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July 19 to 28
Written July 19 through 29
Dear Friends and Family,
A diary for our week (plus) in Brittany
This diary will be organized by place:
-- Pont Aven
Maps added Aug 31:
Crossac (Thursday the 19th)
Overall, the goal is Brittany, but we did not want a 6-plus hour drive, so we had decided to stop in a little town called Crossac, just passed Nantes. As it turned out, even our four-hour drive may have been too long and I particularly had a hard time staying awake on the flat, boring French toll road. The nice toll road cost us 27.90 euros and I came close to drifting into the guardrail. Oops.
We arrived at our hotel, La Ferme Du Blanchot, at about 2 pm, in time to check in and get some lunch. The hotel is off by itself, surrounded by farm fields, cows mostly. It seemed pretty basic and we were expecting a fairly basic lunch, but our "flammkuchen" (sort of Alsatian pizza) showed up, it may have been the best we ever had. And the four-part dessert plate was even better. A nice surprise. The La Ferme ended up being a fine over-night stop. Friendly people, an OK room (other than the low, sloping ceiling) and good food for lunch and breakfast.
Crossac is near the middle of the Parc Natural Regional de Briere, a wetlands dotted with small settlements of thatched-roofed cottages and stone houses. I tried to go out for pictures at "just the right light", but failed. By sunset and again at sunrise, the skies were dark gray and the stone walls were unremarkable. I was uninspired and our cameras' memory cards remained empty. We need to come back in the sunshine.
Unfortunately, we discovered a car problem: one headlight is out. On our car, this means a trip to the Porsche dealer because the replaceable bulb sits behind trim pieces that require either special tools or at least specific knowledge. It looks like we will explore parts of Nantes on Friday, looking for the service shop. After that, it will be a three-hour drive to Pont Aven.
Nantes (Friday morning)
The trip to the car repair was uneventful, except that our Garmin navigator could not handle an address with the house number of "F", so we had to cover the length of Avenue de la Pentecôte from end to end before we finally found the place. At the Porsche dealer, there was very little English to be spoken, but we managed to get across the problem and the service manager, Mssr. BESNIER, was very accommodating. He personally installed a new bulb, which required some amount of dismantling and, because of a broken internal bracket, a bit of improvisation. We hope it holds for another couple of weeks at least.
Pont Aven (Friday through Tuesday morning)
The drive to Pont Aven was uneventful, colored only by occasional light rain. The town is about as quaint as any tourist brochure could conjure; stone buildings, small harbor, flowers everywhere. Our hotel, the Hotel La Chaumiere Roz Aven, was right on the small harbor and we moved immediately into our little room, home for the next four days.
We then went out and joined the crowds in the village itself. Eventually, we came to believe that the entire town of Pont Aven was a stage set, created for the tourist expectation of a Brittany sea village. Everything in town was tourist-centered. We wondered if our four-day stay would uncover a real French village underneath.
It is now Monday morning. What we have managed to do is eat, walk, shop, and take pictures. Pont Aven really is a tourist town, but not a "tourist trap" somehow. There are dozens of art and craft galleries and tourist-friendly shops and restaurants and a few hotels. "Normal" businesses seem as hidden as the secret utility passages in Disney World. I made a poster of many of the galleries, shops, etc, but it took quite some time. Another project that sounded fun and easy, failed the "easy" part, but was still fun. (The linked version is 1.5 Mb, bigger than our normal offerings. A full-resolution version exists at ten times that size and the Photoshop original was ten times that - over 100 Mb!))
We did manage one day trip to one or two equally-cute seaside villages around here. More pictures were required, but I'm sure that they will start to blend pretty soon.
Tuesday, August 24: Trip to Trebeurden
We had to leave fairly early, since the hotel street transforms into a street market on Tuesdays. That was OK, since early departure is our pattern in any event. We were headed for Trebeurden, almost directly north, on the north coat of the Brittany peninsula. We had hoped to use country roads and that's exactly what our GPS put us on. It was fun, despite the cows and farm equipment we had to share the road with.
Trebeurden, Wednesday to Saturday
One reality of longer travel is that our clothes continue to get dirty and need washing, but washing machines are hard to locate. In Bordeaux, we were lucky and there was a coin laundromat just next door, but here in Trebeurden, it's not as convenient. The hotel people mentioned one service in town and we went by, but it locked up and was not open for business. The other option was down at the harbor, mostly for use by sailors. They do indeed get dirty, but it never occurred to me that they also would clean up. Learned something.
While Marianne did the wifely chores, I took the camera and wandered around the harbor. The harbor was filled with boats and I wondered how many get much use, as few moved in or out while I was watching. There was a path behind the harbor that led up through some of the weathered granite rock formations that this area is famous for. I have noticed that these rocks are interesting enough, and they do vary in size, shape, and color, but I'm beginning to think that once you've seen a few, there's little need to see hundreds more.
Trebeurden's main beach was not shoulder-to-shoulder crowded, but it was filled and active. There were sailing lessons going on, including for little folks who were having fun, even if Olympic sailing wasn't in their future yet. And, just to continue our fascination with derelict buildings, Trebeurden beach is adorned with a massive "project", just waiting for some inspiration (and cash). Not from us.
After lunch we went for a walk on the beach near our hotel. We could easily see why kids enjoy wandering over the tide-drained mud flats. We did. After our long walk, we needed a nap, something else beach-goers need to do. That evening we went to a nice restaurant for dinner, lobster and fish from local suppliers. The meal was a bit too "tinkly", or formal, for our taste and the prices a bit high, but we need these experiences from time to time to make us appreciate other eating opportunities.
This was the morning for a dawn-light photo shoot. I drove to the nearest beach and tried to capture the moment. The tide was fairly low, so the main attraction seemed to be the rocks and boats stranded in the mud. And rocks. Whether or not the pictures turned out special, the morning walk was a pleasure.
We left the hotel breakfast room and about 10:45, now bound for Lannion, the nearest town of much size. We did not have a goal, except to take a look at the streets and find a lunch. When we got there, we found parking to be a real problem as lot after lot was full. Good news, bad news: it was market day.
Wandering through local markets is a favorite traveling distraction. Every market has a flavor of its own and Lannion's seemed to be ready-to-take-home meals. While we did not have re-heating facilities at the hotel to allow us to bring back chicken or stews or soups, we could settle for cheese, sausage, fruits, and veggies. These would be dinner.
After we came back from Lannion, we read, napped, and fixed dinner. We definitely have slowed down and meals occupy an increasing fraction of our time. When we get back to our scales at home, I'm afraid we will discover the consequences, and then it will be back to South Beach, Level 1. Until then ....
About 500 yards from the hotel, the Lucas Fratellini traveling circus had set up their big top for Thursday and Friday shows. Fratellini is actually a famous name in the French circus world, a fact we only discovered with a Google search afterwards. We went late, so we got a discount, and still saw as much as we could have hoped for. Truthfully, the acts were pretty humble, but if the point of a circus is for children and their parents to laugh and have fun, the Lucas Fratellini troupe held up the century-old family tradition.
In fact, it was a fairly quiet day of driving, top down, to neighboring seaside villages: more rocks and stone houses - plus one church. The houses varied, from elaborate Victorian-era mansions, to small, updated fishermen's cottages.
The church, St. James of Perros-Guirec, was an assembly of stone parts, some dating from the 12th Century, six centuries after Christians originally came here from the British Isles. It was not large and it did feel like the village center it had been for 1500 years. Nice.
After that, it was lunch and more looking at villages and beaches -- and rocks. Always rocks.
Again, a "conclusion" for Brittany would be hard to do. Of the two stops, I think I liked Pont Aven better, just because there was more happening, but Trebeurden was the quiet stay one normally associates with summer beach vacations. Maybe I'll reflect more in the days ahead.
John and Marianne
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