Monday, December 13, 2010

Hey Brittany...

happy photography accident involving hydrangeas and a raindrop

I promise you,we have come to the end of tearful WWII recollection blogging. If I make you cry again it'll be tears while laughing at the idiotic situations we get ourselves into.

And you know there are plenty of those whenever Americans abroad, and these Americans in particular, are involved.

Two trains from Bayeux, through Rennes, to Guingamp in the Brittany region of northwestern France. While the rest of France is French, Brittany is Celtic. Many of the signs are bilingual, written out in French and Breton or Gallo.

The countryside is wild, with hills and twisting roads and farms dotted with sheep, and fields of poppies and wheat. The charming farmhouses and towns are made of stone, and the hydrangeas, well, they're heavenly.

We came to Brittany for one reason: to relax, as we had correctly thought we might need to, after the emotional WWII tours.

Mike and I were staying in a beautiful, out of the way B&B called Rubertel Chambres d'Hotes, and for a fantastic price. The proprietor showed up for us at the train station perfectly on time in a Jaguar with a right hand side steering wheel. British, you see, and apparently much attached to his car, despite the left hand side driving in France.

He brought us to our new abode, which was serene, to drop off our luggage and then very kindly drove us to the nearby village of Bourbriac so we could get some pizza. An English speaking host and pizza, and not too expensive to boot. This was a good deal for us ignoramuses.

It all went well at first. Heavy wood furniture, chalkboard rife with choices for your pizza and dessert, enough variety of beers, and English speaking expats playing pool as entertainment. In the kitchen the chef was doing some swearing and banging a pot or two, but that added to the ambiance. The waitress and I went a few rounds of my trying to say what I wanted in French and then English and her trying to tell me what I wanted in mostly English, but eventually an understanding was reached.

That is, until the pizzas came to the table. They looked delectable, thin crusted and larger than necessary, but mine, with a wealth of ground beef loaded on it, was entirely raw with the exception of the edges. I mean raw. The meat was red, the crust was still in dough stage. I like my steak pretty rare, but ground beef is another thing entirely.

So I went through another song and dance of getting the attention of the waitress, who was in the process of shoving around the heavy tables to get ready for a large group, and then trying to explain and finally show her the uncooked pizza. She got it, took it away, I heard, quite clearly, an F bomb being dropped in the kitchen, and about 10 minutes later the pizza came back again.

About a third of it was cooked, the middle still nastily cold. I was hungry by this point, and figured, what the hey, I'd eat the cooked part and order one of the lovely looking desserts to fill me up instead of asking a second time for it to be corrected, since no one had come to ask if it was to madame's liking.

Then I asked the waitress for a dessert, to which she gave me a reproachful stare, and made me understand that if one wishes dessert one must ask for it when one orders the main course. Otherwise it cannot be done.

Anyway, the beer and the outer part of the pizza were good, and it wasn't like I was starving to death on this trip, so I let it go.

The friendliest sort of person we met in town was this cat by the Bourbriac Church:

which was fine. It was an awfully friendly cat and told us in no uncertain terms that it wanted to become our pet, American or not. In many ways, I communicated far better with the cat than the waitress, but then, the needs addressed were simpler.

Home again in the Jaguar, and to bed in our spotless room overlooking the garden. In the morning we woke to ridiculously large pastries still warm from the Boulangerie..oh, the agonies of being abroad. Which...the golden croissant or the sweet rolls with apple filling? And tea or dark coffee? And then which of the beautiful homemade jams?

Life can be so difficult sometimes.

The Jaguar being pressed into service one last time, we rode into Guingamp with our agreeable host to rent another car. Walking into a tiny rental place/gas station, I asked the man sitting at the desk if we could rent a car. He looked at me as one might look at the bottom of one's shoe after stepping in something disagreeable and refused to answer. It turned out that he sells petrol; the lady on the phone was the one from whom to rent a car. She, however was very helpful.

We investigated the town, where there was a local farmer's market and a fountain, Notre Dame de Bon Secours Church looking down over all. I will never develop immunity to the allure of the farmer's market, and when it is in a town square of creamy stone and it's French, well...I bought some cherries. And aren't these onions pretty? Makes you want a salad, doesn't it?

We had lunch in a little place open to the postcard perfect town square, though it started to rain so we ate inside where the sulkies (light two-wheeled race carts pulled by a horse) were dashing across the tv screens up on the ochre yellow walls. No surprise, I ordered a salad.

Here I learned something interesting: my salad arrived completely buried beneath an enormous pile of fries and piquant cheese. I had no choice but to have some good red wine to cut the fattiness.

And then a coffee to get me out of my chair.

Those French. They know their wines and coffee. But how do those French women stay so slim?

It's a mystery.

After driving...and driving...and driving up and down countryside roads, through forests and several U-turns, we finally found our B&B again. There I parked the car, giving it a look it didn't deserve (not ITs fault we get so lost!) and resolved not to even look at it until the next day.

Then, on a whim, we begged our hosts to allow us to take their happy bouncy (aren't they all?) Labrador retriever for a little walk. The day was cool and though there were storm clouds on the horizon, it seemed like the perfect thing to do, especially after that lunch.

The yellow lab was agreeable (again, aren't they always?) and our hosts agreed to the walk, joking that they would send out the search and rescue if we weren't back by dark, which was some 3 1/2 hours away, and gave us ideas as to where would be nice for a gentle stroll.

We intended to go the country version of around the block, maybe a mile or two at the very most.

The dog pulling happily at his leash, we passed lovely farms, old farm machinery still in use, old cars,

flocks of sheep, and fields and fields of wheat and poppies.

When we came to a bend in the road I jokingly took a photograph "like Hansel and Gretel to help us find our way back."

When we reached the village of Saint-Adrien to the east with its marvelously old steepled church, 5 km away, we had gone far further than we intended. No worries, we could simply continue turning right as we'd been doing and we'd be home in plenty of time for the several course dinner we'd arranged with the lady of the household.


Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Turning right does not ensure you will get back to where you started unless the roads are on a grid system. Dogs came out and barked at us, Frenchwomen came out and barked at the dogs, dragging them away. I was clutching a stick and some rocks in the vain hope that I could Ninja off the dogs should they try to attack our host's pup. The sky grew darker and more ominous, we were tramping up roads, all of which looked familiar but didn't turn out to be correct. Then we left even the fields and farmhouses behind and were were tromping through some sort of woods, where in the blue blazes were we?

I was apologising profusely at regular intervals for coming up with the idea, Mike was steaming at being lost, though not at me (he is such a forgiving fellow sometime) and both of us were fretting about what was going to happen when our hosts realised we had wandered off with their dog...and didn't seem to be coming back.

If only we'd known how to say nous sommes perdus et ce n'est même pas notre chien: we are lost...and this isn't even our dog.

When we reached a hillside overlooking the village to the west, Bourbriac, even I wasn't happy. Seriously, were we being punk'd here? Were there hidden cameras?

Well, at least we'd be able to call our hosts and let them know we were on our way from the pizza place. Mike sat down on one of the rough hewn benches outside on the porch and I went in to get water for the dog and ask if I could look up the phone number for the B&B. The waitress gave us water in a bowl, but then the chef ala F bomb, who turned out to be the owner, came out. I figured we were in good with him. We were his customers from the night before, and even better, he'd spent time in Dubai and would know well the expat code of helping folks abroad.

Wrong again.

Apparently he forgot the code. He went off on a really pissy and very French tirade. He would help us, but not if we weren't going to buy anything, he had to make a living, he is a businessman and we come onto his property and put our feet up (Mike hastily removed his tired feet from the bench in front of him) and and and...

aaannd we left.

At this point we had been walking for hours. The sun was settling on the horizon, and though the dog was still bouncing along, not really a reliable indicator with a laborador, we were beat, and stressing out over the possibility of being late to the dinner being prepared especially for us.

You remember how we had driven around the wrong way several times to find our way back with the car? What this means is that now everything looked familiar. In a car that can be frustrating. On foot, after miles and miles of walking and being treated poorly by raw pizza pissy man, well, it was exhausting.

When we though we were close enough and were at a critical junction, we split up to cover more ground. I ran up a hill...a long, long hill, and Mike went the other way with the still happy if not-quite-as-perky dog.

I had visions of finding the place and returning in triumph. Nothing doing.

Finally we went down a road that felt kind of right...and there was a man out gardening. I asked him for help, and there must have been something in my voice, because despite my speaking English and even worse attempts at French which should have earned me a major brush-off, he motioned for us to wait and got a younger member of his household, a young man whose very good English was exceeded only by his willingness to help.

He pointed us up the road in the right direction. Then, perhaps 2 minutes later, here came the now-familiar shape of the Jaguar with the steering wheel on the wrong side, slowly rolling along the dusty road, looking for us.

With less protesting than we might usually have offered, we accepted a ride (on behalf of the dog) for the last 1/4 mile.

Mike and I dragged ourselves back up the stairway to our room, and while I showered off the worst of the "relaxing" walk Mike graphed out our route on his laptop. We went 11 miles.

Not exactly the walk around the block we'd been trying for.

The meal was beautiful, our hosts gracious and forgiving, had a good laugh at us, but I nearly fell asleep in the beginning course of smoked salmon and shrimp, and neither of us did that dinner justice. Sad.

The next morning the Lab was jumping up and down again. I guess he wanted another walk.

But our hosts kept him away from us.


Cindy Napier said...

Those hydrangeas look absolutely stunning! One of my favorite flowers! I think you may have stumbled upon why they stay so slim on your walk! :)

Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

I think this is the best story yet! (though really, I think that with each post)
I've been keeping up with the blog mostly on my fancy new smart phone, but I'm not smart enough to be able to comment there.
So here I am, back on the computer.
You paint such a wonderful picture. And this picture is so funny. (now that you're not lost, tired and being treated badly)

AKBrady said...

You kill me. I talked about your trip to Normandy, etc. on the Travelgram show last week, btw, as part of our "Remember Pearl Harbor/WWII" segment. Uh huh. So now you are famous. ;)

Mumsey said...

Does this run in the family? Your dad and I went on a "little" trail ride along the Lake Youngs trail. It didn't help that various mile posts along the way kept telling us we were at mile 3 or mile 6. (From where?) Now I had been on that trail years ago and each time we went around a corner and noted mile 3, I thought surely we were on the last quarter. Hint: The trail is NOT a square, but a series of jog turns. So with the onset of rain and darkness with the people at the barn calling on my cell phone to see what happened to us we finally were nearly back. 12 miles and 4 hours later. All 12 miles at the walk, I got off and led my poor limping horse up the drive. Took me three days to get over it. But then I still haven't learned that any time we go anywhere we get lost even if we're sure we know where we are. Ask me about the Potawatamie trail and the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Dept.sometime.

*Paula* said...

Oh Natalie - you crack me up! I'm in tears here I'm laughing so hard. As for the question: But how do those French women stay so slim? THe answer is obviously that they eat the pizza :D