Monday, May 7, 2012

Trip to Brittany and Normandy: First Three Days

At last, here's the write-up of our Easter vacation (April 6-11).  First of two posts.

Last month, we had a wonderful vacation with Meme and Grandpa.  They rented a mini-van and took us to Britttany and Normandy. It was so good to spend time with them and to see a little more of France.

Here's an account of the trip:

Holy Week

Donnie is away Monday through Thursday at a workshop in Cluny. I'm home with the kids. I'm still not used to managing on my own with these two girls! The days are so full. In the evenings, I work on the labels for Bridget's Apothecary.

Good Friday

On Friday morning, we make a family trip to the market to buy supplies for a welcome dinner. Mom and Dad arrive at our house in the late afternoon, after hours of "exploring" the Paris area. (I won't go into gory details, but the short of it is, if you're renting a car in France, don't use Hertz!) We have a dinner of salmon cooked in parchment paper with lentils and rice and cut veggies on the side.

That evening Donnie and I pack. The children seem to sense our excitement, and wake often in the night.


Mom and Dad arrive at the apartment. We load the car and make it our of the house only an hour and a half behind schedule. There's some crying a Louisa falls asleep for her nap, but the rest of the ride goes well. Mom valiantly rides in the seat furthest to the back---a position that induces immediate car sickness. We have a picnic lunch out of the back of the van in a parking lot--cheese with sliced veggies on baguette. I feel vindicated for having bought an absurd amount of cheese at the market the day before.

We arrive in Dinan. Our hotel (the Rue de Jerzual Best Western) is located on a bank of the river Rance. From outside the hotel, we can see the port of Dinan and the town's dramatic viaduct arching over the river valley. I attempt to get the children to a nap. Loulou dozes while Maria warbles and jumps around in her cot. Donnie, Mom and Dad explore the town and find coffee. They return and we slowly make our way up the medieval thoroughfare, Rue de Jerzual, to beautiful restaurant, Creperie de le Artisan.

The ambiance of the Creperie is nothing short of perfect. The dining room has craggy stone walls and timbered ceilings. There are model frigates hanging from the ceilings, and a merry fire in a blackened hearth. At the head our our table there's an oil painting of a genial Breton grandmother, watching us benevolently from her canvas. We choose our crepes. Brittany is famous for its thin buckweat crepes with simple and utterly delicious fillngs. In an adventurous leap, Dad abandones his resolution to never eat tripe, and orders Andouette avec fromage. (Andouette is a sausage from the from linking of a calf's stomach.) We order the children's menu for Maria. Unfortunately, it includes a tri-color cocktail---sugar and dye with a little water added. Before long, Maria drains the glass and is talking in long, incoherent, sugar-charged spurts. Donnie and I share a caramel crepe for dessert.

When we return to the hotel. Meme and Grandpa watch the kids while Donnie and I try out the hotel hot tub. The massage settings are so forceful and create such a roaring froth, that we end up sputtering to keep the foam out of our eyes and mouths. We can't help but giggle, imagining the view the people manning the security camera are seeing. When another couple arrives at the hottub, we intentionally refrain from warning them, wanting to see their reaction to the maelstrom. All four of us have a hearty laugh.

Perhaps it was the three-dye cocktail, or the German cartoons before bed. That night, Maria sleeps terribly, crying in her sleep.

Easter Sunday

After a terrific breakfast the a the hotel restaurant, we set out for Easter Mass at St. Malo Church in old town Dinan. After giving us directions to the church, the concierge tells Donnie: "I appreciate your dressy-casusal outfit for Easter Sunday." Such a funny compliment.

Maria and Louisa fall into deep sleep early during the Mass. Mom and I remain seated, not wanting to wake them after our difficult night. The church is beautiful. It's gothic with a sparsely decorated interior. There are some gorgeous windows, including some showing the transport of St. Malo's relic's to the church in Dinan, and another incredible window showing Our Lady of the Rosary. There's also an ornately painted organ.

After Mass, we set out into town, and eventually plop ourselves down in a restaurant named something like "Maison Fruit de Mer". I order whelks because I'm sure what they are, and ordering them seems like a good way to find out. Turns out they are a sort of sea-snail-type mollusk and are  delicious dipped in mayonnaise. We have oysters and a number of other treats. The meal drags on because our waiter forgets about us multiple times (it was a very busy restaurant). He gives us a round of chocolate mousse to make up for his negligence. We emerge from the restaurant a good three hours after we entered, stuffed to the gills and very happy. A fitting Easter feast.

We return to the hotel and attempt to get the kids to rest, but it's already after four--no dice. Meanwhile, Meme sets up an Easter egg hunt. The tradition in France is that on Holy Thursday, the church bells fly to Rome and return on Easter Sunday. During their return journey, the bells deposit chocolate eggs, bunnies, and hens in the garden. We love this version of the story since it ties in better with religious tradition than the Easter bunny.

After Meme gives the signal knock on our door, we tell Maria that the Bells have passed by. A trail of plastic eggs leads through Meme and Grandpa's room and into the hotel courtyard to a stash of Easter candy and gifts. There are chocolates, new pajamas, some Easter-themed books, and a new game. Thank you, Meme for bringing all the Easter goodies for the hunt!

That evening, Donnie and I explore a little more of Dinan's medieval quarter. We walk on the ramparts and see the statue of Betrand de Guy. What a lovely thing it is, to walk through an old city at night! There are wonderful smells, and our appetites finally reawaken after our Easter gorging. We stop into a tiny pizza parlor, and in less the ten minutes are walking back down Rue de Jerzual, pie in hand. When we return, the children are still awake. We have a late night pizza and clementine party. Then it's lights out for everybody.

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