Today was another day for serendipity. Gosh, we've had a lot of them! It didn't seem like much to start out with; rained through the night, forecast for more, heavily overcast when we left the hotel. Quimper Theater
As we breakfasted at the boulangerie (a small pastry bakery) across from the railroad station, we noticed a police bus and two police vans, and numerous police standing around. The bus and vans were full of people -- not police. They appeared to be some of the vagrants who hang around the station. We'd read about random police checks; were these people all being hauled in for questioning? That kind of roundup wouldn't be as likely in the U.S.
We boarded a train for Quimper, out near the tip of the Brittany peninsula. It was two hours and forty minutes each way, and we hoped the excursion would be worth while. The train ride was pleasant, and we had a chance to talk about our reading. We passed through a couple of small rain showers, but also encountered some sunny skies, so that was good. Cathedral spires
We noticed a few small changes in the country side: all the houses had grey slate tile roofs, and many of the farmhouses were built of local stone. But we saw no Breton costumes, heard no Breton language, indeed saw no fishing villages. Brittany from the railroad is lots of well-tended small stock farms, and small cities with quite a bit of industry, including agribusiness. We've read that there are a lot of farm cooperatives in France, but are not sure just what that means in terms of legal structures.
The station at Quimper was white and airy (in fact all the French railroad stations are attractive) and we grabbed a sandwich at the clean and comfortable stand there. The information center was about a kilometer down the road. But the toilettes in the station had been closed due to vandalism. Cathedral aisle bends left
As soon as we got out on the street, the scene changed; there were lots of store fronts that had closed. We were accosted by a hustler in a sailor's cap. Many of the buildings were in disrepair. We kept walking.
Many of the stores were in business but closed for one of two other reasons: it was lunch, or it was Monday. Why, we wondered, did our train to Quimper run only on Monday if most of the stores were closed?
Then we passed the theater - an elaborate building with lovely sculpture. We stopped for a snapshot.
When we rounded the next corner we began to see the cathedral. It was big and Gothic with all the trimmings; gargoyles and flying buttresses. We moved towards the cathedral, passing the Museum of Breton Culture; both were closed. We entered Place Laennec Square, which is just beautiful. There is a statue of Creperies in the old town Laennec, seated. There are gorgeous floral plantings in full mid-November bloom. There is a lovely carousel; each seat is from Jules Verne, including the Nautilus from his Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. There are timbered buildings. There is the Town Hall, where we learned that the museum was closed for Monday, but the cathedral was just closed for lunch and would open at two. We were given a booklet and map, to save us the trip to the tourist office.
The map shows the Old Town streets marked in yellow. We started out to walk but got sidetracked by one of the many creperies; this one advertised We Speak English, a rare sign in France. Breton crepes were a primary goal of this excursion. We had two lovely, thin crepes, one with strawberry preserves, one with citron and caramel. Yummy! The proprietress had lived in England for quite a while and loved to speak English. There were 17 crepe eaters and two Sunshine after the rain very large dogs crowded into a tiny room about twelve feet on a side.
In the half hour we were in the creperie, a rain shower came through, drenching some school kids in the street, but followed immediately by a bright sunshine. Quimper sparkled like fairyland jewels. Each corner we turned brought new surprises with lovely old buildings.
The cathedral was opened. It had been started in 1240, so was going on 800 years old. The spires were completed in 1856, so the bishops were plenty patient. Nobody can agree as to why the axis of the Nave is bent. The stained glass windows are great. There was a big painting showing an angel delivering the Breton language. On the other hand the name of the region is Cornouaille, which sounds like Cornwell, so there's another guess that the Breton language came from Welsh and Cornish settlers.
According to the pamphlet we got in the cathedral, "Everything began with Breton is not French the arrival of KING GRADLON, who was said to be running away from the flooded city of Ys, a legendary place in the Douarnenez bay. He turned the old Gallo-Roman City into his new capital: KEMPER, the capital of the Country of CORNOUAILLE, at the confluence of the Odet and Steir rivers. Between the two spires, the royal statue of GRADLON reminds us of the origins of the breton monarchy. Before that, Gradlon had been overcome by the faith of CORENTIN, a hermit whom he had met while riding on the hills of Menez-Hom in the PORZAY moors." The pamphlets go on to tell that St. Corentin was the first bishop in the beginning of the 5th century.
So there you have the legendary founding of Brittany, all except the part about Saint-Guenole waving his cross at Gradlon's daughter, who had spoken with the devil; she then fell immediately into the rising sea.
So Quimper was our serendipity for today. If we hadn't persevered through the depressed area around the gare, we would never have found this amazing mediaeval city. What a treasure! Jules Verne carousel
We returned to the station, where a group of drunks, old and young, were carrying on. We skirted them and waited for the train. The lady at the kiosk said that the kids could learn Breton in the schools, but what use was it? Ardagh's book says that the Socialist government devolved some powers to the regions, departments and cities in the 1980s, and apparently the revival of the Breton language is a phenomenon of the last thirty years.
When we looked for the first class coach there was none, so we asked the information lady in the station who said that there was one because it was shown in her schedule, and we asked the porter next to the train, who said he didn't see one but we should ask the man on the train, so we asked the engineer who said there should be one, who then found the controleur just arriving and told him, and he, who was in charge of this train back to Nantes, was apologetic. Town square with flowers This was "pas normal". But he breathed a little easier when he found we hadn't paid for first-class tickets so he wouldn't have to process a refund.
Meanwhile, we sat in a second-class compartment, and wondered why the controleur didn't put up a sign saying "First Class" which would have kept the riffraff out. Actually, the riffraff consisted of a quiet lady, who rode one stop, and the parish priest from Redon, who had gone to Vannes for the day. He said that nobody in Redon or Vannes spoke Breton. We also reflected that everybody had been absolutely as nice as could be; it just wasn't any of their jobs to get the coaches that make up the train, so there was nothing any of them could do.
Just outside of Nantes one can see the bustling shipyards and waterfront facilities. Nantes is clearly a working city with a marine flavor. There were plenty of beggars and hustlers back at work at the railroad station. Perhaps they're confident that there won't be another "random check" for a few weeks now.