Southend Airport is a journey in itself. A far off mystical place that was the start of our journey. For some reason, we had chosen to fly out of there, early to make the most of a full day off work. That meant getting up at 4am for a shared taxi with our good mate Crerar.
It wasn’t all bad. A few zombie moments of conversing with the driver, customs and airport security acted as the interludes between sleeping in bed, sleeping in a car, sleeping in an airport terminal and sleeping on a plane. As Tam manages to sleep in every position with her mouth wide open, she becomes the most irritable when we didn’t have water.
Landing the twin prop plane in Rennes, we found an equally insignificant airport and loaded our rental headed west into Brittany.
According to the ancient tales of Asterix comics, the province of Gaul and the small fortified village, home to the defenders Asterix and Obelix was rumoured to be in these parts – some remains have dubiously been found near Lannion where we were headed. The area remains something of a Celtic breakaway from the rest of France – with Breton and Gallic other official languages of the region.
Stopping in one small village we received a warm reception from the local boulangerie. Here we were a “nouveauté” and despite a few language barriers, we managed to get fed. This place was a 24/7 bakery with a baguette vending machine.
The coastline in the Ploumanac’h area is known as the Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coast). We walked the coast, admired a few rocks and contemplated miniature boat hire or a swim in the frigid Atlantic.
Our accommodation in Saint Brieuc was in the shell of an old ground floor office, complete with metal shutters. All it needed was some motivational posters and an urn. The town itself was quite lifeless, we wandered into a local restaurant at 7:20pm, only to be told they weren’t open yet. Sure enough, the place did open and was full by 8. They cooked over an open flame and had steaks of 500g. The waiter took a shine to us once he learned we were from New Zealand and helped us decipher about a quarter of the menu.
The next day we happened across a farmers market in Erquy. The place was full of people over sixty doing the rounds for the week. Markets like these are still going strong in France and the lifeblood of the rural communities.
The local tourist office had bikes for hire and we took that opportunity to make it around the coast, carrying our bikes over some rocky paths.
The highlight would have been crossing an estuaries at low tide. Building up the speed to make it across water when using the bridge would have done…
Next, we were meeting up with Catherine and Shaun, who were at the start of their big adventure home to New Zealand. With friends Kelly, Shae, Isaac and Paul, we were all going to the island in the estuary – Mont Saint-Michel.
But first we had to negotiate our accommodation. We arrived first and got completely lost in a small village of five houses. Eventually one little old lady in a red jersey came out with her garden hoe. Mitch said “Monsieur Colnage” – his best he could remember about the host. Turns out this was his mother and she spent the next half hour taking us several metres down the road and through the old house. It became a bit of a game when she pointed at something and described it in French. We just repeated the English word for it back to her. This carried on for a while. Eventually we learned the words to wood, gas, oven, sheets and towels, which was handy as we didn’t have any towels and the gas oven wasn’t working so we fired up the wood BBQ. We had actually ask for towels “Oui, Oui, serviette!”, but I think she took it as us actually telling her, yes – we had towels….
The fire was fed gleefully by Crerar and Tam. Mitch did his best to manage the massive amounts of wood being piled on as we did have dinner to cook. Once the others arrived, we had a roaring fire and having missed lunch were a bit ravenous. Once the meat was cooked and dinner scoffed, the fire served us in toasting marshmallows.
Mont Saint-Michel is a rocky island commune since the 8th century that is naturally defended by the roaring tides that sweep in and around the walls. Any would-be assailants would need to compete against this in any siege. For our assault, we had the benefit of a low neap tide. A recent bridge built out serves access for most, but others can walk out along the mud flats.
The abbey and cathedral spire makes this one of the most recognized landmarks of France. A symbol of solidarity and endurance. We ventured through the halls and the ramparts and were really impressed by how much of the place was devoted to the Church.
With enough time to explore the nearby city of Saint Malo, another “Portress”. We managed another walk around another set of ramparts and sat on the beach in the early spring sun, soaking up enough before saying our farewells. Really enjoying our time on the northern coast of France.
With a delayed flight home back to London Southend, we landed with only 20 minutes before the last train departed. It was a frantic rush and sparks with customs before sprinting to the platform. Time seems to move so much faster in your head – especially when it is limited. We had probably done our fastest ever check-in and ended up with time to spare. “Hurry up and wait” – love that English saying…