Saturday 26th October 2013, Meucon, Near Vannes airport
The sun was again shining this morning as we left the presqu’ile de Rhuys and twenty minutes later we were parked down near the port in Vannes. Saturday is market day and everyone for miles around was there. It’s obviously a family treat to go into the city, stroll around the market with a shopping caddy and a baby buggy plus a couple of kiddies with their scooters or pull-along trucks and do the shopping for Sunday lunch. The French always seem to buy huge quantities of one or two things when they shop - huge bouquets of leeks and a carrier filled with several kilos of apples, or a bag in each hand, one filled with chestnuts the other with shellfish.
In the fish hall there were long queues as people waited patiently for the poissonnier to fillet a merlin, écaille a loup-de-mer, decapitate a couple of rougets, ladle a kilo of live crevettes into a plastic bag, hack an anguille into suitably sized chunks and bend the legs of an araignée-de-mer to fit into Madame’s shopping caddy. Each sale was accompanied by advice as to how best to prepare and cook it and what sauce, wine or cider to serve with it.
It is nearly the fête de Toussaints here and pots of chrysanthemums crowded the streets to be carried home through the crowd ready to decorate family tombs next Sunday when all the cemeteries will erupt into a kaleidoscope of autumn colours.
We wandered the cobbled streets, going where the throng dragged us and sampling any free offers along the way. Various breads, biscuits and cakes followed by crab nems from the itinerant Chinese food vendor. Then nougat, dried sausage, a segment of mandarin, a prune and some dried fruit. All this eating made us hungry so we stopped for a coffee and pain au chocolat opposite the halles or covered market selling meats, pâtés and fresh vegetables. There was also a section inside the hall for smallholders with just a few items for sale - maybe a tray of wild mushrooms, a civet of pork or a few cuisses de canard or simply some very muddy carrots.
I needed a new egg slicer. The wire in the one I’ve had for over thirty years finally snapped. The hardware stall had everything except that, but the lady assured us she had one somewhere and suggested we call back when she’d had time to find it. When we returned she had indeed found it but it was typical French overkill – a heavy ceramic thing tough enough to slice though an ostrich egg and costing twenty euros! We didn’t buy it but felt rather guilty about it.
Vannes really is a very lovely city, full of winding granite cobbled streets of half-timbered houses with the upper floors overhanging the walkways. Many of the houses date back to mediaeval times and the wooden timbers are frequently painted in dark reds, greens and blues. Gables may be carved with ancient animal figures – bears, dogs, ducks and also demons. The best known carving is of two jolly peasants known as Vannes et sa femme. Late flowering troughs of geraniums hang from windows or line steps and alleyways. The ramparts are magnificent, their great walls and towers perfectly intact, enclosing the town with pretty formal gardens flanking the shallow river that winds below, passing the picturesque lavoir with its steep slate roofs before it flows through a tunnel and out into the port area beneath the old town.
The port had a festive atmosphere on this sunny market day where restaurants were packed with shoppers making market day a family treat. The terraces were packed with diners, the city’s defensive walls with their machicolations a charming backdrop while the cathedral towered above the old city as it rose steeply up above the streets of the lower town where the market was still in full swing.
Generally the centre of the city still has very much the same atmosphere that has existed since mediaeval times. People flock into the city for the markets and to conduct business. The ramparts and cathedral overlook it all with people entering and leaving through the narrow city gates.
Down by the port it is rather different in that goods for the market would often have arrived or left by boat. The port would have been an area of trade, business and commerce. Now it is used primarily by pleasure craft with yachts rather than trading ships moored alongside the quay. The port is currently hosting an interesting open air photographic exhibition illustrating the varied ways in which children from around the world get to school each day. It was very thought provoking, not least as we all tend to take education for granted without considering the extreme lengths some children go to in order to learn. Journeys range from sledges in Alaska to canoes along the banks of the Amazon or long journeys on foot through jungle or desert, or running the gauntlet of sniper bullets in war-torn cities. Even Brittany was represented. Here children on the isolated islands of southern Brittany are collected each morning by boat and taken to the mainland to school.
We spent a delightful day around Vannes. I could write so much more but it would repeat much mentioned in an earlier account. For anyone interested in reading more there is a link below to my previous account.
My feet are not really getting chance to recover from the cobbles before they have to cope with the next lot. I limped back to Modestine and Ian read while I had a short snooze. It ended abruptly when a vehicle driven by a couple of brightly dressed clowns pulled in beside us to fine tune and test the decibels of its tannoy system!
Vannes lies at the head of the bay of Morbihan. We drove down and parked at the port de plaisance at Conleau and took a gentle walk along the shore, round the little headland beneath boisterously tossing pine trees. We could look out towards the sea over the mud flats of low tide. It looked remarkably like the Exe estuary, even more so when we rounded the tip to find the white pleasure boats moored near where a narrow walkway led round and back towards the river. It looked uncannily like the “goat walk” beside the Exe Estuary at Topsham.
We were both feeling weary as we left the city behind and made our way out towards Vannes airfield where we knew there was an open campsite. The planes are all tiny ones and it is too windy for them to be flying today anyway. According to the radio (we can pick up the BBC easily here) there are terrific storm expected in Britain over the next day or so. Hopefully it will pass to the north of us here but the trees are waving enthusiastically and we are heavily buffeted by the gusts. Outside there are a couple of lamas and a big black bull. Crossing to the shower block in the darkness could be interesting though I assume/hope there is an electric fence between us and the bull.
From Quimper to Vannes in a camper van