290 Photos - Aug 2, 2008
Photo: It's mid-May, and after a flight to Paris CDG, and about 6 hours by car (with expert guidance by Mme. La Carte, as we call our female-voiced GPS system when in France), we arrive at our B and B just south of the small city of Nevez, in the Finistere Department of southwest Brittany. Our room is at the top of the stairs.Photo: It's a large building, with self-catered apartments (gites) on this side. The light colored exterior is composed of what is called Concarneau (a city we will visit shortly) stone.Photo: Our host, Mme. G., lives on this side with her 99(!) year old mother, and her black lab Oslo, a very friendly and, typical for France, well-behaved dog. Her family has lived in this small village of Kerambris south of Nevez for 400 years, and she was born in the house we are staying in. What hidden history in such places!Photo: We head that evening into Nevez for dinner. The St. Thumette church is about 100 years old.Photo: Much older, from the 16th century, is the St. Barbe chapel.Photo: The small town square will be quite animated on Saturday, which is market day here.Photo: Our first Breton dinner is traditional - crepes in this small restaurant.Photo: Friday brings our first day of touring, starting with the nearby town of Concarneau.Photo: It's readily apparent why Concarneau is the third largest fishing port in France.Photo: It's market day here (towns coordinate with their neighbors so that there is usually a market day close, but not overlapping, in the region), and the parking lot near the old town is bustling with shoppers.Photo: The Ville Close is the fortified old town on a rocky island a few meters off the coast.Photo: . The old town is the main visitor attraction, and becomes extremely crowded in summer. A shopkeeper commented that we were fortunate to come when we did, to avoid the masses!Photo: It's not easy to escape the old town souvenir shops and creperies, but there are some quiet corners.Photo: The massive granite walls of the fortifications date originally from the 14th century.Photo: A local creperie. The flowers on the wall are growing in soil-filled canvas bags attached to hooks in the wall.Photo: From the ramparts, a view of the new town on the mainland.Photo: The famous French military engineer Vauban strengthened the fortifications in the 17th century.Photo: Another view of the new town.Photo: We tour the excellent Fishing Museum, which includes a 100 foot trawler, the Hemerica. Life for an Atlantic fisherman is far from comfortable!Photo: A final look down the ramparts.Photo: We move down the road a bit to Pont Aven, which became an artist community beginning in the 1860s, as the area became accessible with the arrival of the railroad.Photo: The village's main natural attraction is the rushing water of the Aven river.Photo: Traditional structures are seen throughout the village.Photo: The village’s artistic fame culminated with the group of artists who flocked around Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, and who were joined in 1888 by Paul Serusier. Later, the village became too commercial for their tastes, and they moved to the small coastal village of le Pouldu nearby.Photo: The village itself is very commercial: many galleries, souvenir shops, and restaurants.Photo: This attractive and very white residence was right on the river's edge.Photo: Before Pont Aven attracted Gauguin and other artists it was a center for milling, with the river Aven being divided above the town to provide a mill race, which powered a number of water mills. Several of these mills still have their wheels, but only one (the Moulin Poulguin) is still capable of operating. The mill is now a restaurant, a bit of which is seen on the left.Photo: The once-commercial port is now given over to pleasure craft.Photo: These port-side homes are quite pricey, I'm sure.Photo: The village church in Doelan, along the coast southeast of Pont Aven.Photo: Our first view of the coast, in the Doelan area.Photo: We are now in the church in Kerascleden, a small inland town. The number of places beginning with Ker is a result of the Celtic-related Breton language, as this word means village or home.Photo: A rose window.Photo: A common memorial in every French city, town or village is to those who gave their life in World War I, when a whole generation of Frenchmen was severely depleted.Photo: The church is especially known for its frescoes of the Virgin Mary's life.Photo: Joan of Arc is also remembered here.Photo: The flamboyant Gothic exterior dates to the church's construction in 1453 by the Rohan family.Photo: We are now in le Faouet, whose sixteenth century halles, or covered market, remains in use - a rare surviving example of a large timber structure from the period.Photo: The town name means beech forest in the Breton language.Photo: South of le Faouet is the village of St-Fiacre, whose church is unusual for its two turrets flanking the steeple.Photo: The church's Flamboyant rood screen, brightly painted and carved as intricately as lace. The original purpose of a rood screen was to separate the chancel from the congregation.Photo: The decorations of this 1480 masterpiece include both Biblical scenes and lively depictions of sins such as drunkenness and robbery. Dinner that night is at the Hotel du Port, close to our lodgings in the seaside town of Port Manec'h, with seafood specialties, of course.Photo: Saturday brings a tour of the Cornouaille coastal area, beginning in the village of Locronan.Photo: The decline from its once-prosperous trade and crafts has left the village in a traditional form, and so very popular with tourists.Photo: These shops on the town square were originally home to wealthy cloth merchants.Photo: Stained glass inside the parish church.Photo: A simple but powerful prayer by the votive candles: Lord, may this candle which I burn be bright so that you make all clear in my difficulties and decisions. May the fire burn in me all egoism, pride, and impurity. May the flame warm again my heart. I cannot stay long in your church; in leaving this candle to burn, it is a little of me that I wish to give you. Help me to extend my prayer into the day's activities.Photo: The church is dedicated to the 5th century Irish missionary, St. Ronan, who is buried here. Thus the town's name, as loc is the Breton word for holy place.Photo: The colorful pulpit depicts scenes from St. Ronan's life.Photo: The church exterior.Photo: An older area of the church, under renovation - a frequent scene for these aging structures.Photo: We joke about the odd sense of English translations commonly found in Asian areas in particular, recognizing that Europeans generally get it right. But not always ...Photo: The church from the back.Photo: There is a small cemetery just behind the church.Photo: And the ever-present war memorial.Photo: Villages like this are so well-preserved mainly because of their rapid economic decline, which discouraged any further modernization of the central area in particular.Photo: Walking down the rue Moal, to the small stone chapel of Notre-Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, Our Lady of Good News.Photo: The chapel interior is very simple, with some more recent stained glass.Photo: The statue of Our Lady seems to be of wooden construction.Photo: This small monument outside is a simple example of a calvaire, a stone cross decorated with scenes of Christ's suffering. Much more elaborate examples, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, are found in other towns and villages, and are a particular trademark of southwest Brittany.Photo: We are now in Douarnenez, here at the Port Rhu. Commercial fishing is still an important activity of the town, based mainly on sardines. The fishing in the area has declined somewhat, but the canneries remain active.Photo: This collection of closely-spaced boats, dating from the early 20th century, is actually a museum, the Porte-Musee, devoted to the local fishing industry.Photo: The harbor here consists mainly of pleasure craft. The working harbor is in another part of town.Photo: The view out to Douarnenez Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.Photo: We walk a bit around town. Most of the coast is rocky, but we do find this small sandy area, the Plage Des Dames - the Ladies Beach.Photo: A view of the Church of Ploare, the original name of the parish in this area. Also known as the Church of the Sacred Heart, its Gothic spire dates from the mid-16th century.Photo: Our first view of the rugged northern coat of the Cornouaille is at the Pointe du Millier.Photo: This is the first of quite a number of wind turbines that we see in the area.Photo: The few small villages are very quiet on this Saturday, and we end up stopping for a quick lunch in a local pub in Beuzec-Cap-Sizun, a small village of about 1000 inhabitants.Photo: We are now at the western edge of the peninsula, at the Pointe du Van.Photo: The rocky coast can drop almost 200 feet to the sea below.Photo: The Pointe du Van is a little north of the more rugged, but more visited/congested, Pointe du Raz.Photo: It's easy to see why the dramatic coastline is a prime tourist attraction in Brittany.Photo: The deep blue water is reminiscent of the Cote d'Azur.Photo: The coastline between the two Pointes is known as the Bay of the Dead - the belief is that the region was once inhabited by Druids, and they embarked from this area to bury their dead on a nearby island.Photo: The rocky coastline here does have some soft stone, and so changes from the pounding sea are commonplace.Photo: The Saint-They Chapel is at least the third in this location, close to a cliff edge. There are several religious processions (pardons) here each year.Photo: The southern coast is quite different, with sandy beaches and gentler breezes. Here, the beach at Penhors.Photo: There are many attractive homes along the tiny coastal roads. Some seem occupied, and some tightly shuttered. We will see this time and again in Brittany, reflecting the second homes with foreign ownership - especially British.Photo: We chance upon the remains of the Chapel at Languidou, constructed in 1160. The rose window was added early in the 15th century, and the building finally demolished in 1794 to provide materials for a nearby guardhouse.Photo: There are several larger resort towns on the southern coast, such as here at Benodet.Photo: The port church, Saint Thomas (Beckett). Originally from the 13th century, it was expanded in the 16th century, then altered again in the 19th century to a more traditional style.Photo: This is where the Odet river opens into the large southern bay in Brittany - the name Benodet means 'mouth of the Odet' in Breton.Photo: The port lighthouse is impressive, but it is unclear if it is still in working order.Photo: An unusual residence. There are many second homes in this resort town - it is said that the summer population is six times that of winter.Photo: Dinner that night is at this pleasant restaurant on the Pointe de Trevignon, not far from our lodging. The name could be translated as 'Sea Breeze,' and the owners are friends of Mme. G. I have my second entree of raw oysters, which I enjoy very much, but which Madame finds completely unpalatable.Photo: Sunday brings the first of our longer car trips, beginning in Rennes, the regional capital of Brittany. There is a big rollerblading festival that day, with many detours in the city - it seems that all 200,000 inhabitants are on skates! However, Mme. La Carte handles the changes expertly, as usual.Photo: The 15th century flamboyant Gothic St. Yves chapel now is home to the tourist information office.Photo: St. Pierre Cathedral is the third one built on this site. The imposing facade was completed in 1704, while the interior is from the 19th century.Photo: The large timbered 17th century homes on the Place des Lices were built for members of Parliament.Photo: The nearby art nouveau market halls, designed in 1869, house France's second largest food market every Saturday morning.Photo: The old town ('ville rouge') around Place St-Michel is full of shops and restaurants.Photo: Some of the timbered buildings (here, the Ti-Koz from the early 16th century) survived the great city fire of 1720, but are often surrounded by stone buildings built after the disaster.Photo: There are many quiet corners on this Sunday morning.Photo: The Hotel de Bloussac, built (1728-1732) for a member of Parliament, is the city's most prestigious townhouse - today, a government building.Photo: The Parlement de Bretagne (Parliament of Brittany, Plasenn Breujou Breizh) is the most famous building in Rennes from the 17th century. It was rebuilt after a terrible fire in 1994, and today houses the Rennes court of appeal.Photo: I have unfortunately lost track of the name and history of this impressive home.Photo: The Saint Germain church, with reconstructions beginning in 1434.Photo: The church's northern facade is in a Gothic style.Photo: The Hotel de Ville - City Hall - whose construction began in 1734. It combines Classical and Baroque architectures in limestone and granite.Photo: Cities such as Rennes were founded based on water transportation - here, the Vilaine river running through the center of town.Photo: We are now in Fougeres, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe. Here, from the ramparts, looking down to the town below.Photo: An unusual arrangement, with the castle being on low ground below the fortress.Photo: The walk down the path from fortress to castle.Photo: Now in the medieval quarter near the Nancon River, and looking back up to Saint Leonard Church in the fortress. The Church underwent many modifications between the 12th and 17th centuries, and was enlarged again during the 19th century. The northern facade is decorated with balustrades and curious gargoyles. The rose window over the door is a copy of Paris' Sainte Chapelle.Photo: The castle fortifications are most impressive! The castle was at the frontier of the main routes between Brittany, Normandy and France, and so was often subject to attacks - dating to its original construction 1000 years ago.Photo: Now in the Saint Sulpice Church. The nave was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries, and the chancel between the 16th and 18th centuries.Photo: The carved granite altarpieces are especially renowned.Photo: There is a particular emphasis on the Virgin Mary in church statues and windows.Photo: A look back at the Flamboyant Gothic exterior of Saint Sulpice from the castle.Photo: Flags fly at the castle entrance.Photo: One more close look at the impressive fortifications.Photo: Some of the buildings at the castle edge.Photo: The Nancon River, in the old medieval town.Photo: We are now in Vitre, a fortified town east of Rennes.Photo: The fortifications on this rocky outcrop above the Vilaine river date from a castle built in 1070.Photo: In the 13th century, the castle was enlarged and equipped with robust towers and walls. The city was encircled with fortified ramparts and ditches. It was at this time that the walled city took its current form.Photo: On the ramparts, looking toward the medieval suburb of Rachapt. The town name means 'repurchase': during the Hundreds Years' War, the castle defenders simply paid the besieging English to withdraw!Photo: In town, looking at the Flamboyant Gothic Notre Dame Church.Photo: Madame strolling the medieval city center, with very little open, and so very quiet, on this Sunday afternoon.Photo: Some of the interesting architecture characteristic of the homes of wealthy merchants. Vitre's peak came in the 16th century, when the brotherhoods of the Merchants of Overseas sold hemp fabric throughout Europe. When Henri IV passed through Vitre in 1598, he was struck by the opulence of these middle-class men, and he exclaimed: "If I were not King of France, I would like to be a middle-class man of Vitre!".Photo: Part of the castle gatehouse.Photo: A final view of the castle fortifications. With little open on Sunday, we stop for a quick evening meal at an aire - a French highway rest stop - on the way back to our B&B. Madame has steak haché with a baguette, basically making an American hamburger. I am more adventurous with rognons de porc - because, after all, where else will you get pork kidneys (in a nice gravy) as 'fast food'? Madame is even more appalled than at my raw oysters - something that I did not think was possible.Photo: Monday brings us to northern Brittany, along La Cote de Granit Rose - The Pink Granite Coast. We begin in the hillside town of Treguier - pretty certain that walking from our parking area towards the cathedral will take us into the town center.Photo: The unusual 18th century cathedral spire, with its perforations designed to reduce wind resistance.Photo: Treguier has its share of half-timbered homes, such as the Maison de Renan here. Ernest Renan was born here, and is the town's most famous son.Photo: Renan (1823-1892) remembered in the town square. He was a philosopher and writer - mostly religion and politics.Photo: The town's war memorial, from 1920, is considered one of the most beautiful in France.Photo: The cathedral is mostly from the 14th and 15th century, and (typically) only the latest on this site. It is the resting place of St. Yves, patron saint of lawyers, who is interred here. However, we have arrived for the typical 12-2 PM lunch closing of public buildings, and so do not see the interior.Photo: Besides tourism, the town has an economy of boat building and fishing, being situated at the confluence of the Guindy and Jaundy rivers.Photo: This attractive 15th century building is the Psallette, which was home and school to the young choir members who sang in the cathedral.Photo: Our parking lot is right next to the Grand Seminaire, originally a religious school from 1654, and since 1907 the communal Joseph Savina high school (more or less, in American terms). We arrived with students streaming out for the mid-day recess, and departed as they began to return for the afternoon.Photo: We move along the coast to the small town of Port Blanc, with this tiny 16th century watchtower on a rocky outcrop in the bay.Photo: Looking out to the pleasure craft anchored in Port Blanc.Photo: Now in Perros-Guirec, the largest resort town in the area.Photo: Lots of pleasure craft in the town harbor.Photo: A bit farther down the coast near Tregastel, and the walking trail near the beach.Photo: Looking down on the town of Tregastel, from the coast road.Photo: The coast between Tregastel and Trebeurden is known for its fine sandy beaches.Photo: There are some nice views into the bay from overlooks around Trebeurden.Photo: Looking down to the beach at Trebeurden.Photo: Now in the small resort town of St-Michel-en-Greve.Photo: The parish church of St. Michael the Archangel is right on the bay - not so unusual in itself, but the seaside cemetery is uncommon.Photo: There are almost 3 miles of good sand beaches down the coast. At low tide, it may be almost a mile walk from the edge to water suitable for swimming!Photo: The church is of unusual design, and has of course had its share of additions and restorations over the centuries, with the oldest parts of the current structure from the 15th century.Photo: Our final stop along the coast is the coastal town of Locquirec.Photo: We now move inland to Morlaix, and its famous viaduct.Photo: The railroad viaduct, built in 1861-1863, towers over the Flamboyant Gothic spire of the St-Melaine Church.Photo: An unobstructed view of the 15th century church.Photo: City Hall, on the central Place des Otages. (Hostage Square? - never found out the origin of this name.)Photo: Although "inland," this is in fact a port town, at the head of an estuary leading north to the bay. Morlaix's peak was in the 18th century, from trade in textiles, jewelry, butter, and tobacco. It was also the base for a number of pirate ships (or privateers, depending on your viewpoint).Photo: The granite viaduct, for rail traffic between Paris and Brest, is almost 200 feet high. It was a 1943 Allied bombing target in WW II, but the town itself was reportedly little otherwise damaged.Photo: A typical traditional street in the central area. We have dinner at the Le Bistrot de Cathy - moules frites for me, and an omelet for Madame. We are also quite intrigued by the drive home. The Brittany interior from Morlaix to Pleyben was rolling, green, and very lightly inhabited - a very different appearance from the coast. Pleyben has a huge central parking lot to accommodate tourists for its famous parish close and calvaire, but we are through town at the end of a long day, before we realize what we should have stopped to see, even if only briefly!Photo: Tuesday brings us back to the southern coast, starting in the town of Vannes, starting at Place Gambetta. We look on Le Port, a canalized river leading out to the Gulf of Morbihan ('little sea').Photo: We enter the Old Town, and these gardens near the remaining length of the fortified ramparts.Photo: We see here in flowers the principal symbol of the Breton flag (which may be flown publicly, but only alongside the French flag). The symbol represents the ermine, an animal considered to represent purity, because of its beautiful coat.Photo: Photo: There are several large contiguous gardens in the Old Town.Photo: The Old Town commercial center has a number of well-preserved half-timbered buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries.Photo: The Cathedral St. Peter, commonly called the Cathedral of Vannes, was erected on the site of a former Romanesque cathedral. The construction of the Gothic building was spread across five centuries, from the 15th to the 19th.Photo: The church interior is in a mixture of styles, reflecting its extended construction.Photo: The main nave and altar, with statues of Saints Peter and Paul.Photo: Mother and Child in a quiet corner of the church.Photo: We move to the nearby town of Auray, with a modern section, and an older St-Goustan quarter.Photo: The old port area contains this reconstructed schooner, now a museum of local history.Photo: Bar Franklin? It turns out that Benjamin Franklin stayed here in 1776, while soliciting France's help in the American Revolution.Photo: Also in his memory is the Quai Franklin, a river promenade in the old town.Photo: The old quarter's slopes and cobblestones make for some careful walking on this drizzly day.Photo: Inside the St. Sauveur church in the old quarter.Photo: There is this older, closed church next to the present one - name and age unknown.Photo: There have been a number of bridges over the River Loch, with many swept away by the rushing waters. This last one has finally been built to last!Photo: Photo: We move along to Carnac, first finding the coastal side of the town.Photo: Carnac has a beach area popular with tourists - but only on a less drizzly and gusty day that we found, I'm sure!Photo: The waterfront area is quiet today, but it can be overrun with tourists in the summer. It is reportedly very popular with French tourists in their traditional August vacation month.Photo: We now come to Carnac's main attraction, the famous stones. We take the tourist train to stay out of the light rain, and to see the most of the area.Photo: There are three great alignments of standing stones in the area: Le Menec (1169 stones in 11 rows), Kerlescan (555 menhirs in 13 rows) and Kermario (1029 stones in 10 rows).Photo: The Carnac stones were erected during the Neolithic period, from around 4500 BCE until 2000 BCE. The stones' precise date is difficult to determine, as little dateable material has been found beneath them, but 3300 BCE is commonly attributed to the site's main phase of activity. One interpretation of the site is that successive generations visited the site to erect a stone in honor of their ancestors.Photo: The largest standing stones are called menhirs. Their size can vary considerably; but their shape is generally uneven and squared, often tapering toward the top. The function of Menhirs has provoked more debate than practically any other issue in European prehistory. Over the centuries they have variously been thought to have been used by Druids for human sacrifice, or were territorial markers, elements of a complex ideological system, or early calendars. The word menhir was adopted from French by 19th century archaeologists. It is a combination of two words found in the Breton language; men (stone), and hir (long).Photo: Local lore (Brittany has its own versions of the Arthurian legend) claims that the menhirs stand in such perfectly straight lines because they are a Roman legion turned to stone by Merlin.Photo: In a 1979 experiment, 260 people, using only wooden rollers, were needed to raise a single 30 ton stone. So whatever their purpose, it must have been very important to the people who erected them.Photo: One of several dozen dolmens in the area. A dolmen is a single-chamber tomb consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone. Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow, though in many cases that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone 'skeleton' of the burial mound intact. We return that evening to Nevez for dinner at Le Dauphin, a local spot with typically good food. We sit next to a table of British football (soccer to us) fans. They have a heavy working-class accent, and I comment to the waitress that I have trouble understanding them, so I'm not sure how she does it! I jokingly offer to translate from English to American to French, but with a lot of hand waving, it all seems to work out.Photo: Our last day of "big touring" in Brittany brings us back to the north coast area, starting at Dinan. Here, we see some of the 2 miles of remaining medieval fortifications, including this imposing watchtower.Photo: The Chateau de Dinan, also called Donjon de la duchesse Anne (Keep of the Duchess Anne), and stands 174 feet high. John V, Duke of Brittany built the keep in 1384. (A keep or [in French] donjon - from which we derive our word dungeon - is a fortified tower which forms the heart of a castle.) Here it is a high tower with an oval section; a moat divides the keep from the outside of the ramparts as well as from the inside of the city. The machicolation (a floor opening between the supporting corbels, through which stones and lethally hot liquids could be dropped on attackers at the base) overhangs 100 feet of stone walls.Photo: The view along some of the remaining fortifications.Photo: Our first view of St.-Sauveur church, the city's largest.Photo: In the center of the old town is the Clock Tower, with a clock dating from 1498, and a bell given by Anne of Brittany in 1507.Photo: The back of St.-Sauveur from the English Garden.Photo: From the walled edge of the garden, we look down on the Rance Valley and Rance river, which leads out to St Malo (our next stop) right on the coast.Photo: Deux chats de Dinan! (Two Dinan cats, enjoying the view.)Photo: Some stained glass in the church.Photo: The main sanctuary, under renovation.Photo: The Romanesque porch, with its intricate stone carvings, is from the 12th century.Photo: We move along to St-Malo, with Madame in her can't-miss-me red jacket for a blustery day on the ramparts.Photo: A typical view from the ramparts back into the citadel of the walled city. The spire of the Saint-Vincent cathedral, in the city center, is visible.Photo: Two very-high-end racing catamarans are docked nearby.Photo: The city buildings rise well above the walls. It is said that the town merchants did this purposely to advertise their prosperity, and their sense of security inside the fortifications. The defensive walls were originally from the 12th century, and were expanded and improved by Vauban at the time of Louis XIV.Photo: It's hard to believe that over 80% of the town was destroyed by Allied bombardment in WW II, and then rebuilt stone by stone. The heavy walls largely survived the two-week bombardment leading up to the area's liberation in 1944.Photo: Looking out to the Channel, at a time of fairly low tide.Photo: Grand Be island is a popular stroll at low tide, and we saw a number of folks on the path. There are, however, warnings that you must be careful not to be stranded there by an incoming tide!Photo: Wedding photos at historic sites seem quite popular in France. In this case, however, the couple seemed not quite as bemused as the bystanders as they worked to keep their composure and appearance on a gusty and drizzly day.Photo: At high tide, this area will be largely submerged for swimming. At low tide as here, a swimming pool "appears" for beach-goers enjoyment.Photo: Robert Surcouf (1773-1827) was a native son of Saint-Malo and a famous French corsair. During his legendary career, he captured 47 ships and was renowned for his gallantry and chivalry, earning the nickname of Roi des Corsaires ('King of Corsairs'). He later had success as a merchant and ship owner.Photo: It has turned gray and windy when we arrive at Cap Frehel, a popular tourist spot on the Cote d'Emeraude (Emerald Coast) west of Saint-Malo. The 108 foot square lighthouse was built in 1950. The 49 foot round tower is what remains of the original 1702 lighthouse.Photo: The water is choppy, and there is a light rain combined with the winds. It was like an old Seinfeld episode: "The sea was angry that day, my friend ..."Photo: The walking trails pass through heath and moorland along the sea.Photo: It can be over 200 feet from the cliff edges down to the sea.Photo: A popular walk in better weather is to Fort la Latte, 3 miles from the lighthouse. At high tide, the fort is isolated from the mainland, and accessible by two drawbridges. The keep is from the 14th century; much of the structure dates from 3 centuries later, and the work of Vauban.Photo: We continue down the coast to the resort area around Le Val-Andre, before turning inland for home. It's a long day, and we stop for dinner in the small town of Loudeac (for no reason but the feeling of dinner time!), pick out a local restaurant, and happen to sit next to a British couple retired in the area, who tell us some stories of the ex-pat life in Brittany.Photo: Our last day in Brittany is more relaxed. In the morning, we wander into nearby Quimper, the capital of the Departement of Finistere.Photo: We encounter some unexpected difficulty in driving in the city - many streets restricted to bicycle traffic. It is a French religious holiday - the Ascension - and so everyone is off on this Thursday. Mme. G. later tells us that many people then also take Friday off to make a long weekend. This Friday off is called le pont (bridge), since it "connects" the holiday with the weekend.Photo: Here is the source of the crowds. The event is Tout Quimper a Velo - more or less, everyone biking in Quimper. And it does seem like everyone!Photo: A fanciful reminder of bike safety.Photo: The city name comes from the Breton word kemper, which means confluence of two rivers. True to its name, the Steir and Odet rivers meet in the city.Photo: The Cathedral of Saint-Corentin (Quimper's first bishop), with its magnificent Gothic-style facade, was built between the 13th and 16th centuries making it the oldest Gothic structure in Lower Brittany. Its two towers are 250 feet tall; the spires were added in the 19th century. Once again, we have arrived during the mid-day closure, and so do not get to see the reportedly exceptional 15th century stained glass windows.Photo: A typical small square in Old Quimper.Photo: It's a lovely spring afternoon, and we head back to our earlier dinner spot at the Pointe de Trevignon.Photo: A careful walk along this concrete barrier leads to the small lighthouse.Photo: If our information is correct, this is the abandoned fort of La Foret Bay.Photo: These small fishing boats are hard at work. We happen to see one coming in, with the locals waiting to select from the very-fresh catch at a bayside stand.Photo: There are some stretches of good sand beach, with locals kids playing soccer - what else?Photo: On our short drive back, we stop in the small villages of Kercanic and Kerambris, which we chanced on earlier, courtesy of Mme. La Carte. The homes have the traditional rye straw roof thatching, and the "Breton blue" doors.Photo: Old and new - a satellite dish on a thatched roof!Photo: A typical yard garden in the village.Photo: We meet a British woman retired here, who is bringing flowers to her 96 year old (!) neighbor. She tells us to remember that these are very traditional places, and that British ex-pats like her are accepted, but never fully embraced, by the locals.Photo: It's a short 10 minute stroll on a grass path from Mme. G's to the coast, and lovely sea views on this fine spring afternoon.Photo: Mme. G told us that her mother's generation spoke Breton, but hers does not, as this was strongly discouraged in the French educational system at the time. Now, however, it is being taught again in the schools, even through French constitutionally is the only official language of France.Photo: She also told us that Brittany, in spite of a long history as part of France, was in fact quite a poor (subsisting on fishing and agriculture) and isolated region through the first half of the 20th century. However, in the 1960's, de Gaulle integrated and upgraded the region with roads and infrastructure, and the region today is more prosperous, and more truly a full part of France.Photo: There is a long walking trail along the coast, which we are able to explore only a bit of. It is quite popular with locals, with many families (often 3 generations!) on the path today.Photo: A lovely home overlooking the coast - closed up, and presumably waiting for its summer occupants.Photo: A view down the coast toward Port Manec'h.Photo: Sea birds and small fishing boats share the coast. And for our final Brittany dinner, we return to Le Mervent in Trevignon.Photo: Our final morning, looking at the old stone well in the yard. This has been home for eight nights, and we are sad to leave.Photo: And we'll miss the country breakfasts in Mme. G's traditional breakfast room: croissants, baguettes, cold crepes (to be rolled up with butter and jam - yum!), Breton cake, coffee and orange juice. We are well-fortified for our 6 hour drive to Paris.Photo: Nothing says Paris like a traditional metro station - although we are a little flustered after a much-too-close (but without loss) encounter with a pickpocket on a metro train when we arrived the previous evening.Photo: We are doing some picnic shopping on the Rue Mouffetard ("La Mouffe" to locals), here looking at the backside of a busy vendor's stall.Photo: We have decided on this visit to spend several days in casual tours of some Paris parks, starting with the huge Bois de Boulogne. This military monument sits near one end, near the Pont de Neuilly metro stop, as I recall.Photo: The flowering spring plants are past peak, thanks to an unusually warm April, but there are some informal wildflower gardens in bloom at the traffic circles.Photo: Our picnic lunch: bread, sausage, cheese, and strawberries - just like the locals! Of course, Parisians are unlikely to be found with Coke Light, instead of wine, and the international edition of USA Today pretty much shouts "tourists!"Photo: The is some sort of equestrian event in the park, as there are long lines of horse trailers on some side roads.Photo: We have somehow missed the rose exhibition at the Orangerie in the Parc de Bagatelle, which we realize when we end up at the Grande Cascade waterfall.Photo: More informal flower gardens along a small road in the Bois.Photo: We by chance are here on the annual La Nuit des Musees - Museum Night - when many of the Paris museums are open late, free, and with special exhibits. We start here at La Petit Palais - the Little Palace - which was built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900 by architect Charles Girault. It's on the left, with the Grand Palais on the right. The lines are long (everywhere!) but move smoothly.Photo: Viewing the frescoed ceilings is made easier by the lawn chairs set up throughout the museum for this night only.Photo: A very large John Singer Sargent painting - I think. The family art expert will need to confirm.Photo: A view of the pretty semi-circular courtyard and garden. The Palais' ionic columns, grand porch and dome are reminiscent of those of Les Invalides, across the river.Photo: This photo is required of all American tourists in Paris, however many times one has been there. Failure to take this picture may result in forfeiture of future visiting rights.Photo: It's a bit of a drizzly Sunday as we embark on a tour down the Seine, and to the Canal St. Martin.Photo: We cruise under the Pont des Arts near the Louvre, as the rain picks up a bit.Photo: Houseboats are quite numerous along some parts of the Seine.Photo: Just past the large white river cruiser is the entrance to the Arsenal Basin, a man-made lake between the Seine River and the Canal Saint Martin, and a port for pleasure boating. In the seventeenth century, this lake was just a ditch through which a small stream drained into the Seine.Photo: We begin maneuvering into the Basin.Photo: A Basin lock opens in front of us.Photo: And then closes behind us.Photo: We can see ahead of us the July Column on Bastille Square, commemorating the July 14, 1789 storming of the infamous prison.Photo: The Basin is in fact full of pleasure craft - I wonder what docking fees are in the center of Paris?Photo: Our journey to the Canal continues for over half a mile under Bastille Square.Photo: A different view with flash on.Photo: The end of the underground part of our journey is in sight ahead.Photo: A view of a typical lock along the Canal.Photo: A tent city along the Canal - some look temporary, some more permanent. Madame says that she will be adding this to her letter to Sarkozy suggesting various improvements around the city ...Photo: Water rushing in to raise us through a lock. For some reason, my last bit of nervousness around the pickpocket incident vanishes at this moment, and I have finally fully "landed" in Paris. This is a very good feeling.Photo: A wide and open area of the Canal gives us a better view of part of Paris which relatively few tourists see.Photo: We float past a Canal-side basketball court, with this errant ball serving as an unintended bumper. However, all I can think of is Tom Hanks in Cast Away: "Wilson!"Photo: One of several double locks that we pass through.Photo: The curved pedestrian bridge is fixed. However, the straight one on the far side raises and lowers on large pulleys as passing boats dictate!Photo: We pass by a street market, seeing mostly the discarded containers on the Canal edge.Photo: Our captain (right) and tour coordinator/commentator (left) on the bridge near the end of our three-hour journey, at Villette Park.Photo: We are in one of Paris' most unusual parks - the Promenade Plantee. It's built along an old railroad right of way, and is 3 miles long and 10 yards wide! We begin at one end, near the Bastille Opera.Photo: The elevation gives us a novel view of nearby city buildings.Photo: We pass by this unusual church steeple.Photo: Spring flowers have passed quickly after an unusually warm April, but this has also led to the early flowering of some summer plants.Photo: The must be a technical terms for such architectural figures, but I'm not sure what it is.Photo: Another of the unusual street views from the elevated Promenade.Photo: This arching footbridge passes over the Jardin de Reuilly - once an old freight station, but now a popular picnic location.Photo: This old railway tunnel is now part of the walk.Photo: The gardens become less formal near the end.Photo: Now in the Jardin des Plantes, adjacent to the science campus (named after the Curies) of the Universite de Paris. This plaque marks the building where Becquerel discovered radioactivity in 1896.Photo: There is a small zoo in the Garden, which includes kangaroos and swans. The zoo was founded in 1795 by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, with animals from the royal menagerie at Versailles.Photo: Pierre and Marie Curie University is one of the largest universities teaching science and medicine in France, with 4000 researchers and teaching academics / researchers, 180 laboratories, and some 30 000 students, including 8000 in postgraduate studies.Photo: Greenhouses can be seen through the trees from a high point in the Garden.Photo: There is a large botanical garden area with many types of plants carefully arranged.Photo: The Museum of Natural History is located in the Garden.Photo: This fanciful dragon "guards" the main Garden entrance near Place Valhubert.Photo: The Place de la Madelaine location of the traditional-looking Maille store - purveyors of mustard (and oils and vinegars) for more than 260 years. We have a good time selecting unusual mustards for gifts.Photo: It seems that there is always some exhibit underway, or being assembled, in front of the Hotel de Ville - City Hall.Photo: A final relaxing afternoon is spent in the Luxembourg Gardens.Photo: The Luxembourg Palace was built in the 17th century by Marie de Medicis, a French queen, on the model of Palazzo Pitti in her native Florence. It is now home to the French Senate.Photo: The hourly "sparkle" of the Eiffel Tower is barely visible at 9 PM, as dusk is still a bit away in mid-May.Photo: My walking shoes have been aging, and were badly damaged by the radiator assisted-drying after wet days in Brittany. These old fellas have walked not only widely in Paris but also a good bit of France. Having spent their last days here, it seems appropriate that they should be interred here. So, they now rest peacefully somewhere on the Ile de France ... Thus we conclude our France visit for this year - or as the French would say: "Fin"