Monday, May 28, 2012

Twenty-four Hours of Surprises in Morlaix

Morlaix provided a number of surprises, some pleasant and some not-so.

Number one was, driving in yesterday afternoon, how dramatic the town is. It's basically built in the bottom of a deep gully at the head of a tidal river. Quite tall buildings line the streets, including some impressive half-timbered ones. And a huge 19th-century railroad viaduct spanning from ridge to ridge dominates everything.

Morlaix Viaduct

Half-timbered buildings.

Number 2 was learning from the hotel clerk that tomorrow was a bank holiday. What, another? In the month of May, May 1st was a national holiday, as was the day after the presidential election, then there was a bank holiday two weeks ago. Now another? And that means that practically everything except boulangeries (they're always open—a day without baguettes is unthinkable) and a few cafés will be closed.

Surprise #3 was discovering that the battery charger for the Nikon, and the second battery for it, were apparently left behind, probably in Dinan. Some hurried internet research verified the model number and the location of Nikon retailers here and in Quimper, the next town, but of course—tomorrow's a bank holiday.

Surprise #4 was when we got up and there were amplified voices and commotion in the street outside our hotel window, and going out we found that today, Morlaix is hosting the Petit Tour de France, a bicycle event for 1,530 children ages 3 to 11, and of course their parents. The entire big Place d'Otages a block down from our hotel was full of people and vehicles supporting this event.

Crowd for the Petit Tour de France

Surprise #5 was when we realized that Place De Gaulle where we had parked our car last night was also full of sponsor and official vehicles—and our car was gone. Towed. We had seen but failed to absorb the meaning of this sign:

[No-Parking symbol] Monday 28th May 2012 6am to 2pm (petit tour de france) [tow-away icon]

Back to the hotel and ask the concierge to find out what to do. He said, go to the Commissariat of Police, just a few blocks away. We go there, explain the problem; policeman introduces us to tow-truck driver who explains that he will drive David to get the car, on payment of €110. Ohhhh-kayyy. Go to ATM, get cash. Marian is left standing outside police station while David rides off in tow truck, a couple Kms out of town. Check car over, it is not damaged, give driver his ransom money. Also on the windscreen, a €35 parking ticket. Show it to tow truck guy, he says, "Oh, that is for Police." Ohhh-kayyy.

David starts back to rejoin Marian. However, all of centre ville is barré. Morlaix, being confined to a narrow valley, has not got a lot of alternate routes; David and the car are at one end; Marian at the other; 1,530 kids and their parents are milling around on bikes in the middle. Very fortunately we had left the Garmin in the car. That made it possible to navigate, with difficulty, over the hills and around to the bottom end of town, where David parked the car (legally!) about a kilometer below the center of town and hoofed it back to find Marian taking pictures of adorable kids on bikes. Here are some.

One of the 153 designated groups waiting to push off behind its sponsor vehicle.

Team Spiderman, note Mom is in costume too




How much cute can you handle?

A push from Mom to get over the speed bump

Though fewer than half the groups had started, it was time to deal with the parking ticket. Surprise #6, showed the ticket to a cop at the station, asked, "How do we pay this?" The cop said (in French) "Are you the guest of the Hotel d'Europe?" Uh, yeah, I mean, Oui!. So then, he takes ticket and puts it in his pocket. "Pas de probleme." Later back at the hotel we found out the hotel clerk had called the police and got them to annulez le procés verbal. Nice service! Big hotel recommendation going into TripAdvisor soon!

It was not a surprise to find that the two historical houses we were to visit in Morlaix were closed for the bank holiday. So: what to do with a day? Well, we can go look at more of the rugged North coast. Paged through that section of the guidebook and more or less at random decided to visit Château Kerjean.

Courtyard of Château Kerjean.

The next surprise (what number are we up to?) was that the Château was actually interesting. First it had a temporary exhibit on Breton music and musicians.

The Bretons are a Celtic peoples, related to the Irish and the Welsh, and since the 50s have run a Breton consciousness campaign that has succeeded to the extent that the Breton flag (inset here) is available in every tourist shop, and every road sign is bilingual in French and Breton. So the Bretons have a music tradition that sounds a lot like Celtic music, using clarinet, accordian, hurdy-gurdy, and bagpipes. The exhibit in Château Kerjean had lots about the musicians, the rediscovery of their music in the 1960s, and the instruments.

Breton bagpipes. They had a short documentary on the making of these.

They also had some 16C furnishings on display, including several "box beds" like this. We'd never heard of a "box bed."

Cozy, no?

Kerjean had been badly trashed in the Revolution and by profligate owners but one piece, its chapel, was still somewhat intact including some very interesting wood carvings by an unknown Breton master.

Carvings by an anonymous Breton master carver whose work has been identified in other nearby churches.


Following this we drove to a charming little harbor and sat with our books sipping café créme for an hour like popular flâneurs. Following which we drove a route that crossed some deep tidal canyons that some optimistic people say are like fiords. Through all this driving it was something of a surprise, and a pleasure, to find the countryside flat and open with big wide fields. Horizons in the Normandy countryside are quite short. Here is one of the tidal "fiords."


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