Friday, October 2, 2009

La Rochelle

After leaving Mont St Michel, we headed south along the coast to La Rochelle. We had heard many amazing things about La Rochelle, mostly that it is the Atlantic sailing capitol of France, and decided that it was well worth a visit.

We arrived at the train station at the late, late hour of 9 pm. Our guide book told us to grab a bus to the hostel from the train station which was on the other side of the town, but when we went outside, the place looked like a ghost town and we went back in to ask about the bus. We were informed that the busses had stopped running and that everything in the town was closed.

We decided to try and find a map and figure out just where this hostel was. We found a map, and looked up the address. At this point we had about every person on the night shift circled around us trying to help read a map. The hostel didn't seem that far away, so we decided to walk there. The people in the station thought that walking there was too far and we should take a taxi. After walking all over Paris, 3 km, even with backpacks, wasn't that far.

We didn't have a map and we didn't want to get lost. The map was a board and there weren't any paper copies around. We tried getting a piece of paper but that was hard because no one spoke English. We finally got paper, but then realized that taking a picture with the camera would work better. We did this and then were pointed the route several times. After many thank you's to the helpful people at the train station, we set off.

In route to the hostel we saw about a dozen masts all the same height in the main harbor. These were world class racing boats. We also saw some more ocean racers on dry dock as well as many more very nice boats. We had also not eaten anything since 11am and were quite hungry. As we said before, nothing was open. We did happen upon a bowling alley with a bar and decided to see if there was anything to eat. There was one thing they were serving : crocque-monsieur; a French grilled cheese sandwich with ham. Filling but not particularly tasty.

After a nice stroll we arrived at the hostel which was pretty nice. We had a double room with bunks, a shower and toilet; quite a luxury compared to many places we'd stayed in. It had been a long day and we promptly fell asleep. The next morning, we woke up early and had breakfast which was provided by the hostel. During breakfast, we talked with another person who was staying there. He was from Scotland and told us that the masts we saw in the harbor belonged to boats participating in an around-the-world race, crewed entirely by amateurs. We wish that we could do something like that. It sounds like an amazing experience.

After breakfast, we packed up our backpacks and set off to see the town. The coolest part of the city we had seen on the walk in had been by the train station so we headed over there, walking along the shore as we did. The shore was lined with marinas, many of which were filled with high performance sail boats. Ellis kept remarking how many of the boats would be perfect for Duck Dodge.

We made our way to the La Rochelle Aquarium. After some deliberation about whether we should go in (Seattle has a nice aquarium that we both have been to, but this was the Atlantic ocean), we did. This aquarium was amazing. There were lots of Atlantic sea life as well as some Caribbean and Amazonian as well. After the aquarium we wandered around town some more. We stumbled into a small marine store where we found some British charts on Puget Sound from the 1960s and 70s. We also went to the maritime museum where we went aboard a French weather ship and a fishing ship.

After our stroll, we ate lunch a little seafood place which had amazing fish. We found that all over France, except Paris, every restaurant had a set menu where you got to try an appetizer, plate, and dessert for an inexpensive price. The portions were smaller than buying just the plate, but they were perfect size; we didn't need to box anything.

After our lunch we went to the train station and said hi to one of the people that helped us the night before. She was very excited to see us. Then we got on a train to Bordeaux.

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