The drive from Nantes to La Rochelle was shorter and less roasty. We arrived early – thanks to Mlle Sat Nav – and rather than dwell too long checked into our hotel and set off for a wander. Having of course one less day than planned due to Animal Courier daftness.
It was a nice day a little over cast but pleasantly warm for north Europeans like us. Having pottered about the harbour area we sought nosh. I ordered moulles et frites and S a veggie omelette. The area was reasonably busy and we soaked up the atmosphere which included a shabby chic chap dozing on a bench with neither us nor him having a care in the world. Our food arrived and S’s omelette looked good having as it did lots of obvious lardons, this was not quite as veggie as requested so another was rustled up quick sharp. I meanwhile had a frankly massive portion of mussels and reasonable sized accompaniment of chips. Due to the sheer size of my mollusc mound I began, with S’s permission. They were rather fab and as I ploughed through them I discovered a couple of innocent bystanders namely tiny little crabs that had been living in a couple of my lunch! They had however ended up meeting the same fate as their larger hosts, except I didn’t eat them. By the time my first bowl of empty shells had been removed – two were provided – S was tucking into a fresh omelette and to our amusement the dozing gentleman had moved in the neighbouring eaterie and was tucking into an ice cream with gusto.
Suitably refuelled we set off for a wander around the walls and two famous towers that protected the port from foreign invaders. Despite it being off season there were lots of visitors but not enough to be an issue. The towers that mark the entrance to the harbour are interesting and there are also two light houses. One of which is rather away from the quayside but if out to sea you line them up you’ll come into the harbour without any problems – which struck me as clever. Tho I’m easily impressed.
There was no hiding of the fact that for quite a period of it’s history La Rochelle was rather vigorous in the then very fashionable Slave Trade… Something many other places are not quite so willing to mention and in fact often do their very best to hide – as recent news about Glasgow proves.
After a quiet night we discovered that our hotel had a view of TGV or similar trains that had just left the nearby station. S isn’t yet missing her daily commute on Scotrail – that feeling appears to be delayed! The Bay of Biscay which is what boats setting sail from La Rochelle faced for centuries can be a bit dodgy weather wise. It rained the next day as if to illustrate that fact and so I could throw in that educational titbit. Anyway, that didn’t bother us as we were going underground!
During WWII there were submarines based in La Rochelle and the group they were from had a black cat as their emblem. The U boats were based in a massively reinforced concrete bunkers which attracted the attention of both the UK and US air forces – which of course lead to civilian as well as military casualties. The U boat crews were based in a Hotel Etranger – fans of Bergerac will know that means foreigners. Below that building remains a bunker which is now a museum. It is rather interesting for example the Mayor of La Rochelle on the day it was occupied had a German Lieutenant go to the Mairie (town house) and order him to take down the French flag and replace it with a Swastika one. The man in his seventies refused to take such an order from a low-ranking officer and told him to go get someone more senior! That was the first resistance in the city and the Mayor a few years later was to pay for his continued involvement in such things with his life. The German U boat crews and colleagues were pretty successful early on but tactical and technological advances by the Allies meant that the average life expectancy of U boat crewmen was only about three months and in total upwards of three quarters of them were killed.
The bunker was interesting and a little surprisingly had a well decorated bar – much of which was still visible. A couple of women had left the employment of a department store in Germany to do interior design for the U boat crews, decorating the bar and no doubt parts of the Hotel above as well. They were paid by the Kreigsmarine – the German Navy – to do so. Even when after D-Day the remaining U boat units left France going to Norway they were deemed important enough to go with them. At the end of the War the Allies then asked the same women to decorate their accommodation! Doing painting and interior design for both sides… How oddly curious.
Emerging above ground it had continued to rain which was ironic as there seemed to be a theme of pink umbrella’s across the city, none of which we nicked. We went to a pizza place called Rigoletto on rue Chef de Ville, a street or two from the harbour. I mention it as the pizza’s were very, very good. The tomato sauce on them was much richer than you normally get. Consider it recommended! As we had an early start the next day … we had a quiet evening packing and similar. Not before a nice woman stopped to ask us directions, something that rarely happened in the UK but seems to happen to me all the time in France…
Next morning we checked out a day and a bit early to rendezvous with our travelling cat. It was dark and we stopped for petrol. As I finished filling up a guy was struggling to get his car to the pump. After I’d paid he was still having difficulty so with my mediocre French and some pointing I helped shove it forward. Unhindered by such problems we pootled towards 87500.
Not having any idea when Mitzy was arriving we kept on going pausing only when necessary. We knew the Animal Couriers knew S couldn’t access ansaphone messages on her mobile so wouldn’t call her and leave a message. It turns out that they did do that but our expectations of them were so low that was no surprise… We paused only when we had to stopping in La Rochefoucauld for frankly rather obvious reasons. It had a nice chateau which has been added to and worked on since they first broke ground back in 980!
We arrived in Le Chalard or rather Gondandeix where Kay and Paul – our short-term hosts – had not already welcomed Mitzy. We took some stuff out the car and as M had still not arrived were able to whiz into Saint Yrieix la Perche to grab a scratch post having got a litter tray, etc, during our previous stop. Returning we were able to get more out the car and settle down to wait for the bundle of fur and occasional attitude that is our cat. Unhearalded and without notice a van appeared and Kay told us we had a visitor. Mitzy seem pleased to be removed from said van and relatively soon was settled down on S’s lap. She seemed fine and was blissfully unaware of the shambles that had gone along with her travels and the impact Animal Couriers had on not just S and I but the innocent bystanders that were Kay and Paul.