Category Archives: Quimper

BRITTANY: Part V

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!’

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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.

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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

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on our way to the harbor.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We strolled through the town,

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picnicked on some rocks,

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and posed in a lobster’s rusty claws.

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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…

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Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Labastide-du-Vert, le matin’

the perceived movement of a graceful arm…

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Henry Caro-Delvaille (1876-1928) ‘Femme se coiffant’

a reflection of a familial moment in time…

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Henri-Paul Royer (1869-1938) ‘L’Ex-voto’

the enchantment of a flower sash…

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Henri Martin (1860-1943) ‘Belle Jeune Fille Marchant à Travers Les Champs’

or the intimate peek of an artist’s wife

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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.

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Crossing under the bridge we had walked over when visiting Saint Marine,

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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….

 

BRITTANY: Part IV

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… :)