South Across Brittany in Indian Summer

2014/09/26-10/04: St. Malo to La Rochelle
We’ve been travelling south through Brittany on small roads and canal paths. It’s good to be back on the right/right side of the road, and these roads are wider too. My rusty French is improving as we go. The weather has been unseasonably warm and humid – too hot for me.

Our love-hate relationship with France has been renewed; it began over twenty years ago when we live in the Pays de Gex. The cycling culture here warms the heart: I was slogging up a steep escarpment from the port of Dinan to the town centre in the citadel above, when there came a cheerful cry of “Bravo” from a car window. Skinny-tired roadies stop to chat and look at maps with us. But there is still sometimes a layer of unwillingness to help or to welcome foreigners that really grates.

The quest for a SIM card that would allow us to use an unlocked smart phone here was a demonstration. Our first visit to Orange (telecom company) in Dinan resulted in a long wait and paying for a card that would never work. On a second visit to Orange in Nantes we were met by a blockade of unhelpfulness and downright rudeness from a fellow standing beneath a sign that incongruously said acceuil – welcome. Ha! “We don’t have the SIM card you need. It doesn’t exist in any shop. Go away and order on line. No fixed address? Then you can’t. You’re SOL. Goodbye. Don’t bother us here.”

Across the street at SFR ( Societe Francaise de Radiocommunication) we are cheerfully and efficiently provided with exactly what we needed.

Entering Nantes, we spied a bike shop called Velo Evasion and pulled over, leaning our bikes -well padded with their soft bags- gently against the sturdy concrete building. Mr. Cool bike shop owner or employee pulled up on his fixie, and very abruptly chewed us out for risking a scratch to the concrete. A bike shop owner? What about service a la clientele? We quickly left, despite the stream of rather late apologies that trailed us. I could see that Chris was quietly blowing a fuse.

09/26: St. Malo 26 km
We used a map provided to us in Jersey to get ourself to the budget Ibis in the dark as we got off the ferry. Things would not have gone as smoothly without. In the morning, we pushed bikes along the ramparts and paid homage to an important native son. We also learned that the first colonizers of the Falklands wee from here, hence the Spanish name Las Malvinas.


Statue of Jacques Cartier looking out from the ramparts of St. Malo. A plaque unveiled by Pierre Trudeau commemorates the 450th anniversary of his sailing to New France.

09/27: To South of Dinan 46 km 
Much of this was along a voie verte that followed the Canal d’Ille et Rance. We feasted on Breton galettes in the port of Dinan before slogging upward to the town centre to buy groceries and take a stab at acquiring a SIM card in Orange, before riding along to Marion’s cottage in the countryside where we quickly made ourselves at home.


Beside the canal de L’Ille et Rance

09/28: To Rennes 75 km
Along the canal I overheard such comments as “Qu’il sont charges!” In reference to our loaded bikes. Most of he the other cyclists here were day trippers. It’s good to see the routes so well used.

Arriving in Rennes, the capital of Brittany, we made our way to the youth hostel. We ate pizza for dinner with a Romanian law student from the hostel. The conversation went in grim directions and covered the lack of options in mental health treatment, as well as the realities of the world’s nuclear arsenal.

09/29: To Chateaubriant 62 km
We met a great group of roadies prepared to chat. We also pulled into a rest area to find a monument to local son Auguste Pavie (1847-1925), explorer of Indochina and first Governor General of Laos. He was one who really went local.

09/30-10/01: Nantes 68 km
We found our way to a rather basic youth hostel, then went out to buy chain cleaning necessities. Dinner was moules a la mariniere with frites at a pirate-themed restaurant that played an array of traditional music, including Breton bagpipes fused with rock by a group called Soldat Louis.


Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany, seen from the courtyard. It is surrounded by ramparts and moats, with the moat area now landscaped to gardens.

The day off involved a visit to the Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany, a really good lunch, an early evening spent cleaning bike chains, followed by supper at an Afghan restaurant.

We’ll ride across the peninsula to the coast and a different landscape tomorrow.


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