Sometimes, day-long tours should be half-day tours. I don’t fault the women who organize the outings. But the last stop on today’s adventure was one I could have skipped. Maybe it was just me.
We started with a 45 minute drive up some winding, mountain roads. Which describes most of the roads here, I realize. That took us to a small, very picturesque village with an old mill turned museum.
Inside, we saw an old flour mill. It must be about 200 years old. Part of it still works, although they don’t use the flour it produces for anything other than chicken feed. We saw how the wheat is ground and how it is then sifted into different thicknesses of flour. There was also an even older mill… basically just two big huge rocks that almost grind together but instead grind the wheat in-between them.
The more interesting old mill to me was the walnut oil mill. Walnuts are a regional crop, I guess you’d call them. Way back when, people used to have one or two nights a year when everyone would get together and shell the nuts by smashing them with wooden mallets. Those good old days ended when they started smashing them to bits with a 100 kilogram stone. Now they just buy 25 kilo sacks of pre-shelled and ground walnuts. I was more intrigued by the giant press used to, well, press the oil out of the pieces of walnuts. It is huge. And it is attached to what looks rather like a massive hearth made up of three very, very large pieces of wood. Tree trunks, pretty much. Those were put there about 300 years ago by the Carthusian monks, who left it all behind when they had to flee the area. I guess no one said hey, grab those giant logs as they were running out the door.
The two mills are original to the building. When they converted the place into a museum, they brought in a forge. So we also got to see the guide pound a piece of iron into a sharp point. That was pretty much like the demonstrations you can see in Williamsburg, minus the period costumes.
On the way out, I did buy some of the walnut oil. Granted, I don’t even like walnuts, but it’s kinda neat to have it. I’ll try it on salad or something. I’m sure drizzled in small amounts it’s fine.
Lunch was at a restaurant that was described to me as an alpine ferme-auberge. Something like a farm tavern. The key word here is farm. I didn’t even think about it until we walked in, but a set-menu at a farm restaurant was something of a risk for me. Since farms in the Alps don’t seem to be big producers of things I eat: chicken, turkey, well that’s really it. It smelled good, which was even more troubling. That meant if I didn’t like it, I’d be extra disappointed. It came out…. lamb. I have been a good sport and tried lamb twice recently and just couldn’t eat it. I figured a third try couldn’t hurt. It was ok. Not as strong as the last times. I managed to eat half, taking very small bites. Dessert was pretty good, so that sorta made up for it.
For me, the day could have easily ended there. Although, I didn’t know that as we headed farther up the mountain, up a dirt road, to a sleigh dog center where the dogs are raised and trained. I expected to see, well, sleigh dogs running around and maybe, oh, I don’t know, pulling something. A sled, perhaps. As we drove up, the owner (who is also the musher) greeted us along with three German shepherds. These dogs looked a little on the lean side to me. And they smelled like they have never gotten a bath. Ever. One had stuff clumped in his fur. I don’t know what it was. But it added to his aroma. The musher led us up to where the sleigh dogs were. Two big pens, each with rows of dog houses with steep-pitched roofs. It kinda looked like the pen from the movie Chicken Run. So we stood among hoards of flies and stench listening to him talk about dogs and wolves for about 45 minutes. In French, naturally. He didn’t even have a sled around to show us. I wanted to ask just what the point of the sled dog is now, other than pure amusement, but I didn’t want to delay our departure. So I will just assume that there is little other purpose. I also refrained from asking if he had running water available to at least rinse the top layer of stank off the dogs.
Still, I had a good time. I wasn’t the person standing next to the German shepherd who threw up all over the place.