We left Sarlat in the Dordogne area of France yesterday and decided to go on a short drive. The weather was beautiful, 81 degrees, so we headed to the Atlantic Coast. After a short, 7-hour drive, we arrived in La Baule, France that is on the Atlantic Ocean. The drive was mostly through farmland. There were plenty of cows and a few sheep. The farms were very large. The highways were well maintained and very clean. Maybe the highways are clean because the French are not suppose to eat or drink anything while driving to comply with its laws. Traffic moves along at good pace. I think we cruise around 80 miles an hour and sometimes top out at 95 miles per hour. The drivers are courteous and patient. But, they all drive very fast. When you pull out into the passing lane, you better check your rear view mirror and be ready to floor it because cars can, and do, come up on you very quickly. So, you don’t pull out into the passing lane unless you are ready to boogey.
We did make one stop on the way to La Baule. We walked around the fort and old port of La Rochelle. La Rochelle was having a festival so there were many families out strolling around the city enjoying the nice weather. La Rochelle has an ice cream store called Earnest le Glacier. It is located in the old port area and we had learned of the store from Yann Desmadryl. So, we looked it up and there was one long line to get into the store, but we decided to wait in line and are glad we did. I had vanilla and chocolate fudge brownies. Rita had crème brulee and white chocolate. The ice cream was soft, but not as soft as gelato. It was also very creamy with a lot of flavor. In fact, Rita and I are willing to call it the best ice cream we have ever had. So, thank you for the recommendation Yann.
When we entered La Baule yesterday, we passed a long line of stopped cars on the other side of the highway. The line was over 14 miles long! When we arrived in La Baule, we were told that some pony jumping event, which draws large crowds from around the world, had just ended and thus the long line of cars stopped on the highway working their ways home. La Baule has a nice long sand beach. The sand is light brown to white. It is a real pleasure to find such a beach in France and is such a change from the pebble beaches that you find on most, but not all, of the French Riviera beaches. The ocean front boulevard is surrounded with apartment and condominiums, but most are only 4 to 6 stories high. The beach is dotted with little restaurants where you can eat with your feet in the sand if you choose.
We are staying at the Hermitage. We always choose our hotels by location, then price. We rely primarily on tripadvisor.com and hotels.com. They are usually pretty good sources, but like anything you have to read all the reviews, positive and negative, very carefully to avoid being surprised. We have tried to use tripadvisor.com for restaurants, but we do not believe it is as reliable a resource for restaurants as it is for hotels. One problem is that when you show up in a restaurant recommended by tripadvisor.com, you seem to be sharing the restaurant with English speaking tourists who have read the same restaurant reviews that you have read. So, you end up eating with English, American, Australian and Canadian tourists instead of with locals. Finding restaurants preferred by locals is much more difficult to find. But, we do make the effort and occasionally find a pleasant surprise restaurant where only the locals eat.
Last night, our hotel bar had cosmopolitans. We were pretty parched since we had gone almost a week without our favorite cocktail because cranberry juice is almost impossible to find in France for some reason that is unknown to us. It is odd since French bars offer other less popular drinks regularly such as sex on the beach and manhattans which are on every bar menu. Therefore, we have been drinking mostly wine. So, in the lobby bar we downed two quick cosmos to relax us from the 7-hour drive. The cosmos were served with mixed nuts, olives, tapenade and cashews gratis. When we went to leave the bar, we learned that the four cosmos were $95 USD or $23.50 each. Since we are on a daily expenses budget, we shot half of our meals budget on the two drinks or all of our daily miscellaneous expenses. We may have to give up drinking cosmos! Or, eat half as much or eliminate miscellaneous expenses!
Well, we are still homeless, but trying everyday to locate a house to rent. Either the houses do not please us or the ones that please us are too expensive or when we find one we like and it is not too expensive, it is booked. We have used just about every website on the Internet to locate a house. It is a long slow process burning up about 4 to 5 hour of research each day. We know now that we should have booked a house much earlier. We did not consider that in peak season most of the great locations would be taken. Oh, well, we are not looking for sympathy. As Alki always says, the Marine Corps told its recruits that if you want sympathy, you will find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis. The Marine Corps is right. But, we did want you to have a flavor for what we are doing on a daily basis in France. We are not just sitting around eating bonbons. Travel is hard work.
It is noon and we are ready to hit the road again. We have no destination planned. We normally get in the car, look at each other, and then look at a map of France and start discussing places on the map within a one-day drive that we think we may want to see. Once we have reached a consensus, we type in the destination on the GPS and our day begins afresh in search of new adventures and dreams. A bientot. –Norm and Rita.