Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Grotte de St Marcel

Trip to Ardèche: Day 2

On the way down the canyon of Gorges de Ardèche, we kept coming across billboards for Grotte de This and Grotte de That. Having had our fill of grotty caves the previous day at Grottes de Savons, Blandine and I studiously ignored them. Big Mistake. The canyon of Ardèche is littered with limestone caves, many with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, but more importantly, with truly amazing prehistoric art by cavemen who used them as cooperative housing. Later, I learnt of this on good old Wikipedia. Check out the artwork in this cave called Grottes de Chauvet. (Image from Wiki Commons):-

It beats anything done by Picasso, and they did not make half the money that he did. But... most of the caves with paintings are closed to tourists. What the tourist gets to see are modern reproductions in previously unmarked caves. The Chauvet, in particular, is completely closed to tourists, and they are building a full-scale reproduction somewhere which will open in 2015. So maybe we did not miss much after all.

But one billboard finally got us to stop: Grotte de St. Marcel. The picture in that billboard was so intriguing, we decided it was worth checking out. We shelled out the entry fee. Big Mistake. Blandine remembered, too late, what the nice cash lady at Grotte de Soyons had told us the day before: that we could get a free entry to any of the other caves in Ardèche if we displayed the Soyons ticket. Blandine displayed the tik, but nothing doing. This cash lady was not so nice. She said we'd already paid, and she couldn't do anything about it. Moral of the story: always pay attention when nice cash ladies are telling you something.

Anyhow, we went down an enormous flight of steps, and beheld this wondrous sight, the same one we'd seen on the billboard:-

Yes, it really is like that, exactly as shown on billboards. One disappointment: all those colors are created by hidden lighting. I had been kind of hoping it was natural. But those folds in the rock are natural formation all right, and the water in them has gotten there naturally. Or at least, that is what I remember the guide saying. I wouldn't be surprised if those perishers don't top up the water surreptitiously, from time to time.

Even better -- or even worse, depending on your point of view -- they do a sound and light show with these formations. Eerie music echoes in the cavern and they switch the colors of the individual folds. Sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes yellow. It isn't as tacky as it sounds. It was quite tolerable, actually. But honestly, I could have done without it. I took a video of the show, but decided against uploading it. It might dismay the purist readers of this blog, who prefer Nature untrammeled. Here is another pic of the place, from another angle...

These colored folds are not the only attraction of Grotte de St Marcel, although it is the only one usually shown in publicity brochures. The place is huge, actually, with gigantic caverns with skyscraper-sized stalactites and stalagmites. It takes about an hour to do the full tour, with sound and light shows at three points. I went crazy with the iPad, but coming home, the pics don't look so impressive. You somehow don't get the impression of the enormous size of it all. I suppose, to capture all that, you need a lot of fancy gear and a lot more skill than I have. Anyhow, here are some of the better pics. Just keep in mind that these things are about the size of a ten story apartment block.

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