Leaving La Rochelle

Alors, le premier séjour à La Rochelle est terminé. (Well, the first sojourn in La Rochelle has come to an end.) We picked up the rental car Saturday morning, said au revoir to Jacky and Pascale, drove back to the house to load up, and hit the road. Before I close that chapter, one last image of fun in La Rochelle, courtesy of Pascale:

BBQ chez Pascale et Jacky 19 juin 2014
BBQ chez Pascale et Jacky 19 juin 2014 — le fromage (cheese course)

Then we were off to Tours, where I had stayed with a couple–my “host family”–during a week of intensive French classes a couple of years ago. Just a bit more than two hours away, but it has a totally different look:

Tours
Tours — NOT our apartment

I found a great apartment to rent for a few nights. It’s part of the former cloisters of Saint Martin.

Galerie du Cloître Saint Martin
Galerie du Cloître Saint Martin

Our apartment is directly above where I was standing to take this photo. Bonus points: Where’s David?

IMG_3938And an extra ten bonus points: Where’s Sunny? Taken up in the loft bedroom of the apartment.

Our two-story window is the one on the far left.
Our two-story window is the one on the far left.

Did our usually strolling, then got in the car looking for some wine to taste, but alas les caves (remember, say cahv) were closed on Sunday, so drove to Amboise instead and had a look around.

Amboise from across the Loire
Amboise from across the Loire

The château that still stands is seriously impressive, but is merely a fraction of the original. Lots of beautiful details like this:

Château d’Amboise
Château d’Amboise

This is over the door to the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, where Leonardo da Vinci is buried:

Chapel Saint-Hubert, Château d’Amboise
Chapel Saint-Hubert, Château d’Amboise

A few folks looking ready for a masquerade ball were wandering around to add some authentic flavor.

Château d’Amboise
Château d’Amboise

Just one of the gazillion châteaux of the Loire Valley.

Château d’Amboise
Château d’Amboise

The beauty here in France is almost staggering sometimes, and we were fortunate enough to have a gorgeous day in which to appreciate it. Not a bad way to ease the temporary parting from La Rochelle and our La Rochelle friends!

Fun in the Sun: Brouage and Ile d’Aix

I had to set an alarm to be ready early enough for this jam-packed day, but was it ever worth it — absolutely perfect weather, gorgeous scenery, minimal crowds, delicious food and wine, and of course lots of laughs with our fun friends, Jacky and Pascale.

They picked us up at 8:30 a.m. and took us first to see Brouage . . .

Brouage
Brouage
Brouage
Brouage

. . . a 16th century citadel that used to be on the coast, but now, where the sea used to be:

Brouage
The fields around Brouage — like a watercolor painting
Medieval WC, Brouage
Medieval WC, Brouage

I had the wrong lens on to get the full shot of this, but be sure to note more than the pretty stone. The board with the holes . . . that’s the far end of an eight-seater toilette. Yes, EIGHT. Awkward. Lots of cobwebs, so apparently NOT still in use.

After a walk around the perimeter and a stroll through the village, which apparently had not really ramped up for tourist season, we got back in the car and headed to Fouras to catch the ferry to Ile d’Aix (pronounced eel dex).

Pique-Nique in a bit of shade
Pique-Nique in a bit of shade — Photo by Pascale

First order of business, find a bit of shade pour le pique-nique.

Brouage-Aix 25-06 022Then a stroll (with photo stops) around the island. Do you think I have enough bags and cases to juggle while I snap photos and change lenses? My fab hat did come in handy, though. (These two photos by Jacky)

And for all of you playing “Where’s David?” . . . .

 

 

 

Brouage-Aix 25-06 023

Super photogenic place:

Ile d'Aix
Ile d’Aix
Ile d'Aix
Ile d’Aix

Eventually, of course, we had to head back, and although we managed to score great seats on the ferry for the return trip . . .

Pascale and Jacky
Pascale and Jacky

Malheureusement (unfortunately), they were  not on this boat!

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Les Parcs de La Rochelle

One of the great little parks in La Rochelle is the Parc Animalier, a completely free tiny zoo. Look who lives there:

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This mini-zoo is sort of a bonus tacked onto the corner of the main green space of La Rochelle. Parc Charruyer is enormous, running all along the edge of the centre ville of La Rochelle, all the way to la mer.

IMG_3791It’s big enough that you can choose your experience, a wide paved walkway, lined with benches, that you’ll share with cyclists, dog-walkers, and parents pushing strollers. Or a rockier path down closer to the stream, that you’ll share with the occasional runner . . . IMG_3816

Parc Charruyer

And these guys:

Frog Enhanced

Duck and Duckling Enhanced

But on either side, on the far edges, the Wildwood awaits. If you choose either of two narrow hiking paths tucked into the woods, one by a tiny creek, and one on the far side of the stream, you’ll share it with . . . uh . . . who knows . . . . I save those for when I’m with David.

Into the woods of Parc Charruyer . . . .
Into the woods of Parc Charruyer . . . . the not-so-secluded part.

These aren’t the only parks in La Rochelle, but they’re certainly my favorites. Genuine treasures, they’re free to anyone, including this guy, heading in as we were heading out:

Lizard Cropped

Au revoir, monsieur. Bonne après-midi.

The Writing on the Wall

The spring 2014 visit to La Rochelle is almost over, and I’m realizing there were posts I meant to create that never happened. Better late than never, I’ve decided, so prepare yourself for a bit of an onslaught this week. You’ve been warned.

I read an article today in the New York Times about an artist who crafts “three-dimensional graffiti,” which reminded me that I’d been meaning to do a post on the graffiti of La Rochelle.

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Like most cities, La Rochelle definitely has graffiti, some of it unfortunate, but some of it impressively artistic.

There’s an empty building near the vieux port that has apparently been authorized for graffiti. David saw a guy around lunchtime one day working on a wall, and no one seemed at all interested in stopping him. Here are a few of the best I’ve found:

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Tree Graffiti Cropped

David discovered all these on one of his walks early in our stay, and took me to see them. I tend to think of graffiti covered spaces as kind of sketchy–ouch, sorry about the pun–so I was super nervous walking around this little courtyard, even though it was about one in the afternoon. Not sure what I thought would happen, but once I took a deep breath and regained a bit of sanity, I started to really appreciate the artistry.

Most graffiti seems to gather in certain locations, but occasionally you can just stumble upon a tiny bit of ornamented wall, like the first one and these final two. Yes, I know the last one is not really art, but it makes me smile.

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Je t'aime croppedWhich means, “You, there! I love you!”

Now don’t you feel special?

 

Un Week-End à Paris

Beauty was definitely the theme of our spur-of-the-moment weekend in Paris. David’s brother and sister-in-law decided at the last minute to join a reunion choir trip and brought their two daughters along, so we had a mini-family reunion. Despite the rail strike we made it to the Saturday evening concert in l’Eglise Saint-Séverin:

Église Saint-Séverin
Église Saint-Séverin — The concert was a cappella, so the pipe organ was purely ornamental this night.
Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum Retour
Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum Retour

Magnifique, in spite of the annoying guy video-taping with his phone. I followed instructions and disabled my flash, so the photo is not very clear, but you can see Tom and Meg if you look carefully.

It’s June in Paris, so les trottoirs (sidewalks) were mobbed. We cut through the Louvre courtyard on the way back to the hotel.

Louvre -- Recognize anyone?
Louvre — Recognize anyone?

The beauty in Paris was not just for the eyes. We happened upon this guy on the way through. The acoustics were amazing and he was very good–a little piece of heaven.

Louvre
Louvre

On Sunday we all met after breakfast and decided to tour Sainte-Chapelle. Climb up a tiny, winding staircase and WOW. Breathtakingly gorgeous thirteenth-century stained-glass windows 15 meters high. Stunning.

Saint-Chapelle, Paris
Sainte-Chapelle, Paris
Saint-Chapelle
Sainte-Chapelle

Unless you’re finding yourself actually short of breath about now, I can assure you the photos don’t even begin to do them justice.

After lunch, Tom and Meg had to get ready for another concert, and Amy and Ellie were planning to go to the Louvre, so we said our au revoirs. It was too nice a day to stay inside, so David and I found a couple of chairs in the Tuileries to enjoy the afternoon along with the locals — boules, also called petanque, for the big boys and girls. . . .*

Boules / Petanque
Boules / Petanque — Note the ball just leaving his hand. Hope I didn’t mess up his shot!

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Sailboat rentals for the little ones.

Tuileries
Tuileries
Les voiles
Les voiles

Love these little boats. The keels are weighted so they don’t capsize, but the wind can catch the sails and send them heeling over and skimming across the pond like they’re competing for a silver cup. The different colors let the “sailors” keep track of which boat is theirs. The sticks are for sending it on its way again when it gets to the side. Saw a few parents get whacked, accidentally I think, as they tried to help a bit too much. Best to keep your distance and enjoy the whispering breeze and the sun glowing through the multicolored sails.

Sunday in the Tuileries
Sunday in the Tuileries

*As I was taking the petanque photos, and David had walked a bit ahead, a friendly gentleman came over to tell me it was fine to take photos (or to chat me up, I’m not quite sure). He explained the game and their league amicale, and I told him we have this game in the states, but “les français sont plus . . . ” (the French are more . . .) and as I hesitated and wracked my brain for a French word for “skilled” he offered, “Cool?” Haha. Another comedian. His buddies wanted their picture taken, but they don’t seem to quite fit the beauty theme, so here’s a last shot of one of the bouquinistes’ stands along the Seine.

Les livres d'un bouquiniste de Paris -- Rive Droite
Les livres d’un bouquiniste de Paris — Rive Droite

Now that’s beautiful!

Tale of Two Villes

Yesterday (Saturday) we decided to venture a bit further afield, so grabbed the camera, walked to the train station, and bought an aller-retour ticket to Rochefort for the day.

Gare La Rochelle Ville
Gare La Rochelle Ville

The ticket allowed us to get on the next train stopping there and choose any train we wanted coming back, which was perfect, since we didn’t know how long we’d want to stay.

Gare de Rochefort
Gare de Rochefort

Rochefort turned out to be quiet and pretty, and practically deserted.

Rochefort
Rochefort
Rochefort
Rochefort

We weren’t really in a museum mood, so had lunch in Place Colbert, then walked over the find the replica of the ship Hermione, one of the main attractions of Rochefort.

Hermione replica, Rochefort
Hermione replica, Rochefort

The original Hermione was used by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1780 to head over to America to help the Americans with the revolution. The replica took twenty years to build, using only the methods in use at the time of the original, but someone is apparently confident she’s seaworthy. They’re scheduled to sail to the Americas in 2015. Um, okay. You go ahead without me.

Parc above Le Corderie Royale, Rochefort
Parc above Le Corderie Royale, Rochefort

Loved the peaceful parks, and the palm-tree-lined, clean, quiet streets, but after a bit more wandering we decided to catch the 20-minute train back to La Rochelle and see what was happening around Cours des Dames, our favorite people-watching spot.

Cours des Dames ... um ... zombie watching?
Cours des Dames … um … zombie watching?

As it turned out, plenty was happening, some of it neither quiet nor pretty:

There were four or five others just like this guy, including a couple of kids, strolling around Cours des Dames, posing for photos and passing out flyers for some event to which apparently I was not invited, since they did not give me a flyer. I think I’ll get over it.

Too big a crowd to get photos when some dancers had the music playing and were going all-out, but when we walked by later during a break and I pulled out my camera, a couple of the guys did a few tricks for me:

Cour des Dames
Cour des Dames

Came across Renoir, I mean this guy, on the way home:

Place de la Caille, La Rochelle
Place de la Caille, La Rochelle — Dejeuner des Canotiers (aka Luncheon of the Boating Party)

And a bit further on, this cheerful couple:

IMG_3632So no, La Rochelle is definitely not as quiet, and maybe the people aren’t always exactly, well, normal. But it sure felt great to step off the train and stroll along the familiar streets toward the bustling centre ville. It felt, actually, kind of like home.

 

Cavalcade de La Rochelle

This past weekend was the Cavalcade de La Rochelle, which involved carnival rides and games and an illuminated parade Saturday night.

Cavalcade de La Rochelle
Cavalcade de La Rochelle

It seemed like it might offer some photo ops and give me something new to tell you about, so we walked back to the vieux port just before dark. It was absolutely mobbed. The streets from Place de Verdun, where the parade was to start,  all the way to Quai Duperré were already lined with people, so the easiest place to walk was right down the center of the street. There were enough of us heading in the same direction that it almost felt like we were our own pre-parade. I did manage to resist the urge to prom-queen wave. Here’s the same street a bit later with the real parade:

Rue du Palais
Rue du Palais

Since it seemed we were already too late to get a front spot for the parade, we managed instead to snag a table at a cafe, where we had a drink and then, yes, of course, un café. When you order un café here, you’re actually getting an espresso. If you want more water in it, so it’s more like American coffee, you have to order un café allongé, which David likes. But I don’t like the taste of coffee enough to prolong the experience. I prefer the quick jolt of an espresso that has you wanting to yodel like Tarzan.

 It was another great opportunity for people watching. Everyone seemed content to stand for nearly an hour, chatting with friends, watching children, maybe buying a bag of confetti. Even after the parade actually showed up–“got going” would be a misleading choice of words–the legendary Rochelais patience was strongly in evidence. I’ve never seen a slower parade, with five-to-ten-minute stops for who knows what. Note the irony in the photo below: the woman in the speedboat, the fact that they happened to stop in front of a pawnshop offering “Speed Cash,” and the guy dressed as a sailor leaning on the float with his ankles crossed. He knows they’re not going anywhere soon.

Speed?
Speed?

It was excellent for photography, though, because it was bright and colorful and there was absolutely no danger of anything going by too fast.

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Cavalcade de La Rochelle
Cavalcade de La Rochelle

Sometimes the spectators would actually just walk out into the middle of the street and take a few pictures.

Cavalcade de La Rochelle
Cavalcade de La Rochelle

Although David and I have now been here for two months, we have not managed to acquire this low-key attitude quite to this degree, so we decided to walk against the flow of the parade to speed the process a bit. Guess we’ll always be American.

We had the night streets nearly to ourselves on the way home.

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Postscript: There was another parade Sunday afternoon (presumably sans lights) but we decided to head home after lunch in town and didn’t catch that one. Saw this on the way home. Word to the wise: don’t park on the parade route. Here’s what happens to your car if you do:

Stationnement interdit!
Stationnement interdit!