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Hôtel de Ville (March 2016).

As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, I’ve spent the past now-four years traveling during my birthday weekend, which falls on the very last week of March. Regardless of whether I have work to catch up on, nevertheless I book myself to be out of town to escape the doldrums of work and my city, at least for a couple of days. It has been proven refreshing each time, as I tend to have a good time and return to work afterwards in lighter spirits.

This annual tradition of going out of town for my birthday started three years ago to this day, during my first year teaching in France. My birthday weekend happened to fall on Easter weekend, which gave me a four-day break from work. What better way than to escape town and see a different region of France? That said, I decided to get away to Brittany, which was just next door to my then-home in Normandy, starting off with the capital itself, Rennes.

Once I booked my BlaBlaCar over and found a Couchsurfer to stay with, I headed out from Le Havre in the afternoon, spending the next three or so hours en route. In fact, the journey took closer to four hours, as we’d encountered traffic while passing through Caen, and then Rennes. After all, it was still a weekday, so not only were people getting off work, but also many were likewise leaving for Easter weekend.

The driver dropped me off at Rennes’ train station, and I met up with my Couchsurfing host. He was a man in his mid-twenties who worked as a librarian. I spent two nights with him in his flat, located right in the city center. He was also kind enough to take me in his car to nearby cities in Brittany, as well as took me to his friend’s house party on my last night in town. Although we did have our awkward moments (namely due to different personalities), it was a pleasant stay all the same.

At least during my first night in town, I visited the city center. My host took me around the bustling student and historic quarters, as Rennes is a notable university town. I also had galette aux saucisses, which is a sausage buckwheat crepe– absolutely heavenly for the slightly-chilly evening, as the Emmental cheese, sausage and diced onions paired heavenly with the piping-hot, tender but slightly-crisp buckwheat crepe enveloping all the ingredients together like a warm blanket. I didn’t expect myself to love it, but I was blown away– it was a shame that I didn’t get another one while in Brittany…that galette aux saucisses continues to haunt me to this day!

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Galette aux saucisses.

What makes the Brittany region quite distinctive is its Breton influence, which derives from Celtic after settlers from Great Britain migrated and stayed in the Brittany peninsula during the Middle Ages. I could see its history during my time in Rennes, from the half-timbered houses, bilingual street signs (in French and Breton), to the hearty dishes like galettes and kouign amanns. The Brittany region is by no means like the delicate, bourgeoise climate of Paris– its rainy weather and working-class history offered more of a “true,” French experience, which I’d learned so much about while traveling all over the country that year, outside of Paris itself. Definitely an insightful time!

In any case, my host took me around the historic center, where I saw the notable monuments of Rennes, including the semi-circular hôtel de Ville and the dome-like Opéra right across from it. I found the architecture of both quite fascinating, for the hôtel de Ville was bowed inwards to “fit” the spherical-like Opéra– call it a “lock-and-key” kind of deal.

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Hôtel de Ville at night.
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Opéra at night.

We also passed by El Teatro, a half-timbered building that’s considered the oldest in town (dating back to the early 16th century), and today is actually a night club. Of course, it was too early for it to be open when we visited, but even then, I was too tired from traveling that day to want to party, anyway. Really interesting how old, historic buildings become night venues in the 21st century!

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El Teatro.

My host and I headed to a sports bar, where I met some of his friends and watched the soccer match on TV for a short while. We then headed back to his flat, where I, tired, crashed for the rest of the night. It’d been a long day of traveling and visiting a new city, and I was ready to recharge for the next day of exploring.

As I’d mentioned, my host owned a car, and he was kind enough to take me to visit a couple of quaint towns in Brittany the following day (more in the next post). We returned later in the afternoon, resting a bit in his flat before we headed out first to buy some beers at the supermarket and then to his friend’s house, where we had a house party that night. I tasted a couple of Breton beers my host had bought; I found them quite bubbly, and I was good after two of them. Then again, I’m not a huge fan of beer, but I’m glad to have tried out a local drink!

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Local Breton beer.

Perhaps it was having gone sightseeing that day, or the fact that I’m a super introvert– whichever was the case, I wasn’t feeling the party by midnight. My host took me back to his flat, but he left me alone while he returned to the house party. I didn’t mind the solitude, as I went to bed right afterwards. My host actually didn’t return until 6:00, so I basically greeted him when I woke up!

After he took a nap, we headed out to explore Rennes in the day time. We revisited the hôtel de Ville, and we strolled the commercial district before grabbing Subway for lunch. I also stopped by a local pastry shop for some kouignettes, which are the mini versions of kouign amanns. Extra crusty and buttery, they were quite the real deal, as eating one already filled me up!

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Kouignettes.

My BlaBlaCar ride to the next destination during my long weekend away was due at 14:30, so I returned to my host’s flat to get my belongings. After thanking him for the stay, I left to meet my ride, and soon enough left Rennes after a two-night stay. It was a pleasant first stop of my travels that weekend, as I saw some cool architecture, ate hearty Breton food, and met some nice locals in town. More importantly, I got to celebrate my birthday out of town, which was great for taking my mind off of work and other worries in life. Glad it happened!

More adventures to recap in due course!

 

— Rebecca

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11 thoughts on “Destination: Rennes, France

  1. Galettes are one of my favourite things to eat in France 🙂 I saw a few French/Breton bilingual street signs in Nantes, and remember seeing some French/Alsatian ones when I was living in Alsace. It’s interesting to see traces of the regional languages, as it’s something we just don’t have here in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Galettes are delicious; I like them more than crêpes! It’s always a pleasant surprise to see the different languages in parts of France, as it’s admirable that the country is trying to keep their language diversity alive.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. We have been three days in Rennes (English: Reindeers) many years ago. We were forced to stay there because there was a big strike when we couldn’t buy gasoline. Sigh.

    Some years ago, a French student living in Rennes and who studied in Sorbonne came to Finland to study our churches which are unique in the world for one month. This was due to my blogs. I helped her here. 🙂

    So, we know Rennes. Thank You for this lovely post.

    Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rebecca, I’m nominating you for the Mystery Blogger Award for your excellent blogging. Congratulations! Here are five questions for you as a nominee:

    What do you like most about blogging?
    What is your favorite genre to read? (mystery? ; )
    First drafts – pen or keyboard?
    What inspires your writing, art, or photography?
    Funny question: Lime jello or coconut flan for dessert?

    Liked by 1 person

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