Saturday, May 6, 2017

May 2-5 - A touch of Brittany and a taste of Normandy Day 1

Our trip route
This week we headed west for a 4 day trip to the edge of Brittany and parts of Normandy. Our objectives were St.Malo (Brittany), Mont St. Michel (on the border of Brittany and Normandy), the Bayeux Tapestry, D-Day Beaches, Caen and Falaise (all in Normandy). Whew! a tall order, and one which only allows us to hit the highlights of each place. We stayed one night in St. Malo and 2 nights in Bayeux as driving back and forth each day would have added 5-6 hours of travel time versus an hour or less between cities.

First Saint Malo.
Map of walled city of St. Malo. Star is our hotel. water behind is commercial port. Rest of city is east of this map.
The walled part of the city, where we stayed at the Chateaubriand Hotel, has been inhabited and fortified since the first century BC.
It was the home of "privateers" - basically pirates exacting tribute from English Channel ships.
This modern day privateer exacts tribute from tourists.
Mostly destroyed in WWII, it was rebuilt after the war. When the Germans finally surrendered on August 17, 1944, only 182 of 895 buildings were still intact.
Looking at it now, you'd swear it was hundreds of years old, which it is given its building materials after the war. This site has a great first-person description of living through the liberation of St. Malo and re-building after the war:

In the twentieth century up to today, Saint Malo became a vacation mecca thanks to it's sand beaches which the tides cover and uncover during the day.
beach view with ramparts to left looking toward the harbor behind the city

Parking in the narrow and twisty medieval streets of the walled city seemed like it should be a problem, but in fact, turned out to be quite easy. A small lot behind the hotel had spaces available and while it was a pay lot, it only charged for 9-12 noon and 2-5 pm. We only paid 8 Euros to park from noon Tuesday till 9 am Wednesday.
the parking lot along the ramparts

As our hotel is tucked into the corner of the city walls (star on map), we went up on the ramparts of the wall to find a place for lunch. Benches are in short supply and the couple we saw were occupied by others eating their picnic lunch. Eventually, we chose a wall part way along the ramparts where the sea gulls stood nearby to watch for fallen crumbs.
lunch on the walls of the ramparts

this fella kept his eye on us all lunch time, ever hopeful

Our lunch view

You can walk around the entire walled part of the city which juts out on a rocky spur surrounded by water on 3 sides. Several other rocky islands just a stone's throw from the walled city are equally fortified.
Close up of island seen below

This island becomes accessible by sand bar at low tide as seen below

The views are spectacular and calming - sea and sand and medieval buildings and fortifications from you perch atop the rampart walls.
Statue in upper left is supposed to be Jacques Cartier, discoverer of Canada, and a native St Malouin, but it is Robert Surcouf, a privateer. We don't know what became of the Jacques Cartier statue. It's obviously been removed.

We watched this group of children, aged about 10-12 get organized and set out from the beach on a mini-boat ride. They are being towed by the lead pontoon boat. They were having a great time.

View of the ramparts, left, and inner fortified walls

Once back to the hotel,
Hotel sun room
we had kir (white wine with casis) on the sidewalk dining area of the hotel restaurant, enjoying the last of the warm sunlight. Very relaxing.
Not our hotel's sidewalk café, but taken from our café
We made dinner reservations for 7 pm at our hotel which is famous for having invented Chateaubriand.
In front of the gates to our hotel courtyard

sign over door in hotel courtyard door noting the birthplace of Chateaubriand (probably the man, not the meal)
In spite of its 18th century elegant decor, the meal was disappointing in its ordinariness. While the steaks were done to perfection, they were unseasoned as were the accompanying mushrooms and potatoes. A bernaise sauce helped, but for the price, the meal was mediocre. But Clark brought some wine from our stash in Brissac and we finished the meal with after dinner drinks in their room.

Here's some information on Chateaubriand, the meal: "There are a few things about Chateaubriand that most sources agree. It is a recipe, not a cut of meat. It was created for Francois René Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) French author and statesman. It was created by his chef, Montmireil (possibly in 1822). 

Sources differ on the other important details of this recipe. Most say it was originally cut from the thickest part of the beef tenderloin, but several state that it was originally cut from the sirloin. Some say it was one very thick cut of beef, seared on the outside and rare on the inside. It may or may not then have had the seared and charred ends cut off before serving. Others state that the thick steak (filet or sirloin) was cooked between two inferior steaks to enhance its flavor and juiciness. The inferior steaks were cooked until well charred, then discarded. 

Most state that it was originally served with Bernaise sauce, but some say the sauce was made with reduced white wine, shallots, demi-glace, butter and lemon juice. Finally, all agree the steak was served with chateau potatoes (small olive shaped pieces of potato sautéed until browned). "( ) 

The hotel rooms on the other hand were beautifully appointed with comfortable beds and up to date bathrooms, perfect except the bathrooms had bathtubs with hand-held showers. But the view out the windows was worth having to hold the shower.
window in our hotel room
view out our window to the left, about 6 pm, low tide, telephoto lens

View to right out our window. Looking straight ahead you would look straight into the tower on the left of this photo. Just an alley between the hotel and the walls of the fortress.
Dave did a little wandering before and after dinner to try to get some night photos of the town.
inside the restored church

no explanation needed

Cafés on the square in front of our hotel

A view toward our hotel. Janis and Clark's room was the one on the right over the Chateaubriand sign

The walled city still has narrow cobblestone streets (hard to walk on). View of church tower

This café had closed in its portable walls against the chill of the evening. 

Successful day one. Cooperative weather, warm (but breezy) and sunny. We ate breakfast in the hotel in the morning before leaving for our next stop: Mont St. Michel.

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