Monday, February 25, 2013

France, Day 10, 8/31/2012

We have a busy day. We go to a laundromat, where the proprietor, who happens to be there painting the walls, gives us directions in English. (And we needed them, too! It was a very confusing laundromat.) While our clothes wash and dry, we have coffee at le Bar Tarmac (it had an airplane theme), and then go see the old town's ramparts. They aren't as massive as Saint-Malo's, but they're impressive nonetheless. We hike up Mont-Frugy (not a real mountain) looking for a nice place to picnic, but we come back down and eat at its foot when we can't find a sunny spot. After lunch, we look at some pottery (Quimper has been a center of pottery for a long time) and check out the 11th century church of Locmaria.

Outside of Locmaria.

A stream in Quimper.

After another stroll around the old town, we go to the Breton museum and see art, artifacts, clothes, and furniture from Brittany, from prehistoric times to the 1920s. We stop at a bar with lots of Breton beers, and we both get little, 1/4-liter glasses.

For dinner, we go to Chez Max, a very nice looking bistro hidden in a courtyard. When we ask the server what something is on the menu, she brings over an English speaking waitress who tells us (it was clams). Unfortunately, she then proceeds to translate the rest of the menu for us at length. We share six stuffed clams, chewy but delicious. I get a faux-filet (beef tenderloin?), also chewy but delicious, and it comes with a sauce that seems to be roasted garlic and other vegetables in oil. It also comes with fries, excellent roasted vegetables (zucchini and carrots), and a little salad. Lindsay gets moules frites, which are much worse than the muscles we've been eating, fishier and not as sweet. We swap halfway through as usual.

For dessert, I get a pear with Fourme d'Ambert, a truly delicious blue cheese that I ate twice a day last year in Saint-Flour. The pear is whole and is baked in a thin crunchy sheet of pastry, along with the cheese. It's not sweet at all—in fact, it comes with a salad. It would have been nicer with some element of sweetness, whether honey or just a riper pear. Lindsay gets the Breton cake with a scoop of buckwheat and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Our waitress dutifully translated all the ice cream flavors for us, something not exactly required for words like vanille and chocolat. The cake is dense and dry—I've never had a gateau Breton before, so I'm not a good judge, but I don't think it was supposed to be so dry—but the ice cream is delicious.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

France, Day 9, 8/30/2012

For the first time, we move on to the next place by train and not by foot. My legs feel normal again! For most of the trip, I've felt sore but fine, but yesterday my legs had actually started to hurt. We loved the hiking on the trip even though we didn't prepare ourselves physically in any way, relying on our youth and general fitness. If I ever do this again, I'll go hiking a few times before with a heavy bag so that the muscles in my ankles and legs that go unused in my regular life don't get such a shock.

We planned our trip with the help of David Lewis, who told us that the essential thing was to get a Topoguide from FFRandonée. We planned our trip and then ordered the Topoguide (which came very quickly, by the way). This is really the opposite of what we should have done: choose the general region, order the Topoguide, and then plan the trip. The guide tells you things like which towns have train stations, bus stations, places to stay, and places to get food. They also provide some suggestion of which tourist destinations you'll want to see. Our Topoguide, for example, was called "Chemin vers le Mont-Saint-Michel" which might have clued us in that our route narrowly missed the town of Mont-Saint-Michel. If Saint-Malo was, say, a two star destination, then Mont-Saint-Michel deserved something like eight stars. Or so it seemed, since we never actually went there. We eventually started lying to French people when they asked us if we were going to Mont-Saint-Michel because if we said we weren't they'd look at us incredulously and start plotting how we should get to it (it wasn't feasible to work it into our trip after we arrived). And this is the explanation of how we came to visit the area surrounding Mont-Saint-Michel without visiting the place itself.

The closest we came to Mont-Saint-Michel, back on the second day of our trip. The camera is zoomed all the way and the picture is cropped, so it's even farther than it looks.

After one last coffee with steamed milk (UHT, i.e., the kind that tastes funny and never goes bad, and the only kind we ever saw) at our friendly café, we're off to the train station. Our train stops in Rennes, and there's enough time to walk to the old town, sit down for a few minutes, and walk back. Then we board a train to Quimper and eat the provisions we got in Saint-Malo: a wonderful boule au levain; some hard salami, flavored with garlic; a vegetable tarte of carrots and leeks baked in eggs and cream; a soft, unctuous cheese; and a carrot salad with an excellent dressing (orange juice and olive oil?); and a kouign amann (not as good as the one we had in Cancale, unfortunately).

We arrive in beautiful Quimper in the early afternoon. We stay at l'Hôtel de la Gare, conveniently across the street from the train station (that's la gare). We notice that all the street signs are in French and Breton, which looks like Welsh.

Our ambition for the day is to visit a cidery. There's one just outside of town, but it's too hard to get there by bus. So, we splurge and take a taxi to la Cidrerie Manoir du Kinkiz, where they make cider and also distill it into brandy. They have a little exhibit on the history of the local distilling methods. The employee at the distillery takes us around and translates for us. Then she gives us a tasting. I'm most excited to try their lambig, cider distilled to 80 proof and aged in oak barrels. The same basic thing made in Normandy is Calvados. We also try pommeau, which is one part lambig and three parts cider, aged together. It's a pleasant, slightly sweet drink intended as an aperitif. We also try some fruit liquors that they make using the fruit of other local growers.

Then we go over to the cidery, where we taste the three ciders they produce: a very dry, lightly bubbly one from Fouesnant; a dry, bubblier one that's AOC Cournauille; and a lighter, sweeter one made from a single variety of apple and intended to be drunk before or after a meal, as the woman who was pouring explained to us in perfect English. My favorite was the Fouesnant, Lindsay's the Cournauille. These ciders are fermented briefly in metal vats (not wood) and finish in the bottle. They're meant to be drunk immediately, and if they're not, they can start to taste funny, lose their fizz, or explode. They're very refreshing and still taste like apples even though they're dry, and they're only about five percent alcohol. We bring home a few bottles of cider, a bottle of lambig, and some crème de cassis.

Quimper's old town is nice, and it's less overwhelmingly touristy than Saint-Malo's. (Saint-Malo's old town is beatiful but sort of like a theme park.)

Toby illuminated

We have dinner at Erwan, where the proprietor, Erwan, waits on all the tables. The restaurant has many Breton dishes, which are unfortunately written on the menu only in Breton, but we get them translated into a mix of French and English. Erwan even throws in some German, which is not helpful. We start with fish soup, and sardines with carrots and cabbage fried in a thin dough wrapper. The fish soup is great. It's reddish brown with no large chunks of anything, but with a coarse texture from little bits of fish. It comes with rouille, toasts, and cheese. It's less rich than the soup we had at les Embruns, but much more flavorful, tasting of fish and warm spices.

As main courses we get two Breton dishes: cod in cider butter, and pork with potatoes. The pork is a sausage, spareribs, and shoulder and is as big as it sounds. Both dishes come with a bit of zucchini stewed with tomatoes. Everything is very good, though we can't eat it all. We also get a great bottle of cider.

At another table, we see three people get dessert while the other person at the table, an older man, gets a bowl of fish soup.

3 Rue Aristide Briand
29000 Quimper, France