Thursday, November 3, 2016

Part 1: The Vendee Globe Race and a Gorgeous Weekend on the Atlantic

I'm finding that I want to add pics to the story of my weekends rather than letting the pics I took drive the story, so I'll be posting fewer of them here.  They'll all be up on my FB page "American in France" for those interested: An American In France FB

I thought it would be fun to see the Vendée Globe village, although clearly the attacks are on my mind since I intentionally decided not to go next weekend when the boat launch happens (and also because I hate crowds).  As it turned out, this was a perfect plan because November 1 is a holiday and I'd forgotten that the French nearly always bridge to the holiday.  I was able to extend my trip for the full 4 days!  This blog is two parts due to that.

People who know me well know that my heart is happy at the beach and I was prepared to go for a weekend, no matter the weather, but was pleasantly surprised with near 70s F and sun!

I'm glad it was lovely because I was a little misled by the hotel saying there's free street parking and a lot nearby - there's nothing on the actual street of the hotel (not even to pull over and check-in), and on a lovely weekend, the free parking was full (and nearly all the paid too).  After a frustrating search, I finally found a good spot 10 minutes away.  Not a bad walk, unless you have 4 days of luggage to haul with you!
I've never actually been in the Atlantic Ocean on this side of the pond, so I took a walk along the beach and walked in the surf.  I don't really think of 60s as being that warm, but it is when the sun is shining on you!  In fact, I wasn't sure that I'd brought enough light-weight things to wear, but the weather was a little cooler on Sunday and Monday, so it worked out fine.  I checked the weather and it was 13 degrees warmer than in Civray - I was REALLY happy that I decided to come after that!
I made a brief stop for an afternoon Coke, which is a rare treat here since meals are usually accompanied by wine or water.  After enjoying the view for a bit, I was off to see the very thing that brought me here to Les Sables - the Vendée Globe village.  The walk over was lovely and I was amused by the long line of people waiting for the boat across instead of walking around; it turned out to be quite a long walk though, so I understand the boat now!  Of course, part of the distance was because I took the scenic route along the water - there's a direct 15 min walk from my hotel through town.
When I arrived at the Vendée Globe village, I discovered that MANY people had the same idea as me and, with it open until 22:00 (10pm) on Saturdays, it's quite a public gathering place!  The displays were in buildings that are probably perfect for a normal Fall day, but it was sunny and hot today (and packed), so it was sweltering inside.  I only looked at a few things, like the route map, then I headed to the boats.
For those who don't know (I didn't), the Vendée Globe is a race around the world by boat, but it is particularly difficult to finish at all because they can't use many types of modern technology or receive help (outside of emergency medical).  They must do it all solo and even perform their own repairs if necessary.  They start from Les Sables in the Vendée region and this is the 8th race.  When I returned on Sunday, I learned the race only occurs every 4 years, so that explains the crowds!
Some of the booths were interesting, so it's too bad that it was so hot!  My "favorite" had this display of fish, octopus and a half alive lobster, all helpfully labeled in French so I know what to avoid!
If the pictures aren't bad enough, you should know that sometimes French food comes to the table still looking exactly like it did when it was caught . . . just cooked!

After a short time, I was tired of the crowds and I'd dropped and broken my sunglasses, so I headed toward the center of town where, of course, French people were shopping on Saturday night!  I came across this very unassuming looking church, but a peak inside at the blue was enough to convince me to enter.  Simply stunning - I didn't want to leave!  As in most places, people here are not really good about photo etiquette.  As I was trying to take a picture, two people walked right in front of me to snap their own.  *sigh*  It's not like I had my DSLR and was taking forever either, just people too rude to wait their turn.  When it comes to certain pictures though, I have the patience of a saint, so I finally took my photos sans people!

It was almost, but not quite, dinnertime, so I sat for an apéritif.  Apéritifs are really fun in France.  Along with kir, which is virtually everywhere, each region has specialties.  I'm lucky to be in the Charente, near Cognac, because the same eau de vin used for Cognac is also combined with grape must to make pineau.  It's essentially a distilled wine (like Cognac), so it's served in tiny glasses as it has a higher alcohol content than wine.  The regional apéritif can be so local though that my tutor didn't know what I was talking about and kept trying to tell me that, no, "pinot" is NOT an apéritif!  They're pronounced basically the same, which happens with a few words because the French often don't pronounce the last consonant!  This evening, I decided to try kir pétillant, which I'd never had.  A standard kir is made with white wine and a fruit liqueur, usually cassis (red currant).  Kir Pétillant is made with sparkling wine instead (and a kir royale with champagne).
I ended my first day with dinner on the boardwalk while watching the sun set and walking along the beach at night.  Such a stunning place!  It was quite cold though and adding my sweater wasn't cutting it, so you have to be prepared for a significant temperature variation!

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