Sunday, August 22, 2010

Les Sables d’Olonne

Like the rest of the country, Martine has Les Vacances for three weeks in August. France practically comes to a halt during this month as everyone is either at the beach or in another country. In Tours, many of the shops have little hand written signs in the windows stating which weeks they are closed in Augsut. I would like to try some of the best Patisseries in town, but, too bad, they’re closed right now. Martine would also like to clear her upstairs apartment of the insects that have taken over making it uninhabitable, but tant pis, it can’t be done until Les Vacances are over.

Martine began her vacation on Friday. To kick it off, she decided to take Ayumi, her son (Pierre), and I to the coast for a 4 day vacation. She said we would go to Les Sables D’Olonne by train, and we would leave on Sunday. That meant I would miss three days of language school. I actually started thinking, “Oh my goodness, I can’t miss school!”, and then remembered the point of this trip to do whatever I want.

At 7:30am on Sunday (which is now unbelievable early for me) Ayumi, Martine, and I walked the ten minutes to the train station and met Pierre there. This was my fourth time taking the train, and I really like it. It’s not as fast as driving (unless you take the TGV), but it is such an easy way to travel. Once you get the system down for buying your tickets, finding the platform, and making sure you’re on the right train, it’s seems pretty simple. I know, it’s not always simple though; my parents have a few horror stories. In fact, on the return trip to Tours we ended up taking the wrong train which was also going to Tours but by an indirect route, so we were 50min late getting home. Anyways, it took us 5 hours to get to Les Sables d’Olonne. By car it would have been maybe 3, but we would have had to deal with the vacation traffic.

The vacation was fantastic. The town and beach are gorgeous. Before we left, Martine told me the town would be “tres tres petite”, but I think we have different ideas of petite. The beach is lined with large, modern apartment buildings for at least a mile. Once you walk a block from the beach though, you’re surrounded by gorgeous old houses lined up wall to wall on tiny winding streets just large enough for cars to pass through. Many of the streets are even too small for cars, and the town is home to the smallest street in the world. It’s just as wide as my shoulders and called Rue de l’Enfer (Street of Hell).

Rue de l'Enfer
Rue de l'Enfer

Martine found us the coolest hotel called Maison Richet. It’s in one of the old French houses and has a typical facade of white plaster and pale blue shutters. There is a courtyard in the middle with palms, a fountain, and lots of patio furniture which makes a tranquil setting for breakfast and lounging around.

Pierre & Martine

We spent each day at the beach. We arrived a little late in the afternoon the first day, and the wind had already picked up. Not to be discouraged though, we marched out to the beach to commence le bronze. Martine, ever elegant, stretched herself out on the sand in her zebra print maillot de bain. Meanwhile, Ayumi and I already had goose bumps from the wind. I decided I would try to grin and bear it, but eventually ended up wearing my cardigan over my bikini. Pierre wore his uniform to the beach – slacks, dress shirt, loafers, dress socks, and a silk scarf, which did not prove to be that practical for trudging through the sand. He did strip down for tanning though. Evidemment, there were a plethora of speedos and even some monokinis (topless women).

The second and third days were warmer. The third day was even warm enough to swim, although I was the only one who thought so. Everyone else thought it was too cold to get in farther than waist deep. Ayumi said I was “super mega cool” for swimming in the ocean. Personally, I’ve always thought so. It was nice to finally have someone agree.

We ate all our meals out, except for breakfast which was provided by the hotel. The most exciting meal for me was tartare de boeuf, which I tried for the first time the second night! Pierre ordered it the first night, which I later found out was the first time he had ever tried it. The raw beef was served with an egg yolk on top and three condiments to the side – shallots, capers, and something else I can’t remember. Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard were also provided. Martine said it was “obligatory” to mix it all into the beef. I followed her advice, and it was surprisingly delicious! Frites were also provided on the side.

The other fun thing about the meals was watching Martine and Pierre choose the wine for dinner. We typically bought a bottle to share, and much discussion went into what’s chosen. I’m impressed by how well they know the wines from each region in France.
And that’s it! The fourth day, we packed up and took the train home. Upon returning, I felt rejuvenated and ready to continue my vacation in Tours!

Martine, Pierre, & Ayumi

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