Wednesday, time to travel to Saint malo, normally easily reached from pontorson by train, but today there is a SNCF strike. So we have arranged, thanks to the very friendly, helpful, tourist office staff in pontorson, to take a bus to Dol-Sur-Bretagne and have a taxi waiting for us at the bus station for a ride to our ibis budget on the rue de la Marne.
I was briefly in Saint Malo about 18 years ago. We had made the overnight boat crossing from Portsmouth and arrived in Saint Malo on a cold rainy morning, getting lost leaving the boat depot, finding a hotel and then having a large bird poop on my face while we were looking for somewhere open to eat. All I remember is how difficult it was to remove the massive glob of poop which covered half of my face.
And yet I was ready to give Saint Malo a second try, wearing a hat with a sturdy brim, just in case.
The ibis budget was not exciting, but it was an easy walk to the walled city, the Saint servan area and solidor tower. After the really excellent cheeses served at the hotel in Beauvoir with breakfast, it was disappointing to see the processed cheese at the ibis. I had to remember that I could still look forward to a good lunch.
We arrived in early afternoon and spent the rest of the day walking around the walled city. This trip is shaping up to be a circuit of medieval cities in Brittany.
We paid a visit to the cathedral, (built between the 12th to 18th century) to light a candle for Connor, and were treated to an impromptu concert by a small group of priests being given a private tour of the cathedral. It is a cliche, but I always get chills down my spine when I hear organ or unaccompanied voice in a medieval cathedral.
Thursday, our plan was to visit the history museum in the Saint Malo castle, walk the ramparts, walk out to fort national at low tide and then ride the bus to the aquarium (we had visited the aquarium 18 years ago when it was new and memorable). There was also a galette lunch.
The museum is in the restored keep and would have been better appreciated with an audioguide or English signage. The keep itself is worth the visit, however, and we did our best to appreciate the articles on display. It was interesting enough that we regretted our lack of understanding.
The walk along the ramparts was wonderful, with views in every direction, changing as the tidal flow moved out exposing beach and rock formations. The 1754 meter ramparts were constructed during the 12th century and then enlarged in the 18th century.
When the tide reached its lowest point we trotted across the beach to visit the national fort built in 1689 on the rock of Islet. The rock was transformed from a place to burn condemned prisoners at the cross and a lighthouse, to part of the military engineer Marechal de Vauban's series of fortifications at the direction of King Louis XIV. The national fort played an important role in 1692 against the Dutch and English fleets.
The aquarium was not as spectacular as I had remembered, but it was still interesting and a good activity on a rainy, chilly afternoon. The best part for Tom was a new attraction. You boarded a Disney like ride and climbed down into an underwater chamber slowly moving underwater in the aquarium tank with the fish swimming past.
We returned to the hotel with some sandwiches and made a plan for Friday and reservations to move to Rennes on Saturday.
Friday we walked to the tower of solidor with wandering detours to visit the market (really good covered market with extra stalls outdoors).
The solidor tower was built in 1382 above the river Rance. It was used as a prison, but now houses a museum devoted to ships and sailors who rounded Cape Horn. We walked along the GR 34 coast trail along the cite d'alet peninsula, where the first inhabitants of Saint Malo lived, on our way to the 39/45 memorial. The walk was worth while for its own sake, which was just as well since the memorial could only be visited with a guided tour. The Germans had extensive bunkers placed here to make use of the existing fortifications.
We continued on the GR 34 to the walled city, walked out on the mole, had lunch in the walled city and then walked out to the grand Be island, at low tide, to visit the grave of Saint Malo born writer, chateaubriand. My camera did not do justice to the views from the island.
We had hoped to also visit petit Be, but the tide had started to come in, and the path was no longer dry.
On one of the dreadfully incomplete tourist maps, it looked like it was possible to follow the GR 34 around the walls of the city from the beach side. We made it around, but I really don't think the map was accurate. We were severely challenged on the endeavor. We finally ended up on the beach near the walk to the national fort. We continued to walk along the beach enjoying the views and people watching until we thought we should head to the train station and buy our tickets to Rennes for the next day. With the strike ongoing, you just never know for sure what trains are operating.
We were in luck, we had tickets in hand for Rennes, so we could celebrate with dinner near the beach, return to the hotel, prepare for a morning departure, take the hiking boots off and put our feet up.