Birthday Island

October 1, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Waking up in Pornic, I took things slow. I had to make the short 50km ride into Fromentine. That's where I would take the ferry to L'île-D'Yeu at 7pm. Many campers and cabins in the French campgrounds are empty this time of year. So I wiped off the table outside out of a camper and sat down for breakfast.

The early days of my trip consisted of careful route-tracking. Notes, maps, and a bit of getting lost. But this was another day where I just kept the ocean to my right and pedaled. There are many VeloOcean postings near the sea, but they aren't always the best route. I followed them for a while, but found that they kept pulling me away from the water. On small neighborhood streets and winding behind the seaside development. The trail also meanders and changes so often that it's difficult to get a good pedaling cadence. Rhythm is important, and I preferred to take the slightly busier roads so that I could keep a pace.

I eventually wound up on some farmland about 20km north of Fromentine. The roads were straight and smooth, if a bit far from the water. The entire area was swarming with tiny flies with shiny wings. Perhaps because of the wetlands and cattle, they were absolutely everywhere. I was constantly brushing the bastards out of the hair on my legs, off my shirt and even from my sunglasses. Sometimes I could see a small tempest of them approaching at about head-height and I would duck down as low as possible to avoid them. Whenever I stopped to check my directions, I would shake them out of my hair. A half dozen or more would come flittering out and fly away. Awful.

I had the option of sticking to the farmland nearly all the way to Fromentine. Instead I chose to take the larger road which I figured would be bug-free.

It wasn't. Instead I dealt with bugs and traffic. I held a solid line for about an hour, hugging the shoulder and occasionally brushing the shiny flies away. Finally I made it into Fromentine and headed directly for the ferry station. I had a rude surprise awaiting me there. The ticket prices I had investigated earlier weren't for a round trip. Begrudgingly, I paid for a ticket that would bring me back two days later. If my host on the island didn't want to host for two nights, I could find something else. But it wasn't worth the money to turn right back around again.

I had several hours to kill so I went to the local supermarket to buy lunch. In fact, I walked around it for a long time hoping I could find hummus or salsa. Being unable to find either made me miss home, but I found plenty of other good snacks and took them to the beach. That's where I spent most of my day, writing and eating.

The boat to L'île D'Yeu from Fromentine feels like a passenger jet. You have to stay seated for the ride and can't go outside and catch the seabreeze. I sat expectantly, not knowing exactly who or what was even on the island. And I'd paid a lot of money to spend my birthday there.

My host had told me just to get off the ferry and head for the church bell tower. He works at a movie theater nearby. As I got off the boat and walked out into the short dusk, I worried for the first time that this paltry bit of information might not be quite enough.

I rode from the port up the most logical nearby street. The bell tower of the church was visible, and I wound around the serpentine streets for a short time before locating the squat theater. My host was waiting there. We had exchanged emails in English, so when we met we alternated between English and French in quick awkward bursts before settling on speaking strictly French at my request.

He had to work until late, so I sat in the theatre eating and chatting and doing a bit more writing. Then we went out for drinks on the port. The island has a couple of small villages, the biggest of which lies right on the port. The street is lined with restaurants and bars and looks out over the harbor. I had a whiskey and listened to the French band cover American songs. At midnight, we raised our glasses to celebrate my birth.

The next morning, G. and I had croissants and coffee and waited for his friend to arrive with her car. Once she did, we went for a tour of the island on four wheels. The island is lousy with cyclists. Tourists of all ages, income levels, and cycling experience swarm the streets in swerving unpredictable masses. This is of no concern to G.'s friend, who drives madly. She accelerates quickly around every sharp corner on every narrow street. To my estimate, about 37 cyclists nearly lost their lives that day. I gripped the door handle while trying to make it look like I wasn't.


And, so, the island is gorgeous.

The larger village on the island.

We visited the small port on the other side of the island.

It is a lot smaller.

After our tour, we had some pizza at a local spot. It was the third time I've eaten a pizza in France that was called “La 4 Saisons.” Which I guess is the generic name for “all of the vegetables we have.”
G. headed off to work and I went back to his friend D.'s place to was my clothes and read in a lawn chair. This is how I spent my birthday: I washed my clothes. But I was totally content. After I had read for a while and they finished drying, I headed back to the movie theater to watch the new Jason Bourne movie–which is bad.
After the movie, we went back to G.'s place. We drank wine and ate food and talked about music. In the morning I went for a walk around the neighborhood to get more pictures. In Brittany, all of the shutters, window trim, fences, and doors are the same shade of blue. It's a dark, royal blue. On the island, they paint things different colors in some sort of weird anti-continental defiance.

Same shutter, different color.

After my walk, we went for coffee and croissants again and the walked the half-dozen kilometers to the island's biggest tourist destination–the chateau.

Everyone who has visited the chateau has taken this picture.

I didn't have much time left on the island. We headed back to the movie theater, where I briefly used the wifi and got my things together. Then I headed off on the ferry.
Back on the continent, it was getting late. I chose the nearest campground in town. The office was closed, and there were no other tent campers. I picked a spot in the back of the campground in a pine forest. I saw no employees in the morning, either.