09 March 2013

Giving Sophie a taste of La Vie Melloise

So, Sophie's here. Well she would still be if I updated my blog on time. Let's pretend it's 10 days ago and Sophie is indeed in France's Poitou-Charente.

As she was only going to be here for 3 full days we decided not to venture too far and instead show her what there is relatively locally. So on Wednesday we stayed in Melle. I won't go into much detail seeing as I've already bored you all on numerous prior occasions about Melle. But we just walked for hours around town, visiting the churches, walking around the old fortifications, strolling along the Chemin de la Decouverte, and getting the most delicious chausson aux pommes from the boulangerie. With the sun breaking through here and there it once again reminded me how much I love it here and am proud to call it my town.

Probably definitely taken a pretty much identical shot somewhere along the line, but anyway...La Beronne river
Thursday we went to Niort. We did a spot of shopping before the sun came out, then had a picnic on the river, then went into a couple of churches, and then, something I hadn't yet done, we went into the Donjon which is Niort's castle. Free for 25-and-unders, the visit included the history of the building and Niort itself, details of its construction and modifications over the years, and lots of narrow windy staircases in the turrets. But my favourite bit was getting to go up onto the roof to get 360º views across Niort.
Sophie on the roof of the Donjon de Niort with the impressive Eglise Saint-André in the background
View NW of Niort with the Eglise Saint-Étienne close by
Neither taken on this particular day, but here's the front and back of the Donjon (although I'm not sure which way's which...)
If I was a decent blogger I'd now go on to educate you on a brief history of Niort and its castle, but I'm feeling somewhat lazy today, so if you're feeling curious, I recommend a certain website of the name 'Wikipedia'... :P

On Friday we had planned on going with Mike to Saintes, a city in the Charente-Maritime that I've wanted to go to for months. With it being fairly difficult and time-consuming to get to from Melle without a car, it was necessary that we take the 06:50 bus out of Melle, in order to get to Niort in time to get the 07:38 train to Saintes, which was the only direct train there for the day or there abouts. Who comes up with these ideas?! Whoever it is, I'm not his greatest fan. A 05:45 alarm was very unwelcome indeed, but we wanted to go to Saintes. So we caught the bus, updated Mike (who had stopped over in Niort the night before) on our progress, asked him to get our tickets as it'd be touch and go whether we'd have time, pulled into Niort at 07:35, legged it, found Mike by the ticket machines, made our way to the platform...


...and watched our train leaving without us. Putain de merde! Having envisaged this might be the case, and with the weather forecast promising a gorgeously sunny day, our Plan B had been to get the bus to Coulon. But Monsieur Météo had been telling lies, and it was in fact gloomy and totally overcast. So we knocked that idea on the head and took the next bus back to Melle. That's a waste of 5 hours if ever I saw one.

Instead, Sophie and I decided to go for a walk in the afternoon, when the sun had finally come out a bit (although still nothing like as predicted), to a nearby village called Saint-Romans-les-Melle. A fortnight earlier Rob and I had tried to do this walk, but being mapless we had unknowingly taken the wrong road right near the beginning of the walk thus ensuring we obliviously walked 1 hour in the wrong direction. It's meant to have a nice church and a washhouse though, so I still wanted to walk there at some point. So after carefully studying the route on Google Maps, Sophie and I set off. It was a nice picturesque walk there, along an old Roman country road with the sun slowly getting stronger. But when we got to Saint-Romans we couldn't find the church. I mean, normally they're pretty easy to spot with a steeple or a bell tower, but we could not find it. On a small scale map we saw there was apparently 2 churches, and a temple in this place, but they were obviously hiding from us. We took what seemed like every road possible (which in a village of a population of 700 this isn't too difficult), and thought we'd have to call it a day after 45 minutes of searching, or else the sun would be down before we got home. But we finally found it, the Eglise St-Romans, at the bottom of the village in the little valley. We later read, on an information board inside the church, that its unusual location is due to 'ground constraints' when it was built in the 12th century. So we didn't feel quite so silly. Anyway, it was a really pretty church, with a mini grotto/shrine thing opposite, and a really old crumbling graveyard on the side of the hill. We also found the washhouse. In the late afternoon sun, it was lovely.

L’église Saint-Romans, 12th century 
Old graveyard with some graves dating to the 1800s. The church is at the bottom of the hill.
The lavoir de la fontaine de Font Maye
The grotto/shrine thing to Our Lady that reminded me a bit of the Grotto in Lourdes
The silhouetted graveyard
On our way back we went past a spooky abandoned chapel which had crumbling murals, broken windows, and plants growing inside. I love coming across stuff like this, it makes me feel like I'm in a movie!

Creaky rusty gates, overgrown graveyard, crumbling walls....glad I didn't stumble upon this at night.
And then it was Saturday, and Sophie had to go home :( But we still had a good few hours in La Rochelle before she had to get to the airport, so we did a bit of shopping, had lunch on the harbour front, and once again took advantage of being under 25 and went up 2 of La Rochelle's towers for free. Although a bit boring inside, it gave us nice views over La Rochelle and the sea. I'm sure the views would have been a lot nicer on a warmer and sunnier day, but it was cool nonetheless.
View across the Vieux Port from Tour de la Chaine
View over the Rochelais rooftops from Tour de la Lanterne
Then Sophie left, and there was one.

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