Saturday, September 08, 2012

France, Day 1, 8/22/2012

The first half of the day, in Paris, is organized around buying bathing suits, which we forgot to bring. At the fancy department store le Bon Marché, we see some nice women's suits, which turn out to cost 320 euros. We end up buying suits at Monoprix, which feels like a French version of Target.

For lunch, we stop at a satisfactory if forgettable brasserie next to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Lindsay gets a croque monsieur (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, to everyone who didn't take high school French). I get a Niçoise salad, which has lettuce, string beans, roasted peppers, potatoes, rice, tuna, and anchovies and comes with little jars of olive oil and lemon juice. We trade halfway through. The croque monsieur is nothing great, even when we dose it with the excellent mustard on our table, but the salad's not bad.

We take a TGV (a train of great speed) to Rennes. The train lives up to its name (unlike last time). When the train goes next to a highway, we can see that we're moving much faster than the cars. I read and have to stop when I can't keep my eyes open anymore. I get a little cup of espresso (which comes with a tiny stick of Lindt chocolate!).

In Rennes, we transfer to a train which takes us to Dol-de-Bretagne. We walk around its huge cathedral and check out the rest of the town.

A window in the cathedral in Dol-de-Bretagne

Then, we take a long walk on farm dirt roads to avoid walking along the side of a fast road, until we come to our guesthouse, La Bégaudière.

La Bégaudière, just outside of Dol-de-Bretagne

I feel much better after a shower and a few glasses of water. It's time for our guesthouse's communal dinner, which starts with a Kir (a small glass of white wine with crème de cassis). A middle-aged French couple joins us. We move to the dinner table. Our host Catherine brings the four of us an enormous bowl of mussels, a basket of bread, and a slab of butter sprinkled with sea salt. The mussels were farmed in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, just north of us, and are delicious, briny and flavorful but not fishy. They were cooked with white wine, shallots, and parsley. The butter with the bread is the best butter I've ever had. Even though it was a huge bowl of mussels, the four of us finish it off and look forward to dessert.

When Catherine returns, she looks taken aback. Then she brings us our next course: thick, small meaty rounds of monkfish in sauce Armoricaine, a thick pureed sauce made from shallots, tomatoes, and cognac. The fish is smoky, flavored with lardons. It's served with rice with short pieces of vermicelli pasta in it (weird but perfectly good), and a zucchini gratin. Since zucchini doesn't have much taste and falls apart when cooked, this is like cream and butter given body, with a delicious browned crust. We manage to convey to the French couple that we thought the mussels were the whole meal, and they laugh and say they did too. We all manage to eat a little bit more, and we take more from the pitcher of pleasant red wine served with the meal. The four of us even eat little bowls of chocolate mousse, and Lindsay and I have cups of verveine tea.

As the meal goes on, we talk more and more to the other couple in our broken French, aided by a dictionary that Catherine brought us. They're on vacation before their son's wedding. They ask us what we do for a living, and then the man tells us proudly that he's a patissier. We tell him about the wedding cakes we had made the week before. Finally, we go off to sleep for a long time.


JBL said...

Oh, I had forgotten you put your journal of that trip up here! Yes, that train ride was quite something -- what I most remember about the conversation was when she began a sentence speaking to me in French, then switched half-way through to Spanish and finished the sentence speaking to you!

You have five posts up so far, but I might as well put all my comments in one place: the photos are beautiful! I am feeling intense pangs of jealousy :). I am curious about your food photoblogging -- do you (correctly ;)) view it as inappropriate to take a picture of your food in a restaurant? Was my parents' guidance helpful? I am looking forward to reading the rest!

Toby said...

Yeah, taking pictures in restaurants just seems like too much. But I never really made a conscious decision about it or anything like that.

Your parents' guidance was incredibly helpful! The important thing was telling us to buy a topoguide, which shows all the trails and gives distances and so on. Next time I'd get this much earlier than we did, because it makes the planning so much easier.