Three hemispheres, Two Flights, One France

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Reunion Island 2024
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Even though Minnesota isn’t giving us much in the way of winter this year, it still seemed like good practice to get away from the cold and gray for a little bit. So, after a couple long travel days, we’re on Reunion Island, a small French island in the Indian Ocean. I’m barely awake, so expect this blog post to be pretty rough.

The first leg of our trip left Minneapolis in the early evening Thursday and landed in Paris on Friday morning. We had upwards of ten hours before our onward connection, so we decided to day trip into the city. Although it’s not as seamless as Seoul, Charles de Gaulle isn’t so bad for doing a layover – we left our luggage at the baggage storage office and took the train into the city.

Because we’re not monsters, our first stop in the city was for some pastries. We walked up to Rue Montorgueil and browsed the patisseries and cafes, before settling on a place for a coffee and pastry. Kat especially loved the apricot jam.

Fueled up, we did Rick Steves’ audio walking tour of the Île de la Cité and the left bank. The island is home to Notre Dame, still very much under reconstruction. After the tour, we hopped the train back to the airport. We took advantage of our skymiles status to hang out in the Air France lounge. It was especially nice to grab showers before getting back on a plane.

The flight to Reunion was long, but we both managed to get some sleep. We landed in Reunion around 8am local time and picked up our rental car.

Probably worth pausing briefly to talk about Reunion, and why we’re here. The French claimed Reunion in the 17th century, and it’s been a district of France ever since. It’s a small volcanic island, near Mauritius (and not that far from Madagascar). It’s a popular tourist destination for the French, but is (somewhere stereotypically) not especially concerned with tourists from elsewhere. Reunion ended up on our list initially after an episode of the Grand Tour (a not very good Amazon Prime show starring the old Top Gear cast) which involved a brief stop here. Last year, I started researching a bit more and discovered all of its great climbing and hiking opportunities. The fact that almost no-one in the US has heard of it is an extra win.

So, we’re here! We got our rental car, then made a pastry and coffee stop, before heading to a small rental company to pick up some hiking sticks. Hiking sticks are super handy, but TSA generally won’t let you carry them on, and I’m not willing to check a bag just for some sticks. The airport is on the north side of the island, in a town called Saint Denis. We had a most of a day to kill before we could check in for our Airbnb on the other side of the island, so we decided to start out by exploring Saint Denis. Our guidebook had a brief walking tour of some of the older buildings in town, which was a fun introduction to the architectural style. We saw some obvious connections to French architecture in New Orleans.

After our walking tour, we had an awesome but overwhelming brunch at a cafe in town called Marafe. Cassava pancakes, a sweet potato cake, cod meatballs, etc. It defeated us, but it was a pleasant defeat.

Around noon, we set off for the other side of the island. Halfway through the drive, we stopped at Kélonia, a rescue, rehab and research facility for sea turtles. This was a real standout experience – neither of us have ever been up close with sea turtles, and we were totally captivated. The facility has museum exhibits about the history of sea turtle hunting and the risks they face from plastics in the ocean today. They also have numerous turtles who’ve been brought in for medical care and rehabilitation after they’ve been hurt by fishing hooks or other human activity.

We made it to the Airbnb around 3. It’s a totally charming place – a private view of the ocean, an integrated hot tub, and just enough space to sleep and eat. We went to the nearby town for some ice cream, and to load up on groceries, then had some pasta while watching the sunset. It’s not so bad. Tomorrow, we start some real hiking!

7 thoughts on “Three hemispheres, Two Flights, One France

  • Susan January 6, 2024 at 4:15 pm Reply

    Hooray for rentable hiking sticks. And turtles! And, of course, pastries. So glad you got that time in Paris. Your AirBnB looks amazing. FYI, it’s snowing here — very pretty.

  • Debra Marsh January 6, 2024 at 5:23 pm Reply

    Snowing here too. Sounds like you are off to a great start!

  • Bob and Barb Luedtke January 6, 2024 at 11:18 pm Reply

    Hi -Guys – We feel like we are there with you. That turtle refuge really looked amazing. Enjoy your stay and good luck hiking! Bob and Barb

  • Caroline Cantner January 7, 2024 at 3:34 am Reply

    It all sounds amazing!!

  • Susan January 7, 2024 at 3:39 am Reply

    By the way, that’s a great title for this first post.

  • Debra Marsh January 7, 2024 at 3:56 am Reply

    Hilary is already quite jealous of your trip!

  • Eleanor January 14, 2024 at 3:31 pm Reply

    The turtle is really cute!

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