Restaurant L’Ambroisie

What a rotten night we both spent! It started with Mirinda suddenly complaining about how cold it was. It wasn’t cold by ANY stretch of the imagination but she put all her clothes on and the quilt, 2 blankets and the sheet and lay there shivering. I’m lying there thinking either she’s not well or I’m feverish. A little later she was too hot (Ah, not me then!) and opened the window so we could be entertained by a couple of drunk, French singers under the round-a-bout subway system outside. I’m sure their act is very good but being French, it’s subtlety was completely lost on us. As the morning dragged on, basically being hauled behind lots of cars in bad need of a bit of maintenance, the room got hotter until Mirinda exploded “It’s like a fucking coffin!!” This didn’t manage to make the room any more comfortable but was probably better out than in.

I waited for the clock to reach 7 before going down to breakfast for a life giving coffee. I wished Mirinda happy birthday before I went but I think she’d have preferred it to be tomorrow. These buffet breakfast places are weird first thing in the morning. Businessmen and old people who don’t sleep much any more. All sitting at separate tables, not saying a word. Eventually a few couples appeared and a bit of life came with them. Pity, I kind of liked the anonymous solitude.

I decided to give up on the breakfast mayhem that is the Mascotte Hotel and go and sit by the cathedral in the old part of Vannes. For one thing it’s cooler. Although it’s Good Friday, quite a few shops are open and the renovators are hard at it sawing stones for the front of the cathedral. I sat in the Place Henri IV, one of the slightly shorter street names of Vannes.

They really go in for the complete story when it comes to naming streets here. They often include the date and time as well. Opposite the hole we’re staying in is the Rue de 8th May 1945 fin de la Guerre 1939-1945 which must make it difficult when giving directions. However, it does provide a potted history in a street sign. Imagine going along for your history finals – you could choose your revision by route.

Our view

We eventually checked out of our definitely-not-recommended-hotel with no tears and rolled the bags to Vannes gare. Mirinda managed to buy a Daily Mail which I assume she won’t read. For anyone who does not know my wife, she always buys newspapers in order to NOT read them.

The train was very comfortable even though it’s just a normal service – that’s ignoring the air controlled doors which were, in the manner of Madame Guillotine, determined to slice me in two whenever I struggled to get our bags in after me. I eventually discovered a little button overhead which keeps them open! Damn this technology. We found two seats facing but, for some reason, I upset an old woman next to me as she leapt out of her seat, grabbed her luggage and, in a display which explains why the English think the French don’t like them, marched up the aisle to make a phone call. As Mirinda said “She’d rather stand than sit next to you!” Perhaps I didn’t smell enough.

It was a lovely trip through hilly countryside reminiscent of the hillier bits of Hampshire, except it’s sunny. We arrived at Quimper at 12:30 and walked the 5 minutes to the hotel except we didn’t go via the 5 minute short-cut so it actually took about 15.

From the outside, the Gradlon Hotel looked a bit of a worry, although in a little street, a very busy roundabout (Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh) is not far away with a large percentage of noisy motor bikes. However, Mirinda had ordered a room overlooking the garden and once we’d crossed the little enclosed rose garden, mounted the 2 flights and walked into room 230, we realised we’d be fine. Lovely room, lovely big window. An equally lovely terrace area for the taking of le petit dejeuner. No nasty locked in air conditioned sealed sweat box like Vannes. By the way, there’s a Hotel Mascotte in Quimper. Have yet to see it but I reckon it’s probably on the busiest street.

We dumped our stuff then hit the town. Absolutely delightful. A magnificent cathedral dominates a central piazza which also contains an equally impressive café. Leading off from the piazza is a series of pretty streets with more of the Vannes type coloured, leany buildings. We went into one for tea and coffee and slices of pizza. We had to succumb eventually! So far, we reckon the most popular restaurant in Brittany is the pizzeria.

Jules Verne carousel

We then trekked across the river and busy streets (unsuccessful in our Mascotte spotting) to the TIC. A very helpful woman, this time French but very fluent in English. She filled us in on all the bus timetables we need in order to board a boat tomorrow. And then, guess what? Scoring a hat trick, sitting outside the cathedral is le petit train du Quimper! We just had to take it round the town. This time the commentary was in French and we were handed a typed version in English.

As usual we learned some interesting facts. For starters, Quimper’s main gifts to the world are the inventors of the stethoscope and the four holed button, both great men.

Quimper is also the home of the famous Quimper-ware made at the faiences just up the river. The painting on the crockery uses the famous ‘coup de pincean’ (stroke of the brush) technique as has been used for 300 years. Each (authentic) piece is signed HB Henriot, Quimper, France and is quite expensive but exquisite. After the train landed, we popped into two big Quimper-ware shops and left open mouthed.

Pity we didn’t do the same in the linen shop. We walked in open mouthed but left empty walletted. Bought a lovely tablecloth and napkins in the Quimper canivale design. Before returning to the hotel for a rest, we stopped off at the Quimper version of Elphicks (UK) or DJ’s (Oz). It’s called Eurodiff and offers some lovely tea towels we were more than happy to snap up. There was other stuff too!

Because of the heat, there was an awful lot of kids throwing water at each other. A good idea except the water is from fountains and God knows how foetid.

A funny thing happened in the market. Mirinda went up to a pastry stall to get a bottle of water and the girl serving corrected her pronunciation, nicely. At the counter was a strange bald man with big ears and an odd uniform, she’d been talking to. He suddenly asked us “What part of Angleterre do you live?” and the girl’s mouth dropped open. She said something in French and he replied making her laugh. He translated for us: “I told her I am an idiot. I only know 15 languages. I like Sussex. In Brighton I love the quiet. Behind a Rolls Royce you can hear the gentle water on the rocks.” I think this is the guy who translates the English guides in the cathedrals.

We went out for dinner at 7:30 – early by Breton standards – looking for the best restaurant in Quimper. Mirinda took one look at the street it was supposed to be in and we set off looking for the 2nd best restaurant in Quimper. This is quoted in the AA guide as Restaurant L’Ambroisie. It’s well out of the town centre, up near the ramparts. Naturally we were the first there. It looked a bit classy. A spotty youth, who Mirinda christened ‘Le Petit Garcon’, asked if we had a reservation (in flawless French) and when we said ‘non’ sat us in the middle of the room with Mirinda facing the sun streaming in through the glass door. We ordered orange juice and a beer. This completely threw Le Petit Garcon and he was gone for an hour, to eventually be replaced by a woman who, while speaking very good English, could do with a slight operation on her adenoids, or perhaps her little sniffs revealed her opinion of us arriving at her fine establishment dressed in creperie clothes. Whatever, she was politeness itself, as she took our orders.

The food prices were comparable with the Yew Tree so we assumed we would be in for a French cuisine treat. The wine prices took my breath away. For the price of the sancere we had at St Malo, we could not buy a half of the same bottle here! Be warned, right from the outset, if you are travelling on a budget this is NOT the place for you. Actually, it’s not really the place for us but it was Mirinda’s birthday and it WAS her choice. Anyway, the sun was blinding Mirinda so she asked if we could move. Le Petit Garcon was flummoxed but the woman suggested we move upstairs. I didn’t note any glee in her eyes but felt sure she must have been pleased to get us ruffians out of the centre of the room.

Upstairs consisted of 3 tables, 2 fireplaces and a small sideboard across the fire exit. It was also very quiet. except for the muted sounds of a neighbour’s TV. As Le Petit Garcon seated us, he quickly tidied the room up as I think it was actually just used for storage.

The food was delicious (though no way as good as the Yew Tree) and their delivery times pretty good. Gradually, as the meal wore on, we could hear more and more people downstairs and just before we left 2 people joined us in our eyrie – he was wearing a short sleeved shirt and no tie. Downstairs was now alive with smartly dressed patrons and we felt like kitchen staff leaving by the wrong door. Being Australian means you don’t really need to change your clothes in order to eat really expensive food. We just laugh at those that do.

A lovely stroll around Quimper then back to the hotel and bed. So lovely and quiet and cool. Fell asleep pretty quick. We are missing the puppies.

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