Brittany

bonjour from France IV, Brittany

The last leg of this trip took me clockwise through parts of Brittany - overnighting at Nantes, Herbignac, Carnac, Pont Avon, Quimper, Huelgoat, St. Brieuc, St. Malo, Dinan and Rennes. I was fortunate to have full weekends at both the start and finish of the leg, for the weekend is the best time for cycling in France - few commercial vehicles and commuters; and, given the country's 35 hour work week, few shoppers since most retail is shut Sunday and much seems closed part-day Monday as well.

Still southern Brittany was not a cycling treat. The downside of weekend cycling is that towns are virtually shut at some point. For example, I passed through Vannes Sunday noon, a town which I suppose is delightful when open and alert. Entering town I was salivating for the famous Bretagne crepes or galettes (a meal enclosed in a buckwheat pancake), but the recommended restaurants were closed. Fortunately, I found msyelf that evening in Carnac at the town's only open, authentic creperie (Chez Marie). Carnac is famous for its Neolithic rock formations - kms of lined bolders for who knows what reasons which have survived farming, civilization, wars and tourism.

Also, in southern Brittany I was unable to find small roads, and there was considerable tourist traffic - lily whites in vehicles from sun-deprived countries - UK, Ireland, Holland and Scandanavia.

The northern part of Brittany, in contrast, offered quite pleasant rides. Whereas I had experienced wind, rain and cold in The Loire, Brittany - not reputed for fair climate - gave me windless, dry, cool or warm days.

There's a lot to see in Brittany. I only traveled the surface. As I rode along, I became aware of the region's fixation on Christ's crucifixion and started to visit the 'calvaries' that appear next to town churches. My favorite just popped out of the blue as I rode through the hamlet of Pleyben. The remote town of Huelgoat, deep in a forest, provided interesting geological formations - including the folks I refer to below. St. Malo, Dinan and Quimper offered splendid old towns.

When people pointedly note - "such a pity, to only spend a week" - I reply that a few days is better than none. On this trip I, in fact, cut Brittany short and eliminated (for now) Normandy altogether, for I had to return to Sanary for the closing of my flat purchase. A very French experience. After 30 minutes of signatures, the previous owner, whom I had not met, took us out for a 2-hour aioli feast (seafood with a garlic mayonaise): such is France! For 10 exhausting days I have cleaned, painted, varnished and furnished the flat. I will be back in November to complete the unfinished tasks.

Brittany will be remembered as a land of c's - crepes, calvaries and cycling codgers. As I myself approach codgerhood, I start taking notice that cycle touring can be a great recreational activity for seniors. In Huelgoat I intersected with five white-haired Brits who had been coming to France to cycle-tour for decades and weren't about to let a little menace like ageing stop them. They were mid-70s and confessed, without my prompting, that they didn't go very far each day - 35 kms or so - and that they took the hills ever so slowly (as if I gallop up them) and that they stayed in hotels (shame on them!). Still, if I am lucky enough to get to 75, I hope I can managed just to tumble out of bed. To cycle tour 35 kms or so in Brittany would be a real treat.

experienced 14-23 June 2002

Sanary-sur-Mer, 16 July 2002