Category Archives: France

Sausset les Pins 2013

9 June 2013 we drove the rest of the way to Sausset les Pins (near Marseille) to visit some customers of ours. Even though we kept to the back roads again, we made pretty good time following a couple on a motorcycle ahead of us driving as if the furies of hell were after them. We decided if they could handle all the turns at that speed on a motorcycle pulling a trailer, surely we could in our little car. Every so often I’d try to explain which turn to take at the next roundabout, but David would say, “I don’t care where you’re going, I’m following them!”

Viaduc de Millau
Viaduc de Millau

Our one departure from the back roads. This is the Viaduc de Millau (another photo shot through the windshield as we were speeding along). I took a shot of the valley very far below, but it turned out to be mostly of the blurry side rails, so I’ll spare you.

This was the view from our balcony in Sausset les Pins:

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

Pas mal, n’est-ce pas?  Which means roughly, “Not bad, eh?” (But you probably figured that one out.)

The next day we took a bit of a walk from our hotel to scope out the area. The beach there is mostly stones, but there were a few people lying on it anyway, with not so much as a towel, let alone a chair or yoga mat or any sort of padding. And they were doing a pretty good job of looking as if they were enjoying themselves. We, however, were not tempted.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

The color of the water really is this spectacular in places.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

And if you’re lucky enough to have a sailboat, the wind is blowing pretty much all the time. But if you don’t, as we of course do not, you can sit on a whale’s tail and stare longingly out to sea.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

Château des Baudry 2013

Winter’s grasp is unrelenting today, so although the snow is very beautiful, here are a few more memories of warmer days. These photos are from the trial run France trip last May and June. After lunch in Saint Émilion, we drove the rest of the way to Monestier to spend the night at Château des Baudry and have another of Hélène’s amazing meals. We discovered this place on our first trip to France in September 2011 and it was just as excellent the second time.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Definitely a place to stay if you’re ever in southwest France.

Courtyard, Château des Baudry
Courtyard, Château des Baudry

Interior courtyard. The entry hall and all the rooms surround this. Each room has a door onto the outside and also one onto the courtyard, complete with palm trees, lemon trees dripping with lemons, and goldfish lazing around among blooming lily pads.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Lots of little scenic spots begging to be photographed.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Everything in bloom here too.

Last time our room was the massive corner room. This time that room was taken, but we had another beautiful room. All the rooms are less pricey than rooms in Paris and two to three times the size. I made sure to get the tutorial on the shower this time (left knob is on/off, right knob controls temperature), since last time although I lucked out the first two days, I managed to inadvertently change something the third day and had a cold shower.

Monestier, France
Monestier, France

View to the neighboring château.

Saint Émilion 2013

Grâce à une gentille Française (Thanks to a kind French woman) a few errors in my French were noticed and have now been corrected in earlier posts: Il fait soleil (not du soleil) and Train à Grand Vitesse (à not de). Merci beaucoup! The following is another of the accounts of our trial run last spring:

Au Revoir, La Rochelle
Au Revoir, La Rochelle

Sunday, 9 June 2013, was goodbye to La Rochelle for a while and  Day 1 of the road trip. We rented a car at the La Rochelle airport. Pascale and Jacky kindly drove us there and went in with us in case my French was not up to the task. (It wasn’t.) The guy filling out the form to note the previously existing damage on the rental car was a bit cavalier and we had to have him add a few X’s once we actually saw the car. If you’re familiar with these tiny streets with stone buildings pressing in on both sides, you’ll know why all the cars are so small here. Yes, actual cars drive on la petite rue pictured below. 

One of the tiny streets of Saint Émilion
One of the tiny streets of Saint Émilion

It’s not even full tourist season yet, but parking was at a premium. David was not too excited about driving through the town searching for a spot, especially at one VERY tight corner. I think he was relieved we had to park several blocks out of town. Definitely, made leaving easier.

We stopped for lunch and a look around in Saint Émilion. It was nearly 2:00 by the time we got there, found a parking space (no easy task) and a restaurant that would let us in (full or done serving), so within a few minutes, everyone else in the place had finished up and left and the staff was resetting for the dinner crowd.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

We apologized (in French of course) for arriving so late, ordered and ate quickly, and the waiter was gracious. Lunch is served at very specific times in France and if you miss it, too bad for you!

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Tough to get photos in Saint Émilion without having them infested with tourists. You have to point, focus, shoot, with no dilly-dallying or someone in shorts and tennis shoes will pop around the very medieval corner you were framing so artistically. I shot this one over everyone’s heads.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Lucked out here with this tiny alley, but if you look carefully you’ll see the top of the tower is full of people.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Another cute little private spot. No one is there because, as we’ve already covered, LUNCH IS OVER!!

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

No one in sight. Shoot fast!

Vendredi Soir (Friday Evening) 2013

Here’s the rest of vendredi soir (Friday evening).

Coquelicots, Ile de Ré
Coquelicots, Ile de Ré

Driving back to Pascale and Jacky’s. This is still on Ile de Ré. Doesn’t it look exactly like a Monet? The red poppies (called coquelicots) are eye-catching in private gardens but absolutely stunning massed in huge fields.

Le Jardin Chez Jacky et Pascale
Le Jardin Chez Jacky et Pascale

More gorgeous flowers, these in Pascale and Jacky’s backyard.

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Jacky trying to BBQ after the rain started and sent the rest of us inside. David’s compassion is apparently stronger than mine or Pascale’s.

Jacky and David
Jacky and David

Gotta love le BBQ!

Pique-Nique on Ile de Ré 2013

Toward the end of our two-week trial run, we spent another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening with our new friends Pascale and Jacky, which somehow works even though David still speaks pretty much zero French.

David gamely ventures a “bonjour” or “merci” from time to time and neither Pascale nor Jacky speak English, although Pascale occasionally does a goofy imitation of David saying “Me too.” Not sure why that strikes her as funny. David comes up with teasing and jokes that I manage to translate at least well enough that we’re all laughing much of the time.

Site of Pique-Nique
Site of Pique-Nique

This set of photos is from our afternoon on Ile de Ré where we had a pique-nique, then a complete tour of the whole island. The pique-nique was very French, even though we were sitting on rocks looking out to sea, complete with aperitif (our favorite Pineau de Charentes–sweet and cold), then multiple courses and wine, ending with a nice soft camembert. We’ve never liked camembert in the states, but Jacky says the secret is to find a soft one, a week to ten days before the expiration date. To confirm that it’s soft, you take off the lid and give the middle a good press with your thumb. “C’est pas poli,” (it’s not considered good manners to do so) he warned us, so you have to first glance around furtively to make sure no one is watching.

This island is very popular with cyclists, so many went by while we were there, and every man, woman and child, without exception, wished us, “Bon appétit!” Dining is VALUED here.

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It’s definitely the height of rose season right now. They’re everywhere, and definitely on Ile de Ré, the island just over the bridge from La Rochelle. The bridge is a big swooping 2 km beauty, that you could walk or bike over, but you’d have to be dedicated. The middle is HIGH.

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We climbed up another little tower, this time a bell tower in a church in Saint Martin, with a tiny creaking wood staircase so small, they’ve installed a couple of stop lights to regulate the flow. It’s actually forbidden (in French) to pass anyone on the straightaways. Your only chance is if the person on the descent crams into a corner at one of the turns. The person in the lead of the ascenders announces how many are in the ascending party so the descenders don’t resume heading down before all are by. Et voilà!

Saint Martin de Ré
Saint Martin de Ré

This is the view from the top. Worth every claustrophobic, dusty, hair-raising moment.

We climbed down just in time. The huge bells tolled just as we made it outside.

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Then we walked toward the port to try to see the donkeys that wear pants called “les ânes en culottes” but, alas, they only work Saturdays and Sundays.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

In a week or so the entire island will be covered with holly hocks. Here’s an early one.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

Looking out from the western tip of the island at the base of the old lighthouse. This beach has concrete and stone walls that trap fish when the tide goes down, but this method of fishing is dying out with the older generation. Seriously gorgeous, though, n’est-ce pas?

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

Another cool sign.

Sleeping with the Fishes (or Nearby) 2013

After a wet, cool spring, 6 June 2013  it actually got HOT, and I suppose we should have spent the day on the beach, but I had class all morning and then two tickets to the Aquarium I needed to use before we left La Rochelle. Ah well.

IMG_0877David wandered the cimetière while waiting for me to finish class.

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These have been here a while.

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Just a few people crammed in here! Cozy. The cemetery is so big, David got disoriented and took a while to find his way out.

Aquarium, La Rochelle
Aquarium, La Rochelle

Once David made it back from the dead, we met at the Aquarium for lunch and a wander round. Turns out we timed it perfectly and walked right in. When we left, two huge lines had formed, one a busload of school children and one probably a hundred plus retirees.

Couldn’t resist this blue.

Aquarium, La Rochelle
Aquarium, La Rochelle

I wish this photo were more clear. Super weird fish oozing with attitude, but he and his buddy zoomed around the tank so much I had trouble getting a good shot. Plus they didn’t always have their wings unfurled, which was the coolest part. They reminded me of old school vampires (not the hot “Twilight” version).

Aquarium, La Rochelle
Aquarium, La Rochelle

A slightly prettier fish. Mostly I just like this photo.

Aquarium, La Rochelle
Aquarium, La Rochelle

Our daughter Chelsea requested a shot or two with us in them, so here I am taking a photo by the shark tank, with the cool infinity mirror thing going on.

Shark Tank, La Rochelle Aquarium
Shark Tank, La Rochelle Aquarium

This is right before I slipped and nearly fell onto the curved glass. Yikes. Not sure how THAT would have worked out. Fortunately I caught myself before I ended up sleeping with the fishes.

Il y a du Soleil 2013

Il y a du soleil aujourd’hui. Which means “the sun is shining today,” inspiring everyone with thoughts of the sea, as it has apparently been doing for centuries.

Coat of Arms of La Rochelle, France
Coat of Arms of La Rochelle, France

Hence the coat of arms of La Rochelle, carved above the main entrance into the courtyard of the Hotel de Ville (government offices–nothing to do with lodging).

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Everyone (okay not EVERYONE, but way more than you’d imagine) wears some version of the classic French mariner shirt.

So get your stripes on and find an outside table at a fabulous restaurant like Restaurant Les Flots, where we had a mind-bogglingly delicious lunch during our stay in June, beginning with our new favorite, Pineau Blanc de Charentes as an aperitif, followed by . . . never mind.

Restaurant Les Flots, La Rochelle, France
Restaurant Les Flots, La Rochelle, France

I won’t torture you with the details of every perfect bite and sip, but do notice the couple sporting their stripes at the bottom center of the photo and, of course, Tour de la Chaine looming impressively next door.

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Then on with your lunettes de soleil . . .

. . . and out for your sailing class (the tiny boats with the colorful sails–teachers in the inflatable).

Sailing Class
Sailing Class

Try not to annoy the big kids on the playground!

If that’s too nerve-wracking, find a quiet gorgeous garden.

Jardin, La Rochelle
Jardin, La Rochelle

We saw this one on a Saturday walk through town. A number of normally private gardens were open to the public one weekend, with a couple of artists in each garden displaying their works–and presumably noting your reaction to their work. That was mostly fine except for the garden with the guy who had made about thirty large origami . . . somethings . . . penguins maybe? Anyway, super basic third-grade origami, totally lame. Fortunately, he was too busy setting them back up every time a breeze knocked them down to notice our stunned disbelief. Seriously. Weak. When he looked our way, we got very busy trying to identify all the herbs in the garden and admiring the architecture and then got out of there as quickly as possible.

Courtyard of Hotel de Ville
Courtyard of Hotel de Ville

With the sun blazing away you can tell by this clock in the courtyard of the Hotel de Ville (well, maybe YOU can–I looked at my watch) it’s about 3:30 in the afternoon and time to walk the rest of the way home to start work.  So that’s just what we did.