Sunday, January 09, 2011

Jack DeKorne is one of the greatest people I've known

We just learned this afternoon that Susie's Uncle Jack DeKorne passed away in his sleep last night.

I first met Jack many years ago in Michigan, probably at a Van Halsema family get together I suppose. When I met him first doesn't really matter, though, because Jack was one of those rare people who made you feel as if he's known you all his life. When you engaged him in conversation he gave you his full attention, indeed he made you feel as if you were someone special and that it was a privilege to be talking with you.

Even though he made his mark in the world of fine furniture, we both shared a great fondness for recording life's peculiar events on videotape. Every time our paths crossed, and they were too few, he always made me laugh with his stories, jokes and wry outlook on the foibles and follies of the human condition -- always with a good heart. His kindness of spirit, sincerity of hospitality, and warm humor always remind me of my own father, who will always remain the greatest man I've ever known.

Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us Jack.



Friday - Our last day in Paris

Another leisurely morning on rue General Renault, readying ourselves for the final day of our trip, taking in just being in Paris for one more day. Shortly before midday we head off to the Metro in the direction of rue Cherche Midi in the 6th and lunch at Cuisine de Bar, the restaurant arm of  Poilane Boulangerie. Known for their tartine (a fancy way to say open-faced sandwich) that's exactly what we had. We both opt for the formule: salad, tartine of the day, wine and dessert.

Curried chicken tartine

No, this is not a sub sandwich -- this was cut from a log of Paris-Brest dessert 
Cuisine de Bar. 8, rue Cherche-Midi (next door to Poilane Bakery), tel: 01 45 48 45 69, (M: Sevres-Babylon). No reservations.

We spent the better part of the afternoon scouting pastry shops. Always on the lookout for new ideas there's no better place to discover cool pastry ideas than Parisian patisserie, and so naturally Susie had compiled a list of places she wanted to visit. While we didn't get to them all we did manage to visit several. One in particular was in fact a spice shop recommended by David Lebovitz, "Epices Roellinger."

After many years as a successful chef-owner, Olivier Roellinger gave up his three Michelin stars and opened this wonderful spice shop in the heart of the Japanese section of Paris. His specialities are rare black peppers but he also carries a wide variety of usual and unusual spices. We picked up some fleur de sel and Susie was particularly attracted to his fleur de lune, a combination of sea salt and vanilla.

Epices Roellinger, 51 bis, rue Sainte-Anne, Paris 75002, 01 42 60 46 88, Metro: Pyramides. Closed Sunday and Monday.

One of the truly wonderful thing about strolling in Paris, casual strolling that is, without an agenda or itinerary, is you never know what you're going to come across, like Christmas trees made out of recycled plastic bottles near the Comedie Francaise. . . 

. . . or a delicate paper sculpture hovering just this side of incredible outside a gallery,

. . . located inside the Gallerie Colbert:

We wound our way toward the Place de la Republique and caught up with our friend Marie B. We were scheduled to meet her at the Clown Bar, a place recommended by another friend Diane T. and quite close to near the Circus d'Hiver. But it turned out the place was closed so the three of us walked to a bar not far from Republique where we found a table a ordered an aperitif.

It had been a couple of years since we had seen Marie, and although sharing information n the internet is certainly convenient, it was good to finally see her in the flesh as it were, to talk about things that were and things yet to be.

So French, so Paris, and so is much of life, so Paris.

Once again we found ourselves saying au revoir to someone whose path we keep crossing on this planet. As Marie headed off for the Metro at Place de la Republique Susie and I headed in the opposite direction down Boulevard de Temple. A couple of blocks later we popped into a bookstore for no particular reason other than it was a bookstore, and browsed for a while.

Fifteen minutes later we walked back out into the cold drizzle and 5 minutes later walked into L'Olivier, a Greek fusion restaurant we discovered in 2008. The place is small, intimate might be the term used in the foodie magazines, but warm and comfortable. The menu was significantly upscale from when we were there last but the food was delicious and the wines, Greek of course, incredibly tasty. Few diners joined us that evening -- curiously the Tibetan restaurant next door was packing them in though -- and we had a chance to chat with the chef owner and his wife, the back and front of the house respectively. Some years ago they moved from the Greek island of Santorini to Paris so he could broaden his culinary experience. My leg of lamb with hummus and feta was absolutely wonderful and the couscous gateaux with ice cream equally worth the trip and the money.

Restaurant L'Olivier, 15 Boulevard de Temple, 01 42 77 12 51, Paris 75003, Metro: Filles du Calvaire.

Back out into the dark of Paris, with umbrella up and ten minutes later we were walking up the stairs to our apartment on General Renault. The evening was spent packing up our things but  we couldn't quite pack up our feelings. But then our trips have always leaned that way I suppose -- we have never been able to leave a Paris or France or Siena or Italy for that matter, really leave it I mean.

Wish you had been there, but then maybe you were. . .


Saturday, January 08, 2011

Musee d'Orsay update

A recent trip to the Musee d'Orsay has revealed several important changes, which may or may not have an impact on your decision to go there anytime soon:
  • The museum is presently undergoing major renovations and the entire upper level and half of the 2nd level are closed. Many of the paintings and some of the sculptures have been relocated to other parts of the museum.
  • The room formerly dedicated to Manet is now predominately Cezanne (although "Olympia" is still in the same space).
  • There is now a cafe on the 0 level, serving limited snacks and drinks.
  • Photography is now prohibited in the museum. This appears to be strictly enforced.
  • Multipass tickets are now available allowing access to the Orsay/Orangerie and Orsay/Gustave Moreau. 
The cafe was nice to be sure but the chaos caused by the renovation and the frustration in trying to locate your favorite artist, not to mention the new anti-photography edict, make things a bit less comfortable. Or so we thought at any rate.

Thursday - Gray rain in Paris, Mora, Dehillerin and changes at the Orsay

Another gray day with drizzle to rain to drizzle to rain.

A leisurely morning for us both on rue General Renault. We had to wait for Darty, an appliance store chain in Paris, to deliver a new dryer, which they did promptly at a little before 9am. I willingly gave up the right to handle the transaction, thus allowing Susie to continue her French studies first hand.

The delivery went off without a hitch and shortly after the delivery guys left Susie bundled up, grabbed her umbrella and plunged into the vast grayness of Paris in early January. She was determined to make her routine pilgrimage to the Big Three icons of the culinary world: Mora for baking tools and equipment, Dehillerin for more equipment and Librarie Gourmand for the vast world of cookbooks in French.

As usual she proved successful in her search for just the right mold, the right book, the right baking thing, and before long returns with a bag of goodies (non-edible unfortunately) to be packed away for the long return to the US.

The two of us then head off into the "mizzle" (cross between mist and drizzle) to the Metro and to the Musee d'Orsay, a favorite stop for us; this trip is no exception.

After standing in line for 20 minutes ro so, carefully watching the rhino balancing herself on a nearby rock, we were let inside. Through security, we bought our tickets (discounted entry fee since we had visited the Moreau museum), checked our coats and scooted off to the wilds of impressionist art. Or so we thought. . . We were greeted by some rather unsettling changes (a couple of them good, mind you):
  • The museum is presently undergoing major renovations and the entire upper level and half of the 2nd level are closed. Many of the paintings and some of the sculptures have been relocated to other parts of the museum.
  • The room formerly dedicated to Manet is now predominately Cezanne (although "Olympia" is still in the same space).
  • There is now a cafe on the 0 level, serving limited snacks and drinks.
  • Photography is now prohibited in the museum. This appears to be strictly enforced.
  • Multipass tickets are now available allowing access to the Orsay/Orangerie and Orsay/Gustave Moreau. 
After tracking down some of our favorite artists we settled into a a pair of seats in the new cafe, overlooking the man floor of the old train station, and had a bite to eat ("bite" being the operative word). Notwithstanding the major renovations underway the museum was packed -- probably little else to do on rainy Thursday afternoon in Paris I suppose.

After leaving the d'Orsay we walked down to the Solferino Metro stop and took the no. 12 to the no. 10 to the no. 5 at Gare Austerlitz, getting off (as usual) at Richard Lenoir.

A quick 5-minute walk in light drizzle to avenue Parmentier where we  popped into at a Chinese traiteur for takeout, then crossed the street to our apartment, fiddled with the digicode, opened the next door (locked) and up four flights, then unlocked our door and back in our apartment, where we opened a bottle of Prosecco and portioned out the food.

Another day in Paris, another night of eating Parisian food.

Wish you had been there,


Friday, January 07, 2011

Brittany 2011 in pictures

Since it will be several days before my trip notes to Brittany are finished I thought I might share some of my photos straightaway. I've also included captions to help explain why you're seeing mostly a bunch of big rocks. . .

Wish you had been there,


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Wednesday - Departure but not goodbye, Brittany to Paris

Wednesday morning began as usual: gray and cold. After a leisurely breakfast, we packed up, paid the bill and climbed into the Ford Focus one last time. Less than a half hour later Richard pulled into the parking lot at the Vannes train station, parked the car and the four of us went inside to have one last cup of coffee together before our two companions headed south for Mouchan and we boarded the train for Paris.

We lingered over the morning chatting about travels yet to come for us all. But the time arrived, as we knew it would, when we said au revoir to Richard and Pauline. Watching them pull out into the Breton drizzle Susie and I both agreed that our time together had been far too short, that we had seen so little of Brittany -- but we both knew and know that we were  lucky to have any time there in the first place.

The Paris TGV was on time and as full as the one that brought us to Brittany on Sunday. We settled into our seats and took up our stations of watching the foggy French countryside slip by at high speed. Three hours later we awoke from our hypnotic stupor and began the climb out of the train and down the stairs of the train station into the bowels of Gare Montparnasse heading for the Metro and home on rue General Renault.

That evening we retraced our steps to the Metro and headed back in the direction of Montparnasse to our friend Val and her new husband Hubert's apartment. Susie had been lucky enough to have attended their civil wedding service last spring but I had not met Hubert and we weren't about to let the rain dampen our excitement over seeing the two "newlyweds" in their new home.

Having gotten turned around coming out of the Metro, we arrived a bit late but Hubert, like Val also an engineer,  was running late leaving work so the three of us sipped wine, ate some incredible Camembert and caught up on the news. (We also got to see the wedding photos and learned that at many weddings in France the bride and groom sit down during much of the service, in chairs especially placed at the front of the church for that purpose.)

After Hubert came in out of the dark and rain the four of us sat down to a scrumptious dinner and chatted about life in Paris, marriage and the wonders of being together.

The night slipped away from us and eventually Susie and I slipped out into it -- and into the rain. We soon found our way to the Metro, and before long were back in the 11th walking across rue Parmentier and onto rue General Renault and home.

Wish you had been there -- but of course if you had, you'd know all this already.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tuesday - Ste. Anne d'Auray, Auray and Vannes

Tuesday morning brought overcast and gray rain. After a leisurely morning over breakfast (delicious as always) and a stroll around Carnac centre, seemingly deserted although the one bookstore was open and the four of us browsed lazily among the shelves, we loaded ourselves into the Ford (our close companion now, although no DS to be sure) and headed back north, this time in the direction of Ste. Anne d’Auray.

The center of this small town was dominated by an incredibly imposing bulk of a cathedral, which formed part of a large u-shaped memorial park. (photo above)

Directly opposite the entrance to the church was an odd structure even by Roman Catholic standards: a pair of stairs forming an apex at the top of which was . . . nothing. It’s the stairs themselves, the sancta scala, that are the important: they represent the stairs that Christ had to climb to meet his judgment at the hands of Pontius Pilate, and the faithful climb them on their knees, one at a time, saying their prayers, asking forgiveness on each riser, climbing ever so much closer to their God. (The “original” stairs, the sancta scala, are reportedly in Rome, near the Church of St. John Lateran.)
A u-shaped wall of names commemorating the young men from Brittany who died during the First World War dominated the third side of the park. At its center, set back about 100m or so was rotunda memorial and behind it was a life-size recumbent figure of a young man in uniform, surround in a sweeping series of male figures, all representative, it would seem, of those young men who will always be young.

Off to the side on the backside of one of the memorial wall of names, was a large statue of Ste. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, standing incongruously in her own park, seemingly oblivious of all that had suffered around her.

As we strolled around these large open spaces, deserted but for us four and a group of teenage boys hanging out killing time between classes perhaps, one got the sense that these structures had all grown up independent of one another, that little thought had been put into designing the space with any plan for integrating the theology of faith with fidelity to country. The light rain of course didn’t make the place appealing either, but still. . . .

From Ste. d’Auray we drove south a few kms to the old port town of St. Goustan Auray. After parking the car along the quai (which should be pronounced "kway" but for some reason is actually pronounced “key”) the fours of us scuttled out of the cold drizzle and into the only open restaurant where we joined everyone in town for a delicious lunch of crepes and galette.

 After lunch we walked across an ancient bridge directly opposite the quay (key) and popped into an incredible little shop run bun by a former MOF named Larnicol selling Kuign-aman pastry as well as numerous flavors of homemade caramels touched by the grace of Breton sea salt.

What looks like olives are in fact various types of nuts covered in equally various types of chocolate

We took our time leaving Auray. Pointing the car in the general direction of Vannes, the largest city in the area and the place where this adventure began, Richard got us out of town and back onto the highway. Upon entering Vannes he deftly maneuvered the Ford into a parking lot in the city center near the “ramparts,” the remaining part of the ancient wall that once ringed the city. The four of us casually strolled in and through the old part of Vannes. Unfortunately the megalith museum was closed -- the museum houses a large number of artifacts uncovered at many of the sites we had visited -- so we sought out a warm place for an aperitif.

That evening we had dinner at the Brasserie Les Halles, in the old part of the city; the recommendation had come from a young woman working the night desk of one of the city’s hotels. Our server was a young woman who was determined to practice her English and I was certainly willing to oblige. The food was quite good – I enjoyed a thoroughly delicious steak – and the atmosphere warm and inviting but we eventually had to go or rather leave the restaurant and we were soon back on the street, wending our way through the maze of rotaries, a feat that has become second nature to Richard now, and found our way back to Carnac and to bed.

Wish you had been there,


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Monday - Carnac Alignments, Locmariaquer and the Power of the Stones

We awoke to a gray, overcast morning, just like Paris but with less asphalt. Lack of sun, a well-chilled air and marginal drizzle would be our companions during our very short time in Brittany. But the breakfast laid out by our host was delicious: fresh baguette, homemade jams, Breton butter and local pastries, sweetened even more by the lively table conversation as the four of plotted our moves for the day.

(Richard’s suggestion that we tour as many of the nearby Neolithic and megalithic sites as possible before rain discovered our whereabouts proved a wise choice.)

So packed ourselves into the Ford Focus and with Pauline and her trusty road atlas and Richard at the helm the four of us set out to walk among the stones, to stroll among cemeteries older than the pyramids, to see for ourselves the power wielded by some thousands of large rocks.

Our first stop were the series of stone “alignments” just north of Carnac.

Extending over more than 4kms, the Carnac Alignments are comprised of three major groups of stones that may have once formed part of a single group: Le Menec, Kermario. The alignments also include isolated menhirs (large standing stones), as well as individual tombs such as the Tumulus of St. Michel and collective tombs (dolmens), also known as passage graves like the one at Menec:

I’ll have a bit more to say about several other burial sites later, as we visited several of the more spectacular ones on Monday as well. Suffice it to say these are probably the oldest cemeteries I will ever visit in my life (I have no idea as to what I'll be visiting afterwards),

Like the stones themselves, why and how these thousands of stones were literally lined up in rows extending for hundreds of meters and who actually performed such incredible feats long before the pyramids of Egypt were conceived remain a mystery. One thing is certain, the folks who did put them here were certainly advanced socially, their numbers substantial and organizational hierarchies significant, perhaps in the extreme. Today many of the stones are on private property and of course, over the millennia many have disappeared, to be used for building or fencing and a few have even been “Christianized” by having a cross placed on top.

Before plunging amidst the rocks we stopped in at the “Maison des Magalithes,” across from the Menec alignments. Essentially a visitor center, here you can watch an informational video, view a fantastic model of the alignments and get a better grasp of the significance of all these stones. For example, we learned that since these stones were first put up, the water from the nearby ocean has risen 29 meters or nearly 90 feet.

With a deeper appreciation for what we were about to experience, the four of us left the warmth of the visitor center and braved the cold air and sloppy ground to wade among lines of stones put up by people more than 6000 years ago. We walked up to the old ruined windmill, wisely turned into a convenient observation tower, allowing us a powerful view of the sheer breadth of what we had been walking through.
Menec alignment, just one portion of the alignments in Carnac
After strolling back to the car we headed off down the road paralleling the alignments, and pulled off and parked by the Kerlescan alignments. Crossing the road on foot the four of us hardy souls began a trek up a muck-ridden road, past an equestrian center in search of the Geant, a stone some 6 meters high. We found ithe megalithic “giant” sitting in a quiet, open space, all alone, as if waiting for someone to come and pray to bask in its sacredness, to pay it due homage, to feel its power. All we did was take pictures, which I suppose is some form of respect, the best a 21st century man can give I suppose.

A quick stroll back through the mire and muck of rural Brittany and we were strapped into the warmth of the Ford, heading off for the Tumulus of Mt. Michel, at the very edge of Carnac Ville. Constructed between 5,000 and 3,200 BC, this mound grave is roughly 160x120m and some 12m high and is believed to be the burial site of a member or members of the local ruling class. A Christian chapel (a reproduction of the 1663 chapel) sits on the crest, and provides an incredible view of Carnac and the sea beyond. Sadly the actual burial chambers inside the mound are closed to the public.

From Carnac we headed west to the D768 turning south down the neck of land that forms the Quiberon Peninsula. Since there was virtually nothing open along our route we took the first opportunity for lunch and stopped at what probably pass as a diner-cum-truck-stop-cum-family dinging eatery somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Like the location itself the food was unremarkable (although the fish was reportedly inedible). But it was a chance stop, catch our breath and gather our wits about us before forging on to the southern edge of Brittany.

Working as a team Richard and Pauline toured us through the length and breadth of the Quiberon and we could all only wonder at how different the place must look in June or July, when blue replaces gray, heat replaces the cold and large crowds replace the great emptiness that seemed to await us everywhere.

Leaving the Quiberon Peninsula we headed due north then east passing through the lovely and deserted seaside resort town of La Trinite sur Mer in search of more stones. Or rather we were in search of the power the stones once held over generations upon generations, a power only glimpsed in the hints of the rock, the occasional carving whose meaning, and it must have certainly had one, whose meaning is now lost to us.

So, our next stop was Locmariaquer, also on its own strip of land, a finger of rock and dirt pointing to the sea, the site of one of more significant megalithic finds in this part of Brittany: the broken “Great Menhir,” the Table des Marchand passage grave and the Er Grah tumulus. (We also discovered that unlike the other sites, there is a fee to enter this one. The visitor center is worth the stop, however.)

The enormous block of granite today known as the “Great Menhir,” towered nearly 19m and weighed 280 tons, and is reportedly the largest monolith from the prehistoric age in the West. Erected sometime around 4,500 BC it was destroyed either by natural or manmade causes some two or three centuries later. No one knows why, although once upon a time someone knew. Nor does anyone know how the monolith was transported or raised. What is known is that the granite is not native to the Locmariquer peninsula.

A few meters from the menhir is the Table des Marchard dolmen, or passage grave. It was built around 3,00 BC and the site is believed to have been in use until 2,000 BC. One of the things that makes this site so special are the carvings on the inside of the tomb itself.

Finally, the Er Grah tumulus, another enormous monument stretching some 140m in length, is a closed—grave burial site and was probably first started around 4,500 BC, and was gradually extended over the succeeding centuries. It fell into disuse and eventually disappeared altogether and was only rediscovered beneath a parking lot in 1991. It was restored to its original condition the following year.

After leaving the Locmariaquer megalithic site, we stopped at the Mane Lud passage grave, which turned out to be almost in someone’s backyard. Light was slipping away and the passage graves were starting to become to dark, dank and filled with water from the recent rains and snows to allow easy access. with so much to see before dark enveloped us we pressed on.

Next up was the massive passage grave Les Pierre-Plat, today located almost on the beach with an entrance facing the ocean. Covered with hug slabs of stone the passage was too water-filled to permit us to explore, although I did manage to get a few interior photos.

The slab roof of the passage grave is on the left

As the sun dropped below the horizon, the temperature went with it. Since all we had was one tiny flashlight (“torch”), our explorations were fast coming to a conclusion. We did manage a couple of more quick stops, though, one at Mane er Hroech, before darkness took over.

So it was back to Carnac, and dinner once again at the Casino – the menu was pretty much the same but a different server; still, the same quality and the same professionalism. The company was, as it was the night before, warm, the conversation lively and the evening quietly remarkable.

A wonderful way to close out an incredible day of exploring southern Brittany, of feeling the weight of all those stones on my soul, the stilled voices trying to tell us what they once knew and that the mysteries they left behind really weren’t mysteries at all, once upon a time. . .

Wish you had been there,


Monday, January 03, 2011

Sunday - Paris to Brittany

About mid-morning we left the apartment on rue General Renault with bags in hand and headed off to the no, 5 line at Richard Lenoir, which has become  our line of choice this trip, switching to the 6 at Place d'Italie (Place "Deet") to the Gare Montparnasse:
We boarded our TGV train along with what seemed like 30 or 40 thousand other people -- end of the holiday we supposed and many were were returning home. Anyway, there were two trains leaving for Brittany at the same time; one going on to Brest and another, our train going to Quimper. Our assumption was they would probably remain together until we reached Rennes, the first stop after leaving Paris.

After walking the length of what seemed like a mile, Susie and I found our car (voiture) and our seats, and settled in for the 3-hour journey. Leaving Paris on time, the train slipped quietly out of the city and before you could say Jacquie Robinson we were zipping through the rural French countryside at an amazing speed, every so often leaning first one way and then the other. The leans were, quite honestly a bit disconcerting at first, but we quickly found our "train legs" and soon became accustomed to both speed and the train's movements.

A little after 4pm the train pulled into Vannes, our destination. Located in the "Morbihan" area of southern Brittany, Vannes appeared at first to be a rather characterless choice, though the train station was an attractive bit of real estate:
Since we had about three hours to kill before meeting up with Richard and Pauline -- they had left St. Albans by car  early that morning -- Susie and I walked decided to spend a little time exploring the old part of town. So I slung our rolling bag on my back -- we've both become quite adept at disguising ourselves as pack mules -- and headed off toward the city center.

Naturally most places were closed; this was, after all, not only Sunday but a Sunday during a long holiday weekend as well. Still, one could get a sense of the holiday spirit around town:  lights were up and many of the store windows decorated. You could see that some folks in Vannes had developed a curious notion about Santa Claus and his helpers:

I'm still not sure what the woman in the stockings is doing with the hammer and how that involves a dog and a penguin. Anyway, the city was quaint and fun to stroll through:

 After about a half hour of walking in the numbing cold we both started to feel the need to unwind someplace warm, and frankly I was growing a bit tired of carrying a small house on my back.We no sooner made that decision than we saw a small bar with its sign lit up: "La Bodega." We popped inside and slid onto stools by the wall facing the bar itself. After unloading my portable shed, I ordered two aperitifs and then walked back outside to call and check in with Richard and Pauline. Pauline anwered straightaway. I asked where they were and Pauline said, "We're about 20kms from Vannes."

We hadn't expected to see them until about 7pm (1900hrs) and figured we'd have to consume the better part of a bottle of wine before they arrived so this was good news indeed. After finishing our drink we grabbed our stuff and headed back to the train station, our rendezvous point. No sooner had we arrived than so did they. After loading our bags into their car the four of us headed off for Carnac, southeast of Vannes. But getting out of Vannes proved to be a bit of a challenge.

Between incredibly bad traffic, folks attempting to flee the quaint inner city, poor signage, and trying to find our way in the dark through and out of a place none of us had ever been to before, I'm amazed we aren't still driving around Vannes looking for a way to get out of the endless rotaries. But get out we did, and a half hour later we pulled into Carnac-Ville, looking for our bed & breakfast.

It always amazes me how one can spend so much time driving aimlessly around in such a small area, but if it's dark and you have no clue which way goes which direction -- and the French have seemingly developed an incredible fondness, perhaps obsession for rotaries, you can spend hours looking for what is probably right under your nose.

Of course we eventually found our B & B, the Rivages Carnac.  After unloading our bags, Susie and I in "Petit Mer" and Richard and Pauline in "Afrique" all four of us were back outside, climbing into the car and into the pitch darkness of Carnac to find a place to eat. Curiously, our host seemed somewhat ambivalent about places to eat on a Sunday evening over New Year's weekend, but somewhere we got the idea to try the local casino.

Naturally we got lost again. But between Pauline's navigation and Richard's astute driving skills learned from years of driving through the French coutnryside we found ourselves pulling into the rather busy parking lot of the Casino Barriere de Carnac, near the waterfront of this very deserted seaside resort town.

I know what you're already thinking: "A casino?" For food? That was our very thought as we walked inside. We were very quickly disabused of any preconceived notions about dining "a la casino," and all four of us were equally amazed and pleasantly surprised: the food was not only well-prepared and exquisitely delicious, the service was professional, reasonably priced and the ambiance remarkably comfortable and relaxing. Indeed, the food was so good -- and our choices limited greatly by the time of year -- that we would return the following night.

Three hours later we were back in the car and driving through the dark strees of Carnac, looking for our lodgings. By now we, or rather Pauline and Richard, were developing a feel for the place and we soon found our way home and in bed.

As I slid into bed and between the covers, listening to the quiet of a city in deep sleep, I was already starting to feel the power of the stones. . .

Wish you had been there,