In August 2017 a group of Australian cyclists travelled to Europe to complete a series of rides in Germany, France and the Channel Islands
  • Day55

    An Indian Summer in Paris

    October 14, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 13 °C

    An Indian Summer in Paris - Oct 13th
    It might have been the evening of Friday 13th, but the only unlucky thing I could think of was the fact that we would soon be leaving this city that we both love so much. On the other hand, after 8 weeks of travelling, we were really starting to look forward to being back in our own home again. Living out of a suitcase does wear a little thin after a while.

    For our final couple of days in Paris the weather had made a dramatic turn for the better. The cloudy skies and drizzle had been replaced with unbroken blue from horizon to horizon and the temperatures had risen to a rather balmy mid 20s. Although the autumn trees were now well into their annual change of colour and dropping of leaves, in every respect it felt like summer had returned in all its glory.

    After doing our final packing (ie cramming everything in and hoping that the blessed zipper would close) we looked out the window and decided that it was just too nice an evening to spend inside. Although we had declared that we could not walk another step, Paris just begs to be experienced, especially on a balmy Friday night.

    We began our final walk with a coffee and muffin and then wandered down the Boulevard St Michel to the Seine. We had fantastic memories of the Isle St Louis from Maggie's extended stay there in an apartment in 2013. Everywhere there were crowds of locals. Many were enjoying a drink in one of the hundreds of roadside cafes, lovers were walking hand in hand along the riverbank, many others seemed quite content to just sit and watch what everyone else was doing.

    After walking past the floodlit Notre Dame Cathedral we crossed the small pedestrian bridge to the Isle St Louis. We made our way back to the apartment on the Rue Bude where Maggie had spent her first time in Europe. At that moment neither of us wanted to think about leaving and the long flights that awaited us the following morning.

    The brightly lit river boats were busy carrying their crowds of tourists up and down the river and in the distance we could hear the faint sound of guitar music playing. When we walked closer we found that it was a young Australian busker who was entrancing the crowds with his unusual and highly talented playing techniques.

    We stopped to listen for a while and noticed a rather eccentric guy on the most amazing bicycle I had ever seen. It was covered all over in a collection of coloured lights, statues, flowers and ....fountains. Yes, I am not kidding, the bike had multiple water fountains fitted front and rear, each one illuminated by LED lights. The owner of the illuminated bike was almost as interesting as his bike. With long tangled hair, a scraggy beard and what looked like a Mongolian coat, he fitted into the Parisian crowds perfectly.

    When the Australian had finished the next song I dropped a few coins into his guitar case and whispered "Go Aussies". "Thanks Brother", he replied and we walked on our way feeling absolutely elated. It was a magic finish to an amazing trip.
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  • Day54

    Eights Weeks Without a Selfie

    October 13, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Eight Weeks Without a Single Selfie - Oct 13th 2017

    On our final full day in Paris the sun broke through in full force to give the city a temporary return to summer. Gone were the winter hats, scarfs and coats that had been everywhere for the past couple of weeks and back out came the short skirts and sun hats. It was a perfect way to end our stay in this amazing place.

    Maggie and I took the opportunity to continue our recreation of the walk of Adele and Simon. We had begun this the previous day but exhaustion had overcome us before the task was complete.

    We set off to resume our walk at the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, however we did make one important detour on the way there. The Musee Nationale Du Moyen Age (Museum of the Middle Ages) is situated on the Rue D'Ecoles (Street of Schools), just a block away from our hotel. We had walked past it many time over the past couple of days and thought that it deserved a proper visit.

    We decided to pay the 9 Euro entry fee (no seniors concession here) and see what was inside. We certainly were not disappointed. The collection included an amazing array of artefacts and art works from the 6th to the 16th centuries. The building itself was worth the visit. It certainly was a fascinating insight into the creativity and skills of the people who lived in that period.

    Our walk then continued past Notre Dame and along the I'sle De La Cite to the Louvre. Although tourists had been conspicuously absent from most of Paris at this time of the year, we discovered just where most of them seemed to have congregated. I had forgotten what a thousand simultaneous selfies actually sounded like, but this is exactly what was happening. Wherever we looked there were people posing in front of every possible vantage point. Stand on one leg, look to one side, hold the selfie stick high, smile, click. It made me nauseous.
    I still cannot understand the selfie mentality at all. It always strikes me as a type of "technological tagging". It is obviously not sufficient to just visit some place, but you must prove you have been there by standing right in front of it, taking a selfie and then immediately share it to something like facebook or twitter. Surely if you know you have been there, why do you feel a need to prove it to the rest of the world ? I just do not get it. I am proud to say that we have now been travelling for 8 weeks and still have not taken a single selfie. Not one. Nor do I ever intend to. My own memories are what are most important to me.

    By the middle of the afternoon, the sun was actually quite hot and we took refuge by the fountain in The Tuileries. The council provides hundreds of free green chairs to relax on and we were glad to take two of these and spend some time dozing in the dappled sunshine.
    We are now back at the hotel, our bags are packed and we are almost ready to bid a final au revoir to France. But we will definitely be back in 2019.
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  • Day53

    In the Footsteps of Simon and Adele

    October 12, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    In 2006 Barbara McClintock wrote a delightful children's book called "Simon and Adele". It tells the simple story of two Parisian children on their way home from school. Although Simon had been warned to take care of his things, somehow he manages to progressively lose everything he had been carrying. Each object is lost in a distinct part of central Paris.

    Since we both love the book, Maggie had the idea of recreating the walk taken by Simon and Adele. The only trouble is that the book is set in the Paris of 1907 and the Paris of today has changed quite a bit. Nevertheless it seemed like a good way to pass a lovely autumn day and so we set off with map and notes in hand.

    Our first stop was the Jardin de Plantes (Garden of Plants). This is a huge park which is devoted to the Sciences of Botany, Geology and Palaeontology. It is also home to the Menagerie (Zoo) of Paris. The warm sunshine combined with the huge distances we had walked yesterday to ensure that our energy levels started to wane rather rapidly.

    I don't know how Simon and Adele walked such a long distance home each day, but by the time we had made our way back to the Luxembourg Gardens, we had realised that there was no way we were going to complete the entire walk in one day. We did however have fun placing a couple of little cutout figures of Simon and Adele in various locations and then photographing them for our grandkids.

    While we were walking around the streets it was interesting to note all the diverse means of transport that were being used. Many locals like to move around the city on small scooters. Many of these scooters are now battery powered and can zoom along the footpaths quite fast. We also noticed several using the much more high tech approach by riding along on an air wheel. These are a sort of single wheeled version of a Segway. We even were passed by a girl riding a unicycle along the busy footpath. In Paris no one seems to raise an eyelid, no matter how unusual the means of transport is.

    At the end of the afternoon we purchased some Apple Cider, a baguette and a large serving of tartiflette (a French dish containing potato, cheese, bacon and onion) from an outdoor market and had a picnic dinner in our hotel room. It was a lovely way to complete our second last day in Paris. After dark we went for yet another walk and stopped to listen to a saxophone player playing jazz in a small cafe. Hundreds of people were still out strolling the streets, taking full advantage of the warm evening. Paris is just like that.
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  • Day52

    The House of Victor Hugo

    October 11, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    The last time Maggie and I were in Paris five weeks ago I literally walked the soles off my shoes. We had decided to forego the Metro and do all our travels on foot instead. Not only is that better for your health, but it is also the best way to begin to come to grips with the tangle of streets that can be so confusing for the first time visitor.

    I had to battle with those shoes for most of the cycling sections, with the soles progressively parting company a little bit more with every passing day. It was not until I discovered a Mountain Warehouse store in St Peter Port that I was able to find a decent pair of walking shoes in my own size. At the time I bought them I thought that they could be useful for my upcoming walks along the Inca Trail and The Spanish Camino next year

    The problem with the new shoes is that they are just too comfortable, so much so that I have worn them every day since. Since today was our first full day since arriving back in Paris, I thought it would be a great chance to see how my feet felt after a full day of walking.

    We began by walking up the hill to the nearby Pantheon. This huge distinctive building was originally constructed as a church in 1755, but has been converted to a mausoleum to house the remains of distinguished French citizens. Among those who are buried here are Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.

    We then headed north across the Seine and along the right bank to the Place Des Vogues. This place is one of the most sought after addresses in Paris and contains a large number of opulent apartments that all face inwards into a central garden. One of these apartments was the residence of Victor Hugo from 1832 to 1848. It is now maintained as a museum and is one of the few museums in Paris where the entry is free. It was certainly worth every cent that we didn't pay.

    By age 30 Victor Hugo was already a famous (and quite wealthy) poet, writer and artist. His apartment gives a fascinating insight into Hugo's incredible intellect and creativity. We spent over an hour here exploring the exhibits. I was particularly interested to see that he did much of his writing standing up at an elevated desk. In this he was obviously over a hundred years ahead of the latest research.

    After our time in Victor's house we purchased some beautiful fresh strawberries and raspberries and feasted on them on the banks of the Seine. The next couple of hours were spent exploring unfamiliar backstreets and the myriad of unusual shops that a feature of the left bank. We have both been consciously working hard to improve our French vocabulary. I have found that a good way to do this is to wander through the many book shops and translate the title of each book. It certainly keeps the mind busy.

    In 1848 Hugo was forced into exile due to his republican ideals. He ended up in St Peter Port, Guernsey in the Channel Islands and purchased the impressive building that he renamed as Hauteville House. This is where he stayed until the end of his exile in 1870. Hauteville House was actually right next door to our hotel in Guernsey and we passed by it every day we were there.

    Later in the day we worked our way back along the left bank in the upstream direction. Some might be dismayed to hear that we dined at the famous French restaurant "Le McDonalds", before finally walking (staggering) back to our hotel. I am pleased to state that, after walking many kilometres around Paris, the soles are still firmly attached to my new shoes and that they are now well and truly worn in. And me ? I am worn out.
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  • Day52

    Paris, Nous t' Aimerons Pour Toujours

    October 11, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    Someone once coined the famous saying that "all good things must come to an end". While I do not agree with the saying itself, it is nevertheless true that our 2017 European Adventures are now rapidly drawing to a close. Within 4 days we will begin the long journey back to our parallel universe in Australia.

    Although the trip is coming to an end, the memories will last for a lifetime. I recently read the results of a research investigation into the sorts of things that bring lasting happiness. The results were very interesting. They showed that, while the "happiness" that comes from the acquisition of material things (fancy houses, cars, clothes and money) is very fleeting, the happiness that comes from travel lasts for many years. Even more surprising is the finding that the pleasure from travel actually increases, rather than decreases, with the passage of time. Over the past years I have certainly found this to be the case.

    Yesterday we sadly bade a final farewell to Auray and caught the SNCF train to Paris Montparnasse. The train was "slow" until it reached Rennes (only between 150 - 180 kph), but then we joined the brand new Grand Vitesse (High Speed) line to Paris. For the next hour the train seldom dropped below 290 kph and was express all the way from Rennes to Paris. The total distance from Rennes to Paris was covered in less than an hour. Why oh why can't we build trains like that in Australia ?

    After leaving Montparnasse Station we caught a taxi to take us to our hotel in the region of the Sorbonne and the Pantheon. The driver started chatting in very good English and told us that he had lived in Paris for the past 29 years, but would soon be going home to Portugal to work in his brother's restaurant in Porto. He was obviously very excited to be going home and more excited when I told him that I would be bringing a team of bike riders to ride in his country next year.

    When I made the booking at The Hotel St Jacques I had requested that we have a "quiet, non smoking room with a nice outlook". They must have taken this request quite literally. When we arrived at the hotel we were informed that our room was on the 6th floor. We would have to take the tiny elevator to the 5th floor and then navigate a narrow, spiral staircase into the roof space. It only took a few return trips in the lift to get us and our luggage to advanced base camp on the 5th floor and then I set about manhandling our bags up the staircase. About halfway up I almost dislocated my shoulder when I bashed it straight into the sloping roof.

    By the time we reached le chambre trente, it made for an interesting discovery. Although the room was small (although larger than many other rooms we have stayed in in Paris) it did have a panoramic view over the surroundings. And what was that in the distance ??? It was the distinctive shape of Sacre Coeur Cathedral standing proudly on the Butte Montmartre. That almost made the climb worthwhile.

    In the middle of the night I awoke and decided to stand on the balcony and see what was happening so many floors below. Although it was the wee small hours of the morning, there were quite a few people wandering about the streets. Some of the shops were still open. People were happily chatting and a few motor scooters were zooming their owners home. In the apartments opposite some of the lights were still on. As I have said many times before, Paris is NEVER boring (not even in the middle of the night).

    Now that the ride is over I thought it might be time for a few rough statistics:
    Total Number of Riders - 22
    Number of Riders doing all 4 sections - 7
    Total number of km ridden - well over 20,000 km
    Places visited - Germany, Switzerland, France, Jersey, Guernsey and Sark
    Number of different bikes used (in 4 sections) - 5
    Type of Bikes - All were European Touring Bikes (quite heavy but well adapted for this type of riding), In sections 2 and 3 we had very good Specialised Brand bikes, many equipped with solid puncture proof tyres. In the Channel Islands the bikes were basically rubbish bikes that had not been serviced for decades (but this contributed much to the laughter)
    Number of Injuries - 3 minor crashes, 2 falls into stinging nettles and one heart attack (and that was a first)
    Number of different hotels stayed in - 27
    Number of baguettes eaten - impossible to determine
    Favourite cake - tarte citron avec meringue
    Favourite place - St Malo
    Favourite region of France - Brittany
    Overall enjoyment rating - Excellent

    Our next French ride is planned for 2019 and already I can't wait to start all over again.
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  • Day50

    Market Day in Auray

    October 9, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    According to Trip Advisor, the top 2 things to enjoy in Auray are (1) The Port and (2) The Weekly Market. Since we arrived here two days ago we have made regular walks from our hotel to the Port and have become quite familiar with the sights along the way.

    This morning we began the day with a walk through the quiet forest that adjoins our hotel. The paths were covered with a thick layer of brightly coloured autumn leaves that crunched loudly as we walked. This is another reminder that winter is rapidly approaching, although we will be long gone by the time it really arrives.

    We emerged from the forest and followed a new route into the centre of town and were thrilled to see all the little streets and laneways were filled with traders. It was obviously market day and we had a wonderful time wandering up and down the long lines of merchants. Markets are an integral part of life in most French towns and they give a wonderful insight into the French passion with food and fresh produce.

    Near our hotel we have noticed an "A Vendre" (To Sell) sign on a lovely small home. Each time we have passed by we have stopped to daydream about what it would be like to buy such a place. Sure it would be impulsive, but just about everything else worthwhile we have ever done has been the result of an impulse. We have never been ones to spend months deliberating over all the details. It certainly would be a beautiful place of the world to live in.

    When we got back to the hotel we searched out the property on the internet and it looks like our plans will have to go on hold for a little while. With a price tag of close to a million Australian dollars, it would be a tad high to justify as a holiday home (or even our main home for that matter). We will have to keep on dreaming.

    Tomorrow we will be catching the high speed train to Paris and we will be departing Auray with our luggage a little bit heavier after our purchases from the market. Our minds will also be loaded with happy memories of the short time we have spent here. It really is one of the many treasures of Brittany.
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  • Day49

    Signs of the Camino

    October 8, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    Although I have been to France many times and have ridden and driven many thousands of kilometres all around the country, I have to admit that there is one feature that I had never noticed before. Next year I will be bringing a group 16 Ghostriders (Ghostwalkers ?) to Europe to walk the famous pilgrim trail from Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees to Santiago.

    Although this route (the so called "Spanish Camino") is the most well known version of the walk, there are in fact dozens of different routes scattered all over Europe. The word Camino simply means "The Way" and the true pilgrims started their pilgrimage from their own front door and then walked all the way to Santiago. The cathedral there is supposed to contain the body of St James and this is the reason why tens of thousands of people still complete this pilgrimage every year.

    The symbol of the Camino is the scallop shell. The radiating lines of the shell indicate that there are many possible starting points but only one destination. Scattered all over France are numerous camino paths and these are most commonly marked with brass scallop shells on the footpaths. Sometimes the way is marked with a green arrow or some other symbol.

    Because we will be completing our own "Camino" in 2018 I have been more alert to these symbols and have been amazed at how often they appear, especially near the locations of famous cathedrals or abbeys. I have attached some images as well as a map showing some of the versions of the French Camino
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  • Day48

    Return to Auray

    October 7, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    I have to admit that the more we see of Brittany, the more we fall in love with it. After spending several days in Vannes we thought we had discovered a city that was just about perfect. Not too big and not too small and with a fantastic assortment of restaurants, tea houses, shops, parks, gardens and an amazing medieval city centre dating back to the 1500s. It was just the sort of place that we could imagine spending a year in if only we had the opportunity.

    Although we were sorry to finally leave Vannes, our train tickets and hotel had already been booked for our next stop. We packed our bags once again (why do they always seem to be getting heavier ?) and wheeled them the 1.3 km back to the railway station. We were both relieved that we seem to have settled in to a prolonged period of fine and sunny weather, so the walk was more of a pleasure than a chore.

    We arrived at the station just in time for a succession of announcements about train cancellations. It was just as well that our French has improved enough for us to now be able to understand quite a bit of what was being said. Dozens of passengers (most with luggage) started to file off the waiting train. This did not auger well for our trip. When we asked at the ticket office whether our train would be affected, we were met with a polite "je ne sais pas". We sat down in the station and waited.

    The same passengers that had filed past us some time ago filed back in the opposite direction, and then once again for good measure back outside again. It was obvious that no one had any idea what was going on. As I have said many times before, life in France is NEVER boring.

    When we finally boarded our train we were relieved to find that it was almost empty. We sat down with our luggage for the short trip to nearby Auray Le Loch. On arrival we caught a taxi to take us the 2.4 km to our hotel ( a little too far to walk with luggage). We were thrilled to find our hotel was situated right on the edge of town, in the middle of a forest. It was like being in a marvellous tree house. And that is one of the most delightful aspects of travel in Europe - you never know just what to expect of your next hotel until you are actually there.

    After dropping off our luggage we walked through the forest to the old port. If we loved Vannes, we quickly adored Auray. It is a beautiful town with a lovely city centre and a beautiful port. The streets are quiet and clean and the many city bells are a regular reminder that we really are in France.

    We had briefly visited here 4 years ago and had a rather traumatic experience when I accidentally drove our rental car right into the middle of the port (not knowing that I was driving the wrong way up a one way street). At that time I did not take much notice of the surroundings, I just wanted to escape with ourselves and the rental car intact. This time we have allowed 3 days to explore the town. We then catch the train back to Paris where we will be staying for 4 nights before the long flight back to Melbourne.
    C'est la vie.
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  • Day46

    Onto Vannes

    October 5, 2017 in France ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Yesterday we somewhat sadly packed our bags and bade farewell to St Malo. We had a fabulous time there and watching the tides became an hypnotic part of each day's schedule. Unfortunately we were leaving before the tides reached their spectacular monthly maximum, so maybe we will have to take that into account in planning our dates for our possible next visit in 2019.

    Accompanied by the now familiar sound of rolling suitcase castors we walked the 1.4 km to the Gare St Malo and waited for our train to Rennes. Our tickets did not have allocated seats so we had a bit of a scramble to secure places for ourselves and our luggage. An hour later we had arrived at the impressive Rennes Station and looked for the next train that would take us the rest of the way to Vannes.

    This time we did have allocated seats, although for some reason the air conditioning in the carriage did not seem to be working. This meant that we had a somewhat uncomfortable time, but the high speed (over 200 kph) of the train and the superb scenery meant that the time went quite quickly.

    We arrived at Vannes at around 3.30 pm, the warmest time of the day. The sun had shone brightly all day and chose that moment to shine even more. Our hotel was situated about 1.5 km from the Vannes Station and we had a rather hot and bumpy walk to its front door. Fortunately we made it without losing a castor and the welcoming lady at the desk told us that our room was waiting for us. This is always a relief, especially when the booking had been made almost a year earlier.

    We had last visited Vannes back in 2013 and at that time we had been travelling with Paul and Jan Coutts. The following day was spent renewing our knowledge of the historic city and exploring many kilometres of its tiny roads and alleys. In the evening we had a pizza dinner at the same restaurant we had visited 4 years earlier. It is situated right at the top of the ramparts and gives an amazing view down to the manicured gardens below. The evening was warm and perfectly still and we even had the same friendly waiter who had served us four years ago. It was another magic end to a perfect day (and the pizzas were excellent too).

    It is also worth noting that I have noticed several Camino signs during our travels this year. These have special relevance to me now that I will be walking the Camino next year. I guess these signs have been here for a long time, but I have never looked out for them before.
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  • Day44

    A Surprise Attack in Dinard

    October 3, 2017 in France ⋅ 🌙 8 °C

    October 2nd marked a rather significant day for Maggie - her 65th Birthday. She was actually thrilled to have reached such a great old age and to be able to celebrate such an event in beautiful St Malo. We can now both be officially classed as genuine "old farts".

    This week the tides are progressively working their way towards the monthly peak. By this weekend the tides will be at their maximum and all the homes and businesses along the sea wall will be closing their shutters to help protect them against the wave damage. We took the opportunity of one of the growing low tides to walk far out to sea and look for interesting sea shells. We found a few colourful small shells to keep as a souvenir of a beautiful early autumn day.

    By this time of the year the tourist season has largely ended and the towns have reverted to their normal cycles of life. The weather is mild and the deciduous trees have just started to take on the first signs of yellow, amber and red. It is the perfect time to travel in Europe. Forget the hot and crowded months of July and August !

    In the evening we joined David and Carol and Gordon and Sue to celebrate Maggie's birthday at a nearby restaurant called the "Kidy Gwen". It seemed a somewhat mysterious name so I asked the owner what it meant. She explained that it was made from the initials of all the chefs. I guess that made perfect sense.

    Somehow the staff discovered that it was a birthday and, at the end of the meal, brought out Maggie's desert decorated with a flaming firework that seemed to go on forever. The entire restaurant sang "Happy Birthday" (in French of course) and ensured that this will be a birthday she will never forget.

    Dinard is a smaller companion city to St Malo, situated across La Rance and reached by a 10 minute water taxi ride from the citadel. We chose to spend our last full day in St Malo by spending a few hours in Dinard. The weather has settled down to provide a succession of fine and sunny early autumn days and the short ferry trip was absolutely delightful.

    Earlier in the day we had farewelled David and Carol who were heading off on the long trip back to Melbourne. After sharing so much with them over the past 6 weeks we were really sad to see them leave. This meant that our team was down to just four.

    We arrived in Dinard just as the large outdoor market was packing up. These markets are a feature of many French towns and provide a fantastic insight into the French culture.
    After wandering around the quiet streets for some time we purchased a sandwich and a couple of cakes to enjoy by the seaside. After finding a lovely spot to watch the waves gently lapping the shore I felt that there could be no place on earth where I would rather be. Maggie opened her Tarte Framboise (raspberry tart) and began to enjoy her favourite French cake. All was well with the world. But it didn't stay that way for long.

    Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge seagull swooped out of the glare of the sun and grabbed a large portion of Maggie's tart. By itself that would not have been so bad if the bird had not also taken that very moment to completely empty its bowels over the two of us. We looked down and were shocked to find that we had been covered in a huge splatter of dark green seagull poo. It was a quick way to spoil the magic of the moment, but somehow we both laughed - what else could we do ?

    Maggie sadly had to dispose of the remnants of her prized tart and we both set about trying to clean ourselves up. It is a moment that will long live in our memories. In spite of the seagull bomb, it was still a lovely day and we had so much to be thankful for. Tomorrow we will be leaving St Malo and making our way to Vannes. We are already looking forward to our next visit to St Malo in 2019.
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