A quick trip to Brittany

Popped across to France during the Easter holidays for slightly less than a week at HPB Manoir du Hilguy in the outskirts of Quimper, the capital of Brittany on the west coast of France.

Booked at short notice, we were due to stay Wednesday to Wednesday, so the first surprise of the holiday was that there are no night sailings into Roscoff or St Malo on Wednesdays with Brittany Ferries – of all their long channel crossings, only Portsmouth-Caen runs on Wednesday nights. So the crossing out was nearly fully booked and we could only get reclining seats, not a cabin; and there was a long drive across the top of France to get to digs on the first day.

Travelling in through Normandy had its advantages too – my companion had never been to this part of the world before so it opened up opportunities for me to revisit some of the treasures of Normandy again. On the way from Caen to Quimper, we stopped off at the Bayeux tapestry. I have seen this before but could remember nothing of it, so was very happy to troll around the embroidery again. I had completely forgotten the cause of the Norman invasion in the years running up to it – Harald swearing and reneging on an oath – and all the filthy rude pictures around the edges were entertaining too.

A bit of a running theme throughout the visit was value for money. We felt many things of equivalent cultural importance in the UK would cost an awful lot more to visit. The thousand-year-old treasure of the first cost us under a tenner to see.

A second running theme though is opening hours and availability. Lots of the things we were interested in were not yet open for the season. Of all the HPB properties, only Hilguy is shut down for the winter, because not enough people visit to make it viable to keep open. But you can kinda see why – the weather forecast was terrible for our visit and many of the attractions in that part of the world are only open June-September.

On our way from Bayeux to Quimper, I took T to see the Château de Balleroy, Normandy home of the Forbes magnate. We could only glimpse through the gates as the castle doesn’t start doing visits until April.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/40541680964/

Long drive onwards, arrived at Hilguy early afternoon. Quick nap, evening meal in the bistro onsite, long sleep.

First full day, after a lie in, leisurely breakfast and first experience with the Hilguy bread delivery (it’s awesome tasty bread, but you have to get to reception early enough in the afternoon to order it!) out to Quimper, a beautiful city with tricky parking. We found a space immediately in a car park across the river from the cathedral, but could only stop there for a few hours, on threat of high fines if you overstay your time by only a minute. We had better than expected weather which allowed us to walk the streets, including the Rue des Gentilhommes …

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/27382604278

…and Place au Beurre (Butter Square) – where there were at least 5 crêperies all doing good business.

Hilguy hol panoramas

(I had been in this square 9 years previously but had no recollection of it.) We stopped in a delightful pancake shop which was very busy, full of French patrons, and had a delicious lunch. I was expecting to order a galette but the slightly frosty menu explained that this is a Norman thing – in Brittany, you have a crêpe au blé noir. I went for a “complète” and added creamy mushrooms – egg, ham, cheese, mushrooms.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/40541630934/

I also wanted a pudding so went for a pancake “au froment” – I wrongly assumed this meant fermented, but it’s just the French for wheat. They made their own caramels, so I had a coffee flavoured caramel pancake and it was da bomb.

Hilguy hol 2018

As we arrived the cathedral had been closed, but the doors were open after our lunch, so we went in for a visit. It’s dedicated to St Corentin of Quimper, a hermit who lived in the woods. He was blessed with a miraculous salmon that jumped out of a fountain at his prayer, and miraculously replaced any flesh that was sliced off it.  The wikipedia page for the cathedral is incredibly detailed and helps as a guided tour.

The cathedral has a kink in the middle, because they found they couldn’t put footings in the swamp when they were building it.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/27382601108/

We visited on Good Friday, so the statues were veiled.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/41212520972/

There was a fab bay with an interesting story of a pilgrim who had entrusted his fortune to a friend whilst off gallivanting. On his return, his friend had pretended not to know where the money was and refused to give it back. There was a tribunal when his friend continued his lies in front of lay judges. At this point a statue of the crucifix began bleeding, and the friend gave the money back. The bay had a stained glass window depicting this, as well as a reliquary holding the head of the mediaeval statue which bled, and the cloth it bled onto.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/40360146775/in/album-72157693542634361/

Out of the cathedral, with the parking clock ticking, we had a choice between a fine art museum and a museum of Breton life, and chose the latter, in the Bishop’s Palace right next door. Lots of lovely furniture, ceramics and costumes, including lots of information about Breton women’s headdresses. An exhibition of a female illustrator of children’s books and her other paintings.

Hilguy hol 2018

Back to car, supermarket trip, home, dinner.  It was Good Friday and the TV ads had been banging on about lamb for weeks, so I bought a leg of lamb with the intention of roasting it one night and using the leftovers for shepherd’s pie on another occasion.

Hilguy hol 2018

Hilguy hol 2018

The second day, we were in pursuit of a nice castle, but were hampered in that a lot of the obvious places to try were not yet open for the season, or closed because of Easter. One in particular was Keriolet, “a Russian princess’s dream” but we didn’t get to go there at all. At reception, they explained that Brittany was a poorer region, not many châteaux, many more manors.

We eventually set out for the Domaine du Trévarez – I didn’t know much about it on the way. We arrived before it opened for the afternoon, so went for a bit of a drive, and walked around what felt like a ghost town of Châteauneuf du Faou, a town on a hill overlooking a bend in the river. We peeked around two churches and got back in the car.

Trévarez felt like it was ready for a huge number of visitors – vast carparks – but we were the first to arrive and it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  It was built in the 1850s – at much the same time as the houses of Parliament and St Pancras, and had a similar sort of vibe. The architecture looked back to the 1700s but more modern techniques of construction were used, such as iron frames, and this was an early example of electricity (powered from a steam generator in the stable block), central heating, and fully indoor plumbing. The exterior of the castle had been perfectly restored, but the interior was very limited, and showed the damage done as the Allies bombed it in 1944, to try and remove the Nazis who had set up shop there.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/40360050555/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/27382470618/

The gardens were amazing, with heather and camellias in abundance.

Hilguy hol panoramas

There was a nice caff with some trad Breton cakes and biscuits.

We snacked on cheese and salad, and delicious pots à la crème which I always look out for in France.

 

April 1st, Easter Sunday, was the worst of the weather, so we set a course for Brest, and the largely indoor Océanopolis, a massive aquarium. I had been there before, before I became a teacher, and was hugely struck to find “bassin de requins” – shark pool – a phrase I use in my teaching. I must have internalised it last time I was there.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/41255839081/in/album-72157693542634361/

There are three pavilions – tropical and coral, arctic and local – with long exhibitions around each of these themes. It’s not perfect for a wet weather day as there are still uncovered walks from the car park to the tanks and between each various bit but it was the best way to spend a day with really atrocious rain.

We came back via the bakery Paul just outside the aquarium for a late lunch, and in the evening availed ourselves of the wood-fired pizza van which visited site.

Monday we visited Concarneau, an extremely picturesque fishing town. The Old Port is a walled fortress with ramparts, and the sun came out while we were there.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/41255630791/in/album-72157693542634361/

The Old Port itself is a real tourist trap with lots of ice-cream and sweet shops, and the last word in knick-knackery and Breton tourist tat.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/27382035728/in/album-72157693542634361/

We took a slow route home via Pont l’Abbé where we visited a brocante, a statue and a looked at the strange tower on the church.

Hilguy hol 2018

Also a statue of five ages of women all mourning dead sailor fishermen fathers and husbands.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/40359473625/in/album-72157693542634361/

We also took in a classic Breton beach with impressive kite surfers, and tried to imagine how nice it would be at the height of summer.

 

We drove over a huge viaduct over an inlet and stopped to walk back over it to take photos.

Hilguy hol 2018

Tuesday we started at Audierne for a bit of a wander – churches, graveyards, marinas, delicious crêpes where I was a bit more adventurous with ingredients.

Then on to the Pointe du Raz – not quite the most westerly point of France, but very close. Very picturesque coastal walk.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/26382946507/

Statue of Our Lady of the Shipwrecked

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/40540846694/in/album-72157693542634361/

Down the road from the Pointe du Raz is the most gorgeous Baie des trépassés – we came down to sunshine, shelter from the wind at the cliff top, but huge green waves and surfer dudes taking advantage.

Baie des trépassés surfers pano

Hilguy hol 2018

Then to a flying visit to Dournanez. Another place I could not remember, but on return, found I had taken almost identical photos. We arrived too late, but there is a shipping museum here where you can walk around the boats, based on the town’s vital sardine industry.

Our final day was the long drive back to Caen for the overnight ferry, but with 12 hours to kill between being kicked out of digs near Quimper and checking in at Ouistreham.

Before we left we took some final pics of the manor.

Hilguy hol panoramas

https://www.flickr.com/photos/niles/40359691825/

Four hours driving was split up with a visit to Mont St Michel. Again, I place I have visited before but have little memory of. I think in my mind I was muddling the abbey at the top with another city… Prague perhaps? as what we saw up there rang no bells at all for me.  The ramparts and the tourist shops on the way up were familiar, but since the last time I went they have built some serious infrastructure – distant car parks and free shuttle busses were all new.  As with the Bayeux tapestry, visiting this world class, UNESCO monument, was actually not very expensive at all.

We had had patchy weather on the drive, but the sun came out as we arrived so we got some fabulous photos.

Hilguy hol 2018

It started to rain as we were there but that more or less coincided with arriving at the abbey for the indoor part of the tour.

The worst of rain was happening as they practised an evacuation drill – we were taken out of the Salle des Chevaliers down a staircase only used in emergencies and swept out of the building by women with “evac” armbands. Getting out of the building was the hardest part because people were extremely reluctant to leave given how hard it was raining.

Hilguy hol 2018

Our timetable allowed us a really brief visit to central Caen. I set the satnav for the Abbaye aux Hommes and we dove into the Hôtel de Ville car park with a plan for a quick walk and a nice bistro, but as we were leaving I saw a sign saying the car park closed at 8, so take your parking ticket with you. Unsure if that meant we would get the car trapped and be unable to catch the ferry, we ended up with a whistlestop tour around some of the monuments before heading out of town to Flunch for our last dinner in France.

Hilguy hol 2018

Something Olympic was going on at the Hôtel de Ville.

Hilguy hol 2018

Since I had not been able to get a cabin on the outward trip, I sprang for a luxury cabin – with a window! – for the return, and after a day of driving with another in prospect, it was a bit of a relief to be able to board the ferry, go the cabin, and just stay there all night!

 

Advertisements

Best nine 2017

Just as last year, I intended to sneak some of these off the amazing colour printers at work, and just never managed to get that done before breaking up. So the Christmas cards went out with no newsletter and I’ll just have to hope you read it here and care.

Quite a hard job narrowing it down to 9 photos this year!

bestnine2017

New Year in Glencoe in 2016 – up to the NE coast of Scotland to Torridon for 2017/8

Fudge the cat is old and ill and we are getting used to two tablets a day.

Holiday in Wales in Feb, some lovely but cold walking on the Gower peninsula

Went from crew cut to quiff during the year… but now what?

Attempted some interior design and made a feature on my landing of the sign that used to be over my grandfather’s shop

Attended an awesome wedding as my cousin on my mother’s side of the family got married

Bought a new tent and didn’t use it enough. Wanna go camping in 2018?

Took my brother, father, sister-in-law and all three nephews to Madeira

Refreshed soul and wine rack on a trip to Normandy in the October half term.

 

2018… August in Norwich… 40th birthday approaching…

Cirque de Navacelles – strange coincidence

Last night I opened a bottle of wine for dinner.

Cirque de Navacelles bottle

I like a nice bottle, who doesn’t, but I don’t actually put a lot of time or effort into choosing what I drink. I send £15 a month on payday to Virgin Wine Bank, they top it up with interest and two or three times a year I have enough to pay for a crate of bottles. I drink them as I feel like it or use them as last minute hostess gifts. I try to get a huge 16 bottle box, which is always delivered by a tiny woman who can heft it to my doorstep far more easily than I can move it around the house. I can be sure that each of the bottles that arrives will be interesting and delicious, but it’s fairly random what turns up.

(If you want a referral to Virgin Wine drop me a line as there’s a friend-get-friend scheme.)

Last night’s bottle had a really irritating typographic design, with all of those letters jumbled up, unclear where the words begin and end, so I insta’d a pic and left it there. There was a bonus opportunity to make a weak, limp, rude bilingual pun, because if you work really hard you can see cir que  as cire queue which are the French words for wax and dick, although of course for it to make sense as a French phrase it would have to be a queue de cire.

A helpful friend who presumably wasn’t up to her eyes in an oven full of classic British Saturday night fare  (we had baked potatoes, Lincolnshire sausages, corn on the cob, carrots and a gravy made with fried onions, mushrooms and a spoon of caramelised red onions from a jar, which barely left any room for an oaty walnutty crumble filled with jumbo apples from the kind neighbours) deduced the phrase in full and posted a link to Cirque de Navacelles which jogged a memory.

I’ve actually been there!

I have also wondered over the years, reviewing the pictures of the awesome six-week round France trip I did after working on the successful campaign to re-elect Paul Holmes in 2005, if I was ever going to work out again where that strange, heart-shaped hollow was.  Somewhere in the south of France, somewhere on my journey from campsites near Canne and Perpignon, I followed a brown sign to something interesting to tourists and found myself overlooking a giant hole in the ground which I photographed and then got back in my car. Places to go, tents to erect, dinner to cook before dark.

Now I know!

Cirque de Navacelles

12 years later and it’s about time for another holiday of a lifetime.

Diner à deux

Another opportunity to cook for a friend. As ever, starter and pudding ideas come easily to mind and coming up with a main is a little more challenging.

Tonight it’s potage parmentier – 3 leeks and one huge baking potato simmered in stock with a parmesan rind (thank you Julie/Julia) and some herbs, served with a swirl of cream and slices of the breadmaker bread mix loaf (“homemade” stretching it a bit) that’s on the go at the mo. Chicken breasts poached in stock (my friend is teetotal) then baked in homemade tomato sauce and strewn with cheese, with green beans, carrot batons and broccoli.

And the pudding is a chocolate chestnut ganache. In a French hypermarché years ago it seemed like a good idea to buy a multipack of little tins of Clément Faugier marrons glacés de l’Ardèche, in beautiful traditional blue and white designs, and I’ve been baffled about what to do with them ever since. I plumped on the idea of adding them to a ganache to make truffles as I was preparing something to take with me to Hogmanay in Scotland and it worked reasonably well. My first attempt with 150gr milk chocolate, 150ml of double cream and one little tin of chestnuts would have been fine as a chocolate pot to eat with a spoon but was too soft for truffling. Remelting with a further 50gr of bitter dark chocolate I had knocking around was enough to get the consistency right, but by then it was too late to form the truffles so I carted the lot off to Scotland in a recycled takeaway tub.

Since we are not eating chez moi ce soir, I’ve boxed the lot up for transportation, again in those hardworking recycled takeaway tubs. It was under an hour’s cooking at home and getting it on the table will be less than 30 minutes. There’s lots of spare soup and chocolate for later in the week.

Dinner for 2

This week an old friend posted on Facebook about chalet jobs in the Alps. I’ve had little fantasies about this kinda work ever since I heard about it. You spend a week in a chalet for 6 or 8 or 12 providing all the hot meals for the residents – a cooked breakfast, afternoon tea for when they come off the slopes, and then a full home cooked meal in the evening. I’d love to have a go at doing that for a season, even if I would almost certainly be terrible at winter sports, just for the cooking aspect. Of course it would be incompatible with paying a mortgage on the house in blighty and there are all the animals to look after so it’s not anything I’m going to move into any time soon, but… one day maybe?

Disaster cakes

Preheat an oven to… what was it last time? I think I did it at 180 but I can’t remember if that was too high or too low? Try 160 just to be on the safe side

Weigh three eggs, and add the same weight of fat, self raising flour and sugar to a bowl. I use vegetable oil to save having to faff with getting butter to room temperature without melting it, at a fraction of the cost and without too much taste compromise. I was supposed to be using caster sugar but somehow someone put granulated in the caster pot last time it was refilled so I suppose that will have to do.

Zest a lemon – cripes, that one’s in a bit of a state, oh well, it’s what we have. Joe Public won’t be able to taste it by the time it’s cooked – into the mix and stir until well incorporated.

Spoon the batter into 12 cake cases, realising towards the end that whilst this mix usually does 12 easily, this time it looks a bit hit and miss and there’s only really enough for 9. Oh well, the first six were a bit over full and will probably spill in the oven so I can spoon two tea spoons out of those into the remaining cases. Oh drats, the case came away with the batter and now there’s bits of cake mix all over the tin. That will be a bugger to get off later.

Cook for I dunno 15 minutes? 20?  Check they’re not burning after 20 but they’re nowhere near done so turn the oven down, or maybe up? after that and put them back in. They’re done when a skewer – where the heck have all my skewers gone? Oh there they are – comes out clean.

Leave to cool while you watch Only Connect.

Put a pointy nozzle in a disposable piping bag and place inside cocktail shaker. Spoon in a few dollops of home made lemon curd. Pff, yes of course shop bought will do. Pipe the curd directly into the centre of the cupcakes with a firm pressure and oh god there’s lemon curd everywhere, all over my hands, oozing over the top of the bag, and out around the nozzle instead of through the hole at the end.

Neatly use a teaspoon to cut holes in the remaining unruined cakes and spoon the curd in before placing the top of the cake back on and hoping the crumbs don’t make too much of a mess.

Juice the lemon you zested earlier and add icing sugar to make a fruit icing. Not that much icing sugar you dolt! Eek, this is very firm, it won’t spread at all. Oh, well, it will be fine. Normally it’s too runny anyway. Spoon the icing over the cakes taking care not to… oh… the bit you cut out might come away a bit. Yes, there will be a horrid mix of icing and crumbs and it will look awful.

Garnish with jelly lemon slices, which for no good reason are not on sale in Sainsburys any more and don’t seem to be found for love nor money anywhere other than Evil Amazon. These jelly lemon slices were actually ordered before the summer holidays and have been sitting in my pigeonhole for six weeks, but they don’t seem particularly harmed and are still well within their date so meh.

Select six of the least worst looking cakey horrors and pack them in a box for work tomorrow.

Disaster cakes

What I read over the summer (tl;dr 7 crime novels)

Nothing that isn’t crime fiction or magazines!

I am currently working my way through several series of novels on my Kindle as a way of absolving myself of what to read next. No agonising decisions, just the next one in one of the series. Most of what I read fit that criteria.

I am particularly liking Evil Amazon’s new (?) thing where they have a page with all of the books in a series, in order, so you can check what you have and whether you’ve missed any. I am even still at the start of some of these series so have many hours of reading pleasure ahead of me.

In a tent in the Peak District, instead of going on a rainy walk, I finished P D James: A mind to murder. I loved the period detail – the bureaucracy of how a clinic used to be organised, and little details like the building the crime takes place in still needing its own switchboard and operator with potential for eavesdropping.

I began C J Box: Three Weeks to say Goodbye and finished it on my sofa when I got back. This is not part of Box’s – Joe Pickett novels, but a standalone thriller in which bad people try and get back an adopted child. It’s a thiller with the page-turner impulse brought in through one average guy’s attempts to protect his family and the lengths he will go to do so.

Whilst camping dahn sarf my old Kindle failed – the buttons became unresponsive. This has happened to me before but has been fixed by charging. In the field, this wasn’t possible as I was camping without power.

I did take a paperback with me for just this eventuality (in fact I have been carrying it around for ages, and it has somehow in my bag got food mushed into the pages and the front cover. A raisin, I think. I hope.) so the next book was a classic. Raymond Chandler: Farewell my lovely. Part of the Phillip Marlowe series, but I am not sure if I have read any of the others. I suspect I have them on a shelf somewhere. It took a number of pages to get used to the old slang used, but as is often the case, after a while I read so fast I am not puzzling too much over new words. I guessed an important part of the plot a page before it happened – perhaps just because of a slightly clunky plan. The stated reason is not quite enough to invite character X to character Y’s flat – there must be another dénouement afoot.

I couldn’t quite resist pre-ordering and reading Sue Grafton: X pretty much as soon as possible. I think for each of the previous 24 books I have waited till the paperback edition, but in the early days I was many years behind the publication dates. Now I’ve caught up I want to read them as soon as I can! This was in my view a return to form for Kinsey Millhone, without extended passages in the third person, but a narrative almost entirely from Kinsey’s perspective, in which she solves a number of cases, not just the main one.

Sara Paretsky: Blood Shot was next up, slightly out of sequence as for a minute I couldn’t find Bitter Medicine on my new Kindle. It was there so I went on to read that one too. The V I Warschawski series also has some patterns emerging. Almost any documents that get removed from somewhere and left in her flat or office will lead to a burglary. She also takes an awful lot of beatings. In book 5 of 17 she has been routinely injured in the course of her work, including this time a facial scar, that by the end she must be in a seriously bad way.

The new Kindle is lovely. I realise it’s just a machine to make me funnel more money in the direction of Evil Amazon, and there are alternatives available. Some even waterproof! But I have a lot of unread books on the Amazon system already and it just works quite well, so in the end I stayed with them. Now… what to do with the old, probably broken 2010 Kindle Keyboard device?

My final title here – although it is warm and sunny so I am about to head into the garden with the hammock and start another – is a Ken McClure / Dr Steven Dunbar novel. I found the first of these by accident a few years ago- in fact I can remember reading them on Kindle on my own on Shell Island, so that must have been the holiday I took immediately after losing my council seat in 2011. I don’t recall ever talking about them with anyone or hearing about them from anyone else, but they’re brilliant. They follow a former SAS doctor and his exploits with the Sci-Med directorate, a secret home office body that lends technical support to local police forces out of their depth with scientific or medical issues. Eye of the Raven starts with a detailed deathbed confession from a convicted psychopath of a rape and murder for which someone else is already imprisoned on dead certain DNA evidence, and explores how it might be possible that the DNA evidence is not all it could or should be.

Found poetry

This is a piece of writing from the website “Streetlife”

It reads to me like a poem. I wonder if that was the intention.

It was formatted exactly like this in the original.

Credit: Ali R

I do running in sherwood ,
but With the Dogs who’s
Owners, have let them off there leads,!!
it’s difficult
Surprisingly Friendly! but intimidating when they jump up snarling and barking
At Me
When 1 go’s another one comes!
its like a b***dy incestation!
I’VE NOT GOT
ANY SAUSAGES,,!!!
???????

I am particularly fond of the cracking malapropism “incestation”.