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Trip Report: Paris, Brittany, Normandy Part II: Brittany

Trip Report: Paris, Brittany, Normandy Part II: Brittany

Old Aug 11th, 2002, 04:26 AM
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Trip Report: Paris, Brittany, Normandy Part II: Brittany

We left Paris the day Lance Armstrong was arriving. The barricades were already up in front of the hotel and we were making a fast getaway with a taxi driver who should have been in the race.

He slammed the trunk lid down as we were trying to get our backpacks into the trunk and pulled away before I was fully inside the car. As we circled corners on two wheels, he excitely started shouting, "Dayjayvee, dayjayvee,dayjayvee," while looking wildly at each one of us. We all thought he was having some sort of fit. I finally understood: "Yes, we're going to Montparnasse TGV". His speed only increased when his car phone rang and he ensued arguing vehemently and ever loudly with someone for the next seven minutes. The kids and I were holding hands and praying in the back; my husband was calm and happy in front--after all, we were making good time.

After he got off the phone and after he slowed down for a few blocks, I asked him if he was going to watch the race. No, he responded, he was going to sleep since this was the end of his shift. Ah, hah! After we exited (quickly, so as not to be left in the car)at the station, we stood there watching the car squeal away.

I took a long deep breath. "Kids," I asked, "Did they cover the drug Speed in your D.A.R.E. class?"

Getting the train to Rennes was no problem. Figuring out the SCNF website had been. They kept giving my a fare for which I needed a discount card. I was willing to buy the card, but I wasn't sure if Americans were allowed to buy it. SCNF responded to my emails without answering my exact questions. StCirq and Andre hand-held me before we left (thank you again, guys). The night before the trip, I checked the website again and chose a slightly later train. This time, although I was given a "Carte Enfant" fare, there was another fare listed--the Decouvir fare. It was slightly more expensive and actually was being given for the exact same reason--travelling with a child, but there was no card requirement at all. I knew I would be perfectly legal. So I cancelled out the original reservation, made the new one, and breathed easily.

At least this trip, we knew how to find the car and the seats!

We arrived at the nice rail station (Rennes appears to be very well-run--it's the smallest city in France to have its own Metro system)within two hours. We would meet our tour group in an hour, which gave us time to do a short walk through some of the town. Biggest impression: clean!

And that would be a major impression of our stay in Brittany.

To be continued on this post.
Old Aug 11th, 2002, 04:34 AM
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I've been waiting for Part II. Glad you're up and posting. Empathy for your taxi ride. Can't remember where but we had a similar cab driver once. I kept talking to him in hopes of keeping him awake. Could tell he was just about done and afraid we would be too. Can't wait to hear about your time in Brittany and Normandy. A fan.
Old Aug 11th, 2002, 04:55 AM
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Part II of Part II: Brittany

On the tour, we were shuttled from Rennes, Bretagne 1 1/2 hours north to Pleven in the Cotes d'Armor area of Brittany.

Imagine emerald fields lined with squares of neon purple flax. Gray stones walls, gray stone houses, neatly stacked wood piles, intense blue shutters and doors, crisp lace curtains.
No plastic tables, no plastic chairs. No litter. Hydrangeas and geraniums on every possible surface.

This is one house-proud region. Lovely.

We arrived at the Manoir du Vaumadeuc. It has about 14 rooms, and ours was up at the very top under the eaves. No elevator, but as long as we were on the tour, we were only responsible for getting ourselves up, not our luggage.

Our oldest daughter, however, couldn't do that (darn track injury). Even O'Neill, the very charming owner, quickly arranged for a small cottage near the stables to be cleared up for the kids. It was a darling cottage--had a gorgeous bathroom and lovely fireplace with window seats--but I must also admit it was really moldy. Perhaps if he had had a day's warning, it might have been different.

Our under-eaves room was spacious enough to lay out our gear on the floor, and our small bathroom was fine. Those persons drawing the larger rooms for the stay had wonderful huge rooms with fireplaces and antiques, but even their bathrooms had to be small. This is a 15th century house, after all. Rooms would go normally for 90-180 Euros; breakfast would be 9 Euros.

What really made the house was the butler, Francois. A Frenchman, he had lived in Britain for four years in his youth. In that time, he had not only acquired impeccable English with a perfect accent but also integrated into his persona a marvelous British sense of humor.

Lovely grounds, peaceful setting, marvelous breeze.

To be continued later on this same post
Old Aug 11th, 2002, 05:33 AM
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After seeing our rooms, we all changed for the first bike ride in Brittany, an 11-mile warm-up that would include a Bretagne ruin: the 13th century Chateau de la Hunaudye.

Rolling countryside intersected by streams and small lakes. Nice small roads. Not easy but very pleasant biking.

The Chateau de la Hunaudye was nothing much to write home about (as we all know, by about one's 20th ruin, one never really intends to visit one again). What made it fun was a show that's put on there demonstrating the castle's history. None of us in the group could understand the plot since it was all in French, but it consisted of little plays put on in three seating areas of the ruins. So it went like this: three actors in medieval costumes shouting incomprehensible lines, then silence, then watching them walk across the inner courtyard to some other ruined part, then getting up to follow and sit down again. Again, incomprehensible lines, silence, walk, incomprehensible lines, silence, walk. This pattern was only broken when they did the swordfight. With real swords. Big ones. Sparks flying.

Later, all of us in the group admitted to having the same thoughts, "Must not have huge liability issues in France."

The food at the hotel was not fabulous, but Francois was the master of service, so no one cared.

The next day we did a marvelous biking loop the included Forte la Latte (ruin on coastline with view, Cap Frehal, and the Foret de la Hunadudaye. Weather was not bad--not rainy but certainly overcast and cool--but since there was no sun, there was no way to catch why they called this the "Emerald Coast" yet.

Still, nice views along the coast.

The next day we biked from Pleven to Cancale by way of Dinan. Just outside of Dinan in Pleudihan, we spied a good-looking patisserie. Purchased a tarte au citron and a tarte aux framboise. the fillings were superb but the crust was what was stunning. It was a first taste of the honey/butter Brittany pastry crust (which I will be trying to duplicate for the rest of my life). We ate the pastries in the beautiful rose gardens in this small (and always clean!) town.

Our descent into Dinan was halted by tourist traffic. After all, all of France was now on vacation, and it seemed as though their first stop was Dinan. An ancient walled city, it is truly darling.

Because of our pastry break, we missed taking the Petite Train. I don't know about the rest of the posters, but we love these things. Handy way to scout what you really do and do not want to come back to see.

Instead of touring, we ate (a frequent family decision). On the Rue de la Poissonerie are tons of places, and we chose La Lycerne, a mussels restaurant. Excellent. Members of our tour at the next table spoke no French and ordered a seafood plate. Little did they know it was a "cook it yourself" place. All kinds of raw shellfish, including gorgeous coquilles, arrived with a little cooker. They were happy.

Stuffed as we were, we no sooner left the restaurant when we were assailed by the smell of pastry. Apple pastry. Tracking it down, we saw a sign for "Ker-y-pom." Looked like little apple pies. Best decision of our trip was eating these. No cinnamon (my French friends have all told me they don't like how Americans use cinnamon all the time). Just that honey/butter crust surrounding excellent sliced Brittany apples.

Alert: I have spent 24 hours searching on the net for a recipe for these things. Please email me if you come across one.

To be continued on same post
Old Aug 11th, 2002, 05:58 AM
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Dinan to Cancale: What a bike ride. Sort of the Agony and the Ecstasy. The weather wasn't pretty, but that made the biking much easier. We had a long downhill descent into Dinan harbor (would love to come back and hang there sometime) then a long relaxing ride along the Rance river. At the canal's end, the agony began. Uphills, uphills toward Cancale. We were told Chateauneuf d'Ille and Villaine would be a cute town to stop for a snack and drink, so it became the mental goal for our family and another couple. Unfortunately, none of the places in town that were open looked appropriate for the kids.

We got lost and ended up biking the highway out of town, where we experienced "The Miracle of the Kronenburg." There is was, a roadside cafe with outdoor eating area and blinking "Kronenburg" sign. As the kids petted the rabbit housed alongside our table (they were thrilled that the place had Coca Light), we leisurely consulted maps and the proprietress while happily drinking "1664".

A few more hills later, we arrived at our next hotel. Hotel Bricourt Richeux. This is a 1800's house with extensive grounds just outside of Cancale directly on the water. We drew the good rooms for this stay, and ours had a balcony that overlooked the bay. From our luxurious bathroom windown, we could see Mont St. Michel in the distance (it was 90 minutes away!).

Our kids' room was just as luxurious, too.

What I liked about this hotel was that the retrofit designer was very concious about sound (not usually a high priority in Europe). There was a conscious effort to create closed off hallways to block lobby noise rising from the beautiful central staircase.

The dinner there? Again, not anything fantastic. And service, while very well-meaning, was just not organized well enough to handle our touring group of over 20. But very pleasant dining room overlooking the ever-changing tides. Add in a lovely group of people to eat with and you have a wonderful evening.

To be continued on the same post
Old Aug 11th, 2002, 06:21 AM
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Cancale, St. Malo: We biked down to St. Malo via Cancale the next day. Cancale is really interesting for a small town (oysters r' us), and we hoped to get back early to explore it a bit. Just outside of town are the rock cliffs of Rotheneuf, sculpted by a mad monk years ago. Gorgeous views everywhere, with sunlight finally showing us why it's the Emerald coast.

It started pouring just outside St. Malo, and I'm afraid it colored our excitement about the town. Hometown of Cartier (Canadians, salute now!) and privateers, it did not seem as charming as Dinan. The restaurant we chose was just OK. Even the Petite Train failed to stir up our interest. Wet and shivering, we just shut down our "La Tourista" capabilities as the train circled through town until...yes, there it is, a shop for Ker-Y-Poms!!!!!! My husband chose to bike the rest of the way home. The girls and I opted for buying a dozen Kers (yes, we shared them) and riding the van home to the hotel.

Again: if you have this recipe, email me. Please.

Our family left the hotel early that evening in hopes to get the Oyster museum. It was still open, but the English tour was closed. We were willing to go on the French tour, and our darling taxi driver begged them, but they refused. So we walked the oyster beds in Cancale trying to decipher how they did everything.

I'm going to buy a book on the subject.

Had a marvelous dinner at La Narvale. For around 22 Euros per person, may have had our best meal in France.

We would love to come back to Cancale again. A lovely small town with a true purpose other than tourism.

To be continued on a different post: Mont St. Michele and Normandy.
Old Aug 11th, 2002, 10:06 AM
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Now I'm really excited. We're staying at Le Richeux in Cancale when we head for Brittany in September. Glad you enjoyed it. I've tucked away your recommendation for La Narvale also. Thanks for the tips.
Old Aug 18th, 2002, 09:51 AM
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topping report part two
Old Aug 18th, 2002, 10:17 AM
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Wonderful, thanks for topping.
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