> Futuruscope and Poitou Charentes
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Futuroscope, Poitiers and La Rochelle
3H07 by TGV
At Futuroscope there was something for everyone in the combination of virtual rides and real rides. Giant wrap-around cinema screens and powered seats have been around for a while, but they have the same enduring attraction for some of us as 19th Century merry-go-rounds. We had a wide choice of films, including Hurricane Katrina roaring into New Orleans. I’m not a big fan of wearing 3D glasses, but I’m older. As a family we enjoyed watching the cartoon Arthur pop out of the screen.
For the real rides, Kay, who is 8, loved driving little electric cars on tiny city streets, a mobile version of playing house. Jay, going-on-11, was in his element running the squirt cannon on our watercraft. He and some of the pirates on other boats were well soaked, and I didn’t mind being “collateral damage” on a hot afternoon. Later, Jay said, “Futuroscope is cool, but that water ride is awesome.”
France Rail Pass’partner:
0H07 by regional train
At the end of the afternoon we went back to the station and took the train for 7 minutes to Poitiers, where we found our hotel for two nights. Anywhere in America you know that “Orlando” means family vacations, and in France, “Poitiers” is the same on a smaller scale with the French touch. The town is the capital of the Vienne department, and since Vienne politicians decided to build Futuroscope in 1986, the area has grown attractions like mushrooms.
The tourist office across from the thousand-year-old Notre Dame la Grande church was loaded with ideas. If our kids were a little older and we a little younger, we might have chosen a canoe trip, water skiing, or Velorail, a thing where you pedal a cart about 10 miles on an abandoned railroad track. But problems of logistics and time brought the choices down to visits to Snake Island, Crocodile Planet and Monkey Valley. Debate was fierce, but when my wife weighed in for the monkeys over the crocs, that was it. We could get there on a tourist bus that ran from Poitiers in July and August, which was another French adventure.
The Vallée des Singes is an outdoor zoo, with trails and signs and 30 species of primates (31 counting us). We especially enjoyed the black bonobo pygmy chimpanzees that share 98% of their DNA with humans and act like it.
Back in Poitiers, we took one of the self-guided walks following a yellow line on the sidewalk through the medieval streets. I could have spent some time at the Cité de l’Ecrit et des Métiers du Livre, a place devoted to writing and book making, but our young leaders were eager to find broyés du Poitou. Our host at breakfast, who spoke English very well, had told us about this big cookie that you break into pieces by hitting it with your fist. Naturally, we had to buy two.
1H21 by regional train or TGV
The following morning we left for La Rochelle, another old French city loaded with history. As the train moved along, I read from The Three Musketeers: “La Rochelle, deprived of help from the British fleet and the diversion promised by Buckingham, surrendered after a yearlong siege. On the 28th of October 1628 the capitulation was signed. The King returned to Paris on December 23. People said it was a triumph, as if he was coming home from defeating the enemy, and not other French.”
The slogan for the town is “La Rochelle, belle et rebelle,” beautiful and rebellious.
Rebellion is mostly historic, as King Louis XIII won his seige, but you could say a rebellious spirit hangs on here. In World War II, the mayor resisted orders of a German lieutenant to fly the Nazi flag because the mayor outranked him as a colonel in the French reserves. More recently, the town became the first in France to push back against automotive exhaust pipes. Today it has a system of electric cars and bicycles for people to share, electric busses, electric trucks delivering goods downtown, and we crossed the 13th Century harbor on an electric ferry to get a waterside look at its protective stone towers.
La Rochelle’s beauty started at the magnificent train station, a former fort later decorated with stone carvings of trains and lobsters, and it continues throughout the old city. My wife and I love the narrow streets and old stone of France, but kids are kids, and we spent our afternoon in the Aquarium after sharing licks of ice cream cones at Ernest le Glacier. (Jay didn’t like my lime and basil, but I liked his chocolaty Bischoco.)
The Aquarium is one of the biggest in Europe, with 600 species of fish and a huge shark tank. We learned about the leatherback sea turtle that eats jellyfish off this coast and is in danger of extinction. There is a research unit here in the aquarium that keeps track of the handful of sightings each year. We stared at the ocean a while but didn’t see one. Kay did hold hands (through the glass) with a starfish.
We took hundreds of pictures, and it’s good that we did because we were so busy doing so much, I’m not sure we would remember it all without those digital souvenirs. Every night we were exhausted, and we dozed all the way back to Paris on the TGV.
France Rail Pass’partner:
LA ROCHELLE - PARIS MONTPARNASSE
2H53 by TGV
* (2011 frequency)
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 December 2011 15:21|