France, 2018

Our driving trip through northern France

Brittany

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 — Dinan

We left Saint-Malo around noon and drove only 20 miles to our next stop, Dinan. Rick Steves’ book said if you can only visit one town in Brittany, choose Dinan (we’re actually going to see about four). It’s a medieval town that was not bombed in WWII. The navigation worked well and we found parking and the hotel quite easily. The weather was cloudy and windy this morning, but by the time we had lunch and checked into the hotel it was sunny and nice. Our high temps are gone and it may only reach 60 today, which is fine sightseeing weather. We went to le Celtic for lunch (Welsh and Irish people have lived here for centuries). The sign outside said they had crepes, but we couldn’t find them anywhere on the menu. Jay ordered a ham and cheese omelet and it came with frites. Barbara ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. After the waitress took our order and removed the menus, we found a small crepes menu on the table. What we ordered was very good and interesting and only cost 16 euros. The grilled ham and cheese sandwich had the ham between the slices of bread and the cheese was on the top. We’d like to do some laundry today, so Jay looked up the French word for laundromat and found there was one about 1/2 mile from our hotel. We walked there after lunch and found it. The sweet lady knew just enough English to tell us it would cost 7 euros a load to wash and dry. We brought our clothes to her and she loaded the machines and told us they would be ready in about an hour and a half. She folded all the clothes nicely (even matched the socks) and put them in the wheeled carry-on we had brought them in. We are tired and achey today from all the steps at Mont-Saint-Michel yesterday. We spent a few hours in our room and then asked the man at the front desk to recommend a restaurant for crepes. He gave us a couple of names and pointed them out on the map. The first didn’t have any tables open but we got the last table at Ahna’s. We ordered crepes and coffee from a menu with no English. It’s a first, but ordering crepes is pretty simple.  Jay had chocolate, ice cream and whipped cream on his crepe. Barbara ordered a crepe flambe with chocolate and Grand Marnier. The servers here were fast and efficient. One had a cute waxed mustache that turned up on the ends, sort of like Dali’s but much shorter. The crepes were delicious! Our one problem in Brittany (Saint-Malo is in Brittany too) is that we’ve been unable to publish our blog. Jay has been in contact with A2 Hosting and they’ve advised him that some hotels block the ports they use. We'll keep trying.

Lunch at le Celtic

le Celtic restaurant

Dinan is a medieval town

Dinan

Wednesday, May 9th

Here’s a list of some general observations we’ve made about Normandy and Brittany so far:

  • 1. The people seem even heartier than Minnesotans. They are outside in cafes eating and drinking in t-shirts and trousers or sundresses when the temps are in the 50s.
  • 2. All of the people in the hotels and restaurants have been friendly and patient and have made every attempt to understand what we are asking. When we said we wished we spoke French, the lady at the laundromat suggested that between now and our next visit we could perhaps learn it. She said this in a very nice way, in no way condescending. We’d love to come back here but don’t know if it will happen. And learning French? Sometimes we have a hard time with English.
  • 3. All the countryside in Normandy and Brittany is beautiful. The major roads are wide and good. There are a lot of big semi-trucks on the roads but they seem smaller than those in the U.S. We were on some toll roads when we were around Rouen but haven’t had to pay in Brittany.
  • 4. Jay is very comfortable with roundabouts—he’s had experience in Scotland, England, Ireland and New Zealand. In France it’s much easier as you’re not sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of the road. The navigation system sometimes gets the exit from the roundabout wrong but the signage is pretty good.
  • 5. We’ve watched very little TV as there’s not much in English besides the BBC. Jay sometimes finds recent Youtube clips of Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow, so we’re hearing a little bit of politics. Yesterdays news was that Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Hope that doesn’t end badly.
  • 6. We are surprised at all the pizzerias (mostly local, but Dominos and Pizza Hut too) and McDonalds in France. We’ve also seen a few Subways.

Our next few days should be like today--just enjoying the sights, people and food with no big plans. 

We started our day in Dinan with breakfast at the hotel and then went on a walk to see some of the places the friendly guy at the front desk suggested. It’s a beautiful town and we started at the basilica and then walked down toward the port. On the way back to the hotel we stopped in a liquor store and bought a bottle of Calvados (apple brandy). Hope we like it. We really loved this town—small enough that you can’t get lost and friendly people. After leaving Dinan we drove to Roscoff but were unsuccessful at finding a place called Cote de Granit-Rose (pink rocks) on the coast. We stopped in a town called Paimpol and had a great burger. We haven’t been disappointed yet with the food in France. We arrived in Roscoff about 5:00 and checked in at the Hotel La Residence des Artistes. Right inside the door some old record albums were displayed, and the one in front was a Bob Dylan cover. The guy at the desk looked at Barbara and said “You’ve been here before.” She said no, but that she came from the state where Bob Dylan was from. He said “Minnesota, what was the town?” She said Hibbing and he said yes, so we guess he’s a real Dylan fan. We’ll decide later if we need dinner tonight. Definitely have to try the Calvados.

Dinan

Dinan Port

Dinan Port

Basilica Saint-Sauveur

Dog tired

Thursday, May 10, 2018 — Roscoff/Quimper/Pont-Aven

So we lied about not going out to eat last night. It was not dinner but we shared a panna cotta and some warm Breton apple pie at a nearby cafe. We hoped to try a creperie, but they were all busy. The creperies are all very small here with just a few tables. We were able to publish the blog last night, so that was good. The jury is out on the Calvados. This morning at breakfast, the front desk fellow was clearing tables (they multitask at hotels here) and we talked a bit. He said he remembered where Bob Dylan was born—Duluth. Barbara said she thought it was Hibbing and he didn’t argue. We googled it and found that Dylan was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth! We went down to the desk and told him he was right. The album in the front of the display today was one of Billie Holiday’s and the music playing in the breakfast room was jazz (Dave Brubeck?). The town of Roscoff is a ferry terminal with ferries leaving for Ireland and England. We didn’t walk around much but did walk along the water and took pictures at low tide. It was cool and windy when we left town. What we’ll remember about Roscoff is the cool guy who liked American musicians. He even looked like a much younger Bob Dylan. The drive to our next stop was very picturesque and we passed a Ford Thunderbird with CA plates. By the time we got to Quimper it was warm and not windy. We parked on the street and couldn’t figure out how to pay for parking. We went into a restaurant for lunch and were told parking was free because today is a holiday (Ascension Thursday). We ordered some good salads (trying to eat something green) and walked around this quaint town. The beautiful Cathredal Church of Saint Corentin (the first bishop of Quimper) had some of the most beautiful, vibrant stained-glass windows we’ve seen anywhere. It has a complicated history, as some buildings went up in the 9th and 11th centuries, then it was rebuilt and added on to in the 14th and 15th centuries. When the French Revolution happened in 1793, bars were set up all around the church and the furnishings and painted wooden statues in the church were burned in a big bonfire. This was the Cult of Reason. The church has been restored and the brochure states: “This flamboyant Gothic architectural masterpiece has thus been restored to its original glory.” We took a lot of pictures as we walked around the town—Quimper, like Dinan, would be a pleasant place to spend a week or two. We left Quimper and drove the short distance to Pont-Aven where we are spending the night. The navigation told us we had arrived at our destination but we didn’t see the hotel or place to park, so we drove up a steep hill and parked by the cemetery. Using Barbara’s phone, we found the hotel behind a beautiful stream. The door had a sign posted that if we wanted to check-in we would have to go to a nearby restaurant. We did and the manager led us back and up the stairs and into our room that looks down at the stream and blooming trees and shrubs. We walked up the hill to retrieve our car and parked alongside the stream. We had to drive down a very narrow alleyway to park the car and hope we can get out tomorrow without taking off a side mirror. After settling in we walked around this nice town for about an hour. The town has many art galleries and all kinds of retail shops and restaurants. The hotel person who showed us to our room also works in the associated restaurant and she made a reservation for us at 7:30. It was a most pleasant evening, as the couple at the table next to us heard us speaking English and started a conversation. They were from Canberra, Australia and nearing the end of their 6 weeks of travel. They had lived for a time in Boulder CO and also Palo Alto CA for 4 years where he got a degree in computer science from Stanford. Jay has been to Canberra on business so we talked about it for awhile. We ordered sole meuniere (Barbara’s made it but it didn’t taste like this!) and a medium rare steak and shared. Also managed to drink a bottle of wine. Passed on dessert though (What???) Today has been another beautiful weather day—tomorrow we leave Brittany and drive to the Loire Valley. Barbara hasn’t been able to resist the sweet small Breton cakes that she’s had at the buffet breakfasts in Brittany. 

Hotel La Residence des Artistes, Roscoff

Roscoff

An unusual carousel

Roscoff

A Thunderbird from California

Cathedrale Saint-Corentin, Quimper

Cathedrale Saint-Corentin

Cathedrale Saint-Corentin

Cathedrale Saint-Corentin

Quimper

View from our room in Pont-Aven

Our hotel in Pont-Aven is down this tiny road

Nearby live entertainment 

Pont-Aven

Dinner at Sur Le Pont

This is the end of the Brittany portion of the blog. The next section will be about our travels in The Loire Valley. Click on the “Loire Valley” tab at the top of the page or click here .

© Jay 2020