No, my excuse for not posting is nothing so exciting as being put away for said stolen sandwich (that was put to right). Just go figure, there’s not nearly as much time for all this as I’d thought. Who knew travel would be so time consuming (OK, guess I did know that). Now on the train from Paris to Avignon, so a quiet moment to put down a few words.
Some basics, Jeff arrived on time Sunday the 4th at Charles de Gaulles in Paris. As he arrived in the afternoon, this gave me time to comb through the mile-long garage sale on the street outside our hotel. Found boots for 10 euros and two scarves for three euros. Like garage sales everywhere, lots of junk, some great finds, and lots and lots of people (this photo was from early in the morning, before everything was set up).
To keep Jeff awake, we spent the afternoon and evening walking around town (btw, boots were a great find, but not the best for an eight mile trek through Paris…). Visited with some friends from Belgium (more on them later) and ate, at their suggestion, at a sweet little restaurant, Le Colimaçon on the rue Vieille du Temple. Typical French meal with duck breast, rabbit and plenty of wine. Had two seats at a little bench in the window, perfect for people watching (Jeff, traveling with a thin down-style jacket, was happy to see it is in style in Paris).
Then we were off to Brittany/Normandy. High-speed train travel on the TGV, not a bad way to go…
By the way, my idea of the right amount of luggage would be several steamer trunks and a number of hatboxes. But as our porters backed out last minute, we decided to keep it to an international carry-on piece and backpack/messenger bag each. Here’s our Briggs and Riley carry on’s enjoying their train travel…
Highlights from Brittany:
Mont Dol: Stayed at Le Jardin Des Simples a fantastic “maison d’hotes” (basically a B&B) in the teeny tiny town of Mont Dol in Brittany. Yannick and Corrine could not have been more helpful or fun. Corrine took a special interest in Jeff and did her best to elevate his French in the two days we were there. The property has a small chateau at one end and a house at the other (we were in the house) separated by a beautiful garden. Apparently the house, built in the 1770s, was a run-down wreck several years ago and Yannick renovated it beautifully. Ate dinner there one night and all products (save the fish) came from the garden. Delicious.
Cancale: Shared (only) six delicious oysters, cider and crêpes and got away without paying parking as our ticket was corrupted.
St Malo: Ate a so-so sandwich (the one we stole, realized we never paid and went back; store was closed but one of the workers came out from the bar down the street, refused at first to take our four euros but finally relented, couldn’t have that on our conscious the whole trip!). Avoided being trampled by hordes of students. And even in this late season, hordes of tourists. Ate a fantastic chocolate crêpe. Found a store, Lostmarc’h, with beautifully fragranced body products, produced with local ingredients. Apparently all fragrances inspired by walks the owner takes along the sea. If we had more luggage space, would have bought the soap that looks just like a stone, Savon Galet.
Cap Frehil: Quintessential seaside cliffs, made more quintessential by strong winds and gusting rains.
Dinan: Absolutely charming town dating from way, way back. Many half-timbered houses, stone buildings, winding streets… And a town filled with and proud of artists and artisans. Found Les Sacs de Constance. It’s good we have only a small bag and not the stack of steamer trunks as I wanted just about everything here. Michel Gasnier worked at Christian Lacroix and with custom bridal gowns, before coming back to the area where he grew up. The store and his creations are named for his muse, Constance. About her I need to learn more… Every bag in the store was unique, with a mix of old and new fabrics. I want a bedroom stacked with these pillows in every corner, so many colors and patterns but all coordinated somehow. But best of all were these little capes with ties/scarves, whimsical and perfect.
Lowlights from Brittany:
French mobile phone companies… As we’re in France for a month, wanted to get a local SIM card to have Internet and phone access without paying AT&T a fortune. On arrival in France looked at Orly airport, and again at Charles De Gaulle when Jeff arrived. No obvious spots for cards. It seems you have to go to one of the mobile phone stores, and wait in enormous lines with everyone who is buying phones, arguing about their bills, getting their phones fixed, etc. Tried at Gare Montparnasse in Paris, but huge line and impending train departure. Tried at a small mobile phone store in Dol de Bretagne; fresh out of pre-paid cards. On to “La Madeline” in the newer section of St Malo. A shopping mall connected to the big grocery store. Spent well over an hour bouncing around stores in this mall. First place was fast but the card didn’t fit. So on to “Orange” where we stood in line to get our names in the queue. Had to be at least twelve people ahead of us, and everyone seemed to be taking forever. Adding to the joy of the experience was a small toddler screaming in a shopping cart while his mother ignored him. Getting dangerously close to meltdown stage myself, after 30 minutes or so, went to a counter and basically said it was ridiculous to wait hours for such a simple transaction and for whatever reason, Francois took pity on me and within 10 minutes we were out of there. As Jeff pointed out, we’re not here just as tourists but to have a ‘local’ experience, and this was certainly one. Everyone we’ve talked to about it after has sighed in commiseration. Seems stereotypes of French bureaucracy are not all incorrect.
Oysters…. I love oysters. I’ve been dreaming about sitting on the docks and slurping fresh oysters in Brittany and Normandy for years. Apparently, ground zero for oysters in Brittany, and some would say all of northern France, is Cancale. No problem right, we were there. Oh no, we were there at night and ate crepescrêpe. Yes we had a half dozen expensive (and tasty) oysters in that restaurant. But we did not return during the day for the apparently amazing oysters from the shacks on the docks. Nor did we go to the restaurant famed for them. You can read about that experience here in this blog, but sadly not from me. For all the planning, guess that even some of the key experiences will be tantalizingly within reach, but not attained. Thankfully (especially for Jeff who had to put up with me kicking myself) this situation was somewhat redeemed in Normandy. That post next!