France Day 21 - Exploring Brittany and St. Briac

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

It was bound to happen sooner or later on this epic length family vacation. The Asher meltdown. ... This morning was it. For no particular reason, I started the morning in a really bad mood, and every little thing that Janice or the kids did just pissed me off even more. Before long I was ranting and raving, yelling, and all around a real jerk to be around ... not pretty. Five minutes later (or perhaps it was ten), I was full of apologies all around. The poor little kids had wisely high tailed it upstairs, but I found out later that Sam was crying. He's not used to Dad loosing his cool. : ( I apologized, told them that even Daddys (and sometimes Mommies) make bad decisions and have bad attitudes ... and in no time at all they were laughing about it and teasing me.

We pile up the car, and head out on the biggest, and last, road trip we have planned for our home exchange time. Today, we head north to the region of Brittany ... to the city of Dinan for some sight seeing and a lunch at a place recommended to us by friends of Franck and Sandrine, Francois and his wife Zelia. After Dinan, the plan is to head up north to the coastal village of St. Briac where Francois has invited our family to stay the night in their family summer home! We can't wait.

First stop, Dinan. We arrive without much problem (... well, little Ella claimed she had to go to the bathroom, so we pulled off, drove ten minutes away from the highway to a toilet, only to have her do zilcho ... ) .. we were a tad late to our 1pm reservations at La Fleur de Sel in Dinan. We walk in and are surprised to find ourselves in an upscale restaurant. Francois had mentioned it was phenomenal food at good prices, so I was a bit surprised to find that the standard menu choices ranged from 35 euros to 50 euros. "Perhaps he meant it was well priced considering the food ...", I thought to myself. No bother. We were in, and seated and ready to enjoy the feast. ... The restaurant was small. Only five tables in our room, and another three in a smaller back room. The menu was not just French, it was fancy French cuisine, ... so it may as well have been Greek to Janice and I. We understood nothing. Thankfully, Dinan is a very touristy town, popular with the Brits and we found that our waitress was able to provide a very solid translation of the menu options. She also made us very very happy when she brought out the menu du jour hand written on a chalkboard menu ... and we found it was only 15 euros for each of us! With the kids having eaten PB&J in the car already, this meant we were going to be able to stay in budget! YES! ... The restaurant was very intimate, and quiet. It was a bit of work to keep our children in line ... so after we ordered, I headed out to the car to grab some pens and stuff for them to draw with. I took the kids and we stopped by the tourism office in town to get some maps and stuff too ... by the time I came back, the first course was served. WOW. The photos are good, ...but this food was simply amazing. Lets just say, it rivals the pintxos we had in San Sebastian. It was THAT good. The first course was outrageously fabulous, the main course was pretty good, and the desserts were just amazing. Janice's first course was this pureed melon with candied nuts (in the cup) surrounded by slices of melon with carpaccio and basil. Seriously, sounds disgusting, but it was AWESOME. I almost ordered another menu just to have more. My starter was a crispy tart sort of thing with a grilled veggie of some sort topped with smoked salmon and caviar. Again, just amazing. The main courses were ok, won't go in to detail (curry lamb for me, monkfish for Janice). The dessert, ... sooooo good. Mine was a perfect chocolate mousse topped with a super rich apricot jam sort of thing. The tastes were very opposite one another, and made it simply addictive. Janice had an equally good dish. It was a small tart filled with pistachio butter (similair to the almond butter in La Bou's almond crepe's), topped with farm fresh Strawberries and whip cream. Droool. Sooooo good. And perfect price. I'd come back to Dinan again if for no other reason to eat here. Serious.

After lunch, we waddled around the old town of Dinan exploring the old ramparts, the historic buildings and roads, and window shopping with the other tourists. The weather was scheduled to be horrible this weekend, heavy rain storms ... which is actually why I cancelled our reservations in Dinan (we were going to stay here two nights). It turns out the weather is bad, but not horrible. Windy with a tiny bit of sprinkles ... just enough to keep the massive crowds home. So, it worked out just perfectly.

Had some fun with the camera's timer mode trying to get a picture of the family in the park. The first photo looked like my leg was broken at the ankle, so I tried another one ... that went off too early (you can see Ella looking back as I said, "Oh no!") ... The next one, the wind blew it and we all almost stepped in dog poop ... and the fourth one was PERFECT! ... also had some fun playing with the continuous shoot mode. ...

One bad thing in Dinan. Got a parking ticket ... didn't realize I was in a pay spot. Doh! Walked down to the police station to pay. Its 11 euros, but they won't take my money. Apparently, I have to buy a stamp at a local tavern (kind of odd to conduct official business in a bar) ... and then bring that to the police who sign off on it. I suppose the system is set up to keep money from the policemen's hands, which makes sense. But the drag is that the nearby tavern is closed, so I will have to handle it when I'm back in Chateau-Gontier. The policeman are super nice though, and even though they don't speak English very well, they make a solid effort and send me along with smiles all around.

We then leave Dinan and have a series of unfortunate navigational issues. The first is my mistake 100% and it costs us a good 45 minutes. ... As we left the parking lot, I saw a LOOOONNNGGG bumper to bumper lane going to the right that appeared be people heading IN to the city. We wanted to LEAVE, so I hopped in the left bound lane and drove about five minutes while Janice arranged the GPS, which eventually told us we were going the wrong way. DOH! I bust a u-turn, and fourty minutes later we were right back where we had started in the parking lot. Horrible traffic. ... Ten minutes more, and we were finally out of Dinan. Then, Janice made a mistake that cost us two hours! Double DOH! The town we were to meet Francois and his family in is St. Briac. Janice had looked at the map earlier and saw St. Brieuc. Same general area on the map of France, ... and she figured maybe Francois had misspelled it. Also, strangely, St. Briac wasn't coming up on the GPS. So, we accidentally headed to St. Brieuc (we later discovered it is pronounced 'St. Broo' because it has roots in the native language of Brittany) ... and after calling Francois to come find us in the town hall near the huge cathedral (there is no huge cathedral in St. Briac, where we were supposed to be) ... we discovered we were in the wrong place. One hour drive BACK to Dinan, then a quick twenty minutes north to St. Briac. We arrive exhausted from driving, and late for our dinner date with Francois and Zelia. We feel horrible for being late ... but as soon as we arrive, we find that we are fortunate once again to find some new, fun French friends.

Francois and Zelia immediately welcome us in to their summer home. This is Francois' mother's home and she has (a bit begrudgingly we find out later) let Francois use the home this week for hosting a gathering of their close friends for a summer week of fun. The place was built in the 1800's and has all sorts of creaks and groans in every corner that tells you it is 100% genuine. This is an old French manor, a place that held servants just one generation ago. Its beautiful ... with a large, gorgeous backyard ... all full of character and history. Francois and Zelia are super friendly, and equally genuine as the home ... just our age, and also with two young children, 4yrs old and 5 months. Their children are very cute.

After a quick tour of the house, we dive in to a FEAST of delectables that they've prepared for us in the afternoon. The 'aperitif': Pastis and wine to drink, a bread loaf with a squash of some sort and goat cheese (they tell us it is very typical to have a bread loaf with all sorts of things mixed in, whatever is fresh or lying around the kitchen), crackers with three different types of spreads: tuna, olives with anchovies, and another one that I didn't get to try!, ... fresh carrots and cherry tomatoes, ... all of it a perfect meal in and of itself. Finally, I'm learning not to eat too much during the 1st course ... so I take my time. The Pastis, on the other hand, go down a little too fast, and I'm running a solid buzz before we make it in the kitchen for the main course: homemade gallettes and crepes flambe for dessert! Francois also introduces us to the custom of a glass of buttermilk with the gallette. Um. ... Not my favorite. Very creamy, with a very vinegary taste to it. Only Francois finishes his glass of buttermilk. I guess its the sort of thing that grows on you? ... .... And we finish the feast with Francois' speciality, apple crepes flambe. Wonderful wonderful food.

But, as good as the food was, the highlight of the evening was starting a new friendship with Francois and Zelia. Although we all planned on getting to bed early, we ended up talking past midnight ... laughing our butts off at times, talking about serious world issues at times, and other times laughing at how drunk I was. ... Both Francois and Zelia speak English fabulously. Zelia is an English teacher, and she has the most unique mix of accents I've ever heard. Being so close to the UK, its undeniable that there are some words and phrases that she uses that are particular to the UK ... but there is also a heavy dose of Aussie in her speech as well. Several times throughout the night, I'd interrupt her teasingly with "A dingo ate my baby!!" ... (which they had never heard of, but we explained) ... .... Francois is a math teacher, but somehow he has been able to develop a solid mastery of the English language. Someday we hope they can come out to California for a visit. Great people, very generous.

To bed we go. Another great day in the books.

The kindness of strangers has been a wonderful thing this entire European trip. I really feel like I've learned something life changing about social interaction. Maybe I'll blog about it more in another entry ... but its something along the lines of "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.". ... ... take that and apply it to cool, neat people. ... If I'm walking around all the time in some sort of self absorbed, self sufficient, who-needs-you-anyhow manner, .... I will never meet the type of people I desire to grow friendships with. ... But, if I approach each interaction with every person I meet as a possible new adventure, ... who knows what will come? .... Who knows how many awesome, neat people I've missed out on getting to know in good ol' Sacramento because I'm too busy, or too .... assuming ... or judgemental ... or ??

Ok. I'm tired. That's it for now.
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tonja_f on

Inigo and Jaione were telling us about their similar troubles with a parking ticket.. they talked their way out of it since they didn't have any checks to pay and the guy wouldn't take cash! THEN they get another one where *I* tell them to park in Sacramento!! There was absolutely no signage anywhere.. we looked all over the place :( Luckily it was only $15 and since we weren't going back to my place so I could write them a check, I think they were going to ask your friends.. I felt so bad! Too funny that it's happening on both sides of the pond! :)

nicoleisjealous on

Sam and Asher's hair is looking good now with a little growth!

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