This was the day to face the infamous Bay of Biscay, a body of water that I’d only heard not great things about. Max would every now and then hum a Schooner Fare song and when feeling particularly jolly, sing out “andthe Bay of Biscay rollers will knock your head right off your shoulders!” Lovely.
Yet, we knew of several cruising teams who had perfectly fine crossings, one even in January (!) and another who zoomed down from the North with a wonderful wind. So, we knew if we picked our weather, which we usually can due to the luxury of no real time constraints, our crossing would, if not mimic those, at least be relatively peaceful.
That weather window opened up Sunday after a week’s long stay in Quiberon, our last port of call in Brittany. Since landing May 30 in Lezardrieu this part of France had served as an intriguing and captivating place to explore. Despite sometimes challenging decisions concerning extreme tides and powerful currents our time here gave us a completely different feel of France. Not surprising considering the strong connections to the Celts’ immigration pre-900 C.E.
Under a forecast of not too much wind and low wave, i.e., roller, height distrubing our 260-mile journey we left casting a last glance backwards.
Within two hours we were hoisting our asymetrical (cruising) spinnaker, first time of the summer.
For the next several hours we enjoyed a relaxing and even keeled ride.
Ahhh, only us, the wind and the seas, which felt blessedly gentle.
The first day our wind kept up, more so than had been predicted. No matter. Suited us just fine. And, how can anything be wrong with this picture… great legs AND harness attached (Max was fiddling with the SSB Radio antenna).
On our two-person passages our time tables for being on watch flex: during the day, we’ll trade off cat-napping as needed; at night we generally do three hours on/three hours off. Or, if required, we’re both up to deal with a lot of shipping traffic, sail changes, or major weather disturbances.
But, nothing like that faced us, so the captain got a restful sleep while offering the perfect opportunity for a quick shot :)
The night passed smoothly and another day of sailing coupled with motoring to ensure we maintained 4 knots minimum. We always want to keep ourselves covering miles at a decent pace. It lowers our exposure to changes in the weather as the forecast under which we leave a port is only good for a limited amount of time; so, the quicker we cross, the less likely to be caught out.
Surprisingly, very little traffic appeared during this passage. The one exception were the fleets of fishing boats, which we had heard about. Sure enough, the predicted flock appeared and we easily avoided any issues because they were clumped together.
After that, we rarely spotted another boat either on AIS (automatic identification system) or looking at the horizon. A few times a white sail would appear heading towards us or coming our way; but, other than those infrequent sightings the coast was clear as they say (sorry, I can’t seem to get away from spouting these trite expressions!).
On Monday the wind had dropped as forecasted, so on came the motor. By mid-day we crossed from France into Spain.
Max performed the ceremony of switching our courtesy flags (a nautical requirement to indicate a boat’s foreign status in another country’s waters).
Once or twice before we’ve come to realize after the fact out courtesy flag wasn’t the correct one. In Spain we later discovered flags without the crown on them. When we asked our Spanish marina host, he said, ‘no, you’d want the crown for it shows you support the king.’ Which began our understanding about this northern coast’s heritage: it was the first region of Spain where they reconquered their country from the Moors in the mid-700s. Don’t worry-that’s all the history. For now, at least :)
Monday flowed into the second and final night of our passage. We had hoped to be crossing under a full moon but the timing didn’t work out, so our nights were shrouded in darkness.
I’d check the sails with a strong flashlight but it can feel a bit eerie floating out there with only you, the sea, and a visibility the circumference of the boat.
When it’s quiet with no ships around and no unpredictable boat movements due to rough or no-wind weather, you become wrapped in a comfortable blanket of soft darkness. I’d like to play music but don’t since earphones would block out any unusual sounds coming out of the night. So, it’s my cup of tea, book, meandering thoughts, and dropping below to check AIS.
Then dawn breaks, the remoteness fades, and renewed energy infuses JUANONA. And, this morning involved prepping for our arrival in Gíjon, Spain.
With Marina Yates on the outskirts of the city promising no-stress docking we contacted the marina over VHF (if that fails, we resort to using our limited cell for a phone call).
The staff directed us to our berth, catching our lines and welcoming us to Spain. Within thirty minutes Customs was aboard, and after an easy exchange of legal papers (boat registration, our passports, and other necessary documents), we had officially been accepted into this country.
We had last sailed here in 2003, only it was in southern Spain when we had over-wintered while staging to enter and later leave the Mediterranean. This had a completely different feel, one we were looking forward to exploring.
And, one of the best parts of being here? Our crossing was the easiest one I’ve ever been on. So, the Bay of Biscay for us did not knock our heads off our shoulders, and for that I’m truly thankful.
One night was all we required to get a feel for Concarneau, so the next day we hoisted our anchor and headed out to sea. But not too far for our destination only 25 miles away. Soon we landed on one of Britany’s gems: Île de Groix.
The island has a small marina and some mooring buoys where you tie both your bow and stern. People told us it can get pretty crowded, especially on the weekend, which hastened our decision to get there Thursday. And, we were glad we did for by the weekend every boat was rafting to another one creating a web of lines.
But, we were lucky because we met Camille, Pierre, and Thomas who had sailed here from L’Orient. The boat belonged to Cami and Pierre who lived aboard while their friend Thomas was taking a break from his cycling vacation (he’d been up in Scotland) to join them for the weekend.
We wish we had had more time to spend with them but at least we shared a table watching the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup game and saw them briefly during our forays around the island.
And, they generously gave us a traditional cake from Brittany, which we devoured… :)
We rented bikes (we’re becoming hooked on electric bikes…), which gave us the opportunity to toodle around the entire island. And, where we engaged in a staring contest with the horse seen at the beginning this post. We also took our first dips of the season
on one of the pristine beaches dotting the shoreline.
This island served as the second time we came into contact with the Douanes (French Customs). Luckily it’s only because they were on a boat rafted to us. I engaged one of the officers quickly, letting him know we were ‘legal’ with our temporary residency in the Netherlands. He was fine; however, a sterner looking fellow asked him a question which included ‘Ou?’, which I knew as ‘where?’.
The nicer officer with whom I was conversing said, ‘It’s not you, it’s the boat. He wants to know where you sailed from.’ I told him we had stopped in the Channel Islands, technically not in the EU part of the VAT agreement (which has since come into question), and we had temporarity imported JUANONA into the Netherlands. He smiled and said, you’re fine as we have you in the system from when you were boarded earlier this summer.’
In spite of our legal status both with regards to Schengen and the EU VAT, I never quite feel at ease in the company of customs. More often than not one’s compliance appears to depend on how the Custom Officers interprets their understanding of the rules and regulations. And, in the fine print of the EU one, each country can decide whether and how much VAT can/will be charged on the boat.
It was nice speaking with the first guy, but also nice to wave good-bye…
Sunday-Monday, June 30-July 1, 2019
When Sunday came we provisioned at the grocery store, then quickly decided to leave when several of the rafted boats departed and we spotted an opening to make an easy exit from the harbor.
We rendez-vous’d with another American boat whom we had met via an email introduction via some other cruising friends. They had suggested meeting in a large bay off this island.
Jayne, another cruising friend, mentioned they had stopped here several years ago and saw an amazing display of the phosphorescence, a feature this small island is known for. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it but did enjoy a lovely walk the next day
after a fun dinner followed by a sleep amidst swells rocking JUANONA.
We only had a short time to share as we were heading in opposite directions and needed to take adavantage of the winds. That’s the problem with cruising: you’re always saying good-bye.
Monday-Sunday, July 1-7, 2019
We only had another short sail to reach our next port, this time a marina (Port Haliguen) outside the town of Quiberon.
We’ve been extremely fortunate being able to live ‘on the water’ because meteorologists had forecast a heat wave blanketing Europe. Being on the coast certainly helped mediate the temperatures; and, even though we couldn’t swing with the wind since we were in a berth, the lower temps of the water kept our hull (and us) relatively cool.
Here we took advantage of our proximity to several sites by planning several day trips with a rental car. A must-see for me was Pont-Aven, a lovely town, one both Max and I just relaxed into (once we fereted out a parking space amidst all the other tourists’ vehicles).
While walking along the riverside we noted how nonchalant some of these boats sat at low tide,
including one whose prop appeared immersed in the muddy bottom goo, which perplexed the captain mightily.
This town is where Paul Gauguin started an informal art colony in 1886 by encouraging fellow French painters to come here. However, it had gained popularity 30 years earlier first with American artists, followed by British, Scandinavians, Dutch and Irish.
For those who aren’t interested in history, please skip. For those who are, I’m just doing a brief stroll through the painters’ time in this village, which could charm the most cynical of tourists.
A museum on the main square introduced us to one of the key reasons why artists favored this town: Julia Guillou (1848-1927).She managed to buy the hotel (Hôtel des Voyageurs) where she had worked, soon earning the reputation as the ‘bonne hôstesse’. The museum occupies the annexe she later added to her hotel.
Over the years as owner of this hotel she offered rooms to painters, primarily academic ones, while ensuring a healthy income came from developing her hospitality business. Doesn’t she sound like someone you’d love to meet? She does to me. And, frankly, I have a friend who immediately comes to mind when thinking of Julia. Only she’d be right in there with the artists!
Painters gathered here drawn by Gauguin, including CamillePissaro (1830-1903), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Emile Bernard (1868-1941) and many I didn’t know: Armand Séguin; Émile Schuffenecker, Paul Sérusier, Charles Laval, Louis Anquetin,Maxime Maufra, Henry Moret, Ferdinand Loyen du Puigaudeau to name a few. Being senior to the majority of the other French painters, Gauguin became the de facto leader.
During this time several different painting styles arose, and I’ll use Wikipedia.org’s definitiions versus trying to explain them myself: synthetism (‘emphasized two-dimentional flat patterns’); and, cloisonnism (‘bold and flat forms separated by dark contours’).
With lighter easels and paints available in tubes, artists found it easier to paint on site; and, Brittany with its dramatic coastline and variable maritime light served as the perfect ‘model’ for painters eager to explore new techniques.
The exhibit and excellent audio tour filled us full of the various storylines of the artists and their time spent here. So much so, I stopped trying to make sense of who did what when and simply just enjoyed their work. Well, a lot of it.
The Pont-Aven Group continued to inspire artists beyond Gaugin’s time, and several painters’ later work–
Moret’s (156-1913) ‘Goulphar, Belle-Île’ 1895
Maufra’s (1861-1918) ‘Rochers au soleil couchant; L’Anse du port Lonnec’ 1899
and, Puigaudeau’s (1865-1930) ‘Batz-sur-mer au clair de lune’
–drew my eyes. As did, Moret’s ‘Ramasseuses de goémon’ pastel.
What I loved were the odd non-art details that cropped up every now and then. For example, in 1894 Gauguin ended up with a broken ankle thanks to a fight with some fishermen in Concarneau (the beach resort town off of which we had anchored a week earlier).
Looking at this photo from 1886 in Pont-Aven you can imagine the bohemian spirit zinging around those streets.
Gauguin sits in the middle holding a dog while Puigaudeau stands third from the right wearing, appropriately, a Breton shirt :)
Gauguin seemed a restless soul, coming and going to and from Pont-Aven four times over eight years, with 1894 being his last. That year he returned in April with his young mistress Annah, a Javanese woman he’d met in Tahiti, but he didn’t stay long. He left Pont-Aven eventually landing in Marseilles and leaving again for Tahiti in 1895. He died eight years later in the Marquesas.
Many of these artists owed their growing fame to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922).
He first began in 1870-71 with paintings by Monet and then Pissarro and featured the Impressionists’ second showing in his Paris gallery in 1876. Eleven years later he opened up a gallery in New York City, and in 1905 exhibited their work in London.
My goddaugther Maggie reminded me of an excellent book on some of these artists: THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS by Sue Roe. I had started it on Kindle awhile ago but decided on a paper copy for easier Index referencing. Anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes view of this group would enjoy it.
Although many are devotees of Gauguin, including Pierre Girded (1875-1948)I who painted his idol in a composition mimicking the Last Supper…
… I’m not a fan of Gauguin’s work. However I do appreciate his influence on others. After the fact, the artists who painted here became known as the Pont-Aven School. However, as the museum clearly states: the group of artists is ‘not one of a master surrounded by his students, but instead a sharing of personal and innovative ideas and aesthetics, at the margins of official instruction… According to Gauguin, the painter thus acquired “the right to dare all”. And, ‘dare all’ they did.
A perfect summation of our touring of this picturesque town. With one last look at the high tide having freed the earlier-mentioned sailboat’s propeller and keel, we drove back towards the sea and JUANONA.
The next day our land excursion found us retracing part of our route back to Carnac. We had driven by here on our return from Pont-Aven, and it was then that both of us exclaimed ‘holy cow!’ as we came to the top of a rise.
The reason for our shared shout came from seeing a huge field of megaliths, prehistoric standing stones, quietly laid out in front of us.
We had heard how this area of Brittany featured many prehistoric sites, and we had seen some on our bike ride around Camaret-sur-mer further north. But, these 5,000-6,000 year-old stones appearing in row after row in undulating fields for almost four miles is awesome. This is the only place where so many of these stones appear in one location.
Called the Carnac Alightments, a Neolithic site located just outside La Trinité-sur-la-mer, they stand as sentries; yet, no one knows why, only that they obviously took a lot of work to place them. Not a job I’d enjoy.
The Megaliths Visitor Center provided a good explanation of the site’s main champion, Zacharie Le Rouzic (1864-1939),
as well as other prehistoric areas located in Armorica, this region of Brittany. His mentor was the scottish archaelogist James Miln, but Le Rouzic became enamored with this site in the 1880s when the Carnac Museum opened. He began taking photographs, selling them in the museum. Eventually this led to a dual passion of photography and archaeolgy.
A short video explained the ‘how’ of installing such stones
and signage gave us the background on Le Rouzic. And, one of the staff told us we could simply take a picture of the large map on display
and view the stones on our own without taking a guided tour. (The tour allows you to walk amidst the stones; and, in case anyone can come between the months of October and March, you’d be able to walk along the rows without a guide.)
So, that’s what we did, stopping at all the designated viewpoints to gaze at these solemn rocks…
and stooping to enter one of the dolmens…
where I snapped a shot of Max, one that I would NEVER let him post of me in the same position.
But, it bugs the hell out of me that we don’t know the purpose. This is another reason why time travel would be a fantastic way to experience history. Maybe in the future.
Our final day of road travel we focused on two things: seeing France’s homage to a stellar sailor, Éric Tabarly; and, trying to find a larger battery for our electric outboard.
We accomplished both :)
Tabarly (1931-98) became an avid sailor starting with sailing as a baby aboard his father’s boat, PEN DUICK, and later joining the French Navy. He designed PEN DUICK II, his second racing boat, and began building a winning resumé by placing first in the 1964 single-handed, transatlantic race from Plymouth, England to Newport, Rhode Island.
His racing boats, all named PEN DUICK, evolved over the years adding to his victories and growing reputation both in France and around the world (his countrymen and women thought so highly of him that shipyard workers in 1968 stopped striking so they could complete number IV in time for a race). Max actually recognized one of these iterations, PEN DUICK III, docked at the same Guernsey marina as us back in May.
A relatively small display covered his life, including listing his racing achievements from 1964 to winning the notorious, annual Fastnet Race in 1997. But, it was only in reading later online that I learned he tragically drowned in the Irish Sea while sailing to Scotland June 1998. He was sailing on the original PEN DUICK, the one on which he learned to sail as a boy.
Racing these boats is pretty dangerous as this video captures a scene of a guy just missing being left behind in the sea…
and of another French solo sailor crashing.
When inside this museum it became clear the emphasis was on exposing visitors to the physics, mechanics and joys of sailing. Videos explained the principles of using the wind to move a boat through water. Another area includes many demos–including an indoor pool equipped with toyboats–
tested one’s marine skills.
In addition to entertaining you, it also showed that what may look simple, isn’t necessarily so. Both Max and I said what a perfect place to bring anyone interested in sailing, especially those attending a sailing school.
After an hour of perusing the exhibits and trying out our own maritime agility, we exited to look at the real thing floating in the marina. As it happened, these docks served as a base for some of the racing boats and teams we saw during the Urgo Le Figaro in Roscoff.
And, the electric outboard battery? After searching several chandleries, one said they didn’t have one and contacted the distributor who couldn’t ship one to us in time. Then he called another store and arranged for us to pick up the battery that had been used as a display (!). This type of help typifies the people we’ve experienced during our time in Brittany.
We visited one more town just up the river from our marina in Quiberon. La Trinité-sur-mer had been an option for a marina stay as we had heard it had a lovely old town and nice waterfront filled with cafes; but, it also had tidal concerns and tight berths. (Although, it would have been pretty cool to be in Éric Tabarly’s homeport.)
It also was the home of several of the huge catamarans. We spotted one when we were sailing from Île de Groix to Quiberon.
After a brief walk-around we both agreed where we landed (Port Haliguen) served our purpose fine.
Yet, this town did offer a celebration that night so we opted to return. We walked along one of the cobblestone streets
as some traditional Breton music drew us towards the town square.
There a group of locals were demonstrating some of the centuries-old dances composed of one large group versus individual partners.
An older couple beckoned us in, so we entered the ring and began our clumsy attempts at replicating their paces. Being only a few of the foreigners exerting rhythm often misplaced, we, no doubt, drew quite a few stares. Yet, our beckoners gamely tried to instruct us in the correct maneuvers as we moved with the clockwise circling.
After quite a few mis-steps with the man on my right continuing to shout ‘left’ whenever Max stomped right, we thanked our gracious partners who looked a bit relieved we were leaving. Actually they appeared extremely relieved.
Before I close this long-winded post, I just want to share with you some of our companions during our last sails in Brittany. Truly one of the joys of being on the water…
[NOTE: we RARELY venture out of the cockpit in the open sea without our harnesses, but we did this time based on the calm seas, water temperature and being extremely vigilant in crawling up to the bow.]
And, that’s the end of our stay in Brittany, a land full of treasures, ones we hope to revisit.
After Roscoff we faced only two more stretches requiring careful timing of tides and currents to ensure a smooth passage through potentially dangerous choke points.
We waited for the right tide (not too extreme, so closer to Neaps than Springs) and current (not too strong so a low coefficient*).
* A tidal coefficient states the difference in height between consecutive high tides and low tides. The highest coefficient is 120, but we aimed for 70 and lower. In other words, we avoided extreme high and low tides.
We made our way first to L’Aber Wrac’h where we picked up a buoy for a quick overnight, and where a friendly group of seaweed gatherers welcomed us with a warm shout of ‘United States!’
The next day we rounded the Northwest corner of France to Camaret-sur-mer, leaving the waters of the English Channel and entering the Atlantic Ocean coast of Brittany.
Again, we picked up a buoy. We could have tried to squeeze onto a pontoon but people tend to raft there. It’s not that we mind rafting but, if you want to leave and your boat is on the inside, you have to wait for the other people to return to move theirs. There’s a trade-off because your shore access depends on a dinghy ride to/from; yet, the luxury of being able to swing with the breeze and the privacy factor offset that for us. And, not having to maneuver to dock is always a relief …
The harbor features two historic buildings which we walked around when going to/from our dinghy.
Chapelle Notre Dame de Rocamadour dedicated to the local sailors
and, Vauban Tower built in late 1600s and refortified during the French Revolution in the late 1700s.
Oddly one of the draws of this town is a row of derelict fishing boats from Caramet’s fishing heyday. These rusting relics pose for many visitors’ lens, which to me is: “why?” But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do…
What really attracted our attention is the peninsula, Point de Pen-Hir, which we saw entering the bay into Camaret
on our way to the harbor.
This headland offers spectacular ocean views, which we took advantage of using electric bikes (but I try not to use the boost often knowing leg exercise is exactly what I need living aboard…).
Interestingly, when I asked one of the managers if we should wear the yellow vests accompanying the bikes, he laughed and said you probably shouldn’t. Knowing many folk tend to use these when working on roads (they also come with your rental car in case you break down and end up on the side of the road), I wondered why we shouldn’t. Then, I remebered the Yellow Vest protests in France. Okay, I got it. We sure didn’t want to inflame any passionate anti-yellow vester.
Here, as in the Netherlands, drivers are extremely respectful of cyclists, which makes for more relaxed bike touring. Just wish this was the case at home.
We mounted our bikes and cycled out to the point where the Monument to the Bretons of Free France beckons. This war memorial was constructed 1949-51 and later dedicated by General Charles de Gaulle 1960. The solitary statue stands magnificently at the end of a wide path.
In spite of the busloads of tourists (we’ve noticed that holidays are slowly starting here) we had time to ourselves here.
And, after being in Brittany since May 30, I noticed a familiar shirt:
We stopped at another WWII site where Germans built a bunker on the ruins of another 17th century Vauban fortress. A row of anchors honoring the 45,000 sailors on merchant naval ships lines the path to the Museum of the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-45).
It wasn’t open but we were able to explore the ruins, part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall defense.
Since the majority of the Free French Naval forces came from Brittany (they were the first to join the French resistance), these two memorials are a fitting tribute to them, as well as to all the sailors who lost their lives during the war.
We had read about some menhirs (Breton’s prehistoric standing stones), which we found appearing in a rather unkempt field next to a school. A description of the stones states that a local historian believed the alignment of these menhirs was connected to the Pleiades constellation. Since the sign was in French that was our best guess of a translation.
I never expected such gorgeous sandy beaches, but it seems you cannot not spot one in Brittany,
making perfect picnic spots.
During our ride, we came upon an informative sign indicating an ochre cliff. The cliff shows the strata of cold and temperate climates during the Quaternary period, while the beach has the distinction of being home to the first inhabitants of the Crozon peninsula.
After a lovely day of cycling we dinghied back to JUANONA. Similar to the other ports we’ve visited, we noticed a sailing school for youngsters.
With so many opportunites to learn how to sail, it’s no wonder the French become such champion sailors. One particular Frenchman contributed to the country’s passion for this watersport, which I’ll note later in another post.
We left early the next morning for a favorable tide & current passage through our last major ‘concern’: Pointe du Raz. Thankfully, with calm seas and light wind it became a non-event and we whizzed through with 3 or 4 knots of favorable current.
We picked up a mooring in the town of Bénodet located at the mouth of L’Odet River. Of all the harbors we had visited, this town felt like a beach resort, probably due to the lack of middle age buildings as well as seeing paddle boaders, wind surfers, and sun-tanners flocking to the town’s beach (of which I neglected to snap a shot). And, of course, a slew of sailboats. Yet, just across the river stood the picturesque Sainte-Marine easily accessed by a peasant walk from our marina across a large bridge.
We strolled through the town,
picnicked on some rocks,
and posed in a lobster’s rusty claws.
We spent four nights on our mooring and used one of our days to revisit Quimper to see the Musée de Beaux-Arts. We had missed this on our earlier tour of the city and now wanted to see its specail exhibit “The last of the Impressionists – the Intimists”. While waiting at the bus stop we had the good fortune to meet another hr cruiser, Lesley (and later her husband Andy). We shared the same destination, which gave us an opportunity to hear their cruising plans.
Both are avid climbers living in the center of Glasgow. And, to hear their description of their fellow inhabitants in the condo building had me laughing and thinking what a marvelous BBC series this would make. Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to overlap while sailing, but it would have been lovely to do so.
But, back to the museum (which some will want to skip to the next non-cultural event :)… I found the exhibit a bit confusing but still enjoyed the ambiance of an art museum.
The exhibit featured work by some artists I knew and many I didn’t, with the majority being French. Their art grew out of the earlier Impressionists (a label derived from Claude Monet’s 1872 “Impression: Sunrise”) who painted based on their own emotional perception of the subject matter vs. pursuing a realistic depiction.
The art we saw reflected this later group, The New Society. Below is just a handful of their work. I can’t explain why these particular pieces captured my attention more than others, but they did. Whatever the reason, I found myself mesmerized by the artist’s work.
Perhaps the vast horizon drew me…
Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Labastide-du-Vert, le matin’
the perceived movement of a graceful arm…
Henry Caro-Delvaille (1876-1928) ‘Femme se coiffant’
a reflection of a familial moment in time…
Henri-Paul Royer (1869-1938) ‘L’Ex-voto’
the enchantment of a flower sash…
Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Belle Jeune Fille Marchant à Travers Les Champs’
or the intimate peek of an artist’s wife
Antonio de La Gandara (1863-1917) ‘Madame de La Gandara en profil droit’
i could go on, but I won’t :)
They had split the temporary exhibit between two museums, this one and the Musée Breton (which we had toured on a previous trip here). The latter was closed so we only saw half. We would have liked to have seen the full exhibit, but the Musée of Beaux Artes offered a vareity of works as part of their permanent collection so it’s not as if we weren’t overloaded with just trolling the halls here.
Back in Bénodet we decided to motor up river a bit for a night or two on anchor.
Crossing under the bridge we had walked over when visiting Saint Marine,
we went a short distance, dropped the hook, and spent the next day lazily motir-drifting with the current up towards Quimper, then following it back down to JUANONA when the tide turned.
We decided to check out a little town located on the eastern shore about 3km inland. Not seeing an easy place to land we noticed a guy unloading his dinghy on what looked like a public ramp. And that’s how we met a delightful fellow named Jean. We ended up stopping at his boat on the way to JUANONA asking if he’d like to join us for a libation. He said he would have loved to but had a lot of work to do prepping his boat for a cruise in a few days.
He retired a few years ago and he and his wife spend three months in a camper van during the winter, and three months on the boat in the summer. They had just returned from their camping trip, having driven to the Black Sea and back (we noted that Albania was one of their favorite stops due to the lovely people). The traveling obviously agreed with him for he was quite a jolly guy!
After two quiet nights at anchor we left for Concarneau a few miles miles further east. We anchored in the Baie de la Forêt and dinghied into another lovely beach and another summery resort town.
Here you truly felt summer had arrived, because it was hot. We weren’t alone as this was during the first of most likely multiple stretches of extreme heat throughout Europe, the type of heat when you hungrily seek the shaded side of a street or step into air-conditioned stores for a respite. This weather makes us appreciate our life on water vs land.
We walked to the old town ringed by a 14th-century fortress and later renovated by Vauban, who appears to have had his fingers in most of France’s defense construction. If you see a star-shaped pile of rocks, you’re probably looking at one of his masterpieces.
Nowadays the old town serves as a tourist haven filled with souvenir shops, cafes and a Musée de la Pêche covering the city’s history in sardine fishing. We did visit the museum only to find it dusty, dated, and French-only signage (although we did have an abbreviated hand-out in English). But, what really made the visit unappealing was the dead air, i.e., no fans and certainly no A/C. By the time I had wandered through one of the rooms, the hand-out became a limp fan attached to my frantically waving appendage in the hopes of staving off the trickling feeling of sweat running down my back.
Yet, we managed to make the most of it…
What I found more interesting was reading in our LONELY PLANET guide book that this city serves as a landing spot for almost 200,000 tons of tuna caught in the Indian Ocean off the African coast. Now that’s a lot of Charlie the Tuna.
One night was all we required to get a feel for Concarneau, so the next day we hoisted our anchor and headed out to sea. But not too far…
Next: A fantastic weekend on another Brittany gem….
With Wifi pretty iffy and cell difficult to use at times, I’ll try to keep up with posting but may often be a wee bit behind… this one being a perfect example of such!
ROAD TRIPPING FROM ROSCOFF…
Sunday-Tuesday, June 9-18, 2019
Reading and hearing about Quimper, Finistère’s capital, we knew it was another not-to-be-missed, charming Breton town. And, knowing we couldn’t reach it easily by sailing up the L’Odet River (a future stop further south), we took a bus to Morlaix and rented a car for our journey south.
Yet, before we left we performed our now in-grained exercise of inquiring of the nearest Tourist Office, “What do you think we should see?”
Lo and behold we discovered a flock of religious sites famous in this area: Les Enclos Paroissiaux (Parish Closes).
Defined by a grouping of five structures–church, churchyard (once the cemetary), ossaury-chapel (bone depository when the graveyard became too crowded), calvary (not a horseback troop but a cross watching over the dead), and triumphal arch – all enclosed by a wall – Finistère featured over 20 of these Closes.
Thanks to the demand for leather, hemp and linen/canvas Bretons grew wealthy during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. And, what better way to spend your money than trying to one-up your neighboring village by building the most impressive religious site? Oh, and to give thanks to your Catholic god for your prosperity.
With limited time we managed to do stop-and-go’s at five of the most famous ones.
And, when I say stop-and-go’s, I truly mean running in/peering around/running out. Our visits of each site must have broken the record for the ‘seen-that-been-there-done-that’ touring. Which is why the only way I can recall which is which comes from checking each photo’s GPS location.
So, a quick litany of our Parish Close Sites follows below, beginning with our first: Saint-Thégonnec.
The church glittered and preened with the usual gold-toned altars and pulpits boasting over-the-top decor.
Among all the pomp one piece of furniture stood out due to its simplicty: the Archives Cabinet. To unlock it required the presence of three keys with the priest, the local lord, and the churchwarden each holding one.
Back outside we circled the calvary. As our first exposure to one we were a bit stunned to see the numerous, in some instances cartoonish, figures decorating a multi-sided cross.
However, use of visual storylines made sense considering the lack of literacy during this time. (FYI, with regards to all of the tongues sticking out, I read that it’s a part of the body symbolizing evil in man.)
Guimiliau Parish Close was one of the more beautiful ones, most likely due to its smaller setting and, thus, more intimate feel.
Drawn to its more manageable size we spent the most time here inspecting the elaborate carvings found throughout the interior:
In the churchyard its ornate cavalry beckons you with over 200 statues
and a platform allowing a priest to instruct parishoners on the story of Christ.
Driving into a rougher terrain, we noticed the churches became a bit sterner in appearance. One being the Plounéour-Ménez Close.
Amidst the medieval decor a banner introduced a modern and sobering touch. Later I read the subject was a Polish friar arrested and sent to Auschwitz. After someone escaped from Kolbe’s barracks the Nazis selected ten prisoners to be placed in a chamber and slowly starved to death. Kolbe volunteered to replace one of the chosen men. He ended up being executed after two weeks as one of the four men still alive. He was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The man who was replaced survived the war and spent his life touring the world and speaking about Kolbe. He died in 1995.
Commana’s Parish Close appeared to be the ‘roughest’ of the four we’d seen this morning, yet its wooden reredos (ornamental screens placed behind altars) take the prize as Brittany’s most glorious according to a brochure. A placard in the churchyard attributes the ‘technical perfection’ and the ‘exurerance’ of these carvings to the naval sculptors from Brest (when they weren’t building boats).
By now we had visited four of these religious sites in less than three hours, including driving time of an hour. A graduate degree in religious architecture and art would have increased my interest tenfold. Either that or a guide who could explain it all.
Continuing on we began to climb to a bit higher elevation with sweeping views on either side. Atop one hill we noticed a chapel and decided to check it out. Turned out to be perched on one of the four highest peaks in the area: Mont Saint-Michel de Brasparts (1,253 ft).
At first glance the small chapel appears lonely, but determined to stand its ground. And, when we stepped through the small doorway we saw colorful and disparate offerings giving thanks on a wide range of issues. I love the fact the location served as a site for worshipping the Celtic sun god :)
We stopped at one more Parish Close (couldn’t resist), Plebyn, which was undergoing repairs but allowed us a peek of the unusual three-bell tower
and a much simpler and easier to ‘read’ calvary.
By early afternoon we arrived in Quimper and proceeded to yet another church. Begun in the 12th century the Cathedrale St-Corentin stands in the center of town on a lovely square ringed by cafes and begging for lively fairs.
Its dominance, though, diminishes a bit when you enter. Looking straight down the nave to the chancel you notice a slight skewing to the left. This came from a decision in the 19th century to add the twin towers without compromising the 13th-century sanctuary.
They later said it represented the tilt of Jesus’ head on the cross. Nice try.
What this ‘head tilt’ did, though, was bother Max who kept wondering why they screwed up the comforting symmetry of a straight shot to the altar…
Next door we visited the Breton Museum located in the former Bishop’s Palace (built by the Rohans in 1508, the same family whose castle we toured on another road trip). We saw an excellent, temporary exhibit on the Gallo-Roman period following Caesar’s 56 B.C.E. conquering of the Veneti, one of the province’s five Gallic tribes. Armorica became Roman. One of the tribes, the Osismii (meaning ‘the furthest’ in Celtic, probably due to the western-most point of Gaul) occupied what is now considered Finistère, one of Brittany’s four departments (counties).
The Romanizing of the former Gallic culture was evident in finds such as this Iron Age stele rechiseled to show Roman gods. Although, I doubt this stamped out worshipping of Celtic gods entirely…
These Iron Age steles were particular to western Armorica along with underground galleries close to settlements.
Going back even further to the Bronze Age, the huge supply of tin led to a huge production of goods.
Surprisingly, this mound of pristine axe heads was used for exchange and exporting, not for slicing and dicing.
After perusing early history we climbed stairs to the permanent exhibits, which seemed quite small and brief. On display were statues of several of Breton’s beloved saints:
Sainte-Anne (Virgin Mary’s mom and Jesus’ grandmother) with two pilgrimages: Sainte-Anne d’Auray (in Morbihan region) and Sainte-Anne-La-Palud (in Finistère region)
and Saint James (bro of John the Apostle) whose tomb at Saint-Jacques de Compostela in Spain is the second most important pilgrimage after Rome (note the scallop shell on his pouch).
More recent artifacts included: some lovey sculpture by RenéeQuillivic (1879-1969),
the traditional hats depicting the various regions,
the traditional ceramics started in this area in the 1600s,
and, the Swiss-army knife of beds: the lit-clos or box-bed where you can sleep, sit on the bench, and stash clothes or other stuff in the chest under the bench.
Interestingly, even in Brittany, a relatively small geographical area, the design of these beds varied: this one had two sliding doors popular in Cornouaille, whereas in Finistère the lit-clos generally only had one, while in Morbihan the beds were usually curtained off and half-closed with no doors.
We didn’t make it to the Musée des Beaux-Arts located on the square opposite the cathedral but did wander around to soak up the medieval-ness and beauty of this city.
And, to take advantage of you-know-whats ?:)
We left the next day to return to Roscoff back on the north coast. The only site on our to-see list involved a monastary called Landévennec located on the River Aulne. Unbeknowst to us ‘the land of priests’ is one of Brittany’s taglines, or so says one of our books. And, it’s not often we can see a group of live monks.
Set in a lovely wooded area,
we entered a modern church
and enjoyed the 2pm NONE, one of the Horaires des Office. I quietly clicked on recording for a short stint to capture, to me, a special moment. Not because I’m religious (just ask Bobbie, Ellen and Carter about that) but because those sounds create a haunting atmosphere.
We also found ourselves on the continuation of the GR 34, the 133km trail outlining Brittany’s coast.
Ending up on this trail off and on the past three weeks I think it’s a wonderful alternative to getting your scallop shell at Spain’s Santiago de Campostella. Although, in speaking with Cami, a local Breton (who had just finished two months on the Norman Trail) this coastal path may not offer much in the terms of convenient lodging.
On the road again we ended up taking a side tour to Locronan. The Grande Troménie (a 12-km trotting around of religious banners following in the footsteps of the 6th-century founder of the town, Saint Ronan) occurs every six years in early July, 2019 being the sixth year. Although we’d miss it, photos captured previous ones as costumed Bretons exited the church to begin their march.
With a history tied to canvas (supposedly even the Vikings shopped here for their sails) the town grew into a lovely medieval one. And, it’s well worth a stop no matter how brief.
With that, we concluded our road trip in this part of Brittany and traded our wheels for sails.
But, not before one more photo from Roscoff. Now, that’s a head tilt… :)