Trip Report - Fringe Movements

Old Sep 6th, 2010, 10:40 AM
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Trip Report - Fringe Movements

We've spent some time (together or singly) living and working in what other people have labeled "fringe" areas - Scotland and Ireland, rural Alaska… and I've always been drawn to places that are sort of on the edge. We've long been in love with the "Celtic Fringe" (a term applied loosely to western edges of Europe - Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany, IOM etc.) but there's been a big gap.

I became a little familiar with the music and culture of Brittany around 30 years ago, thanks mainly to a couple of remarkable musicians - Alan Stivell and Dan Ar Bras, who grew their Breton musical heritage into something approaching a pan-Celtic genre, and in the process expanded and energized traditional music throughout the region. But up to now it was all just music and pictures; haven't actually been there. Most other parts of France for sure, but not Breizh.

So sometime around March or April we were watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's <i>No Reservations</i> TV show in which the intrepid Tony braves the culinary depths of Brittany, staggering from one oyster-driven, crepe-fueled, cider-enhanced venue to the next, in quest of his "tower of seafood" climax. It was a dreary, rainy not-spring night in Seattle while this was on the box, and my wife and I had one of those Vulcan mind-meld thingy moments. I went to the computer to start looking up flight schedules and upgrade availability; she went to her work calendar and started to see what meetings she could cancel, reschedule or delegate. "No, the 24th doesn't work for me. How about never? Does never work for you?"

We also hadn't been to Edinburgh during the great Edinburgh Festival (and Fringe) for several years, and in the meantime some dear friends who had moved to Yorkshire from Edinburgh had returned upon retirement, and after staying for a year or so in a lovely but not particularly convenient flat in the medieval Old Town had sold said flat and bought a house (or more specifically three floors of a 5-floor Georgian townhouse ca. 1800) in the New Town. We took them up on their standing (and mutual) offer of ready guest accommodation.

So there we were: Scotland for a few days toward the end of the Festival, then Brittany for a week or so to follow the trail of oyster shells and cigarette butts left behind by Tony. We added a couple of days in New York to visit our son and daughter-in-law who live in the area; he works for a public health non-profit in lower Manhattan while she attends medical school in NJ, and while their busy lives meant we couldn't spend a lot of time with them while we were on the way to Europe, we didn't want to let the opportunity pass. Domestic flights would be via EWR owing to a 2-for-1 deal on Alaska Airlines; long haul would be from JFK to capitalize on my status with American Airlines for business-class upgrades both ways over the pond.

<b>New York - Thank you, Mood.</b>

The idea of both NYC and France in late August suggested that we might better spend the trip money having our heads examined, but the calendar was unforgiving - if we wanted to hit the Edinburgh Festival it would have to be either the last or second-to-last week in August (it ends before the first of September) and we wanted to be home in time for Jewish New Year on Sept. 8. The die was cast.

… and we paid for it with temperatures and humidity both in the 90s in NYC for those days. Once I suppose we were made of tougher stuff (Alaska residents, travelers to Uzbekistan and Israel in July, Singapore in August, etc.) but man, when it's that hot in NYC it's… well… feh. We arrived, crashed into our liquid-nitrogen-air conditioned room, but finally had to venture outside for a meal. We managed to get into an Israeli-Sushi place 100 yards from the hotel, ate some excellent hummus with lamb, and headed back to the hotel, only to stop short. Herself was looking up at the sign on an apartment building on the corner opposite our hotel and pointed it to me. Atlas, with the "T" in Atlas looking like a crosshair gun sight. Instantly recognizable to any viewers of Project Runway, which we are, as this year's domicile for the PR participants. Kewl. Okay, enough gawking. It's 9 PM, 85 degrees, and raining.

Our son and DIL are working the next day, so we won't see them till the evening, so we're on our own in Heat City. Stoked by the Atlas discovery the night before, we realize we're staying right in the middle of the fashion district (Bryant Park visible from our hotel room window) so hey, there's a theme for the day.

So the first stop is Mood Fabrics, another place familiar to PR fans. It's on 3 floors of a block on (I think) 37th Street, just a couple of blocks from our hotel.

Up the - manned - elevator to the third floor and… it's even better than it looks on TV. I'm not a sewer nor am I fashion -oriented in the least (sound of wife in neighboring room howling at the understatement.) But this place is awe-some. Totally cool, and full of hip, tattooed people all crawling over the towers of fabric rolls, notions, buttonopolis mountains, stuff. Herself is in paradise, her vocabulary regressing to pre-civilization grunts and squeaks.

A while later we have a couple yards of this and a couple yards of that and I'm sure she's about to enter a new phase of her life, peppered with "Make it work" and various Heidi Klum-isms. But we're back on the street and wandering around NYC in the summer heat. We decide to head up to Times Square to see if there's anything going on (har de har har) and of course there is… like a bazillion tourists complaining about the heat in various versions of Spanish, Italian (a lot of Italian being spoken) French and lots of British families about to discover the joys of the new Pop-Tarts Store, not far from the M&Ms store and the Hershey Store. Brilliant, innit?

One thing I observe is the strong presence of foreign military uniforms in the streets. On closer examination (they're distracted by break dancers) I determine that several hundred Albanian soldiers are present (which must be some sizable fraction of the Albanian Army) and reflect on how things have changed since I was a lad. Albanian soldiers on Broadway was the stuff of Cold War scare fiction back in the day. O brave new world…

Dinner with the kids that night, then the next day we escape the heat into a movie before we can head to the airport for the overnight flight to Lancashire.

The flight is fine, the train from Manchester airport to Edinburgh way, way overcrowded and uncomfortable, and the Holiday Inn in Leith is predictably clean and mediocre. We decided to spend the first night in Scotland at a hotel rather than with friends, as we're likely to be up and bouncing around all night and don't want to disrupt their house. And it is so.

<b>Of old friends, a singing Hamlet and Gospel Oedipus</b>

For those unfamiliar, Edinburgh during the Festival (and attendant Fringe) is a remarkable scene: literally every possible church hall, large restaurant space, school basement, or warehouse that can conceivably be pressed into service as a theater/performance space, is. The daily listing of performances in <i>The Scotsman</i> runs to 20 or so column-inches in a vewwy vewwy little type font. Picking and choosing involves a combination of research (the majority of performances don't even get reviewed - there's just too many) and luck; and if you wait for the reviews chances are the well-reviewed shows will be sold out before you can book them. But it's all good - the scene is chaotic, happy, upbeat, and the prices aren't so high that you feel ripped off if your choice happens to be lousy.

So once we got to our friends' house in the New Town, we hit the paper looking for something we could see that afternoon, prior to dinner that night with more old pals from days of yore. <I>Hamlet, the Musical</i> looked appropriately Fringe-ish, and we were surprised that we could get tickets for that afternoon's performance. So faint heart ne'er… etc…. and we were off to see how the brooding Dane would fare in song and dance. The theater in the old Pleasance courtyard complex near the University was packed and hot, and the performance was a total hoot - actors with great voices, a good accompanying mini-orchestra, hilarious (if occasionally groan-evoking) songs and lyrics, fun staging… culminating in Laertes and Hamlet dueling with poisoned herrings. Six quid very well spent.

That night and for the next couple of days we spent mostly drinking and eating in the company of a series of old friends - talking about the olden days (well, 30 years olden) and how are the kids/spouses/relatives/mutual friends doing (i.e. gossip, commiseration and bragging) . The beer was good, the company excellent, the restaurants way overpriced for the quality, but that's to be expected in (a) Edinburgh and (b) Edinburgh during the Festival. We did manage to get away on the last day for a drive out to North Berwick on the East Lothian coast, where the sun came out and we managed to spend some time walking along the beach and watching some fisher folk readying some gorgeous Razor Clams for market.

The final hurrah in Auld Reekie was the one "big" Festival (i.e. not the Fringe) performance we had booked as soon as we knew our dates. It was a gospel version of <i>Oedipus at Colonus</i> featuring a number of US gospel groups and the Blind Boys of Alabama. It's a re-staging of a play that appeared 25 years ago on Broadway and evidently helped Morgan Freeman accelerate his career. It was a muggy and rainy night, the Playhouse theater was packed and heated up to a rolling boil, and the performance was knock-down fine. Actual Edinburgh people standing and rocking and clapping and shouting toward the end. Hm.

In all, a good if brief visit to Edinburgh. Next time we'll come when there aren't half a million tourists vying for a table booking. But it's awfully good to see old friends, though, regardless of circumstances.

<b>Trains, ferries and very dead relatives</b>

Twenty years ago I couldn't abide old f@rts who obsessed about their family trees, and - sigh - now I R one, thanks to the efforts of various relatives who have managed to do the heavy lifting and record-searching work, combined with some family members raised in the LDS tradition who have put the Mormon church's vast genealogy resources to work in sussing out ancestors going back to Grandpa Urg.

Well, no Urgs yet, but we've got the tree back to the 15th century on both sides of the Atlantic. My first direct ancestor moving over the pond to N. America did so along with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but moved north to what is now New Hampshire around 1630. However we know that other ancestors were fishing off the New England coast in the late 16th century, commuting across the North Atlantic from Devon in the SW of England, specifically to a tiny village not far from Torquay.

As it happens we were planning to get to Brittany by train rather than by flying, but the Eurostar connections from Edinburgh to Brittany involved two longish travel days including a forced overnight either in London or Paris, and that sucked. Alternatively, we could take a day train from Edinburgh to Plymouth, then an overnight ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff, and the cost was actually cheaper than the London/Paris alternative, not even counting hotel costs in either capital. Easy peasy.

But then I noticed that the train to Plymouth (after a change in Birmingham) called at the small town of Newton Abbot, which just happens to be about five miles from the ancestral village, which is then around 20 miles from Plymouth. so my steel trap of a mind said, "Duh. Why not get off the train there, have a taxi take us to the village, take some pictures, then back to the next train to Plymouth?"

Answer: doable, but the cost of just having the cab take us the rest of the way to the ferry wasn't much more than the extra train fare, and much easier with luggage, to the plan was made.

The actual train journeys were unremarkable; our connection in Birmingham was late but the driver made up most of the delay by the time we got to Newton Abbot, where the cab was waiting in the gloaming and drizzle. A few minutes through the lush but wet countryside got us to Stoke-in-Teignhead (unhyphenated locally, making for a lot of letters on road signs) where I managed to take a few snapshots of the town that gave various grandparents their sailing papers. I got to the church yard but didn't find any tombstones for Gramps, but frankly it was wet and getting dark and I really didn't expect to find them - five hundred years is a lot of erosion on gravestones, especially if the honoured dead were black sheep looking to get out of Dodge.

Some good if clichéd looking building in the village, though: and

We arrive at the Plymouth terminal for Brittany Ferries a good two hours before we're allowed to board for the 11 PM sailing, so we sit around the waiting room reading books and watching the other foot passengers arrive. The Plymouth-Roscoff boat is mainly for car passengers, principally British families en route to Brittany or points south (Aquitaine one presumes) for holidays.

There's a snack bar in the terminal, offering some absolutely dire worst-of-British-cooking fare - fish and chips with brown sauce, pasties with grey unidentified meaty contents, something identified as a hamburger, but… However it's better than train food, which we skipped, so we consume a couple of hundred empty calories, while the French people returning from their shopping trips look at the menu with bewildered expressions.

Once we board the (spotless, quite luxurious) ferry boat (a process hampered by steep, rain-exposed stairs onto the ship , quite unfriendly to over-packed Yanks with Godzilla suitcases) - we lament the five pounds or whatever we sacrificed to the hunger gods in the terminal. Fabulous French cheeses, sweet fresh fruit, bread and pastries, hot dishes, wine and Breton cider… cripes.

We've obtained a cabin with berths, and spend a comfortable if very rocky 6 hours crossing over to France, where we arrive at Dawn, collect a rental car as soon as the office opens, and we're in Brittany.

To be continued…
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 10:45 AM
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Wow. Good stuff. I adore the dry wit of your writing style and am looking forward to more!
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 12:33 PM
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I love everything about this trip report!
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 12:53 PM
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 01:37 PM
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<b>Brittany Part 1</b>

We've decided to spend a total of eight nights in Brittany, divided equally between the northeast of the region, based in the medieval city of Dinan, and the southwest portion, based in the small town of Pont-Aven. The plan is to make day trips from those bases to a few of the many additional destinations on offer. Dinan is first up.

The drive from Roscoff (actually, Morlaix where we collected the car) to Dinan takes about two hours, mostly on 110 km/hr motorways, so it's not at all hard stuff. We arrive in Dinan at mid-day and weave through the very trafficky central area to the steep hill leading down to the old port area, where our lodgings, a recently built Best Western-affiliated 3-star hotel, are located. ( ) The BW Jerzual 's location is amazing - it sits on the river on the opposite bank from the old port-facing buildings, some half-timbered 18th century jobs, which are now home to various shops, cafes and restaurants. Dinan itself possesses some of the largest fortifications in Brittany; it sits atop a hill overlooking the old port (now just pleasure boats - the River Rance is tidal up to Dinan) secure in its walls.

Great location, okay hotel. It's clean enough but a little cold and pricey, but it has a convenient car park (tastefully secluded from the historic zone along the river) and it's fine for our purposes; we don't plan to spend that much time hanging around. We have a late lunch on the terrace, take a short nap then walk around the waterfront until it's dinnertime. All the (rather touristy) cafes are flogging Moules & Frites, and who are we to argue, so it's mussels and chips, along with some local cider, which sadly fails to match my hopes and expectations. The cider, that is. Frankly I've had better, my personal gold standard for hard cider being the various types produced in British Columbia. But the mussels are fab, and the chocolate crepe shared for dessert is exceptional. (But, as it will subsequently become obvious, exceptional crepes are the norm hereabouts.) It's starting to drizzle when we walk back over the wee stone bridge from the cafes to the hotel. and

The next morning we decide to try to get up to Mont Saint-Michel as the forecast is decent (but worsening later) and while we know it will be crowded and touristy, it's one of those photo-op targets that you really can't skip if you're nearby.

We stop en route at a supermarket to buy a couple of sandwiches, some fruit and bottles of Perrier for an impromptu lunch, but by the time we're 10 km or so from the Mont it's clear that we're heading into a colossal traffic/tourist jam. Unfortunately the land is so flat leading up to the Mont that you can't really see just how bad it is until you're almost there. We get there and it is. Not just bad, horrid.

By the time we've fully engaged each other in the go/no go debate we've been propelled into the vast, no-escape 5 Euro car park, where our rented Renault joins ten thousand or so of its brethren, along with a few thousand RVs and buses. The string of marching humanity from the car park towards the base of the Mont - maybe a kilometer, maybe two away - is awesome. We get out of the car, take a long look at the scene, take a couple of pictures, and say, simultaneously to each other, "Nah."

Back into the car, thread our way out of the car park, back toward the mainland we go past the next few thousand queuing cars waiting for a place in the car park, and stop for a beer.

Then we find a side road running parallel to the coast, turn down what looks like a farm road access, and come to a gate overlooking a field with the Mont in the distance, and the only noise the birds in the trees and the bees molesting the wildflowers. The other couple parked at the gate finishes their picnic, and cedes the site to us as they leave and we have our Carrefour sandwiches and peaches. The view is gorgeous, the sandwiches okay, and our good feelings return. and

We return to Dinan via Cancale and Saint-Malo, historic fishing and seaport towns along Brittany's north coast. We stop in Cancale (famous for oysters, but not now) for an ice cream but the crowds are oppressive and the weather deteriorating. Then we do a spin through Saint-Malo, not even beginning to do anything like justice to this historic walled port; however by this time it's rush hour and the relatively sleep-challenged nights are starting to catch up with me, so we vow to return the next day and head back to the Jerzual. Dinner is at another of the waterfront cafes; however now it's raining so the outdoor ambience is missing. I seem to recall some sort of savory crepe for me; I don't remember what she ate, but I do know we finished with excellent ice cream (twice in one day - O sinners!)

The next morning finds the weather not much improved, but we must soldier on… After the Jerzual's excellent buffet breakfast, it's back into the car and north to the coast. This time we're going to start with Cap Frehel, one of the scenic northern capes sticking into the English Channel, with its tall lighthouse.

The landscape becomes increasingly Celtic-looking as we approach the point - heather and gorse replacing the cornfields and smug-looking cows of the inland valleys, trees looking decidedly twisty from the strong winds…

The cape is windswept, the rocks spectacular (the local red sandstone will give way as one goes west to glorious pink Granite by the time one gets to Roscoff) and the lighthouse is quite the scenic thingy. We walk around and take pictures (I'm definitely coming down with a cold at this point) then adjourn to a nearby café for a late lunch - which turns out to be one of the best meals we'll have in Brittany. Utter simplicity - some steamed local potatoes (I have never tasted better spuds) served with a toping consisting of shredded Swiss cheese, some local wild mushrooms, softened sweet onions, and bits of bacon, all combined with some crème fraiche and spooned over the steaming potatoes. Killer. (I made it the first night we got home and the in-laws swooned.)

We drove around the countryside for the rest of the day, the rain spritzing on and off, then returned to Dinan for a light supper (crepes again IIRC) and an early bed as my cold was definitely on the rise.

Pictures from the day:

I'm a little better in the morning, so after a stop for cough syrup at a local pharmacy we're back up to the coast, this time to see something of the fin-de-siècle resort towns of Dinard and St-Lunaire on the peninsula immediately north of Dinan. It's still raining but not constant, and the drive and towns incredibly worth the effort. Houses ranging from grandiose to glorious, yellow-sand beaches and rocky outcrops, boats at their moorage, or else lying on their sides as the tide is out; little beach changing huts that made me think constantly of Jacques Tati as M. Hulot (fave movie of all time) - in short the essence of French seaside holiday towns. Totally cool.

We spend the day basically just meandering and taking in the sights, along with a lunch stop for yet more crepes, ice cream, and sparkling water. The weather is crummy but so what? It's good for the hydrangeas, and what hydrangeas! Criminally beautiful flowers everywhere.

Some photos from that day:

Our last morning in Dinan is spent wandering around the old town itself. It's a very charming medieval city with a lot of very fine buildings. The historic core is a bit touristy, but I suppose that's to be expected when this much history is on offer. We enjoy a couple hours of shopping and poking around, but the weather is still foul, my cold is still in full voice, and we have a couple hundred miles to cover before the next hotel presents, so we head out of town around noon and cross a somewhat misty and grey central Brittany, aiming for the end of the world.

One or two images of Old Dinan:

To be continued…
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 02:28 PM
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Gardyloo: Your second photo at Mont St. Michel is a GEM!! It's so perfect. Enter it in a contest, please!! I want to be there, as will everyone who sees it - clever on you!
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 02:30 PM
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And please keep up this marvelous report!
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 02:39 PM
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Bookmarking, to enjoy when I have time.
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 03:08 PM
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Loving this. We will be spending a week in a gite in Treverien next July and can't wait to hit all these lovely spots.
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 03:23 PM
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Great reading, thanks.

The Edinburgh festival fringe was one of the most stimulating events I have ever attended, and I would go back in a heartbeat.
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 06:03 PM
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I think we've stopped very near that spot with the view of Mont St. Michel just after my husband had hit a dog that ran into the road from nowhere.
Suffice to say we didn't take any photos or visit the Mont and we didn't see hide nor hair of the dog again.
I comfort myself with the fact that it raced somewhat speedily away and surely that had much to do with our slow speed due to the view!
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 06:32 PM
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<b>Brittany Part 2</b>

The region is called Finisterre -the end of the world (or, actually, Land's End) but it sure doesn't feel all that fringy. I mean, I know it's the part of Brittany that's most sensitive to its Celtic heritage, where the Breton language is still in some common use, and where the various prehistoric and Neolithic leftover bits - standing stones, rings, cairns, the megaliths of Carnac - all speak of Druids and drowned cities…

But you're sitting at a perfectly normal picnic table in the warm sun, eating the most delicious oysters in the world, set in front of you (along with some lemons, bread and Breton salted butter, and a bottle of local Muscadet) by the lady who picked the seaweed off them and shucked them in front of you, while her husband just left with the tractor to go around the other side of the house to fetch a few hundred more out of the family's oyster beds…

… and there are big chestnut trees and a Kiwi vine struggling to cope with its load of fat little fruit over your head, and next to you is a retired Air France pilot and his wife with whom you're talking about favorite villages in South Africa, and the bees are doing bee things with the geraniums and those obscenely huge hydrangea heads, and oh, would monsieur like some more oysters?

End of the world? Ha.

* * *

Our home base for the second half of our Brittany visit is the ridiculously picturesque village of Pont-Aven, so named as it's the location of the first inland bridge on the river Aven, which is tidal up to the Pont. It's located a few kilometers inland from the sea in Southern Finisterre, around 20 miles from the capital of the Department, Quimper.

Pont-Aven became noteworthy at the end of the 19th century when it was invaded by a number of well-known French painters, most notably Paul Gaugin in his pre-Tahiti period, followed by American and other foreign painters who created something of a little arts colony in the general area. Because of the Gaugin connection, the town is full of little steel posts bearing little copies of some of his paintings, set at the location where the original was created, so you can do a "then and now" comparison. Economically it's clear the town depends on tourism, but of a generally artsy nature - about every third storefront is some sort of gallery or atelier.

Physically it's a flowery and very watery place - there were umpteen (flour) mills when Gaugin arrived, so the Aven has been channelized into a number of mill races (where the water is streamed toward water wheels) and there are still several water wheels visible, although none currently grind anything in particular. The result is a braided pattern of streams and creeks, backwaters and ponds, and lots of little bridges crossing here or there… very charming and bubbly.

Our hotel is another 3-star job, the Hotel Roz-Aven, comprising a gorgeous little thatched building facing - again - the riverside "port" area. As with the Port de Dinan, the Port de Pont-Aven is basically a tidal river bank where boats float with the tide and sit on the mud when the tide's gone out. Yachty folk now populate the river, along with kayakers and ducks. Here's a view of the hotel:

Shortly after arriving and getting settled in, we adjourn to the hotel's café for a coffee or something a little stronger, and immediately notice numerous posters on display in the café and elsewhere near the hotel advertising La Fete de la Belle Angele, which will apparently take place in the Port de Pont-Aven on the following afternoon. We ask the landlord/bartender/valet/chef what's the story, and he gives us a program for the festival. Apparently it will involve a sail-in by some 30-odd historic boats, lots of Breton folk music and dancing, singing of sea shanties, celebration of the sardine harvest, lots of crepes and sardine sandwiches, beer and cider, and fireworks.

Right in front of the hotel. Hope that's okay, pilgrim.

More than okay, but of course it requires a rapid re-planning of the next day's agenda, since leaving town in the car will be easy, but returning later in the day, not so much.

No big deal; we had planned on taking most of a day just to explore and wander around Pont-Aven; guess it will be tomorrow.

The first evening we walk around the center of the town in warm late sun, and look at menus posted in front of the various restaurants. We decide on a remodeled old mill located next to one of the river branches, and have a great meal - duck, local scallops in a cider/cream sauce, a crème brulee with raspberries embedded in the crème, blah blah. Back to the hotel café (no dinner served) for coffees and a little chat, then to bed. So far, so good.

The next morning is spent exploring the town, including a lovely riverside walk (Le Bois d'Amour - woo hoo) past the local community garden, where people demarcate their plots by placing brightly-colored boots in the aisles between the plants (I am red boots - keep yer yellow-booted booty outta here.) It really is a lovely place.

Photos from that morning:

Then it's party time, with the first boats arriving with the afternoon tide, bearing sardines and sailors who have obviously been festivalling a little in advance of the tide. The street in front of the hotel begins filling up with booths and tented pavilions housing beer sellers and seating for crepe eaters, a couple of band stands are assembled, ladies with portable (and quite industrial-strength-looking) crepe pans set up assembly lines for chocolate, lemon or sugar crepes; a couple of draught horses appear with beer in tow… in short things start hopping.

Ladies and gents in regional garb (lots of lace) appear and march and dance down the street to the squeak of bombards and bagpipes (Brittany has very much adopted Scottish war pipes over the years) and various singing groups start competing. Kids and adults and not-so-adult adults commence eating and drinking, romances are struck, the boat bearing sardines arrives and the shanties (at least the English ones we can understand, sung by a couple of boats of English gents, who've sailed over for the occasion) get a little more bawdy. One of the boats' crew dons a rather slinky purple velvet evening dress and starts distracting the others with song; more boats arrive and more singing ensues… well, you get it. We eat crepes and drink beer and try to understand as much as we can, but it's not particularly hard to figure things out, and by dark we've had a grand old time of it, and retreat (pre-fireworks, sadly) to our room. We still hear the fireworks, of course. Like they were right outside our window. Oh wait…


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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 07:39 PM
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 10:56 PM
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Great stuff!
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Old Sep 6th, 2010, 11:12 PM
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Gardy, what a super report. It helps your writing about my favourite places, but really....
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Old Sep 7th, 2010, 01:24 AM
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Enjoying your report.

Have taken that ferry many times - when I was a student in Edinburgh I had a French boyfriend who lived in Quimper, so I'd regularly get the bus from Edinburgh down to Plymouth and then head over to Roscoff on the ferry as a foot passenger. Never could afford a cabin though!

I also worked for 6 months near Pont-Aven, so I know Finistère very well too.

Nice to hear about your travels to places I am so familiar with!
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Old Sep 7th, 2010, 07:47 AM
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<b>Brittany Part 3</b>

The next morning finds the tide receding and a few of the ships gone, but more still tied to the quay, those that have them slowly settling onto their keels, then their sides, while those with movable centerboards or twin keels just come to a rest on the mud. Of their occupants there isn't much sign; possibly they're overcoming leftover cider toxins, the poor dears.

For us the living, however, a new day dawns. Fueled by croissants and more of that great butter, we embark for a day of exploration of the area, starting with an exploration leading to fuel for the car and cash for the wallet. Both are obtained but not without some aggravation. Note for Norte Americanos… you don't need an ATM card with a chip to get cash or to charge most things in France nowadays, but if you want to buy fuel for the car at the cheaper places (e.g. supermarket pumps) these are now unattended, and your ATM/credit card won't work with the pumps. So you're limited to using filling stations with humans attached, which inevitably adds a couple of Euros to the final bill. (BTW diesel, which our car used, was running around 1.20€/l, i.e. around US$6 per gallon. Fortunately our Renault Scenic got something like 40 mpg - that's US, not Imperial gallons.)

Off into the world we go, first stop the small village of Kerascoët around 15 km from Pont-Aven. Kerascoët is obviously a black-belt 10th degree certified historic village place; it fairly squeaks with evidence of enthusiastic historic preservation officers terrorizing the locals. "You MUST trim the edge of your thatched roof to within 3 cm of the brow of the window's top apex tangent… <i>Monsieur."</i> (Sorry, channeling previous life as historic preservation officer.) Cute, in a pretty forced looking way. God forbid you have a barking dog or get into a fight when your not-very-historic daughter comes home with a tat on her tuckus. It's the sort of place where the strolling visitors all whisper. More great-looking hydrangeas, though. Nice quiet ones.


And then it's time to come back to the inspiration for this trip, and follow in the footsteps of Tony Bourdain, down to the water perchance to slurp oysters.

The Port de Belon is no more than ten minutes from Kerascoët, but we take the time just to mosey around the landscape. It's mainly pretty flat, with a lot of very picturesque villages set into fields of corn (maize) and other crops (but a lot of corn - more than we expected) - all looking like they too have felt the gentle hand of the design review commissions when it comes to paint choices and window treatments. Unlike much of the rest of France, there are very few jarringly-out-of-place new structures screaming, "I can afford an architect and you can't, ha ha!"

The actual port area of Belon is not at all car-friendly, so the local council has built a small car park on the road leading down to the quay. Well, not really a quay, more a boat ramp with the remnants of an old marine railway still intact, but unused obviously since the days of sail ended. What boats that are present are mostly dinghies sitting on the mud, or a couple of sailboats moored to floats out in the river channel. Otherwise the shore is completely covered by oyster racks, and some holding tanks where the flats (around 1.5 m square) of oysters are kept wet waiting for (a) the tide to return or (b) the oysterman to come for the Last Trip You'll Ever Take" if you're of the mollusk persuasion.

The ostensible target of this stop is lunch at Chez Jacky, the restaurant made famous by Tony Bourdain (actually, it was already pretty famous) where he finally obtains his "tower of seafood" in the TV show. Chez Jacky is built next to the boat ramp, but before we can get down to the bay, we pass some hand-printed signs advertising the oysters-lemon-bread-butter-Muscadet setup I mentioned above.

The prices are good, the oysters that we can see look - well, like they've just been picked off the flats, which they have - and the farmhouse has a sunny courtyard with the picnic tables and the bees mentioned earlier. They also have some tables under the trees overlooking the harbor, but these are occupied by people who don't look like they want/need company, so we opt for the courtyard, where the eating and schmoozing with the Air France pilot and his wife ensue.

This is one of those moments in travel when it all comes together, and I won't belabor it. Hopefully we all have some of these kinds of experiences - the more the better, so 'nuff said.

Apres-huitres, we finally get down to the dock and look over Chez Jacky's menu and setting (not bad, really) and spend some time walking around the Port. Then we leave (reluctantly) and continue our explorations of this coastal area, which involves one incredibly picturesque port/river mouth after another, punctuated by the occasional stop for ice cream or Breizh Cola ( ).

We return to Pont-Aven and have a light meal at a restaurant not far from the hotel - some sort of white fish in beurre blanc for her, more mussels and frites por moi, then another shared crepe. Bed comes early (no fireworks… ha ha) after a glorious day of warm sun, new friends, old villages and shellfish.

Gardyloo is online now  
Old Sep 7th, 2010, 09:30 AM
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DanM is offline  
Old Sep 7th, 2010, 10:57 AM
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Your pictures are making me giddy with excitement and my trip is 10 months away.
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Old Sep 7th, 2010, 12:51 PM
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Oh Bravo! Just found this and it is a great read-will go through photos last. The Edinburgh portion blew me away-would love to add it to my bucket list (before bucket gets a hole in it). More, please.
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