We left Gascony with the kids with a deep love for the region and its people. Leslie and I joined our friends in climbing to the top of the église du Heux next to the Chateau to look over the Gascon countryside one last time. The Church was built in the 13th Century with additions in the 17th Century. After obtaining the keys from Madam Fezas (of the winemaking family next door) we climbed the ancient wood stairs to the top. It is quite a journey in which you have to crouch up winding stairs occupied at night by bats. When you emerge, you are greeted by a wonderful sight of rolling hills and vineyards.
We were unable to get into the church itself despite the efforts of Mr.. Henri next door. His father rang the bell on the church to signal the end of World War II. The bell still rings at Vespers twice a day at 7:30 am and 4:00. The next morning as we were getting into the car with the kids, Mr. Henri came rushing up. He had called a friend to work on the giant door to “let the Americans in” before we left. He spoke little English beyond saying he loved Americans. When we were able to make it into the church itself, we found a beautiful space of painted ceilings and stone masconry from the 13th and 17th Centuries.
We left Heux for a last visit to Condom. We are still having trouble finding a place that can ship our two 18th century plaster panels. The regular post office does not ship anything beyond a modest size. We could find no one in Condom to ship. I would have to drive to Normandy with the large panels on my lap to keep them from breaking. However, before we left, we discovered that a small bowl that we purchased was missing. I was convinced that we left it at the antique shop where we bought the panels in the tiny fortified village of Fources. We drove there only to find it closed for the standard 2 hour lunch of the French. However, we decided to stay and have lunch in the café in the village to wait for it to open. It was a perfect day and a perfect lunch in the café under umbrellas to protect us from the sun. Since lunches in this area routinely last two to three hours, it was just enough. As the lunch ended, the store opened and we found the bowl still sitting on the owner’s table.
We then drove to Bordeaux after Federal Express assured us that they could box and send the panels. Driving with the panels on your lap and extending over to the windshield is no joy but the idea of finally shipping them was a relief. As Leslie pulled into “France Express,” however, we were promptly told that Federal Express does not package material and could not send the pieces. We were pretty ticked. Yet, there was no choice to but continue on to Rennes with the panels on my lap.
On the way to Rennes, we took a long detour to Vitré – one of the best preserved Medieval villages in Brittany. It was beautiful, though we arrived after 2 pm and the French refuse to serve food after 2 or 2:30. We finally found one place that served pizza and Leslie and I enjoyed their fortified apple cider. It tasted beer-like and was very refreshing. The village has lovely winding streets of Medieval buildings with second floor jutting over the cobblestones. There are lovely shop and little cafes to enjoy the local cider or to have a glass of French wine.
We then drove on to Rennes in desperate search for a hotel. We found two rooms at a three star hotel called Anne De Bretagne. Beware of the star system in France. Many three stars are little better than a Days Inn (Two star hotels can be dreadful though there are exceptions). The hotel was clean and had extremely friendly and helpful staff (something we have found throughout France). Indeed, when we were unable to get a room in the Hotel du Nemours down the street, the lady at the front desk picked up the phone to call other hotels for use. It was, however, Spartan (and you would think that the hotel would take the trouble to remove the graffiti off the side walls under its giant medieval picture of Anne). It is located near the old section, which is the most charming of the city. I must confess, however, that I found little to recommend Rennes, the capital of Brittany for a visit. We may have missed some of the nicer parts in our walk but the parts that we saw were pretty but not overwhelming. You are better off in the countryside.
The next morning we pushed on to one of the places that I have always wanted to visit – the giant monastery of Mont St. Michel. (We left of course with the large panels on my lap which have become a running joke in the family as our 18th Century ball and chain. One of the kids suggested that we may ultimately give up on taking the panels home and just live in France with them – an enticing idea to be sure).