As some sort of strange French joke, we were awakened at 5:30am, not with the gentle strains of some pastoral air or with ‘Morning’ or even a little light Breton folk music but were pounded out of sleep by an awful piece of funeral dirge at maximum volume. I thought a band had sneaked into the room in the night but no, this was issuing forth from the bedside radio. Of course the volume controls did nothing until I managed to find the secret unlock code by pressing every button completely randomly at least 6 times in unknown sequences. And from the top bunk, while Mirinda yelled “Shuuuuut-up!”
I thought perhaps a previous tenant had found out how to set a disturbing practical joke but no, about 15 minutes later came the decidedly undulcet tones of a French woman (who I instantly hated) ordering us out of our cabins as we would be docking in ¾ of an hour. Then we realised “Ahhh, the time difference!“…in France it’s still the French Revolution and we Brits are ripe for the deafening…
I popped out of the cabin to see what was happening and was presented with a sight I won’t easily forget: an army of little men carrying bundles of pink sheets and towels, ready to pounce on each room as it emptied. Just like cleaner orcs eager and single mindedly ready for dirty battle.
I eventually managed to get Mirinda up, dressed and out of the room (the orcs had gone but their bundles remained, all lining the corridors) so we could sit under some stairs for ½ an hour while a lot of other passengers did a bit of milling.
Getting off the ferry was very simple; getting through French customs decidedly simpler. We hopped into a taxi and €4.90 later arrived at the Hotel Des Apel, deep within the walled confines of St Malo. Fortunately they had a room free so instead of leaving our bags and staggering round for a bit, we went to room 6 (or 9 as Mirinda claimed) and collapsed on the huge bed, listening to a bunch of very vocal seagulls. Holiday bliss. Mirinda asked how long it was before you stopped thinking about work. Shit! I thought I was unemployed.
After 2 blessed hours of snoozing (remember, I have YET to have a coffee) we decided to find a suitable café. Ended up in the Place Chateaubriand, a Place packed with cafes. Had a traditional Breton petit dejeuner which (apparently) consists of a crepe (or galette as it’s not sweet) with cheese, ham and an egg inside.
Mmmm breakfast! This thing was huge. Ahh, and the coffee. One of the greatest things about Europe is the excellent coffee. Always a great pleasure. After this hearty brunch we wandered over to the TIC to inquire about possible ferry times to the medieval city of Dinau. Unlike most TICs, they had no information on the ferry times and instead, vaguely gestured up the road, saying the ferry was up there somewhere. I think we found it, but it was closed. Looks like a lot of gypsies in their mobile homes have set up camp in the carpark so it may have been closed a while…hopefully we’ll be more successful tomorrow when we actually want to go.
A few historic points about St Malo (which is pronounced ‘sa-ma-loo’ all in one word). it was named after a Welsh monk (MacLow). It was all burnt down in 1661 and was rebuilt in granite block to prevent it happening again. This strategy worked until 1944 when we liberated St Malo from the Nazis, liberating 80% of the town from it’s owners at the same time. The then mayor of St Malo decided the city should be rebuilt. It took 10 years but it was completed and now has the distinction of being a very old city built recently. It has a wall all the way round it (it takes 1¾ hour to walk the whole way round the ramparts) which remained standing after 1944. One extremely important point: NEVER call St Malo pirates pirates, they are cossairs.
After we walked about 1/3 of the rampart we decided to join the next trip on Le Petit Train de St Malo. This is a little engine which pulls tourists around behind it with a commentary both in French and English. It putters all around the city and is great fun.
After our trip, Mirinda got to give her French a real go. We went to an ice cream vendor and she said “Je voudrais deux glace au fraise, s’il vous plais?” to which the vendor replied “Boule or soft?” This was not the response Mirinda expected and was discouraged at first then suddenly realised there was a Mr Whippy option! She said “Boule” and we ended up with perfect strawberry ice creams.
We then took a stroll around St Vincent’s cathedral which was very dark. It was also extensively destroyed in 1944 but has been rebuilt beautifully, combining traditional form with more modern touches. The little plaques depicting the stations of the cross are a case in point. They adorn some of the huge central columns – 2 per column – and are modern, beautiful and simple. And a gorgeous stained glass window called the Rose Window
We then traipsed back to the hotel where Mirinda collapsed onto the bed and I wrote the journal up, between sending and receiving increasingly stupid sms text messages to and from Stevie. Managed to catch the last 10 minutes of Arsenal beating Sheffield United for a place in their 3rd FA Cup final – grrrrrrrr. Mind you, I have to say that David Seaman made the most brilliant save I have ever seen – impossible and very very agile for a washed up 39 year old.
Eventually I left Mirinda to sleep for an hour as I went for a walk around the rest of the ramparts. The other side is amazing! Lots of spectacular views out to sea. Also the white versions of Carmen and Day-z. Started getting very crowded as more and more of St Malo started to wake up. Walking back up the Rue de Dinan was like Oxford Street at Christmas but without the footpath. Amazing that at 5:30 on a Sunday evening, a city is just starting to come alive.
I released some Breton pastries which were crying out at me from across the street only to have them eaten when I returned to the hotel room. One was an eggy custardy thing which I swear had an after taste of prawns though I have to add that Mirinda did not. Well, I know my prawns and one had certainly been doing backstroke in the custard before it set! Actually Mirinda woke when I returned but was sure she was still asleep and I was a dream, her main evidence to this fact being the difference in seafood content in the custard slice.
Went out for a late stroll, retracing my earlier steps, then went to the Indonesian restaurant attached to the hotel. Mirinda spoke perfect French (if you ignore her slipping in the Indonesian word for chilli) and impressed me no end – damn that James Ruse was good. She and the woman taking orders both thought it was hilarious when I coyly attempted my own fledgling French skills by adding “pour la madam” after ordering Mirinda a cocktail. So, praise is NOT a way to build confidence in language learning or that’s the theory my wife subscribes to.
After a scrummy dinner (frogs legs, lamb curry, with fried rice and cardamom and guava ice cream) we took a stroll down to the harbour and back.
The bed is very, very comfortable and sounds coming through the window tres relaxing. My eyes grow heavy and I’m now asleeeeeeee……..