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Monday, November 12, 2012

France road trip with a puppy, Part 3: La Rochelle and Ile de Re

This post is about the third stop in our 2-week drive across France. With all our travel experience to more exotic and remote locations, this trip should be a piece of cake. But I am worried, as this is the first with our new dog, a 2.5 month old Golden Retriever puppy. Everything is suddenly so much more complicated. The reservations (hotels must accept dogs), the program (no museums and cool or fancy restaurants for us) and definitely the packing! We have gone through something similar when our daughter was a baby, except now, instead of a stroller we are lugging a crate and a dog carrier, instead of diapers it's packs of indoor potty pads, instead of baby food and bottles it's puppy food and bowls. With our daughter the trips went well. Let's see how we do with the puppy.

Date: late October / early November 2012
Days 3-5: La Rochelle and Ile de Re

We have driven from Tours in the Loire Valley today, with a stop in the charming town of Poitiers. The weather was unpleasant, grey and rainy all day, so we are pleased to find that in La Rochelle the sun is shining. Too late for me though. The bad weather has given me a massive migraine, and by the time we reach the Old Port region I am feeling absolutely horrible. But even with my bad headache I can't help but admire the surroundings. This place is lovely! I fall in love with La Rochelle at first sight.

We are staying in Hotel La Monnaie, a charming 17th century building just a stone-throw away from all the attractions.  The name of the hotel is fitting, as, according to the receptionist, the building is a former mint. I love the place, it has a lot of character. I am pleased to discover that there is a small fenced area in the back, intended for car parking, but perfectly suitable for puppy's early morning potty breaks as well. Just like in the previous hotel, our room is on the ground floor, close to the exit, so this is extremely convenient. To top it all off, this area is literally in the shadow of the pretty Tour de la Lanterne, one of the must see sights, so I get to enjoy it thoroughly during our stay.
Hotel La Monnaie, La Rochelle
Interior courtyard of Hotel La Monnaie, La Rochelle
Back lot of Hotel La Monnaie, La Rochelle
Windows of our room in Hotel La Monnaie, La Rochelle
View of Tour de la Lanterne from back lot of  Hotel La Monnaie, La Rochelle
I am still a bit stressed about staying in hotels with puppy. What if she destroys something? What is she bothers the other hotel guests? So I am relieved to see that the staff here is very pet-friendly. In fact the manager on duty explains that she has recently rescued 12 puppies and found them all good homes. And there is a cat who lives in the hotel's underground garage, being taken care of by the staff. How nice! And what a relief. If puppy by any chance causes a stain in the corridor I am sure they would be understanding.

No stains happen, but puppy is being a bit naughty this evening, barking much more than usual. Luckily this is an old building, hopefully the thick walls filter much of the noise. The barking does not help my migraine and by now I am feeling really bad.   So, even though there seem to be plenty of restaurants in the area, we order room-service for dinner.

The next day it's out at 5 am with puppy and I am horrified to discover that the temperature plunged overnight. I am freezing! I am also annoyed. We packed carefully, based on the weather forecast. How could the forecast be so off just a couple of days ago? We did not bring winter jackets and now I am worried that we will need them.

Even though it's cold it's sunny, and I can't wait to get out and discover the town. Unfortunately puppy, who has been acting out since yesterday evening, throws up. The upset tummy explains her behavior, but it also means that we need to postpone the sightseeing by a couple of hours, give her time to have a good rest. We have traveled a lot with our daughter when she was a baby, so we are quite used to having to adjust our plans this way.

We finally set out at noon. It's still very cold so we are wearing lots of layers. Even puppy is bundled up in a towel whenever she is not running around.  On the other hand it's beautiful sunny weather, with blue skies, which we haven't had in about a month. So, cold or no cold, we are very much enjoying being outside.

We pass by the 15th century Tour de la Lanterne, which, as it's name indicates, used to be a candle-lit lighthouse. It's also called the Tour des Quatre Sergents, in memory of some of the prisoners who were once held here.
Tour de la Lanterne, La Rochelle
Tour de la Lanterne, La Rochelle
We walk toward the Old Port and toward the two 14th century defensive towers on either side, Tour St. Nicolas and Tour de la Chaine. The name Tour de la Chaine refers to the times when a huge chain was raised between these two towers, for protection in war times. These towers seem so familiar. I realize that I have seen their pictures many times, as they are by far the most recognizable symbol of La Rochelle.
Tour de la Chaine (foreground) and Tour St. Nicolas (background), La Rochelle
Tour St. Nicolas, La Rochelle
Tour de la Chaine  and Tour St. Nicolas, La Rochelle
I love the view of the old port. So pretty! If the weather would be just a bit warmer we would definitely linger for a while. But we are freezing, so we need to walk.
Old Port, La Rochelle
To reach the old town, we pass through the 12th century Tour de la Grosse Horloge, a Gothic style clock tower. We stroll through the arcades of rue du Palais, buying our postcards in one of the many shops here. Even the arcades have a dog-poo-bag-dispenser, but it's empty, which might explain why we see so much dog poo on the sidewalks (still less than in Paris though).
La Grosse Horloge, La Rochelle
La Grosse Horloge, La Rochelle
Rue du Palais, La Rochelle
Dog-poo-bag-dispenser in the arcades of Rue du Palais, La Rochelle
We reach the Hotel de Ville (townhall) which, with it's misleadingly simple outside walls does not impress at first sight.  The simplicity is misleading because beyond these walls lies possibly the most ornate townhall courtyard I have ever seen. We spend quite a long time in this courtyard as there seem to be an unusually high number of dog-loving tourists here. By now we are used to people stopping us all the time, wanting to pet our puppy (who could resist a 2.5 month old Golden Retriever?). But here we simply can't get away.
Hotel de Ville, La Rochelle
Hotel de Ville, La Rochelle
Hotel de Ville, La Rochelle
We walk around a bit more in the charming old town, passing the 17th century Temple Protestant and Eglise St Sauveur, the sailors' parish church. Both of them are closed though.
Temple Protestant, La Rochelle
Old town, La Rochelle
Eglise St Sauveur, La Rochelle
Time for lunch, so we look around for a dog-friendly restaurant. While most restaurants (at least the non-fancy ones) seem to allow dogs in France, we don't like to take our active, untrained puppy to crowded ones, because we don't want to bother the other diners too much. We also always ask if it's OK to come in with a dog. An Italian restaurant called Via Roma looks good and my husband is just about to walk in to ask about the dog, when we notice a large "dogs welcome" sign on the door. That's nice! Yes, the restaurant is definitely dog-friendly. The owner's huge (but very well behaved) Labrador is cruising between the tables and there is a photo of a second dog in the corner. Another thing I like about this restaurant: a poster titled "Molto calorie! Les anti-lights" displaying what I assume are the least healthy choices on the menu.  In case you care: pizza is really good, dessert not that much.
Dogs welcome sign, restaurant Via Roma, La Rochelle
Dog picture and high-calorie choices in restaurant Via Roma, La Rochelle
On the way back to the hotel puppy discovers a new way of catching a ride when she gets tired. Instead of riding in the carrier, she rides on it. While I am sure this sort of use is not in the user manual, and it's probably not very good for the bag, she loves it. We get a lot of smiles from passerby.
Old town, La Rochelle
It's still early, so we pick up the car in the hotel and set out to one of the most popular holiday destinations in France, the island of Ile de Re. There are several islands around La Rochelle, including the famous Fort Boyard (yes, the one from the TV show). But we don't feel like getting on a boat in this cold. Ile de Re is the only one accessible by car, via a 3-km (2-mile) bridge.
Map of Ile de Re on a wall in St Martin de Re
We also don't feel like taking the highway, and opt for the "scenic" route instead. By scenic I simply mean the smaller road following the water front. Which means that the "scenery" ends up being the industrial part of town, the real, non-touristy ports. We don't mind, as this is fun to see too. What I do mind though is that the road ends in a dead end (not indicated on the map), so at the end it takes us much longer than planned to get to the bridge.
Port, La Rochelle
Ile de Re welcomes us with the impressive sight of what I assume is a kite surfing competition.  While the weather is beautifully sunny, the wind is incredibly strong and the water looks horribly choppy to me, so I can't imagine who in their right mind would go out on the water today.
Bridge of  Ile de Re
Ile de Re
Kite surfers, Ile de Re
Visiting this island was a last minute decision. So we have no map and no plan, we just drive. We pass some pretty houses, a fort, the ruins of an abbey, a bunch of donkeys (more about them later), and end up in the island's main town, St Martin de Re.
Ile de Re
Abbaye Notre Dame de Re, Ile de Re
The advantage of not being prepared for an outing is that a place can really surprise us. And that's definitely true for this town. I didn't expect much, but was I wrong! The place is lovely. I wish I would be here in better weather, at the same time I realize that in summer it must be unbearably crowded. Even now, on this cold, windy day, there are plenty of people strolling around. The town is overflowing with charm!
St Martin de Re
St Martin de Re
St Martin de Re
St Martin de Re
St Martin de Re
St Martin de Re
St Martin de Re
I think it's impossible to visit Ile de Re without asking yourself the question: What's up with the donkeys? They are EVERYWHERE! Donkey key chains, donkey salt and pepper shakers, donkey postcards, donkey ... everything. And let's not forget the horde of live donkeys we passed on the way. Of course these are no just any donkeys, they are donkeys wearing trousers. Apparently in the old days, when these animals were frequently used around here for work, their owners protected them from the flies and mosquitoes by making them wear donkey-trousers. For some reason the entire souvenir industry of the island seems to be built on this fact.
Donkey with trousers, St Martin de Re
Donkeys with trousers for sale, St Martin de Re
To fight the cold weather we have tea and hot chocolate in one of the cafes by the port (and, in my daughter's case also an outrageous strawberry macaroon, so gigantic that even a sugar-loving 9 year old can't finish it). 
That's what I call a macaroon!, St Martin de Re
St Martin de Re
Back in the hotel we finally manage to see the cat living in the garage. My daughter is delighted, the cat not so much.

We choose a nearby Indian restaurant for dinner and, while at first they are not thrilled about our dog, they agree to us eating there because puppy is in a carrier. We are getting it down to a science now how to tire her out before meals so that she is tired enough to sleep through it, but not too tired to be restless. And this time we were successful again, she sleeps through the entire dinner without a sound.

Like usually, my husband takes the evening shift with puppy, and I sleep nice and early. Tonight we will be changing the clocks, one hour ahead, but doubt that puppy's biological clock will care, so I am sure it will be an early morning. Then it's off to our next stop, Bordeaux.

1 comment:

  1. Like the images of St. Nicolas, Hotel. and La Rochelle.