Thursday, July 26, 2012

Biking in Beauty

With my genealogy conference concluded, we began the next leg of our travels.  A three hour TGV train took us to La Rochelle, a port city in western France.  As we exited the station we noted a plaque on the Jews who were deported from La Rochelle during the war.  History follows us wherever we travel although on my earlier trips to France  I never was aware of the Jewish experience on French soil.  It may be that it was not commemorated until recent years.

A bus ride dropped us at the port of St Martin de Re, a central city on the Ile de Re.  Last year as we flew to Lviv, I picked up a Wall Street Journal that had an article on the best places for a biking vacation.  Among them with an enticing picture was the Ile de Re.  Knowing I would be going to France for the conference, I decided to add this region to our itinerary.  With over 100 kilometers of bike paths on flat terrain and a temperate climate,  I thought it might be an appealing break from my typical genealogy focused trips,especially for my husband who is a committed bicyclist.  
The towns on the island are quite lovely with white or cream colored buildings, aqua shutters and a profusion of hollyhocks that seem to grow quite randomly against the buildings.

We were dropped off at the port which was a block from our hotel and across the street from our bike rental.  Our window overlooked the ocean and the lighthouse.  In front of our hotel we noted donkeys wearing the historic culottes which were originally used to protect their legs from the sting of the salt as they pulled salt wagons. One end of the island is filled with troughs in which they "harvested" sea salt. 

Surrounding the port were a wide range of excellent seafood restaurants with moules one of the specialties.  Excellent Italian gelato could be found at the Martiniere where we could watch them make waffle cones.   Caramel with sea salt was one of their custom flavors and the souvenir shops were filled with salted caramel, hearkening back to their sea salt industry.
During our stay on the Ile de Re we plotted a course each day to different areas of the island.  St Martins and La Flotte were the towns with the most activity and we frequently covered the short distance between them.  It seemed that our experience biking was not unlike our experience seeking specific tombstones in the Paris cemeteries.  Despite our carefully plotted objectives, destinations were often arrived at circuitously or not at all with some areas clearly marked and others left to guess work.  Nonetheless we often found interesting and unexpected destinations, just not always the ones that were intended and often with more biking than was planned.

Normally I am concerned with automobile traffic.  Here we soon observed that bicycle traffic posed the greater danger.  Bicyclists abound, often of the family variety.  In August the place fills with French tourists and we heard little English being spoken.  It is not an inexpensive town, but well worth a few days visit.

As our visit came to an end we reluctantly bid a fond adieu to Ile de Re and returned to La Rochelle for our Paris bound train and then home.

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