Island tour, Isle de Groix Our summer tour continues as four of us roam to the south coast of Brittany. The Lorient harbor has been launching ships for a thousand years (a sunken Viking vessel -800-years-old- was recently discovered well-preserved in mud).
Brigitte had heard of a magical island just offshore, "Isle de Groix" (pronounced "eel de gwa"). We parked our car and headed for the ferry.
I took pictures of a buoy graveyard nearby.
An hour later we were heading out with 400 other fun seekers. Delightfully, none of them were speaking in English.
On the harbor's north shore I recognized one of World War II's most formidable structures, Nazi Germany's primary U-boat base. In 1943, we dropped every bomb imaginable but could not dent its 15-foot thick walls. Their killer subs stayed safe inside but when they ventured out, we eventually used superior technology to sink them. We were regularly reminded of the horrible conflicts the people here endured. A few days earlier we had visited the French Resistance Museum near Plouremel. We read the farewell letter of a local young man who was about to be executed. On a walk the next day we encountered a rusting tank barrel poking out of the brush. You never see these things in Coconut Grove.
There are a few people left who saw the horrors of war in their own neighborhoods. I think it's the reason the older buildings have expensive, multiple door locks
and serious crime bars on their windows.
We're so fortunate. We haven't had war's blood spilled on our soil for 150 years.
Blue sky and fair winds helped me shake these dark thoughts as we headed out to sea. Our island was clearly visible just thirty-minutes away. We eagerly arrived in the picturesque harbor and spied our weekend home at the top of the hill.
Our apartment came fully-equipped with a harbor view
and room for four.
Here we are in the patio looking as French as we can.
That's me finishing off my a bowl of moules (mussels). Eating them is an important Bretangne tradition.
Apartment poster The moules grow on rocks in shallow water. I went down to harvest a few.
The beach was perfect, like something from a dream.
One morning we woke up to a kayak convention in the harbor below.
We walked down and discovered a swimming/kayak race about to begin. When it did, one kayak and a swimmer launched every ten seconds until all 130 of them were stroking towards the coast four miles away.
Wanting to get exercise as well, we rented bicycles (okay, they were "electric" but there were plenty of hills and you had to pedal a bit to get battery's "boost").
The old man (three women) and the sea
We scooted all over the 8-mile island discovering tiny villages, abandoned forts, and the occasional cow.
The rocky west end
On Sunday morning a ferry arrived to take us away from all this bliss. Soon we'll be flying to Barcelona. _____________ Travel Note: Some of you asked about costs. You can visit Groix by flying to Paris ($900), taking the train to Lorient (3 hours, $40), and the ferry, $30 round trip. The gite (lodging) was $95 per night and the bikes, $25. A moule dinner costs about 12 Euros ($13). Refreshing salt water swims are free.
Our little French town has so much going for it. You start your day sitting at an outdoor cafe and think, "What's next... a bike ride, river walk, or just watching the world pass by?"
Josselin's 16th century cathedral is a stone's throw away and we visit often. Inside are tombs, glowing windows, and the occasional organ concert. During a Sunday service we get to sing in Latin.
Climbing the church's tower we see the town from a swift's point-of-view.
These birds zoom all over and can stay aloft for months (strange but true). We found a dead one in our attic.
Beyond the town are wheat fields, some with their own chapels. The grain is magically transformed into the fresh bread we buy every morning. We love that ritual. That's how it is in this small town in France.
Martha and I with our neighbor's flowers
Sensing there may be more beyond, we ventured north to the coastal town of St. Malo. The recent bestseller, "All the Light You Cannot See", takes place there. St. Malo is surrounded by the sea, ancient walls and centuries of stories.
Four of us recently traveled to Josselin, a small town in Northwest France. Our house's walls were thin and the bathroom doors did not shut completely. We got to know each other quite well.
We got acquainted with the neighbors too. It was easy as smiling and saying, "Bon jour!". Everybody seems to do that there. Imagine saying "hello!" to everyone you see. Maybe we should all start doing it today. Brigitte's place is right on Main Street's sidewalk (from third floor down, Brigitte, Martha, and Francesca. I am in the guy in the road with the camera). I could sit on the living room couch and have conversations with people passing by six-feet away.
I quickly connected with the Atelier Scotto (furniture craftsman) across the street. Taking twenty steps from our front door I could be watching him restore delicate gold leaf to the legs of an antique chair.
His girlfriend, Elma, helped us clean Brigitte's house (it had been empty for a year). The young mother with the infectious smile told us she was looking for work. Elma recently lost her job when the town's slaughterhouse closed down.
We also became friends with Henri Pierre, a local sculptor. We watched him turning brushes into people and clay into whimsical marmots.
His gallery/studio is a shining example of the artist havens many of us loved in the Grove years ago. It may take some time for the fat cats to chase the artists out of Josselin.
This lovely storefront is the home of our new friend, Stephanie. She makes sculptures and furniture out of recycled, corrugated cardboard. Isn't it great that there is still a place for the unique artists of the world. Peter Stein is another one of them. All he wants to do is live in the world's most picturesque place, eat terrific French food, and teach the world to sing the world's most beautiful (15th century) music. He's doing that. He and his partner live in a lovingly restored mill house a half-mile west of town. Their dreamy bungalow sits in the middle to the River Oust, reached by this bejeweled-by-flowers bridge.
The five of us shared wine and stories as the mill's wheel turned lazily behind us.
Peter is now the director of the town's Catholic church choir. He invited us to come hear his group practice. We went the next night and learned that his enthusiastic singers are between the ages of 60 and 94.
Looking back at Josselin from Peter's island.
Here is a short clip of his group, "The David Stein Experience", in the choir room at the abbey. (Some of you let me know that you can not see my most excellent 15-second video of seniors singing Mozart. Sorry. I'll try to fix the problem when I can)
It was one of many special moments on our Get the Heck Out of Miami Summer Tour. _________________