Eighth Week in Brittany

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June 22nd 2019
Published: June 22nd 2019
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Saturday 15th June

Today was a scenery building day for another upcoming festival. About half a dozen or so helpers came and went throughout the day, and I lended a hand too. There was an artistic director present, who was the scenery designer, and told us all what to do.

Sunday 16th June

Today was a day trip to the house of the parents of my host, near Vannes on the south coast of Brittany. There were a number of her family members present for an excellent lunch. Several aunts spoke English quite well, and were keen to practice, so I had conversations in both French and English during the day.

In the afternoon my host drove me down to Carnac to see the incredible alignments of megaliths. The lines run east-west and extend for over 4 km! I believe there are over 4,000 stones in place. The area has been studied and preserved since the 18th Century. The reason for the placement of such enormous lines of stones it is not known. There was an interesting visitors' centre there which recounted some of the modern history of the alignments and their study, and also identified other locations of significant megaliths in Brittany. It was a warm sunny afternoon, so it was quite pleasant walking around outdoors. We also visited a burial tumulus which is largely intact, and it was interesting to enter it and see the huge flat stones comprising the walls and ceiling of the burial chamber. There is another, very large tumulus which we didn't get to see, which has a church built on top of it – and this at least ensured that the tumulus was preserved from quarrying over the centuries.

Back to Guipry-Messac for dinner.

Monday 17th June

Today was my turn to try my hand at cooking dinner, as a small thank-you to my host family for all the cooking of lunches and dinners during my stay. I cooked my special Mexican dish, which I make regularly at home. Some ingredients differed from what is available at home (mainly the seasoning), and the result tasted different from usual, but it was still quite tasty and all of it was gobbled up.

Tuesday 18th June

Today I took the train to the city of Vannes, for a day trip to see the medieval old city. The train trip was about an hour, and unfortunately by the time I arrived at 10 o'clock the rain was pelting down. I hung around the train station for about half an hour, hoping the rain would ease. The internet weather radar suggested it would continue till about 11:30 (and this proved to be correct). At about half past ten I bit the bullet and headed off under my umbrella for the walk (about 1km) to the old town. I arrived rather dampened and thought the cathedral would be a good place to shelter, but there was a funeral service in progress, so no go. The rain was easing off and I wandered the streets, taking some rainy day photos, then headed for the port area to take a ride on Le Petit Train, which takes one around the town to show the main things of interest.

This was good as it provided shelter and showed me what to walk back and look at later. By the end of the ride the sun was well out and it was really heating up (it was close to 30 by the middle afternoon). I headed off to find some lunch, which proved difficult as nearly everywhere was full! Eventually I decided to wait until after 2pm, and sat in the sun by the city walls for a while and dried out my umbrella, back pack, etc. The things inside my backpack were damp – I had forgotten that the pack has a rain cover one can unzip and slip over it to keep it dry!

After lunch I continued to walk around Vannes and revisited the cathedral, which was very impressive, particularly the wonderful stained glass. Vannes has an authentic medieval feel, with its cobbled, narrow streets, little squares and many medieval buildings, some clustered around the cathedral, as well as some intact sections of city wall and several city gates. It was very interesting to visit.

In the evening I went with my host to his community choir rehearsal in St Senoux, a nearby beautiful village featured in a previous blog entry. The choir was in fact two local choirs in combination, with about fifty singers in all. It was impressive to hear them practising songs in several languages, including Occitane, French, Spanish and Italian. The accompanists played an accordion (large in size like a piano accordion, but a button accordion) and traditional drum.

Wednesday 19th June

Yesterday afternoon two Australians arrived to stay in one of my hosts' gîtes, across the driveway from the main house. I introduced myself yesterday afternoon and they invited me in for a chat. Turns out they live near Maitland, their house is about 30km from Dungog! Today I was having another chat with them and they suggested we go out for lunch, which we did. Our first choice restaurant (the old mill on the river) was full, so we found another near the railway station. They were here overnight waiting for the rest of their group of 8 to arrive before heading off boating on the river for a week, in two boats from the local boat hire company. While we were having lunch, five more from their group arrived by train, so we ended up with a big group of eight Australians for lunch!

After lunch their group headed off to pick up their boats.

Thursday 20th June

Today I finally had a chance to go back to the Franco-American Institute in Rennes to volunteer with one of their English workshops. It was one of the same groups which I had visited last time, only this time my American colleague has gone home, and I was the leader of the workshop on this occasion. There were six French people in attendance to practise their English. Last time they had been quite interested in the upcoming Australian federal election, and this time were keen for a bit of a post mortem on that. They are all keen to see some climate action from Australia, so I had to disappoint them even further with the news of the Adani approval in Qld. I had prepared some Taboo game cards, so after our general discussion time we spent some time playing this game, which they did seem to enjoy.

That finished just before 2pm, and I headed out to find a GF lunch. A number of restaurants were closing (!). They open only from 12-2pm for lunch. This adds to the inescapable impression that everything is closed in France! Try to find a post office, restaurant, café, shop – half of them seem to be closed at any given time. I went back to a place near the Opera where I have previously bought galettes – no, they don't have galettes any more. After wandering around for 30 mins, I finally found a GF lunch!

After lunch I walked around some parts of Rennes which I hadn't visited before, including the extraordinary cathedral. Finished in 1844, and replacing a pre-revolution cathedral which had been demolished, it is unlike any other I have seen before. The style is reported to be 'classical'. To me it looked like a combination of Roman and Italianate, with huge marble columns and arched ceilings, but sumptuously decorated with murals and decorative features, especially the ceilings. Quite different to any other French cathedral I have seen, and quite intense visually, but stunning.

Friday 21st June

Today I started organising everything to pack for my trip east. I had a posting box, purchased from the post office, to send some stuff home, but the cost was horrendous – I kept the parcel to 2kg and it cost about $55, but over 2 kg and it would have gone up to about $95. I really couldn't send much, and decided I'd get rid of the clutter of souvenir pamphlets and booklets rather than the bulk of clothing and souvenirs. I hope I can get my bag closed tomorrow. I've really kept souvenirs to a minimum, but they just take up so much space!

This evening was the beginning of the weekend Fête de la Musique, which is a nationwide outdoor music festival, with events in almost every city, town and village. We went first to Rennes, which was packed with people and had numerous sites with musicians and groups playing. The city centre was closed to vehicles (as is usual for all the towns where the festival is taking place), but was busy with crowds of people and food stalls, etc. We watched a 'jazz choir' performing in front of the Parliament de Bretagne. We then left the big city and headed to the village of Mordelles, about 15km from Rennes, because my musician host was performing there as an ambulatory act with his afro-breizh group. Mordelles was a much more relaxed place to be than Rennes, with less intense crowding and it was much easier to get drinks and something to eat. We watched several bands performing, and followed the ambulatory group as it moved about the village, its Breton music with an afro beat really getting people dancing. It started to get very cold, and we headed home at about 11:15.

Tomorrow morning will be packing and cleaning up, before taking the train to Rennes to catch the TGV at 14:40 for the four and a bit hour trip to Strasbourg.

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