Wednesday, 18 November 2009

In Search of Ancient History

Written 14th November 2009

Arriving in Carnac, we parked up in the centre of town and, finding the town centre tourist office closed, we set off on our bikes to find the beach tourist office where we were given a map of the standing stones.  Map in hand, Will plotted a circuitous route of roads and muddy footpaths which took in as many of the Menhirs (standing stones), Dolmens (table like structures) and Tumuluses [Tumuli?] (barrows) as possible including le plus grand, les plus vieux, les plus nombreux and les plus quadrilaterals (biggest, oldest, numerous and square).

Although we are not yet terribly south, it was just the right temperature for a bike ride - I even had to take my jacket off for much of the journey as I was too hot! - and bits of it were properly muddy so I am greatful for my new bike with properly fat off road tyres (liberated from a kind relative) instead of my old racer with its thin tyres.  After a race along the prom we headed inland in search of stones and stones we found! 

Fact fans will be interested to know that Carnac has the world's greatest concentration of Megaliths (mega = big lith = stone) and with the stones dating from 5000BC to 2500BC, some of it is older than Stonehenge. There are more than 3000 stones in the area, some single stones or dolmens standing on their own and others in great fields all lined up in height order.  At the end of our ride, we found the Maison des Megalithes which had an excellent information display and a video (in french but I got about 3/4 of it).  No one really knows exactly how so many massive stones were unearthed, transported or arranged or what the purposes of the different configurations of stones are, although some are clearly (apparently) funeral or burial rites and some are indicative of organised settlements and follow various ley lines and granite seams, but the video was convinced that they indicated a developed civilisation who were in tune with the land, the elements and the seasons and who were capable of building complex and organised structures - after all, it argued, the stones must have had a purpose, they didn't do all this just to have something to do at the weekends!

Having met our quota of stones, we set off in search of some slightly less ancient history, mine, and headed to Nantes.  I lived in Nantes for a year for my third year at university where a year abroad in a business school was a compulsory part of my International Business and Modern Languages (French).  I lived with English people so the experience wasn't as beneficial to my spoken language skills (never my strong point) as it could have been - and having a boyfriend back home meant that there was no "sleeping with a dictionary" as a few of the girls chose to do :) - but it was a lot of fun and as I was doing the first year of the french equivalent course and my course at Aston had included a lot of lectures in french already, the actual lessons were pretty easy - except for the four hours of personal tax accounting on a friday morning!.    I took some considerable satisfaction in finding at the end of the year that I had done much better than the smug supercilious french boys who thought I was stupid because I couldn't really talk to them :) (not that I could actually tell them that of course)

After a stop off in a retail park (where the entire car park was height restricted to 2.1 m - what's all that about??) to buy van bits from the french equivalent of Halfords (light bar for the rear, locking petrol cap and wheel chocs), we set our sights on Nantes Centre-Ville.  I have no knowledge of the outskirts of town having never had a car in Nantes before so had no clue as to where we were but after much driving round through random and unknown streets, we popped out quite by coincidence right where I used to live so we parked up and set off into town.  The walk into the town centre was much shorter than I remember so either Nantes has go smaller or we were really lazy - well, we had season tram tickets and only staggered home when we missed the last tram on drunken nights out - and Will was forced to listen to the constant whittering of "that's where I used the live", "that's the church near where we live", "that's our tram stop", "that's the car park where we saw Bryan Adams live in concert for free" ad infinitum - he is very patient :)

I had unexpected memories of a fabulous restaurant in Nantes where the speciality is mussels served in massive bowls with the sauce of your choice and unlimited chips. With no better directions than a vague recollection of the area of town, the fact that it was on the left side of a passageway and was a tiny, cosy place with rough stone walls, I was determined to find it.  Fortunately Will panders to my every whim - except those which are either silly and/or expensive like paying £10 to get into Padstow zoo so I could stoke a penguin and chucking our jobs in to buy a campervan and travel round europe, no hang on... ;) - so he willingly traipsed along as we wandered round the streets of Nantes town centre which are, by and large, well lit and full of shops with well presented window displays - a particular favourite was the red stilettos made of chocolate, surely every girls dream! 

Finally on the verge of giving up, there it was Aux Moules de Bouffay, a tiny place seemingly wedged in the gap between the two neighbouring buildings and a beacon of yummy shellfishy-ness in the dark alley way.  

We were fortunate to be squeezed at the last moment - the people behind us were turned away - and it was exactly as my vague memories had depicted.  A bowl of moules avec creme d'ognion et lardons, a bowl of moules a creme de poivreaux, une assiette de frites a volonte, a demi pichet of muscadet and a couple of hours later, we headed back out into the night full and happy.

We hadn't thought any further than getting as far as Nantes so with no better plan, we headed back out to hte main road south and stopped for the night in the Aire de Grassiniere, thefirst service station we found and tucked ourselves away at the far end of the carpark where we awoke in the morning as the sun was rising over the motorway and decided to head back into town to see what we could find.

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