Thursday, July 3, 2008

First Foot in France

A faultless trip. Red Fred duly farewelled in Shanklin, 30 mins wait, the little train to Ryde, 30 mins wait, the Fast Cat to Portsmouth and finally – after 3 ½ hours wait -- on to the ‘Bretagne’, the Britanny Ferry which was to bring me to France.
And what a surprise! I had expected a ship on the lines of the one which brought me from Jersey. Not so! No container-cum-ferry this one, but a regular luxury liner! More restaurants, bars and shops per square foot than QE2 of my seadays. I was almost intimidated. However, I was not there to shop or eat, but to voyage and sleep and, after a soothing Guinness or three, that’s what I did, awakening just in time for a shower, a shave and a bit of a queue, before disembarking comfortably in St Malo.

Brian was at the ferry to meet me, and to lead me to our hotel, the Bristol Union, in the heart of ‘old’ St Malo. We ate a very hearty ‘Continental’ breakfast … inclusive of the cheese and sausage which I’d always connected with Austria rather than France but which I guess are just ‘EEC’ nowadays, and of the croissants which no-one but the French seem to make properly. After which, we set out, under grey skies and spits of rain, for a wander around the ‘old’ St Malo. I say ‘old’, of course, because this famous ancient ‘city of the corsairs’ was 80 percent destroyed in the last war. It’s been gloriously reconstructed (the post office is a gem!), to bring back much of the character of the wrecked city, but only occasionally do you come on a bit with the right ancient ‘feel’. I wonder how many times I was wrong.

A wander, a rest, and then we were ready for the event of the day. Dinner. My first French meal since the glories of ‘La Vague’ in Dunkerque over a year ago. Finding a suitable (for me) restaurant amongst the plethora of Very Obviously Touristy places that crowd round the Grande Porte and the other more obvious streets, and the inescapable elbow-to-elbow selection of Breton crêperies and galetteries, could have been tough, but Brian had been here before…
We stopped off at a corner bar for an aperitif .. and most Frenchly settled on a pint of Guinness .. before continuing on to Le Bistrot du Rocher. Bistrot. Ah. Good. 13 euros the menu. The menu? For starters, a salade d’andouille with er… Que.. what? Never mind, ‘andouille’ and it’s a winner. Followed by ‘Andouilette’ YES! I pounced on the word and culpably didn’t read further. I thought ‘andouillette’ meant a tripe sausage, but obviously it doesn’t. This was an andouilette of salmon. With lentils. And I haven’t eaten salmon for years, since (stomach-wrenching story censored).
I will now. A nice bottle of Médoc ’04, and a Calvados (two, actually) to fill the spaces before, during and after the food and .. it was the most marvellous meal. Utterly delicious. And the bill? Just 69 euros for two. Can’t be bad!

This morning dawned fine, so we headed off for a walk down the promenade of St Malo’s long, brown and yellow beach. Surprisingly empty. Where were all the people? I popped across the sands to visit the very obvious small fort (closed, open only at low tide .. er it was low tide) from where you get a grand view of the ‘old’ town snuggled behind the vast sea walls that protect it from the oceans …
And that’s where all the people were. Eating at the restaurants and bars round La Grande Porte.

But the big question of the day is: do we go back to the Bistrot du Rocher tonight, and have ‘same again’, or do we try somewhere else? I don’t think I’m going to get my ‘tripes’ here, as somewhat naturally the famous fishing town of St Malo features fish restaurants, so …
Well, we walked the not numerous streets of ‘intra muros’ St Malo until thundery showers came to drive us indoors, and … I don’t know. There’s one, opposite our Guinness bar, rejoicing in the name of ‘Borgnefesse’. Not to be taken literally. ‘One-eyed arse’ was apparently a famous Malouin corsair of the umpteenth century. Maybe?
The rain seems to be easing off. Ah well, feet up for a couple of hours, then it will be aperitif time. Guinness, fish, Calavdos … it sounds right doesn’t it. Have to be adventurous. After all, last night, if I’d read on after ‘andouillette’ and seen ‘saumon’ I would have missed a real treat of a dish…. Hmmm.

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