09.20.2010 - 09.23.2010
I went to get our new car as Flavia straightened up the apartment on our last morning in Paris. Getting to the car dealer was a bit tricky, as I was almost pick pocketed in the station as I was trying to buy my ticket. Someone threw some change on the ground under the machine in an attempt to get me to pick it up so they could relieve me of my wallet. Fortunately, even though I heard the change hit the ground, I realized that it wasn’t my change, and upon closer look I noticed it wasn’t even Euros. I was particularly lucky that I didn’t fall for the trick because for that trip I did have my passport with me in my pocket. Someone ended up handing the money to me, hopefully they didn’t get their wallet stolen, and I took the few coins of South African Rand and boarded my train. I picked up our brand new white Renault Megane, and drove through Paris to pick up Flavia so we could set out to Brittany. Instead of the GPS taking us around the city on maybe an easier route, it took us straight across Paris, which was fine, except there were a few hectic moments when I realized that I was going to have to drive the notorious roundabout around the Arch du Triumph, but I just kind of watched the cars around me and hit the gas, nearly taking out a motorcyclist who flew past me screaming some nicety in French.
We headed west towards the coast and the Brittany (Bretagne) region, notorious for its beauty, its unique Celtic culture, and especially its seafood. The drive was pretty boring all in all, the first of many long drives over the next few weeks, and we pulled into a youth hostel in St. Melo around sunset. We are eager to save money during the finish of our trip, and are debating numerous ways, including couch surfing, or even camping, but to start we are going to go as cheap as possible when it comes to accommodation. The fact that we have the car simplifies everything because we can go to the cheapest place in town and if it is really bad, we can just drive to another nearby one, without that hassle of public transit. This hostel was fine, full of students on a class vacation, but we were mercifully placed in a quiet room away from them. We showered quickly and walked along the shoreline to the old walled city. The weather was perfect, cool, but not cold, and with only a slight breeze. We walked for about 35 minutes, a nice walk after a long day in the car, and the coast is beautiful here. We didn’t know what to expect, but this certainly seemed nicer than what we’d expected for the French coastline. The tidal change is extremely exaggerated here, with the water moving miles in and out, creating the perfect conditions for tidal shift that allows the seafood to be so clean here. But we weren’t just going to take people’s word on this, we had to try them for ourselves. We ordered a raw seafood platter, and recognized a few things at first. The oysters for one, are notorious in Brittany. They are small, which makes them a bit more approachable, as Flavia nor I particularly enjoys raw oysters. They were delicious though, fresh and clean, with no fishy taste or smell. The other things on the plate were a bit interesting, especially the two sizes of sea snails, known as Winkles and Wackles. The winkles are easy to eat, they are tiny little black sea snails that eaten raw and without seasoning have a bit of a natural spiciness to them and go down in just one or two bites. The big ones, about the size of a small pickle once plucked out of their shell, kind of taste like eating a boneless finger that has been floating in the ocean for a few days. It’s pretty rough going, I choked down two, and laughed at Flavia’s face as she glared at me for convincing her to eat one of them. We also had a plate of steamed mussels, which I think are Flavia’s new favorite food! We wandered the old city after dinner, and it was nice, but was full of mostly new buildings as 80% of the original city was destroyed in WWII. We walked home that night again along the water, really impressed at the beautiful architecture of the houses and small hotels lining the coast. The detail and individuality is expressed in each building, and life by the sea exposes small cracks and missing paint that give them a feeling of being well worn but still loved.
I planned on cooking the next night because of the beautiful markets here on the coast. We found a little market near the walled city. This market was spectacular, and above all the people that worked there seemed to be so happy with what they were selling, it made it nice and easy to buy some seafood and fresh veggies and pasta for the night’s meal, especially when everything together cost only a few Euros. We dropped the ingredients back at the hostel, and headed west, without any specific plans. I looked at the GPS and saw a road heading towards the water and then ending and decided to follow it. We arrived at a beautiful crescent beach that was completely empty, and sheltered from the breeze that blew on the road. The sand was soft and the sun was shining bright, and we had a small picnic with some cheese and a still warm baguette which we bought at the market. We lounged on the beach, our first sun in a while, and I walked along the water and then up a nearby hill while Flavia decided to just enjoy the sand and sun. After a relaxing day and a stop for a Crepe, we rested up then I cooked seafood pasta with some fresh mussels cooked in white wine. It was good!
We drove south the next day and stopped in the tiny port of Belon, where one of the most famous seafood restaurants in all the world promised us a great lunch. This port is really nothing more than a few boats sitting on the mud in low tide, and the restaurant Chez Jacky, which hadn’t opened yet. We walked around and met a family that had just been clamming out on the mud flats. A very nice man immediately opened up two raw clams and offered them to us to slurp down, wow! Even though raw shellfish are very salty, these really highlight the cleanliness of the water. The lunch was equally spectacular, not the 100 Euro seafood platter that Anthony Bourdain had when he visited, but great scallops, shrimp and oysters, with a small bowl of little sea snails to start with. We continued on to Quiberon, which was kind of a bust. Although it was on the coast, the weather was not very nice and the hostel we ended up at was completely dead, kind of a weird place all in all. We decided to just relax for the night ahead of a long drive down to Bordeaux.