Thursday, May 06, 2004

Fontenay le Comte to La Rochelle

Start off before 8 in a cold bright morning. An hour or so later, there are definite thunderheads developing and soon after 9, I get a sprinkle of rain. This soon passes, but by the time I reach the next village, the road is so wet that it looks like a real big bastard of a downpour just went over. I guess I spent most of my rain tokens yesterday. This happens again an hour or so later, when I'm at the small town of Marans, which the guide says is a nice place to stop for lunch. At 10:00 it's a bit dead for that.

Get some more rain as I'm cycling south beside the main canal to La Rochelle, but again it looks like the worst is passing to one side. With that gone over, I decide to take the scenic route along the coast rather than the straight line, and do some more storm-dodging.

It's not only storms that I manage to dodge - usually when there's anything vaguely complicated in the way of junctions, or turns to make, all the traffic in creation seems to suddenly arrive out of nowhere. This time, when I have to cross a main road - the one the route carefully guides me away from - there's not a vehicle in sight, so I can sail across the dualled junction.

A church with battlements

Fortified church near Esnandes.

The coast path is well marked with maps at regular intervals, which makes most of the route guide irrelevant. And by 12:30, almost at the Pont de Ré, I stop for food - the usual yoghurt and cookies bought from a superette the previous day. The sun is out, and sheltered from the wind, it's really quite pleasant to sit and watch the storms marching past.

2km long bridge with many spans

The Pont de Ré seen from Pointe du Plomb

There's a neat and well marked out system on the bridge - two way car traffic in the middle pays a toll; walled off on the north side, cycle traffic, and on the south pedestrians. Muscle power goes free. For the moment I duck under the bridge and into town, where the directions become annoyingly vague. And as usual they lead through urban peripheral industry and residential squalor that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 1950s. I find the first tentative clue to the right direction, but am swiftly led astray by a weird junction and some roadworks, so end up taking a fallback - following the signs for the Aquarium (the hotel being next to it), which takes me all along modern roads with cycle lanes or tracks. It works, but is one hell of a detour.

Arriving at the hotel, the mud-spattered, lycra shorts look wows the punters. Shower, change, and go for a stroll to orient myself, around the towers of the old port area, then go back to avoid more rain. The hotel restaurant looks out over the harbour, giving a good view of the wild sky, and the starboard lighthouse flashing.

Dinner is salmon salad (again, nigh-sushi), pavé de boeuf, and sablé de fraise (a tartlet with rhubarb and slices of strawberry), washed down with a pichet of red.