Thursday 7th July 2011, Dol-de-Bretagne, Brittany
There has been no time over the past week for blogging. We've been swept up in a whirl of visiting friends, taking walks along the sandy beaches around Ouistreham and Cabourg and looking around an exhibition of aerial photographs of Caen and the surrounding Normandy countryside viewed from a microlight. This was excellent, organised by the Conseil Général and held in the lovely 18th century Château de Bénouville on the banks of the river Orne. Access to the rooms of the chateau and its grassy lawns and English style gardens with their huge copper beeches was included in the entrance price of 2 Euros! Included too was a lavishly illustrated guide to the exhibition including around 100 coloured reproductions of the photos! Culture is still alive and kicking in France even as we toll its death knell in the libraries, museums and art galleries of Britain. Thanks to you Mr. Cameron!
We were fortunate to have been able to see our friend Claire at her home one afternoon, while library friends Gaston, Odile, Marie-Françoise and Bénédicte all managed to join us for a really enjoyable evening with drinks and a buffet supper where we heard with envy and a sense of frustration for Devon of the advancement of the new central library being constructed in Caen for which Bénédicte has overall responsibility for the informatics system. It was too wet that evening for the planned buffet in Geneviève's garden, but on other occasions we've been able to eat outside or sit on the lawn with glasses of wine until late in the evening. Darkness does not fall until well after 10pm.
We moved on yesterday afternoon after a delightful family lunch inYves's home with Camille, Nisha, Ayden, Geneviève and Germaine. Nisha is Yves's daughter-in-law and comes from Trinidad so the baked fish with cream and onions cooked by Yves was accompanied by sweet potatoes Trini style cooked by Nisha. Germaine, who is Yves and Geneviève's mother, celebrated her 90th birthday recently. For our lunchtime celebration she cooked one of her delicious deserts of creamed semolina and pineapple while Ayden, Nisha's four year old son, spoke to us in a language of mixed French and Trinidadian English! It was a high note on which to leave our friends, a time always tinged with regret on all sides.
During the afternoon we drove west into Brittany having decided to spend a few days exploring the region before taking the ferry back to Devon from Roscoff next week. We passed through Avranches and followed the coast road round past Mont St. Michel. Realising it was getting late we headed towards this campsite, a few miles inland for the night. On arriving we were warned we would be unable to leave before tomorrow afternoon as the Tour de France would be passing the entrance and we would be cordoned off by the police. This, we decided, would give us a relaxed evening watching a dvd, confident that we'd have plenty of time this morning to catch up on "admin".
Thursday 7th July 2011 continued, St. Malo, Brittany
We are still hopelessly behind with electronic paperwork, blogs and photos as we spent most of the morning standing by the roadside in awed amazement at the unbelievable razzmatazz that surrounds a group of lycra-clad cyclists spinning their way through the byways of France. We'd been told they'd be passing the campsite around midday so after a leisurely breakfast in the bright warm sunshine we settled down to a morning's work on the computers. Soon there were loudspeakers at the campsite gates from the official Tour de France souvenir sellers - bracelets, umbrellas, tee-shirts and baseball caps. Then the police arrived in half a dozen vehicles and proceeded to erect barricades to ensure nobody tried to make a dash for freedom in their campervan.
Today's session took the Tour de France on one of its longest sections from Dinan in Brittany to Lisieux in Normandy. First though came the publicity, known as la Caravanne. This is what sponsors the event and all the big names were represented with motorised vehicles decorated in the zaniest ways imaginable flowing briskly along the road scattering free samples to either side. We ended up with several packets of cakes as well as some washing powder, a local newspaper and a cloth for cleaning glasses. Other campers lining the roadside were luckier, receiving bread and buns. Most of us though were a little fed up with the Vittel vehicle spraying us all with water as it swept past. That's the second time this trip I've been sprayed without my agreement. Hopefully this time though it was only Vittel water rather than chlorine.
We ended up spending a couple of hours watching as hundreds of vehicles intermittently swept past. Apart from the lavish floats provided by the big names – Carrefour supermarkets, Banette bakeries and PMU betting amongst many others, there were also umpteen insurance companies, private and commercial enterprises and of course the police all with their horns or tannoyed music blaring. Eventually police motorcyclists came along in convoy followed by hundreds of vehicles laden with spare racing bikes in case of breakdowns. Finally the heroes of the day arrived and we all cheered, waved and twirled football rattles. They came and went in a couple of seconds, a tight packed bunch of brightly coloured athletic cyclists speeding their way across France. The rain did much the same thing. It arrived with the cyclists, soaked us all and swept on, hanging around just long enough to ensure we got even wetter waiting until the following motorcade of support vehicles had passed before we could cross the road to get back to the campsite and the shelter of Modestine.
So it was gone 1pm by the time we finally got away. We drove to Dol-de-Bretagne which is a delightful little granite town with a lovely atmosphere. It's full of 17th century granite houses, the main street having a mixture of stone buildings with carved granite facades and half-timbered buildings. We visited the granite cathedral which is 100 percent gothic inside. Brittany has its own saints, many being found nowhere else and the Cathedral was dedicated to St. Samson who came from the town. In the market hall was a very appropriate exhibition on the history of cycling.
We found a busy cafe for lunch where we were entertained with TV highlights of the cycling as we waited for the most delicious cheese omelettes to be whisked up in the kitchen. It seems that only the French can make omelettes quite this puffed up, creamy and light. The coffee was pretty good too and the atmosphere was very friendly.
After exploring the town further we drove to the coast and followed the bay of Mont St. Michel around to Cancale, famed for its oyster beds where restaurants all along the harbour side sell moules et frites, huitres, fish dishes and fruit de mer. Just off the beach were the first of the oyster beds that stretch right out into the bay.
It occurs to us that these latest travels have stretched from Çanakkale in Turkey to Cancale in Brittany! Pretty well from edge to edge of Europe!
Northwards from Cancale lies the granite headland of the Pointe du Grouin. Beautiful it undoubtedly is, as the sea laps around the harsh bare rocks, the headland covered in low bushes and the sunlight reflecting from the surface of the water. It was though crowded with cars and visitors with a couple of restaurants and souvenir shops. Just off shore is a bare rocky island where once attempts were made to build a fortress by guess who? Yes, M. Vauban yet again! It was never completed however and is now a sanctuary for birds.
Time to find somewhere for the night. Actually we could have stayed anywhere. The villages and cliff tops are bristling with signs advertising campsites while all the lay-bys are choked with French motor homes determined not to use them. We decided to head for this site, near Dinan, thinking it would get us along the coast a bit quicker as we are running out of time. Unfortunately we caught St. Malo in the rush hour and crawled around the ring road and out across the Barrage de Rance before we could get clear. The barrage is an impressive feat of engineering making use of the massive tidal flow within the bay around St. Malo to generate electricity. Along the top runs a four lane highway. Unfortunately there was no time today to investigate it.