Yesterday, I took my last trip in France. I went to La Rochelle, which is on the Atlantic coast about an hour and a half by train from Nantes. Kerry was my adventure partner for this last big adventure.
When we arrived, we sought out a map. We easily found the tourism office and then asked for a map. The man asked us if we wanted one in French or English and we replied that we wanted one in French. After all, we’re in France to speak French! He showed us the map and I reached for it.
“Twenty cents,” he said.
What? In every city that I have travelled to in France, maps have been free. I haven’t had to pay for a map…ever. There was no way I was going to start now. As usual in France, there’s always another way around the system. One thing I’ve learned in France? Don’t take no for an answer. I’m a very assertive person, but in France, it’s not enough to be assertive. You almost have to be bordering on the edge of too assertive, too pushy. If not, they will take you for a weak tourist and take your money and leave you very unhappy. So, I asked the most logical question, “Is there a free map?”
“Non,” he answered.
“There’s not a free map?” I asked with sincere doubt in my eyes. Really now?
“Well…” he started. So the truth comes out at last. “There is a free map, but it’s in English. And it’s the map from last year. The information is all wrong.”
“But it’s free?” I asked again.
“Oui,” he answered.
So, that’s the map we took. True, it was only twenty cents. We could have paid the money and been on our way, but it’s the principle. I’d have taken a map in Spanish if it was free!
With map in hand, we went to one of the famous towers in La Rochelle. The tower was St. Nicolas which features a double spiral staircase (absolutely amazing) and we had a great view from up top. We could see all around the harbor, where on Saturday they hosted a cliff diving competition which drew worldwide attention. We saw a Ferris wheel, a lighthouse. It really was a charming little town. After the tower, we ate lunch in an open square before heading to the beach.
It was a fantastic beach because it was sand. In Maine, which is just on the other side of the Atlantic, the coast is extremely rocky. I was afraid that the beach at La Rochelle would also be rocky, but it wasn’t. It was sandy and comfortable. We sat down on the beach towel that I bought here in France and then looked at the ocean. When we arrived, the ocean was at low tide, but it came in pretty quickly. Eventually, it was close enough to where we could walk to the edge and walk into the waves. Far away, the water was a beautiful blue green. Unfortunately, when we approached, the water was a dirty, murky brown. We didn’t stay in the water for too long.
My train ticket was for later that night, but Kerry was tired and left early to return to Nantes. I stayed and checked out the other two towers. The tower Chaîne featured an exhibit on La Rochelle’s history with Quebec, which was particularly interesting to me. I’ve visited Quebec many times with the Caribou High School French club and with my parents. It was interesting to see the history of Quebec from a different perspective.
The last tower is the oldest medieval lighthouse on the Atlantic coast, the tower Lanterne. At one point in history, it was converted into a prison, making it the third prison I’ve visited in France (and, hopefully, the last). It was the tallest tower, which proved to be a bit difficult for one man. As he followed his girlfriend up the spiral staircase, he looked more and more nervous. Then, when it was time to cross a bridge at the highest peak to enter a room in the opposite tower, he crouched down. His girlfriend turned to find him unable to cross the bridge. “I can’t do it. I can’t,” he said.
The woman looked like a cross between amused and embarrassed. “Yes. You’re fine. Just walk across,” she instructed.
He remained frozen at the point of the bridge. But love apparently makes you do crazy things. He had to cross that bridge to get to her. So he did. But he couldn’t walk across it. He crawled across the bridge. A grown man in his thirties crawled across a bridge. And then, when it was time to leave, he had to crawl across the bridge again.
It was a funny sight, but I also felt for the man. When I was on the Eiffel Tower, I started to feel a little nervous (although I never resorted to crawling). Heights are scary sometimes.
Once on terra firma, I started a new mission. Find a free museum. Free museums are fantastic. They provide free bathrooms and time out of the sun. Although I had put lots of sunscreen on, I started to feel my skin burning. I know that I can’t stay in the sun too long so I went to the modern art museum. According to the free map, all of the museums were still open and I was ready to get in a cool place.
Which was closed. I saw a woman who worked there and she explained that the hours had changed and that the museum closed earlier now. Well, so much for that free map. Whoops. All of the museums had changed their times and they were now closed.
I had to make a new plan. I actually went into a store just to cool off for a bit before regrouping myself. I decided to head towards a park, which I figured would be in the shade. I went to the park which was shady and cool. As I was walking along, I started to hear some animals. All of a sudden, I found myself in an animal park with donkeys, goats and peacocks (including an albino peacock). If you were wondering, the donkeys do bite…although I was quick to move my hand away from their big teeth.
I walked around the harbor one last time and then boarded my train, the last train I will take in France (until I return, of course). I came back to Nantes tired from my day in the sun and, interestingly enough, without a sunburn…except for one half of my face. Yes, you read that properly. Only one half of my face is sunburned, which makes me looked quite strange (stranger than usual, I mean). I put sunscreen all over my face, but only one half of my face got burned. It’s quite a shock and I’ve had several people comment on it today. When I leave France, the last image people will have of me is a girl who had a half sunburn on her face.
So that was La Rochelle, my last trip in France.