Friday, 9 October 2015

Week 4. Charente Maritime completed!

Thurs 1st Oct ( white rabbits!)

Another sunny day so we decided to cycle to another part of the island. Set off just after noon - our usual travelling time, but to be fair at this time of year the sun only gets going at mid-day and we're not working. 

We decided to have lunch out today to try the local seafood (Graham dusting off his wallet!) - heading off to St Trojan les Bain -  stuated in the south of the island.
En route we saw a typical charentaise fishing building at a place called Port de Salines  - near a salt  eco museum visiting site. This would do just fine- as we approached the place it was evident it was a well known restaurant (Michelin recommended said the sign). We were given the last table outside on the terrace overlooking a little harbour area and marshland - very pretty.

We had the fixed price 3 course menu and a bottle of rosé - very civilised. Lobster bisque, followed by Fish pot de feu (fish stew) or Duck with a chickpea mash, and apple compote with meringue or a chocolate bombe creation containing sponge,cream and banana - we decided to try everything on the menu bar the oysters which unfortunately neither of us like! Not the simple seafood spagetti €9 lunch we had in mind, but it was a delightful surprise which we thoroughly enjoyed!  

As in all such places we enjoyed people watching - as usual most had fleeces, jeans, quilted jackets and the all important scarves, as we sat in out tee shirt and shorts enjoying the sun! Fashionable french men appear to find the need to wear a scarf ornamentally wrapped around their necks whatever they wear! 

View from our table whooo!

The flat bottomed barques are used to harvest the oysters and other fruits de mer. 

Onwards to St Trojan les  Bain - a village that overlooks the bridge to the island and mainland France.
The tide was out so inevitably the coastline was inundated with - yes- cocklepickers!! We talk to one, an old chap and ask him what he is catching.  Ver! (Worms). He says they're for his fish, not for eating ha ha, you idiot, which Graham, thinking of the carp in our (new) garden misunderstands. They're for fishing, bait for for cod and others. Evidently you need to be quick otherwise phut! They descend! He's not as quick as he used to be, he says, but he seems to have been quite successful today.

We cycled along the coast with pine forest to the other side to another sandy beach where we spent a while resting to allow our stomachs to settle post lunch. This beach was covered in cockle shells - a shell gatherers dream!

Then back to the site following our tracks with a little detour when we lost our way - 18 miles in total  today. Extra little photo showing the interior of ile d'Oléron. On first look it's boring swamp land but we think it has a certain charm and definitely recommend a visit.

Friday 2nd Oct.
All good weather must come to an end! - with a forecast predicting rain for several days we left the Ille d'Oleron and headed for the big city - Bordeaux. We have an ulterior motive: there are Ikea and Maison du Monde shops in Bordeaux and it would be useful to try out a budget sofa in case we have to buy online - are they cheaper in France?

Arrived late pm after the usual lunchtime drive, supermarket shop we arrive in rain. Dinner chez Rex - ready meal - Paella- watching the French rugby world cup with the odd glass of wine .. We are really embracing  the french way of life!
A restless and mostly sleepless night for Carol, as it lashed down with rain, thunder and the constant drips and plopping sounds on Rex's roof and sides felt like water torture! - Thank goodness for a backlit kindle! Graham slept on regardless.

Sat 3rd Oct
We cycle to the nearby shopping complex -with Ikea and Maison du Monde. The cycle paths are very impressive here - an easy flat ride took us about 15-20 mins from the campsite direct to the shopping centre.
Spent hours pricing up furniture with the rain beating on Ikea's tin roof, with a break for lunch in the self service restaurant which was good value and surprising tasty! No we did not have the swedish meatballs! Answer: Cheaper, with an exchange rate of 1.35 France is 10% cheaper (excluding delivery which are astronomical and increase the more you spend!?)

A race back through the rain and a Carol freezer hot pot special dinner, then watched England's demise against Australia at rugby. Spent a while also watching a young German couple in a makeshift van putting up an inventive awning comprising of a sheet of plastic, rope and what looked to be a couple of broom handles! Well the male was working and hammering away whilst the female checked her phone. After about 3 attempts the awning was up ,although the female did not look that impressed as they huddled under it ,glancing at us cozy and warm in our heated van drinking wine and eating hot food! Ooh to be young again ....

Sun 4th Oct.
Decided despite the rainy weather we would do Bordeaux. Cycled the 8 kms to the centre along the again impressive cyclepath network. Bordeaux is one of the most cycle friendly cities we have visited - plenty of wide pathways for pedestrians and cyclists and a great tram network. Must be all those wine revenues. 
Cycled along the riverfront to the Place de Bourse - a mirrored pavement installation occasionally poured a stream of misty steam around the people standing upon it.
Now you see him..

Now you don't!

Walked around the centre - Bordeaux does not appear to be a poor place!

There were lots of river cruise boats moored on the river and then we saw this miracle of man's ingenuity- which explains all the American voices round the city. How does it stay upright?

Cycled back and arrived back just before the heavens opened .. Again ..! Could be worse - 17 dead in Cote D'Azur in worst floods for 20 years. 

Tomorrow we will head back up north. We purchased some chocs in a rather nice looking chocolatier today, and aim to drop them off for Ingrid the agent tomorrow as a thanks for all her help. 

Mon 5th October.

Decided to stay over in Aytre just outside of La Rochelle with the aim to visit La Rochelle tomorrow to remind ourselves how nice it is.
Weather not too good - cloudy with showers - still 20 degrees C though. Arrived at the campsite to discover the pool was still open - an enormous indoor one as well as outdoor. Enjoyed a brief swim - indoors- as it started raining as soon as we donned our cossies!

Tues 6th October ( Happy Birthday Philippa!)

Heavy rain overnight - we're both ready to head back home .
However we will not waste our last day! Walked a very long km to the bus stop and caught the bus in to La Rochelle. The harbour and marina looked as lovely as we remembered but after a quick picnic rain arrived, so we meandered around the shopping area - very sophisicated! A few souvenir purchases were made ,but Carol disappointed as we didn't find the usual seasidy decor shops - she had hoped to begin building the decoration section of La Maison Pierre!
No photos here of La Rochelle as we took them for last year's blog.

Back to Rex and over a cuppa Graham got out the paperwork for our return crossing tomorrow night - yes we are booked on the 8pm crossing on the 6th Oct - WHAT! - that's this evening!! Oops - Graham had entered the wrong date on our calendar... It was 5.30 pm there was no way we could get to the ferry in time.
After several calls to the Caravan Club we managed to rearrange our return - we leave at 4.30 pm tomorrow from Caen ,and as the ferry arrives at 9.15pm in Portsmouth we will stay at a Caravan Club site overnight near Fareham. Not quite the relaxed overnight crossing we had hoped for!
Oh Well ... It could have been a lot worse.
A long drive anticipated tomorrow and we will need to head off by 9am - a difficult concept for us to grasp as we have been managing to awake and breakfast by 11am the last few days! Nothing at all due to the tasting of the tasty cheap wine in the evenings! 

Tues 7th October

Up and at em - and on the road by 9.30am.
A long drive -    miles, just got to Caen at the advised 1 hr before departure. No time to stop for all the
 bargain wine and food purchases or even the cheap diesel ... Boo Hoo. One of our friends is going to miss out on the promised bumper french sausage selection! Thank goodness we managed to buy a few bottles of wine at Leclerk a few days earlier.
A rather bumpy crossing followed which seemed to last much longer than just under 6 hours. Graham had to abandon his dinner just as the cheese course arrived, having suddenly felt a need to lie down. Carol gamely stayed at the dinner table to finish the cheese and remaining wine - always willing to do the polite thing.
Then back to Blighty - as usual all good things come to an end...... With the promise of a very exciting French adventure in 2016!

A bientot! A la prochaine!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Week 3. Time to chill and enjoy the rest of the trip.

Thurs 24th Sept.

A late start to the day - quelle surprise!
After breakfast cycled in to Chef Boutonne to buy a baguette for lunch and a chance to check out C-B. A grey town we thought, full of bagnoles (old cars) and a fair percentage of Brits. 
After lunch took a pleasant walk around the woods overlooking the site and then in to Chef Boutonne.
Visited the grounds of Chateau de Javarzay which is just on the edge of the village. A pretty chateau built in the early 16C - one of the earliest examples of a renaissance chateau in Poitou. 

Tomorrow we will head to Melle. We are really killing time, exploring the interior, waiting for Saturday to meet up with Jackie and Peter, who we met last year as they were in the process of buying a farmhouse and gite as a permanent move. 

The campsite turns up a mesmorising attraction, at least for Graham. A couple of martin pecheurs (kingfishers) patrol the stream behind us. There he sits, french book in one hand, binocs in the other happily watching kingfishers and the kestrels which hunt the cornfield behind.

Rex pitched near the duck topairy!

Fri 25th Sept.
Another leisurely start ( what else) and arrived in Melle as everything closed for lunch as usual.
Picnicked in the park with a shop bought Croque Monsieur - remembered we didn't really like them as we got to the end of consuming them!
Melle - " the gateway to Poitou" appeared a tad scruffy and the promised gems of churches appeared not in walking distance of the centre - so we left.... After doing a reccy of the campsite which looked dire!
On to Celle-sur-Belle a very pretty village with a royal abbey. The gardens were free to wander which we did but we also paid to visit the inside - those monks knew how to live!

We chatted to an English couple who just happened to be sitting where we parked - they have 2 holiday homes locally - 1 just outside of Surgeres - which their son now manages as a holiday let. We exchanged phone numbers as their son had used a local builder to help build a pool. Already building up contacts!
So back to Chef Boutonne for another nights stay, and the kingfishers, for want of any near alternative, tomorrow we visit Jackie and Peter who now run a gite in Les Eglises d'Argenteuil. 

Sat 26th Sept.

Another leisurely start and a drive through the back roads to Aulnay. Shopped at the supermarket on the outskirts in which most voices heard were English! and prepared a picnic lunch. In to the centre to visit the church of Saint-Pierre d'Aulnay - standing in a cemetary - it is a beautiful building remarkable for the sculptures that adorn the portals - apparently classic themes of Romanesque art. 

We ate lunch in a medieval themed garden overlooking the church.

Onwards to Les Eglises - where we met Jaquie and Pete at their charentais house overlooking extensive gardens including an orchard. Also a large enclosed pool area.They have a seperate gite  which Jaquie manages and Pete currently supplements by working in London Mon - Fri and travels back weekends - in time to mount the ride on mower! They have been here for 1 year - we met them on the campsite in St Jean last year just as they were signing for the purchase. A lovely peaceful spot it's easy to fall under it's spell. The gite is called Rue Vincent (google) if anyone fancies a peaceful week away. 

We tear ourselves away and on to Saintes as there is an exhibition of Salon d'Habitat and du jardin  tomorrow where we may get some ideas. A minor panic as we thought we couldn't get a tv signal - it's the England v Wales rugby game tonight! - panic over the signal is found!

Sun 27 th Sept
Visited the exhibition - not the house decor design idea place we anticipated but spoke to several pool companies and log burner/pellet burner salespeople to get some idea of what's out there. As anticipated costs were top top end of the budget! Food for thought!

Set off to head for the Ille D'Oleron but decided as we travelled to stop over in Fouras instead - as nearer to Surgeres. We have an appointment with the bank manager Tues pm and also a stop off to chat with Simon who ownes several gites just outside of Surgeres late am Tues- thanks to Ingrid our intrepid agent! 

Arrived in sunshine in Fouras - checked in with the municipal site and explored the sea front. Walked the penisula to the port where the ferry to Ille D'Aix departs - about 3 kms. Fouras is the place for oysters and other shellfish in the whole of France- hang on haven't we heard that before! The place was buzzing with people lunching and purchasing shellfish at the various stalls.

Windy but sunny - we decided to plan to visit the Ille D'Aix tomorrow.
Walked by several windsurfers and kite surfers doing their stuff in the sea off the promenade back to the site - they were very impressive picking up what looked to be great speed across the bay.

Mon 28th Sept.
Service wash this am - clean towels, bedding , clothing and undies today - luxury!
Prepared a picnic and then headed off to cycle to the ferry to Ille D'Aix. Passed lots of people on bikes clutching buckets of clams and mussels - the tide was out and amateur and professional shellfish harvesters were out in force! 
Windy but sunny the crossing proved easy and uneventful. Arrived on the Island which is 4 kms by 2.5 kms aprox and was basically a fort in Napoleonic times to protect the entry to Rochefort and La Charente river. Now it is a tourist destination and today the ferry was still busy with holidaymakers. It is a car free island other than service vehicles and easily walked or cycled around.
Had a picnic on the windier north side and then practically circumnavigated it! We soaked up the sun at a completetly secluded beach on the east side. 
Many of the beaches consisted of what looked to be millions of shells - mainly oyster and clam - bleached white by the sun.

Egrets are in abundance all over these islands - presumably, like us, they don't eat oysters. 

We would definitely return. It is well worth a visit and we guess it will be mobbed in summer! Had a fabulous day trip. 
Tomorrow back to Surgeres - again!

Tues 29 th Sept.

Late start again - we have an appointment to call in to see Simon, a Brit who owns a 5 gite farm house complex just outside of Surgères and has kindly offered us a cuppa and chat about life in this part of France.
Although late we decided to detour to Muron where a road sign promised a biscuiterie - rather be a few minutes more late with a gift than arrive late with nothing we thought. The biscuiterie was a small unit making traditional charentais cakes not biscuits as we thought - bought one for Simon and a couple for us as the owner tried to press us to buy a selection of all cakes he made!
Simon appeared a man resigned to submitting to the french system to enjoy the french life,who despite his rather gruff first impression supplied us with lots of useful information and advice. He has lived here for 12 years - his eldest (of 4)child was 10 years old when they arrived and now firmly integrated in to the french way of life. He says he came to France to embrace all things french and so deliberately does not mix with any expats. He is happy for us to contact him once we're in Surgères should we need any further info. 
So on in to Surgères and having a couple of hours to spare until our interrogation had lunch in the Cafe de Paris near the Marché and opposite the bank. Had a lovely Plat de Jour - think this will be a regular spot once here. Graham thinks we should frequent several local restaurants regularly once we're holiday residents to get known in the community, and who is Carol to argue - she'll force down the food and wine for the cause!
Just over an hour this time with Geraldine the bank manager to arrange home and contents insurance cover - evidence of this is required by the Notaire BEFORE the final signing for the property.

Then off to  the Ille d'Oleron - a larger island with bridge access. Promising some of the best oysters in France - again,and vineyards, forts ,forests, beaches and white painted villages. We pitched up at our selected site and had a pre dinner drink as the sun set. We hope to explore by bike tomorrow.

Table setting chez Rex - we don't like standards to slip!

Weds 30th Sept.

A cloudy start with a sprinkle of rain but by midday the weather appeared to be changing.
So we packed a picnic and cycled off to explore the island.

First port of call Le Chateau d'Oleron and a visit to the Citadel. Another fort built by one of the Roi Louis's - which unfortunately was bombed by the allies in the 2nd World War - it appears work is being done to renovate some of it, but in it's present state other than views across the Charente, it was not a very exciting sight. The tide was out and scores of cockle pickers were out scouring the mud, yuck!

We did wander round an art expo sited there but all a bit too modern and difficult to appreciate with our uncultured eyes!

Then on towards La Grand Plage - after a while battling along the main roads we found the designated cycle paths - much easier and prettier- we picnicked in a forest at a picnic table. Then on to the beach- and what a beach!- not the choppy muddy Charente but the blue Atlantic with dunes and miles of golden sand. We walked along the sea observing the surfers,the sand kites, the wind surfers and .... cockle pickers!

Apologies, our fly has returned inside the camera. 

On our return we passed by a pond area with ducks, geese and a beaver rat looking thing, Coypu? - am sure those avid nature watchers reading will put us right! Have to say they gave us a bit of a surprise.

Back at the site  sheltered from the wind and in full sun the temp in Rex was 32 degrees C ! Not bad for the last day in Sept!

Tomorrow we will decide to stay a little longer if the weather holds as there are many more places to explore. Or head inland. Life is hard for the retiree van owner!