The Continuing saga of how we arrived in France

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The market in Morlaix is not so different from many other French markets. That is to say it bears no resemblance at all to markets in the UK. Obviously the idea of neat and regimented stalls set out in lines was at one time the idea in Morlaix , but the market, rather like the café from earlier, has probably not been updated for at least forty years. Brand new vans selling Pizza snuggle up to wheelbarrows full of potatoes. Note I said wheelbarrows. The owner had three wheelbarrows, obviously bought from a local hardware store, full of potatoes. There was no sign of a van or even a horse and I spent quite some time wondering how the stallholder, a middle aged lady with a very round figure, had actually managed to get all three barrows into the market square. I never did find out as Karina was calling me from across the square.

‘But Daddy I want to keep it’ were the first plaintive words out of my daughter’s mouth. She was holding a very large and plump rabbit with both hands and gently snuggling up to it with her cheeks. The stall holder, an even rounder lady than the potato seller, was looking at us as if we were insane. Karina was, for once, on my side.

‘Of course she can’t keep it. We have no room for a rabbit at home and besides it would need a pet passport to get back into the UK’. This was a delicate situation. The round lady had now addressed me and had informed me that at only seven Euros a Kilo it was great value. She had reared the animal herself and there was no better eating in all of Brittany. I knew I had to act fast as little one was beginning to think of ways to smuggle ‘Bunny’ back into the UK.

‘Miximatosis’ I replied to the round lady. Her eyes opened even wider than before and she hastily began stating that the animal was perfectly healthy. I immediately translated all of this to Karina and my little angel as:

‘Apparently the animal is very sick and the lady has brought it here to see the animal doctor.’ It worked; in fact it worked rather too well, as little one immediately dropped the plump little bunny on the floor. The rabbit sensed that this was his chance to escape the cooking pot and began hopping away under the fruit and vegetable stall next door. The round lady glared at all of us and disappeared under the counter hunting for bunnykins. Rather than staying around to apologise or explain we all decided that retreat was probably the best course of action and within thirty seconds we were again swallowed by the crowds of the market.

The market stalls were all in the road area, behind were the shop fronts. It was these shop fronts that now attracted our attention. Estate agents, with windows full of promising properties beckoned. Obviously we were not going to be buying anything, though with Karina I was not one hundred percent certain. We had however, decided to get a feel for the housing market in what we perceived as being a quite underdeveloped and unfashionable corner of France. Quite honestly we were shocked. Prices seemed not too different from those at home and of course being Brittany, the style of house was very different, not only from the UK but also from our perception of what our house in France should look like. In short we were disappointed. Peter and Lea on the other hand were both very happy. ‘Does that mean we don’t have to look in any more windows then’? Being the almost immediate response. Both Karina and I had had exactly the same thought. Obviously looking at houses in an area of France where we knew we were not going to live was a little pointless. The rationale behind the quick trip was to get a feel of what France was like, and so far with Cafes, Wheelbarrows full of potatoes and ‘Houdini’ rabbit impersonators, we were fast establishing that life in France was indeed different.

The Rose Coast (La Cote Rose) is so named due to the colour of the rocks that form the cliffs looking out into the Channel. As the sun glints off the green blue of the ocean it strikes the rock, which seems to glow in the late morning sunshine. We were heading off to Lannion via Tregastel and following the coast road all the way. The coast here is rugged and stunningly romantic, or at least it would have been romantic without the kids in the car. Driving by the sea anywhere in the world has its own charm and here was no exception. We stopped several times on the road to take in the views and breathe in the ozone filled air, which only served to remind us that it was getting near lunchtime. Fresh air can do that to you!

We arrived in Lannion at just after half twelve. We parked at the top of the town and walked down the narrow cobbled and empty streets. That is another thing different about France. All the shops close at lunchtime. Not for an hour but for at least two hours. Everywhere was closed. A thriving bustling town was empty. Except of course for all of the restaurants, which were, as we discovered, full. When I say restaurants, I am not talking of Burger Bars or Fish and chip shops, but real, honest to goodness, Restaurants. All offering three course meals, with wine, for about eleven Euros! We tried three in a row. At each the same question was asked,

‘Do you have a reservation’? Of course we did not, ‘Ah then, Sir, we can not help you, have you tried next door’? Driven by despair we entered a small bar, where we were made exceedingly welcome, probably because we were the only ones there, the other clients having long had their ‘aperitifs’ and departed for the now full restaurants scattered around the town. It was here that we were told of a little ‘creperie’ just around the corner. The idea of Pancakes for lunch immediately struck a chord with both children and five minutes later we were seated at a tiny table in a very small creperie, designed probably to seat twenty and now full with about forty diners. We immediately surmised that at least the food was going to be good, if only by the numbers of locals crammed into the place.

We were not disappointed. The complete meal was a roaring success. Savoury Crepes, or ‘Galettes’ as they are known are a specialty of Brittany and the flour they use is a coarse brown flour called ‘Sarrasin’ (Buckwheat), which produces a savoury texture most unlike any familiar ordinary flour and water variety pancake found in the UK. The fillings were different and plentiful, with cheese, tomatoes, herbs, spicy sausage, ham and raw eggs making for a wonderful mix of flavours and colours. The star of the show was, however, as far as the kids were concerned, the chocolate sweet crepes, most of which my daughter managed to wear, rather than eat.

Having paid out the princely sum of about fifty Euros for a full meal for four people, including a bottle of the local Brittany cider, we took off for a tour of the local area. Places with exotic names, which I am certain are pronounced wrongly even by the locals pass by the open windows as we once again head for the coast, arriving at the small fishing village of Locquemeau . Small wooden boats bobbed around in the tiny harbour and whilst Karina and I enjoyed a cold drink in the only café in the village, the kids busied themselves fishing for minnows on the rising tide. The place was lively, not with locals but with French tourists, all just sitting around and soaking up the calm of a perfect afternoon. For once, and as this story unfolds you will appreciate my comment, nothing went wrong. No one fell in the water, no one hooked another child and for once both children seemed relaxed and happy to enjoy each other’s company.

The drive back to Roscoff and the ferry home was via a supermarket in Morlaix. We, like every other car heading for the ferry, were busy stocking up on all things French and unobtainable at home. Cheeses, dried sausages, pre cooked Galettes, melons, mustard and of course wine! With a bulging car, we arrived in Roscoff and dined at a very reasonable and friendly fish restaurant in the heart of the old granite town. Little did we know that over the next twelve months we would become very regular customers of this establishment. Again the meal was flawless and as we wearily drove on to the ferry we were all strangely quiet.

The ferry trip home was uneventful. No storms, no rain and no high seas. Again the food on board was great, probably because the ferry operator was French, and the staff friendly and helpful. The children had enjoyed the food, the trying out of the language and the scenery, though the trip to the seaside had helped there. Karina had fallen in love with the markets and, predictably, the shops and found that she also could get by with the French language.

Strangely, something had touched us all on our little trip. I say strangely, since, as I said, I had lived in France before. Only now did I realize just how much I missed the country and the very special way of life. If it had not been before, my mind was now made up. Karina and the children thought along the same lines and the idea was now no longer a fantasy. We were going to be living in France, and the sooner the better. All we had to do now was to sell up in the UK, find an area of France we liked, buy or rent somewhere to live, find schools for the children, find out how to set up a business, arrange a removal company, and go. I mean, how hard would it be?…To be Continued

Copyright with Peter Driscoll