La Bretagne

After almost three months of lockdown in Paris, being in Brittany was a breath of fresh air-literally. I stayed with friends in Louannec on the Côte de Grânit Rose. That area is a large peninsula jutting out of the north side of Brittany just under the UK. The ink was barely dry on Macron’s decree that we could travel further than 100 kms, that I bought my ticket, packed my suitcase, put on my mask, and headed for Gare Montparnasse. The TGV car that I sat in was half-empty. If one wasn’t a couple, we sat, either as the only passenger in the double seats, or in the single seats along the other windows. J’adore le voyage par train en France. I have come to love train travel so much that it only seemed natural to take the train from Chicago to Ann Arbor to see my sister last summer!

This was a vacation like none other that I’ve ever had. The first two nights I slept so long that I realized I was far more tired than I had thought. My hosts didn’t change their lives for me. It wasn’t their vacation. They just wanted to give me a place to breath, to see the sea and walk without breathing in car fumes. So, for the next thirteen days, after I awoke, I made a breakfast and read the news on my computer, went for long walks along the sea (five and six miles), had lunch, took a nap in which I usually fell asleep, read, took another walk, wrote some e-mails, had dinner at 9pm then went back to sleep. On the weekends, we went to a tiny hamlet that isn’t even on the map where my hosts have bought a small house. No internet, no WiFi. So my day didn’t change much except I walked beside wheat fields instead of the sea.

View from my bedroom window: looking out on the Bay. The port of Perros is to the left.
The port of Perros Guirec

Brittany wasn’t hit with much Covid 19. There was one incident, before I arrived, where someone was admitted to hospital with an unrelated condition. It turned out that person had the virus, and within a week, fifteen people had it. My hosts believe that no one died. That was the biggest outbreak. One is required to wear a mask at outdoor marchés and inside any store. I saw no one break that rule.

Walking the Sentier des Douaniers, a summer ritual. Everywhere large and small boulders of pink granite.
Inside the small stone house in Kerprouet.
Back in Louannec: 11:15pm!

Within days of being in Louannec, it was hard to remember that there was a deadly virus in the world and that it was making a comeback in a number of countries, the US being the worst of the rising cases. I had gotten used to keeping a clean mask in my purse. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have been able to go into a couple of stores. It was so hard to remember: purse, keys, mask which has gotten automatic in Paris.

Picking the first lettuce (known in French as salade) in Kerprouet. Two families together have planted lettuce, tomatoes, winter squash, corgettes, rasberries, potatoes, put in apple trees and plum trees. They will be eating will all summer long.

One plant that grows beautifully and prolifically in all of Brittany is the hydrangea (hortensia in French). They become hedges in front yards, climb up walls near many of the beaches, and there is a Hortensia festival every summer. Maybe not this summer. I’m told that it loves to be sprayed. So though it’s important to water it regularly and deeply, it’s also important to spray it. In Brittany, water drops fly in from waves. It can cool down at night and there will be mist. They come in pinks and reds and pale blues and deep, vivid blues and violets and white. Each one of these colors will have different species. The hortensia known in France as hydrangea is a delicate flower with star-like shoots coming from the stamen and at the end of each little finger are four petals. Looked at from above, the flowers look like lace.

My hosts tell me that Bretons are not really french! There is France and there is Brittany. It’s an ages old joke that, like most of these kind of folk jokes, have a lot of truth to them. Bretons don’t like authority and if the government says ‘black’ Bretons will do ‘white’ on principle. It is the only department in France that does no allow any paying highways (because it’s not right). On the whole, they are extremely kind and generous people. Like much of France that isn’t Paris and Lyon, the majority are hurting financially. You would never know it by looking at their homes. They don’t get extreme cold at winter so they can garden all year around and it shows. Every house and its garden is clean and manicured to perfection.

It’s July in Paris. That means that everyone is either planning their getaway for August or have already left. School ended last week. The next seven weeks are a French specialty: “Leave Paris”. It is heavenly. So I’m already plotting my next trips to Normandie and then Le Gers. First, I have to put in a drip system on my terrace. Then I will have plants to come home to.

A bientôt,

Sara

Jardin du Luxembourg

I want to thank so many of you who have bought my book, read it and sent me feedback. I am deeply appreciative. I wonder if some of you would also post on Amazon. Especially those of you who are not compulsive eaters/food addicts and learned about it from the book. That’s an audience I hope to reach and the posts will help people decide whether to get it or not.

Paris has been in deconfinement for one month. On the surface of things, a walk outside seems much like it was 6 months ago but with masks. I don’t see any effort at social distancing. Yet…..the TV screen in the upper right hand corner says ‘Restez prudent’ Stay prudent’. Wise words. I read in the US news that a number of states are seeing a rise in cases of the virus. And certainly Brazil is right behind the US for most deaths in the world. The protest marchs all over the world have taken over front page news.

Walking into the gardens from Blvd St. Michel

In my small world, I rode the RER C to St Michel/Notre Dame and walked up St. Michel to the Luxembourg gardens. I met nine other people who are members of a tour group that I love. We meet during the academic year and go on 17 or 18 tours of places in Paris (also outside). Some are well known but the majority are not well known and we are treated to little vignettes of Parisian life both past and present. We are led by a wonderful art historian, Dr. Kelly Spearman. Yesterday, a beautiful, warm day, we spent the morning in the gardens. They are situated on the border between St Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter. They cover 25 hectares of land. They are inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Dr. Kelly (yes, we call her that) regaled us with stories of Queen Marie de Medici who initiated the installation of the gardens in 1612.

Luxembourg Palace; photo by Jeff Waters

I again felt the illusiveness of time. I hadn’t been to this part of Paris in months, since long before the lockdown started. These gardens are usually packed with runners, mother’s and their children, little boys pushing wooden boats around in the fountain, and by noon, every chair would be full of readers and talkers. The gardens were not empty but certainly not what we are used to. Is this a lack of tourists? Perhaps being prudent? Or, perhaps, like me, many Parisians have lockdown fatigue and are getting out of Paris now that we can travel anywhere within the french boundaries.

Taking with masks.

I walked with my group and listened to the vibrant, living stories told by Dr. Kelly. But my mind kept being pulled away by a memory or something I needed to do. I was definitely not zen. (Did I happen to mention that a second laptop was delivered to me and…yes, it too had a french keyboard!). I have had a string of bad luck. I wasn’t aware of holding my breath wondering what would happen next but the truth is the bad luck and the time it takes to deal with each thing steals the present from me.

Little cafes like this are open on the outside. This one is in the eastern part of the gardens.

For three weeks, I have been looking forward to a trip to Bretagne. I have friends who live in Perros Guirec on the Cote de Granit Rose. Look it up. Look at photos. It is a wonderful area of Bretagne. Truthfully, all of Bretagne is wonderful. I will see the Atlantic ocean, walk trails, maybe go sailing,—all things many of you have been able to do as you don’t live in a city. Thanks to the bad luck, I also decided that I would take a vacation from commitments and responsibilities. I’m going to put myself in the hands of my hosts and when they say “let’s go to to X”, I will follow!

One wooden boat in the fountain. Boys hold long sticks and as the boats come close to the concrete sides of the water, they will reach out and guide their boats this way and that. They can play an entire afternoon.
The oldest carousel in Paris, active daily. It was the first carousel to have a ‘gold ring’. The young ones on the outside circle could hold a long stick and try to capture the ring as they went by. Photo: Jeff Waters
Pantheon in the background. Photo: Jeff Waters.

I wish you all a wonderful rest of June. I will see you in three weeks.

A bientôt

Sara

Thalassotherapie and Spa, Roscoff

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For my birthday this week, my friend, Barbara booked Body scrubs and massages at Institut Spa Valdys in Roscoff, a town about one and a half hours west of Perros Guirec, Brittany.  I was quite excited and kept telling people that I was “taking the waters” at the Spa.  Finally she said to me, “Have you never heard of Thalassotherapie?  I can’t believe it.”                                                                                                                                                              I hadn’t.  I wasn’t sure I’d even heard the word.  It looked Greek and that was about it.   Thalasso means ‘sea’ in Greek.  Thalassotherapy is the use of seawater as a form of therapy.  So I may not have known what I was talking about, but I wasn’t that far off the mark.

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After chatting away happily for a one and a half hour drive, we arrived in Roscoff.  The landscape had changed about ten minutes before entering the town.  It seemed flat and grey.  Although we could see the sea, there wasn’t much attractive about the geography.  We followed the directions on my iPhone to the Hotel Tulip next door to the Spa.  We found parking and began our day at Noon.  Unlike American spas, this spa checked us in and left us on our own.  No ‘Welcome, let me show you around’.  No ‘First you go here and change, then you go there and’ …..American Spas, at least the ones I’ve been in, treat every person like a Queen.  I wasn’t sure if this was the french way or just this Spa.  We wandered around a bit lost until we finally asked someone what we do.  She explained where to change our clothes and get a robe.  Then to come back to her floor and sit in a jacuzzi or steam bath or swim in the swimming pool.  Upstairs on the 4th floor was a gym with bikes and walking machines.  No one was there!

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Swimming Pool–high tide outside

At 2pm, we sat in waiting rooms waiting for our names to be called.  When called, I was asked what kind of scrub I would like.  I asked her what the difference was.  One was for sensitive skin which I don’t have so she suggested the ginger scrub.  The word in French is Gommage.  I hadn’t asked for a translation so I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for.  It turned out to be delicious.  She rubbed my entire body with this oily exfoliating scrub and after showering the particles off, I was left with  glowing sweet smelling skin.  I wanted to keep the oil on forever.  She took me back to the waiting room where I found Barbara and we compared experiences.  We had picked different scrubs but the looks on our faces probably said to anyone looking that we had both loved it.

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My name was called again and this time I was led to a massage room. My massage was good but not great.  At the end, I was relaxed and happy.  Barbara had a great massage and couldn’t believe how effective it was.  Her masseuse had told her go to the Solarium and relax.  So I followed along.  The door that said Resting Room opened up to eight chaises longues with buttons to push for music or heat.  I tried to read but promptly fell asleep.  Barbara’s chair had a view of the sea at low tide.  There were tide pools, tons of algae, three large pools for swimming that filled up at high tide.  We decided to get dressed and go for a walk.

The sand had the strangest little curly-que details.  It was like pieces of thick string wound up and dropped.  I thought maybe it was droppings of some sort but when I put my foot on it, it collapsed into sand.  They were everywhere.  I was trying to imagine how the water would roll in as the tide rose to make those little ‘decorations’.  I was stumped, it was beyond my imagination.

So what exactly is Thalassotherapy?  This is what Wikipedia has to say:

“It is based on the systematic use of seawater, sea products, and shore climate. The properties of seawater are believed to have beneficial effects upon the pores of the skin. Some claims are made that thalassotherapy was developed in seaside towns in Brittany, France during the 19th century.[3] A particularly prominent practitioner from this era was Dr Richard Russell,[4][5][6]whose efforts have been credited with playing a role in the populist “sea side mania of the second half of the eighteenth century”,[7] although broader social movements were also at play.[8] In Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal, an area believed to have high concentrations of iodine, due to kelp forests, and subject to sea fog, the practice is in historical records since 1725 and was started by Benedictine monks; it expanded to farmers shortly after. In the 19th century, heated saltwater public baths opened and became especially popular with higher classes.[9]Others claim that the practice of thalassotherapy is older: “The origins of thermal baths and related treatments can be traced back to remote antiquity. Romans were firm believers in the virtues of thermalism and thalassotherapy.[2]

In thalassotherapy, trace elements of magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, and iodide found in seawater are believed to be absorbed through the skin. The effectiveness of this method of therapy is not widely accepted as it has not been proven scientifically. The therapy is applied in various forms, as either showers of warmed seawater, application of marine mud or of algae paste, or the inhalation of sea fog. Spas make hot seawater and provide mud and seaweed wrapping services. This type of therapy is common in the Dead Sea area”

Well, whatever it is, I enjoyed it.  I didn’t wash the oil off my skin for eighteen hours!

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And here we are oily, relaxed and very happy!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

 

 

https://www.thalassa.com/gb/spa-hotel/1114-dinard-novotel.html?source=SEA&campaign=ppc-ath-mar-goo-ww-en-din-bro-sear-bp-cen&xts=201912&xtor=SEC-41-GOO-%5Bppc-ath-mar-goo-ww-en-din-bro-sear-bp-cen%5D-%5Bath-v1089-dinard%5D-S-%5B%2Bthalassa%20%2Bdinard%5D&gclid=CjwKCAjwq57cBRBYEiwAdpx0vd5Y7-sprOpw038aGHGxj4dR9z5UvqFqSQy5iNTecRzJNXdZnf64jRoCIUkQAvD_BwE

Brittany Part 2–Kerprouet

When we left Perros-Guirec, we went to my friend, Roland’s, house in Kerprouet.  Kerprouet is hard to find on a map.  That’s because it is a small hamlet of six houses. One family lives there full time, Roland comes and goes from his home in Perros-Guirec, there are two English owners who don’t seem to come very often.  The other two homes are owned by members of the family who live there full time.

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Entering Kerprouet

Kerprouet is near the town of Huelgoat and lies on the eastern end of the National Forest in Finistere.  Each day, we lingered around drinking coffee in the morning then made a day trip to somewhere on the coast.  Every trip was a minimum of an hour!

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House owned by an Englishman but the gardens done by Yves and Josette who live there full time

The first day we went to Presqu’Ile de Crozon where the Atlantic ocean hits, sometimes with intense savagery, the cliffs of this peninsula that is almost the most western tip of France and Europe.  My photos will not do it justice.  There is heather on the moors that lead up to the cliffs.  The water is turquoise where it comes into safety in inlets and beaches.  And there are lighthouses on almost every tip manned twenty-four hours a day by the French navy.

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Pointe de Pen-Hir on Presqu’ile de Crozon

 

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Walking on the GR 34 out to the Pointe de Pen-Hir

The following days we visited the town of Locronan, named one of the most beautiful villages in Brittany.  It reminded me a lot of Mendocino, a beautiful place completely taken over by retail shops selling souvenirs.  However, we were lucky enough to see a religious procession of Britons in their native costume.

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Town square in Locronan with Church on the left

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We went to Pointe de Raz “le bout du Monde”-the end of the earth.  I love the faience that comes from Quimper. So we went to Quimper one day, did a tour of the Henriot factory, I bought some faience and then went to the Musee which exhibited years of beautiful work.

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The end of the earth with the lighthouse

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The heather on the moors

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On our last full day in the Finistere, we went to visit another friend of mine, Philippe, in Pont-Aven.  Pont-Aven once was the home Gauguin and friends who took advantage of the beauty of this village that sits at the tip of the Aven river.  Philippe took us on a wonderful walk along GR 34 that took us out to the sea along the Aven river, around the tip and back along the Belon river.

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Barbara, Sara and Philippe’s friend, a true Briton born and raised.

There are so many more photos but that’s enough for today.  Time to come back to Paris, to the 16th arrondissement and the further adventures of Bijou the cat!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

 

Brittany (or what I did on my summer vacation)

In Paris, summer vacation is sacrosanct.  From June 15 to August 15-30, the majority of Parisians leave Paris for three weeks to two months.  In August, Paris is dead.  Only the tourists walking around in the summer quiet.  Half of businesses close, either because the owners vacation or for renovation.  The train lines use the summer to do work on the tracks.  Many Parisians have country homes in Normandy and tend to go there for the summer.  An equal number will have second homes down south somewhere in the sun.  And a smaller number go to Brittany.

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The hydrangea or hortensia, as they are known in French, are magnificent in Brittany.  There is a Fete de Hortensia every summer.

I discovered Brittany last summer.  I wanted to go somewhere in France that I’d not been before for my August birthday.  My friend, Barbara, suggested Perros Guirec on the Coast of Pink Granite (Cote de Granit Rose).  She’d been there many, many years ago.  So I found an AirBnB and off three of us went to Perros Guirec.  By the end of our five days there, I was so in love with Brittany that I convinced the owner of the home we had rented to do a house exchange with me.  I would come to Perros Guirec for 4 weeks this summer and he and his girlfriend could have a month in the Bay Area.

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My “home” in Perros Guirec

 

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The view from the bedroom window

Brittany, to me, is an extraordinary place.  It’s not like anywhere else in France.  I’m told that the catholic English, Irish and Scottish escaped there at one point in British history.  I’m guessing it was during the reign of Henry VIII when being Catholic was outlawed.  Not only is Brittany exceptionally Catholic but all the dialects have Celtic in them.  The people are as friendly as they come and love their land.  Only sixty years ago, if a visitor from one village came to another, he was called a foreigner just like I am a foreigner.  It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it just means in the end, you don’t belong.

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Marker on GR 34

 

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Typical Bretagne home with a beautiful garden

Brittany has a coastline on three of it’s four directions.  There is a hiking trail, GR 34, that follows the coast line and attracts day trippers and backpackers all summer.  Many other trails criss cross Brittany.  But enough, they say a picture says a thousand words so I’d like to share some of my best photos from this summer.

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One of my favorites parts of GR 34–the Sentier to Ploumanc’h (the path of the customs workers)

 

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Sentier des Douaniers along Le cote de Granit Rose

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Sara and Barbara in the Perros-Guirec harbor

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Church in Treguier

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One of many harbors

 

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Port of Perros-Guirec in low tide

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Beginning the Sentier des Douaniers trail looking back on Trestraou beach

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Harbor at Paimpol

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The old Washing Area in Pontrieux–the washing women for private homes would come down here and do the wash.  The city and home owners have decorated it so it is quite special

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IMG_6960.jpg Sara and Barbara on the 4th of July headed to Ile de Brehat

If you see that every single house and building is an A frame, good observing.  They do not have flat roofs in Brittany!!!

The last week I was there, I went to the Finistere and stayed in a six house hamlet in a National Forest.  I will put those photos up over the weekend.

A bientôt,

Sara