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Journal of No. 118


July 9th, 2015

France 2015 - Part II @ 09:14 pm


The views from the train from Paris were quite pleasant. It's not long until you are entirely out of the city, and from then on it's lots of farmland, and some forested areas. A few towns here and there. The TGV also lives up to its name. At one point we were alongside a highway, and we were passing cars like they were standing still. Not bullet train fast, but probably well over 100. I figger the average speed must have been at least 87 mph.

In Rennes, we had a little trouble finding the street (on a map) where the hotel was, and the information guy at the train station made a gallic pfft about it, but the taxi driver knew his business. We dropped off our bags at the hotel and went back to the train station, or rather the adjoining bus station and got our tickets for Mont Saint Michel. While waiting for the bus, we fortunately just had time to go to the train ticket office at the train station and get our tickets for the next two days squared away. I thought our coming voyage to Carcassonne might be trying, but it's not too bad (ominous foreshadowing). Just three trains. And fortunately the first part of that voyage will be similar to tomorrow, so we will know some of the ropes (of course, we should have remembered the biggest lesson from Italy - if you have a train ticket and can stamp it, get it stamped).

The bus ride to Mont Saint Michel was about an hour and fairly enjoyable. More farmland and trees and a few quaint villages here and there. A bit more hilly in this region. Then near the end, you can spot MSM sticking up on the horizon like a little ornament.

First Glimpse of Mont Saint Michel, from the bus

And it gets bigger and bigger. The bus only gets you so far, but then a free shuttle takes you down to the end of the causeway connecting MSM to the mainland (nowadays).

MSM

A few more steps and you're on the semi-island, and entering the fortified gates. I had been forewarned by the guidebook, so it wasn't too terrible a shock to see that the lower parts of MSM, although probably almost as old and historic as the Abbey, is entirely filled with tacky gift shops and semi-fake private museums. Oh, there are also some restaurants, but the overall impression is of gift shops, especially when the street is about ten feet wide, and there are storefronts on both sides, and tourists of all nations gawk at the stuff on display, holding up traffic. We hiked up toward the top as fast as we could, and admired the views from the middle areas, and then on up into the abbey.

This was one of the better visits and (self-guided) tours we've been on. The little English guide was actually inormative and helpful, unlike the information from the freaking Louvre. You get to see lots of rooms of the abbey from the main church to eating areas and the room where supplies could be brought up from down below on a sled with rollers drawn up on a rope pulled by a wheel in which a monk or two had to walk to turn the mechanism.



The stained glass had relatively pale colors, but the patterns were varied and interesting. An unexpectedlyy nice little flower garden was tucked inside as well. We scrambled all over the top of the Mont and then headed back down.

We stopped at one of the restaurants and had a little lunch, and cooled off with a bottle of cider from Normandy. It was tart and dry. Quite good, but definitely a slightly different animal from most of the hard ciders in the US. I think I've mentioned cooling off with beer or cider several times -- that's because it's been pretty hot here in France, record-breaking hot at times. This was the coolest day, and it was still pretty warm.

Shuttle to the bus back to Rennes, and then we walked a bit around the town and saw a few things: the carousel outside the Opera House, the cathedral.

Carousel & Opera House, Rennes

And ultimately we got to a little piazza (or whatever it is in France) with numerous cafes with their tables and chairs out on the cobbles. We ate at the Boeuf au Balcon, which had mainly a variety of steaks. Dr Pookie had the flank steak with the chef's butter, and I had a faux filet (aka sirloin) with pepper sauce. A red bordeaux and some water and we had a fine meal. Becca had salt butter caramel and chocolate ice cream for dessert, while I settled for Calvados.

Just enough time to sleep and wake up and back to the train station. First from Rennes to Redon, there was a nice spot along the ride, where a river with a little cover of fog was alongside the trainline, complete with a white heron startled by the train into taking off. We had an hour to kill in Redon, and wandered over to what's left of their cathedral. At some point a fire had destroyed one of its towers and part of the main body of the church. So as it stands now, there is one disconnected tower (complete with bells ringing the time) and a somewhat truncated church.

Tower, Redon

Back to the train station where we duly punched our tickets, and now we're halfway to Nantes.

Alas, there was great sadness at the start of our visit to Nantes. Our real reason for going was that I had reserved a seat on the mechanical Elephant! But the train schedule did not work out well for us. To cut a long sad story short, we found ourselves sadly walking the last few feet toward the Parc des Chantiers only to hear the triumphant roar of the elephant on its strut around the area.



Nevertheless, it was almost as fun (I tell myself) to walk around the elephant as it made its way around, spraying water from its trunk and bellowing from time to time.



The best moment was when some joggers came by and danced about in front of the elephant demanding to be sprayed... and they got their wish, and waved, and jogged on their way, cooled by an elephant-fresh hosing.

Nearby was a Carousel of Marine Life built by the same crazy people, and in fact, the carousel is one of the embarkation points for the elephant, on its slow meander about the area. We had missed the elephant, but the rest of the animals of L'ile exhibit made up for it. They have some ambititious plans to build a huge mechanical tree with mechatronic birds and insects with places to ride them, and in the exhibit they show off some full and near full size maquettes that are largely functional, and pull people from the audience to help demonstrate them. A flying bird, a giant walking ant, an inchworm.

Return

Seriously, the obishawns and steampunks of the world should click through and look at all of the photos and videos I shot.

One of the neatest things about these was how much the rider could interact with them, even if only for show. The ant moved under wheeled power, but the four people riding it could move all its legs and head and mandibles. They also had a funny plane mockup, with fans and smoke machines and foam machines to provide some atmosphere for the hapless pilot. There was also a brief view of their workshop, where we were sworn to secrecy (and no pictures) and have an idea of some things coming from the shop. You exit along a sample of one fo the tree branches with pantings and trees helping to make it green. Below is the cafe, and we had a quick sandwich and bag of chips and some beer to keeep us going.

Walking at a more moderate pace, back toward the city, we folowed along the Loire river and came to the memorial of the slave trade. The pavement has hundreds of glass bricks each with the name of a Nantes-registered ship that was involved in the slave trade laid in. A central monument cited the UN statement on human rights with the word freedom in all (okay, at least 100) languages of the world.

A bit further on, we ran into a little Sunday flea market, not much different (but much smaller than) the Rose Bowl Swap Meet. Toys, books, magazines. Dr. Pookie hoped for uranium glass, but we didn't
see any, with the possible exception of an oil lamp base which would have been hard to transport.

Through the town, we saw the major chateau in town, and nearby is the tourist office, where we got great information on things we might do. Ultimately we opted for some time on the Erde, another smaller river. You could rent little electric boats and go off on your own. Pretty soon, you're outside the main town, and there are trees lining both sides, with occasional canalboats and houseboats.

Glittery

A fair number of water birds. Ducks, herons, swans, and a weird looking duck - maybe a coot? Our little boat had a weak battery, because we were outpaced by the other boats, but we did our best, puttering about. It was nice and quiet and cool on the river with a good breeze. Some odd local fellow has his own strange pastime, running his motorboat up and down the river, accompanying himself with a RC speedboat tricked out like the PT109. He passed us once, and luckily, we passed him again and managed to get a picture.

This guy zipped along keeping his RC boat company

Some of the larger craft going through put off a pretty big wake for our little boat, but steering into it kept us afloat, even if we got an excitingly jouncy ride for a bit. Another amusement on the ride was seeing one of the exhausted canoers getting a tow back to the rental house. We bid our boat goodbye, and walked back into the center of town where we had a look at the cathedral. There was a service going on inside, and signs enjoined us not to visit during that, so we obeyed. The tour group behind us was not as polite.

From there, a quick camel stop to drink more beer (or panaché in Dr. Pookie's case, a mix of beer and lemon soda).

We poked our head inside the chateau and took a few pictures, but we didn't have time or inclination to explore more. A short walk took us to the Jardin des Plantes, which had a fountain and lots of plantings, birds and a turtle or two. They had some topiaries based on a the works of an author of children's books. We weren't much interested, since it doesn't mean much if you haven't read the story, but one was evocative, and particularly so for us. It's a bird collapsed in exhaustion (it would appear) with a topiary piece of wheelie-bag luggage next to it.

Topiary, Jardin des Plantes

Perhaps it is no coincidence that that end of the garden is very close to the train station, where we headed next, and are currently on board a train headed back to Rennes, where we have plans to eat dinner at Gepetto's pizza, which was next door to the steak place we ate at last night.

As it turned out, Gepetto's was not open on Sunday, because of God. But fortunately the same area had another italian/pizza place, and the menu looked good enough, so we got our pizza anyway. La Lupa had a number of pizzas on offer. I opted for the Esmeralda, with andouille, onion, tomato and potato! The andouille was not what you would get in the US, where it is a spicy hot dog. This was more like pressed something with a chewy rind of something. [Wikipedia now informs me that "In France, particularly Brittany, the traditional ingredients of andouille are primarily pig chitterlings, tripe, onions, wine, and seasoning. It is generally grey in colour and has a distinctive odor." Well, yum.] The rind texture was a little off putting, but it was still good. The pizza as a whole was excellent, and they had some great pepper oil to drizle over everything. Dr. Pookie had the Luigi, with mushrooms, bacon, and egg. The egg was a very softboiled little yolk pouch that she almost succeeded in removing without breaking, flooding the pizza pan. Yolk flood aside, she seemed pretty happy. We had a bottle of Italian rosé, and it was a nice relaxed meal. The guy at the next table was making very Gallic noises from time to time when he laughed, sort of a throatclearing. I was glad he was just finishing up his meal.

Toddled back to the hotel, a good night's sleep, and here we are on a train again. We've already come from Rennes to Redon, and have just boarded an express (but not TGV) for Bordeaux. From Bordeaux, I think we have a TGV to Carcassonne, our next stop.
 
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Journal of No. 118