Some fireworks and some beach-time.

The days here fly by and we are definitely seeing progress with the house. However, I seem to take more pictures and have more stories on my days off… 😁

Here are some photos and details about the national holiday and a long weekend camping trip to the coast!

“Bastille Day” brought a show of fireworks to the village and we were invited to another delightful evening at the island home of Helen and Moyed, again with plenty of food and wine and good company.
I baked chocolate hazelnut brownies for dessert. (They were something I hoped would not have to compete with the local boulangerie that people had become accustomed to. And I was relieved when they went over very well! 🙂 )

We were told that every year the lower bridge between Bourpeuil and L’Isle Jourdain is filled with locals and people who come into town for the fireworks. 

While we waited for the fireworks and ate a delicious dinner in the front yard, we could hear his strange music coming from the bridge. 

We ventured out the front gate to see what was going on and discovered a group of bugle players performing a sort of pre-show entertainment in the crowd. 

You may not have considered it before (I certainly didn’t), but it is actually extremely difficult for numerous bugle players to create the same note at the same time as bugles are only ‘tuned’ by the way a player holds their mouth.

One player stood at one end of the bridge and played a tune, and then the group at the other end would echo it back. It was really fun!

The fireworks (or feu d’artifice en français) were set off from both the base and the top of the viaduct, and the water in the Vienne River was so still that night we got to see an incredible double display with the reflection in the water. They were gorgeous and lasted 20 minutes! 

This video gives you an idea of the coolness factor of seeing the fireworks and their reflections at the start of the show.

The next morning my ‘co-workawayer’ Viktor and I took off for the Brittany coast for a long weekend of beachy camping on Isle D’Oléron and Isle De Ré.
We packed up the little van with Corinne’s and Gilles’ bikes, blankets, sheets, and beachwear, and headed for the coast. I drove (stick shift as a right-side driver 😳), with Viktor as navigator. 

After what seemed like endless roundabouts (the true French road way, apparently), we first arrived in La Rochelle and saw the beach and wandered around the Old Town, and then took the viaduct over the water to L’Isle D’Oléron, and towards the Grand Village. 

We stopped for a coffee and some wifi with a view of the ocean, of course!

The Old Town area of La Rochelle.

I was happy to note the giant sign that read “La Ville Des Huitres” as we drove onto the island of Oléron. Oysters (and mussels) are *the* thing to get on the islands as they are farmed all along the shorelines. (You also get amazing Fleur De Sel here, direct from salt farmers). 🙂 Another happy place. 

We arrived at a very busy campground called Les Pins (pine trees) as it was located in the forested lower end of the Oléron island, yet only a ten-minute bike ride to the beach! 

Campgrounds here are even more deluxe than along the East Coast of Canada.

 It seems like the French like to arrive to fully furnished cabins, trailers, and structured tent units with running water and electricity. Some are really beautiful, and clearly big families come and stay for a while here. (There is even a regular schedule of some sort of family activities and/or entertainment every day.)

I spent a little time at the naturally-filtered pool (complete with waterfall!)

Bikes are pretty much essential on these islands not only to go where cars can’t, and due to the limited parking spots available near all the best beaches on the islands, but because the winding roads and endless pathways along the island are perfectly lovely to cruise on two wheels. 😎

An afternoon siesta? I think so!

There were a handful of restaurants just down the street from the campground, a boulangerie, and a little supermarket. It was quite convenient, as I ended up buying a sleeping bag the second day we were there because the nights were colder than I expected (wimp that I am, I should have known better).

Chez moi pour le week-end!


We set up camp in a sandy and shaded campsite (tent for Viktor, van-avec-curtains for me), and made our way over to the beach just as the last of the daytime visitors were leaving. The beach was almost completely empty, aside from a few guys flying a large kite, and so we checked out the water temperature (freezing) and wandered he shoreline, watching the sun sink down towards the water before we headed back to our campsite.

The next day we spent at the beach (La Plage de la Giraudiere). The water was very shallow for quite a distance out, and with the heat and wind, and waves all along the shoreline it was the perfect location for surf lessons. It was fun to watch both kids and adults run and jump onto small surf boards and glide along the shoreline (or slip right off and tumble into the water, which happened much more often). 

It was a packed beach, and actually reminded me of family vacations to Florida when I was younger. Lots of families, and lots of kids.

Every morning there was a market at our campsite, where you could purchase 6 varieties of local oysters 😁, fresh veggies and fruit, and bread. 

Viktor tried his first ever oyster, but wasn’t too keen on it, so I happily had oysters for lunch, while he had the tried-and-true cheese and bread.

Perfection

Friday night at a tapas bar and pizza place called La Choza we caught the most excellent live djs I have ever seen- 5 guys sharing 4 turntables, multiple pieces of effects equipment, and numerous boxes of records, and on top of that there was also a saxophone player who would improvise along brilliantly with the music when he felt like it. 

It was clearly a popular locals spot and was a very surfer/island/party atmosphere. After an excellent pizza dinner I ended up hanging out there until well after midnight watching them skillfully mix sweet music for hours!


Saturday we changed islands and made our way up to the northern tip of Isle De Ré. 

Clearly the more popular/touristy of the two islands, you have to pay a toll of €16 to drive onto the island. (It’s free if you walk or bike over. The bike ride would likely take 20 min over the bridge, and walking would likely be closer to 45, but as the island is almost 30km long we figured a vehicle would be more efficient this trip.)

The beach we spent the day at was idyllic. The sun was hot, the water was perfectly refreshing, and the beach was busy but not packed. The only thing I wished we had brought was a large parasol (as everyone else did), as there was no shade to be found otherwise.
After playing volleyball in the water with a bunch of Francophones, sunning on the beach, swimming and wandering along the shore (and checking out the huge dead jellyfish that had washed up hours earlier)….and possibly turning a bit pink (but not as pink as Viktor!), we searched for a campsite.

After the June road trip  where we never worried about pre-booking campsites, I didn’t have any concern for finding a spot. This was when I learned that this was the start of the summer holidays for not only public schools, but now private schools, and it took us until our third campsite to find an available tenting spot! 

Luckily, our campground was awesome (Camp Du Soleil), near the stunning town of Ars-En-Ré

Complete with restaurant, pool, arcade, and two perfect trees for the hammock we brought, this was our favourite spot to stay.



An evening bike ride over to Ars En Ré was absolute perfection Saturday evening, with the streets looking ready for a movie crew to set up a scene for a romantic French film at any moment. 

Pristine buildings, lavender and hollyhocks lining the cobblestone streets, and nothing but a few pedestrians and cyclists winding their way through the little village that has been named one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.


We came to the town centre and the regal Church of Saint-Etienne, where a boys choir was performing a small concert. If you come during the day you can sometimes climb to the top of the tower and have a great view, but I only learned this after we left. 

This is definitely a place I’d return to!!

I think that will have to do for now. So much to share, but I’m definitely finding it hard to sit still! 🙂

To New Brunswick: the land of high tides!

Part Deux! We head towards the more bi-lingual part of the Maritimes, New Brunswick. 

On Monday afternoon the Nook And Cranny restaurant in Truro Nova Scotia found Tara-Lee and I eating corn chowder, drinking tea, and pouring over maps and guide books: semi-planning our next few days, booking kayak adventures and ferry rides, and definitely looking like tourists. 
Our next stop was the Loch Lommond campground just before the New Brunswick border, and with the assurance that we didn’t need to reserve a spot, we didn’t rush out of Truro until spending some time at another Tim Hortons with tea and wifi, and found ourselves driving again at night through the Maritimes, something we had agreed we wouldn’t try to do, after numerous warnings (from a dozen people) of the plentiful number of moose. No one warned us about the fog. Oh, the fog.

Between some night road construction and the thickest fog I have ever witnessed, the hour drive to our campground turned into almost 2. We arrived after the front gate was closed and had to be buzzed in. It was 10:45pm and we were prepared to be lectured about the late hour and ready to beg for forgiveness when we were greeted by the nicest lady at the main office/house who checked us in and seemed to be as much of a night owl as we are, thank goodness. 

Can we just stop for a moment to appreciate nice campgrounds? They are in abundance here! This campground had the nicest washrooms and showers (and laundry!) I have ever seen! Complete with good tunes playing on the radio

Okay, so the Aulac Tuck Stop. I was told adamantly how great this place is, and I think that by the time we got there for breakfast I was worried I had oversold it to Tara-Lee for the number of times I had mentioned it as a must-stop restaurant. 


It was excellent. Busy and bustling, we narrowly missed a tour bus that likely filled the restaurant with about 40 people. We got the breakfast plate and promised to come back another time for the chocolate cake with boiled icing or mile-high lemon meringue pie.

On to the Hopewell Rocks! We had a booking for a kayak tour with Baymount Outdoor Adventures at 12:30, to kayak around the rocks at high tide and a final height of 43 feet high!

Our cheerful guides Alan and Anna informed us that the Bay of Fundy at the Hopewell Rocks has two high tides and two low tides every 24 hours. (The highest High Tide recorded is 47 feet.) There is admission to the park with a full interpretive centre, restaurant, playground, and gift shop.

You wouldn’t believe it but the clouds were dark and thick when we arrived at the park and we were prepared with layers and rain jackets, only to be delightfully surprised with the clouds breaking and full, gorgeous, warm sun for our afternoon on the water. 

And we got sunburned…. Whoops!

Please note the tow-away zone sign we were all encouraged to park in front of.


We came back after the park was closed (which everyone working there will – curiously – happily encourage you to do) to walk the beach at low tide. It was stunning. (It reminded me of my trip to Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France.)

We were told that the almost continuous rise and fall of water levels due to the great tidal changes of the Bay of Fundy, the silt and mud never settle, which is why the water has such a “chocolate milk” quality. (Many restaurants, motels and hotels use the “Chocolate River” term to put a sweeter spin on the look of their rivers and shorelines in the area.)

We agreed it is a much kinder nickname of the reddy-brown waters than the imagery of “Mud City”, aka Moncton, NB.

 
In Moncton we found ourselves driving towards a huge spired steeple of a church on the north side of the town, and found ourselves at this gorgeous, ancient-looking Catholic Church: The Lady Of Assumption Cathedral. 

Even though it looked well over a century old from the outside, the kind caretaker there informed us it was built in the 1930s. He gave us a full tour inside where we discovered that all the stain-glass windows along the sides of the sanctuary were of women from the Bible, which is unique in itself. 


The attention to detail in the church was amazing. From the tops of pillars having carvings of the main industries in Moncton at the time the church was built (carpentry, farming, fishing, and flying), to the modern mosaics on either side of the pulpit to full multiple-panel stack glass windows telling the story of the Acadians, even the stairs up at the front had the Latin words for the seven steps it takes to become a pope.

Our next campsite was further south along the coast at Ponderosa Pines Campground. 


We had tucked our tent into a small site surrounded by bushes, as we felt like the forecast was not optimistic between the expectations of rain and wind. It was a good plan as the wind was tearing through the area that night at it absolutely dumped rain straight through till morning. 


At this point we decided to book an Airbnb for our first night in Charlottetown: simply to dry off…
We drove back through Aulac, where we split a (gigantic!) slice of their chocolate cake with boiled icing, which is like a mix between marshmallow and gooey meringue. It was delicious. 
 

Next up: PEI! 

The unexpected long weekend, in two parts…

It wasn’t until mid-week when I was informed that Monday would be a holiday, so we had a long weekend coming up right away- no Monday classes! I kind of wished this information had been presented/advertised sooner, as I would have planned a weekend trip further out of town if I could have booked earlier. As it was I had several local adventures, including some theatre, another Basillica, a flea market, shopping in the Marais, the Seine walkway, a jazz concert, the Arc Du Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Spoken Word, and a day trip to Fontainebleu! No complaints about that list!!
So from the beginning…or, Friday/Saturday…


Friday night I wanted to see some theatre so I picked up a “Pariscope”- a magazine with a detailed list of all events and arts going on in the city this summer- totally worth the 0.50€ it cost! I was hoping to see a show I had already seen in English so I had some context, and discovered that Molière’s L’Invalide Imaginaire was playing at Comedie Française, and I convinced a classmate to come with me. We saw that there were reduced price tickets for ‘restricted’ view seats, and when we went to purchase them we realized they are even cheaper than we thought – at 5€ each! C’était bon!
The show was very funny, but one thing about comedies that is for certain: they are very fast- the actors speak very quickly most of the time, so it was quite challenging at times to understand exactly what was being said. We had to go over what happened afterwards when we went to a cafe (called Molière!) for drinks after the show. Friday was a warm day, and the evening weather here is often perfect for walking around and finding a good bar or cafe to have a ‘happy hour’ drink- I have noticed that many of the bars in Paris have 4 or 5-hour long ‘happy hours’! Basically, if you go after 5 or 6, luck is on your side. (And since pop/soda is about the same price as a beer or glass of wine (!), this makes a difference to this coca-cola drinking girl. (Also, here, you ask for a ‘coca’, not a coke, if you want to say it ‘correctly’.)

Complete side note: I am finding that Parisians are so nice!! I am currently at a cafe, and the girl next to me needed a phone charger as her android phone is about to die. I couldn’t help her, but a stranger on the other side of me heard her ask me and offered his charger. I also find that shop owners and locals are very encouraging when I fumble with my French, or ask where I am from because they can ‘hear a slight accent’ to my French. I’ll take that ‘*slight* accent’ as one for the ‘win’ column! 🙂

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On the very hot and sunny Saturday I went up to Basillique Saint-Denis, at the suggestion of my friend Diana. A lot of the exterior was under construction, but inside you could defintely appreciate the grandeur and majesty of the building. Plus, the temperature inside was very cool, which was delightful. 🙂

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The square outside was pretty busy, as there had been some sort of celebration/festival of Saint Denis going on. I was about to head back to the metro when I saw some tents on the other side of the square and discovered my first French flea market.

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This place was crazy! There were clothes, housewares, cleaning products, jewelry, scarves and saris of every color and style, and it was a busy place- vendors calling out “allez allez allez allez” and other such things to get people to come over to their stall. I think that most people would have a hard time not buying *anything at all* if you had any cash on you- it’s hard to resist 3€ pumps- even if they only last for one night out!! ;).

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Yes, those shoes are on sale for 3€. That’s less than 5 bucks.

I  took the busy metro back to the centre of Paris and walked along the Seine, enjoying the many people out walking, biking, skateboarding and rollerblading in the sunshine! A brass band started playing just as I came to the steps by the Musée D’Orsay, and played some great covers of pop music with tuba, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, and percussion.

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I also walked by the Bridge of Locks again, which, you may have heard on the news- had a section of the railing collapse from the weight of the locks on Sunday and police had to evacuate the bridge! Too many lovers…. Insert your own joke here… 😉

Another discovery in the Pariscope magazine is that it is Festival season in Paris! So now a jazz festival has begun. Saturday night I made my way to the Parc Floral De Paris to watch a jazz show on their outdoor stage; the concert is free with admission to the park – another evening of entertainment for 5€!

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The Park is at the south end of the Chateau Du Vincennes that we visited last week, and is probably very lovely during the day, and is free to visit on weekdays. I’ll definitely plan to make it back there! I didn’t explore too much of it as I wanted to get to the concert. The band performing was called Paolo Fresu Quintet, and they were fantastic!

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There were people all over the place sitting on the grass, on benches, and of course right by the stage where there was concert seating. I sat across the lake to listen, as the acoustics were great. It’s a common occurrence to see large groups of Parisians spending time with friends around the city, and here was no exception. Not only did I see an energetic group of people just outside the park playing badminton in a field, but there were a couple groups of people down the odd pathway playing la pétanque (bocce), but in the park at the concert there were numerous groups of anywhere from four to twelve people sitting on blankets, towels, and mats with a pile of food in the middle of them and boxes of beer and bottles of wine strewn around them. There were lots of families and some particularly hilarious kids were trying to do kart wheels and handstands nearby throughout the evening. It was a truly relaxed atmosphere (un air le détendu), and I loved it.

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Be prepared- Sunday/Monday is the lopsided part of the weekend. Il y a beaucoup des photos!