Just got back from a great vacation! I bet the postcards haven't arrived yet, but I thought you'd like to see some pictures!
I like vacationing with friends and had been toying with the idea of going on a bicycling tour of Southern French villages and paleolithic cave painting sites. Although various objections were raised to this plan ("Too much bicycling!", "Already been there!", "Bicycling doesn't cover enough ground to reach enough attractions!"), when I announced that my non-winnings from the lottery would be enough to subsidize a bicycling tour of Lascaux III, some of my friends were happy to come along.
Anyhow, during our bike ride through scenic Dordognes, we enjoyed stopping at farmer's markets and sampling different local cheeses and wines. Having failed to learn more than a few words of French, I was surprised at how friendly the local people were. Perhaps it helped that we were bicycling, or maybe it was that both A.H. and M.B. speak the language. A bunch of us have vacationed together previously (trips to Greece, New Zealand, and Turkey) but this was our first non-bus trip, where we had to do our own route planning and logistics. Even though there was one night when our B&B reservations got lost or misunderstood, there weren't any major disasters. And only one flat tire the whole time, too.
The major highlight of the adventure was seeing Lascaux III. Lascaux is one of the most famous paleolithic painted caves, but because the site was quickly being destroyed by fungus and other creeping problems produced by a large stream of visitors, the original cave was closed to tourism. (Apparently, this has not actually solved the problem...but at least now, well-intentioned tourists aren't part of the problem.) A replica site, Lascaux II, allows 2000 visitors per day to fake a visit to this pre-historic painted cave. Though some visitors are disappointed to be seeing a reproduction, even archeologists have recommended Lascaux II as providing a good facsimile experience, possibly more visually impressive than the original. Recently, because the replica site was also getting worn down, and because cave reproduction technology has improved, the first sections of Lascaux III opened to the public. We were one of the first groups to see it, and we had a super tour guide.
We got some great souvenirs. My favorites are the bird-on-stick and the so-called ithyphallic man. There was a place nearly where you could get paleolithic motif tattoos, but none of us was up for permanent art. We did buy a pack of temporary tattoos, and spent the next few days bicycling around with bulls, horses, and stags stenciled on our arms. We even got Moussie to put one on his forehead, but he refused to be photographed. There were also pushcart vendors hawking copies of the 'Clan of the Cave Bear' novels, but I figured that since I had English copies, I didn't really need French versions that I wouldn't be able to read.
The French countryside was beautiful and the painted caves were magical, but the best part was looking around the table at meals and seeing some of my favorite people in the world. My friends are so much fun that even going on a vacation around the corner would be exciting (well, especially if you like board games). It was a trip we'll never forget---even without any souvenir tattoos.