When we arrived in France, our host, Bill, drove us around the countryside, showing some of the local flavor. Though he’d be taking his car with him on their vacation, he left us their caravan (that’s an RV to those in the States) if we needed to get out and about, with the warning that “it’s bloody well hard on petrol” ... or something to that effect. Friday was shaping up to be a clear but cold day, so it seemed a fine time to pick up some groceries from the market some 8K away and return to some of the spots we drove by previously.
Driving in the French countryside is very much like driving through any rural area in the States. Mostly two-way roads (yes, all paved) connect the various hamlets and burgs, with light traffic of all sorts. Our biggest challenge was navigation support due to the lack of mobile connectivity. Google Maps, Waze, and other apps on our phones were largely worthless the moment we were between towns. Luckily we’d studied the maps prior to leaving, so we had a general sense of where we were heading. I think we only
got lost took the wrong turn a couple of times, and made it to all of our destinations and back without major incident.
Our first stop was the Abbey of Bon-Repos, built on an area dating back from 3000 B.C.. From what we can tell (English translation of French website isn’t perfect,) the main structure of the abbey is some 830 years old. It’s been through a series of refurbishment and repair, with recent efforts to restore the area starting about 30 years ago. In the summer months – this is not summer – the abbey hosts historical reenactments in a quaint little village and amphitheater. According to our well-traveled host, it’s not nearly as “Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament” looking as we were imagining. Thank the gods for that. We were unable to go inside the abbey, as it’s only open during the warmer months. January? Not so much.
The site also hosts a quaint little bar (where we had our first beer in France) on the side of Le Blavet river, a navigable river with an old but still functioning lock to assist passage. Of note was the noticeable lack of any sort of barrier or warning signs along the edge of the lock. Perhaps in France, if you’re stupid enough to fall off of the rather obvious edge of a lock, you don’t have much of a case. Try not to drown, moron.
On the drive back, we stopped at a trailhead in the Gorges de Daoulas. We took a short-but-steep hike to get a view of the surrounding valley. It was quite lovely, giving us a panoramic view of the entire area. Rumor has it if we kept walking, we’d be at the highest part in the Brittany – or Bretagne – region. But it was chilly, and were both ill-equipped for serious hiking, so the rumor remains unverified. We are pretty sure, however, that we found a dragon’s lair. Or an old hole where in the ground lived, at one time, a Hobbit.
We then drove the short trek to the Musée de la Résistance en Argoat (Resistance Museum in Argoat), eager to see the inside of this lovely building built literally on top of Etang Neuf (Lake Nine, I think?). When the woman at the door asked us something in French, it gave me the chance to use my on memorized French phrase “Mon francias est pourri,” which means “My French is rotten.” She chuckled and explained to us – in English – that the museum is closed during the month of January. Well then. So much for that. But she did allow us to purchase a couple of post cards in the gift shop. How nice!
With the leisure out of the way, it was time to complete the primary task of the day, grocery shopping in Santa Claus. No, wait. That’s not right. The town or Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem houses the closest large grocery store – the Super U. All the modern trappings you might expect in a grocery store, with one mystery to solve: It seemed all of the shoppers inside the store were pushing shopping carts (those annoying IKEA-like ones were all four casters rotate,) but we couldn’t find out where they had acquired them. The normal line of baskets at the front of the store simply didn’t exist.
The answer to the mystery was a rather ingenious solution to the problem of stray shopping carts, of which we had noticed there were none. Shopping carts, it turns out, are kept in the parking lot corrals, but are chained up and only available if you slide a 1-Euro coin in the handle. That action unlocks the basket form the one ahead of it, allowing it to be utilized. The whole time you're pushing the cart, a small piece of the coin peeks out at you, reminding you of its presence. When you’re finished unloading your cart (bring your own bags when you shop, as they don’t even have paper or plastic) you take the cart back to the corral, re-attach the chain to your basket, and your coin pops back out to you. Genius! We should have taken a picture. Next time!
And with that, we made the easy drive back to Corlay and called it a night. I started feeling like a cold was coming on mid-way through the day, so Sheila made a quick-but-tasty meal with our new provisions, and we spent the night in watching Airplane II. She was not amused.