I wake to the water lapping against the boat. My eyes open and focus on Clive’s face. Judging by the amount of light in the cabin, it must be around 7:30 in the morning. We rise from bed and decide to walk into town for coffee and breakfast. We’ve become fond of our daily 20-minute walk from where we docked our boat in the Port de Plaiusance to le Vieux Port (Old Harbor). From the marina, a pathway winds its way along the water and into the heart of La Rochelle. It’s Friday morning, and there’s hardly anyone around. As we make our way into the old Port, we decide to grab a table overlooking the harbor and main street, Quai Duperré. We sit in silence as we sip on our espresso and watch the people slowly emerge into the scene. I’ve always enjoyed observing people. Studying human behavior is probably one of my favorite things to do.
From where I sit, I’m admiring two 14th Century towers built to defend the old Port entrance. The Saint Nicolas Tower is probably one of the most photographed buildings in La Rochelle. It’s impressive no matter what vantage point. The French city of La Rochelle is situated on the Atlantic Ocean and was a major harbor on the Bay of Biscay exporting cheese, wine, and salt. Just north of La Rochelle is an Island, Ile de Ré, which produces anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 tons of salt per year. Baptiste told me not to leave La Rochelle without purchasing the most refined salt in all of France, Fleur de sel. I made sure before we set sail to buy this salt at the local market.
The Old Port streets are lined with boutiques, locally owned and operated restaurants, and plenty of places to enjoy a coffee or glass of wine. The French encourage long lunch breaks where businesses shut down between 12 pm and 2:00 pm. In La Rochelle, metered parking is FREE between 12-2 to motivate people to have lunch with friends and co-workers. Please note, restaurants will close after lunch and reopen around 7:00 pm. You will occasionally find a restaurant serving small plates and wine but don’t plan on going out for dinner before seven. The charming town encourages everyone to delight in an evening sip ’n’ stroll. Enjoy a glass of wine at your favorite local spot while the sunsets.
Being a lover of food and cooking, I relished our trips to the Central Market. The fruit and vegetable vendors line up outside. The bright colors held me captivated where I stood, and the heaping mounds of fruits and vegetables made it challenging to choose which vendor to buy. I saw the most beautiful red strawberries I’ve ever seen, rich orange carrots, and a healthy selection of almost any vegetable I could imagine. Once inside, the smell of fish provoked our nostrils, and the sight of fish on ice made my eyes widen. I’ve never had the stomach for looking at dead fish or visiting one butcher after another, but I sucked it up for Clive. I found myself standing in front of a table, selecting locally made spices for our galley, inquiring about the display of olive tapenade for dips, trying cheeses I’ve never heard of before, and with Google translate by my side. I successfully made it through. It’s incredible how far a smile will get you and knowing a few words of the local language. Oh, and hand gestures! Maybe it’s Italian in me, but when I can’t communicate with someone, I resort to a game of charades.