Today 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.
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……..
As it happens, when you walk around the back 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 the 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 (if it had one), and would then jump off just for a laugh.
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 Sports ( www.skysports.com ) 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.