08 August 2015 | Anse l’Oubye, Ile de Re, France 46 09.2455 N 1’15.50W – La Rochelle, France 46’08.60N 1’10.09W
France is sandwiched between many countries all with their own cultural identities. To the north in Britain we are outstanding at queuing, to the west everyone in Spain is nearly nocturnal, heading east to Switzerland there is ruthless efficiency and to the south there are the Balearics which party from dusk till dawn. As we ventured ashore in La Rochelle none of these cultures seem to have diluted the quintessential Frenchness of France.
La Rochelle seemed to be the most French of French places. Whenever we saw a Frenchman tucking into some food there was also a bottle of wine, Frenchman don’t seem to park their cars they simply abandon them, the busiest place is the Patisserie at dawn and every product any self respecting Frenchman buys is endorsed by Asterix and his overweight friend Obelix. All this activity is completed with a slight underlying air of anarchy that is asked to be let loose. France was different, France was good.
Apart from wanting to sample the Frenchness of La Rochelle there was anther significant draw. In the marina, with 3500 other boats, was an Amel 54 called Peregrinus. We’d last seen Peregrinus exactly 1 year ago, 1 continent ago and 1 ocean crossing ago. While we’d arrived in Europe via the southern ‘milk run’ route, they’d been much braver, been at sea for much longer, been as far north as Newfoundland and battled storms as they had arrived via the ‘Northern route’.
Peregrinus regaled us with tales of daring do and took us under their wing. Their washing machine was put to full effect, as would you believe in a marina with 3500 boats, there isn’t one anywhere and following meal after meal their dishwasher was loaded to the max. Well doesn’t every boat have a dishwasher? Seeing Peregrinus again after all these miles and in such different circumstances was a joy.
Under a blue sky which wasn’t graced with a single cloud the tourist hub of downtown La Rochelle was beckoning. Along with what seemed to be the whole of the tourist populace of northern Europe we wandered the parks, marvelled at the ancient towers that graced every corner and window shopped around boutiques where the prices were inversely proportional to the size of garments offered.
As afternoon turned to dusk so the street entertainment came out. The coolest of cool bass players graced bands that sported wind sections including didgeridoo’s and they whipped the assembled crowds into applauding masses. With the backdrop of live music break dancers then spun their funky stuff and when they got bored of that they started doing handstands while skateboarding about. La Rochelle rocked in more sense than one.
As we had been sailing toward France a package had been winging its way from England. Getting post on a sailboat is always a challenge and we were set to get some. We tracked down the post office, borrowed some bikes and braved the bonkers French drivers. What we hadn’t figured on were the French customs officials.
The phrase ‘open European borders’ hadn’t filtered down to these guys. They were clearly too busy drinking wine, buying bread, abandoning their cars or trying to get Astrix or Obelix to sign another commercial endorsement, to read the European policy on tax exemptions. Our package was stuck and no-one knew when it would ever be released. It looked like anarchy would be the only thing to get it delivered in a timely manner, and that as we all know only ever bubbles gently under the covers.
With no sign of anarchy about to happen in La Rochelle and the off lying islands calling, goodbyes were said, tears were shed and we’ll probably be back in England before our package gets returned.
Sunsets look the same in France as they do in the Caribbean.
OMG. There are a lot of boats in there.
The infamous towers at La Rochelle.
Errr. More towers in La Rochelle.
And yet more still.
Only looked down on by the church.
Classically French. Now where is the baguette and pastry.
We find peace in the park.
Entertainment is everywhere and the bass player is always the coolest dude.
Crowds covered every surface of the inner port.
We could be in London.
Look no hands.
Our thoughts turn to Pip Hare and her MiniTransat campaigns.