This week, Charlotte visits me here in French France and, as it happens to coincide with the anniversaire of the day I was born, she takes me to La Rochelle, on the West Coast, to celebrate.
It is an opportunity for us to remember several missed personal milestones due not only to the unusually large distance between us, but also the unusually large time we have spent apart since December, 2020.
Christmas and New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, our 10th Wedding Anniversary, Charlotte’s Birthday and finally my birthday, are all days during this year and the previous one that we are living and working in separate countries.
Travel over the last 18 months has been strictly limited. To isolate and remain safe from Covid-19, whilst still being able to function normally with work commitments, Charlotte has in the last ten months visited me here on only one other occasion, (which you can read about here), so this latest trip has come as a great surprise.
Although work in France for me rarely stops, save for my sudden and debilitating habit of putting my back out, Charlotte decrees that she has been able to book us into a small (but perfectly formed) Guest House in the centre of La Rochelle for 2 nights! Joy is unconfined! Although, knowing her ability to book places of unique character and style, the jury is going to be out until I see first-hand the efforts Charlotte has made in acquiring this establishment, in peak season, in a very busy resort…
You might recall the 19€ holiday spent in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco where the bedroom temperature was below freezing and we went to bed fully clothed, keeping our heads under the layers of blankets all night as to leave them exposed was too painfully cold. Or the night spent in an Airbnb in Rouen, France which cost us the princely sum of 12€. That was a stunning apartment!
So the bar is set very low…limbo dancing low to be precise.
When I question Charlotte “how low can one go?”, she has the uncanny knack and singular ability to sniff out gems that defy even the meanest of miserly pockets; the most moth ridden purse or wallet. Accommodation that actually literally hovers millimetres above sleeping under the stars on a piece of cardboard. In fact, I’m sure that the change from down the back of my sofa could buy a night at higher class locations!
With all these thoughts in mind, we pack lightly and set forth, keeping the sun on the left-hand side of the car as it is nearly midday. A couple of hours later, we are cruising the Land Rover Discovery 4 (LR4) into the outskirts of La Rochelle in search of our destination (with parking).
Anyone who knows me will be well aware of my penchant for needing to know where I’m going. Not just where the route is taking me, but also the final destination. Specifically the pre-booked parking space which is, without doubt, the most important aspect of the whole drive.
With that intrinsic and essential part booked, I can relax on the journey as I know I won’t need to be diving for a space spotted at the last second, jamming on the brakes lest I overshoot, risking a rear-end shunt from the not so observant driver behind!
During my tenure as a Funeral Director, there was always a large space conveniently kept clear for my arrival outside a Church or Crematorium, making the fear of having to search for parking never an issue for me, or the crew I worked with.
So it is with surging internal trepidation we are unceremoniously waved from our pre-set satnav route by the local Gendarmerie onto tiny back roads and lanes, where at every attempt to rejoin said route, there is another officer waving us on or, making us perform a U-turn away from our night’s accommodation.
Checking the distance and noting it at less than 1km, Charlotte and I both agree that as we are hardly laden down with bags or cases, we can walk the distance without issue.
Arriving on foot at our lodgings, we are pleasantly surprised to see that there is indeed parking, if only we could have got to it. However, 9€ lighter and, as I’m not planning on driving for the rest of the weekend, we decided to leave the car where it is.
Our rooms turn out to be rather splendid, in a typically French way. The bed is firm and supportive, the facilities are modern and clean and our host is very keen to supply us with breakfast for the following two mornings. We decline her offer as a morning stroll along the harbour has its own rewards at the midpoint of the walk with a coffee and croissant. I say croissant, but I should point out that with the buttery goodness of the croissant, there also comes a pain au chocolat, along with a swirly, sugar coated, raisin infested, heavenly and delightfully, scrummytatious pastry… I have more than one…it would be rude not to, for Charlotte needs to keep my strength up!
As I don’t have a ‘Covid Passport’, eating out at restaurants in France is not going to be an option, not without a whole heap of embarrassment when we are asked to leave, more than once… so we finally opt for takeaways that Charlotte can buy and then pass to me. The leper. The one who should be waving a bell and shouting “unclean, unclean” as we wander the highways and byways of this quintessentially French, fortified seaside port.
However, we are the poshest winos on the beach.
Armed with a rather fruity Saint-Émilion vin rouge, a corkscrew and proper wine glasses (none of that plastic rubbish here you know), we are sat sitting, gazing into the western sunset out across the Atlantic Ocean where the sun is intent on waking our brethren on the eastern seaboard of America… Posh winos indeed!
Standards are maintained even when ‘one is abroad’…
We celebrate le week-end and multiple anniversaries in style. French style.
Charlotte now returns to England knowing that in one month, after 292 days, we will finally celebrate our reunification here in French France!
Roll on October!
Carry on regardless!
P.S. Tell me, who wasn’t thinking of the Kool & The Gang song when you read the title to this blog…!