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France is Amazing!

France is Amazing!

I wouldn’t rent a car again with Gare Montparnasse as the pick-up point — it’s more work than it’s worth just to be closer to Porte d’Orléans than from Gare de Lyon. But that’s what we did to make our way first to Celles, a tiny town (population about 550) southeast of Angoulême in the Aquitaine, Dordogne. Having gotten lost several times trying to find the way there, the trek, normally 5.5 hours from Paris by car or 2.25 hours by train, took 10 long hours…but no one minded…”France is amazing!”

That became the joke over the course of the four day circuit, from Paris through the Dordogne to Bordeaux then north to La Rochelle and back to Paris. At every turn there were pristine rolling green hillsides (or bright yellow fields of “Colza” [rape seed]), quaint centuries-old villages made up of stone cottages, usually with a church’s steeples looming over the red-roofed towns and independent farm houses nestled among barns and fields of a variety of crops. My traveling companion and long-time friend from Montreal snapped what she called “dashboard photos” — pictures with the dashboard of the car prominent in the foreground, the rain on the windshield obscuring the clarity of the scenes ahead of us.

The roads in France are “amazing” — kept in perfect condition, well marked and well functioning. Even when one moves from “A” routes (“autoroutes”) to “N” Routes (National roads) to “D” routes (Departmental roads), the quality remains high, despite the narrowness of the road or the number of lanes. We were lost for more than an hour on several
tiny roads only wide enough for one car in what seemed like the middle of nowhere — that nowhere being “La France Profonde.”

In Celles we stayed overnight at a long-time friend’s château, having been recently sold. A Dallas resident and “la châtelaine” of “La Cellette” since 1998, she’s now sadly in the process of moving out all her personal belongings in preparation for the new owners to take over every aspect of château living including the furnishings. Having been a welcome sale, it was both a happy and sad occasion to say “so-long” to the beautiful home with its ten bedrooms and stately grounds.

Bordeaux isn’t far from Celles and the Autoroute is fairly newly completed. Directional signs took us straight into the center of the city and into one of a few parking lots under the oldest and mostly pedestrian part of the city where we deposited the car for the night. The rain never let up for a moment, so, under umbrellas our first order of business was to have lunch and find a hotel. Walking around the district of the Opéra National de Bordeaux, we found a nice room at the Bordeaux Bayonne Etche-Ona, a Best Western Hotel (15 Cours de l’Intendance, 33000 Bordeaux, 05.56.48.00.88).

Bordeaux is a beautiful, elegant, pristine and stately city that bears no resemblance to Paris. The sleek snake-like trams quietly slip along the rails carrying their passengers with what seems like no effort at all. In the central district we saw few cars and the quiet calm of the city is evident. In the rain we shopped, wandered and discovered La Brasserie Bordelaise serving every sort of Bordeaux wine imaginable and every sort of other wine teeming with meat dishes such as the famed Entrecôte Charolaise, known to be some of the best meat in France. (La Brasserie Bordelaise, 50, rue Saint Rémi, 33000 Bordeaux, 05.57.87.11.91)

Easter Sunday was an important day of the trip. We set out to visit the gentleman who holds the rights of usage to the “viager” apartment I own, who has not lived in the apartment for many years, but lives with his nephew in a small village in the Charente-Maritime. Its location was between Bordeaux and La Rochelle, our next destiny. A “viager” property is a real estate agreement where property is sold on a reverse annuity basis. In this case, I own the apartment outright, but the original owner still holds the rights of usage till his death or until he is willing to give or sell the rights.

The gentleman has offered me the rights, but wants a kingly share. It seems only right that we should meet face to face — him now almost 90 years old. It wasn’t difficult to find the road or his address. Some of the houses were new, others old and renovated, with pools added and many with fresh gardens.

We knocked, but there was no one home. The neighbors were watching from their windows. I rang their bell and had a nice chat with the neighbor who told me that the gentleman had gone to a nursing home over a year ago. I left a bouquet of flowers with her to deliver to them with a note and also left a message on their phone to ring me. I’m still hopeful to make an arrangement with them so that something can be done with the vacated apartment.

(If you’d like to read the first four “chapters” of “VIAGER” WITH A VIEW,” click here /articles.php and scroll to the bottom for all four links to the articles.

Disappointed, we headed on to La Rochelle. It was a beehive of activity — a local collection of were ceramicists selling their wares at an open market along the Vieux Port. The parking lot was so full that we had no choice but pull into the parking lot of a hotel at the edge of the old city that “par hazard” had a perfect room for us. It couldn’t have been easier. The Hôtel Trianon et de la Plage (6, Rue Monnaie, 17000 La Rochelle, +33 5.46.41.21.35) is a tired old hotel, but the room was enormous with a view on the garden and the location was perfect, especially with the free parking.

La Rochelle is a stunning old port city on the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic Ocean and is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department. We discovered, when purchasing a bottle of “La Saintonge” — “Vin de Pays Charentais,” that “Saintonge” (the name of my street in Paris) is a small region within the Charente-Maritime “which derives its name from the ancient Gallic tribe of the Santones who lived in this area and was the center of the French Huguenots.” I felt closer to home than ever.

Today, before heading back to Paris, we’ll take a tour of the lovely and quaint Île de Ré — an island off the west coast that is completely flat, 30 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide — connected to La Rochelle by a 2.9 km (1.8 mi) bridge (the longest in France). This is where we intend to get a fair share of fresh oysters before being land-locked in the City of Light on a Monday night after four full days in “amazing France!”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
(Visiting the “Viager”)

Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. Tuesday afternoon, don’t miss the monthly coffee gathering of Parler Paris readers at “Parler Paris Après Midi,” 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais. Visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more information.

P.P.S. And if you haven’t already signed up for Judith Merian’s workshop, “Writing for the Independent Film Market,” it’s this coming
Saturday, April 18th, also at Le Pierre du Marais. Learn more and reserve your place by visiting /frenchproperty/conference/

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