This was supposed to be a day of general slumming around the gîte and packing bags while the kids kept themselves entertained. Both got up fairly late again giving Kas & Kev the opportunity to sleep reasonably well. Good stuff.
The weather looked decidedly suspicious in the morning. It was grey and a bit windy, much like a typical summer’s day back home. Probably the first bad morning of the holiday though, so we can’t really complain, I suppose. Well actually, we’re British, so we can complain about anything, even if it’s something we like.
Anyway, we tried to munch our way through as much as possible for breakfast. There were still far too many pains au chocolat and brioches around the place. So we did as good a job as we could manage.
We also spent a few minutes round at the big house taking photos of each other. After all, it may well be the last time the kids see each other.
Following this, it was time to attempt a bit of packing and clearing up to minimise the effort required on Saturday morning. Kev and Ami packed up the many, many empty wine bottles and made a trip up to the bottle bank in Angliers. Strange recycling system here. You put all your cans, paper and plastic into a yellow bag, which the bin men fetch. However, they don’t fetch glass, so you have to make a special trip out to dump it in a collection bin somewhere nearby. Strange really, given that more things are supplied in bottles in France than they are in England. The dump in Angliers is at the back of the car park by the church. We think the church must have been having cable TV fitted at the time, because there was a big digger and a bloke with a very big compactor doing their best to shift rubble around and flatten it out over a couple of trenches. Much sport for Ami.
When we got back, Kas and Izzy had apparently got as far as you can go with the packing until the final rounds of showering and tooth brushing are completed. Toys packed, books packed, kitchen stuff packed, dirty clothes packed, clean clothes packed except for enough to last today and tomorrow. Swimming costumes and towels still accessible, obviously, in case the weather clears up a bit. And it was about 11 am. There’s no way we’re going to make the packing last all day, so we had a few minutes of cogitation with the objective of finding a short afternoon filler.
Kev suggested an ostrich farm over on the coast at Marsilly, which looked like it might be good for a couple of hours, so off we set, planning to find convenient local cafe in a village to have some lunch beforehand. What a mistake that proved to be. We drove the scenic route via Longèves, Villedoux and eventually to Marsilly but didn’t find anything in any of those. The road down to the seafront at Marsilly looked unpromising and we didn’t find the entrance to the ostrich farm either. So we had a bit of a “moment” and decided to do another circuit of the old centre just in case. We did one loop around the fortified church and back to the road we came in on, and whilst we still didn’t find a cafe, we (Kas) did spot a very small sign on the side of a house with a picture of an ostrich. Guess it’s down there, then.
So now we knew where the farm was but not the nearest source of nutrition. Neuil-sur-Mer looked like a possibility, and after a couple of kilometres of new housing estate there is actually a nice little village centre, with a small town square mainly converted to car park and dedicated to President Mitterand. I’m sure a small town square in a village in the middle of nowhere is a fitting tribute. It did have a small cafe advertising Tex-Mex food, but what looked quite promising from the outside proved a bit less so from the inside. There wasn’t much sign of a menu anywhere and the inside was definitely a bar, not a restaurant. If we didn’t have the kids we’d probably have gone for it, but with the kids it didn’t look suitable. So we took a quick walk around the corner to prove there was nothing else (there wasn’t) and we decided that by now we were so close to the middle of that we might as well go and slum it at McDonalds. There’s one by the side of the motorway quite close to the airport.
I don’t know whether it’s just that all the villages were really La Rochelle suburbs, or whether there’s no call in small villages for restaurants or cafes, or just that the French don’t go out so much, but the village experience round here is less than satisfying. Around lunchtime most are deserted – nowhere to eat, shops all shut for lunch. Where is everyone? Probably at work somewhere.
Anyway, McDonald’s was easy to find but tricky to get to due to the complex arrangement of back streets and car parks. Once at said establishment, it was time to play a game of spot the difference between UK and French attempts at the franchise.
Difference number one was that they had a gnatty pre-ordering system which more or less removes the need to actually speak to the staff. You choose whether to order in English or French, and then you’re guided through a list of menu options on a touch-sensitive screen and eventually you confirm, shove your credit card in the slot and get a little ticket with an order number on it. The language option seems unnecessary because a photo of a Big Mac looks the same in any language, and unless you’re in Greece, Russia, China or Japan, it’s also called a Big Mac in every language. I suppose a Happy Meal is probably a “Formule Joyeaux” in French, but it can’t be that hard. What was hard was that the auto-machine wouldn’t take any one of our puny English credit cards, so we had to cancel the payment transaction and walk up to the desk, fully expecting to have to do the whole thing again. When we got there, however, one of the guys was right in the middle of saying “numero trente neuf” and some other garbled stuff (I think he was probably speaking French). Trente neuf? That’s me please. So in my best broken French I went for “Je suis Anglais. Il n’accept pas mes cartes bancaire.” “OK!”, said the supervisor, “stickez-vous le carte ici et pressez-vous les buttons, Monsieur.” The one on the desk worked fine except we thought they’d missed something off the order. €21 for two adult meals and two “formule joyeux” is by far the cheapest we’ve fed all four of us in a fortnight, including light breakfasts. We were so embarrassed that we felt obliged to buy some ice creams and coffee as well. And McDonalds’ coffee also comes in cup sizes that are more reasonable than the average French size. That’s another difference, by the way. No McDonalds milkshakes. What are they thinking?
Another thing that you always have to check at McDonalds is whether the toilets meet the brand image standard for cleanliness. They did, with nobs on. It was more like a posh wine bar. The seats were different too (not the toilet seats, the restaurant seats). They were comfortable modern leather bench seats. The tables weren’t screwed to the floor either, not at all like the UK standard all-in-one undersized moulded plastic table and four-seat combo. The UK ones look like they were designed mainly to be easy to clean (with a hose). The French one also had a posh cafe style breakfast bar jobby and a lower bar at a kids height containing some playthings. There was an outdoor play area as well, which was covered from the sun and rain and had padded rubber floors that were actually clean enough that you didn’t mind the kids taking their shoes off. Ami was her usual self, bossing around five-year-old French kids in a loud English voice. I think she’s practising for a career as a travel rep. If in doubt, speak English very loudly and very slowly. Izzy was regarded as being very cute by the assembled population.
Getting out of McDonalds in the car proved easier than getting in. However, we ended up in another suburb which looked like Seahaven in The Truman Show. All very polished, new and with infeasibly green grassy verges.
When we did find the main road again it was trivial to get back to Marsilly for the ostrich farm. It was open. It took a little while to distract the assistant from clearing up lunch for long enough to take money from us. They do lunch? Bum, we could have come straight here. Anyway, she didn’t speak English and apparently neither does Isabelle, the woman doing the guided tours outside. Guess we’re going around unaccompanied, then. The signs were all in French as well. All of which meant that there wasn’t a lot of interest for the kids or for us, because they aren’t patient enough to wait while daddy attempts to translate the signs. So we wandered around a bunch of enclosures containing ostriches, rheas, emus, and various smaller avians, mainly edible ones. Some of them weren’t even birds – there were baby goats, cattle and donkeys as well. The kids were going a bit mad though (our kids, not the baby goats), so we hurried around as fast as you can with a two-year-old, and ended up back at the entrance, where there was a large walk-on dice rolling game which was a cross between snakes & ladders and Monopoly, only in French, and with animals on the squares. The kids found it much more interesting than the ostriches, anyway.
The big dice game also proved to be the start point for Ami’s song of the afternoon, the bizarrely titled “Are we tatoes ?” as in, “are we a bunch of tuberous carbohydrate-rich vegetables of South American derivation, much favoured by the Irish during the Victorian era before they got the blight and everyone went to New York to be in that film with Daniel Day Lewis.” The song only had one lyric line – the same as the title, remarkably enough. The gist of the song is that you repeat the one lyric line over and over in a variety of different keys and at different tempos, presumably in the hope that eventually the audience will ask you to stop. We didn’t. It was quite cute, in a slightly surreal way, and it was far better than a boredom induced strop. The song lasted most of the way home via the small villages of Saint-Xandre and Dompierre-sur-Mer. There was a brief respite when we discussed the renaming of the latter to “Donkey Hair sur Mer”, but otherwise it was “Are we tatoes ?” all the way home.
At home, now at around 4:30 pm, it was time to make the only two remaining decisions of the holiday, those being “who’s taking Ami swimming this afternoon ?” and “are we going out for dinner tonight ?” The answers were “Kas” and “Yes” in that order, although the swimming activity had to be completed before the latter decision was made. Izzy decided she didn’t fancy the pool, but she didn’t seem to fancy much else either. She sort of collapsed half on, half off, her bed. She seemed happy so Kev left to check the cricket score (Doh ! England were bowled out for 102). Some minutes later, Izzy wandered into the studio bedroom and lay down on the carpet under Kev’s feet, where she promptly fell asleep.
One final fling down in La Rochelle centre was planned (well, it had about 10 minutes of planning, anyway), and so we got the best posh frocks out for the kids and headed off down the N11 for one more time. As we were planning to leave early in the morning we decided to pop round to see Simon, Rachel, Edward and Lucy to say goodbye, which took a little while. Ami immediately shot over to the swing with Lucy and it took a while to separate them. It was mentioned that Edward and Izzy have the same age difference as Kev and Kas. It doesn’t seem an issue between adults, but it highlights that many years ago there was an 11-year-old Kev and a two-year-old Kas running around, albeit that they’d never met.
We went to yet another restaurant on the Cour des Dames, this time Le Winch. It was good. And by local standards, it wasn’t that expensive. Kas had a steak, cooked medium in the middle and blue at both ends like they only had a really tiny grill and it was hanging over the side at both ends. The daughters had nuggets and chips for the second time today. Kev had an assiette de crudités and paella. The paella required the use of the fingers to extract the shellfish flesh from the shells, but it was really nice. The girls got ice lollies for pudding and Kev and Kas waited slightly too long for their crêpes. “Slightly too long” means “long enough that Ami got bored with ‘Are we tatoes?’ and the two of them were starting to get rowdy.” So we paid the relatively modest bill and did a runner. It was quite late and for the first time on the holiday we couldn’t really be bothered to spend much time with the street entertainers. We had a quick look at the White Man again and set off home.
Neither of the girls fell asleep on the way home, but both went to bed fairly quickly and easily (still in their clothes) when we did get back. On the way by, Alun from next door asked us to leave them an email address so we could get some of their photos. Kev returned with some of Kas’s business cards and one of the last two remaining beers from the fridge. Kas appeared a bit later with the other beer and we sat for a while having our first actual adult to adult to discussion with them. Although, by adult to adult, it should be mentioned that this really means drunk to drunk. Alun and Matt were most of the way down a €2 special red wine from the supermarket and by the end of it, Matt couldn’t really be understood. Not that it mattered. They very kindly gave us more beers, so we were able to while away a couple of hours chatting about nothing in particular. Thanks guys, it was a nice end to the holiday, although it was the source of the opening paragraph on the “Day 16” diary entry. It was 1 am when we got to bed, with the alarm set for 7. Good preparation for a full day of driving…….