Halloween 2018

This year the family went with a Harry Potter theme.

witches and wizards

As always, Nate’s Radio Flyer wagon was also decorated for the occasion.  This year it became the Hogwarts Express.

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Continuing the tradition, the wagon was a full-bar, stocked with beer, wine, bourbon, gin, scotch, rum, vodka, vermouth (dry and sweet), coke, tonic, club soda, limes and lemons, cherries, and ice.  Dozens of parents in the neighborhood appreciated our annual tradition.

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Day 31 – Travel to Mont-Saint-Michel

The time remaining in our trip was dwindling. We ended our stay in Saint-Malo with more cream-filled beignets for breakfast. One more drive through the cobblestone canyons of the walled city to pick up our luggage, and we were off.

We headed east, taking the scenic roads along the seashore, eschewing the main highways completely. We eventually turned down a a side road to Notre-Dame du Venger (Our Lady of the Orchard). Here was a small maritime church, still in active use. From there we walked down to the channel, for more surf and more tidal pools. Nate loved it, of course.

On our way out, we stopped at a little stand for lunch. I had a croque monsieur and an Orangina, and the rest of the family had sandwiches. It was a run-down trailer, little more than a shack, and the bread was better than Panera Bread in the United States. It doesn’t matter where you get it; there’s just no bad bread in France.

Back on the road, we traveled through the resort town of Cancale, and continued on the coast until the road pulled away. It wasn’t long before we reached our destination of the day- Mont-Saint-Michel. We left most of our luggage in the car, making do with suitcase and day packs. The shuttle bus then took us across the causeway to the city.

Mont-Saint-Michel has been a sacred site for Christianity since the 8th century and the site of an abbey since the 10th. The abbey sits on a mountain top on an island in the middle of an extensive mud flat. Twice a day the tides roar in (“faster than a galloping horse”) and cover the mud flats. Only the causeway remains, and a few times per year even that is submerged. For many decades the causeway interfered with the natural currents in the bay, but they just finished an elaborate engineering effort to restore the bay over time. The causeway is now a bridge, and they fill up a dam full of water to aid in flushing out the silt.

Our guidebook warned us that the island was pretty touristy, and our initial impression confirmed that. Our hotel, ridiculously priced- not many rooms on the island- opened up to a pretty courtyard, and was away from the bustle. Lots of steps to get there though.

We dropped off our stuff and walked the ramparts. Great views across the bay. We searched in vain for a bar overlooking the water where could get a drink (really? Silly French!). We eventually just found a spot off the Main Street. Probably worth noting that the entire island is car-free, and the main street is about 8-10 feet wide. With stairs.

Dinner was in a lovely outdoor courtyard. I had a famous “frothy omelet” as a first course. They were traditionally made very rapidly as meals for pilgrims who had to eat and run before the tides came in. Traveling here across the mud flats was very hazardous before the causeway was built! The main course was lamb (excellent), followed by cheese and Creme Brûlée. All quite good.

Nate and Dorinna went to bed, but I went exploring instead. Mont-Saint-Michel at night is simply magical. It’s all lit up and most of the tourists have left for the mainland. The only ones still awake were romantics and photographers. I must have walked around the city taking pictures for over two hours. It’s a maze of stairways, passages, ramparts, balconies, parks, and cemeteries. I felt like I was walking through the set of a Harry Potter movie. Truly magical, and one of the highlights of France.

Le Grand Voyage — Day 29 (Bicycling in Brittany)

 

The bicycle delivery was an hour earlier than expected, but it all worked out fine. The bicycles were… pretty outstanding, actually. Much nicer than the junkers we rented in Amboise (more expensive too, but completely worth it). The hotel staff helped with translation.

For breakfast, we had what the French called beignets, and what we called creme-filled doughnuts. Filled with sugar, but oh-so-good, they are baked hollow and then the creme is injected inside; you choose your flavor. I couldn’t eat this every day, but it was nice for a change.

We started to get our bikes ready when an older British gent came out to say hello. He had an apartment facing the same courtyard as our hotel. We chatted about our destination, and he took one look at our awful, awful map and went inside to fetch his own. He gave us detailed instructions on how to ride to Dinan, our destination for the day. While we still had our share of troubles, his advice and his map were invaluable.

So we set off and immediately got lost. Saint-Malo is a beach town, there was a lot of traffic, and the shoulders of the road were not especially big. It was a little nerve-wracking. Our friend had miscounted roundabouts, and it took us awhile to navigate correctly. In fact, the first few miles were one course correction after another. I was especially stymied by my attempts to cross a major highway, and maps, both paper and computer, weren’t helping much. Eventually we crossed underneath the highway, and then followed it on a frontage road for a short distance. And then, finally, open road.

It was hot and the hills were frequent but the scenery was very nice. We cruised through a nice village and then dropped down a very steep hill. It had taken us too long to get out of the city, and the unexpected hills were slowing us further. We weren’t going to make it to Dinan. Instead we dropped down to the beautiful coastal town of Saint-Suliac. Like any seaside village in America- just replace the plywood beach house shacks with beautiful stone buildings and cover the place with flowers.

We found a little roadside stand with food. I chowed down on a galette with ham, egg, and cheese, along with fries, a sparkling water and lemonade. French lemonade isn’t like American lemonade- it’s carbonated, and much tastier than the bland so-called “lemon-lime” sodas of America. It was a refreshing stop.

The hills felt longer and steeper on the way back, but at least we knew the way. Once we were back in Saint-Malo, we followed the roads directly to the coast. We stopped to hike on a trail alongside the water. It was a dense jungle path, but led to an interesting area of beach. Once back on the bikes, we hugged the shore all the way back, which was much more interesting than the busy inland roads.

We ate dinner at Les Voyageurs, a seafood restaurant in Saint-Malo. I had fish, rice, and cider, Nate had mussels, and even Dorinna had a fish burger. That night I walked around the ramparts, taking pictures and watching the sun slowly sink into the Atlantic.

This day wasn’t as much fun as biking in Amboise, but I still enjoyed it a lot. I can definitely see myself doing a multi-day bike trip across France in the future.