Adventures and misadventures in France.

Posts tagged ‘vacation’

The Gouffre de Padirac

Summer vacation plans this year came down to the wire. Max and I requested time off in August, intending to spend a week at the beach somewhere, but quickly realized that most vacation rentals had been reserved months in advance. We spent several evenings poring over the remaining options, unable to come to a decision or make any definitive choices. But two weeks before our vacation was scheduled to begin, Max came home from work and proudly announced,

“WE ARE VISITING the Gouffre de Padirac!”

“Uh what? What’s a gouffre?”

“It’s great! I went there when I was a kid.”

And that’s how we ended up driving three hours through the rolling farmlands of central France, then waiting in line for another hour, in the rain, to see a pit.

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Sure, I may have voiced some doubts in regards to Max’s choice of vacation outing, especially considering his last recommendation from his childhood… but the place was surprisingly interesting. The Gouffre de Padirac is a chasm 35 meters across and 75 meters deep. It serves an an entryway to a series of caves created by an underground river. We had the option of taking an elevator or stairs to the bottom, but after too much time spent sitting and waiting that day, we sped down the stairs. Apparently there are about 9 kilometers of tunnels, and 2 of them are open to the public. The highlight of our guided tour was being transported along the river’s narrow channels, in a tiny gondola, in the dark, with other boats whizzing in both directions.

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the caves, and the pictures I managed to sneak didn’t come out too well. So here are some pictures from the official website.

In other news, our terrible Ikea mattress has been slowly developing an enormous dent in the middle, that we now refer to as the “Gouffre de Bedirac.”

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Beaches of France : Guerande and La Turballe

Part 3

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This funny instrument is called a vielle à roue, or a hurdy gurdy.

Guerande is a fortified medieval city just north of La Baule and St. Nazaire. We decided to drop by the inner city on the way home from our beach weekend to visit the original church, get some lunch, and maybe sample their Brittany wares. The region is known its heavy Breton influence, sailing culture, and coarse salt production. Today, the city is filled with artisans and their shops selling paintings and sculptures.

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Later in the afternoon, we wanted to get a look at the marais salants, salt flats, in La Turballe. Not much to see, just piles of delicious lying around.

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Oh boy! Salt!

Next to the flats, we found a parking lot with signage leading to a beach. Adding to our weekend of spontaneity, we decided to take a stroll to check it out. Fifteen minutes of marching through a forest filled with picnicking families and the beach finally came into view. On such a hot day, we were excited to finally see a natural and tranquil beach. We finally reached the top of the dunes and looked down to admire the clear water and the bay below.

The face of ignorance

The face of blissful ignorance.

Look at that view! The sand is so soft! Let’s go dip our feet in the water!

Hey that’s weird… there’s a woman swimming – naked? And there’s another guy and he’s – also naked? And those people over there… and… uh oh…

As it turns out, this particular beach was far more natural than anticipated. We had stumbled upon an unofficial naturist beach. Standing at the top of the dunes, we tried not to stare as couples, families, and groups of friends all paraded past us to enjoy their naked day at the beach. After a few moments of shocked silence and attempts at nonchalance, Max turned to me and asked:

Can we go back to the car now?

Maybe next time, Naked Beach.

Beaches of France : La Baule and Pornichet

Part 2

“The most beautiful beach in Europe”

The morning after our St. Nazaire fiasco, Max and I woke up early and drove to La Baule, a bay spanning 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in southern Brittany. The enormous and beautiful beach is covered in restaurants and “clubs”- bars for parents to relax while their children engage in camp activites. The entire bay is lined with hotels, luxury apartments, and a rambla for long strolls.

We parked in Pornichet, the low-key southern end of the beach, and walked forever to find some sandwiches and gelatto in the main shopping area. We had the beach mostly to ourselves until mid-afternoon, when people flooded into the water or posted up in one of the rental tents. We had to be on the lookout for enormous jellyfish that regularly washed up on shore, but otherwise spent the afternoon reading relaxing in the sun.

European beaches are notoriously laid back, but coming from America, it’s still surprising to see women casually spending the day topless on the beach (more on that later). In France, however, toplessness doesn’t seem to provoke any attention, positive or negative.

That evening, we avoided the crowds by returning to Pornichet for dinner (more forever walking), and enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner at Le Normandy.

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Check out the lemon juice contraption.

Beaches of France : St. Nazaire

Part 1

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One Friday a couple weekends back, we had just arrived home from a long day of work. I was on the phone with my dad when Max suddenly burst into the dining room:

I’m on vacation next week! Let’s go to the beach this weekend! We can pack our bags and leave right now!

But Max, isn’t your friend’s birthday party this weekend?

Whatever, I don’t even want to go!

Didn’t you promise our neighbor we’d help her build a shed?

*Cough cough* Something came up, I’ll help her next week!

What are we going to do with the dog?

He can stay with my parents!

Where are we even going? Can we talk about this once I’m done with this phone call?

I just found a hotel! My parents will watch Jojo! Hotel booked! I just packed your toothbrush let’s GO!

So that’s how we found ourselves driving to St. Nazaire on a Friday night. We checked into the hotel around 9 pm, briefly conferred with the overly enthusiastic man at the front desk, and strolled into town to find some food. The city seemed pleasant enough, clearly a destination for tourism and shopping. But as we strolled through street after street of closed and deserted businesses, it became clear that finding dinner would be a challenge. Even the beach offered no dining options. Clearly, St. Nazaire was the worst city ever.

forty days of dating

In the end, tired and grumpy from hunger, we made our way to the only remaining option : Quick (French Burger King) in a shopping plaza just outside town.

Max posing with inedible statues

Not pictured: food

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