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Thursday, June 3, 2010

La Rochelle, France

Wednesday, June 3, 2010……….La Rochelle, France

Bon jour mon amis, (Hello, my friends)!

We arrived in La Rochelle, France this morning at dawn. Our alarm clock went off at 6:30 just in time to get the coffee delivered at the door. Mary Alice, being the good sport she is, got up too because we wanted to get off the ship right away and walk around La Rochelle before our afternoon tour.

We skipped breakfast on the ship as MA had an assignment to go to a restaurant in La Rochelle and order breakfast for both of us in French. I grabbed my camera gear, and we were on the 7:30am shuttle to town. We’d of walked the five miles but thankfully the Port Authority doesn’t allow for pedestrian travel!

The bus let us off in town along the waterway. After getting oriented, we walked a short distance until MA decided on just the right place to try out ordering breakfast in French. The waiter promptly came to our table and she actually managed to tell him what we wanted! That’s what one gets to do after eight months of lessons! Anyhow it was their breakfast special which was a basket with a loaf of the best French bread I’ve ever had, plus two croissant rolls, butter, jelly, and two orange juices with two coffees. The coffee cups were only half full but there was a small pot of hot water. The coffee was so strong that I cut mine 1:1 with the hot water. It was still strong. However the breakfast was good and it was fun listening to her speaking French to the waiter. I gave her an A for effort!

After breakfast we began our walking tour of La Rochelle. The city dates back to the 10th century and it has always been a major port on the Atlantic coast not to mention a major Nazi Germany U-Boat port during WW II. You can still see the concrete buildings where they stored all that.

Anyhow, we walked around as I photographed the architecture, windows, doors, and streets. Some of the streets were so narrow that special delivery vehicles about the size of golf carts were the only thing that could make their way through.

What you see in one of the photographs today is the remnants of an old medieval castle complete with ramparts and gargoyles. The gargoyles were images of devils meant to keep the other devils away. One of the more interesting places we found was the central market. Outside there were these colorful food stands under tents with fresh vegetables, flowers and sausages. But inside was a photographer’s gold mine of shops with fresh meats, fish, breads, vegetables, spices, and fruit. My D3s was humming.

Our walking tour ended about 10:30 as we had to make our way back to the shuttle bus stop to get back to the ship for our 12:30pm tour. We arrived with enough time for MA to deposit the goodies she bought in a local market. Her French classmates will like what she is bringing home.

The tour this afternoon was called Coulon & River Cruise and it is described as exploring the meandering waterways of the Poitevin Marshes by flat-bottom boat and then a visit to the small town of Coulon. So we boarded the tour bus which took us north and east out of La Rochelle. We passed through the town of Mouze-sur-le-Mignon to Epannes to Sansais and stopping at La Garette. We got off the bus and boarded eight-passenger flat bottom boats propelled by Frenchmen pushing poles, like Italian Gondoliers. They call this area Venise Vert – green Venice! The canals are peaceful and the scenery was beautiful and very, very green.

Along the way three of the boats came together and the drivers started churning up the bottom of the marsh with their paddles causing methane gas to bubble up to the surface. One of them then took a BIC lighter and lit the gas. It burned for several seconds to the amazement of all of us on the boat who thought we were on fire.

The drivers pointed our boats towards Coulon and we floated along for the most peaceful 30 minutes. Once there we had 45 minutes “on our own” so MA and I took off to scout out photo ops. I didn’t know where to start: the flower draped windows or the pastel color painted doors of this picturesque small town. Eventually we stopped by a local outdoor cafe where the chef was preparing crepes right in front of us. He didn’t even have time to object as the D3s got him in the middle of a crepe. We bought some water and headed out the door, meandering toward the meeting point and eventually towards the bus back to the ship.

My wife is amazing with her language skills. She has been taking French for 8 months and she carries on a conversation with the locals that amazes me. She will however tell you that as soon as they figure out you’re an American or English person, they insist on conversing in English. Same thing happened in Portugal.

Undaunted, as we walked back to the bus we met a couple, husband from Columbia and the wife from Cuba. MA then switched to Spanish and a lively conversation ensued. I think she could work for the UN if we lived in New York City, but that will never happen.

The ship departed La Rochelle at 5:30. Our next stop is St. Peter Port in Guernsey Island, UK, then Southampton, UK on Saturday, one more day in London and then Sunday afternoon, Houston, the Wendel’s will be landing!

Au revoir et a bientôt! ……..WW