Check me out! Not quite a month since we returned from our holiday and I've "already" got photos from the camera to the laptop and onto typepad. Ninja speed!
Overall, we had a brilliant time together exploring la Vendée, although as with any holiday, there were stressful moments/hours/days and most of these for us centred around being lost or hungry and being unable to find our destination or somewhere which served food not composed entirely of dairy, which three out of four of us can't tolerate. However, I didn't bother to stop and take photos of my hangry face or my miserable, whining children, so we don't have any photos of the crappy moments to share!
We were all excited when we packed up our car and headed to Folkestone to catch the train under the sea.
I had a Giant Folder of Organisation, containing every document, map and piece of information we'd need for the next 9 days. Most thrilling for an organisational freak like moiself!
And we made sure we had plenty to keep the children busy in the back of the car. Retrospectively, crayons would have been wiser. We got MOST of the pen off her before we arrived in France, leaving just a faintly green tinge to her skin.
I was really excited to see Master R and Miss O's faces when we got on a train in our car and then went into the darkness under the sea. What a cool experience! Unfortunately, due to a "no, you can't have diddy right this second now" tantrum, we brought out the borrowed tablets just as we started queuing for the Eurostar. I'm not convinced the children looked out the window for more than 3 seconds, despite all my enthusiastic narrating of what was happening. Standard!
The rest of that day was spent driving through France. That evening we managed to find a roadside diner that we could have a basic burger and chip type meal, and pretend to be Ancient Gauls. Winner.
The next morning, we woke up in our beautiful French gite and ate cornflakes we'd smuggled in, as we weren't due in the breakfast room until 9:15. We learnt that the French do everything much later than us. Sleep in later, eat later, sleep later. Everything later. Even changing time zone didn't help us out that much!
It really was a beautiful place to stay. The evening before, we stretched our travel weary bodies by running round the garden playing ninjas, and looking at the alpaca, sheep and goat that the host keeps.
Then it was more driving! With the borrowed map of la Vendée I tracked our progress from one page to the next. I know, we had a SatNav too, but I wanted to KNOW where we were. Plus, Master R and I were drawing our route on a map we'd stuck in our summer holiday scrapbook (yes, I am THAT kind of mother), and the previous day's route had been vague, because I honestly wasn't sure where we'd travelled!
And finally, five hours later, we arrived at Saint Jean de Monts, on a cloudy but warm afternoon!
Sand! So. Much. Sand. Seriously, this beach is 10 times the width of Felixstowe. And the sand is so much softer. It is exquisite. We had a great run around, dipped our toes in the Atlantic Ocean and relaxed for a while.
The rest of this afternoon was really arduous though, as we'd skipped lunch and hoped to eat in town. But of course, all the restaurants were closed until the evening, so we decided to find our campsite. With co-ordinates which didn't work, an incorrect road address, a vague memory from Google maps of where it MIGHT be located and no roaming internet to check. We were lost and hungry for some considerable time before we finally arrived at our campsite. We may or may not have gone around one mini roundabout in the wrong direction. We may or may not have lost our tempers. The key point is we did get there in the end and we found sausages and sweetcorn to accompany our pesto pasta. We even made it to the splashpark to play and swim before bedtime.
The next day we found the nearest beach, which, rather than being an 8 minute stroll through a clearly marked path, was a 20 hike up really high dunes on a path we couldn't find for about 10 minutes. Suffice to say we visited this particular beach just the once! See how exhausted Miss O was? She had a lovely 40 minute snooze in the sand to recover from the trip there. It was quite a challenge removing all the sand from her face afterwards!
Meanwhile, Master R and I communed with the sea...
... and dug a HUGE hole. We do love a beach day. And a wonky horizon. Oh, and it was on this beach that we were Selected For Time. You know, when someone chooses you as the most responsible person nearby likely to have and be willing to share the time. In French, and using Rachel's watch, because mine broke in January and I haven't successfully acquired a new one yet. I have tried, but I've returned two and given up. Anyway, I was proud that I was able to A: tell the time accurately and B: translate it into French.
We visited lots of local attractions while we were there, and that was what the Vendée does really well, in my opinion. So many tourist attractions and each one exceeded our expectations. I don't know if that's because, being from South-East England, our expectations is that tourist attractions are painfully expensive and pretty crappy, or whether they are just particularly good in this area.
This was the Dino Park in St Giles de la Croix (or St Hilaire de Riez... one of the two). I love having a go at some cave painting! Tried to keep it authentic!
Car based picnic. Every picnic of the week involved a baguette (we tried le tradition, le rustique and le normal), salad, crisps from a mega family bag we acquired at the Super U and some sliced meat. Sometimes some leftover pesto pasta. We did miss pork pies and scotch eggs, but we didn't go hungry.
The dino park had a great little play area with some fab inflatables (Miss O was too scared to climb in the giant caterpillar obastacle course, but got to grips with one later in the week at Youpla'land).
In think this was later that day at St Giles de le Croix. We were thrilled to find a TWO STOREY carousel. Rachel and I managed to chose horses that didn't go up and down and only noticed once we were going round! Oh well!
We saw a fair few quaint docking areas in the local villages.
The Ile de Noirmoutier was a great day out. We started at the Aquarium, where the sealion show was very entertaining (and looooong), but their narration was so fast I could only pick out every 10th word, so translating it for the children was more guesswork based on my own knowledge of sealions!
We explored around the outside of the chateau...
... and, at Master R's request, inside too. It was very reasonably priced actually, and both children were free! Bonus!
The higher up you climbed, the better the views became:
And on the way back from Noirmoutier, we took "le gois" rather than "le pont". It was really thrilling, mostly because we were well beyond lowtide point, trusting the chef in the place we'd eaten lunch to know how late we could safely cross and all the signs make it seem really hazardous!!
But the sea was MILES out. Just miles of mud flats. I imagine when it comes in, in comes in fast. And the tall "safety points" along with way (basically a big ladder to a small platform) added to the air of danger!
We got a great view of the bridge we'd taken on the way there too!
My favourite day out was to the Biotopia which was in Notre Dame de Monts. Terrific interactive museum about the dunes and the forests of the area, then you followed and iPad through the different parts of the landscape to the coast and back, meeting animated creatures like butterflies and wild boars, watching videos and completing challenges.
It was awesome!
This ringsling came everywhere with us, because Miss O is very much into being carried even when she isn't necessarily tired, just for the comfort factor. I think my rainbow ringsling might have been out on hire with the sling library, so I used this instead. It was very long though. I had to tuck my tail in!
These two can't resist the lure of a good climbing tree. Little primates.
These snails live all over the place... it was so funny seeing hundreds of them resting on plants and posts.
Another day we went to Youpla'land, which was a big outdoor inflatable park for chiddlers. Master R surprised us by climbing up to the top of a huge slide and whizzing down. Usually, he is very cautious about any ride or equipment which might "go too fast", but he was so confident! It was complete role-reversal as he persuaded Miss O, who was very worried about it, to try it out. Every other time it's been the other way around!
Another surprising thing was that they loved playing the simple giant Connect 4 game. We played it over and over. Master R was beginning to understand the tactics, but Miss O's only tactic was to put one on top of his, and she's very resistant to taking advice, so she was frequently disappointed. Never for long though, because there were so many things to do. And a little train which ran every half hour. A bell would ring and all the children would run from all over the place to get a seat!
The golf course we visited that afternoon was the scene of the Most Incredible Moment of the holiday. On this tremendously challenging hole, representing the dunes on the local beaches, a hole which it took me no fewer than eleventy billion attempts to even reach the "green", Master R GOT A HOLE IN ONE! Unbelievable!
Miss O quickly realised that golf is frustrating and difficult when you're only 3, so put herself in charge of the scorecard instead.
We built the most magnificent walled town we've ever attempted, inspired by the castle of Noirmoutier. Master R and Miss O were so patient and helped as carefully as their little hands allowed.
How awesome is this?
Then we went for another ride on the ferris wheel. We'd gone on it already, but that was on a very grumpy morning during which we'd left both the camera and both phones in the little house. The children LOVED the ferris wheel. Miss O kept talking about "when things went smaller, smaller!"
Fabulous views. And a great place from which to check out all the restaurants with the zoom function!
One the way home, we stayed at this gorgeous little gite, overlooking the Seine. We had a hilarious surprise when the SatNav announced as we turned a corner "turn left and let's take that ferry!" (The SatNav is currently a male voice from New Zealand, which is fun. We've yet to work out what the "jandles, togs and chillibun" we're supposed to collect before we exit the car at our destination are!! We're thinking sandals, clothes and SOMETHING ELSE... Update: Rachel has Googled and it's a chilly-bin - a receptacle to keep drinks cold! In that case, I'm happy to report that we took those with us on each occasion that we exited the car!)
To our astonishment, our gite was the other side of the Seine, so after a quick chat with the ferryman (don't worry, I didn't pay him. Free ferry.), we did indeed, take the ferry! I have hilarious photos of our astonished faces, but they're on my phone.
It was a beautiful old house, and we were in the attic room, up a secret staircase behind a locked door, which was utterly thrilling for the small people. (It was pretty thrilling for me too!) And the view! It was incredible. In bed that night, we collaborated on a story about the cute baby owls that live in the attic of the haunted house on the top of the opposite hill. The next morning, complaining that that story wasn't scary enough, we collaborated on a more thrilling story of how the Ninjago ninjas freed the trapped spirits and made it a happy, inhabitable place once more.
Much maniacal chasing, shrieking and giggling.
Much, much colouring. We finished the colouring book we took with us and some of the pictures are so beautifully shaded we've put them in the "keep forever" box.
Rachel and I also managed to spend some time trying to master ludicrously complicated card games, and crocheting on the odd occasion the children went to sleep and a reasonable hour.
Thanks for being you during this holiday. I've made some great memories which will be with me for life.
Master R, I hope you remember some of the things we did together. Maybe you'll remember watching me eat mussels with grim fascination. Maybe the rides on the ferris wheel, or the adventure round the castle. I hope you remember the fun we had exploring the dunes, building sand sculptures and splashing in the pool. You learnt to swim with your head out of the water, which you're so pleased about. And you can easily swim 5m underwater now, lifting your head to breathe. You played football with a French family staying opposite (and were deeply impressed by how skilled little Yannick, aged only 3, was). You said whispered "merci"s to waitresses and kept saying "people are going to wonder why I'm eating my necklace!", when your treat at the end of a restaurant meal was one of those edible necklaces.
Miss O, I hope you're left with a "feeling memory" of going to a strange land where we lived in a little house and swam lots. You do keep asking when we can go back to our "little house", and I have to explain that it's a 10 hour journey away. Maybe you'll remember feeling shy when we arrived at the first B&B at the same time as three other people and all the adults around you started jabbering in fast French. Maybe you'll remember all the croissants and learning to like baguettes, which is incredible, because until this year you've never really eaten bread full stop.
Happy holidays, kiddos.