Roche Courbon

Roche Courbon

Roche_Courbon_20.jpgOn Friday, we decided to get up nice and early and go down to the Château de La Roche-Courbon ( ). This is described in the brochure as the “Sleeping Beauty” castle. You can see why. I think Walt Disney designed his theme parks on this kind of design. Lots of tiled cylindrical spires and things. This one was obviously desgined by a guy who knew he was doing it for show. OK it has big walls, but it also has formal gardens, a pond instead of a moat, and practically no defensive capability. It looks nice on photos though.

The day started with a frenzy of pastries, sandwich making, covering each other in sun cream, getting dressed, and other busy, busy activities. The net result was that we got out of the house only 20 minutes later than we planned. Can’t be bad. Both girls seemed refreshed after a pretty much undisturbed night’s sleep.

And so to the N11 to explore the overnight resurfacing activities. It turned out they’d more or less finished and no junctions were closed, so we got onto the autoroute heading south without bother. Château de La Roche-Courbon is about 40 minutes south of La Rochelle, and the trip down was uneventful.

Last time we were in La Rochelle we also came to Château de La Roche-Courbon. On that day the heat was pretty fierce and our poor little 2 year-old Ami had a bit of a ‘mare. Today was a bit cooler, but by “cooler” I mean 30 Deg C instead of 35. Still hard work for two little ones, as well as for the older ones. All, however, put in a sterling effort and survived the day with no tantrums.

Ami was too young to appreciate the castle tour last time so we thought she’d appreciate a trip round with Granny and Grandad. She apparently behaved impeccably, despite the tour lasting nearly an hour and it being in French, translated (badly) off the crib sheet by Grandad. Meanwhile, Kas, Kev and Izzy toured the grounds, took photos and visited the collection of wooden games in the exhibition room. These included Japanese billiards (no cues, just roll the balls into the scoring holes), elasticated shove ha’penny and checkers/draughts. We don’t know whether the games were genuine antiques but the Japanese billiards certainly took a few years worth of damage from Izzy’s efforts. She was scoring OK with those balls that stayed in the frame but quite a few went across the floor and all of them were thrown using the Barnes Wallis method instead of the traditional rolling technique. Just as well none of the staff were watching.

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After the wooden games we decided to beat a retreat to the exterior and wait for the others. At one point, Ami and Grandad shouted out of a window at us. Flaming tourists ! It was peaceful until then. While we were wandering around slightly embarrassed we noticed the world’s most twee little apple trees. Apparently they’re called “jump-overs” or something. Anyway, it was like a bonsai orchard, except the fruits were full sized. The hedges turned out to be apple trees as well, with more varieties than you get down your local specialist greengrocer’s, never mind at Tescos.

All this activity made everyone hungry so it was time to exit the castle grounds for the little cafe jobby by the gate. We were actually trying to get to the picnic area to eat our packed goodies, but once outside the gates the sign says “Privé”, so we gave up and sat on the grass by the cafe. Had we looked around a bit longer we would have noticed the other gate to the picnic area (inside the castle grounds) which lead nicely to the seating area. Never mind. The gate by the cafe was the only one on site which didn’t say “Reserved for ticket holders”, it just said “Private”. The sandwiches were good, Izzy ate nothing again and the nice lady at the cafe bought our two cafés au lait round to the picnic mat for us. All jolly civilised. She also didn’t demand payment on delivery, so we had to remember to go and pay up before we set off again.

Next up, after the mandatory toilet break (clean) was the caves, or “grottes” if you’re French. It was a longer walk than Kas & Kev remembered, although mainly flat and not so rough. The little Maclaren buggy coped well really. The caves were inhabited 50,000 years ago by a tribe of Neanderthal. I hope they had discovered fire, it was a bit dark at the back. There’s about 5 caves of various sizes and with varying types of twiddly and knobbly bits, orifices and stuff. At some point whilst trying to get Izzy to pose through a hole in the rock we discovered the tree, and discovered that Izzy liked that much more. So did Lamby.

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On the way back, everyone was getting a bit hot and bothered, and the walking pace slowed off a bit. Ami got carried for part of the way as well. To their credit though, there was no grumping. Maybe it was the promise of ice creams. These were consumed with enthusiasm at the cafe, and they went down very nicely thank you – a round of Magnums, one Mövenpick double scoop in an oversized waffle cone, and the customary Chupa Chup for Izzy. Luvverly-jubbly. The only strange thing was being asked by the attendant to keep the kids quiet because her baby was asleep round the back. Strange because a couple of energetic kids talking and singing wouldn’t be enough to wake our kids. Come to think of it, a front row place at a Motörhead gig wouldn’t be enough to wake ours.

Motorhead.jpgAnd so to the gardens – the final stage of the proceedings. The gardens look fantastic, even though they are a bit rough-hewn. The bedrock shows through in various places around the edges. There’s an ornate flowery bit, probably a parterre, and a big but somewhat moss filled lake/pond with a big flight of ornate steps at the far side. And over the other side from the parterre there’s the bonsai orchard. All very nice. The girls liked the swans on the pond. And they loved frightening the trolls over the wooden bridges. And for some reason they both took their shoes off before trying to climb the big steps. Ami always starts this game off and Izzy naturally follows. Irritating but slightly funny. What was quite entertaining was a Spanish family who thought it was fun to keep irritating the swans. Swans aren’t that friendly at the best of times and these guys decided it would be fun to pretend to feed them, but then shout and run away in faux fear. Silly Herberts. They didn’t stay long, thankfully.

After this lot, it was time for a nice drive home to allow the older and younger members of the party to get some much needed sleep. Somehow Ami ended up in the middle row, thereby forcing Granny into the back with Grandad. The drive back was uneventful, including a brief stop at Marche U for more bread.

On returning home Ami, Kev and Grandad had a quick flirt with the swimming pool before all six sitting down outside for a very civilised evening meal of the meats, cheeses, shed loads of bread and beans/sausages/chips for the little ‘uns. The weather was still very hot and the sun still felt like it was burning. Not bad for 7pm.

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And then it was time to get the girls to bed (easily) and to neck some much deserved wine whilst writing the diary and watching the sun go down. The end of another busy and happy day.

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The Aquarium

The Aquarium

Aquarium.jpgToday began fairly early with the by now normal destruction of several pains au chocolat, croissants and Cheerios. A good hearty breakfast was definitely in order because today the plan was to go and see the famous La Rochelle Aquarium.

This is a good location on any day but suits both young and old on days when the weather falls into one of two categories : too hot or too cold. Today was actually neither. It was sunny, but breezy and quite pleasant. Let’s go there anyway.

Anyway, you’re probably not reading this for the French weather forecast, so back to the plot.

We arrived nice and early at the car park and found we got into a space right by the aquarium – no walking required. We had also, by now, managed to find the direct way into the centre of La Rochelle from the N11. However, I wouldn’t want to take away anyone else’s fun, so I’m not going to tell you what that route is. Go figure it out for yourself…

Back to the car park. After a short discussion with Ami to persuade her not to go into the squirty fountains (yet) we rolled up to the aquarium entrance and discovered a total absence of queue. Not sure you can discover a total absence of something, but you know what I mean.

So Kev wandered up to a likely looking young lady on the desk and practised his best chat up lines. “Quatre adultes et deux enfants, s’il vous plait” All was proceeding nicely in French, including establishing that Ami needed a ticket but Izzy didn’t, until said young lady pulled the old “Great Escape” trick and asked me if I had the requisite small change in English. Most disconcerting until she “fessed up” to being English herself. You mean my French was so bad you thought I wouldn’t understand, huh ? Anyway, if you’re going and you can’t manage any French at all, search out a young woman with long blonde hair called Sarah – she’s the one….

The first impressive (for a five year old) thing is the entrance lift. It fools you into thinking you’ve descended into the murky depths, whereas you actually dropped about two feet – you drop just far enough to be below the glass water vessels visible through the faux windows. Ami liked it anyway…

You then begin to wander through a seemingly endless collection of rooms containing different displays of fish and general sealife. I don’t want “seemingly endless” to sound like a bad thing, in this case it is far from bad. They have attempted to present realistic little micro-environments representing different sealife regions of the world, so there’s some “bottom of the Mediterranean” tanks, and some “Mediterranean foreshore” tanks, and so on. I guess they cluster fish from the same region into one tank so they can all survive at the same temperature/light/salinity. I also thought this would be so that nothing eats each other. Giving this more thought, though, I changed this to think that they put them in local micro-environments so that they know what is going to eat what, and so that the fish in the tanks get a menu in their own language……

Ami’s favourite fish was the Napoleon Fish, now renamed the Grandfather Fish. Izzy didn’t express a preference. There was an initial “no like it, fish”, but this didn’t last long, and by the second room you’d think she’d been born with gills. The sharks put on a decent display this time around and there was a nice old swordfish lying on the roof of the glass tunnel, so bit of a result really.

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This was probably the best bit of the holiday so far, but we would offer the guidance that it is quicker and easier if you go early in the morning. The magic underwater lift described above is used to regulate the flow of people entering the building, so if you arrive at a busy time you’re going to spend a long time queuing outside before you get to see any fish. And even at the controlled throughput rate of the lift you can expect to have to queue to get close to some of the more popular display tanks.

At the end of the tour we decided to grab lunch from the cafe/stall right by the door. The prices were typical but the food was actually pretty good for what it was. We had Sandwich Italien and Tartine Jambon/Fromage x3 plus a pain au chocolat (guess who had that). There would have been enough seats for us all except that Ami didn’t want to sit next to the dog, so Kev, Kas and 2x daughters sat on the floor in front of the building. Much to our surprise, we didn’t get moved on. Our savoury lunch was followed by ice cream for Ami and Izzy’s now customary Chupa Chup. Izzy has actually been living off orange juice and Chupa Chups at lunchtime for several days now. They last most of the afternoon, but I think the same is unlikely to apply to her teeth. Ami sat out in the sun to eat her ice cream while the rest of us mooched around the dockside outside the aquarium photographing each other and wondering how much it costs to park a boat there. Probably quite a lot. I wouldn’t want to have to pay to park a boat the size of the Maritime Museum……..

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As it happens, when you walk around the back side of the aquarium you come out alongside the squirty fountains. And this time, they were in full squirt when we got there. Kas had the brilliant idea that we should take a change of clothes for the girls to cover this eventuality. Both girls therefore took full opportunity for a good soaking. Izzy took a little convincing but as usual was persuaded by big sister. She’d follow Ami to the end of the Earth, and would then jump off just for a laugh.

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We’d already been round most of the Vieux Port and we’d been out for about 3 hours by this time, so we decided this was more than enough for children and grandparents alike. We therefore set off home, with a plan to stop to buy more provisions on the way. Our cunning plan was to use the Marche U in Dompierre sur Mer, however we were scuppered by the fact that they shut between 12:30 and 15:00. Not at all what you expect from a supermarket. Oh well, go home and come back later.

First order of business on our return was, of course, Ami’s insistence that it was time to go swimming. Fair enough, she’s been good all day so we can’t deny her that one. However, Kev’s first order of business was to try to connect to Sky ) to get the cricket score. Just because we’re in France, doesn’t mean we can’t follow the test match. Turned out, though, there’s nothing much doing because it’s raining in Birmingham. Swimming seems the best option all of a sudden.

Today Ami practised swimming without floats again, which of course means that the poor soul accompanying her doesn’t get to keep warm at all. Izzy joined us in the pool this time, having been lured in on the promise of constant attention. She obviously couldn’t go on her own because both armbands had mysteriously developed a puncture. Something to do with Ami using them as slippers to walk over the sharp stones last night. However, she did seem to enjoy spinning around and bobbing up and down, and the water/air combination seemed a bit warmer.

This filled a big chunk of the afternoon up to the point where we realised that a trip to the supermarket was still required. Kev and Kas packed to to go and were joined by a very tired but not stroppy Ami. In fact, she maintained a helpful and happy approach all the way through, even though it was pretty obvious she was running on vapour.

Marche U in Dompierre sur Mer is much bigger and much better than we expected. There is a decent selection of stuff, including the discount wine shelf as recommended by our neighbours for the week Luke and Ros.

One thing you can say about French wines though, if it is doesn’t specify a region/domain on the label then I wouldn’t buy it at any price. Vin de Table at €1.26 a bottle didn’t even enter into the reckoning. Especially when they have a good range of decent looking local wines in the €2.50 to €4.00 range. So suitably restocked on basics like alcohol, bread and fruits we proceeded to the checkout and discovered that they don’t do bags, and, of course, we failed to bring the bags we acquired at Carrefour two days earlier. Doh ! Shopping loose on the floor of the car, then.

Oh, and by the way, isn’t France expensive ?

All this effort was enough to work up an appetite, and for the first time on this holiday we managed to get both girls to sit at the table and to eat the thing we gave them. In this case, the winning combination was some very garlicky sausages from Marche U with chips from the freezer, followed by yoghurts. Both girls just sat at the table and ate their food. No moaning, no crying, no tantrums, and lots of eating. We must have done something right today.

So we got the girls to bed at a sensible hour and had our own tea (more garlicky sausages with salads and bread) sitting outside and watching sun and temperature decline at a rapid rate. We also checked the cricket again and discovered Ricky Ponting had elected to bat, much to the surprise of the Sky Sports pundits, and Australia finished the day’s two hours of test match at 126-1.

All in all a good day, then. No tantrums, no injuries, no domestic disasters, and no bad feelings, seemingly. Everyone fed and watered and to bed at a decent time. And the sun shined all day, again. Unless there was a sneaky rainstorm while we were inside the Aquarium.

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Chilling Out

Chilling Out

Gite_04.jpgAnd when we say “chilling”, we mean freezing. Not because the weather was cold, but because we spent all day in and out of the swimming pool with our new found water-baby Ami. As a special treat after swimming unaided for the first time yesterday, we promised Ami she could go in and out of the pool as many times as she liked. This proved to be five times. Two in the morning, two in the afternoon and one in the evening. It would have been more, but we had to allow time for eating and the occasional mini-strop.

The morning also provided entertainment in the form of a spot of DIY. Not first choice for a holiday, but then we discovered that Kev’s (failed) efforts the previous night to get one of the washing machines working had resulted in no washing machine and now no dishwasher either. Something to do with the fact that the dishwasher water supply was fed from a tap in the bathroom of the other apartment, and the washing machine in that other apartment had neither a water feed nor a power feed, which nicely compensated for the fact that the drain hose was just lying on the floor instead of being stuffed down the waste pipe. Good job there’s another washing machine in the other bathroom. The reason why the dishwasher wasn’t working, by the way, was that in the process of trying to move the washing machine so that the drain hose wasn’t pressing on the feed hose it got knocked and the feed hose started leaking at the tap, so the tap got turned off. Eventually fixed it, but it’s rather a strange thing to be doing whilst on holiday.

Cours Des Dames.jpgIn all this time, Izzy didn’t go in the pool at all, except first thing when she dipped in her toes and then decided she “no like it, water” Grandad also bloused halfway through the morning’s first session leaving Kev to freeze alone. Somehow, Ami didn’t seem to notice the cold, maybe because she was thrashing away like a mad thing, whereas we were getting cold because the first time your child has their floats off you suddenly need to stay very close, and you don’t actually do much swimming yourself.

Izzy dropped off for a good old snooze just around lunchtime, at which point Kev cunningly volunteered to watch her in bed, thereby forcing Kas to get up and spend time in the pool with Ami. Sneaky, I know, but how else was I to escape ?

Anyway, Kev took more baby sleep than Izzy by a long chalk and surfaced right around time for feeding the girls.

In the evening, the family split up and experienced several different domestic disasters.

Granny and Grandad stayed at home with the girls and they managed to cause Ami’s bed frame to collapse simply by sitting on it. I think it was going to go anyway – all the fastenings were loose and the screws holding the slats on weren’t anything like long enough. The ones that came loose were rusty and bent as well. Probably never been right, but anyway, net result was that Ami had a switch of bed frames while Izzy merrily snoozed away on her mattress on the floor.
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Vieux Port Evening.jpgMeanwhile, Kas and Kev took the welcome opportunity for a night out. The food was fine, but every other aspect was dodgy. Firstly, the N11 leading into La Rochelle was being resurfaced, so we got diverted down a previously unseen part of La Rochelle. This threw off our cunning plans and put us, as with the previous trip, in a place we didn’t want to be, namely approaching the town centre from the north. We eventually meandered our way into a car park near the Tour de la Chaine. Next, after we found a restaurant, the first act of the waitress was to drop a bottle of Pepsi off her tray, which flew into Kev’s lap and then bounced onto the floor. Kev therefore spent the rest of the night with an embarrassing damp patch near his crotch. At least he came off better than the guy sitting opposite, who ended up with a big bleeding scratch down his shin where a bit of bouncing glass embedded itself. This was at one of the many cafes alongside the Vieux Port, by the way.

We then discovered that the little camera doesn’t take landscape photos in the dark. The images look OK on the screen, but you then get an image that looks rather different, more like something from The Sky at Night. Oh well, remember next time that nighttime photography requires the proper cameras. The photo of the Vieux Port here has therefore been nicked from elsewhere. However, the flash is sufficient to do portraits, so the photo of the guy with the silver face is one of ours.

Some small entertainment was provided at the Cafe Leffe when Kev asked for the beer menu and was told by the waiter that he was the beer menu, and who then proceeded to give a much practiced recital of beers of various colours. Thankfully, one of them was Leffe Brune – I’ll have one of those please, ‘Guv.

La_Rochelle_47.jpgAnd then, to the trip home. It was probably the most entertaining trip you could imagine, given that the objective was to drive no more than 10 miles straight out of town down the major road. Firstly our sub-optimal starting point meant that following the “Toutes Directions” signs took us totally the wrong way and all the way back to the Ile de Re bridge. Next, we got to the N11 junction to discover it was shut ( see comments about resurfacing earlier ). The diversion ( I do think the French “deviation” sounds better ) took us one junction down, then round the roundabout and back to the N11 junction from the south side. We were allowed to follow the slip road but not join the main carriageway, so we ended up being diverted straight off again and into the Beaulieu Retail Park, at which point, all diversion signs vanished from view and we were left to fend for ourselves. Not being locals, we had no idea. So Kas opted to follow someone else for a bit, trusting that they a) had seen a sign we hadn’t and b) were following the diversion instead of going home to some other place. Doh ! Wrong.

So we got a lovely tour of Puilboreau and St Xandre (see Day 1 article) before eventually spotting a sign for Dompierre sur Mer. This took us south again over the N11 and allowed us at least to join about 5 miles further down and vaguely on the right route. It also had the advantage that we passed the Marche U, thereby locating a recommended shopping location.

Eventually, when we got home, we discovered all were asleep except for a creature in our bedroom which looked like a wasp but was actually the size of a horse. It took several splats and much messing around with light switches before eventually managing to dispose of the thing. I think we recycled it, trapped inside its bog roll coffin. And so eventually to bed after after a day which teaches you that you should never have a quiet day in whilst on holiday, because this just exposes all the bad things about your accommodation.

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Île de Ré

Île de Ré

This page is written from Ami’s perspective, as a small way of apologising for some poor parenting on my part. It was a day of general grumpiness for both of us, mainly caused by tiredness.

Re_25.jpg This morning I fell out of bed. Grandad came to help me before Mummy got there. Grandads are very useful.

We had croissants and pains au chocolate for breakfast. Izzy had Cheerios and toast with jam, again.

Then Mummy and Granny made some sandwiches for lunch while Daddy put suncream all over Izzy. I put suncream on myself.

Mummy took some photos of me and Izzy outside wearing our masks – look. Izzy was still wearing her jim-jams as well.

Daddy said we were all going for a ride in the car to see a big lighthouse and a big bridge, but we also had our swimming things because there might be a beach as well.

We drove all the way over a big bridge to the Île de Ré ( ). Daddy complained about the cost of using the bridge, he said it must be a lot more than they need to keep the bridge open.

Re_14.jpgIt’s a long way to the other end of the island. When we arrived there wasn’t anywhere to park, so we left the car in a field. We walked a long way to get to a great big lighthouse, called the Phare des Baleines.

I climbed all the way to the top on my own without a rest. It was a long way up – look at how many stairs I climbed. Mummy took the photo from the bottom. You can’t see me at the top.

Daddy followed me up and Izzy climbed up with Grandad. When I got to the top, I was tired and told Daddy I wanted to go down again. This made Daddy grumpy. So I took some photos with Mummy’s camera.

Daddy carried Izzy down and Mummy helped me.

Re_11.jpgWe all met Granny at the bottom and played on the grass. I found a big log in the trees. You have to be very strong to lift up a log like this one.

We then bought some drinks to go with our picnic, but we weren’t allowed to sit at the lighthouse, so we walked through the village and found a space between the trees.

Izzy didn’t eat her jam sandwiches. She only had crisps and sweets.

I tried really hard and ate a whole cheese sandwich with my crisps.

Then we climbed through the bushes and found the sea. Daddy took a photo of Grandad and Izzy.

When we came back, Mummy threw away my juice and I got upset. This made Daddy very grumpy again. I don’t know why. I just wanted my juice.

We went back to the car and drove a bit more. Izzy fell asleep really quickly. She’s only little, so she sleeps a lot during the day. She can’t help it.

Re_16.jpgAfter a while we found a car park next to a big beach. This was much better than the lighthouse.

Izzy was asleep so me, Daddy and Mummy put on our swimming things and went for a plodge in the sea. It was much warmer than the sea at Nonny’s house. It was sunnier than Nonny’s as well.

We filled Daddy’s hat with sea shells we found on the beach. While Izzy was asleep, the sea went much further away than when we arrived. It was 46 of Daddy’s steps further out.

When Izzy woke up she put her swimming costume on but she didn’t want to go in the water. She just stuck to Mummy.

Later we left the beach and we found a big yellow banana boat near the car. Look, I sat on it.

Then we drove a bit closer to home where we stopped for an ice cream. We didn’t find the one I wanted so I said I would have a red one instead. When Daddy said we’d go to another shop I cried again and Daddy got really grumpy this time. He carried me out of the shop and along the street. I don’t know why, because we didn’t find another shop and I ended up having a red one from the first shop. Silly Daddy. We also got some bread so we can have pain au chocolat for breakfast again tomorrow.

Daddy took some photos of the bridge and then we drove home.

Re_23.jpgAt home we went straight to the swimming pool. I made Mummy and Daddy very proud because I jumped in from the side. I must remember to shut my mouth next time. Then I took my floats off and I swam on my own for the first time ever.

We had tea sitting outside. I had some brioche with butter and jam. Brioche is like half bread and half cake. It’s yummy. Then I had some chocolate cornflake cakes. They’re also very yummy. Izzy got covered in beans and chocolate and she farted a lot. Smelly Izzy.

After tea I washed the sand off all the shells we collected in Daddy’s hat. Look, one of them tried to bite off my finger. Naughty shell !

After all this, we were so tired that we went to bed. Izzy went first and then I went afterwards.

I don’t know when the others went to bed, because I was asleep. Grandad says I fell out of bed again. I don’t remember it because I was asleep.

Then in the middle of the night there was a giraffe in my room and Mummy had to scare it away. How did that get here ?

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The Two Towers

The Two Towers

La_Rochelle_17.jpgNow, the last time we came here it was hot. Not just “a bit warm” or “nice”, but downright hot, all week. So it was a bit of a surprise to wake up to a cloudy sky. Where did that come from ? And more to the point, when’s it going to go away ?

Grandad woke up first, as usual, and did a fine job of keeping both girls entertained until a sensible time. Izzy had breakfast but Ami decided on a bit of a grump, again. It didn’t last too long though – one jam covered face later and we were back to relative normality. We spent much of the morning mooching about whilst deciding what to do. We eventually plumped for making a picnic out of all the food we had left, and going back to La Rochelle ( ) to visit the towers in the harbour.

We chose to try to park at the Aquarium, but also vowed to try to find some better street maps so that we avoided any repetition of last night’s parking shenanigans.

Overnight we had discovered a useful little map of the town centre, which got us close enough to follow an fairly circuitous route round the southern side of town to the Aquarium. There’s a handy car park beside it which is convenient for the Vieux Port.

Today it proved to be so handy that there weren’t actually any spaces left. We had to wait until someone else left before we could get in, but at least we were fast enough off the line to beat the French bloke at the barrier next to us. In ‘yer face, French bloke….. This allowed the Gardners world famous good parking karma to kick back in as we managed to stalk a punter who was parked only yards from the entrance, and we nicked his now vacant space.

The daughters were, of course, magnetically drawn towards the dancing fountains, but we escaped with relatively little soaking. So we progressed on through the Aquarium entrance hall and over to the Gabut area. We made a brief stop at the Tourist Information Office, where Kev picked up a summer magazine containing some slightly more detailed maps of the town centre and an English translation of one of the general Poitou-Charentes tourist brochures we found in the gîte. We then found a corner shop selling essential lunch items like coke, fruit and crisps. It was midday by then, so we plumped for a proper British picnic, involving all of us clustering round a bench seat that wasn’t quite big enough whilst trying to get the kids to eat something other than crisps and sweets. Failed. The weather was also a bit dodgy. It was windy and quite cold. Not at all what we wanted, so lunch was hasty affair. Time to warm up by climbing a tower.

La_Rochelle_09.jpgThe Tour St Nicholas is the bigger one of the two right by the mouth of the old harbour. It is also the best to walk up and around. There is more to see. It has some pretty dodgy blockwork on it. Halfway up the masons noticed that the courses of stone weren’t running horizontally, so they quickly straightened it up and added a castle-sized dado rail in the vain hope that no one would notice. In a certain light you don’t, but in others, it is pretty obvious. Anyway, you can climb this tower all the way to the top, and when you get there, you discover there’s a second roof higher up than the first. Izzy walked all the way up with some help from Grandad, which is no mean feat for her, given that some of the steps were up to her chest. Bendy little blighters, these kids.

At the top we had a flurry of rain, which dampened the girls’ enthusiasm a bit. However, if you’re going to go there, go all the way. The views in all directions are great and the holes in the ramparts allow you to barf straight down the side without getting your shoes wet. How do you manage to get lumps of rock to do overhangs like that ? I thought rocks had no tensile strength at all…..

Suitably castled-out for the day, we plodded round the Vieux Port and found ourselves on the Cours des Dames again, where we had dinner last night. We stuck just to ice creams this time. Kev didn’t get one, knowing full well that there was a 90% chance Izzy wouldn’t want hers. Her initial enthusiasm at the sight of it turned into total rejection by the time it was within eating range. Never mind, Izzy went off for a grump with Grandad while the rest of us finished up the ice creams.

The little solar powered boat chugging across the inner harbour has now been renamed “Izzy’s Boat”, by Izzy herself. Amazing powers of recognition, but I’m not sure the “baggsy” method would stand up in a court of law. Never mind, we don’t have a big enough body of water at home to need a boat. As mentioned before, it isn’t quite as solar powered as it looks. The Cours des Dames end is where they have to charge it up for 10 minutes. They should have put duracell in it.

I’ve decided that having two children is about five times the work of one. It’s like herding cats. Just when you think one is going where you want, you discover the other one isn’t. And they alternate between shooting off in random directions and walking very slowly right in front of you. It’s a wonder any of them ever make it to adulthood, and it’s a good job there’s four adults. This is the minimum number required to successfully marshal two children through busy streets.

La_Rochelle_14.jpg La_Rochelle_13.jpg La_Rochelle_12.jpg La_Rochelle_11.jpg La_Rochelle_10.jpg La_Rochelle_16.jpg La_Rochelle_15.jpg La_Rochelle_20.jpg La_Rochelle_19.jpg La_Rochelle_18.jpg La_Rochelle_21.jpg La_Rochelle_27.jpg La_Rochelle_26.jpg La_Rochelle_25.jpg La_Rochelle_23.jpg La_Rochelle_22.jpg

This led us to a slight disappointment, which was that the squirty fountains outside the Aquarium had been switched off, probably to avoid soaking the queue of people trying to get in, which was by now resembling an attempt on the world conga record. If you’re going there folks, go early.

Kas drove us quickly and without incident over to Carrefour for time to stock up on comestibles. When we arrived both kids were having a well earned nap, so Kas stayed in the car while Kev tried to marshal Granny and Grandad round Carrefour. It is quite a big one, and everything is in French. Grandad isn’t the most patient of shoppers at the best of times, so it was a bit painful because it was busy.

Isn’t France expensive ?

Then back to the car to find the girls on the way to the toilets, and having slept for only a short time, apparently. Can’t trust ’em to do anything. At least while we were inside the sun decided to make an appearance.

Then home and time for the highlight of the day – playing chicken with the swimming pool. Howcome it’s possible that the water feels absolutely freezing at first, but then you get used to it and you realise that actually, it’s the windy air that’s cold, and the water is quite nice and cosy, so long as you don’t break the surface with your shoulders. Izzy bloused first, closely followed by Kas. She claims to have gone simply to look after Izzy, but I’m not so sure. Grandad went next, which just left Ami and Kev as the hardcore swimmers. To be fair, Ami puts in more effort than Kev. Eventually Ami bloused as well, and Kev obviously had to give up to make sure Ami got home OK. We had a couple of minutes basking on the steamer chairs first though – just long enough to realise the wind didn’t get warmer just because you were dry. Ouchy ! Come on Ami, let’s go and get clean, warm, dry and fed (in that order).

All of which leads us to the end of another day, except to say that the nice chap reset the wi-fi and so now these diaries can be typed live into the website.

The daughters seemed to have recovered from the tiring journey, so we were hoping for a bit less grumping from now onwards. Dream on !

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Settling In

Settling In

La_Rochelle_05 Tour de St Nicholas.JPGOnce again it proved to be a night of musical beds. Izzy kept falling out of hers, so she ended up sharing with Grandad. We’re not sure if Granny was there as well, but I assume she was. Ami had a moan a couple of times as well, and no one really got to sleep before about 1am.

The morning proved to be bright and sunny, and everyone got up around 8-8:30. The adults had some breakfast but neither child was interested, again.

And then for our first outing to the swimming pool. Oooh ! Cold, cold, cold, but then surprisingly not so bad once you get used to it. At least the sun was doing its best to warm everything up for us.

After a good 45 mins or so it was time to wash away the chlorine and other accumulated grime. This takes a long time with four adults and two kids, but we eventually got there and all were cleaned and brushed ready for a bit more playing. It was around this time that it started to become obvious how tired Ami was. She was really grumpy and didn’t want to do anything at all, really.

Lunch was a drawn out affair, mainly because everyone was exhausted and was trying to get more sleep. To be honest, we spent the whole afternoon up to about 4 pm with one or other of us sleeping. Ami gave in to the urge last of all.

La_Rochelle_03 Kas & Izzy.JPGWe decided to go down to La Rochelle ( ) for dinner, if only because the supermarkets don’t open Sundays. So we took and interesting tour round the old town trying to find the way to the Vieux Port. It involved a trip through the bus station and a couple of wrong turns, but we got there eventually. Ami was still well grumpy, and still tired, but anyway we limped our way at low speed around the inner docks and then caught the little solar powered shuttle ferry across to the north side. Turns out the boat isn’t actually solar powered. It has panels on the roof, but it also gets plugged in for a top-up every time it docks on the north side. Anyway, the brief journey is enhanced by the trip through the two towers at the harbour entrance, the Tour St Nicholas (see photo) and the Tour de la Chaine.

La_Rochelle_15.jpgWe went for dinner at one of the many little cafes on the Cours des Dames. We can’t remember the name but the food was good. And at last we discovered the source of Ami’s grumpiness – hunger. Not surprising really as she hadn’t eaten much of anything all day or last night. Several chicken nuggets, a plate of chips and a rocket-shaped lolly later and we seem to have our charming little five-year old back again. Thank God for that.

We came back home by an experimental route, induced by road works on the N11 and a slight wrong turn in Angliers, but never mind, and for once both girls got into bed without whinging or moaning once.

Gite Sunset.jpg It’s quiet here. You can watch the sun go down behind the trees and listen to the insects, you can hear the church in Vérines, but that’s about it. No cars, no aeroplanes, and, in fact, no street lights either, just peace, quiet, and stars. Unfortunately, another thing there didn’t seem to be was an internet connection. Le Moulin‘s wifi wasn’t playing ball.

Oh, and the moon is here as well. It looks like the same one as at home, but you can’t be too sure.

This page was first written whilst sitting outside and watching first the sun, and then the moon, duck down behind the trees. The glass of wine on the table was starting to look very concerned about my continued attentions. This was to become a bit of a running theme for the evenings. It’s a really good way to finish off a day on holiday – sitting outside with a nice beverage and reflecting on the day’s activities.

The moon looks like it’s had a long couple of days too, so I can’t blame it for wanting an early night. Let’s hope a good night’s sleep sorts everybody out.

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French Motorways

French Motorways

Hazmat.jpgWe emerged fairly early from our cosy little cocoon to begin a long day of driving. First of all we had to struggle through a crowd of guys in Hazmat suits who seemed to be clustered around the bin in the car park. Wonder what that was all about !

Anyway, first order of business, breakfast. We stopped at the Bosgouet motorway services south of Rouen ( ), just before you head down the new A28 towards Le Mans. It proved to be a bit busy. I guess everyone from England, Belgium and the Netherlands who’s going on holiday in France ends up near Rouen at around 9 am on Saturday morning and decides to stop for breakfast at the same place. Walking through the car park with two small and active children was a bit hair-raising.

RouenCathedral.jpgAnd we then got scared even more by something which ended up being a running theme for this holiday.

Isn’t France expensive ?

Buying nothing in particular seemed to cost €30. I’m sure we only bought a couple of coffees, a couple of pastries, and a couple of orange juices. There’s no way it can cost that much. You wouldn’t mind so much, but you start thinking about the cost of the food you didn’t eat.

And another thing that is distinctly different from England. The size of the coffees. When you’re used to a large coffee being something that requires a forklift to transport to your car you feel distinctly dischuffed at paying €3 or €4 for something that barely wets your mouth.

And so to the first long stretch of autoroute. Somehow, Kas was driving again. Halfway down France and Kev hasn’t had a go yet. That’ll never last.

Not much happens on French autoroutes. I think the tolls must keep the total numpties away. The A28 is a nice new shiny road running from Rouen to Le Mans ( ). It had more traffic than last time we drove it, mainly because of the time of day (not night). You get to drive at the posted limit of 130km/hr most of the time and there’s really not much grief. The money is worth it. Every penny of it.

Sees.jpgThis road passes by the town of Sées, which is famous for it’s fanatastic old abbey, and also because it’s twinned with Southwell, where Kev and big brother Phil went to school. We didn’t stop, but we did have a text discussion with Phil. Bizarrely, it turns out that one of his friends was also visiting La Rochelle for a fortnight. We’re sure we’re going to bump in to them at some point.

Lunch was held at the Parcé-sur-Sarthe service station south of Le Mans. We definitely stopped at this one last time too. We filled up with diesel, which seems to be the only thing in France that isn’t more expensive than the UK. It was so cheap here, in fact, that half of the pumps were empty. This service station can be recommended because it has a nice big grassy area, on which we took the opportunity to wear the daughters out with a bit of football and catch the daddy/catch the mummy. We followed this with what turned out to be a very stroppy lunch. Both children picked corn flakes and then wouldn’t eat them.

Then there was the usual monster queue for the ladies toilets. Why don’t they just allocate 5 times the floor space to ladies as to blokes ?

Back on the road with Kev now driving. Lots more boring motorways with Felicity doing her best to keep us informed and to keep us on track. Then it was round Angers ( ) and towards La Roche sur Yon ( ), and then eventually south towards La Rochelle ( ). We passed a bunch of signs telling us that they’re building a new autoroute exit or two which will link the A87 with La Rochelle, but until those are done you use the old N137. Halfway down, some deep seated bad memory came to the surface as we joined the back of a four mile queue to get past a single set of crap traffic lights in the middle of Marans ( ).

Gite.jpg20 minutes of crawling later we decided to back-track a bit and go around the outside. After all, we’ve got to dash round Carrefour and unload everything at the gîte before driving back to the airport to fetch Granny and Grandad. The villages of Villedoux and Puilboreau turned out to be lovely (they’re probably suburbs rather than villages, but who cares), and we eventually reached Carrefour about half an hour behind schedule.

We used the big Carrefour on the outskirts of La Rochelle. We remembered the location from the last time we were here. It is a whopping great hypermarket, and although the types of content are different from a British one, it is nevertheless a nightmare to try to get round quickly with two small kids on a Saturday afternoon.

Isn’t France expensive ?

And back in the car again to find Le Moulin Boutillon, our home for the next two weeks. The owner’s nephew is on duty today so that the owner can have a holiday. The necessary pleasantries were done and he helped us lug Napoleon’s military stash inside. No time to explain how the pool works, though, as we’ve got to get back to the airport.

La-Rochelle-Airport.jpgLa Rochelle – Ile de Re Airport can best be described a “provincial”, but in this case that isn’t a bad thing. It is small but perfectly formed. There’s one building for departures and a few portacabins on the side for arrivals. There’s also a few fences where you can stare right though at the planes on the tarmac. Granny and Grandad were running half an hour late (flying half an hour late, I suppose), so there was plenty of time to mooch about and look around the place. We settled on the bit of fence by the arrivals “hall” and waited. There’s a nice view of the planes coming in, including a nice Ryanair ( ) from Dublin and then a little chug-chug turboprop Flybe ( ) from Birmingham, which has Granny and Grandad onboard. We did our best to shout as they walked down the steps off the plane but nothing registered, I think it was just too far for them to hear us. However, it doesn’t take long to get through an airport this small, so we met up soon and returned to Le Moulin Boutillon for some much needed sleep. We attempted (and failed) to work the swimming pool and to get the kids to eat anything, We attempted successfully to have pizzas and wine. But mainly we all needed some sleep.

Well, we all got here safely. It’s probably a good idea to do as little as possible tomorrow….

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Leaving England

Leaving England

QE2_Bridge.jpgThe much anticipated trip to France for the Gardners began with a relatively low stress morning of cleaning and checking the car and then loading it up with enough stuff to equip Napoleon’s armies for an entire tour of Russia.

In the meantime, Kas was doing last minute shopping with Ami and finishing some emergency work, Izzy was having a last morning at nursery.

For the first time in ages, we set off at roughly the time we planned and seem to have remembered to bring everything. A quick stop at the Burlaces to drop off some keys and off we go. D’oh ! No we don’t, we’re missing one child. OK, round to Acorns to fetch Izzy, and then off on the road around 12:30. It should be plenty of time to make a 17:50 train through the Channel Tunnel ( ). The M25 on a Friday afternoon. What could possibly go wrong ? Our previous experiences have shown that any trip near London on a Friday afternoon is a nightmare with nobs on.

The weather around the M25 could only be described as treacherous, with masses of rain, thunder and lightning. This, combined with the usual Friday afternoon traffic, conspired to slow us down to a snail’s pace. It’s just as well we allowed 5 hours. And as if to prove the point, we then got stuck in 5 miles of queues trying to get over the Dartford QE2 Bridge ( ). The only reason for it seemed to be that there weren’t enough toll booths open. Never mind, we didn’t want to be early anyway.

EurotunnelTrain.jpgEventually we arrived for a much needed stop at Maidstone Services ( ). Some tea for the daughters was also required. Neither of them managed to sleep much on the way, so things were getting a bit crazy in the back. However, I never cease to be amazed by the restorative powers of fish fingers and a bit of a run around. So having suitably fed and watered everyone, we dashed back to the car through the best thunderstorm yet, and completed the remaining 20 miles to the tunnel.

The Channel Tunnel ( ) has obviously invested some pennies in new technology since we last came. At the check-in gate whilst Kev was fumbling around for the booking details under the seat, Kas (driving) was merrily confirming our position and accepting the kind offer of an earlier train. They have character recognition software at the gate, and this determined that the car was indeed related to one of today’s bookings. Nuff said. Cunning use of technology, I thought. So yes please, we’ll have that earlier train. We arrived at check-in at 16:55 and got on a train at 17:20. Can’t be bad.

TunnelLoading.jpgIzzy’s first trip through the tunnel (the first since she was born, anyway) involved both girls doing their best to scare daddy by running round the front of the car and generally causing havoc. I must say that having two kids to chase makes the 30 minute train journey seem more like 2 minutes, though. By the way, our train was a bit packed, but Eurotunnel don’t like it if you take photos,  apparently, so I can’t show you how packed. I guess it’s not a wonderful thing to encourage people to take photos inside the carriages.

Our first out-of-car experience in France was a quick wee stop at the first garage. This was packed with Brits busily buying warning triangles and everything else they’re supposed to have for driving in France. Has anyone actually got a high visibility jacket in the back ? And so off on our way down to Rouen for the night.

Barney.jpgThe highlight of this stretch of the Pas de Calais, Picardie and Haute-Normandie was the repeated restarts of the DVD player as the bumpy road surfaces played havoc. We listened to the introduction to “Barney the Dinosaur does some irritating stuff and then sings about it…” far more times than anyone could ever want. This was punctuated by an increasingly stressed Ami smacking the restart button in the strange belief that the player would restart more quickly if it was smacked every couple of seconds. I believe it’s called percussive maintenance.

Apart from that it was fairly uneventful until we reached Rouen, at which point it went a bit Pete Tong. This was something to do with Felicity the satellite navigator speaking from one side of the car whilst Ami the irritated five-year old was shouting from the other. Ami was louder. All of which led us to the unwanted equation :

Too many signs + too many distractions = a couple of missed turns + where the hell are we?

The last time we came through Rouen we ended up pulling a U-turn on a bridge over the Seine at 3 in the morning. Maybe Rouen is a portal to a different dimension. Felicity eventually got us back on the right road for our hotel, the Etap Rouen Sud. From the centre of town we just followed the Avenue des Canadiens, south past the Stade Robert Diochen, home of FC Rouen ( ). We didn’t see many Canadians there, though.

FCRouen.jpgWe’ve never used an Etap ( ) before, but we would probably do so again, purely because it was clean and slightly bigger than we expected. OK, there’s no restaurant and no bar, but then with two young kids such things serve no purpose anyway. What you really need is a comfortable, dark and quiet room with sleeping space for four, which is precisely what we got. The only unfortunate moment was the nappy of mass destruction that Izzy produced just after we arrived. Obviously that nappy wasn’t the fault of the Etap chain, and we apologise for any implication that it might be. Kas did the dirty ( quite literally ), but there was no way that thing was sleeping in the same room as us, so Ami and Kev decided to brave the turned up noses and gagging noises from people in the reception area as we carried it out and deposited it in a bin halfway across the car park.

Darth_Vader.jpgA restless few hours was then spent playing musical beds in a futile attempt to get sufficient sleep for a shed load of driving the following day.

Izzy had the pumper bed. It makes a farty noise every time she rolls over, which in Izzy’s case is once every 2 seconds.

Ami the Bush Kangaroo got spooked by the dark and so spent the night kicking Kev in the double bed while Kas enjoyed the whole farty, kicky, snory cacophony from the relative peace of the top bunk.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Ami had a cold and Kev forgot to pack nasal spray in the overnight bag, so the whole thing probably sounded like Darth Vader with a chest infection. Actually, I think the big fella designed the decor in the room. The bedside lamp was an upright flourescent tube screwed to the side of the bed.

I wonder what’ll happen tomorrow.

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La Rochelle

La Rochelle

Tour Saint Nicholas

Phare des Baleines

The Aquarium

Château de la Roche Courbon



The Ostrich Farm

La Rochelle 2009

In late July and early August we drove to La Rochelle on the west coast of France for a two week family holiday, including meeting up with my parents, who flew in from Birmingham.
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.

Driving Home

Driving Home

One thing you should always bear in mind is that you should never put off until tomorrow something that you could do today.

Bags, Birds and Beers

Bags, Birds and Beers

How difficult can it be to find a restaurant that’s open at lunchtime ? Unless you’re by the seaside, it’s apparently near impossible.

St Martin de Ré

St Martin de Ré

A lazy morning followed by a lazy afternoon in a quiet town and an early night. Zzzzzzz.

The Big Barbeque

The Big Barbeque

We had to wave goodbye to Granny and Grandad, and then consoled ourselves with a beach and some ice creams.

A Lot of Not a Lot

A Lot of Not a Lot

On this day we reached a new peak of inactivity. It should probably be a trough of inactivity



We needed a relatively relaxed day, so we took the kids to the beach for a plodge in the sea.

New Friends

New Friends

Today we resolved to do nothing much in particular. We were successful. Apart from the bit where we went out for dinner.

Île d’Aix

Île d’Aix

The Île d’Aix is a small island of the coast a little south of La Rochelle which is accessible only by boat, and where there are no cars.