M1623 – Green Venice

In my last pair of posts, M1623 – Bordeaux walkabout 1 and M1623 – Bordeaux walkabout 2, I described my long and hot walkabout around the lovely city of Bordeaux, and how we set sail downriver at 11pm after two days there.

By the following morning we were back out at sea, and awaking bright and early I pulled back the thick curtains in my cabin to see what looked like a super dawn through the portholes. I quickly threw on some clothes and rushed up on deck, and instantly started snapping these beautiful sights:

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By the time the sun had risen I was a little bit late for breakfast with my friend, but she knows me well and had easily guessed where I was and why I was late!

Later that morning we sailed into our penultimate port, La Pallice, which is the commercial port close to La Rochelle. As we approached the quayside we could see lots of large jellyfish drifting in the clear water:

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The port is very much a commercial port, with just a small cruise terminal building tucked in one corner of the quay:

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The port is located in the channel between La Rochelle on the mainland, and the long flat island of Île de Ré. The island is 30km long but only 5km wide, and it’s highest point is only 20m above sea level. The island is mainly a tourist destination – it’s population swelling hugely during the summer months, and it serves as a hideaway for the rich and the famous. Access to the island used to be by ferry boats, but long delays in summer resulted in a 2.9km bridge being built to connect it to the mainland:

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To the north and east of La Rochelle lies Marais Poitevin, which is the second largest wetland in France covering approximately 0.5% of the total land mass of the country. This marshland can be divided into two parts, the Marais Mouille (wet marshes which are known locally as the Venise Vert or Green Venice), and the Marais Dessèche (dry marshes). This former sea gulf has been developed by man for over 10 centuries, and throughout the wetland there are over 24,000km of canals & ditches with a further 600km of wider canals & rivers.

The ship’s tour I had chosen to take was to visit part of the Marais Mouille (or Green Venice), exploring some of the beautiful tree-lined canals in a traditional small flat-bottomed boat.

A coach took us to the little village of Coulon, deep in the Marais Mouille. From the edge of the village our local guide led us along a footpath to the canal that flows through the village centre:

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The guide explained that we would be travelling for around an hour along the canals in a number of the small boats to the nearby village of La Garette, the boats being punted along by local young people. A second coach was taking the tour in reverse, so we had a wait of around 45 minutes for the boats to arrive in Coulon from La Garette, which we used as free time to explore Coulon.

Passing this striking statue of a dragonfly, I made my way to the village church, where once again there were some impressive stained glass windows to be seen:

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Nearby were a couple of souvenir shops, and outside one was this curious pump for dispensing drink:

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Passing this antiques shop I slowly made my way back to the canal:

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It was another very hot and sunny day, and any spots in the shade close to where we were to wait for the boats was already taken by the time I got there. After a while the string of boats appeared from around a corner, and one by one their passengers carefully disembarked, and passengers from our coach replaced them. We boarded in groups of 6 or 8, I was in a group of 6 and I was delighted to be given one of the seats at the front of the boat which was so much better for photography.

It was so peaceful gliding along the narrow canals with no engine noise to disturb us. The local guide had warned us that the people punting the boats spoke little English, but that did not matter as we were all enjoying the tranquillity. It was also blissfully cool in the shade of the tall trees that had been planted along the banks of the canals to help secure them. There was quite a maze of canals, but at many of the junctions there were posts giving directions.

To begin with there were quite a number of the small boats close together, some from our party and others that had been hired out and which were being propelled less skillfully, but was time wore on the boats spread out and it became even more tranquil:

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As we neared our destination of La Garette, we joined up with two other boats so that the people doing the punting could show off their party piece. The sediment at the bottom of the canals contains rotting vegetation, which gives off methane gas. Using a paddle they stirred up the sediment, and bubbles of the gas rose to the surface, which they lit with a cigarette lighter:

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All too soon it was time to disembark and walk through the village of La Garette to our waiting coach:

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Returning to the port, we found a long queue of passengers in the small terminal building. Each day in France we had been told to take our passports or driving licences ashore, and for the first time they were being checked against our ship’s identity card before we were allowed through to board the ship. By the time I was back on board there was just time to change for dinner, during which we set sail for what was sadly our last port on this cruise.

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