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  • Day79

    Ardeche and the amazing Chauvet cave

    June 18, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    We decide to blast the whole way to the Ardeche region rather than making another overnight stop, so after a long drive with just a stop off for a food shop (fast becoming the best entertainment for the children as they blast round and round the aisles, and the most stressful part of our week!) we pull into the car park of a lovely site on the river - obviously the children head straight to the park, then we get a quick dip in the pools. After kids bedtime, we both get chance to see the sunset over the river - a beautiful treat!

    As Nic and I had both seen the beautiful river at our campsite, we head straight off in the morning to Pont D’Arc and find a parking spot (where we actually could’ve camped for free...darn!).

    We head straight down towards the river rather than taking the high path over the road, and wade through the small but strong rapids to reach the arc. We find frogs, lizards and more beautiful moths and butterflies, and watch as the kayakers paddle by. The Arc is amazing to think how it has been eroded over the years to make the archway, but is still strong enough to hold up.

    Next up, some art. It’s getting hot but we’re making good time to reach the amazing caves at Chauvet. These are actually a replica of those at Pont D’Arc, which were only discovered in 1994 and are closed to the public to preserve what lies within.

    We get our tickets and make our way to the ‘cavern’ - they are very clear that is a replica, they are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes with this.

    Inside we get an audio tour in a very quiet cave system (cue begging the children not to make loud noises and finally giving in and illegally feeding them crisps to keep them quiet as the tour comes towards the end of its hour!), and at each point of the tour we are shown what is so spectacular. The oldest paintings by man on earth. When these caves were chanced upon by 3 explorers in 1994, they came across a huge cave full of magnificent artwork that changed the understanding of how modern man lived 36000 years ago. The cave drawings are so fine and detailed, so well drawn, with such skill and so few tools that this discovery was collosal in terms of how ‘modern art’ was thought of.

    The drawings are so well preserved, along with bear bones and other prehistoric animals and tools used to create the artwork, and the discovery of this site was so significant that the cave quickly became a protected UNESCO world heritage site and it was decided that other than scientists, no one would ever visit them. The replica took almost 3 years, 35 companies and many people to create, it is half the size of the actual cave system, a condensed version of what actually exists.

    Each piece of artwork was created from photos and scans of the originals in a studio and then fixed to the ‘cavern’ as the build was complete, and it opened its doors in 2015.

    We wondered through trying to make sure our audio was in time with what we were seeing while keeping Coen from climbing/jumping/shouting at the cave, and it was fascinating to hear and see a tiny insight into the lives of the people that roamed our earth so many years before us. The drawings of woolly mammoths, reindeers, horses and lions were so lifelike, but these were drawn 36000 years ago, it’s hard to imagine these animals back then. The caves were visited again 6000 years after the drawings were made and footprints of prehistoric children holding torches still remained when the caves were discovered. No one found the caves again until 30000 years later, this made us wander how much more on earth we (as humans in our modern day) have not yet found.

    We also visit the little museum with the huge life size animals that feature on the artwork and lots of interactive info which is great, Amelia enjoys pressing ALL the buttons and asking why they aren’t speaking English, but by the time this is done we are starving and it’s pretty baking outside, so we hotfoot back to the van, get some snacks and head up the road to our next stop.
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  • Day412

    Day 413: Caves of Pont d'Arc

    April 3, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Another World Heritage site, but no Roman ruins today which makes for a nice change! Left Schnitzel at home today since we knew he'd have to stay in the car, but weren't sure whether he'd be OK in the car park or not - the website was quite explicit that there were no shady parking spaces!

    So off we went, about 90 minutes drive to the north and west of Avignon, to a river canyon near a famous rock arch known as Pont d'Arc. Here, a cave was discovered in 1994 that contained prehistoric art from around 38,000 years ago. And it's not just stick figure art either, like that we'd seen recently, this stuff was incredibly detailed. Drawn mostly with red ochre and charcoal, it has shading, movement, and even uses the contours of the rock to create a feeling of depth.

    The drawings are mostly of animals - lions, mammoths, bears, but there's also an owl, horses, buffalo, ibexes and all sorts of other stuff. Even a snow leopard, which aren't really known to have lived in this area but obviously did!

    Although the original cave is obviously closed to visitors, the government has constructed an exact replica into the hillside nearby, so we spent an hour going on a guided tour through that. It was a little odd since the French speakers got a local guide, while the non-French speakers just got an audio guide, but it mostly worked.

    The art was super impressive though, and even though I couldn't film inside we were both very impressed. It reminded us a lot of the cave art we'd seen in Spain the first time around, at Altamira, where they had bulls and the like done with multiple colours. It's actually my best-performing video for whatever reason, so hopefully I can live up to my standards with this one!

    By around 2pm we were done with the cave tour and the museum, so we hopped back into the car and drove back to Avignon. This time though we took the slower way through the canyons, marvelling at the pretty sandstone landscapes. The rock arch was also very impressive!
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