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Gallic Symbols II: enfin, the trip report! (Paris, Brittany, Normandy)

Gallic Symbols II: enfin, the trip report! (Paris, Brittany, Normandy)

Nov 17th, 2004, 03:43 PM
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Gallic Symbols II: enfin, the trip report! (Paris, Brittany, Normandy)

Hello all,

Since it's just days until my next trip, I thought I should at least make an effort to write some sort of trip report for France this past June! So while I cannot begin to compete with some of the purple prose found on Fodors sometimes, I hope this is at least somewhat informative and will help some travelers. I sense that Brittany is more of a summer destination, however, so this may be a bit late, or a bit early for those planning next season's holidays. I also get the sense that while Brittany is hugely popular with the British, it's far overshadowed by Provence in the imagination of the average American traveler, which is a pity because I found it to be delightful.

I've included some of my photos, so you can follow along if you like. I had posted many many more back in June, but decided for this report to pare it way down as it would be easier to follow. http://www.ofoto.com/I.jsp?c=eldvm1b...&x=0&y=-v31lqj

I left Friday May 28 for Paris, and after a wonderful weekend re-acquainting myself with Paris wended my way through parts of Brittany for the week. The following weekend I made my third visit to Normandy (this time for the 60th anniversary of the D-day landings), then back to Paris (via Giverny for a night). The France portion of the trip ended when I boarded a plane for Geneva. I also tried to bold the points of some interest, and if you have questions let me know and I will try to help.

The idea for this trip came about maybe a month or so before I actually left. I have friends in Munich whom I last visited there about two years ago, and they had been bugging me to come back for a visit. They told me they planned to visit St. Moritz and environs the middle of June for a long weekend, and the wheels started turning! I decided I wanted to also see the landings commemorations in Normandy on June 6, so with those two anchors in mind the rest of the trip took shape.

Hotel in Paris: I stayed at the Agora St. Germain this time, after calling several other hotels in the area. Making plans 4 four weeks in advance is not impossible by any means but you may not end up with your first choice. This 3-star hotel however was just fine and a good value. The staff was friendly, it was small but very clean and quite well situated. I love being a short walk from Notre Dame! It was around 100 euros, give or take.

Some captions from my walk upon arrival: The first 9 photos were all taken during my morning walk. As you can see I walked from Notre Dame, across the Seine, along the bouquiniste stalls on the Rive Droite, down the Rue de Rivoli, then wandered into Les Jardins des Tuileries. I love those statues! My favorite is "Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel" by Henri Vidal. I crossed back to the left bank after the Tuileries and walked back up the Boulevard St. Germain. As I neared my hotel, all my stops for shopping weighed me down heavily and I found myself wishing I hadn't loaded my arms up so much on 2 hours of sleep (the literal meaning of shop til you drop). Luckily the corner shop was open and they were selling a variety of woven straw tote bags with sturdy leather handles. I bought one and that became my day bag /shopping friend for the rest of the trip. It's amazing what a difference a decent thick handle, and non-collapsible bag will do, when you are shopping and just toodling around in general.

For those traveling on to Brittany. There is La Maison de Bretagne at 203 Boulevard St. Germain. This is a good place to check out tourist info if you are heading to Brittany from Paris as they seem to cover all aspects of a holiday in Brittany.

The next 17 photos (10-26) are still from day one. I made it back to the hotel, but not before stopping to buy a bottle of Burgundy for only TEN euros (and upon opening it later in the trip was so bowled over with how good it was wished I had loaded up with several more while still in Paris). I then decided to: go in search of Le Viaduc des Arts et Promenade Plantée, afterwards to find a place to eat, then to go visit the Eiffel Tower once again. These photos are from that walk: flower shops, performance artists, some sort of police gathering, the Promenade Plantée and the lovely apartment buildings across from it, a great ceramics store, some kids showing off for the tourists in front of Notre Dame, Notre Dame itself, and then I managed to get only a few more shots of the Eiffel Tower before the camera battery died. n.b. I walked all of the above, day one, jet lag and all. Needless to say I slept very well that night!

Tour Guide I spent the whole of Sunday with a guide from ParisFinds, as reco'd by Sfoster here. What a great guy, very funny and knowledgeable, I adored him! We went to Les Invalides, Parc Monceau, Musée Nissim Camondo, had lunch on the Rue de Rivoli, and went to ANGELINA'S. OH MY you must not miss Angelina's. Heaven in a pot of chocolate. Photos (27-39) are from that day, and also the next morning before I picked up the car at the Gare de Lyon. The weather the next morning was brilliant, but this was to change as I drove west.

Off to Brittany. I made my way to my first stop, Dinan. That was the only really dreary day of the trip, and it had mostly straightened up by evening. I stopped in Villedieu-les-Poeles for lunch on the way to Dinan, and yes, I bought some copper poeles. (ya gotta buy some if you go there, of course!) Photos (40-45) were from that first day on the road (see my cute little Citroen C3?) and one in Dinan the next morning (believe me I took many more than this, I just tried to find representative photos for illustration purposes). I stayed in a little B&B in Dinan which I later found out came reco'd by Alistair Sawday's "Special places to Stay" (http://www.frenchconnections.co.uk/accom/399.html) but was not impressed in the slightest when I got there. I wonder how out of date his reco was, and did she fire her housekeeper? The photos make it look gorgeous. It did look like the photos, but drab somehow, and not as tidy. Part of the problem perhaps was that it had rained all day, and the house had the vague aroma of eau de wet dog (a little Yorkie). I considered leaving after taking a look around, but then since I had met the women proprietor, a British widow who had lived in France for 30 some years... argh. She was so nice, and when I got back from the car, practicing my speech, she had already turned the bed down - I just didn't feel right telling her I couldn't stay. It wasn't awful, just not what I had envisioned. However, the next morning I wish I had left after all because although the bed was warm and comfy, it was too soft and let's just say my already good French vocabulary was only enhanced by going to a pharmacy the next morning and asking for Décontractyl for my back. Back pain on vacation is not fun.

That day dawned a little cloudy but I pressed on after a walk around town. I covered a lot of ground in one day! I had told the Chilcotts I would be in Bayeux Friday night, so I only had 3 days to visit Finisterre, wave to Vannes, and head up north (I later told my friends this was my reconnaissance tour of Brittany. I already know I am going back, and where.). As you can see from the photos, I surely saw a number of beautiful places that day, and the weather got better. Photos (46-52) show a number of boats waiting for high tide... a beautiful cliffside drive just north of Perros-Guirec (follow the signs), I stumbled across a 13th century abbey in the middle of nowhere... and then Ploumanach and the Cote du Granit Rose!

Hotels and food in Finisterre. I had narrowed it down to two hotels in Finisterre, either Le Clos de Vallombreuse in Douarnenez (http://www.closvallombreuse.com) or Le Goyen in Audierne (http://www.france.com/hotels/hotel.cfm?hotel_id=2409). In the end I don't remember why I picked Le Goyen over the other, but I loved my room and the view! I had morning sun in my window, and a balcony view over the bay. I stayed two evenings there. By contrast, Douarnenez is on the northern part of Finisterre, heading into Pointe du Raz, and le Clos Vallombreuse was westerly facing, so I am glad I picked the one I did. Audierne seemed smaller and a better base for outdoor pursuits as well. Food in Finisterre: Don't go to this far west in Brittany without a good idea of restos to seek out. Especially in the smaller towns during shoulder season you'll likely find yourself eating a lot of crepes otherwise. I tend not to research meals very much b/c I am just not a picky eater, but for the smaller towns I would advise a little care ahead of time because three days of crepes (which you will find in abundance) or salads is a bit much. I did have a fabulous dinner in Douarnenez one evening. During my wanderings, I stumbled across Le Clos Vallombreuse, and stayed for dinner.

Horseback riding and llama on the loose! I did a lot of research for this ahead of time, and in the end it was so easy. I wanted to ride as close to Pointe du Raz as I could, along the water, so if you are interested in the same, there is a Centre Equestre in Plogoff. You will pass it as you drive to Pointe du Raz. I really enjoyed my morning, galloping along the cliffside, the sparkling water below! I think a ride through there a few weeks later would be even prettier, because I understand the yellow flowers are in full bloom at that time! You may not ride too close to Pointe du Raz but you can see it just a few cliffs away. On our way back to the stables, I saw a llama off in the distance. I am not making this up. The guide told me the owner of the stables had bought him and lets him loose to graze! How funny. Later that day I went hiking around Pointe du Raz. It's not strenuous but you would want decent shoes because there are many rocks strewn about. As you can see from the photos, (56-67), it's a gorgeous part of Brittany.

Next morning, on to Vannes via Pont Aven and Carnac.
flygirl is offline  
Nov 17th, 2004, 04:20 PM
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Like the pictures and the story. Keep it coming!
Michel_Paris is offline  
Nov 17th, 2004, 04:22 PM
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I missed your pictures in June. They are so beautiful they just melt my heart.
Giselle is offline  
Nov 17th, 2004, 04:26 PM
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thank you! I forgot to link the info about the Abbey - it really was beautiful.

http://www.abbaye-beauport.com/bellus.htm

http://www.abbaye-beauport.com/visite_abbaye.htm

enjoy!

more to follow...
flygirl is offline  
Nov 17th, 2004, 05:50 PM
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Photos 73-79. The next morning, I departed for Vannes, via Pont Aven and Carnac. I timed it just right and had lunch in Pont Aven and a little stroll around the town before taking off again. I very much liked Pont Aven, and I can see why Gauguin and others artists were attracted to the area. I wish I had more time to explore the area, but I had reservations that evening in Vannes and still wanted to see Carnac.

I should point out here that driving in France is a pleasure. The roads are exceptionally well-signposted, and the roundabouts make life so much easier. As you approach them, they have a sign which looks like a little roundabout map/key, indicating the number of spokes on the roundabout, with the road number of each and typically the name of towns to expect if you take a certain spoke. As you enter it, just look for your spoke! It's that easy. Should you be in any doubt as to your direction (navigating on the fly, so to speak, ar ar ar) you can just circle the roundabout a few times to decide. In the unlikely event you find yourself taking a wrong spoke, there's no need to panic, there's another roundabout right up the road, just circle it, take the spoke pointing you back in the direction of the last roundabout, and correct your mistake. Couldn't be simpler. I wish they had more roundabouts in the US. I find driving in Britain to be easy as well.

Carnac was something else! If you are visiting Vannes, definitely take a day off to go see this! Photo 79 is one shot of the menhirs... these were some seriously motivated people!

I carried on, and came into Vannes. I hadn't written down the address or phone number of the hotel, Villa Kerasy (www.villakerasy.com) but I figured I'd find it easily enough. It's near the train station. As I came into town, I happened to stop at a light next to some policemen on motorcycles. I asked them where it was, and the guy in front said "we'll show you, allons-y!" Wow, a police escort to my hotel, I think I like this town of Vannes!

Vannes is a really appealing town. I didnt get to see much of it, on my whistle-stop tour of Morbihan, but I can see why it is in the top ten of places to live in France. This is also one place you won't need to research for good restaurants ahead of time as there is a lot to choose from. I had a really great meal (and no, I didn't write down the name of the resto, sorry).

Brief note about the hotel. I loved Villa Kerasy! I know someone earlier this year had complained about the location, or maybe it was the small garden, but I still liked it. I had a garden view window, not street side. I also opted for the deluxe room (but I believe all rooms there are nice). My room was called "Pondichery". The owner had spent much time in India (he is from Lorient, which was a major port for the East) and he decorated the hotel to reflect the tastes he picked up there.

That night, I perused the hotel literature to see what I could do to entertain myself the next day. I saw a three hour bay cruise tour of the Golfe du Morbihan (a three... hour... tour) which left at about 10 AM or so, so when I checked out I told them I planned to do that and paid at the hotel. Unfortunately, because they were so busy in the morning I ended up waiting just a little longer than I expected, and when I took off in the car to drive to the dock, I showed up to see them throwing the ropes off the boat! I was too late! I literally was about 20 seconds too late! I ran to the dock, and waved to the folks sitting there on the boat. Darn it! The other tours were all day tours, and I had to be in Bayeux that evening and didn't want to push it. I figured, well, since my plans changed so radically, something special will happen today to make up for it!

Next up: St. Lo, Ste Mere Eglise and Bayeux.
flygirl is offline  
Nov 17th, 2004, 06:11 PM
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Oh goody ~ the report is back!
Beatchick is offline  
Nov 17th, 2004, 06:20 PM
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Hey Beatchick! there's more!

I left Vannes relatively early after all that, and decided to maybe check out Mont St. Michel, and definitely St. Lo. I last visited Mont St. Michel when I was (gulp) 16, and so I set off.

The trip from Vannes up to the coast really isn't that long after all, but alas, as I neared Mont St. Michel the rain started spitting (the second patch of rain this week, and in the same general location, too). I made the last minute decision to leave Mont St. Michel for another trip. I had not been to St. Lo before (not to be confused with St. Malo, on the coast, another town I visited when I was 16) and so I kept going.

St. Lo is still, after 60 years, a testament to the utter waste of war. 95% of the town was bombed flat to the ground during the landings in 1944. The cathedral, or parts of it rather, were still standing. See photos 80-83. They left the cathedral much as it was, but they did have to rebuild the main parts. They left the one tower standing, the other, gone. I poked around town for a few hours, and was utterly horrified by some of the things I read. The tourist office naturally is completely filled with information about the invasion and bombings (now, how is that for gruesome? A tourist office, devoted to the war and its aftereffects). I met a veteran who was there with some friends and family. It was his first time back in 60 years. He didn't really have much to say, his family who was with him told me about him as he shuffled around looking at the photos. It was so poignant. He was coming back to "visit old friends he had left behind". I can only think it was his last trip back.

I then set out for Ste.-Mère-Eglise, on the Cotentin Peninsula. I did not make it this far up the Peninsula on my last trip to Normandy 5 years ago, and I was determined to see it this time. What a contrast, coming in to Ste.-Mère-Eglise was, as opposed to St. Lo! It was like a liberation party! You were not allowed to drive in, so I abandoned my car next to all the other cars parked higgledy-piggledy all over, and walked into town. St. Lo felt like a church service... and Ste.-Mère-Eglise was a huge street fest. Despite the no-car rule (likely just no cars for day trippers) there were vintage jeeps and personnel carriers all over, foods of all sorts being grilled at little stands, beer, wine, ice cream... I bought a framboise cone and strolled around marveling at everything. I especially wanted to see the famous church with the dangling man in a parachute. His chute got stuck in the spire, and there he hung during the battle! Here is some history if you are interested: http://www.sainte-mere-eglise.info/e...ml?nRedirect=1

This was also a contrast to my last visit in that the last time we were a week early for the 55th anniversary of the landings, and as a result, wherever we went, we had to ourselves. It was interesting to see both sides of the coin so to speak. I think my next trip will be during the less-crazy time. I think something of this magnitude just has to be seen alone, when you are at peace. Quiet, solitude. The last time I got up early one morning without waking my boyfriend, snuck out, took the car, and drove to Omaha beach at 530 AM. I literally had the whole of the beach to myself. I went to the American cemetery around 630 am or so; again, alone and peaceful. THIS trip by contrast: fuhgeddaboutit. You don't have a ticket, you don't get near anything. And since this was a very spontaneous trip, I didn't have tickets. I am referring to the day of the ceremonies of course, not the other days, but it still was utter madness. Those roads are just as small as they were then, but this time crammed with caravans and jeeps and everything but camels!

I continued on to Pointe du Hoc, which was scaled by the Rangers during the landings. For info see: http://www.abmc.gov/ph.htm This area is utterly untouched, apart from a new security fence and of course the memorial, since the night of June 5th & 6th when the Allies bombed the hell out of it. I have a before and after photo I wish I could scan and put up here. Apart from the fact that the craters today have grass growing in them, all fortifications, all craters are just as they were left 60 years ago. Also see my photos 84-89.

Shortly after I left Pointe du Hoc, I found myself back in Bayeux and arrived at the Chilcotts just in time for their "Liberation Party".
flygirl is offline  
Nov 18th, 2004, 06:15 AM
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Thanks for the report!
Kavey is offline  
Nov 18th, 2004, 08:20 AM
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Hi, flygirl:

I'm enjoying your report. Isn't Vannes a gem? As for St-Lo, I once got stranded in the cathedral there during a wild thunderstorm and will never forget how the stained glass windows lit up when the lightning flashed.
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Nov 19th, 2004, 10:55 AM
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Nice report along with your photos.
 
Nov 19th, 2004, 11:29 AM
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cmt
 
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The mechanics of this site are getting weirder and weirder by the moment. Early this a.m.--around 7ish--I posted here saying that your photos and travel account were making me feel that Brittany is yet another place that I must go some day. I can't imagine why that post would've been deleted, or maybe I just I never noticed that it simply did not post successfully, just like several of my posts to the travel/culture trivia crossword game thread a few days ago that never showed up.
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Nov 19th, 2004, 11:35 AM
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Carol, I posted today on some threads and they are not there.
You'll love Brittany. We have been there three times.
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Nov 19th, 2004, 11:53 AM
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cmt
 
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Well, since Danny Mangin himself couldn't get his own post to stick, I guess we shouldn't take it personally.
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Nov 19th, 2004, 01:11 PM
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argh!!! must... finish.... report....

not gonna be. will have to wait until November 29.

however, I do hope to meet up with a really sweet guy I met in France, in June, in London, next weekend. He was there visiting with his uncle, at the Chilcotts. He doesn't live in London and is going to try to head up north next weekend. He, like much of London apparently, are "nipping off to France" this weekend...

cab will be here in an hour and a half..

have a great Thanksgiving everyone!!
flygirl is offline  
Nov 19th, 2004, 01:22 PM
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argh!!! must... finish.... report....

not gonna be. will have to wait until November 29.

however, I do hope to meet up with a really sweet guy I met in France, in June, in London, next weekend. He was there visiting with his uncle, at the Chilcotts. He doesn't live in London and is going to try to head up north next weekend. He, like much of London apparently, are "nipping off to France" this weekend...

cab will be here in an hour and a half..

have a great Thanksgiving everyone!!
flygirl is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2005, 11:06 AM
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topping for MelJ who is planning this trip very very soon!

have a great time Mel!
flygirl is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2005, 11:21 AM
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Thanks!

You're a peach!

I've printed it off to read tonight!

Mel
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Dec 13th, 2005, 01:19 PM
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Hi Flygirl - can you tell me what the name of the less-than-inspiring B&B in Dinan was? The link you gave is not longer active, and I need to know which place to avoid!
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Dec 13th, 2005, 01:51 PM
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I suspect that this is the B&B to which flygirl referred:

http://www.specialplacestostay.com/s...FileID=FBB1405

In Dinan we stayed at the Hotel Arvor** which is right in the middle of the old town and quite comfortable.
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Dec 13th, 2005, 04:44 PM
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Thanks Laverendrye, I was wondering if that was the one she meant. I have reservations at Le Logis Du Jerzual and have heard good things about it so far. I am hoping it is not the one she was referring to!
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