Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Year in the Merde

So here we are a full year ‘in country’ and some things seem exactly the same: Perri is in Calgary and we are half a world away, the Tour de France is in the Pyrenees (this time I’m sensibly watching on the telly rather than observing in person), the traffic in Arcachon is getting crazy, and I continue to speak very poor French, if any.  Where does the time go?

Like any parents freed from the shackles of endless parenting, Ann and I decided to go on a road trip involving three items nowhere near the top of Perri’s list of interests: France, history, and golf. What better way to experience this trifecta of Perri’s dislikes than to take a road trip to Brittany. Typically, we had no real plan except to head north and hope for the best. I wasn’t aware before we left that Brittany is an ideal holiday destination for those vacationers trying to escape summer-like weather. Nothing makes me happier than daily highs in the mid teens and a high likelihood of drizzle in mid-July. I began to think Brittany was named to suggest that if you can't cross the channel you can still get the weather. Sadly, we only experienced true British Open conditions for the first day in Nantes, where the sun chose to shine occasionally, and the rain showers were reminiscent of a tropical monsoon. Still, I’ll admit road trips can be very educational, as I had no idea Nantes was bigger than Bordeaux with history dating back to the Romans. The castles and cathedrals were starting to run together a bit so we looked for other distinguishing features to help us remember Nantes. While we were there, a city-wide modern art exhibition was is full swing and we were frequently surprised by curious works resembling treehouses and giant wasp nests. I thought the scale-model walking elephant ride thing, complete with functioning trunk, had to be the highlight.

Art?Maybe. Student Accommodation? Probably.

This was kinda cool.

We had an early start Sunday to meet some friends who were touring through the low countries for a few weeks. We had agreed to meet them at Mont Saint-Michel, an extraordinary abbey dating from the 11th century.

Roving bands of Canadians with bump in background.
Bump from closer.
Having just missed the start of the early walking tour with an English guide, we chose to walk it on our own, with the help of a few portable audio tour devices. The danger of sharing said devices is those getting the information second-hand may miss some key information. For example: the abbey, former home of one of the early 20th century comedians, Bud Abbot, has been occupied by monkeys for nearly 1000 years. At least that’s what I think I heard. Now, I may have got some of that wrong as there were no monkeys to be seen nor any written reference to Abbot and Costello.  Still, it was a fascinating place.

We finished the day by driving up the coast to a quaint little coastal town called Cancale, where we enjoyed a great seafood meal at a seaside restaurant. As it turns out, most of the meals we experienced were pretty good. Even Tuesday breakfast in La Baule-Escoublat, consisting of nothing more than two fresh croissants and a large mug of hot chocolate, was pretty good.

Cancale - typical north Brittany seaside town.
We spent Sunday night and Monday morning in Saint Malo. For those of you well-versed in Canadian history (both of you), you will remember Saint Malo being the birthplace of Jacques Cartier, one of the first Europeans to bring the gift of modern Europe to Canada. It’s too bad that for all his nosing around in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the French ended up with nothing more than a few windblown rocks off the coast of Newfoundland. History is funny that way. St. Malo is another beautiful seaside town although a little chilly and windy for my tastes, especially in July.

Saint Malo

Ann flying the national colours.
We wrapped up the weekend playing some golf around Saint Nazaire, on the south Brittany coast. Weather-wise, the south Brittany coast is on a different planet from the north Brittany coast and has a number of popular beaches. We played at a couple of fabulous courses, which were a lot of fun, but a bit expensive. The second course was around a chateau and made for some unusual backdrops to the game.

You can stay here, if you like.
If you get it in the clown's nose, you can cross the bridge to the castle.
Time well wasted.

Next stop: Morocco.

As an aside, we were travelling on a holiday weekend celebrating Bastille day (Saturday July 14th this year), which is generally celebrated by fireworks in every little city and town in the whole country. Driving into Nantes on Friday night, we noticed a substantial fireworks display. I thought: “ A day early but no problem. We’ll take in the big show tomorrow night in Rennes”. The next night in Rennes we were told they were supposed to have the fireworks the night before, but it was rained out. And, although Saturday is the actual holiday, they would not be having the show that night regardless of it all being there and ready to go. On Sunday night, long after giving up on any fireworks, we were treated to a substantial fireworks display from our B&B bedroom window in St. Malo. Obviously the French look at Bastille Day as a holiday only loosely fixed to a specific date on the calendar (like Easter), and consider the time of the celebration flexible, hopefully within a couple of days. I’m ok with that so long as I get me some fireworks somewhere along the way.

I’d like to finish this 1st annual blog with some thoughts on ‘365 days in Aquitaine’:

Living in France is like living in Canada, except when it isn’t. It’s the same, but different.

If you see something in a French supermarket which is unrecognizable, it means you probably shouldn’t think about eating it.

French school is hard. Really hard.

French television is bad. Really bad.

Answering any question in the affirmative even though you don’t understand the question can lead to some awkward situations.

Not all French food is as good as it looks, with the exception of anything in a Patisserie, where it is all better than it looks.

Bureaucracy in France is a sport taken seriously by every member of the civil service.

People are the same everywhere: most are good, some aren’t.

The internet means you’re never really too far from home.