Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dinan and the River Rance

The last day in Brittany. Monday. Clear and sunny. But the winter frost has settled in during the night. Nothing serious, mind you. Nice to look at.


I step outside into the garden and note that some flowers are still holding their own. Not many, but some. (I have to say, we could not be, in the end, happier with our Dinan apartment rental. I don’t really want you there at times when I’d like to return, but for those other months, ask about the place where Nina stayed, at this site.)

But how should we tackle this day? Here’s s a challenge: do we look for breakfast (late as ever)? Do we eat dessert crepes with jam, just across the river? Or do we climb up the hill and forget that it’s breakfast? We're remembering our one and only lunch on our first day here: buckwheat crepes with scallops. Or maybe we should climb up and hike over to the bakery and the hip café that we grew to love in the course of our stay?

Well of course. The latter. So, up the hill we go. Ed pauses halfway. See this alley? Don’t you wonder where it leads? So many times we climbed here and we never noticed it! We’re rewarded now with views of the river port below, and of the old town up the hill.



And now we’re at the bakery. Bonjour Monsieur-dames (a French shortcut: greeting for the man and woman who walk in together)! Qu’est-ce-que vous desirez?

What do I desire? Another week in Brittany. A summer in Brittany. The moon. But a baguette traditionel and a pepite (flaky pastry with chocolate and crème patisserie) will please me as well.


At the café, it’s lunch hour and we hesitate about taking space for a coffee and our own bakery treats. But the waiters here are superb and they encourage us to come in and sit at our old table. Ed “reads” and I watch, transfixed by the utter professionalism of these men.



Still, the afternoon is quickly speeding away from me. One last sip, one last glance. And now we’re moving briskly. Down the hill...


...where we retrieve our Smart little car. The idea was to hike the coast of the River Rance. It's interesting that we are so close to the sea and yet we have settled into river life, being loath now to leave it.

We drive up to Langolay-sur-Rance (maybe fifteen kilometers up from Dinan). We want to pick up the hiking trail there, but it’s hard. We don’t have good maps and the trail’s intersection with the road is not well marked.

Still, there is a lovely view of the wide at this point River Rance. Like in the Finistere, the tide works its way several miles down into the river basin. It’s low tide now.


...And still we cannot figure out where to start our walk.

Tick tock...

I suggest we stop looking and drive to the next village. By our most general map, the road goes down to the water and so does the trail. We can’t not find it.


Indeed, not only do we locate the trail, but we also encounter a group of hikers. Seniors, actually. Maybe a dozen. Where are you from? – I ask, curious about who would choose to straddle these coastal hills on a cold (it’s midthirties at best) December afternoon. From St Malo! Just across the river. There you go – it’s for the sport, isn’t it? I don’t ask what is their average daily consumption of le tele, or of frites for that matter. It’ll be less than mine and I’m not a big tele person.

They’re heading south, we’re heading north and so we bid au revoir by the heels of the Virgin Mary (at least I think it’s the Virgin Mary) and set out.


I can’t say that it is a warm trudge. The trail cuts through the woodlands midway up the bluff and we are on the western shore. Translation: there’s not much light, let alone sunlight here. The views are pretty, but the night’s frost hasn’t entirely melted away.


The trail moves away from the water for a few miles and now we do have the low sun on our backs as we admire the shapely trees and the... what? Fields of cauliflower? Collards?



Back to the river’s edge and onto another village...

...and the next one. The river is in the shadows of dusk now.

Tick tock....


It’s time to turn back. It’s past 4 and the sun does its disappearing act between 5 and 5:30, which gives us just a little over an hour of good walking light. If we swallow our pride and take the auto road rather than the coastal path, we should make it back to the car in good time.

I’m thinking -- it’s been a glorious week. Sigh... Ah well... Tomorrow, I’ll still have Paris.

But I should insert one caveat here: just after we passed the Virgin Mary some hours back, I asked Ed – did you take the map?
No... did you?
I suppose we don’t need it. It’s not much good. Too general. Just lists the villages...

Alright. And now we walk along the road, in the silence of deep satisfaction. Another good day.





We reach the first houses along the road. We go left, then right, then left again. Toward the river bank, past one set of houses, past another. Down the bluff, to the river.

So why isn’t there a Virgin Mary at the point where the road meets the river?

We look around. Strange – none of it is familiar. Where the hell are we?

Three old women are strolling along where the water sends wavelets onto the shore. What should I ask? I don’t know the name of the village or road where we parked. I don’t know anything at all, except that we are by the River Rance – a river that flows in an uncomplicated fashion so that, walking along its edge you cannot get lost. It is logically impossible to get lost.

Except that we are terribly lost. And the sun is touching the horizon.


Tick tock...

I ask one of the three – the oldest one actually, the one with pink cheeks and deep lines of maturity -- the trail is here, no? I see the markings. But where is the statute? You know, of the Virgin Mary. The one at the bottom of the road with the red lamp posts?
The Virgin Mary? Of, yes, I know. Yes. But really, it is far away!
So we can get there by taking this path?
Yes, I believe so...

We pick up the trail. The sun is gone. There are no more shadow. Ten minutes – Ed says – and we turn around.

Neither of us understands how it is that we could be in completely unfamiliar territory. But if we overshot the village by a great distance, we should not be out on a path that cuts through a steep bluff by the river. We should be back on the road, flagging cars, asking for directions... to somewhere with red lamp posts and the Virgin Mary.

Twenty minutes later and we still see nothing that is familiar. No road, no village. Ed says – let’s turn back.
I hesitate. I know we will not die by the River Rance. But we may well have to claw and grope our way back on all fours if we don't soon get ourselves into recognizable terrain.

But I believe the old ladies. We move forward, careful not to trip in the dimming light.

And finally, around the bend, we see it: village lights. The road leading to the river’s age. The faint outline of the statue.


Of course, logic wins every time. We simply took the wrong turn. At a place where the land juts out in a sweeping stretch away from the village itself. We could see that on the map. Once we found the car and looked at the map. (The car was right by this house:)


We drive back in the dark Brittany night. It’s getting close to seven. Stores will be closing soon. Dinan will become very quiet.

We’ll be eating crepes tonight – up there, at the top of the cobbled way. We stroll with the relief of being safe, on streets where we don’t need maps anymore.

What dessert do you want? Ed asks suddenly.
I was thinking maybe we could go down to the bakery and see if they had those mille feuilles we had the other day in Dinard.

Down to the other side of town, Stores are closing, but our bakery stays open. 7:30. We close at 7:30. No, they don’t have the mille feuille. Days don’t end in perfect bundles.

But, there are lemon tarts still on the shelf and really, we could use a baguette traditionel for the car ride to Paris tomorrow.

We’ve utterly strange pests at the bakery – me, waving my camera, Ed, stuffing the baguette each day into my pack. And then, suddenly, we will not show up anymore. I say good bye, but I skip the a bientot (see you soon). The ladies there who sometimes crack a smile (but often do not) will not see us again, nor we them.

The creperie we choose for the last evening meal...


... comes highly recommended, but we’re not smitten with it. We had our own favorite.

We do our final walk down the cobbled hill.


For a week we lived in Brittany. It’s time to return home.