Category Archives: France

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.

Excusez-Moi 2013

La Grosse Horloge
La Grosse Horloge

Today’s theme is “Excusez-moi” because when I originally emailed these photos to friends and family, I misidentified La Grosse Horloge in a photo. So, excusez-moi, here is the actual Grosse Horloge.

The restaurant you can just see on the edges of the photo (interior seating on the left and exterior on the right) has a semi-crazed little woman, always in leggings and various bizarre wardrobe items, trying to drag passers-by into the restaurant. The day we ate at an outside table she was wandering around accosting people while holding a big squeegee and we thought she might be homeless and going to offer to clean our table (while we were eating!) like those people you see at intersections sometimes. Now we’re pretty sure she’s actually employed by the restaurant. Who knows, maybe she owns it!

The lantern portion of Tour de la Lanterne
The lantern portion of Tour de la Lanterne

Excusez-moi again. Yesterday I forgot to include the old lighthouse portion of La Tour de la Lanterne. Yes this is the same tower that housed the prison with the inmates and their carving tools creating artwork everywhere. Rather posh, n’est-ce pas?

The Hideaway room at Entre Hôtes
The Hideaway room at Entre Hôtes

This one fits the theme because it and the next one are taken inside a room at one of the Chambre d’Hotes of La Rochelle that was converted from a former cave (pronounced cahv–pretend you’re very British), which means wine cellar. There are actually still bottles of wine at the end of the room to the left of the tub. I keep picturing le proprietaire wandering through for a bottle (although presumably he does not!) while the guest reclines in the tub.

The Hideaway room at Entre Hôtes
The Hideaway room at Entre Hôtes

The other end of the super-cool room with the lit tub.

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Not terribly attractive or memorable buildings by day, but excusez-moi, they light up rather well at dusk, don’t you think?

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David and I wandered into the beautiful grounds of the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle and took a few photos. I was waiting for this guy you can see at the end of the covered walkway to get up and move on so I could take a photo, then decided, whatever, I’ll take it with him in it, just as he decided to move. So I took the photo, then walked through toward him and out the other end, kind of smiling at him as if to say, It’s fine that you were in my photo. He sort of grimaced at me, then sat down to take a photo. Turns out HE was waiting for ME to get out of HIS photo. Excusez-moi!

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Apparently Subway also wants to live in France (note their sign on the far right), but excusez-moi, they really need to work on a French looking logo . . .

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Because here, even the tattoo parlor sign is classy!

La Rochelle Tower Climbing Day 2013

My French classes lasted all morning every weekday for the two weeks we were in La Rochelle, but at around 12:30 I would meet David for lunch, then we’d do the tourist thing for a few hours. On one of our early days in town, we spent an afternoon climbing all three of the famous towers.

Starting up the first tower.

La Rochelle
La Rochelle

First bit of interior stairway. Note the worn stairs about half-way up this flight. That took a few feet to wear down stone!

View from Tour Saint-Nicolas
View from Tour Saint-Nicolas

View from most of the way up Tour Saint-Nicolas.You can see Tour de la Chaine just across the narrow part of the port and in the distance Tour de la Lanterne, which had been both a prison and a lighthouse.

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One of the super tiny, winding staircases in Tour de la Lanterne, definitely NOT sized for MY giant feet! This tower is loaded inside and out with 18th century graffiti carved into the soft stone by the prisoners. Hm. Prisoners with carving tools. Is this a good idea? Sounds terrible, but the graffiti is actually interesting and some is pretty impressive. Lots of ships, names and dates from the distant past carved into the walls.

A bit of 18th century graffiti from a prisoner in Tour de la Lanterne.
A bit of 18th century graffiti from a prisoner in Tour de la Lanterne.
The smaller of the two main beaches of La Rochelle
The smaller of the two main beaches of La Rochelle

Here’s a better view of the beach closest to our house, from atop Tour de la Lanterne. The tide varies significantly from high to low so boaters must be aware and stay in the marked channel or be prepared to be stuck until high tide returns.

La Rochelle from on high
La Rochelle from on high

View of La Rochelle from atop Tour de la Lanterne. Note the two towers (Tour de la Chaine and Tour Saint-Nicolas) on the right and the Ferris wheel (La Grand Roue) to the right and a bit behind the two towers. All are excellent places to rendez-vous with David after my morning of French classes, because my bus stops near all of them, but mostly because they stick up high enough for David to find them as he’s walking from the house, not so challenging now, but the first few days he was a bit lost in all the old winding streets.

Reconnaissance Mission: Paris to La Rochelle 2013

The view from inside the Musee D'Orsee to Sacre Coeur
The view out to Sacre Coeur

We’re not the kind of people who need eons to make decisions, but we do prefer to have reasonably adequate information. A mini-trial run would be even better, we knew, so we decided to take a reconnaissance mission : three weeks in France in the late spring of 2013. As you’ve no doubt figured out, all went well and plans proceed apace. Here are a few highlights of that trip.

Although this was not our first trip to Paris, we generally try to avoid the usual Paris sights checklist that has all the tourists looking so hag-ridden by day two. Consequently, this was the first trip the Musée D’Orsay made it to the top of our list.  I managed to catch a quick second when the famous old station clock was not thronged, and snapped this shot looking out through the gentle spring rain to Sacre Coeur in the distance.

Paris: Parc de la Tour Saint-Jacques
Paris: Parc de la Tour Saint-Jacques

A beautiful little park in Paris we only discovered because David noticed an impressive tower bristling with gargoyles and he wanted to go check it out. This photo was taken from under an umbrella protecting my camera from the ever-present Parisian rain. After recovering somewhat from jet-lag, and ready for a bit more space than the tiny Parisian hotel room, we caught the TGV, short for Train à Grande Vitesse (Train of Great Speed) and were in La Rochelle by mid-afternoon.

Close-up of the front of our house in La Rochelle, home for two weeks last spring and home for the bulk of our upcoming adventure.IMG_0637 No screens of course, this being France, and no curtains either. You open the windows, reach out and swing the shutters closed every night if you want privacy. Although the house is within a very private walled garden, the two bedrooms upstairs–with windows just like these–are in full view of the houses across the street, so shutter-closing is a nightly activity.

The view from the main street that abuts the very end of the old port, looking out to two of the three famous towers.

Le Vieux Port, La Rochelle, France

If you look closely you can see the diving platform attached (temporarily) to Tour Saint-Nicolas for the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships which are typically held the last weekend of May. We climbed all three towers a couple of days after settling in, up the tiniest, twisty-est, worn-stone spiral staircases you’ve ever seen. Yikes. Nice little work-out for the legs, though, and spectacular views.

A view out to the Atlantic. The beach is just over the short stone wall past the benches. This is the closest beach to us, about a 30 minute walk. We spent about an hour there on one of our first days in town, not actually in swimsuits on the beach, instead sipping a drink at a table under an umbrella, but I did go dip my toes in. A bit chilly still, since it is the Atlantic Ocean and it was only the end of May.

Beautifully lit café we noticed on our walk home Friday night. Taken at about 9:45 p.m. when it was just starting to get dark. You may notice David on the far right, patiently waiting for me to take yet another photo. Unfortunately, the lighting is better than the food, which we discovered when we decided to try it for lunch. Oh well, many other options.