BRITTANY: LA GACILLY to RENNES.
Reluctantly we departed La Gacilly and followed quiet D roads (minor roads) hoping to stay in front of the predicted storms. The ride took us through rural areas and with the wind at our backs the day turned out to be to our liking. The road had a few ups and downs, probably around 8% grades, not difficult at all. Morning tea we took in a inn at Bruc Sur Aff (Bruc on the Aff river) and then took shelter in the vestibule of the local church to avoid a rain shower. Bruc was a timeless village, no tourists or even locals about, only the local postman doing deliveries. Following are a few images around the village.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is commonly found in Europe and was first known by the Anglo-Saxon name fox’s glove because its flowers look like the fingers of a glove. One folk myth suggests that fairies gave the blossoms to the fox to put on his toes so that he could muffle his footfalls while he hunted for prey. The only animal known to eat foxglove and not suffer ill effects is the deer but it only eats the plant when there is little else to eat. From a human perspective, all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. Chemicals taken from the foxglove plant are used to make a prescription drug called digoxin, which is used to treat heart failure (usually along with other medications) and certain types of irregular heartbeat.
Bracken fern is a prehistoric plant and belongs to the genus of large coarse ferns. To read about this fascinating plant go to archives February 2017 Revisiting England and Wales #3 Dolgellau.
Riding through the French countryside with distant storms, moist air and no sounds made me think of times past. Imagine lifting the curtain of history and seeing everyday happenings, including the plague sweeping across the countryside, revolutions unfolding and family events. If only we could turn the clock back and see if our imagination is being truthful to us.
By three in the afternoon we had reached Messac. Bev had previously booked accommodation at the Welcome Hotel adjacent to the train station as we were thinking of catching a train to Rennes from Messac. The owners of the Welcome Hotel were very accommodating and we were able to store our bikes in an old stone barn where we could also hang our wet tent and fly to dry.
The only downer to the stay was the breakfast, which comprised a croissant and tea/coffee. Rather ‘light on’ you might say, for a hotel. We expected at least some bread and cheese as well, even fruit, as was the usual fare for an average of $9. From this point onwards when booking into a hotel I always asked what was included in the continental breakfast before ordering it.
Unfortunately I am not an expert on vintage bicycles. The one in the above photograph may have been a vintage model and even competed in the Tour de France. Collecting old bicycles can prove to be a good investment because certain bikes increase in value, especially if ridden by a cycling legend.
Boarding the train at Messac was without fuss. At both Messac and Rennes the train entrance and the platform were at the same level, no lifting of the laden bikes up steps required and at Rennes there were lifts so getting from the platform out into the street was simple. When buying our tickets we were given a seniors’ discount of 25% without having to offer any documentation to indicate our age. We must have been showing our maturity.
Arriving at Rennes was an architectural treat as the station was ultra modern. There is probably an architectural term for a building with hardly a right angle in it but I am not conversant with it. The station roof was moulded plastic and an extremely complex design. It’s as if architects were asked to come up with the most complex and expensive roof they could.
Rennes station was not without its share of graffiti, albeit somewhat creative.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood. Symptoms can include an extremely elevated mood called mania. They can also include episodes of depression. Bipolar disorder is also known as bipolar disease or manic depression.
Rennes is the capital of Brittany. The name derives from Celtic Britons who in the dark ages (500-1000 AD) came south across the English Channel to seek refuge from the Anglo Saxon invaders intent on pushing them out of Britain. The word Brittany is derived from the Latin Britannia, which means Britons’ Land.
Knowing what to see and where to go when you arrive in a new location is always difficult. The best plan is to go to a park, take stock and go from there. In the Thabor Garden, with French gardens and English-inspired parkland we found ourselves a peaceful spot in the shadow of the Vanneau-Papu memorial spire. The monument was built to commemorate the deaths of two students from Rennes, Vanneau and Papu, during the three-day July revolution in 1830.
Memorial July Columns all around France celebrate the Storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, which was a turning point of the French Revolution. What fascinated me about the spire was its festoon (swag) that was carved with incredible patience and skill.
Bev and I lay in the sun on the plush green lawn watching cloud formations above the spire and I got to thinking, why were we so blessed on this day. If we were to believe in Christian folklore our blessings may have related to our guardian angel looking down on us. In Christian lore people have a dedicated guardian angel whose task is to follow the person and try and prevent them from coming to harm, both physical and moral. According to folklore this angel has the ability to access the person’s thoughts and introduce ideas, or simply make things right for those in their charge.
The city has a mixture of architecture from ancient to contemporary but the medieval half-timbered buildings, cobbled streets and grand government buildings held the most appeal. Everywhere we looked there were artistic treats to discover. In the old part of town there are some fine examples of half-timbered buildings and even though we have seen this type of architecture before in France, Germany and England the ones in Rennes have certain characteristics that make a stopover worthwhile.
The half-timbered style of building is typical of Breton architecture. It was popular from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, with variations on style, décor and structure. One feature that has lasted throughout the ages is the use of colour.
The house on the left would be a challenge to live in, in light of the out-of-level floor. Probably the floor inside is actually level. Regardless, living in a wonky house would alter your perspective on life. (Wonky comes from the old English word wancol meaning unsteady or insecure—it’s a great word!).
I would guess that this building is one of the earliest constructions judging by the roughly sawn timber. No power tools in medieval days.
Windows fare well in the buildings of Rennes. The word window originated from ‘wind eyes’, which were small slits just under the eaves of ancient buildings (Fig 1) in sketch below. Early English houses had an open fire in the middle of the room (Fig 2) and smoke escaped to the outside via the wind eyes and a hole in the roof. Once chimneys were developed and glass was available for windows (Fig 3 & 4) the wind eyes became obsolete and were moved down the walls and became windows.
Figure 4 shows a house with two chimneys but a hearth tax was introduced and to reduce tax one chimney/fire place was dispensed with. Figure 5 shows the type of building that came to Australia with the early settlers and because of the oppressive heat in the colony verandas were added (Fig 6). The result was the colonial home that is still seen in Australia today. The veranda was not an Australian invention, the idea came from bungalows in India.
The evil eye is one of the strongest symbols in the world. The depiction of the symbols on jewellery and other physical objects supposedly offer protection against sources of evil. What is the evil eye? It is a malevolent glare given to someone out of malice, envy or spite, which brings the person who is given the evil eye to suffer or experience bad luck. The hanging or wearing of a piece of jewellery has, some believe, the power to reflect or avert evil influences. The owner of the building in the above photograph is not taking any chances with bad luck descending. There are both the evil eye and the Madonna and child on display to ward off the evil spirits.
For those with an interest in wood carving go to mymodernmet.com/carved-wood-art/ web page, it’s a feast for the eyes and mind. The pieces that fascinate me on the above web page are by Earl Martz and Yoshitoshi Kanemaki. Following are images of the pieces.
Riding a bike has some very positive attributes and one is you can take accommodation on the outskirts of a city where it is less expensive. It’s easy to ride five or so kilometres from the town centre and this is what we did. The Hotel Campanile was located in the Rennes University area and because there was no student activity due to holidays it was very quiet. We had the super bike path to ourselves.
Etienne is from Senegal and when I asked him to sign my concertina book he asked if he could keep the book overnight. The following morning he returned my book with a sketch proving he was a dab artist. The following photograph shows his artistic skills. Etienne came to live in France in 2010.
The note translates as: Thank you for your visit, thank you for your smile, thank you for your kindness, always stay as enthusiastic, as curious, open and friendly. Brittany is waiting for you. And maybe we will meet again. See you soon.
Rennes being a university town means there are many used books for sale and by chance we were in Rennes on book market day.
Following our return to Australia I have hunted down most of the titles in the above assortment in secondhand bookshops. The best read is John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and the books by Joseph Conrad were interesting but difficult to wade through and Joyce’s Dubliners was entertaining and light reading. I am part way through The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly and I have yet to get my hands on the remaining titles.
Never ignore a smile: When riding around the streets we attracted the attention of Jean-Christophe and Morgane who were having morning coffee in an open-air café. They both smiled at us and that prompted a conversation. It was wonderful to chat, all made easier because they spoke English. Our French is extremely limited as far as conversing goes.
Smiling comes naturally to some people and in the case of Jean-Christophe and Morgane I believe they were born with a smile on their faces. Scientists have isolated a gene relative to smiling. In France a smile means what a smile should, a person being friendly or is happy.
Peugeot is a French car manufacturer and was founded in 1810 when the Peugeot family started to produce coffee, pepper and salt grinders. In 1882 Armand Peugeot produced a penny farthing along with other styles of bicycles. An amazing feature of one model of a Peugeot bike is its built-in lock, a great feature. Why don’t bike manufacturers these days add this feature?
An essential visit in Rennes is the large Saturday market in the Place de Lice, the second largest market in France. There are many stalls filled with local produce and stalls producing gastronomic delights. After shopping at a selection of the vegetable stalls we were drawn to the Asian food. It was very difficult choosing what to have.
According to the United Nations organisation the most vegetarian country in the world is Bangladesh where only four kilograms of meat are eaten per person per year. Other predominant vegetarian countries are India, Burundi and Sri Lanka.
With fried rice and vegetables under our belts it is an appropriate time to bring this post to an end. I close with a character portrait at the Rennes market and a toddler practising his skills on two wheels.
The next post will take us to Granville and Rouen via Caen. Make a comment if you wish and to enlarge any of the images shown simply click on them.