Bergerac Reflections

Bergerac was once important in the Dordogne River boat trade. Now, as a medium sized town of about 30,000 people in south west France, a day visit easily allows enjoying the market (Saturdays and Wednesdays), an exploration of the medieval centre and port, securing a table for lunch, and a walk along the river.

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A bridge over the Dordogne River in Bergerac.

There are many lunch choices.

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The market is a meeting place.

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Is this the world’s most beautiful public toilet?

In some countries, finding a public toilet/WC may be easy (as in China, France, New Zealand, or Australia), or virtually impossible (as in the USA or Italy).

Where a country lacks public toilets, locals probably expect that visitors will follow their own example, and use an establishment such as a bar or café. However, in popular tourist destinations, grim faced waiters and grimmer signs, or locked doors, provide a strong disincentive to anyone seeking relief without becoming an involuntary customer. In smaller villages and localities, there may be no such prospect at all. Is it possible that locals in those countries have developed a Darwinian survival trait that allows them to better control their bodily functions?

Most public toilets make no concessions to aesthetics. Not so this one in Pont Aven, Brittany; my selection for the most beautiful public toilet in the world. Why? It’s an elegant structure, reminiscent of the hórreos or granaries of Galicia in Spain. Traditional stone construction integrates subtly with the convenient central location in the village, and the Aven River below provides soothing sound effects of running water.

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On your knees in Rocamadour

Rocamadour, in south-west France, became famous in mediaeval times as a place of pilgrimage, and an important stop on the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (the Camino de Santiago, or St James’ Way). One of Rocamadour’s main religious attractions is its wooden Black Madonna.

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Today, Rocamadour’s 600 residents are joined by around one million visitors yearly. Pilgrims of the past climbed the steep 216 stairs to the top of the village on their knees. Now, visitors who don’t wish to climb by stairs have the option of a lift.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘R’.

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