08 May 2009

La Rochelle, Paris, London, Home

The past few days, I have been in La Rochelle, mostly on the nearby island called Ile de Re. The first day we rode the bus to Sablanceaux Plage, were we found it to be a mostly nude beach! I have been to many topless beaches on this trip, but never fully nude. They were mainly middle aged, or seniors, but seeing them naked; swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing; they reminded me of little kids, except for their wrinkled, tan bodies.

We walked down the beach collecting shells, and finally I settled by the Ecole Francaise de Voile - the sailing school. Their little Hobie cats were lined up in the sand, colorful sails out, ready for the water. One by one they were led out to the Atlantic, and once launched, the wind took them with great speed.

We walked later to the point and checked out the tide pools. French folks were stealing escargots for their dinner. What we thought were thousands of dead worms lying on the wet sand (trying to avoid walking on them felt impossible!) were actually long thin tubes of sand removed by some critter below the surface. One even curled up like the shape of a heart. We watched hundreds of shore birds sift through the pools for a snack and wrote huge words in the sand - "La France 2008", "USA", and "Portland Oregon".

The next day we met Neil, Malcolm, and Gordon from Glasgow, Scotland. We rented bikes back on Ile de Re and rode around the entire island. It was so beautiful, and such a relief to be off my tired feet for one day. We rode on a path along the shore, fields and vineyards to our left, and the turquoise ocean to our right, on the horizon sailed dozens of white boats. We found the ruins of an old fort and a monastery. In the field behind it a farmer walked two cows to a green pasture. We rode through small ancient-looking villages, grey, faded buildings twisted over time by the weather.

On a crowded sandy beach I made a ridiculous lean-to from to pieces of wood I found and my sarong. I needed a refuge from the sun, but all the topless french girls just stared at me, under a canopy just a foot above the ground, now covered in sand. We rode back quickly, hands-free, legs pumping. I somehow got separated but flew into the rental shop at 7 sharp when the bikes were due.

Paris was not at all what I had hoped. I thought it would be the nicest, and cutest of all the cites I would have seen. But I found it completely opposite. The streets were huge and wide like freeways running through a city. The parks were covered in dirt and there was little shade or grass, unlike Madrid. The few walking quarters I found were fulled with tourist bars and restaurants and souvenir shops. Our host Nico took us on a tour of the city in the 90 degree heat. We went past the Grand and Petit Palais, through the Invalides Jardin, by the Musee du Louvre, over Pont Neuf to the Ile de Cite (the center of Paris) to see the Notre Dame. There on the island we had a nap with a bunch of other tired folks in the only shady grass in the city. The next day I found Paris to be quite a ghost town. I walked up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and finally to the Eiffel Tower. I am determined to revisit the city again in hopes that I, like much of the world, will love the City of Light.

London was a surprise to me. The river was lined in beautiful and unique buildings and has more bridges than Portland, which I crossed back and forth for several hours. I only had one day in London, and it wasn't nearly enough. I walked along the river and into a couple neighborhoods. I snuck inside a government building that had a spiral walkway from the bottom floor to the top, and was covered completely in windows. I ate a hearty fish and chips dinner by the water on a windy deck with the English. The next morning I was off for my 15 hour journey home.