|The Ballards - France Brittany|
We visited Brittany several
times during the 1990s to stay in an English friend's cottage. They had
bought it several years previously as a wreck, and were slowly doing it
up, furnishing it with cast-off furniture from their own home (brought
over in a horse trailer) and paying French labourers to do the renovations.
Summer in Bron was joyous, but Christmas with two small
children in a house with no central heating, only a log-burner, was plain
stupid. Snow on the beach at Concarneau made interesting walking, but
people were sailing!
Rural Brittany is like rural England used to be in the
60s: peaceful, very dark at night, untroubled by the smothering sameness
emanating from the big cities.
The French have an interesting attitude towards road
safety. They drive small cars much faster than the designers ever intended,
they only overtake when something is coming
the other way (every manoeuvre fails the Oliphant Hope test), and they
drink and drive.
So, when confronted with their (relatively) bad road
deaths per annum record, their response is to vow to put up more speed
cameras on the autoroutes. Huh? Talk about missing the point.
Despite very strict hygiene rules laid down by the Government
about having dogs in restaurant, they all take their ghastly little lap
dogs (toy poodles and chihuahuas) in, and feed them at the tables.
The beaches are similarly affected: these little rats pooh anywhere and everywhere. But the beaches are well-tended and raked regularly, and very well-used. Interestingly the French have a larger "personal space" built-in (because they live in a less densely-populated country?) and don't camp so close to you on the beach as the English do.
In France, love of food is considered a central part
of life: they have a carefully-groomed reputation as the world's gastronomic
experts. But actually the food can be unadventurous: a lot of red meat
and red wine: a hell of a lot of garlic and lots of French attitude.
They do have good food. Wherever we go in the world Nessa
has a simple attitude to choosing a restaurant to eat in (being a professional
chef): we always eat where the locals eat.
Unfortunately, many small French Auberges (where the best food and wine is to be had) don't take Visa. So we once got stranded in a small Auberge with a simply huge bill, and no cash. The patron shrugged his shoulders, opened a bottle of wine, kept our wives and children hostage, and pointed us at the nearest cash point. Obviously a well-practiced manoeuvre...
We visited several French chateaus, which are universally
more interesting than English country houses. They tend to have been been
used by the Gestapo in WWII, which adds a little frisson, and always have
interesting architecture, history and grounds.
Brittany has beautiful rivers, which run over weirs and dams. They are often bigger, France being the largest country in Europe and having a lot of area to drain, than equivalent rivers in Britain. Towpaths along these rivers are well maintained and may be cycled upon.
The French seem to enjoy their outdoors more than we
do partly, I suspect, because they have a better climate and more room
than we do.