I left off last time when I was relaying our third night in La Rochelle, a tourist city by the sea – the Atlantic Ocean – with rich history dated to the classical antiquity periods of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. It was an important naval, fishing, commercial and political centre for France and Europe for many years and was the centre of a number of conflicts between England and France as well as a breeding ground for Knights Templar. Today, La Rochelle maintains a strong and vibrant tourism industry and is also host to other industries manufacturing high speed train carriages and aircraft parts. But in the limited time we could spend there, we were mainly concerned with wining and dining, and oyster hunting in particular.
Champlain Hotel operated by Best Western is at the heart of the city and close to the market. We had a substantial brunch in the camping van, taking advantage of where we parked it the night before. We had oysters prepared by Su who by then had become an expert; we had Indian food, cheese and sausages we bought from La Rochelle and so on. We then continued our walkabout at city centre, covering a vintage car display and a blood donation campaign organized by the local Rotary clubs. We then loaded the van with more oysters, cheese and sausages, before hitting the road.
We were all very good at keeping open our options, but we agreed on taking the local roads, as opposed to the national highways, which we believed would offer more sight-seeing and touristic opportunities. We headed north, trying to get as close to the coast as possible, taking turn to drive and navigate. We passed through small cities and townships before taking a short stop at a place called La Rochers which was an un-manned beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There were newly completed beach houses, mostly with shuttered windows and doors, suggesting that they were either unoccupied or taken up by owners as holiday homes. The beach was almost empty, apart from a few holiday makers and a dog chasing a stick thrown by its owner.
We kept north and stopped at another small township, Jard-s-mer or la Grange, where we sampled dairy produce from both the east and west coast and we also looked at a display of camping vans some of which were rather impressive. Su was persuaded by a farmer from the east coast to buy more cheese and sausages, at a premium, before we moved on. We had planned either to go north to Brest or to connect to Nantes to go back home, but by the time we hit les Sables-d’Olonne, which was not very far away, Su decided to explore the city with a view to staying for the evening. We found another Best Western hotel, by the name of les Rochers Noires, which apparently had a connection with the Hotel Atlantic nearby, and checked in, after making sure that our rooms had a view of the ocean.
The view from the rooms was splendid and somewhat spectacular: We saw a wide beach fronting the Atlantic with moss covered rocks nearer the hotel and quite a few joggers and beach goers. It was rather pleasant. We decided to explore the city further on foot. We ended up having dinner at the Atlantic Hotel and agreed to have breakfast in the hotel before moving on.
Somehow, Su decided to leave the window in the room slightly ajar behind the curtains. I was sleeping like a baby when I was awakened by noises akin to passing traffic. I got up, saw light behind the curtain, and thought that it was daybreak. But my breath was almost taken away from me when I lifted the curtain: there was a full moon in the sky which was deep blue, no clouds, shinning on still waters which reflected its light with equal calmness and tranquility; the waters have completely covered the rocks and beaches and the tide was rushing towards the banked shore with vigorous vengeance as if it were ready to break it through any time. Further on, there were the blinking green and red lights from the lighthouses and I could see some sailing boats already out at sea. What a sight! I woke Su up; and we took out our cameras and phones to take whatever we could take. It was one of those moments which makes one speechless on the one hand and prompts one to record the experience and thoughts in whatever manner one can on the other. Su immediately relayed her photo taken on her iPhone through Facebook – she exchanged it for her cover photo afterwards – while I was still searching for words.
We kept the window open so that we could hear the tide lashing on the shore until we were too tired. When we woke up a few hours later, the waters had receded, exposing the moss covered rocks and the beaches. At breakfast, we asked our friend whether she witnessed the experience we did as we showed her the pictures we had taken. Her response was that we had to stay there for one more night.
After breakfast, we went on the beaches and did what children would do, collecting mussels, clams and oysters on the beaches. The ladies went about it with professional seriousness as I tried my best to document the process. In between, I took snapshots of the overflying seagulls one of the pictures of which became my cover photo on Facebook and which attracted a great following from friends – Thank you very much.
The exertions of the ladies turned out to be extremely fruitful and gainful. They collected so many mussels which more than met our lunch requirements. Incidentally, Su had become so good and adept at oyster detection that she opened a few in situ on the beach for our consumption, which were simply delicious.
So we stayed one more night at the Best Western hotel at les Sables-d’Olonne, totally unplanned. Mes amie, our friend, was too tired to look at the moon rise, but was glad that we were together. The next morning, as we packed our camping van to make our way home, feeling a bit tired and homesick, we all agreed that that was the way to spend a holiday.
I hope to talk to you again soon.