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.
Definitely a place to stay if you’re ever in southwest France.
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.
Lots of little scenic spots begging to be photographed.
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.
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 àGrand Vitesse (à not de). Merci beaucoup! The following is another of the accounts of our trial run last spring:
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.
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.
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!
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.
Lucked out here with this tiny alley, but if you look carefully you’ll see the top of the tower is full of people.
Another cute little private spot. No one is there because, as we’ve already covered, LUNCH IS OVER!!
Here’s the rest of vendredi soir (Friday evening).
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.
More gorgeous flowers, these in Pascale and Jacky’s backyard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
In a week or so the entire island will be covered with holly hocks. Here’s an early one.
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?
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.
David wandered the cimetière while waiting for me to finish class.
These have been here a while.
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.
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.
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).
A slightly prettier fish. Mostly I just like this photo.
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.
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 aujourd’hui. Which means “the sun is shining today,” inspiring everyone with thoughts of the sea, as it has apparently been doing for centuries.
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).
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.
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.
Then on with your lunettes de soleil . . .
. . . and out for your sailing class (the tiny boats with the colorful sails–teachers in the inflatable).
Try not to annoy the big kids on the playground!
If that’s too nerve-wracking, find a quiet gorgeous garden.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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 other end of the super-cool room with the lit tub.
Not terribly attractive or memorable buildings by day, but excusez-moi, they light up rather well at dusk, don’t you think?
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!
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 . . .
Because here, even the tattoo parlor sign is classy!