Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

Time to wave bye bye to our adopted home of one week and get ourselves back to Milton Keynes again.

The drive was, as I remember it, a bit boring and a bit busy (especially at the toll booths). It was also a long way. Funnily enough, it was the same 430 miles it had been on the way down.

We stopped en route in the service stations at Les Herbiers and Alençon – the latter being named after the local lace product (Dentelle d’Alençon). Both were busy.

At least the good thing about French motorways is that unless you’re queuing for a toll station you generally get to drive at the speed limit, and the speed limit is a fairly generous 130 km/hr, which works out at a fairly healthy 81 mph. 430 miles from La Rochelle to Calais can therefore be done quite comfortably in 6 hours of actual driving.

We arrived at the Channel Tunnel early enough to go have a sit down and some dinner in the big shopping centre next to the terminal. I think we bought a case of wine to take home as well, but it might have been cheaper to get it in La Rochelle.

Les Herbiers Services.jpg Dentelle D Alencon Services.jpg Cite Europe.jpg


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Back to the Island

Back to the Island

For our final full day we couldn’t really decide what to do and in the end we plumped for returning to the Île de Ré to do a bit more exploring. When we’d been earlier in the week we literally drove to the western end, walked around the lighthouse, and then drove home again. There’s a few other bits that are worth doing.

So we drove over to Saint-Martin-de-Ré to see what we could find.

We found a lovely little town with a nice pedestrianised central area (where we had some lunch) and a little harbour surrounded by some old fortress walls. The place has quite a lot of history, apparently, including a siege in 1627 in which a bunch of English troops surrounded some rebel French ones in the hope of relieving some of the pressure on the royalist French troops who were kind of stuck in a siege in La Rochelle. It’s all very complicated.

St_Martin_13 Town.jpg St_Martin_12 Town.jpg St_Martin_11 Mouth.jpg St_Martin_10 Town.jpg St_Martin_09 Boats.jpg St_Martin_08 Boats.jpg St_Martin_07 Boat.jpg St_Martin_06 Boats.jpg St_Martin_05 Boats.jpg St_Martin_04 Boats.jpg St_Martin_03 Boats.jpg St_Martin_02 Street.jpg St_Martin_01 Street.jpg

Also just outside Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a bigger fortress area that was converted to a prison at some point.

St_Martin_28 Graffiti.jpg St_Martin_27 Graffiti.jpg St_Martin_26 Shoreline.jpg St_Martin_25 Shoreline.jpg St_Martin_24 Shoreline.jpg St_Martin_23 Harbour.jpg St_Martin_22 Harbour.jpg St_Martin_21 Citadel.jpg St_Martin_20 Wall.jpg St_Martin_19 Shoreline.jpg St_Martin_18 Walls.jpg St_Martin_17 Ami.jpg St_Martin_16 Walls.jpg St_Martin_15 Walls.jpg St_Martin_14 Mini-Lighthouse.jpg


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The Quiet Day

The Quiet Day

Every holiday we have abroard has at least one day where we don’t really do a lot. It’s a bit of a tradition for us.

This was that day.

I know we didn’t do much because whatever we did didn’t involve taking any photos at all, so I guess we didn’t go anywhere or do anything really. After the ridiculously hot day we’d had at Château de la Roche Courbon the previous day I’m guessing we’d had enough and just decided to mooch around the gîte and relax.

In the afternoon and evening we went into the centre of La Rochelle. It was warm again. I think we walked around the old port for a little while and then retired to a bar so we could grab some dinner and watch England beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in their latest group game in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The match was held in the Stadion Nürnberg at 6pm, so by the time we were in the pub it was definitely late enough for dinner and beer. England were a bit drab and scored twice in the last 10 minutes.

As I didn’t take any photos on this day, here’s a few random ones from La Rochelle that I took earlier in the week.

La_Rochelle_22 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_23 Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_24 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_32 Marina Boats & Lighthouse.jpg La_Rochelle_33 Marina Boats.jpg La_Rochelle_34 Marina Boat.jpg La_Rochelle_35 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_39 Maritime Museum.jpg La_Rochelle_04 Maritime Museum.jpg La_Rochelle_05 Tour de la Lanterne.jpg La_Rochelle_15 Inner Harbour from Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_18 Harbour Entrance from Tour St Nicolas.jpg


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Fairytale Castle

Fairytale Castle

The Château de la Roche Courbon is a really rather spectacular historic monument just over an hour’s drive south of La Rochelle.

There are a number of things to do when you’re there, including tours inside the castle (which we didn’t do), walks around the gardens, and a slightly longer walk to the grottoes.

The Château is privately owned and has limited facilities inside (i.e. there isn’t a massive cafe with a selection of fine foods and some clean toilets) but there’s some passable mobile food just by the entrance gate.

Of all the days on this holiday I remember this as being the hottest, although that may just be because we chose to go somewhere that afforded very little respite from the heat, and I remember we had to keep stopping for drinks and ice creams, and at one point we just had to sit down or lie down in the shade under some trees to let Ami cool off a bit. She was suffering more than the rest of us, seemingly.

Roche_Courbon_11 Stream by the Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_10 The Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_09 The Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_08 The Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_07 The Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_06 Ami at the Grottos.JPG Roche_Courbon_05 Ami at the Grottos.JPG Roche_Courbon_03 Ami at the Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_04 Kev & Ami at the Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_01 Kas & Ami at the Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_02 The Grottos.jpg Roche_Courbon_13 Rear of Chateau Roche Courbon.jpg Roche_Courbon_12 Roche Courbon Chateau & Gatehouse.jpg Roche_Courbon_21 Front of Roche Courbon & Gardens.jpg Roche_Courbon_20 Front of Roche Courbon & Gardens.jpg Roche_Courbon_19 Front of Roche Courbon & Gardens.jpg Roche_Courbon_18 Front of Roche Courbon & Gardens.jpg Roche_Courbon_17 Front of Roche Courbon & Gardens.jpg Roche_Courbon_16 Front of Roche Courbon & Gardens.jpg Roche_Courbon_15 Front of Roche Courbon & Gardens.jpg Roche_Courbon_14 Front of Roche Courbon Chateau.jpg


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Towers and Fish

Towers and Fish

Our third full day and our first trip into our host city of La Rochelle. We’d uncovered information that the centre of town is quite pretty to walk around, especially around the old harbour, and also the Aquarium was supposed to be rather good, as such tings go. We did both things on the same day, and therefore by definition it must have been a long day. The weather was very, very hot again.

As I remember it, we parked up by the Tour de la Lantern and set off for a walk, taking in most of the old port and it’s immediate backdrop first of all, then wending our way around to the Tour St Nicholas (which we went into), through the area known as the Gabut, and around to La Rochelle Aquarium, which we went into briefly to get out of the heat if nothing else.

Here are the photos I took as we walked around the town.

La_Rochelle_20 Tour St Nicolas Roof.jpg La_Rochelle_19 Grand Horloge from Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_18 Harbour Entrance from Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_17 Tour de la Lanterne.jpg La_Rochelle_16 Tour de la Lanterne.jpg La_Rochelle_15 Inner Harbour from Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_14 Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_13 Mini Lighthouse.jpg La_Rochelle_12 City View from Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_11 Tour St Nicolas Window.jpg La_Rochelle_10 Tour St Nicolas Interior.jpg La_Rochelle_06 Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_09 Tour St Nicolas Interior Roof Beams.jpg La_Rochelle_05 Tour de la Lanterne.jpg La_Rochelle_04 Maritime Museum.jpg La_Rochelle_01 Aquarium Fountains.jpg La_Rochelle_08 Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_07 Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_03 Aquarium Fountains.jpg La_Rochelle_02 Aquarium Fountains.jpg La_Rochelle_39 Maritime Museum.jpg La_Rochelle_38 Le Gabot House.jpg La_Rochelle_37 Marina Boats & Lighthouse.jpg La_Rochelle_36 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_35 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_34 Marina Boat.jpg La_Rochelle_33 Marina Boats.jpg La_Rochelle_32 Marina Boats & Lighthouse.jpg La_Rochelle_31 Grand Horloge.jpg La_Rochelle_30 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_29 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_28 Ami & Kev.jpg La_Rochelle_27 Ami & Kev.jpg La_Rochelle_26 Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_25 Tour St Nicolas.jpg La_Rochelle_24 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_23 Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_22 Tour St Nicolas & Tour de la Chaine.jpg La_Rochelle_21 Tour St Nicolas.jpg

Once we were all fished out, we walked back around this side of the harbour and caught the small boat across the harbour back to the Cour des Dames, and so back to our car. The chances are that we had meals and ice cream breaks at various points of the day, but I can’t remember where or when, because it was all a long time ago.

Anyway, here’s some photos of fish.

Aquarium_17 Ugly Fish.jpg Aquarium_16 Sea Horse.jpg Aquarium_15 Spot the Fish.jpg Aquarium_14 Spot the Fish.jpg Aquarium_13 Crab with a Lawn on its Head.jpg Aquarium_12 Anenomes.jpg Aquarium_11 Anenomes.jpg Aquarium_10 Kev Reflections.jpg Aquarium_09 Some Sharks.jpg Aquarium_08 Hedge Trimmer Shark and Underwater Topiary.jpg Aquarium_07 Big Flat Corals.jpg Aquarium_06 Mushroom-Like Corals.jpg Aquarium_05 Mushroom-Like Corals.jpg Aquarium_04 Orange Fish on a Bed of Lettuce.jpg Aquarium_03 Gray Fish.jpg Aquarium_02 Black & White Stripey Fish.jpg Aquarium_01 Big Yellow Eel.jpg Aquarium_24 Coral with Black & Yellow Fish.jpg Aquarium_23 Yellow Fish with Blue Edges.jpg Aquarium_22 Wot No Sharks.jpg Aquarium_21 White Corals.jpg Aquarium_20 Big Ugly Fish.jpg Aquarium_19 Ray.jpg Aquarium_18 Posing Fish.jpg


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Venise Verte

Venise Verte

“Venise Verte ?” Surely that just means “Green Venice” doesn’t it ? Yes, it does.

The Venise Verte in question is more properly named the Marais Poitevin, or just the “Poitevin Marsh” if you’re a stickler for translating it into English.

It’s an area of marsh lying in between Niort, La Rochelle and Fontenay-le-Comte which is now heavily farmed, but towards the Niort end there’s a little bit that is essentially still full of little canals which are used primarily for tourism. This is the part known as the Venise Verte.

I’m not sure where we read about this area, possibly in our Lonely Planet guide to France, but it looked like somewhere that might keep us busy for a day, so off we went. The weather was fiercely hot (again).

Our first stop was the village of Coulon, which sits nicely on a bit of canal that is quite broad and open (by local standards) and which houses a load of very photogenic little boats, which presumably can be hired out if you’re that way inclined. We weren’t.

We walked around here and took a few photos, which kept us busy until lunchtime. I seem to remember we sat in quite a nice restaurant here to grab some lunch, and that during a part of that I held a fairly creditable conversation in French with one of the other patrons. A lot of the discussion was about where we’d come from, and a lot more of it was about Ami, who was doing her best to be cute and not at all irritating to other customers.

After lunch we took a bit more of a walk in the area of Coulon, which involved walking over a couple of fields, sitting down for a bit (because it was hot) and spotting some cows.

Venise_Verte_20 Coulon Canal.jpg Venise_Verte_19 Coulon Canal Bridge.jpg Venise_Verte_18 Coulon Canal Bridge.jpg Venise_Verte_17 Coulon Canal House & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_16 Coulon Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_15 Coulon Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_14 Coulon Canal Houses & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_13 Coulon Canal Houses & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_12 Coulon Canal Houses & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_11 Coulon Canal Boat.jpg Venise_Verte_10 Coulon Ami on the Grass.jpg Venise_Verte_09 Coulon Canal Boat.jpg Venise_Verte_08 Coulon Cows in a Field.jpg Venise_Verte_07 Coulon Cows in a Field.jpg Venise_Verte_06 Coulon House & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_05 Coulon Canal & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_04 Coulon Canal & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_03 Coulon Canal & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_02 Coulon Canal & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_01 Coulon Canal & Boats.jpg

From here we moved over to the village of Arçais, which is in the “proper” hard of the wet bit of the marsh. Arçais has a number of little piers where you can rent a small boat or punt for a few hours and go for a wander around the canals. We decided to give it a go here and were rewarded with a pleasant couple of hours punting around a series of small and confusing canals, not really going anywhere but enjoying the fact that the canals all had overhanging trees and so were mainly in the shade. Lush !

Once we’d finished in there we needed to let Ami run around a bit, so we disembarked from our boat and she had a run around on a open paved area near a tourist information centre in the middle of town, which was also close to some old small-scale dock loading machinery.

It turned out to be an excellent if rather hot day.

Venise_Verte_22 Arcais Quay.jpg Venise_Verte_23 Arcais Lavender.jpg Venise_Verte_24 Arcais Quay.jpg Venise_Verte_25 Arcais Street.jpg Venise_Verte_26 Arcais Canal & Boats.jpg Venise_Verte_27 Arcais Crane.jpg Venise_Verte_28 Arcais Crane.jpg Venise_Verte_29 Arcais Crane.jpg Venise_Verte_30 Arcais Crane.jpg Venise_Verte_31 Arcais Crane.jpg Venise_Verte_32 Arcais Kas on a Wall.jpg


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Phares des Baleines

Phares des Baleines

Obviously when you’ve spent an entire night and day in the car in fiercely hot temperatures driving through a foreign country the correct thing to do the following morning is to get up early, drive a long way, and have a full day out.

As I’m writing this blog post nearly 10 years after the event (sometimes it takes me a little time to get around to these things) I really can’t remember a lot of detail about the day other than that we went onto the Île de Ré and drove to the very furthest end to visit the Phares des Baleines, a rather large lighthouse at the very western tip of the island. I remember it was very warm, but that was true of the whole week.

The photos give evidence that we went up to the top of the lighthouse.

Ile_De_Re_11 Phare des Baleines New Tower.jpg Ile_De_Re_10 Phare des Baleines Staircase.jpg Ile_De_Re_09 Phare des Baleines Staircase.jpg Ile_De_Re_08 Phare des Baleines Light.jpg Ile_De_Re_07 Shoreline.jpg Ile_De_Re_06 Shoreline.jpg Ile_De_Re_05 Shoreline.jpg Ile_De_Re_04 Radio Mast.jpg Ile_De_Re_02 Shoreline & Groyne.jpg Ile_De_Re_01 Phare des Baleines Old Tower.jpg Ile_De_Re_03 Shoreline.jpg Ile_De_Re_19 Phare des Baleines New Tower.jpg Ile_De_Re_18 Phare des Baleines Old Tower.jpg Ile_De_Re_17 Phare des Baleines Old Tower.jpg Ile_De_Re_16 Phare des Baleines Window.jpg Ile_De_Re_15 Ami & Camera.jpg Ile_De_Re_14 Phare des Baleines New Tower Collage1.jpg Ile_De_Re_13 Phare des Baleines Two Towers.jpg Ile_De_Re_12 Phare des Baleines Two Towers.jpg


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Lots of Driving

Lots of Driving

And indeed, a lot of driving there was….

This was the first time I’d experimented with crossing the Channel on the train, and through the Tunnel. It was also the first time we’d tried going abroad with a child (Ami, in this case – she was two) and the first time I’d driven my own car abroad. It was the first time we’d taken a foreign holiday in the summer since Ami had been born too. All of which makes for a lot of firsts to be packed into a single week.

As we’d never done it before, we naively assumed there’d be no difficulty whatsoever in driving 562 miles (or 906 km, whichever you prefer) through the middle of the night in a foreign country with a two year old child in the back. What could possibly go wrong ?

Well on the way down to Folkestone for the tunnel trip, not much did go wrong apart from the usual Friday night crush around the M25 and we arrived comfortably in time for our train. We had quite a late one booked and all went smoothly, and we arrived successfully in France just the wrong side of midnight.

From here, it was a matter of driving as much as we could manage, whilst stopping every couple of hours to buy more coffee and to give our precious two year old the necessary amount of servicing, if you know what I mean. As we pulled out of the tunnel terminal we stopped to fill up with fuel and consumables for the journey. Apparently though, my car didn’t need headlight converters because it had a flat beam profile.

Progress from Calais down to Rouen was pretty good. When we got to Rouen though, we got a bit lost. There wasn’t (and still isn’t) a decent loop motorway, so you are pretty much obliged to drive into the town centre and then attempt to find your way out again. This is not as easy as it seems when your sat nav isn’t keeping up. In-town roadsigns in France can be difficult to follow, especially if you’re tired. At one point I ended up having to do a U-turn on a big bridge over the Seine when we realised I was going the wrong way (again). Thankfully it was about 3am, so there weren’t many cars around.

We did eventually find our way out and continued along the A13 heading west, but noticed that the little ‘un was getting more and more grumpy and generally unable to settle. Well we hadn’t had a stop since Calais, so we were about due one. Anyway, the little dear didn’t seem to want to settle so we opted for staying at the services for a while to try to get a bit of sleep in the car rather than continuing to drive. It didn’t work particularly well, mainly because as soon as Ami was anywhere near Kas and no longer strapped in the back she simply wouldn’t settle, so we had about 3 hours of torture, with Ami wriggling, crying and generally doing anything other than sleeping, before we eventually gave up and started driving again. By this time it was light and we were able to go and grab some coffees before setting off.

We stopped for breakfast at the Parcé-sur-Sarthe service station on the A11 south of Le Mans, having pushed on for a good couple of hours. We made this a fairly long stop, as we needed a breather and we were in no rush.

The drive from here along the A87 past Angers and Cholet and then the A83 around La Roche-sur-Yon went fairly smoothly and all was well until we hit a big queue trying to get through Marans which was caused by the combination of weekend traffic and a particularly bad set of traffic lights. I guess it’s also caused by the fact that the autoroute system doesn’t run into La Rochelle, despite its being the biggest settlement in the area by some huge distance.

On the way by, and because we needed another break, we dived into the massive Carrefour on the edge of La Rochelle to grab a few “essentials” for the coming week. Quite a few of those came in 75cl bottles, it has to be said.

From here we negotiated our way rather unconvincingly to our destination, Le Moulin Boutillon in Angliers. There was a bit of faffing about trying to figure out where to go, as the maps weren’t great and the sat nav wouldn’t let me enter enough details. We got there eventually, having done a couple of laps of some nice single-track country roads. The location was what you might call “off the beaten track”, which equates to quiet but rather hard to find.

We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and our hosts let us in straight away, which was great, because we were all pooped.

So we chilled for a bit, made something to eat, put Ami to bed and then settled down outside on our patio watching both the sun and a bottle of wine go down. OK, the sun would have gone down on its own, but the bottle of wine needed a helping hand that we were very willing to give it. We’d been away from home for nearly a whole day without having been to bed. We could cope but Ami had long since had enough.

Gite_01 Our Gite.jpg Gite_02 All the Gites.jpg Gite_03 The Big Gite.jpg Gite_04 Our Gite.jpg Gite_05 Sunset in the Wine.jpg Gite_06 Sunset.jpg

By the way, the 2006 FIFA World Cup was on while we were away on this holiday, and because we were either travelling or sleeping we managed to miss England’s first game (against Paraguay, a 1-0 win for England played in the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt. It wasn’t the only game we missed, but that didn’t bother us much, to be honest.


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La Rochelle

La Rochelle

Tour Saint Nicholas

Phare des Baleines

The Aquarium

Château de la Roche Courbon

Saint-Martin-de-Ré

Arcais

Coulon

La Rochelle 2006

In June we spent a week in La Rochelle on the west coast of France.
La Rochelle is a beautiful city on the Bay of Biscay in the Charente-Maritime Department.
The city is located in the second sunniest part of France, which makes it great for summer holidays.

Lots of Driving

Lots of Driving

Our first ever holiday where we drove onto the continent in our own car. We drove a long way on the first day.
Phares des Baleines

Phares des Baleines

We drove all the way over to the western end of the Île de Ré to visit a rather nice lighthouse.
Venise Verte

Venise Verte

A bit of leisurely walking, photography and punting around canals, whilst generally feeling a bit tired after the previous day's exploits.
Towers and Fish

Towers and Fish

Our third full day and our first trip into our host city of La Rochelle. We'd read that the old town centre of town is very pretty and that the Aquarium is great.
Fairytale Castle

Fairytale Castle

The Château de la Roche Courbon is a really rather spectacular historic monument just over an hour's drive south of La Rochelle. It took us all day to drive there, see the sights and drive back.
The Quiet Day

The Quiet Day

This was the day where we didn't do much. We did so little that I apparently couldn't even be bothered to take any photos of it.
Back to the Island

Back to the Island

For our final full day we couldn't really decide what to do, so we went back to the Île de Ré to do a bit more exploring.
Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

Time to wave bye bye to our adopted home of one week and get ourselves back to Milton Keynes again.