Dykes on Bikes

This place had everything today: sun, countryside and in Challans about 10 miles away, a Leclerc supermarket and a McDonalds with McWiFi. First we went to McDonalds to publish a couple of blog postings (two espressos but no McTasteless McChicken with McYankee sauce this time), then next door to a brilliant Leclerc supermarket to do three days’ shopping.

Here’s a glaring example of one of the differences between English and French supermarkets. In Challans, not an enormous town, in addition to the usual wide variety of fish, we had live crabs crawling all over the counter (€3.50 per Kg), live langoustines twitching at the customers, and cart loads of moules de boulots (mussels) that customers eagerly shovelled into large bags to have weighed, priced and sealed. It is quite normal in France to see live lobsters and crabs on supermarket fish counters. Live crustaceans are as rare as hens’ teeth in England – I’ve certainly never seen anything live in a supermarket. In Challans, the fish counter is more than 50 feet long and had four staff who were constantly busy using a numbered ticket serving system. The prawn section on this counter was the size of an entire fish counter in England (assuming that there is one at all). We bought some white tuna to slather in mustard and barbecue for dinner (the mustard keeps the fish moist) together with some excellent prawns to munch with aioli and bread for lunch.

Polder We went off to cycle around some more of the oyster producing coast after lunch. We saw lots of polders (dykes) keeping the sea out of the reclaimed land, and lots of oyster industry but they seem strangely reticent to sell their delicious bivalves; we saw no restaurants or tasting shacks in this area – not one. This part of the coast seemed to be purely business.

Fishing shacks What we did see, though, were lots of water channels with many fishing nets and shacks. I can’t imagine what they might be seeking to catch in these streams but there is clearly something worth considerable effort. The bird life was an interesting mixture, too. Apart from scaring up a hen harrier that I cycled within 10 feet of, we saw a suspected marsh harrier. One more sizeable body of water entertained us with some stilts in the company of a couple of black swan cygnets. (What are black swans doing here?)

At last, having driven by stork nests, without being able to get a decent view, on our journey up to Damvix from La Palmyre, we got to see a stork strutting through a recently harvested field. It was some distance away but at least we could watch it through binoculars. There are apparently nesting platforms built for the storks in this area so we will have to investigate further.

Our bike ride broke our 500 miles barrier. If it weren’t for all this French food, I might have lost some weight.

Posted in France, 2008

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