Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lions and tigers and horses - oh my!

Whoops! Sorry about the interruption. I got a little carried away with work and then yesterday we drove to the south side of Paris for a barbecue with some of our DAoC friends (nerds unite!). I can tell that it's getting to be the end of summer, because I'll be happy if I don't see a grilled piece of meat for a long, long time. Anyway, back to the big vacation...

Day 5: le 2 août, jeudi

Everything about our stay in Etretat was great except one thing - being woken at the ungodly vacation hour of 6 am by seagulls. Ugh.

After a quick breakfast in the café on the square of the Mairie, we hit the road going south, over the enormous bridge at Port de Normandie (I wish we had stopped to take a photo - that bridge is insane! And there is a lane where psycho crazy people can walk or bike over it. I was nauseous just riding in the car over that thing!) for a 5 1/2 hour drive, stopping at a grande surface grocery store to pick up a few lunchy things and then at a rest stop to eat them along the way. Our ultimate destination was Puy du Fou, and we were spending the night in the town of Cholet, about a half hour's drive away.

When I booked the tickets for Puy du Fou online a couple of weeks before we left, I tried to book us a room at one of the super cheap hotels in the area, but because we would be there on a Friday (more about why we timed our visit for a Friday later), the super cheapies were already booked, so we ended up taking a room for two nights at the Grande Hôtel de la Poste for more money than we would usually spend for a hotel. For a two star hotel, it has a few good things going for it, including a private parking garage (which is not free but worth the convenience), an elevator and an enclosed patio. On the other hand, the restaurant was closed for renovations and the hotel itself was pretty banged up and worse for wear, but I didn't count this against them since I learned that the hotel itself would be closing for renovations in the middle of September. When we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, we rested for a few hours with Stéph taking a nap and me resting my ears with a good dose of BBC World.

Cholet itself doesn't have much to recommend it. Apparently this town is known for the production of enormous handkerchiefs, but you wouldn't know it unless you visited the Office of Tourism. After walking around the town a bit, we settled on dining at the Brasserie Grand Café, resigning ourselves to a simple dinner but finding ourselves pleasantly surprised that the "little" brasserie was an enormous restaurant with dining on two levels and two private rooms. We stuffed ourselves silly on Tartiflette for him (not exactly the season for Tartiflette but it's his favorite and if it's not too hot he'll eat it all the same) and an amazing array of pasta dishes for me, with local wine and dessert. If you're ever passing through, you won't go wrong to check this place out. It's a little touristy, but the food is worth it.

Day 6: le 3 août, vendredi

Up early and out the door - this is the day we've been waiting for! Puy du Fou!

Once we get there at opening time, it seems everyone in the region has chosen today to arrive and we have to park very far away, with the caravans. In truth, it's only a ten minute walk from the gate, but it felt like we were being sent to the other side of the world.

Puy du Fou is a theme park, but not with rides or games. The attraction of Puy du Fou is the amazing shows it puts on around a number of different themes. The production values of the shows are really very high - I was absolutely blown away by the size alone of the stage of the "Musketeers" show - prancing horses! acrobatics! special effects! There are five main shows and eight smaller scaled shows and it really takes two days if you want to see everything. Since we had one day, we concentrated on seeing the five major shows and caught one or two little ones in passing. The main shows can hold an incredible number of people - witness the seating for the Gladiator show:

Puy du Fou
yep, it's like that all the way around

so the real trick is not getting bogged down by following the crowds around all day. The schedule for each day is different and available just as you walk in the gate, so once we realized that crowd was sucking the fun out of the day, we looked at the schedule again, ate lunch a little early and pretty much did our own thing, which went a long way in making the day a nice one. In addition to the Gladiator and Musketeer shows, there are Vikings,

Puy du Fou


Puy du Fou

and a really cool bird show that I didn't take pictures of because I couldn't pick my jaw up off the floor after dodging falcons, eagles, and larger birds of prey flying just over our heads.

As if that wasn't enough, Puy du Fou also puts on a huge nighttime show on Friday and Saturday evenings through the summer called Cinéscénie. It claims to be the biggest nighttime show in the world, and I can believe it. With over 1100 volunteers, laser-light effects and huge fireworks on a stage that could easily be as big as four or five football fields put together, the show is worth the extra money. Don't bother trying to follow the thread of the story, as it's all allegory and simply a thin disguise to link together some of the major events of French history that are represented, whether in simple vignettes or with tightly organized choreography. Just enjoy the impressive scenery and the costumes and the "actors" - from grandparents to toddlers - and don't forget to look around, for there's action taking place as far as the eye can see.

Overall, we enjoyed our (very, very long) day at Puy du Fou, but it's not a place either of us are in a hurry to go back to, as once you've seen it, you're good for a nice, long while. That being said, new areas are being added on to the park every year and I think it will be a great place to visit with our own family maybe ten years down the road.

Next post: the Loire Valley

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