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,

Steve

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