Today we are excited to be visiting Brittany, France. This area is distinguished by beautiful scenery, delicious seafood and geographically by a large bulge plunging along the Atlantic ocean. The Captain announced that Symphony will tender off St. Malo and be tied to a buoy. We were informed yesterday that due to tidal restrictions, the tender departures will not commence until 9:00 am. The ship will depart St. Malo at 8:30 pm (2 hours later than originally planned). Weather today is fabulous again with bright blue skies and highs in the 70's.
Upon our arrival we anchored off shore in the English Channel. From the deck we could view both Dinard, a small seaside resort on one side and St. Malo on the other.
|St. Malo as viewed from the ship|
|View of Dinard from Ship|
During our time ahsore we will complete the trifecta of visits to the towns of St. Malo, Dinard and Dinan. Our excursion with Crystal is titled SML-G:The Riverside Villages of Dinan and Dinard and cost $129. The tour will begin at 9:00 am and last 5 hours. Later in the day we will tour St. Malo on our own. Reflections mentioned that because it is Sunday many shops will be closed in St. Malo. However, I did some research prior to the cruise and read that stores are open on Sundays and in fact, visitors from the Island of Jersey come to St. Malo specifically on Sunday as their own shops due to Pentecostal laws are closed.
|River Rance and the towns of Dinan, Dinard and St. Malo at the top|
St. Malo has a population of 52,700. It is referred to as the "City of Corsaires" due to its pirate heritage. The nazis occupied St. Malo in 1940 but were finally dislodged by the American army during a battle which ended on August 17, 1944. The Americans were convinced there were thousands of Germans in St. Malo and refused to believe reports of a mere 70 soldiers. Unfortunately, after the battle the low number of Germans was proved to be true. The American military repeatedly bombed and shelled St. Malo in order to repel the German army and thus liberate France. It was a very fierce battle and this subsequently resulted in destroying 80 % of the the town. During the clean up almost a million tons of rubble was removed. . However, city planners were resourceful and reconstructed the town faithfully to its historic 18th century architecture.
We departed the Starlite Club almost right on time. In contrast to our experience in St. Jean de Luz just a few days ago, tendering today went off without a hitch.
|Symphony tied to a buoy as viewed from the tender|
|One of the many ferries making the trip from the UK to St. Malo|
Our tour started with a 30 minute drive inland to Dinan (pop 11,000). This is an old riverfront city with cobbled streets and half timbered buildings. The town's inhabitants (called Dinannais) take pride in their Breton culture. In 1491 Brittany's Princess Anne was forced to marry the French King. This resulted in annexing Brittany as part of France. The Bretons resented this and still have an independent streak.
The main attraction in Dinan is the Medieval town itself. We passed the viaduct and then the bus climbed a narrow twisting lane shaded with huge trees. It looked like Vermont! We exited the "forest" and had a great view of the port below.
|Impressive Viaduct over the Rance River|
|Beautiful view down to the port|
Much of Dinan's history revolves around disputes with England. In 1357 the Duke of Lancaster invaded Dinan. Bertrand du Guesclin's brother Oliver was kidnapped by an English knight and held for ransom. Bertrand du Guesclin won the challenge to free his brother and protect against incursions by the English. This famous 14th century soldier hero regained for France much of the ground lost to the English at the start of the Hundred Years War. A bronze statue commemorates his efforts at Place du Champs. Marie said Guesclin is celebrated in Brittany and they are very proud of his efforts.
|Bertrand du Guesclin was employed by the King for 25 years until his death|
We entered the Basilica and admired the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture. We viewed the beautifully inscribed crypt where Guesclin's heart is buried.
|The Crypt for Bertrand du Guesclin's heart|
We spent about 10-15 minutes inside the church, which seemed a little long. However, we admired the interior of the Basilica and I took plenty of photos to pass the time.
|Archway and church altar|
We excited the church and walked along the cobblestones past some cafes and stores. There was a mammoth sized Bernese Mountain Dog lounging on the sidewalk. I went over and carefully said "hello" but he wasn't interested in meeting strangers.
We walked down Rue de Horloge and Marie pointed out the Maison du Gouvenors which dates to the 15th century. This is one of the oldest structure in Dinan. It is where the town council would have met.
|Along Rue de Horloge and the oldest building in Dinan|
We passed the Porch of the Hotel Beaumanoir. The street entrance is framed by a stone archway decorated with carved dolphins.
|Carved dophin archway|
|Timber buildings in Dinan with shops below|
About 10 minutes later Marie announced it was now be time for our tea break, which honestly I could have done without. That is the one drawback of a shore excursion as you have little control of how the time is spent. It appeared very few people were also interested in the break. It seemed like the tour had just started and it was odd to stop now.
|Chez La Mere Pourcel Restaurant for our break|
|Grayish blue and white timber building for our tea break|
|Slightly warm buttery chocolate croissants|
|Sefton greets one of our fellow cruise passengers|
|Beautiful selection of fine sardines|
|Brittany caramels and other sweets in a hen house!|
I wandered around a bit but not too far that I would lose the group. Definitely don't want to go through that again! Our Crystal escort was very visible which was reassuring.
I walked around the little square admiring the architecture and soaking up the atmosphere.
|A very cute car passing by|
I explained to Marie in a somber tone. but trying not to whine, that I was disappointed we could not see the port from the ramparts as that was one of the primary reasons I booked the tour. Marie could have just as easily dismissed this remark. However, she was fantastic and sprung into action. She immediately asked our group how many people would like to go to the ramparts. A majority of hands went up. Marie offered that those that did not want to go could wait on the bus and the rest of us would take a 10 minute walk. Excellent! I was very happy.
My mother and 4 other passengers headed to the bus while the rest of the group walked over to the ramparts.
The view along the ramparts was well worth it. We did see a little of this from the bus, but standing above it was amazing. The river looks chocolaty brown and did not appear to be moving.
|Ramparts view of the port. St. Anne's Tower on the left.|
For many years, the bridge over the River Rance at Dinan was the most northerly crossing point on the river. This was until the tidal power station at the mouth of the estuary was constructed in the 1960s downstream from Dinan. The power station incorporates a 750 meter long tidal barrage which doubles as a crossing point nearer to the sea. We had passed the power station on our way into Dinan. By harnessing the strong tides of the estuary it produces 600 million kwh annually, enough to power 250,000 homes.
From our vantage point on the ramparts we could view the homes built on both sides of the river. Many had half-timbered facades while some were stone. Marie said there are craft studios, boutiques and cafes dispersed along the river down below.
If we had more time we could have wandered down Rue de Jerzual which leads to Rue de Petit Fort and is a pleasant 300 yard drop down BUT a steep climb back up. This street links the old town to the picturesque Rance River and old port of Dinan. I believe our tour is brand new for Crystal. If they offer it again I would suggest they omit the tea break and instead have the tour walk down to the port, and perhaps have a crepe and/or cidre and then have the tourist train take us back up to the top.
We did spot the tourist train while walking around earlier. Dinan is very appealing in that it is not flat but buffeted with nice rolling hills accented by beautiful foliage. It has a very tranquil setting.
|Roger Vercel College|
We passed by a statue of Auguste Pavie, a famous French Explorer to Southeast Asia. Notice the bamboo in the background.
|Auguste Pavie was a French Explorer in Southeast Asia (hence the bamboo)|
On our way back to the bus I asked Marie about the Breton language and if she spoke it. She had knowledge of it but was not a speaker.
Until the French Revolution the Breton language was widely spoken. However, there was a stigma that Breton was a language of the poor, uneducated or illiterate. Breton is closely related to Cornish and Welsh. In the 1960's an old law prohibiting the use of Breton in schools was overturned. In 2008 there were only 200,000 Breton speakers.
I asked Marie about the traditional Breton lace headdress called Koefs.
|Traditional Breton lace headdress known as Koefs|
I mentioned that I had seen something similar (without lace) on the island of St. Barts. Marie has been to St. Barts and is familiar with the Breton bonnets in Corossol (an area on the island). Among the Russian oligarchs and celebrity residents there still remains a Breton presence on this 8 sq mile island. The bonnets worn on St. Barts are called quichenottes (a corruption of "kiss-me-not". This bonnet served as protection from the attention of roguish English and Swedish men. The Breton women who wear them on St. Barts are becoming increasing rare. They are now mostly worn during festivals as is the case in Brittany where on special holidays the Breton culture is celebrated.
|Marie leading our group back to the bus|
We passed the Basilica once again and another cutie before getting back on the bus.
When I returned I learned that my mother instead of sitting on the bus, enjoyed a glass of wine with one of the other cruise passengers. Glad she used the time wisely.
We drove along the river and onto the motorway to access the seaside resort of Dinard. Marie explained that the names Dinan and Dinard (which are Celtic) are very similar because they share the prefix of "Din" which is the word for fortress. Dinard is located along what is called the Emerald Coast due to the sea color along this section of the Brittany coastline.
Prior to the cruise I searched in vane for a boat company or charter to sail along the Rance River to Dinard. There are boat tours but they take about 4 hours minimum and don't run on Sundays. This was one of the reasons I was happy to book the Crystal excursion which allowed us to see both Dinan and Dinard without having to do it independently. After seeing the chocolate colored river I was sort of relieved. However, the rest of the estuary is very blue and quite pretty.
|Statue of Alfred Hitchcock in Dinard posing with two large birds|
The focal point of town is a mixture of old and new buildings which include a casino, swimming pool, hotels, restaurants and many shops. It looked like a great place to have lunch but that would have to wait. Many of the buildings in Dinard were built in the local granite. It is a sharp contrast to all the half-timbered buildings we had just viewed moments ago in Dinan.
|Royal Emeraude Hotel Dinard|
|Villas in Moulinet Pointe overlooking the sea|
|View from Dinard of St. Malo|
|Villa Saint Germain built in 1870|
|Beautiful clear water and Villa Saint Germain in the background|
|Moulinet Pointe and extravagant villas|
The House of the Black Prince below was built in the 14th century.
|House of the Black Prince|
|Pool that is probably cleaned during the summer overlooking the sea|
The luxurious villas provide a refined charm to the town. There are 400 villas of various architectural styles which are part of a program of protection of architecture, urban and landscape heritage (zone de protection du patrimone architectural, urbain et paysager). This program earned the town the label of City of Art and History in 2002.
It was soon time to reboard the bus for our return to St. Malo. Our time in Dinard was well spent and I was very happy with this part of the tour. We passed some pretty countryside on the ride back.
We passed the Rance river once again. This part is very blue and we arrived back in St. Malo near the tender area for the ship. I had made a lunch reservation for 1:30 pm at a restaurant in St. Malo. It was now a little past 2:00 pm and I wondered if we would make it in time before they closed.
I didn't see any taxis so we hoofed it as quickly as possible down Rue Du Sillon on the promenade across from the beach. It was a nice walk but I think the pace was a little too fast for my mother who asked me to slow down more than once. I asked for directions a few times to make sure I was going the right way as the walk seemed longer than what I remembered from Google maps.
|Rue du Sillon in St. Malo|
|Building on Rue du Sillon|
|Brasserie du Sillon in the distance|
We entered the restaurant which was still open and there were many customers inside. I mentioned I was late to the host which received a bit of a frown but we were seated anyway and told what sections of the menu we could still order from. I was just happy to be able to have lunch.
The interior of the restaurant is very nice and in the art deco style.
|Brasserie du Sillon art deco interior|
|Beach in front of the restaurant|
My mother had a very sensible piece of fish. Looks awful puny compared to my monstrosity.
We very much enjoyed our lunch and were now fortified to spend a few hours touring St. Malo. We had the restaurant call us a taxi to take us back.
The taxi dropped us at the departure point for the tourist train. Our timing was impeccable as the train which runs once every hour, was scheduled to depart in 5 minutes.
|On the Petit Train touring St. Malo|
It looked like we would have our own little compartment to ourselves until a group of 4 people including their adorable King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Flora joined us. It was a little tight but not terrible.
|Flora enjoying the ride around St. Malo|
|Very crowded streets of St. Malo|
|Impressive stone crafted buildings of St. Malo|
I like to purchase watercolor paintings of the places we visit. However, that appeared to be all but an elusive dream today.
The tour took about 25 minutes and is not narrated but we enjoyed seeing a lot of the town we would have probably missed if walking it instead.
|Views from the Petit Train|
|St. Vincent Gate|
The stairs were not brutal and she carefully but somewhat reluctantly walked up to the top. The view was terrific and we were greeted with a nice seabreeze.
|Walking along the Ramparts|
Jacques Cartier was one of St. Malo's most famous residents. He was the first European to travel down the St. Lawrence and discover Canada. He is credited with opening trading routes with America. Linen cloth, lace and everyday goods from St. Malo were exchanged for gems and precious stones. It is said that the cargo brought back from America saved France from bankruptcy.
World War II
After the devastating destruction in the city of St. Malo following the war it took nearly 30 years of painstaking reconstruction to return the town to its former glory. It is now one of the most popular towns to visit in Brittany.
We walked along the ramparts for about 20 minutes enjoying the views of the historic town on one side and the water on the other. We passed a few notable buildings including the Debussy Conservatorie.
|Restaurant Duchess Anne on the right|
We enjoyed our walk and now headed back down to the port area to get the tender back to the ship. On the way we passed a statue of Rene Duguay Trouin. He had a brilliant privateer and naval career working for the King of France. Ten ships of the French Navy were named in his honor.
|Rene Duguay Trouin|
We could see the tender in the distance as we approached the dock. It almost appears like the chute flings you across to the tender boat.
|Chute to get to the tender|
With the tender arrival we boarded and had a nice ride back to the ship. I had a great view of St. Malo as we returned to the Symphony.
|Goodbye St. Malo|
Our dinner tonight will be in the Vintage Room which we requested through Crystal's PCPC prior to the cruise. The cost of this dinner is $210 per person. It sounds a little steep but with all the wines and the specialized menu seems justifiable. As I have been somewhat disappointed by the inconsistent menu in the Crystal Dining Room, I am especially looking forward to the meal. After resting and showering we were ready for our Vintage Room experience.
At 7:30 pm we walked down to the Vintage Room which was beautifully setup for eight guests. There were name cards so there would be no awkward moments of deciding where to sit.
|The Vintage Room|
Soon enough the champagne caught up with me as I needed to take my seat for the slideshow presentation. As they were dimming the lights I sort of slouched into one of the chairs which was to my misfortune where the school's founder was supposed to sit. In my sudden paralysis there was nothing I could do but try not to look mortified. If not for the founder having the steely resolve of Margaret Thatcher and the sense of acuity of Baroness von Schrader in the Sound of Music this may not have ended so well.
The founder took a seat behind me and the show commenced. If I was a matriculated student instead of some wannabe I probably would not have felt so hideous. However, since then I have had a love hate relationship with alcohol, and champagne in particular. This is unlike my brother who once drank 17 beers during one night in high school and passed out on my bathroom floor without any lasting repercussions.
While some people may call champagne the breakfast of champions, my relation to is more of as a potential nemesis. Therefore, it was with great timidity that I accepted Ana's offer of a glass of Billecart-Salmon, Brut Reserve). By now several other guests had entered the room and there were introductions to be made.
We had a very nice group. One couple Gary and Peg from western Massachusetts, another couple from the east coast of Florida, a gentleman (Mark) from Seattle, a woman (Melinda) from Los Angeles and my mother and myself. Two out of the eight of us were lawyers so there was some funny stories to be told and joking about our experiences. Peg who sat next to me was an absolute riot. The gentleman from Florida was also quite funny.
They took a photo before the meal began so we would have a memento of the event.
It was now time to pour some of the wine and serve the first course. There were printed menus in front of us explaining each wine and the food which was very helpful. The first course was a Mini Canneloni filled with king crabmeat salad accompanied by a raspberry vinaigrette. I thought it more closely resembled a crab spring roll but perhaps that was just me.
|Mini Crab Cannelloni|
The next course was a Lobster Thermidor "New Style" with a Dijon mustard glaze and creamed spinach.
|Lobster Thermidor "New Style"|
One of the guests asked Ana about her life on the ship and if she enjoys her work. Ana regaled us with a delightful story when she first started working for Crystal and how she almost missed the ship in the port of San Diego. She received a call on her cell phone and one of the security officers calmly asked where she was. Ana told him she was out shopping with some friends. She obviously lost track of time as the ship was due to depart in five minutes. Ana said that she and her friends, who also worked on the ship, sprinted with shopping bags in hand all the way to ship and made it back in 12 minutes. She was welcomed aboard by the ship's captain, vice captain, head of security and several other people who she would sooner rather forget. It was a very funny story.
The next course of our meal was the Porcini Mushroom Risotto. It was very flavorful but could have used a little more cheese. The wine served to accompany this dish was the Miura Pinot Noir, Pisoni Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey, California 2009.
|Porcini Mushroom Risotto|
We were asked in advance if we had any dietary restrictions. I don't have any but when the next course was served, which was a huge serving of beef, I sort of regretted not saying anything.
|Duo of Beef|
The Florida couple on the side opposite us were very familiar with the "Shafer" and were touting its merits. They asked Ana if some of the wine being served in the Vintage Room was to cull the wine list down for the All Inclusive and Ana confirmed this plan. Apparently we are drinking the better wines so that the ones that are eventually added to the All Inclusive are less costly.
When the Selection of Artisanil Cheeses arrived I was happy that we were near the finish line. It was nicely presented with apricot chutney and walnut bread. I enjoyed this course very much. The wine served was the Chateau Figeac, St.-Emilion, Bordeaux, France, 2008.
|My wine during the dinner|
|Trio of chocolates|
Executive Chef, Manfred Schaller made an appearance and we clapped and thanked him for a great meal.
|Chef Manfred Schaller|
While we were waiting I took a photo of the wines poured during the dinner.
|Wines served during our Vintage Room Dinner|
The photographer arrived and we took our original places. The new photo was presented shortly thereafter without the inscription from Fran. You are going to have to take my word for it but everyone looked surprisingly the same, except my mother who looked 3 sheets to wind.
It was a great night and I enjoyed some excellent food and great company. I would certainly do the Vintage Room again but would specify that I prefer not to have meat.
We said our goodbyes and walked back, unassisted to our stateroom. I even managed to take a photo of the sunset prior to calling it a night.
Tomorrow we arrive in Honfleur, France for an overnight stay.