner by the pool and had a short swim before bed. I was also able to do some laundry and hang it to dry. The kids liked helping me hang the clothes on the outdoor clothes lines. We don't do that at home but should!

I'll post many pictures of the Dordogne and our accommodation next time....

Random observation - many children use pacifiers well past toddler-hood. I saw one kid who had to be 5 walking around with a pacifier in her mouth. Several 3 and 4 year olds too.

As always, thanks for reading!

Posted by familyineurope 13:43 Comments (0)

Luge, Linderhof, and Annecy, France!

July 1, 2011

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The weather turned nasty overnight. We had some serious thunder and lightning. I stayed up to watch the “fireworks”. It was funny to wake up in the morning and see the cows out our balcony completely unfazed.

We had another slow morning enjoying coffee, muesli, yogurt, and cereal. After spending time in this apartment, I think we all agree that travelling with a kitchen and separate bedrooms is the way to go!

We took a chance in a rain-break and headed near the big castles to the luge track. The track was closed when we arrived but we bought tickets upon hearing they’d open in 30 minutes or so. There was a fun playground in which to pass the time.
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The luge was fantastic! Both DDs were speed demons and had no problem with me going full-throttle down the metal track. DH wasn’t as lucky on his run and got behind some slow-pokes. This particular luge track wasn’t as great as one we’d visited in Austria years ago. Still, it was an adventure and a good way to spend the morning.
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We headed to Reutte, Austria for lunch. We found a recommended casual restaurant where we enjoyed fish, blintzes, and more croquettes!
We took a long and scenic drive along Plansee Lake. Gorgeous!
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A ton of motorcycles were along this road. Soon the weather took a serious turn for the worse! There was serious side-ways rain and hail. Still, we went to Linderhof Castle – the last of King Ludwig’s castles. We hopped on a 20 minute English tour and really enjoyed the ornate and smaller palace. The grounds outside were amazing. It’s too bad we really couldn’t enjoy them completely in the pouring rain. We did our best!
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We stopped at a grocery store for dinner fixings for grilled sandwiches. DH took a solo shopping tour in a Bavarian bottle shop. Sixteen bottles later…. It’s hard to stop yourself when surrounded by so many quality beers topping out around .79cents per bottle!
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We had a relaxing evening at home (drinking no where NEAR sixteen bottles) and enjoying the apartment for the last evening.
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Saturday July 2nd – drive to Annecy, France

Today’s entry is very short. We left Steingaden around 10am and began our 6+ hour drive through Austria and Switzerland to Annecy. The drive was mostly uneventful. We fueled up in Austria (cheaper there) and bought some cherries – first of the year for us! We hit nasty traffic near Zurich and were impressed by the many long tunnels.

We stopped for a quick lunch at an auto-stop in Switzerland. The stop had a mini-mall over the freeway with crazy expensive prices! We opted for the Burger King. I lost my appetite when I saw the prices. John had a cheeseburger and the kids shared one chicken nugget meal for around $15. Gulp! I was happy eating gummy bears, (can we say gummy tummy ache?) nuts, and cherries.
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Finally after a couple nasty tantrums (I’m mostly speaking of the children), we arrived in Annecy! The drive to our hotel was sketchy because the parking was in a pedestrian-only area. Yikes! Even though we’re sharing a room again, the room is charming and we’re a one minute walk from the old town.

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We rewarded our long drive with a typical Savoyard dinner – fondue! DH and I each ordered a different kind of fondue. Two massive cauldrons of melted cheese arrived at our table. I don’t care if I ever see cheese again! The fondue was delicious and the kids thought it was a kick. After a quick gelato stop for the kids (gelato is EVERYWHERE), we got the girls to sleep.

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I was able to sneak out for an hour walk discovering the magic of Annecy. What a gorgeous town! It really came alive on a Saturday night. People were everywhere dancing, eating late, and wandering the streets. I even peeked into a couple of churches and was the only one in the whole place! It was a great walk after a long drive. Whew – what a day!
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Sunday July 3rd

We slept in until 8:30 or so. I quickly got up and went for a run. I was so excited to see that a huge market was just getting started! I ran part way around the lake and was excited for a our first full day in France complete with fantastic weather!
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We wandered around the very busy market and bought delicious baked goods. We found a canal-side café for coffee. Mmmmm – perfect! The kids were in a good mood and all was well.
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Next we went by the lake and discovered that a big triathlon was taking place. We watched the swimmers come off the lake and down the canal and hop on their bikes. The kids played at a couple playgrounds while we watched the crowds. The kids rode the town carrousel too.
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After more walking, we grabbed a couple sandwiches and took them to our hotel outdoor seating area that overlooks the city.
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We then put on our swimsuits and took a drive part-way around the lake to a beach. The beaches were crazy busy today! Still, we paid our entry fee (nothing is free) and swam in the lake. DD#1 and I went down the slide a few times right into the lake and swam out to a floating deck. The lake was cold but so clean. It felt great! DD#2 had more fun at a man-made kiddie wading pool.
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There was amazing number of para-gliders all over the sky. It was like a swarm! At one point, I counted nearly 50 of them.
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We returned to our hotel, regrouped and went out for dinner. After some walking, hitting a playground, a pharmacy (DD#1 has a little cold/cough), we found a pizza place for dinner. We were almost the first ones there because people eat so late around here! The pizza comes as an uncut disk – interesting. Food was good and filling and nice to be eating outside once again. We made a quick gelato stop , had a few silly poses, and called it a day.
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Tomorrow - our incredible day at Chamonix. I'm a day behind. Happy 4th of July everyone!

Posted by familyineurope 12:52 Comments (0)

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