St. Malo

We’ve had the grandchildren with us over the past week for their winter vacation. We had several adventures, but our most ambitious was a visit to St. Malo on the Brittany coast, about a 2.5 hour drive from our place. Even if it isn’t exactly beach weather, the kids were eager for the sea.

I found us a very nice little apartment a block away from an inviting wide beach, and a few minutes drive from the old town of St. Malo. It was perfect.

There is a wide promenade where, in less inclement weather one could walk all the way to the ancient walled center of St. Malo, seen above in the distance. At low tide the beach is exceptional.

At high tide, however, the beach disappears altogether. St. Malo, due to it’s location and sea floor topography, has one of the strongest tides in the world! The waves routinely crash over the walls. In a storm, they look like tidal waves. Still, St. Malo seems to cope without blinking.

The children and I were enjoying the drama one morning, staying well away from the edge. In fact I wasn’t even on the walkway, but rather in a little set back alley. An exceptionally large wave crashed on to the shore and managed to knock me right over. I was completely soaked from head to toe and a bit bruised.

We stayed for two nights. The middle day was gloriously sunny and even a bit warm. It made our day especially wonderful.

St Malo is almost an island, surrounded on four sides by water. A narrow causeway leads into the city. It has ramparts that encircle the town, where one can stroll along with views of the buildings below on one side and the sea beyond on the other.

St. Malo was founded by the Gauls in the first century and has had a long and fabled past. It became a very wealthy town when it took advantage of it’s location to waylay English ships sailing in the channel and extorted large fees for safe passage.

In the second world war it was occupied by the Germans and heavily damaged by an allied bombing campaign. It was one of the last Nazi strongholds after the D-day landing beaches had been recaptured. It was completely rebuilt after the war, and today it is hard to see any traces of that recent devastation.

While driving to and from St. Malo, we listened to the audio book, All the Light We Can Not See, by Anthony Doerr, which largely takes place in St. Malo during the end of the war. We were able to identify some locations from the story.

More than anything, however, the kids wanted to play on the beach, and there was ample opportunity. We explored several. It’s easy to descend the walls at low tide to explore.

All around the city are little fortresses which played an important role in protecting the city in times past.

While the birds collected their dinner in the tide pools, Quinn and Zinnie amassed an impressive collection of beautiful rocks and shells.

We were happy to sit and watch them frolic, as the sun often came out and bathed us in it’s golden light.

One other thing about St. Malo that we really love, is the Maison du Beurre, where you can buy the most delicious butter imaginable. Our favorite is smokey flavored!

Vacation

Here in France kids go to school for long days and don’t finish their academic year until July, but they also get lots of vacations. In the winter they have a two week vacation, one of four such big breaks during the school year. It is often the grandparents that are on duty during these days, as most parents work. In our family it is no different. This time the kids went to camp for one of the weeks and stayed at the Maison Conti for the second one.

Drawing in the atelier is always part of the week’s activities, of course. Here the kids made a “museum book” which involves folding an 11 X 17″ paper into eighths and cutting up the middles leaving the last pair of rectangles attached. The paper can then be folded in various ways to make a book. They decided to create a “choose your own words” story.

Zinnie spent one day making suitcases for one of her dolls. She painted some boxes and tied on handles.

We also like doing science experiments. This one shows how atmospheric pressure works. You put a candle in the middle of a plate, you pour in some colored water, then light the candle. A cup is put over the candle, which puts it out, and soon the water begins to rise in the glass.

Another one involved having one glass filled with hot water and another glass filled with color water. One is colored blue, the other yellow. When you put the hot water on top of the cold water, the waters do not mix, but if you put the cold on top the the hot, they immediately mix together.

The week was mostly rainy and gray, but we found one afternoon when we could go to the lake, a favorite outing. We always play “Pooh Sticks,” the game Winnie the Pooh liked to play on a bridge with Piglet. Everyone drops a stick on one side of the bridge and races to the other side to see whose stick emerges first.

Sand castle building is also a long tradition. There are lots of nice sticks, rocks and leaves around for decorations.

Forts have been very elaborate in years past. This time Quinn made Mont Saint Michel.