Little orphan granny

Bastille Day. I was greeted by the singing of three French youths on their way down to the beach for an early morning dip. I say greeted…I was lying awake in bed from 5am and they sang by at about 6. When we left the hotel at 8:30, they returned, still singing, with even greater gusto. I’m not really keen on this part of St Malo. There are some pretty impressive mansions, like the one we’re in, but outside the big gates, the life on the street is decidedly lower.

So, today we were FINALLY going to take a boat up the River Rance, through the barrage and into Dinan. We’ve been trying for years but we’ve never been here on the right day. However, we had checked with the TIC before we left St Malo and there definitely was a boat leaving at 9:15 on Bastille Day. We organised an early breakfast and hotfooted it down to Intra-Muros.

We managed to get lost – ok, I managed to get lost and Mirinda just followed – but we still made it. Considering the fact that the bridge to Intra Muros opened and the road disappeared for a bit, this was amazing.

A boat was just pulling in. Relief washed over me like a fresh bowl of cherries. I asked the girl at the booth whether it was the boat for Dinan. She informed me there was no boat for Dinan today. I was confused, Mirinda was confused. There were a couple of signs outside the booth that were clearly as confused because they also said there was. Mirinda went back to the booth.

The facts of the matter were simple. There WAS a boat but the barrage was not going to open today so the boat had to be cancelled. The girl wasn’t happy. Mirinda wasn’t happy. I just ached because of my fall yesterday.

Advertised in the window of the boat booth was a special fireworks boat leaving at 10:30pm to view the Bastille Day celebrations from the bay. Given our knowledge of French, I’m hoping it isn’t the boat from which the fireworks will be launched. So we bought two tickets and will keep our fingers crossed.

We then went for a stroll out along the long pier which was lined in fishermen and crowned in black clouds. Half way along the rain started. The further out we walked, the harder the rain fell. We managed to get quite wet as the fishermen hunched about in the sou’westers. Like drowned rats, we made our sorry way inside the city walls and had a coffee in the place de marche legumes (the vegetable market square). We decided to return to the hotel.

Crossing the bay we stopped and admired the massive private yacht, docked at the quay and looking like a sporty naval vessel. If you had the money for something as big as this thing was, don’t you think you’d paint it a nicer colour than grey?

Sleek, expensive and painted grey

Just as we left the real naval vessel, we passed a woman with Little Orphan Annie hair. I pointed this out to Mirinda who immediately said “Little Orphan Granny”. Genius. I really wish I’d said that!

Back at the hotel, the room was not yet ready for us so we waited, damp and miserable, in the lounge area (at least we had our books) until it was. Finally we managed to relax a bit as the rain fell harmlessly outside the window. A little later we ventured out as far as the patisserie for lunch, which we ate on the bed.

Again it rained but, eventually, the sun streamed in through the window, the receptionists were lying on sun loungers in the rose garden and we decided to go hunting for a bottle of pommeau. Bastille day, being a public holiday, means most local shops are shut. As a result we found no pommeau. We did find a lovely rose garden in the grounds between a convent, a retirement home and a council estate. The roses were out in vivid colour as visitors shuffled their aged relations around in the sun to the accompaniment of loud, odious music from the council estate. The music aside, an enjoyable half hour.

Back at the hotel we rested some more. The boat for the fireworks did not depart until 10:30 so we decided to leave it quite late before venturing into St Malo Intra Muros for dinner.

And boy, was it crowded! Everyone for miles around had gathered for the spectacular fireworks. They were milling around, taking coffee, dinner, ice cream or just wandering aimlessly while their children played an odd game of chase around oddly designed flower beds. We took a stroll around the ramparts, which is always a delight, astounded at the number of lunatics swimming in the ocean.

The beach from the ramparts at St Malo

We sat at the first vacant table we found and Mirinda unsuccessfully ordered 12 oysters. She pronounced twelve perfectly but the waiter had no idea what she was asking for. It took a while for him to get her order. My galette complet was without complication. Given I’ve ordered now for seven years, I should think it would be right. The waiter probably wondered why I didn’t order for Mirinda seeing as my French was clearly superior.

After eating we took a coffee at a nearby café then queued unsuccessfully for an ice cream because we queued at the wrong end then successfully for an ice cream at another place. Mirinda asked for concrete flavour and it took forever for the girl to scoop it out.

We then stood and listened to a fabulous French café jazz quartet comprising a clarinet, violin, double bass and guitar. They were busking under the covered market, which was pretty smart as the rain returned on and off. They really were fabulous musicians and we could have stayed listening for hours but our boat was due so we wandered down to the dock.

One thing that amazed me (and will continue to make me wonder) is the ridiculous fashion for cardigans that appear to have had the wool removed from all but the sleeves and shoulders. What is that about? We watched a woman while we drank our coffee who was wearing one. From the back she looked like her waist went from her hips to her shoulder blades. I guess they are for women who want long sleeves but not the rest of the cardigan. I’m thinking they have not heard of long sleeved t-shirts or shirts. I bet her partner just agreed with her that it looked terrific while inside was silently wondering what the point of such a garment was. I know I would be. If anyone is reading this and wants to buy one of these monstrosities, don’t. They look bloody stupid and only serve to increase the profits of the cardigan makers because they can create a garment for less than half the wool and sell it for twice the price of a normal cardigan. Great business, fashion. Like lingerie. There’s not much to it, it’s rarely seen and it costs a fortune the smaller it is.

Anyway…back to St Malo. Intra Muros is very protected from the wilder elements of nature and you are taken somewhat unawares when you venture out of the city walls into the teeth of a blustering wind and fiercely pounding waves at the ferry dock. I was reminded of the film The Perfect Storm as the tiny boat came alongside the dock and a small band of brave souls clambered aboard. This included the family with the small, excitable dog and two women dressed as balloons.

Mirinda claims some sort of Viking ancestry. I’m assuming she didn’t inherit the sea-sickness from that side. We were fine sitting outside though it was cold and windy but the moment we sat inside, so she needed to move outside, her oysters starting to lurch somewhat.

Our little boat finally reached a spot about 5 miles off the city and sort of floated back and forth for half an hour. Then the lights went off and the fireworks started. As a spectacular fireworks display, they were pretty good (though of course, it’s always hard to judge them alongside the Sydney effort), moving from single flashes of light to big flowers of colour, spreading out across the sky and drifting down to the sea. It was a spectacular, as the guy on the boat kept saying. If there was music, we did not hear it.

After a good three quarters of an hour, the explosions stopped, the lights came back on the boat and we headed back for land. The first stop was Dinnard then to St Malo. As we drew close to the dock, a huge crowd of people stood, waiting to storm the boat. They had been to the fireworks and were desperate to board the final ferry home. There was a bit of argy bargy as the crew tried to secure the boat and provide some sort of safe exit ramp for the few remaining fireworks spectacular viewers. As we stepped ashore and made for higher, dry land, we watched the ever increasing crowd straining to board. I’m pretty sure a few of them would have ended up swimming home. All in all, it was a very eventful and wonderfully strange way to spend a Bastille day evening.

The walk back to the hotel was quick which was a lot better than the journey for anyone stupid enough to drive into St Malo for the night’s festivities. Queues of barely crawling cars stretched for miles out of the city.

We made it back to the hotel at around 12:30 and fell into bed.

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