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Visiting La Rochelle (2)
The Tourism Office of La Rochelle (click for website) is at 2, Quai Georges Simenon in Le Gabut area. It is just across the bridge if you are coming out of the Aquarium entrance. This is the place to go to sign up for any walking excursions and to get the city map. It will also be able to help you find a hotel according to your budget. If you want to eat out with a good view of the old port go to Quai du Gabut nearby with its raised plankway and row of restaurants and bars.
In 2013 a ticket to the Aquarium for a once-in-a-lifetime experience costs 15.00 euros. From the entrance to the exit everything is done to make you feel that you are part of the aquatic world. The aquarium is within walking distance from the railway station and opens 365 days in a year, closing as late at 23h00 in July and August. In fact as you come out of the railway station walk across the road, enter the small park at your left, walk across it, cross the bridge and you are there!
Façade of the Médiathèque Michel-Crépeau, a three-storey library which attracts tourists as well as the local populace (entrance is free). Note that it's closed on Thursdays and Sundays and open from 13h00 to 19h00 on the other days (plus Wed. 10-12 noon). The mediatheque has a great collection of books and magazines and is so spacious and comfortable that on rainy days this is the place to go to read up the big collection of books on La Rochelle.
Main bus terminus at Place de Verdun. A bus ticket is valid for 60 minutes of travel in all directions and costs 1.30 euros. If you think you'll be making at least 10 bus trips you might as well buy a card for 10 trips costing 11 euros. Such cards are available from any "tabac" (= tobacconist's), at the bus terminus or at the Tourism Office.
This 19th Century market (Marché du XIX) not far from Place de Verdun is open every morning but on Wednesdays and Saturdays it becomes even more lively with stalls set up on all the surrounding streets. In an earlier visit to La Rochelle I had seen fish being sold right by the quay at the old harbour but I was told those days are over.
Huge fish for sale at the market. Not surprising seeing that La Rochelle was at one time a fishing village. It is also at this market that you can buy paella or Indian chicken curry cooked before your eyes. For 7.50 euros you'll have a far more delicious and cheaper picnic lunch than any of the restaurants in the city.
Gateway to the Vieux Port of La Rochelle. The Tour de la Chaîne (left) built in the 14th century, acquired its name from the huge chain which was hung every night between it and the Tour Saint Nicolas (right) to close the port to ships.
Charlie Chaplin's silhouette on wall of Mega CGR Cinemas towers over the cars parked at Technoforum next to McDonald's and the University of La Rochelle. There is a good meat restaurant called La Boucherie here if you want to go on a splurge.
The Météo France building in La Rochelle. Slightly hidden but not too far from the Médiathèque if you walk along the promenade this building is open to the public from 9h-12h and 14h-17h.
Esplanade along Avenue Michel Crepeau. This esplanade leads all the way from the old port to the Port des Minimes (half an hour's walk).
The railway station (Gare SNCF) at La Rochelle. There are special buses just outside the station to take you to the various towns in Ile de Ré.
Chambre de Metiers building along Avenue Michel Crepeau. Also harbours the "Maison des Metiers".
The Big Clock Tower (La Grosse Horloge) in La Rochelle. It is not only the gateway to its historical past but also leads to its main shopping area at rue du Palais. Get your provisions for the day's needs at the Monoprix here.
A statue of Henri IV all alone high up at the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) and easily missed by the unobserving public. The main post office is nearby. (Picture taken on a starless night). You will not see this now as huge renovation works are going on here.
The "sea bus" (Bus de Mer). This little green boat plies between the old harbour and the Port des Minimes. Costing 2.50 euros the 20-minute trip provides a rare view of La Rochelle from the sea.
When they talk about the three towers in La Rochelle they are referring to the St Nicholas Tower (St. Nicolas), the Chain Tower (La Chaine) and the Lantern Tower (La Lanterne). The last, however, looks more like a church steeple than a tower and was originally a lighthouse. It is also near here that you'll find the beach of La Rochelle (Plage de la Concurrence). These "three towers" are the remains of the original fortifications (the St Nicholas and the Lantern Towers were later used as prisons). If you intend to visit all the three towers it is worth buying a multi-day pass (billet groupé) as it also entitles you to take the "Passeur" boat to the other side of the harbour (where the Médiathèque is).
At the old harbour (Vieux Port) you will sometimes see boats put up for sale. You will know they are for sale if you see a signboard with the word "Occasion" on it ("occasion" means secondhand in French). These boats are moored right at the very edge of the quay. And if you think you've found your boat you might as well celebrate it at one of the restaurants nearby. For this area is not only a hunting ground for old boats it is also a favorite dining place because of its concentration of seafood restaurants
Non-polluting electric cars for hire. Once you pay a monthly subscription fee (with a minimum period of 3 months) you will be allowed to make use of any of the cars. You pay according to the usage time and mileage totalled during the month. You have to leave the cars in one of the seven stations for the purpose and collect them from there each time you need to use them (they're available round the clock throughout the year). La Rochelle was the first French town experimenting with the use of electric cars.
The Musée Maritime is separated by a footbridge from the Aquarium. This maritime museum is actually composed of two ships - the main one being France 1 which is 76 metres long. Here the visitor can climb down the narrow stairs to visit the four decks (ponts in French). You will be able to inspect the machine room, the commandant's post, the kitchen, dining-room, cabins, etc. France 1 was stationed in the North Atlantic Ocean for meteorological readings as well as rescue operations.
Landscape gardening combined with landscape architecture here are aimed at bringing the townsfolk closer to nature. An example of how one can bring nature to the city.
Residences built around Le Lac de la Sole. Believe it or not over a decade ago the whole area was still a vast expanse of swampy land. A truly architectural feat indeed!
Ducks find the swamps around the Lac de la Sole a nice place to be in. Around this lake has grown up a little township with scores of residences built in an agreeable and harmonious setting.
Port de plaisance des Minimes. This place is renowned as Europe's largest marina for pleasure boats and yachts. The international nautical saloon (Grand Pavois) is held here every year and is attended by 2,000 professionals.
The beach here (Plage des Minimes) is near to the youth hostel and is better than the one called Plage de la Concurrence. Early every morning a tractor sifts the sand on the beach to make sure that it is spotlessly clean for the day's crowds.
The lighthouse at the end of the world (Le Phare du bout du monde) at the Minimes beach is a replica of the one in Staten Island, east of Cape Horn . They are a hommage to Jules Verne, one of whose books carried that name.