Last stop: La Rochelle
Last stop on my mini Tour de France is La Rochelle, the town that terrorised me from the pages of my high school French textbook. Well not really terrorised, but the main reason I know of it is from the textbooks. I was looking for a relaxing place to end my holiday, and curiosity got the better of me as a small part of me wanted to know what it was really like.
As usual I spent yesterday morning was just orienting myself and finding the tourist information office as well as getting a good whiff of salty ocean air. Surprisingly they can fit the whole town map onto one sheet of A4, so finding my way around wasn’t too difficult and nothing is too far away.
I’d talked to a few people about visiting La Rochelle because (as usual) I wasn’t sure what I was going to do here, and without fail every single one said to me “I hear they have a great Aquarium!” So that was the first thing I visited yesterday morning. It sounds childish to visit an aquarium, but it really was interesting with lots of fish and other sea creatures to see, and they cover each part of the sea or ocean separately starting at the shore and heading to the depths.
The first cool thing that you see when the door opens in front of you and you enter the aquarium is a dark 5m long tunnel with small moon jellyfish swimming all around you. It’s very impressive. The biggest draws were the sharks of course, and there was a huge tank where you could see them swimming without tearing chunks out of people or boats. Second on the ‘must see’ list were the tropical fish as people, myself included, are easily attracted to pretty things with bright colours.
After spending way too long in the aquarium, I left and without an idea of what I should do next, started the city walking tour. It’s definitely the smallest and quietest place that I’ve visited so far, but it has some charm. It’s still got three fortified towers that were part of the city walls, and an imposing city gate. I walked past the beach where people were picnicking on the sand, but fully clothed, no sun bathing going on.
The city hall’s quite different. Rather than a big facade to shop the town’s strength and wealth, there’s a wall with turrets that encloses the central courtyard. It may be a sign that the city’s been fought over many times by the French and English. It’s a story I’ve heard in different cities as I’ve been travelling (Bordeaux was also English for a long time), but looking at it now it would be really strange if a part of present day France was actually part of Britain so probably for the best that it’s French.
I wasn’t planning to have a seafood dinner, but in the end I had oysters and salmon. I’m still not sure what the attraction of oysters are, but I keep trying to find out. They taste salty and kinda sweet, but other than that I don’t get any really amazing sensation from them.
Today I walked through the parks on the north of the town, and past an animal park near the beach where there was an enclosure of around 15 peahens among other things, which I’d bet is more than most zoos have. They also had an enclosure with goats which had three kids playing “I’m the king of the castle” on a pile of rocks, which was very cute.
I didn’t really achieve much in the morning, so I went to the Musée du Nouveau Monde after lunch, which was a museum showing the French and in particular La Rochelle’s ties with the Americas. They had different exhibits in different areas of the museum starting with slavery and the West Indies which covered the trade in indigo and sugar too, then the colonisation of Canada and the USA, and finally a section on the Native Americans. It was OK, lots of reading and paintings depicting how things were in those times.
Finally I visited one of the fortified towers, the St. Nicholas tower, that had been used to defend the city in the past and housed a noble family whose father was the Captain of the tower. His term lasted for one year and during that time he wasn’t allowed to leave the tower at all, so it served a dual purpose as military base and home.
Each of the towers had an exhibit about a different part of the cities history, but I decided just to visit the most interesting one as I didn’t have enough time to go to all three and also I didn’t think I needed to see the city from the turrets of all three. It was nice to see the port from a height, but the old port is really pretty small and most of the boats are actually berthed further out of town.
So a short post instead of the usual mammoth essays as I didn’t do much in the last two days, but it was nice to relax a little.