Sunday, August 7, 2011

31. Journey Home

We had our last day in Dinan, then found we were actually ready to be HOME in Jupiter. So, Saturday we had a last breakfast croissant from our favorite boulangerie, and made one last walk through the beautiful streets of the old town of Dinan. 

On the way out, we passed our favorite bucherie, where we’ve had so much fun visiting with the owner (the buchier), and Lynn has had so many great conversations in French. Well, we were so surprised and touched: he waved us to stay, stopped his work behind the counter, came outside the store and had a goodbye conversation, ending with a goodbye handshake for me, and goodbye kisses (the French bise on each cheek!) for Lynn. What a joy; this guy has to deal with thousands of tourists every summer. To think we all made a connection during our month together is just wonderful!

The bus ride from Dinan to Rennes was uneventful…except for Lynn almost getting re-injured ON OUR LAST DAY IN FRANCE, while she tried to help a feeble older lady from our bus…luckily, Lynn’s stumble wasn’t serious, so no lasting effects. Whew…you know what they say about most accidents and injuries happening on the last part of a trip, huh? 
We staked out a good waiting spot at the Rennes Gare, til our TGV train was scheduled to leave for Paris three hours later. Ate a snack, watched people, and Lynn scoped out every possible route to the train gate. This was important, ‘cause this time we were travelling with all our luggage, including the bicycle case. We had to figure which way to go with the least heavy lifting up and down long stairways! While checking out the routes on the escalator an old guy with a bike (who turned out to be drunk) started falling back down the escalator and she almost got knocked down again!!The TGV arrived on time as always, and we got on to our assigned seats in good shape, just in time for the train to depart on time. Super high-speed ride through the French countryside. Gotta love the French train system! 

We made it to Paris on the TGV, got off at the Montparnasse station, and were immediately struck by the BUSTLE and CROWDS of being back in huge, busy Paris. What a difference from our explorations all over Brittany during the past month. Lynn was able to navigate us to the bus to Charles DeGaulle Airport in Roissy, using her French skills with a local lady who was so gracious to personally direct us. So another bus ride, this time right through the middle of Paris, which was beautiful. 

Once at Charles DeGaulle, we had to change to yet another bus, “The Black Bus” which would take us to our hotel in Roissy. Man, THIS BUS was almost impossible to find in the huge airport complex, despite Lynn’s advance research and planning. We were assisted by a wonderfully helpful airport guy, after some other direction-givers put us on the wrong trail. Finally, we were in the right place, the “Black Bus” arrived, we lugged our stuff on board, and off we went to the Marriott. 

What’s to say about a Marriott? This was similar to every other one you ever saw. We tried to find a local spot in Roissy to eat supper, but after walking all over the little town learned the three restaurants we found had all gone out of business! Soooo, supper at Marriott, then sleep, then Marriott breakfast, then back on the Black  Bus to the airport, then switch to ANOTHER bus to get to our particular air terminal…Whew!

Check-in at American Airlines was the biggest surprise (for me) of the trip home. Our check-in clerk saw on my passport that I was born in Kentucky, so started talking to us, and revealed he was a bluegrass music fan…who also plays Scruggs-style 5-string banjo, listens to all the early guys like Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers! It was amazing; who knew anyone in Paris loved bluegrass, or played it!  We exchanged email addresses, and he even gave us special passes for VIP treatment at the Security checkpoint at our gate. Cool! First time we’ve ever been escorted through security by an airline hostess. 

Flight home was 8 hours of sitting in an airplane – GREAT to get out once we made it to Miami. We landed in a huge thunderstorm, so they wouldn’t unload the luggage til the lightening stopped…one + hour wait… and the storm continued. We decided to skip the Tri-Rail train ride home. After clearing customs we rented a car, drove ourselves home  (passing 5 wrecks along I-95 due to the heavy rain. Lot of folks seemed to skid into the wall today), and now we’re back to being just us again.

Lynn’s dogs missed her terribly, so lots of petting and licks, and we’re catching up on the month’s mail and news. Thanks for reading all this stuff. It’s been a fantastic trip!

PIC captions: Lynn with bags leaving our apartment in Dinan.
       John waiting for bus at Place Duclos, Dinan, with baggage.
       Bus ride through busy bustling Paris.       
         Lynn's boys, Newman and Simon,  waiting for her return.

CLICK here for all photos and vids:
2011 Dinan and Paris French Adventure

Friday, August 5, 2011

30. Rick Steve's Tour of Dinan

“If you have time for only one stop in Brittany, do Dinan.” Quoting our favorite travel writer Rick Steves and following his advice – today our last day in Dinan we finally read his article!! We left our apartment late (waiting for rain to subside) – took the key for our British landlord to the Post Office – and checked out everywhere Rick advised that we had either missed or did not know exactly what it was before reading his writings on this fabulous city – Dinan! This is Britanny’s best medieval town center – while catering to tourists with all the usual things tourists demand… ”it’s a workaday Breton town filled with people who appreciate the beautiful place they call home.” 
Our first stop on leaving the Apartment was to check out a little antique store nearby – and oh my!! It is also a tea room and the largest teapot museum in the world….one in Tennessee is the second largest and does not have nearly as large a collection. The owner and collector was delightful to talk with – and the whole time, I was so wishing Gianina could have been with me to see this!!

Starting in Place du Guesclin – we look carefully at the statue on horseback of Bertrand du Guesclin – John was really tickled by his face and we can see why they called him small of stature but big of heart. He was a key player in defeating the English ( like Joan of Arc) and right at the spot of his statute in Dinan, he defeated Sir Thomas of Canterbury. (refer to the painting of this duel in the hundreds of trip photos we’ve taken!)  This Place is also special because the weekly market is held here on Thursdays. 

Leaving this Place we follow the road past our favorite restaurant (Le Canterbory), and arrive at Theatre des Jacobins. One-third of Dinan used to be convents and this is one of them – now a theater. Brittany remains the most Catholic part of France. 

Following the rue de l’Horloge ( the clock tower street ) we have often noticed a tombstone carving of a headless knight laid out on a bench and thought “hmmmm that is interesting”,  and kept walking. It turns out to be the town mascot: “Anybody’s Tombstone”, a prefab from the Hundred Year’s War when no one could afford individual tombstone design and just put their portrait bust on this one!
John had made a previous visit to the Clock Tower and climbed its 160 steps – so no need to add to that here, and he did NOT repeat the effort!

The area around the Town Center is the most photographed and interesting. They have buildings which expanded as they got taller, hanging over the walking areas,  because property taxes were based on the square footage of the ground floor.  Streets are named for the type of commerce that was taking place in the area. 

Place des Merciers was such a unexpected delight – I cannot imagine why we have never entered the Courtyard before! It used to be a Franciscan monastery and is now a middle school…hmm really interesting. 

There was an art exhibit going on, with paintings (beautiful women the predominant subject), and sculptures.

Why come to a medieval fortress town if you don’t walk the Ramparts. We have done them all and loved it! Our favorite Tower is very near our apartment and is called St. Catherine’s Tower. You access it through the English Gardens right beside us – the site of many picnics and pleasurable walks. It is also where we viewed the firework celebration for Bastille Day. Thus ended our Rick Steves tour of Dinan!
Every morning and evening we listen to the bells from the Church of St. Sauveur   (which is officially a basilica, over a thousand years old) and it is the view out of the front windows of our apartment.  Most mornings we also hear the organ being played while we are pondering our day. 

We continued to get ready to leave tomorrow for our journey by bus and train to Paris – with flight to follow on Sunday. Tried out a new restaurant tonight (La Fontaine du Jerzual)  very close to us and – if we had only known how much we would like it - we would have frequented this creperie often during our visit here. Once again we had a charming student waitress that chatted with us – a family with large dogs that sat next to us and also provided nice conversation….all in all a good end to our Dinan adventure! Rue du Jerzual which heads steeply down to the Port is filled with artisan shops and nice restaurants…and all cobblestone! We have done this walk several times so did not do it again today but highly recommend not only the walk down but the River Rance is a very nice place to spend some time when visiting Dinan. It actually existed long before the town and was at one time a very important Port. 

Thank you so much for traveling with us – be thinking of us as we make our way home and we will post a final update and thoughts then. 

PIC captions: Tea Museum owner weighs out tea!
                      Tea Museum setting and part of collection.
                            Place du Guesclin.
                            Theatre des Jacobins.
                            The "Anybody Tombstone" - just put any head on there.
                            Lynn at Place des Merciers with sculpture.
                            Classic pic of Center of town, Dinan, on all the postcards!
                            St. Catherine's Tower, DinanWall, English Garden from Viaduc.
                            Creperie on Rue de Jerzual, last supper in Dinan.

CLICK here for all photos and vids:
2011 Dinan and Paris French Adventure

29. Rain, Pack, and Bike Break

Nothing much doing Thursday. It was raining when we woke, and got worse all day. We didn’t go to the town market, which comes every Thursday, no sense getting soaked. So, we packed our stuff a day early, to prepare for our trip home. Believe it or not, we are travelling a bit lighter than when we came! All our vitamins are gone now (man, they took up a ton of space on the way over), Lynn shipped a small box back via mail last week, and we have discarded a lot of heavy tourist books and maps we will not use again.

TRAVEL ITINERARY: Saturday, we take the bus from Dinan to Rennes, then catch the TGV to Paris. We’ll stay overnight at the airport Marriott, then catch the Sunday a.m. flight from Charles DeGaulle airport direct to Miami. Sunday afternoon we arrive just in time to miss the 2:00 Tri-Rail train to WPB, so will catch the 4 p.m. back to Mangonia Park, and on to Jupiter. What could possibly go wrong?!!

Anyhow, after the rain delay Thursday, the sun peeked out in late afternoon, so time for a last bike ride. Destination: beach resort Cancale on the English Channel, about 20-25 miles away. I pedalled out of Dinan across the viaduct bridge, actually got on the right road without difficulty, and made it to the countryside. I took the first available side road to get away from traffic. Rolling hills, I changed gears and stood for some out-of-saddle climbing when KA-BLAM!! I tore the rear derailleur apart as it tangled in the spokes of the rear wheel. All the parts disappeared into the dense grass of a farm ditch. So, no more drivetrain for me, no more pedaling, and no way to repair or cobble the deal back together. I walked up a couple of hills, then sat on the bike and coasted down the other side, til the loose floppy chain threatened to tangle in the rear wheel. Forget this! So, I slung the bike on my shoulder, padded with my riding gloves, and started walking back to Dinan, about 4 miles away.

 While walking with my thumb out all the way back to Dinan, I made some observations: 1. MOST of the vehicles on these roads are hatchbacks or small vans, perfect for carrying a wounded bicycle; 2. ALL drivers of these vehicles totally ignore thumb-out hitchhikers; 3. NO ONE stops to inquire if you need a hand or even looks in their mirror to see.  I think I experienced the downside to the French obsession with privacy and non-involvement in other people’s business! Or, maybe there’s a law against hitchhiking.
Anyhow, I made it back to Dinan on my own feet, which was pretty crummy because I was walking in my cleated bike-riding shoes. Walked across the viaduct, and saw the view of Dinan travelers first see when they approach the city. Beautiful! 

Tore my bike down and repacked it in its suitcase. Ready to travel home.
Thursday evening we ate at the restaurant where we ate our first meal in Dinan last month! It’s a small creperie-galleterie with an outside terrasse facing the Basilica St. Sauveur. Parfait! Friday we will see any last-minute sights of Dinan we may have missed, and be ready to roll Saturday morning. 

PIC captions: River Rance and Port Dinan looking down from Lanvallay.
                      Big 4x4 tractors and trailers use the roads, and are fast!

CLICK here for all photos and vids:
2011 Dinan and Paris French Adventure

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

28. Cap Frehel and St. Cast – Le Guildo

Today turned out to be FANTASTIQUE!! We made ourselves a great picnic lunch to take with us and set off to our familiar Place DuClos to catch bus 13 to St. Cast and then a connecting bus 2 to Cap Frehel. We love busing through the small towns to get to our destinations (me more so than John as I don’t get to go through them on a bike!) 

You just cannot do these places justice in pictures. High cliffs, rocky coast below, sky-blue sea as far as you can see, LOTS of sailboats everywhere. The views from the Cap were breathtaking….and we had planned to continue on the walk to Fort LaLatte but it was going to be an hour out and an hour back and not very smooth walking. I decided that I could not handle that much and we accepted looking at it from afar.  We stayed out at Cap Frehel for an hour and a half taking far too many pictures but everytime we turned around the view was more spectacular. 

Our return to St. Cast-le Guildo was a stop we thought was just going to be filler to get home as we assumed we had seen the high point of our day adventure in the Cap….oh noooo,  St-Cast was extraordinary. It was so much fun to see a seaside resort for the regular French person.
I had been to so many places in the South of France such as Nice and St. Tropez,  that I thought they were how all the French resorts were. This one was just as nice a beach – beautiful weather – lovely scenery – lust-after mansions in the hills looking down on the beaches – but full of everyday people wearing flip flops and shorts, and not a soul looking like they were straight out of a French fashion magazine. 

We met a lovely college student working at a local place we ended up snacking at twice during the afternoon, in large part because of her hospitality and vivacious personality. We fully intend to have her come visit us in the States when she has an opportunity and if anyone reading this needs an aupair – she is wanting to take on a position.  The Grand Plage was full of people and we found that they have several areas full of children being supervised in fun activities while parents are off doing their own thing. Everyone was having a great time. 

We took a long walk out to Pointe de St-Cast and loved checking out the fine houses with lovely views overlooking either St-Cast beaches or the Port. The Port was very interesting with hundreds of boats and the mechanics of an extreme difference in tides was fun to figure out.   

The places we visited were really a delight, but it was also extremely gratifying for me to have so many opportunities to talk with people.  Without exception, if one begins a conversation with a polite “Bonjour” – there will be ample opportunity to get to know other people, practice French conversation,  and leave a good opinion of Americans with them, too.

We returned to Dinan and relaxed for a short while before returning to our favorite pizza place – La Tomate….and deciding we wanted to try “Tapas” as we had the fun experience on a prior trip in Spain…not going to claim we liked the tiny squid or the pickled tomatoes stuffed with olives and a couple of other dished totally unrecognized by us L but we put it all under  “learning experience” and enjoyed the pizza before returning to our home away from home.

John is off tomorrow on a last bike ride in the surrounding countryside and hopes to make it the beach of Cancale. I will begin organizing for our return to Paris on Saturday and flight home on Sunday. Thank you for following our journeys….we are having great times and love knowing that you are enjoying hearing about them!

PIC captions: US at Cap Frehel with lighthouses and cliffs in background.
                     More cliffs at Cap Frehel.
                     Lynn at children's daycare part of beach, Grande Plage, St-Cast.
                          Segolene & Lynn - new friends at St-Cast.
                           Lynn's dream house on bluff overlooking port.
                          Water marks on the tall posts: the TIDE swings THAT much.
CLICK here for all photos and vids:
2011 Dinan and Paris French Adventure

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

27. Bike to Busted Castle, and Our Apartment

Woke up “early” and had breakfast croissants we bought last night. HEY, these things ARE better fresh - day-old is not so good! We’ve been marveling how delicately flakey and tasty the croissants are every day, after buying them from our favorite boulangerie a few blocks away, straight out of the oven. These that sat overnight are tasty, but not flakey, not delicate, not warm, and not as good. Still WAY better than the ones we stupidly bought last Thursday from the market…they were like curved heavy bread bombs, we threw em away they were so awful! Lesson learned: stick to FRESH baked croissants and baguettes, bought straight from the boulangerie, where you can watch the guy pull them out of the oven every morning. That’s why the French have a boulangerie in every little  town and every few blocks in bigger places!

Too pretty a day to sit still, so I hit the road on my bicycle. Today’s plan: head west to the Foret de la Hunaudaye…it looks like a National Forest kind of place, about 20-25 miles from here. I’ve been having trouble escaping Dinan in a westerly direction, there just are no roads leading that way on the signs or maps, but I was determined to find a good way out today. I found myself hammering down some long steep Dinan residential streets, winding around and having to climb back up, only to get dumped out in the little town of Quevert, where I ALWAYS have to start my trips. I gave up, took a highway out of Quevert and turned west on the first country road I found, headed to Aucaleuc.

Navigating in France is pretty easy, usually. I carry a road map of the area, and get a general idea of where I want to go. Then, at (almost) every intersection, I look at the signs pointing to towns that each road goes to. They rarely ever use highway numbers, you navigate by heading toward the next town on the map, or the next prominent town in the direction you want to go. It works well, BUT you have to stop and look at the darn map frequently, to stay on target. I can’t remember the names of enough towns on the route, so am always looking at the map at intersections. Cumbersome, when what I really want to be doing is pedaling on the road. So, usually I navigate a lot going OUT to my destination, then say “to hell with it” and pick a direct road to just hammer home when I’m done, so no map checking needed.

Today’s ride was thoroughly farm country. Thousands of acres of wheat, corn and hay, with some huge combines and tractors working the fields. I took a short video of one tractor mowing down the weeds along the road of one just-harvested field, cause Jack loves tractors. I hope it came out OK, I got thoroughly covered with dust and field debris to get the vid!
Crossed a beautiful lake en route to the Foret, and spoke to a middle-aged couple on a bike tour of the area as they walked their bikes up the steep road after the lake. Also saw a bike team or club, about 12-15 riders all in identical kit, as they pulled away from a café in a tiny town. Didn’t ride with these dudes, too serious!
After wandering through a couple dozen tiny towns, I made it to the Foret de la Hunaudaye. It’s just a big undeveloped woods area for camping and recreation, with some lakes and lots of trees…this part of what France must’ve looked like before modern development. 

There were signs to “Chateau de la Hunaudaye”, so I followed them a few miles. Wow! It’s a huge old half-caved-in Castle out in the farm fields, complete with a water-filled moat and 5 big battle turrets/towers. A herd of huge white chickens came over to investigate me and my bike…maybe they were turkeys?  I took some pics, but didn’t go in the Chateau (5 Euro’s you know), had a banana snack and headed home. On the way out, I ran back into my friends from the steep road at the lake. Small bike world!

After I got home, we visited “our” pub for a drink and some lunch. Then, a trip to Monoprix for grocery supplies for our last few days here, a stop at the bucherie and craqueterie, and supper in the apartment. Lynn had super conversations with our friends at the shops and pub, so plenty of French practice. The day has been pretty much perfect so far.

OUR APARTMENT: we want to remember how fun this apartment has been. We’re on the fourth floor above a busy sidewalk leading to the English Garden behind Basilica St. Sauveur. The Basilica is right across the tiny street from the apartment. Because of the acoustics of our living room, and our windows being constantly open, we always hear anything anyone says out on the street. It’s like they are standing in our living room! The fun part is, it’s always in French, or sometimes German, and almost never in English. Lots of English tourists come here & almost zero Americans (we are rare birds here). Anyway, it’s really fun listening to all this jabber floating up to us. Then, every hour, the Basilica bells go off, and at 10:00a.m. and 7:00 P.m. they peal the bells for a couple of minutes. I like it, especially compared to the tinkly-tinny sound of the Clock Tower bell (the one that was given the City by Duchess Anne in the 1600’s…I guess they HAD to take it, and couldn’t complain about the miserable bell tone!)

Our bedroom is on the opposite side of the apartment. The windows are always open there too for cross-breeze. We get all the noise from the bar behind our building, which is usually fun and not too loud. SOMETIMES it’s miserable music or bad karaoke…go figure. Our bed is on the floor, so we will not miss that, as it is hard to get up every day. Sleeping temperatures have been perfect, like in North Carolina:  cool & breezy in the night, then semi-warm in the day. 

Laundry isn’t a problem. We have a washer in the bathroom, then hang stuff up to dry on racks in the 2d bedroom, and heavier stuff up on the lines in the bottom floor courtyard. Groceries and supplies we carry in shopping bags up the stairs, in one hand. Our rule is “one hand always on the handrail”, cause the stairs are really steep and narrow and twisty. So far no disasters, and we do 4-6 trips up and down the 53 stairs every day. Lynn has really tested out her broken ankle repairs and hardware!

We’re hoping to bus to St-Cast-le-Guido, and Cap Frehel and Fort la Latte, tomorrow for our last road trip. It’s up on the English Channel, supposed to be awesome scenery, and we get to use the between-town buses again. Weather looks good, will let you know what happens.

PIC captions: John in English Garden, Basilica St. Sauveur.
                     Chateau de la Hunaudaye - too big for only one photo.
                           Leaving Chateau de la Hunaudaye.
CLICK here for all photos and vids:
2011 Dinan and Paris French Adventure

Monday, August 1, 2011

26. Vitre Visit, trains and Car Collection Redux

Monday, first day of our last week in Dinan…so we left town! Lynn carefully researched the bus and train schedules so we could visit Vitre, a city very similar to Dinan architecturally, but with the largest intact Chateau/Castle and walls left in Brittany. So we had to go see, ‘cause that’s the kind of faux-French we are! AND, I love riding the city-to-city bus, and the trains (we’re gonna ride the TGV bullet train!) , so this was going to be a great day.

While waiting for our bus to Rennes (capital of Brittany), a Dinan municipal bus pulled in at our stop for a rest. I got to crawl around it a bit: wow, these Dinanaise really have bus stuff down to a science! Ten upright seats, one or two pull down seats which leave room for a wheelchair, standing room for several people, and a place to carry a bicycle. All on a bus about the size of a USA Econline-type van. If I’m ever in charge of the transportation world, we will see some of these in use instead of the huge (usually empty) diesel long heavy busses we have now…
We took a heavy bus to Rennes, filled about ½ with riders, and got the express line. 45 minutes or so and we arrived. Rennes turned out NOT to be a tourist attraction, it is mostly about good government and education (lots of higher-education students there), so we bought our TGV tickets and people-watched til our regular train came on for Vitre. This “watching” is a fun gig: you wouldn’t believe some of the folks walking around loose here, it’s kind of like the circus sometimes! Of course, no one thought that about Lynn and me, oh nooooo.

Our train ride to Vitre was smooth as silk and about a half hour or so long. The train station (Gare) was beautiful, and in a good location for us to walk all over the old town. We climbed a street and found Notre Dame cathedral at the top, with the Chateau just beyond. WOW, we could see why this place was famous! It was a perfect model of a medevial fortress castle to my thinking, with cool conical pointed roofs on tall round towers, and tall stone walls around it. 

Cool, except they wanted a relatively big entry fee to see inside, so we passed! Tourists that we are, for today anyway, we opted to use our money for lunch and a drink instead! Fantastic outdoor café food, a kir and a beer, and we were ready to boogie again. Lynn had a Michelin book that said we should see the Chateau (check), Notre Dame cathedral(check), and the view of the chateau and city from someplace called Rue de Tertres Noires…so we headed out that direction with our incomplete map, and a couple of fresh éclairs for desert to celebrate when we found the viewpoint.  We walked a LONG way, with Lynn getting to have conversations with several helpful Vitre ladies along the route. We found Tertres Noires, walked up it a LONG way, and saw the beautiful views. And took pics. And ate our éclairs. CHECK…all three tourist must-do’s accomplished.

Took some pics inside the cathedral, I loved the plastered and painted arched ceiling with its patterned decorations. Then, time to catch the train back to Rennes…and this time we’re catching the TGV! It came purring in, we found our assigned car and seats (some weasel was trying to use our seats but we politely asked him in French to move), and whoosh! We were gone. In only about 15 minutes we were in Rennes, waiting for our bus to Dinan. It came, we went, no drama. Awesome mass transit: we never touched a car and had no expense other than our tickets. Don’t know if I’d like living this way all the time, but as a tourist I love it.
Oh, ABOUT THE RALPH LAUREN CAR collection we visited in Paris! While waiting at the bus station in Rennes,I bought a “Top Gear” magazine, with an interview  of Ralph Lauren about his cars, AND a full set of professional photos of the collection on display at the Louvre! This is the display I was not allowed to photograph when we swathe cars in Paris last month!  I’ll try to include some of the pics here. If not possible, ask me later and I’ll show you the magazine. Tomorrow is supposed to be perfect weather again, so bike ride planned and who knows what else. Will let you know if it’s any good.

PIC captions: NOT DINAN! This is the famous house in all the Vitre brochures, and we found it.
                      Lynn at Vitre Gare.
                            Us again, Vitre Chateau in background.
                            Lynn at Tertres Noires viewpoint Vitre castle LONG HIKE!

CLICK here for all photos and vids:
2011 Dinan and Paris French Adventure