Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saint Malo, France

After arguing with Gin (remember the big black guard dog?) about his not being invited, we slid into the Land Rover and took off down the one-lane road.  The sky was clear blue and the sun was beaming through the windows.  Roxanne, Alex's daughter, attends veterinary school in the UK and had been in just for the weekend.  We were driving her to the airport, followed by a sight-seeing trip to a city called Saint-Malo (clicking the name links you to the Wikipedia page).  During the ride, we chatted on about the hedge we had worked on over the weekend and the delicious meals we had all shared.  Roxanne educated us on the livestock in the passing fields.  After an hour or so we could see far off in the distance the foggy outline of the famous Le Mont Saint-Michel.  We wouldn't be visiting the island this trip, but it was quite majestic looking even from afar.
The airport is so small we didn't even see signs posted until about 1 km away.  We said our goodbyes then pulled back onto the road.  The sun continued bursting through pockets of the trees as we began approaching the region of Brittany.  Suddenly the rolling hills, miniature trees, and plotted farmland changed into stretches of deep green valleys and rugged cliffs that plunged into the sea.  Saint Malo is entirely walled-in and surrounded by the English Channel.  We found one of the two entrances through the wall where Ed dropped us off to explore.

We decided to climb the nearest staircase and walk the wall in its entirety.  We stopped soon after we reached the top for sandwiches Alex sent with us, ham, pickle, and butter on crusty baguettes.  The wind was blowing crumbs from the bread, but the sun and constant movement gave enough warmth. 

The views were incredible.  Small waves crashed along the varying shorelines, some dotted with jagged rocks, others long, smooth, and consistent.  Several small castles and other buildings completely encompassing other small islands in the Channel where within view.  Gulls were sweeping through the air, then diving into the water, often coming up unlucky.  The already blue sky was put to shame by the intense color of the water. 

Each curve of the wall yielded a new viewpoint.  There were several monuments and open grassy blocks to relax in.  Some sides showed only a short beach with water straightaway.  Along one side numerous sailboats lined up in rows.  Peering through the collection of masts you could see another strip of land built up with plenty of seaside rentals, shops, and other buildings.  We walked by pairs of joggers and dog walkers, a surprisingly decent crowd considering the brisk air.

French Explorer Jacques Cartier

We made our way around the city in under an hour and still had another to spare.  We walked along a path that shot out into the water and watched birds swim up to us.  I swear, about 4 or 5 different species of rather normal-looking birds were swimming under water for extended periods of time.  We started exploring the narrow brick streets, darkly shadowed by the grid of edifices.  We passed butchers, bakeries, cafes, candy shops, pastry shops, boutiques, food carts, and tour offices.  We bought a little cellophane bag tied off with a bright orange ribbon that was filled with handmade nougat.  After another little while we stopped at a sandwicherie and shared a long baguette stuffed with tuna, wedges of egg, and homemade mayonnaise.  We eased into a park bench within view of our common meeting point, then soaked rays of sun into our only exposed skin, waiting for Ed.  He had spent his afternoon eating mussels and chips, reading, and doing Sudoku puzzles.  He had planned a scenic drive back to Le Mesnil Veneron up along the coast, hoping to get a few more looks at Le Mont Saint-Michel. 

I haven't been to California, but the drive along the Brittany/Normandy coast on a perfectly sunny day looked to me what a drive along the Pacific coast might reveal.  There were huge cliffs, great white sandy beaches, and more rock-filled islands in the distance.  We drove for long stretches along the water until we hit a small dollhouse of a village with perfectly designed little cottages and not a sign of weathering or aging anywhere.  We stopped a few times along the way for a breath of fresh sea air and to walk through the soft white sand.  We caught a passing glance of Le Mont Saint-Michel on our way back to Normandy just along the highway. I could lie and tell you about the way the land morphed back into the rolling hills and plots of farmland, but the lull of the car and warm heat put me into a comfortable doze the rest of the way home.

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