OUR INCREDIBLE JOURNEY TO THE DORDOGNE REGION IN FRANCE (Perigord Noir)
13-20 September 2003
We planned this trip months ago, reserving everything online. Although Tim had been to Paris (over a decade ago), it was a first for us to travel to the Dordogne Region in SW France. We both looked forward to it even though many of our friends and family were concerned about us taking a trip to France where, they believed, Americans were not welcome. Nothing could have been further from the truth!
Our journey was wonderful, but not without some problems.
Very early Saturday the 13th, we traveled to London Heathrow and checked in. It wasn't until then we discovered that, in addition to having to change planes to get to our 1st destination (Bordeaux), we also had to disembark from the plane at Charles DeGaulle Paris airport, retrieve our bags, board a coach (bus), travel across Paris to Orly Paris Airport to catch our flight to Bordeaux, and then pick-up our rental car. Whew!
NOTE: Tim was into his 2nd week fighting a cold. He refused to postpone the trip. Based on of some of the looks he received because of his frequent (and very loud) coughing and nose-blowing, we were lucky they didn't have him removed from the public transports.
Tim had forgotten to bring his driver's license, so he was the navigator and I was the chauffeur. We lost some time finding our way when we left the airport, but eventually we found the right road and headed off toward the rural areas of SW France.
The roadways we experienced throughout France (whether city or rural) were in excellent condition and well marked. It was truly a pleasure driving.
Since we were to be in a self-catering cottage, we decided to stop at a large store in a small city and get supplies. Tim was concerned we might be in a membership type of grocery, so I asked an employee. She did not understand me, nor I her, so she tried to find someone in the store who could speak English. Unfortunately, there was no one, so we continued our shopping adventure. As I was looking at some items on the shelves, a kindly-looking older lady started talking with me in a friendly manner. I'm sure we both were saddened because of our language barrier. Tim and I checked out our purchases, then took to the road.
The countryside was beautiful and full of magnificent architecture. However, we started getting concerned about how late it was. We also realized we did not know how to get to the cottage once we got to the town of Cenac.
It was almost night-time when we arrived in Cenac. I saw a couple on the street just getting out of their parked car, pulled up behind their car and asked if they knew where we could find the cottage (showing them our confirmation with the cottage's address). They spoke no English, but found a friend of theirs nearby who spoke some English and explained to us how to get to the cottage.
It took awhile for us to accept we had made some wrong turns, so we returned to town - by now it was dark outside. Finding an open Bar/Restaurant (Le Pauly), we went inside and asked for directions. Everyone there tried to help, but knew little or no English. The night-time waitress came over and tried to draw a map. A young man (who knew a little English) was nearby and the waitress explained the directions to him. He and another friend, their car leading ours, took us to the driveway leading to the cottage. They absolutely refused any compensation for their time and trouble.
Driving up the roadway, we saw a large house with a light on. Thinking it was the owner's home, we went up to the door and knocked. A surprised young man brought an older man from Israel to the door. The young man and two other young men there were from Rumania. The older man had hired them to help renovate his large 18th century home. None of them spoke French, but they did speak English! The older man did not know where the cottage was so he tried, unsuccessfully, to contact a friend of his who spoke both French and English. Tim showed him a picture of the cottage and the swimming pool. He then knew where it was, had us go outside and turn on the car's headlights, and the three of us followed the light down a short pathway to another large house where our "friend" knocked on the door.
The couple turned out to be the owner's of the cottage we were looking for; however, they spoke absolutely no English. Tim did remember some of his written French from school and we had an "English to French" phrase book, as well as hand and face gestures. Between the lady of the house and Tim we learned she and her husband were traveling the next morning to the Pyrenees for five days. She took us to the cottage about 10 yards away.
The cottage was delightful (LeFournil). Too tired to unpack or do much else, we sat on the patio looking up at the fantastic stars filling the sky, then went to bed for the night (it was now about 10 PM and we'd been up since 4:30 AM).
Throughout our incredible and wonderful journey (only a few: Beynac Charles Duret - Jeweler La Roque Gageac Lascaux Les Eyzies), we found everyone friendly and helpful. Our experience with the Tourist Bureau and the Gendarme (police) in Domme (Domme) proved the French people in the region were also very honest . I won't go into details, but an hour after leaving Domme we were back in Domme frantically searching for my lost passport holder. It contained both of our passports and about €20. The Tourist Bureau made calls to the Gendarme and learned that our passports had been turned in. We were directed to the Gendarme area and retrieved my passport holder - not only with the passports, but the €20 still inside - from a very nice Gendarme.
I think this was the best vacation I've ever experienced and look forward to visiting France again soon.