From Plymouth to Roscoff
In order to activate my work visa when I was in the UK, I had to exit the country and then re enter it as I was only on a holiday Visa to begin with (long story), so off to Morlaix, France my friend Jim and I went! It was a good excuse to go for a wee explore anyway so I wasn't complaining. We left Plymouth behind in the darkness with glittering lights and twinkling stars to arrive in Roscoff the following morning to misty blue skies and a cool sea breeze. My first thought of France (aside from the terrifying prospect of being on the other side of the road when driving) was one of awe.
France is very fairytale like with its little cobbled streets and stone cottages with coloured shutters on either side of the windows. Jim practised his French - by practising his French, I mean speaking in a French accent with 'Le' in front of everything - while we were waiting in customs. He said I would quickly get sick of him so I replied with he will be getting sick of me soon enough asking him to stop so I could take a photo. I've turned into my mother, asking to stop everywhere so I can take a quick piccie! And to think I used to take the piss out of her constantly for doing the same thing.
From Roscoff to Morlaix
We didn't have any plan of attack coming to France, we just popped the nearest biggish town into the sat-nav and headed in that direction. Morlaix was where we ended up and the sat-nav served us well. It was a stunning place, again filled with stone buildings with shutters and little cobbled streets. France has a certain charm about it. It's very similar to England in a way with the stone buildings and narrow lanes, but it seems cleaner somehow, there are more open spaces and there's not as many people rushing about or traffic on the roads. It's very similar to New Zealand in that respect really, less populated and more rural.
The language barrier
I was dreading being able to communicate over there as my last minute study up of the English - French dictionary wasn't very successful and it turns out I didn't need to practice my lost tourist look very hard, that came naturally and was a permanent fixture. Luckily most of the people we met were really understanding and helpful. Most of them spoke English anyway so if we attempted to speak French they took pity on us and switched to English. I've decided I quite like the French accent, I'd never heard one in real life before (not many French people in NZ!) and it was quite sing-songy at times.
Frist impressions of Morlaix
When we got into Morlaix the first thing that I noticed was the Viaduct, it is simply amazing, especially when you think about how big it is and that it was made before modern machinery. It towers above the town with two layers of high arches, the first layer has a walkway so you can walk along the viaduct and the top layer is used for trains. Our first stop in Morlaix was the tourist centre.
We acquired a map and a list of landmarks to look at around Morlaix, all within walking distance, and we were off. We hit the market first, it sat under the massive Viaduct which dwarfs the town and was bordered by rows of little shops on either side, with a bandstand in the middle which was being used by little French girls dressed in traditional dress and dancing. We each brought a hat which we wore whilst sipping our coffees (or hot chocolate in my case) outside a little cafe feeling very French. Oui!
The church of St Melaine
After our cafe experience, we found the church of St Melaine which is nestled slightly above the main part of Morlaix. To get to it you have to walk up a couple of flights of stairs, as you walk up the steps towards the church you get a sense of how important the church is. It is stunning to look at. But I didn't want to take too many photos inside as the shutter on my camera is so loud. I didn't want to be that pesky tourist that disturbs the people sitting in peace.
We carried on up the hill up a narrow lane with more cobbled steps with quaint little cottages on either side, some of the people's kitchen windows were at foot height, must be weird making your brekkie with peoples feet walking past your window. Some houses had doors on stone fences that led to gardens. It reminded me of the Secret Garden movie. I wanted to peak over some of the doors to have a nosy in some of the gardens but Jim didn't want to give me a leg up.
The Viaduct walkway
At the top of the hill was the entrance to the Viaduct walkway. We ended up with a little furry feline follower who I named 'Le Mao', he followed us nearly the whole way across, probably because I kept stopping to pat it and talk to it. Jim suggested punting Le Mao over the edge to stop him from following us but I took a different approach and snuck away when I knew he wasn't looking. The view from the Viaduct was pretty awesome really, you could see all the way down the market which leads to the river one side and all the buildings and churches on the other side. So I took the obligatory tourist shot before we carried on up to Chapelle des Agnes view point which was quite sobering.
Chapelle des Agnes
Chapelle des Agnes, Morlaix is a memorial to the bombing of the Viaduct that took place in 1943 where a nun and 32 children were killed. Reading the names and ages of the children and nun that were killed was horrendous, the majority of the children were aged 4-6 which are the main ages of the children I've taught over the years. I couldn't even imagine it. After we'd paid our respects we carried the wrong way down the road before reading the map properly and eventually headed in the right direction and found the church of St Martin. Again another stunning building and we were there just in time to hear the bells chime. I thought that was pretty special until I realised later on that day that the bells chime every half an hour, they weren't chiming just for us.
After we'd paid our respects we carried the wrong way down the road before reading the map properly and eventually headed in the right direction and found the church of St Martin. Again another stunning building and we were there just in time to hear the bells chime. I thought that was pretty special until I realised later on that day that the bells chime every half an hour, they weren't chiming just for us.
After the church, our next stop was Lavoir Collobert, an old wash house from the 18th century. I wouldn't want to wash anything in there now, however! It is a little pool set in concrete which is fed by a natural spring with a tiled roof over the top, now it is very green and filled with rubbish but I could imagine it would have been the place to be back when it was in use, women gossiping over washing with children running around in the sun playing, it would have been a hive of activity.
Naps and a wee rest
I'd left my journal back at Jim's house so of course, we had to go to the supermarket so I could buy a new one for the trip. While he had a nap (old people can't keep up with us younguns as well you see) I sat in the window and wrote. I again felt very French sitting in my hat, writing in my journal and observing the people walking past.
To amuse myself I started making up translations in my head about what they were talking to each other about, one man was talking to his friend about a wrestling movie that he had just auditioned for, it was going to be his big break, or was probably telling his friend something to that effect anyway. I could quite happily travel the world writing for a living. Imagine that! Ah-maz-ing! As they say, dreams are free. Unfortunately, travelling is not.
A close encounter
We decided to go out for a nice meal that night, as we were walking I almost got run over by a car because I was too busy looking around and I'd forgotten that people drove on the other side of the road than I'm used to. You get used to looking one way first then stepping out on the road before checking the other way, you have to look the opposite side first when in France.
We followed the river down a bit because I wanted to look at the boats and of course, take a picture. The river fascinated me, it looks like it just stops neatly at the car park but the car park is actually built over the river which is why there are no buildings running down that strip of road. We saw some ducks and I asked Jim if they quacked in French, I was feeling hopeful after being let down by the English Seagulls, but I was disappointed. The Goose did sound kind of French, but they do anyway, nasal sounding birds they are. I named the goose 'Le Honk' in keeping with the theme before we moved on to have our meal.
A French Resturant
The French dictionary came in very handy at the restaurant, which was good because the waitress certainly wasn't helpful! She did speak some English but didn’t appear to have any interest in helping us decipher anything. In the end, I chose something based on the slight inclination I wasn't ordering duck or snails or anything else unusual (for me), I ended up with bloody, chewy steak and fries.
I couldn't eat the meat as I like it nearly burnt to ensure there is no blood in there whatsoever but Jim was happy enough to take it off my plate. As we walked back to the hotel something seemed out of place and then we realised there was no nightlife, everywhere was eerily quiet, unlike New Zealand or England where on a Saturday night you have drunk people stumbling out of pubs laughing and being loud there were no pubs open just civilised restaurants, very unusual!
To continue reading about our adventures, check out our scenic day as we left Morlaix for Roscoff then eventually Plymouth here.
Where is a special gem of a place you have stumbled upon?