Les Sables d'Olonne. I was disappointed that I'd made the choice to return to a place I've already been (after all, there's A LOT of France still to see), but on my second day walking along the beach, I realized that my two trips here were the perfect bookends on a challenging winter of adjustment.
The neighboring town I stayed in
I no longer feel that way. Moving here has mostly been a great adventure. Even if I only stay a year, two years, it wasn't a mistake to come - it was a dream for 10 years that I finally fulfilled.
And life in France shares some things with life in the US - it's still life and can be just as unexpected. The person I thought I'd be great friends with divorced and moved away. A friendship that I thought would be brief, due to a large age difference, has instead become a solid friendship that is going on 6 months now. I just met his parents and he announced to them that he hopes to do his foreign apprenticeship near my hometown next summer, even though it means switching from the food division to hard cider.
I understand more of the common phrases said around me as well. "C'est bon" - it's good. "Ce pas grave" - it's no big deal, it's not important. "Le même" - the same. "Ce comme ça" - it's like that. I understood enough to survive dinner with four French people, who don't speak much English, without needing constant help. Even if all of the details weren't clear, I could pick up talk about the elections, the migrant camp burning down and them asking him if he had difficulty communicating with me ("no"). It helped to learn he'd done very poorly in English until recently, meaning he became fluent as a adult, so surely I can too!
As for my actual weekend, it started with a bit of a disappointment. Even though the ad stated where the flat was, I didn't know the town and so I looked at the map on the site. The blue "x" represents where the map showed the property . . . the blue dot is where it actually is. In typical fashion, I made the best of it and set out on the lovely path that continued all the way into Les Sables d'Olonne. The below photo gives a visual of the distance - it's the city wrapping around the curve!
Even though I prefer to walk on a sandy beach, the rocky shorelines are often visually prettier and make for better photos, so I really did enjoy the walk in every day (less the walk back though)!
Saturday was actually the best day on the beach. There were surprisingly few people for it being a holiday weekend, so I walked for a while, then sat against the sea wall (there are lower sections and many people sit on or against them and read for a little bit. If you're looking for a nice coastal town with a lovely beach to just relax on, this is a great place for it! It also has the best boardwalk area of the towns I've seen - a nice broad pedestrian portion, designated bike lane (a full car lane split in two) and one lane for traffic, although this was closed off on Easter due to the high number of pedestrians.
I don't find Les Sables d'Olonne to be one of the French towns with particular cultural or historic interest (I'm sure a French person could tell me all about why I'm wrong), so I've decided that my long weekends will be spent elsewhere in the future . . . but for a normal weekend getaway, this is still a place that I can imagine owning a "weekend flat!"