Monday, September 18, 2017

Settling down for Fall

We had a busy summer, after my last letter. We spent a few days with Emma and Gabriel and then met up with Claire's family for lunch. That was an interesting drive. We left Najac early in the morning and drove through the countryside to get on to the autoroute to Bordeaux. I had suggested getting off before Bordeaux and getting back on country roads to the supermarket/shopping center where we were meeting them but that got nixed. We hit the circular road at Bordeaux at the same time as vacationers coming up the Atlantic coast and from the Pyrénées also hit it. We were, theoretically, 7 km. from our destination, but it took an hour. No worries; we were still on time for lunch.
After lunch, we took off with A..., for our two-week holiday with her. We had a very nice bungalow setup at the Belambra club at La Palmyre, a village that is part of Mathes, just north of Royan, on the peninsula. These clubs are patterned after the original Club Med. There are clubs for 3 or 4 age groups of kids; the kids can go for half days, full days, stay with the club for lunch, or not go at all.
That first week, A... went in the morning on Monday and we picked her up at lunch time to meet our old friends, les Chau...., who were at another club-type place south of Royan with their granddaughter E.... We met at the La Coubre lighthouse. Paul and K... didn't even try to climb up the stairs of the lighthouse. I got up maybe 100 but couldn't go any farther; the Nordic walk in the morning had wiped me out. M... and the girls went all the way up and had a glorious view of the beaches, Royan in the distance and the forest. There was a food truck right there, so we had a long, leisurely lunch before heading off to the beach. It was a hot, hot day, but the section of beach we were on was not densely occupied. It reminded me of Barnegat Light, with the lighthouse in the distance. The girls (A... is 8 and E... is 10) got along very well. E... is Franco-German and A... is Franco-British, so they have French in common and after a bit of hesitation on A...'s part, they were chattering away. Many years ago, when Claire was just a bit older than A..., we met the Chau.... at a smaller version of these family vacation clubs. Next year, we shall try to arrange to be at the same one at the same time, but the German and British school holiday schedules are not at all in sync. Driving along beaches in France is horrible, whether it be the Mediterranean or the Atlantic coast. It had taken us an hour to drive less than 10 km. to the lighthouse and it had taken them 2 hours. Our drive back was quick, but theirs was even longer as they hit the Royan traffic.
Tuesday, it was rainy and we went to visit the Louis XIV rope factory, La Corderie Royale, in Rochefort. Rochefort, inland on the Charente river, but deep enough for 17th century ships, was the ship-building capital of France. It was natural that they would want to make the ropes for the ships, there, too. The building, however, is 300 meters long and is on marshy ground, so it needed some buttresses after a while -- not the kind on Gothic churches, but buttresses nonetheless. The building was left to ruin after ships became steam powered and the German army burned it when they left Rochefort at the end of WWII. In the 1960s, the city bought the ruin from the government and rebuilt it. They did an excellent job. They've now centered a whole tourist industry around it.  The building is 300 meters long because the ropes needed to be 200 meters and when you wind the rope, the total length shrinks by 1/3. The permanent exhibit is interesting and takes you from preparing the hemp fiber, spinning, and finally, winding the rope to the different thicknesses required. There's a fine restaurant, where we had lunch, and a well-stocked bookshop on all things concerning navigation and more.
After lunch, we walked over to see the Hermione, a replica of the ship that LaFayette sailed to America to help the Revolution. It wasn't a guided tour, but there were a few members of the crew around talking to the tourists. It's well worth the visit. I think the story of building this replica and the passion the volunteers put into it are more interesting than the actual ship. They manage to sail it every so often for big occasions; they have a wall of pictures. Coming right after the visit to the rope factory, I took great interest in all the ropes on the ship -- different thicknesses, tarred, not tarred, ...
The next day was a day at the Palmyre zoo, one of the major zoos in France. One of the advantages of being in a big club was having the little tourist train that came and picked us up in the morning. The conductor sold us our zoo entries, so when he dropped us off, we didn't have to wait in line at the ticket counter. The zoo has a lot of births; the major one this year was a baby giraffe. He's very cute. The zoo was crowded, as expected, perhaps too crowded. You start following the circuit and then can't get back to the amphitheaters for the shows. It probably wouldn't have mattered if we had gotten back in time, because I bet all the seats were taken up well before show time. One thing that angered me was that they sold bags of popcorn on the premises. I was always taught not to feed the animals, that they had their own diets and were fed accordingly. Well, people were feeding popcorn to the fish, the ducks, the zebras, the elephants, .... It was pitiful.
Finally, on Thursday, A... got to spend a day at the club, which she really enjoyed. In the evening, the kids put on a show. Fun was had by all. Friday, more of the same, without the show. Every evening, before dinner, there was a game time at the bar which we did not participate in -- not really our thing. After my Monday morning Nordic walk, I could hardly walk at all, so I did not participate in other exercise activities. We played Yams (Yahtzee) every evening and pétanque. There was a very nice, big, warm swimming pool and I had an interesting book to read.
Saturday, Louis and his family arrived nearby, south of us, but still north of Royan (Again, nearby is a relative term on the coast; it took 45 minutes to get there.) They were in an apartment in a town that has its own little beach, but not really on the ocean, more inland. Still, it was salt water and affected by tides. The cousins were excited to see one another and to play on the beach. We all had dinner together at a beach side restaurant. We invited S... to come and spend the night with us in the extra bed in A...'s room, but he declined. Another day, we spent some time on the beach with them; they came over to our place for dinner (and another try at the sleep--over invitation); we took a family boat ride on the Seudre river. Paul and I did a hike in the oyster-raising area along the Seudre and ate lots of oysters. We also visited Saintes, which was the terminus of the via Appia from Lyon. There is a very big Roman amphitheater and an Arc de Triomphe from then. And a medieval Abbaye aux Dames from the late Middle Ages (pre-Gothic). We also spent a day at the beach at the Coubre Lighthouse. Even in the area under lifeguard surveillance, it wasn't crowded.

 We stopped for a few days in Nogent before taking A... back to England for her birthday and the start of a new school year.

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