June 11, Saint-Malo

As picturesque and quaint as small villages can be, it can become tedious when repeatedly forced to navigate narrow, almost featureless and claustrophobic lanes with doorsteps less than a meter from the street. So we are back on the autoroute. Usually these divided highways offer little variety and little of interest, but today’s route provided the occasional view from the highway down onto a village. From this perspective the village is no longer a narrow corridor but rather a small maze of dark slate roofs with glimpses of lighter stone walls and pavement along the irregularly patterned streets, the jumble of grey surrounded by manicured green fields and woodlots, peaceful and idyllic. That old bug-bear "high expectations" stalked us again today. First parking, we are normally able to find public parking within reasonable walking distance but here, all of the parking lots had 1.9 m barriers to exclude motor homes. We are just over 1.9 m and so had to find street parking, a much more difficult task, but at least in this case free. As we walked along the seawall towards the old city, it would have been a truly impressive sight with its high crenelated walls, watchtowers and gates, its tall cathedral spires, ramparts and towers backed by the ocean, and its small fortress just off shore. It would have been if we had not been walking directly into the blinding late afternoon sun and most of the view had not been obstructed by construction. What appeared to be a long dead forest of close growing tree trunks stood just outside the seawall, it was in fact a long row of pilings driven into the beach to protect the seawall from winter storms that can send waves cascading 10s of meters over the wall.  Inside the massive city walls it was clear that this was no village, it was a walled city. Despite having been mostly destroyed by allied bombing and shelling in WW II and being rebuilt over the 12 years from 1948 to 1960, the streets retained a historic atmosphere despite being lined mostly with restaurants, bars/tabac, ice-cream, sweet, and souvenir shops, and full of tourists. We were looking forward to a fine dinner and we knew that dinner does not seem to get going until around 8:30 or 9:00 on the continent so we walked the quiet streets, checking the menus of restaurants that Sheila had found in her guide book. Most of those we were interested in were not even setting up by 7:30 to 8:00. The menu at our first choice, La Chalut, was in French only and expensive! While we understood the main ingredients, we did not understand the subtleties of the descriptions, and what we did understand did not really appeal. Nearby, Le Bistro de Jean was less formal with interesting menu choices but there was absolutely no sign of activity inside. There were no opening hours posted and Sheila’s guide-book had implied that it was lunch only, so we moved on. We walked to our third choice. The menu was again French only, but what we could understand looked quite wonderful. Unfortunately there was again no sign of life or even that they would open this evening so we moved on in our quest. Aside from the three restaurants we had short-listed, the dinner options seemed to be restricted to crêpes, pizzas, mussels, or oysters none of which appealed this night. Finally, starving and desperate, we went to a small restaurant with a bilingual menu serving a variety of food styles where we settled for hamburgers and pomme frits, a salad and beer. The burgers were very good with fresh meat and a real béarnaise sauce on brioche buns but they were still hamburgers. There was only one French speaking couple in the restaurant and they were obviously young, in love, and far more interested in each other than the food. The rest were English speaking, probably drawn as we were, by the bilingual menu. Sheila was lamenting her incompetence as a tourist, largely because we had not had a lot of success with restaurants so I suggested we write a book titled "The Incompetent Tourist." This night could have been a case study, because as we walked by Le Bistro de Jean on our way back to the van, it was busy with local trade, smelled wonderful, and still had a couple of tables available.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map
View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp.

June 11, Saint-Malo

As picturesque and quaint as small villages can be, it can become tedious when repeatedly forced to navigate narrow, almost featureless and claus- trophobic lanes with doorsteps less than a meter from the street. So we are back on the autoroute. Usually these divided highways offer little variety and little of interest, but today’s route provided the occasional view from the highway down onto a village. From this perspective the village is no longer a nar- row corridor but rather a small maze of dark slate roofs with glimpses of lighter stone walls and pavement along the irregularly patterned streets, the jumble of grey surrounded by man- icured green fields and woodlots, peaceful and idyllic. That old bug-bear "high expectations" stalked us again today. First parking, we are normally able to find public parking within reasonable walking distance but here, all of the parking lots had 1.9 m barriers to exclude motor homes. We are just over 1.9 m and so had to find street parking, a much more difficult task, but at least in this case free. As we walked along the seawall towards the old city, it would have been a truly impressive sight with its high crenelated walls, watchtowers and gates, its tall cathedral spires, ramparts and towers backed by the ocean, and its small fortress just off shore. It would have been if we had not been walking directly into the blinding late afternoon sun and most of the view had not been obstructed by construction. What appeared to be a long dead forest of close growing tree trunks stood just outside the seawall, it was in fact a long row of pilings driven into the beach to protect the seawall from winter storms that can send waves cascading 10s of meters over the wall.  Inside the massive city walls it was clear that this was no village, it was a walled city. Des- pite having been mostly destroyed by allied bombing and shelling in WW II and being rebuilt over the 12 years from 1948 to 1960, the streets retained a historic atmosphere des- pite being lined mostly with restaurants, bars/tabac, ice- cream, sweet, and souvenir shops, and full of tourists. We were looking forward to a fine dinner and we knew that dinner does not seem to get going until around 8:30 or 9:00 on the contin- ent so we walked the quiet streets, checking the menus of restaurants that Sheila had found in her guide book. Most of those we were inter- ested in were not even setting up by 7:30 to 8:00. The menu at our first choice, La Chalut, was in French only and expensive! While we understood the main ingredients, we did not understand the subtleties of the descriptions, and what we did understand did not really appeal. Nearby, Le Bistro de Jean was less formal with interesting menu choices but there was absolutely no sign of activity inside. There were no opening hours posted and Sheila’s guide-book had implied that it was lunch only, so we moved on. We walked to our third choice. The menu was again French only, but what we could understand looked quite won- derful. Unfortunately there was again no sign of life or even that they would open this even- ing so we moved on in our quest. Aside from the three restaurants we had short-listed, the dinner options seemed to be restricted to crêpes, pizzas, mussels, or oysters none of which appealed this night. Finally, starving and desperate, we went to a small restaurant with a bilingual menu serving a variety of food styles where we settled for hamburgers and pomme frits, a salad and beer. The burgers were very good with fresh meat and a real béarnaise sauce on bri- oche buns but they were still hamburgers. There was only one French speaking couple in the restaurant and they were obviously young, in love, and far more interested in each other than the food. The rest were English speaking, probably drawn as we were, by the bilingual menu. Sheila was lamenting her incompetence as a tourist, largely because we had not had a lot of success with restaurants so I suggested we write a book titled "The Incompetent Tourist." This night could have been a case study, because as we walked by Le Bistro de Jean on our way back to the van, it was busy with local trade, smelled wonderful, and still had a couple of tables available.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Route Map Route Map Slideshow Slideshow
View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp. View across the Tarn from camp.