Tag Archives: Brittany

Saint-Malo, France and Dolomites, Italy Articles

Hope you’re enjoying autumn/fall in the northern hemisphere, and spring/summer in the southern. Sorry I haven’t posted any new poems on here for a while, but I’ve been focusing on a two-years X Files comedy parody prose and poetry fantasy travel around Europe by Google Maps project I’m serialising over at the Writing and Poetry greenYgrey blog.

Plus the photos from my earlier travel are old disposable camera standard, and need to be scanned, so it’ll be quite a lot of work, and the quality won’t be great.

Saint-Malo, Brittany and Normandy, France Article

My Saint-Malo to Mont-Saint-Michel, Brittany and Normandy, France travel article remembering the D-Day landings in their seventieth anniversary year is now up on Go Nomad. It has a sacrifice theme inspired by this video’s contents:

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Italy Dolomites Article and Photos

I last posted on this blog about Tromso, Norway in 2007, and was recently reminded that I’d written an article for TravelThruHistory about my previous travelling trip to that, which was to the Dolomites, Italy in 2005. I reunited with a platonic friend met in Uganda’s Kibale Forest in 1998.

Here’s the article with most of the photos:

DEATH AND DOLCE IN THE DOLOMITES

Before I ascended into the Dolomites, if somebody mentioned Great War (World War One) stalemates I would only have thought of the Somme, Ypres and other mud and blood filled fields of northern Europe; if someone talked about Great War weather-induced injuries I would presume they were referring to trench-foot; and if they recounted the horrors of Great War winters my mind would visualise soldiers crawling through freezing rain or knee-deep in stagnant water.

Yet here I was, in a cramped machine-gun post 8,000 feet up on Lagazuoi in the Italian Dolomites, where ninety years previously the Austrians had defended their Alps front line against Italians who had joined the war on the side of the Entente Powers (led by Britain and Commonwealth countries, Russia and France) against the Central Powers (mainly Germany and Austria-Hungary). The gun was pointed across at what had then been Italian positions; they only seemed a stone-throw away, although there was a hundred foot drop in-between.

Lagazuoi could be enjoyed in the summer sun, but temperatures were still cool to say the least, and in winter it can drop to -30c (-22f); so in the trenches of the Dolomites it was blizzards and frostbite that were the main weather concerns for the Italian and Austrian troops fighting doggedly in the tunnels and peaks of the southern Alps.

The Dolomites were formed 200 million years ago out of the primeval ocean, and the highest peaks now reach 12,000 feet. They take their name from French mineralogist, Déodat de Dolomieu (1750-1801), who discovered and defined the unique composition of the stone which gives it a lighter colour than most mountains.

I had travelled up to the Dolomites from Reggio Emilia with a local friend I’d met in Africa seven years before. Reggio is the main town in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, and is a bastion of socialism in a country divided between politically polarised regions; streets are named after left-wing legends such as Lenin, Marx and Che Guevara, and there is a statue in the town celebrating the partisans who fought against Mussolini in World War Two.

We travelled north by train, via Bologna and Verona to Brunico. The Bologna train had been packed with people heading to the coast at Rimini; I’d apparently picked an inconvenient time to visit Italy, as the country largely shuts down in August for a national holiday.

Sun-kissed vineyards and farmland provided the vista until Verona, and then mountains began to dominate the horizon after that; many featured majestic medieval castles that offer clues to the region’s importance as a trading route, and the wealth and prestige it has brought. The temperature had been about 40c (110f) in Reggio, but as we started winding up into the Alpine landscape temperature figures halved and there was more cloud.

When we arrived in Brunico it looked and sounded as if we’d crossed into another country: red and white flags abound, the architecture is typical of the central Alps, and German is the primary language as it is in Austria. This is because the region, South Tyrol, was Austrian until the Italian push into the Dolomites during the Great War. As part of the 1915 treaty that brought neutral Italy into the war it was agreed that they should have some Austro-Hungarian regions after the conflict. Although parts of the treaty could not be kept, South Tyrol did become Italian in 1919.

From Brunico we took a comfortable bus along country roads that provided great views of lush green valleys and high mountain peaks to the village of Pedraces in the Badia valley for a couple of Euros. We stayed at the Pension Armalia, which was clean and friendly, although the staff didn’t speak English; luckily, my friend provided translation and did all the organising. Breakfast and dinner were included in the price, and provided enough for the day; they were not used to catering for vegetarians so it was mostly egg and cheese dishes for me, but they were always nice and filling.

On the first day we bussed it into the bigger village of La Villa, where there is a good tourist office. It was there that I first saw the leaflet for the mountain-top Great War Museum: it looked intriguing and declared itself unique. Three days of hiking amongst impressive peaks and Sound of the Music style meadows later it was time to take a trip back in time to the Great War.

We took a bus into La Villa again at about 9am, and then another bus to the ski lift station at the Falzarego Pass. The second bus journey took us to the end of the mountain range that framed one flank of the valley, and when I realised where we were going I was overjoyed; I’d wondered what lay beyond the high natural wall that dominated that side of the panorama, and now I was about to find out. As we wound our way through mountains, forests and Lake Valparola to the 6000 feet Falzarego there were magnificent views down the valley all the way to Pedraces.

The ski-lift carried us up an additional 2000 feet in altitude, and combined with the wind chill from being on top of an exposed peak it made a noticeable difference to the temperature. I didn’t think there would be much natural life at that altitude, and was therefore surprised to see a flock of birds fly high above us before turning en-masse and heading back down towards the valley below. We made our way over to one of the many crosses that appear on prominent peaks across the mountains in the region, and could see a couple of small lakes further into the range; mountains dominated the horizon for as far as the eye could see.

Leaving the exposed peak and passing the 360 degree reception centre we started to view the open air museum as we descended on a steep and narrow path. The path seems to be the one used during the Great War, as the preserved living quarters and positions of the Austrian troops defending the Lagazuoi Peak are accessible from it as you walk.

The soldiers spent two winters guarding the rock in the freezing cold, and it was easy to imagine how relieved the soldiers must have been to escape a third. There were separate quarters for the officers and men, with neither looking comfortable; the only preferential benefits for the officers seemed to be a little more room and a desk. The machine-gun post was claustrophobic and cold, and if you add on the freezing temperatures of winter and being fired at by snipers and heavy artillery then it must have been quite close to what I’d imagine hell would be like if it did ever freeze over.

After leaving Lagazuoi we made our way down a track at the bottom of no-man’s-land; looking back up at the Austrian positions we could view them almost as the Italians must have done. All of a sudden the Austrian experience didn’t seem quite as bad, as I’d have preferred to be looking and firing down than up. However, the Italians did have the advantage of launching surprise attacks at the Austrians by tunnelling into the mountain.

The closest I came to relating to the sound of explosions that had disrupted the harmony of the Dolomites ninety years before was being awoken one night by the loudest thunderstorm I’ve ever heard. Before that I’d been thinking how easy it looked to just hike up one of the beautiful peaks. Like war, mountains can look easier to survive than in reality; and when you combine them together, they can provide one of the toughest tests of all.

Marc Latham’s central site is the Greenygrey (http://www.greenygrey.co.uk), and he has books available on Smashwords and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/marclatham).

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Saint-Malo – Dinard Flying from Dinard Airport

I took the bus from Saint-Malo to Dinard to get my flight from the nearby airport. I walked the 6km (4 miles) after taking the first three photos here. They are of Dinard centre, and Dinard bay.

Flying from Dinard Airport

I found my way okay from Dinard, and knew I was on the right track when I reached a tree-lined cycle path I’d walked the other way on upon arrival.

The fourth photo is of the Breton (Brittany) flag at Dinard airport. The airport is scenic and relaxed, set in rolling Breton farmland.

The last three photos are of the Rance estuary dividing Dinard and Saint-Malo from the plane. The ship in photo 3 is just about visible in the last photo.

So that was the end of the 25th anniversary tour on this blog, and it will now continue travelling back in time, starting in Portugal 2011.

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Marc Latham’s central site is the Greenygrey (http://www.greenygrey.co.uk), and he has books available on Smashwords and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/marclatham).

Saint-Malo Beach Sunset Photos, Brittany, France

After returning from Saint-Briac-sur-Mer there was time for a swim, and a clear night promised a good sunset; with low pressure forecast for the next day. So I stayed on the beach waiting for the sun to go down. It took quite a long time, and was quite cold by the time it did.

Saint-Malo Green Light

Despite shivering and snivelling, I took some photos, and was rewarded by seeing the Green Light for the first time; the last light of the sun’s spectrum as it dipped below the horizon.

I’d thought about it during the holiday, remembering watching the French movie Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray), which I just read on Wikipedia is also the name of a Jules Verne novel featured in the film.

Saint-Malo Beach Photos

I hadn’t been thinking about it that night though, and it caught me by surprise just after taking the last Saint-Malo sunset photo featured here.

I also took this website’s header photo that night, and some photos of course featured in the Jesus Christ D-Day Beaches video.

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Marc Latham’s central site is the Greenygrey (http://www.greenygrey.co.uk), and he has books available on Smashwords and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/marclatham).

Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, Brittany, France Photos and Info

On my penultimate day in Brittany, France I took the bus from Saint-Malo to Saint-Briac-sur-Mer. The bus went through Dinard, so I scouted my journey to the airport for the return flight, judging the best time to disembark the bus.

Saint-Briac-sur-Mer Photos

After visiting the post office I walked around to the beach. The war memorial looked over the beach, and another photo was included in the Jesus D-Day Beaches video.

Saint-Briac-sur-Mer is a nice beach resort, which was quiet on that sunny lukewarm midweek day in September. Photos 4-7 are from the grounds of Le Chateau Nessay seen at the far side of the beach in photo 3.

Wikipedia’s Saint-Briac page says the chateau was built on a 12th century castle, and was used as a prison during the French Revolution.

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Marc Latham’s central site is the Greenygrey (http://www.greenygrey.co.uk), and he has books available on Smashwords and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/marclatham).

Mont-Saint-Michel from Saint-Malo Info and Photos

After seeing Mont Saint-Michel from the Cancale coast, I took the bus from Saint-Malo to an attraction I’d always wanted to visit the next morning. I already described it in-depth in my TravelThruHistory article, so I’ll just repeat it here, with additional photos interspersed within the article’s words.

Mont-Saint-Michel Day

I took the coach from Saint-Malo to Mont-St-Michel at 9.15 the next morning. It is the only bus on that route, and a 20 Euros return ticket is required. The journey takes 75 minutes, and with the return leaving at 15.45 you have about five hours at the Mont. You cross from Brittany to Normandy on the journey.

A chapel was first built on the island then known as Mont Tombe in the eighth century. Legend says the Archangel Michel appeared before Bishop Aubert of Avranches and ordered its building; Avranches is a town on the eastern edge of the bay.

Mont-Saint-Michel has survived fires and blockades over the centuries, with rebuilding and renovations increasing the size of the abbey to its present splendour.

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There were grey skies when we arrived, but the view was still spectacular. I walked up the narrow winding streets crammed with shops and tourists to the abbey gift shop, where you buy a ticket to enter the abbey and highest tier possible.

On the ascent, the causeway linking the Mont with the mainland stretches out to the south, between the grey silt of low tide sea and the green vegetation of natural land; dividing the bay arcing to the east and west. To the north there is only the abbey towering above you, crowned by a golden Saint. Michel statue.

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After the gift shop, the last few flights of steps are indoors, before you emerge onto the western terrace, with the cathedral towering above you, and the north visible once again.

People walking along the estuary silt looked ant-sized, and the bright emerald sea lining the horizon appeared incredibly distant.

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Upon entering the cathedral, I saw that a communion open to the public was soon starting, so I stayed for the hour-long service. After a monk rung the bells at midday, seven monks and nuns sang and spoke sweetly and serenely.

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Then I slowly made my way down through the living-quarters of the abbey: great halls, narrowing chimneys, giant wheels, cavernous stores and colourful gardens all connected by spiralling steps. It seemed like no time at all before I stumbled into the back of the gift shop, surprised at the sudden end to my abbey experience.

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Emerging once again onto the abbey hill, clear skies provided a contrasting view to the morning. The biggest difference was the Saint-Michel statue, which now gleamed in the sun against the blue background. I made the most of the time I had left, taking as much as I could in, before returning to the bus with five minutes to spare.

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Marc Latham’s central site is the Greenygrey (http://www.greenygrey.co.uk), and he has books available on Smashwords and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/marclatham).

Saint-Malo to Cancale Hike Photos

After a beach and relaxation day in temperatures that had cooled, but were still warm enough for sunbathing and swimming, I hiked to Cancale from Saint-Malo. I told the story in the travelthruhistory website article:

‘Getting itchy feet, I did a circular 20km hike to Cancale and back on the fourth day, crossing the peninsula to the east on the D355 road, walking along the coast on the D276 and D76, and returning west on the D155. Mont-Saint-Michel’s silhouette was visible from the edge of the bay, about 30km away as the crow flies. The sea shone green in the sun, justifying the coast’s Emerald moniker.’

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The photo of the working-women statue under a French flag in that article was taken in Cancale’s centre.

Saint-Malo to Cancale Hike

The photos below are also from the hike. La Havardière;   signposted among verdant vegetable filled fields; and Lake Saint-Suzanne were before Saint-Coulomb. The second photo is the church in Saint-Coulomb‘s centre.

The Jesus Christ statue was on the edge of Cancale. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the start of a sacrifice photo theme that I later made into a YouTube video:

Cancale Seafront Photos

Below Cancale’s centre is the seafront, with lots of restaurants and what you can see in photos 4-6. As mentioned in the article snippet above, Mont-Saint-Michel is visible across the bay.

I took a photo of it farther down the coast, after passing a quaint village and a ranch with a Texas theme; featured in the penultimate photo. Then I hiked back through Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes, and went for another swim.

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Stockholm Sunset and May Blossom Signals End

A sunny day in Stockholm ended with a long sunset; lengthened by walking up a hill near the hostel to see the sun above the city centre buildings.

So the last night ended similarly to the beginning in Bergen.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

In the morning, as I walked to the bus for my return flight, May blossom drew crowds of Saturday morning strollers.

I got lost once more before finding the bus station.

The sun was still shining.

My flight was from Stockholm Skavsta airport, 100km to the south. I saw lots of nice open countryside on the journey.

From the flight I saw  a long bridge. I researched it afterwards, and discovered it was the Øresund Bridge; linking Malmo in Sweden to Copenhagen in Denmark; the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe.

Abba‘s Eagle

My first cultural introduction to Sweden was probably Abba winning Eurovision in 1974, when I was nine years old.

Now, I left Sweden flying westward with the sun, somewhat like an eagle; the subject of my favourite Abba song.

That week, Agnetha Fältskog of Abba released her comeback album ‘A’. It was successful.

The End of the On The Road

It was the end of my 25th anniversary tour, that had begun in Brittany, September 2012. One year ago now.

This month I am due to turn 48, a year older than Jack Kerouac‘s final age.

But fifteen years younger than Agnetha.

Here’s some photos from my last day in Stockholm:

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Marc Latham’s central site is the Greenygrey (http://www.greenygrey.co.uk), and he has books available on Smashwords and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/marclatham).