Thursday, April 19, 2012

Swansea siesta

On the Monday following my Sunday return from the St. Malo mini-cruise in early March, I boarded a morning train to take me the hour down the track to Abertawe, as the Welsh call it, or Swansea as it is better known.

Last fall at a work-related Hallowe'en party I spent £1 on a chance to win an overnight B&B stay at one of several affiliated hotels in the UK. It ended up being the best buy for £1 I have ever made. I won a stay at a resort in south Wales that was quite far off the beaten path, was able to get it exchanged for a stay in Swansea, and now, as part of my holiday was cashing in on the prize.

The hotel in Swansea is right on the beach and I had an amazing view from my second story window. I was still feeling quite under the weather with the head cold and the long day walking in France. I went for breakfast at the Swansea Market, bought a cup of cockles salty fresh from the sea, and then took my camera on a scale of the heights of Swansea which I had never done before.

Looking over Swansea Bay with the Mumbles on the horizon

Circular building, on one of highest points in Swansea, is an elementary school
Swansea's Liberty Stadium at bottom of the hill

Returning from my Swansea wanderings I bunked down in the newly refurbished hotel room, jumped for joy on the mattress and luxuriated in fresh sheets. I was afraid that working in the hotel industry would destroy the sense of joy associated with travelling, but I think the fact that everything was FREE just tossed any such professional lingerings aside.

I ventured down to the leisure club, enjoyed a pummelling in the jacuzzi and a brief swim in the pool and then returned to my room, climbing under the sheets for a night of watching the telly.

Facing Swansea from the beach, with Swansea Prison the large structure to the left

The next morning the amazingly good weather we were having continued and after eating a little of everything at the fine FREE breakfast spread, I checked out of the hotel, walked a few minutes away onto the seawalk and plopped myself down a bench for the rest of the day, read my book, let the sun seep into my tired body and watched people playing by the sea.

A man digging for 'rags', seaworms used as bait
Pick-up football on a Tuesday lunch hour
Cart trying to catch the wind

Friday, April 6, 2012

walk through st. servan and st. malo

I saw rowers all day on the still sea at the mouth of the River Rance

One of the German bunkers used during occupation in World War II
Damage close-up
French coast where River Rance meets the bottom of the English Channel
St. Servan

Le Tour Solidor

The mysterious woman of the tower --
I have named her La Belle Serveuse de St. Servan

Year 1646 -- over the residential door

The sign said Bibliotheque (library) though I have seen it called the City Hall elsewhere

Bay at St. Servan -- early morning low tide

Cross is replica of that raised by St. Malo-born Jacques Cartier
on landing in Canada in 1534

A shock -- 'stop signs'
in English
-- apparently a EU standard
My first 'squat' toilet

Inside the Walled City of St. Malo

The beach at St. Malo

Le Fort National

Along the outer wall of the Walled City which was destroyed by Allied Forces
in World War II and rebuilt

A French cat

Tidal swimming pool

Gallic getaway

Pont-Aven at St. Malo, France
Well, it's a month later, and I'm only now posting about my three-day mini-cruise to France at the beginning of March. So late. So sorry.

The holiday was grand though, and just what the doctor ordered, as I was still not feeling well after a horrendous head cold that left me with two bloodshot eyes for five days. Yes, they were bloodshot for my trip, but I was so glad to be heading to France, my first visit to the land of my maternal heritage.

The Brittany Ferry was amazing and it was my first time on a large cruise ship. The employees and cruiseline are French and everything on board is in English and French, as the ships primarily ferry people between England, France and Spain. All the prices and cash registers are in Euros and Sterling, so you can pay for anything in whichever currency you prefer.

The three-day mini-cruise trip included bus pickup in Cardiff, journeying to Portsmouth in southern England for a Friday night crossing to St. Malo, France; all day Saturday in St. Malo, with a night's return journey to Portsmouth, arriving Sunday morning. Sunday's trip home included a short stop in Bath for an hour or so.

Meals on the trip were not included, so I was expecting prices to be quite high and to feed myself with stale sandwiches at the self-serve area. I forgot I was dealing with the French. The food was superb! The food was cheap! The 'self-serve' area, the least expensive of the dining facilities was not really self-serve. Three to four chefs stood ready to dish out your choice from three to four offerings, all costing less than one would have paid on land at a reasonable restuarant. On my first night I had a heaping plate of boeuf bourguignon with a hearty side of the best beans I have ever eaten, a kind of butter bean immersed in a subtle cheese sauce. And there were too many decadent, lovely desserts to choose from -- fruit tarts, chocolates, cheese plates -- again, at a price you would never see on land.

I had brought fruit and nuts with me for breakfast, and topped them off with a pain chocolat and a UK apple juice.

On Saturday we were hastily disembarked at 7:30 in the morning. We were not allowed to remain on the ship, nor to return to it before 5:30 p.m. At 5:30 a.m. gentle music began playing over the radios in our cabins, gradually getting louder, the drum beats increasing. Then began the endless barrage of instructions in French and English: at 6:30 a.m. announcing breakfast being served, at 7 a.m. asking that cabins be vacated for cleaning, and then non-stop instructions for people to reboard their vehicles on the lower decks and for foot passengers to disembark. After two hours of ringing bells and the constant loudspeaker it was a relief to get off the ship.
Walled city of St. Malo

St. Servan Marina

Disembarking 7:30 a.m.

Unfortunately, upon disembarking and arriving at the ferry terminal, there was no tourist office and no maps available of the area. Our group had separated on departure and making the most of my limited French and trying to make sense of limited road signs, I headed off from what was an industrialized port area to what I thought was the walled town of St. Malo. Well, I headed off in the wrong direction and ended up in the very lovely seaside town of St. Servan, a part of St Malo in which the general populace live. This would seem rather difficult to do with the view of the old town plainly to the left of the ship, but remember I was still filled with a head cold. A couple from my bus also were heading to the right and told me that the buildings to the left were city administration offices. So, that's my story.

By noon time, after hours of seeing no tourists and no walled city, I realized my mistake, but was not sorry for it. It was probably the best thing I could have done. I was able to head back towards the ancient walled city with a walk of half an hour, but had no plan or desire to stay there long. It was dark and claustrophobic, filled with restaurants and cafes that were charging 10 to 15 euros more than those in St. Servan. The day was glorious and sunny, so I did a quick walkaround of the fortified town and headed back to a quiet seaside cafe in St. Servan where I enjoyed my first meal in France -- salmon with green beans and tap water served in a wine bottle.
La ville Intra-Muros -- the Walled City

Cafe, far right, where I enjoyed my meal al fresco, looking out on the view below

A bay in St. Servan

I was most surprised by how well I was able to do with my limited high school French. More than I imagined came back to me. It was fun and lovely to speak it. The people of St. Servan do not usually see the tourists from the ships and went about their Saturday business. The French are more reserved and private than the British, but I did not find them rude. I think, even living in English-speaking Canada, one is surrounded by French more than one realizes, and consequently I felt France to be both bequiling and familiar. I remember my maternal grandmother speaking French to her aunts and I think there is much of one's heritage that somehow is just felt in the bones.

Now, Paris beckons.