Les Vacances – Identity Crisis!

On the day when the jellyfish shut down Torness nuclear power station we took ourselves off to the ancient town of Saintes.  The weather the past couple of days has settled down to a sunny 25C which has been ideal for sightseeing. 

The Abbaye aux Dames






Our first stop was at the “Abbaye aux Dames “, once a convent and dating back to the 11C.   We opted for the audio tour which came close to causing an international incident.  As the handsets were handed over the assistant asked for an identity card.  I dragged out my passport and handed it over.  She proceeded to stick it in an envelope.  I reached for her throat.  I thought she had only wanted to see it; not confiscate it.  J pulled me back over the counter and politely explained to the woman, while I frothed at the mouth, that this was a terribly bad idea.  She was not to be put off – some form of identity card had to be held to ransom for the return of the audio player.

I growled…and was promptly slapped on the nose.

A thought struck me…just before the second slap on the nose.  I grinned evilly, raked through my bag and with a arrogant sweep of the arm handed over my (now redundant) ‘Construction Skills Certification Card’, that ‘Micky Mouse’ piece of plastic which demonstrates my supreme knowledge of construction site health and safety (aye right!) and allows me (still) to visit such sites.  My nemesis studied the card authoritatively, looked at the photo…then carefully placed it into envelope, pointedly licking and sealing it well and truly shut.   We both smiled triumphantly.

The audio tour was a bit heavy on architectural detail and I began to switch off.  Even J, a demon for knowledge, reached the fast forward stage fairly quickly.  We did the speeded up version and headed for the belltower to take in the view over the city.

View from the belltower of the Abbaye aux Dames towards the Cathedrale de St-Pierre

Next up was lunch.  We had a recommendation for Les Saveurs de l’ Abbaye, a small hotel restaurant just outside the grounds of the old convent.  And a damn fine lunch it proved to be.  The photo below is of our starter – a wafer thin ‘tortilla’ stuffed with miscellaneous bits and pieces in mayonnaise, with what may have been a recurrent coulis.  Refreshingly our little quart-litre of house white only set us back 3.70 Euro.  That’s the sort of wine price I would’t mind seeing back home for a restaurant house wine.

The tortillas

2 hours later and feeling comfortably full, we shuffled out of Les Saveurs de l’ Abbaye and set off across town to find the Roman amphitheater. 

A couple of hundred metres from the restaurant, on the banks of the Charente we discovered Sainte’s Arc de Germanicus, a Roman gateway to what had been a bridge over the river, dating back to the 1st century AD.  The arch now plays host to squadrons of swooping swifts.

Arc de Germanicus

The afternoon heat was beginning to build in the narrow winding streets of the old quarter of the town.  We turned a corner and the standard 2 storey white shuttered limestone buildings gave way to the huge gothic mass of the Cathedrale de St-Pierre that appeared as if out of nowhere…looming.

The "looming" Cathedrale de St-Pierre

It was a hillier walk than I had imagined as we climbed narrow, high walled, streets linked by long stone stairways taking us ever higher; looking back over red tiled rooftops towards the cathedral and the Abbaye aux Dames.

Looking from the narrow lanes towards the Cathedrale de St-Pierre

The amphitheater proved to be amazingly impressive.  An 18,000 capacity stadium designed for the entertainment of the populace.  It was a place for animals and gladiators.  Although constructed too early for the pastime of feeding Christians to the lions, J was obviously thinking along those bloodthirsty lines as she eyed a noisy primary school class on a local outing.

The Roman amphitheater - circa 1AD

We opted for the audio tour – I expect you know what’s coming next…

“Vous avez une carte d’identite Monsieur?”

I grinned evilly.

“Oui…certainment Madame!”