Saturday, June 30, 2007

Memories from France: The Caves

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The area of France that we visited had a lot of gorges. Villages were built into the side of gorges and rock faces with houses virtually sticking out of the rock face. There is much evidence of prehistoric man living in this caves around 13,000 years ago and there are many caves open to visitors, some with museums attached and some with model wax prehistoric men to show how they lived but we decided to visit caves that were off the beaten track and had no gimmick.

We decided to visit Grotte De Rouffignac and after a late breakfast we set off for the caves. At 12.30pm we were driving through a busy tourist village and decided it was too early for as my mother-in-law recommended it for the cave paintings made by prehistoric men 13,000 years ago. It was our second day in the Dordognelunch, we'd see the caves first then have some food.

We left the main road and started travelling uphill in a very rural area following signs for the caves. At last we appeared to be there. Appeared. We came to a dead end. There was a car park (with about two cars). There were public toilets. But where were the caves? We were very puzzled by this turn of events because there was not road we had missed and we had followed all the signs. By the time we'd been to the toilet the other cars had gone and we were on our own. As we drove out slowly we noticed an entrance to a cave (see the first photo with Mollie). When you went through there it was clear that this was the entrance we were looking for. The metal grid also made it clear that it was closed. There was a notice informing us that the caves opened again at 2pm.

As it was only 1pm and Ben was getting hungry we decided to find a place for lunch and then come back. Ten minutes later we were in a village with a main street so we were sure we'd find somewhere to eat. We drove slowly down the road but everything was closed and it was eerily quiet with not a sole in sight. We thought this rather strange and headed back to a supermarket that we had passed on our way into the village. We were dumbfounded to find that closed as well. It was the start of the tourist season we were near a tourist attraction and not a morsel of food could be found anywhere. We drove to the next village only to be greeted with another 'ghost town' with a very hungry Ben moaning in the back seat.

By this time we had two options either head back to the really touristy village for food or visit the caves at 2pm then get food. Ben was outvoted as we felt that if we drove back to the village we were halfway home and wouldn't feel like coming back. I made a mental note to keep a packet of biscuits in the car at all times!

We arrived back at the caves at 1.45pm, again not a car or sole in sight. Dead on 2pm five cars rolled up and all the staff appeared. On entering the cave and purchasing our tour tickets we were delighted to find a vending machine where we could buy the children a chocolate bar to keep any hunger pains at bay.

Once there were nine visitors in the foyer of the caves were were ushered further into the caves where a small electric train awaited us. As all the visitors were English we were given the tour in English (when my in-laws visited the previous year their tour was solely in French) which was great as we learnt so much.

As little as possible has been done to the caves to maintain and preserve them. No photographs are allowed in order to preserve them and limited light is used on the tour as well as the number of visitors being limited. We headed quite a long way into the caves before we stopped to be shown some scratchings all the wall. I wasn't too impressed with prehistoric mans talent until the guide informed us that the care bears made these marks. Now I was really puzzled as he went on about the care bears scratching the walls. I thought care bears were fluffy teddies how could they have scratched the wall 18,000 years ago? Then it dawned on me that it was cave bears he was talking about. Every winter a cave bear would come to hibernate always alone and he would scratch his mark on the wall. The following winter when a different bear came he would travel further into the caves looking for a new place to mark as his own territory. These bears must have comes for thousands of years as there were lots of their scratchings.

After the bear scratchings we arrived at the art work. Considering the conditions the art work was amazing. They mainly drew woolly mammoths but also horses, bison, ibex and rhinoceros. The caves would have been lit with small 'candles' of animal fat and in one place they would have been lying on the floor drawing on the ceiling of the cave. As I mentioned before we were not allowed to take photographs but I bought some postcards, one of which can be seen here.

I was thrilled to have been able to have the tour in English as we learnt so much and I would definitely recommend this over the more touristy, gimmicky places as it is a real piece of history. Since the paintings have been discovered they have faded a bit and despite all their efforts to preserve them it is only a matter of time before they disappear forever.


Yvonne said...

That's very interesting, would love to take that tour. Shame about the lack of lunch, I've noticed that about French towns before - nothing open! Disaster! (you can tell I'm obsessed with food)

Anonymous said...

Sounds really fascinating. That whole closing down in the middle of the day thing used to send me crazy. And it's not just the frogs who do it either.

laurie said...

fascinating. i'm glad you made it to the caves. and yeah, i find i odd that restaurants close over lunch so the owner can go get some lunch. that happened to me in germany a while back, too.

when we were in ireland we kept mcvitie's digestives in the car at all times. not because pubs weren't open--we just liked 'em. i highly recommend the biscuit plan!

frannie said...

I love stuff like that! and I loved my postcard from there.

it is so sad to think that one day the paintings will no longer be there.

Devon said...

I love antiques and the history they represent. That cave would be amazing to visit! Glad you were able to see it and Ben got some chocolate!

I kind of like how the French keep to a slower pace. Everything is about money in the US and things rarely ever close. It would be nice if things slowed down sometimes! Of couse when you are hungry, it probably wouldn't be appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Ah, I was wondering why all the establishments were closed in the villages. An afternoon siesta-type thing it appears. The caves sound like a fascinating part of your trip. Thanks for sharing the history with us!

Anonymous said...

I love this story. When I was ten or so my dad and I visited an ice cave in the former Yugoslavia. I still have very good memories of that tour. (And I think I was hungry too!)

Unknown said...

Lovely pics. My postcard still hasn't arrived! Bloody Royal Mail......snigger!

Anonymous said...

I am putting another item on my list of things to see before I die.

What a great post - Wish I could have been there (with a purse full of food, of course)

Beccy said...

Hellojed, it was annoying that they closed for lunch at lunch time, although the very touristy places were open.

Willowtree and it drove my six year old bananas as he's obessed with food all day long!

Laurie, mmmmm digestives, you're making me hungry.

Frannie, that's what I felt as well, with all the measures they're taking they still can't preserve the paintings.

Devon, the thing I liked the most about France is how true it's kept to its culture and I guess the closing down at lunch is part of that. And the duck....mmmmmvery tasty.

AS, we were always prepared after that day!

Karmyn, funny that I keep my money in my purse and my food in a bag!

Anonymous said...

i bet that was such fun!! That is weird that they all shut down like that right in the middle of what we would call lunch rush.. odd

my4kids said...

That sounds like a great tour and the pictures from outside with the buildings in the side of the mountains are amazing too. That is so weird that the whole town shuts down for lunch you would think something would be open for people to eat at least?
We went on a cave tour in California about a year ago and it was full of the that stalagtites and stalagmites they didn't allow pics their either and you couldn't touch the sides as it wears them down.

Pamela said...

I'm giggling -- and picturing the pink panther telling you about the care bears.

And, I'm also jealous. What a lovely trip!

Carla said...

What an adventure. It sounds absolutely fascinating. Lovely pics too.

Molly said...

Beccy, This is a very interesting post. I am glad that you have included the pictures and the details. Your post makes me feel like I am there visiting the caves too.

Steffi said...

It´s very interesting to read and wonderful pictures!Very nice tour!

ChrisB said...

You would think this day and age they could find ways of preserving the paintings.