I spent most of the day travelling by train from London to Brest in Brittany, travelling via Paris. I had been invited to speak at a conference on libraries and analytics. The last time I had been in France was in 1998 (or was it 1997) when I spent a weekend in Caen. In the 1970s and 1980s most of my summer holidays were spent sailing to France and in 1982 I went on a fantastic school trip to Brittany.
When it was time to leave, I headed towards St Pancras. This is a huge station, but I found the Eurostar check-in and headed towards the departure lounge. This was my first time on Eurostar and it felt weird, in the sense it was like going to an airport, but this was a train. After checking in I had some time to wait until I could board the train. So I had a coffee and then I managed to get some Euro from a cash machine for the trip. The Eurostar was one of the newer ones and was very comfortable.
We arrived in Paris Gare de Nord.
I didn’t have much time to get across Paris. I had to buy a Metro ticket first and this was a bit challenging. First I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of ticket I needed, second my card did not work in the machine and I didn’t have any change, only notes. So I went to a patisserie, bought a pastry and then had the change to buy a ticket. The Metro felt old and dirty, but it wasn’t too long before I arrived at Gare Montparnasse. What I didn’t realise was how far the SNCF station is from the Metro stop for Gare Montparnasse. It’s about a kilometre, so I had to walk along this long subway tunnel from the Metro to the station.
It felt like I only made my train. The train was really long, with twenty odd carriages, and as the train split along the route, my reserved seat was in one of the furthermost carriages so I had a long walk along the platform to get to my carriage and my seat.
It was a comfortable ride and I enjoyed looking out of the window at all the scenery. It was nearly a four hour jouney from Paris to Brest, but when we finally arrived in Brest I walked to the hotel.
It felt both strange and comforting to be back in France.
I was staying at the Hotel Oceania Brest Centre. I was only staying one night at the Oceania. The hotel was easy to find and the welcome was warm and friendly. My French language skills leave a lot to be desired, so I was thankful that the reception staff spoke excellent English.
The room was simple, but had a desk as well as a very comfortable bed. The en-suite was a little cramped, but the actual shower was huge (and probably explained why the rest of the space was cramped).
Unlike the British hotels I stay in, there were no coffee (or tea) making facilities in the room, there was just a solitary bottle of mineral water. That’s just a cultural difference.
I had been invited to the conference dinner, but was tired and to be honest the thought of being stuck at an event for the night with no one I knew and everyone else speaking French, did not appeal. So I ducked out and decided to go out and have something to eat.
I really enjoyed my walk around Brest, I walked down the main boulevard, arriving at the harbour, which is a major naval base for the French Navy. As I walked down, trams were going back and forth.
Down at the harbour there was a huge bridge across the river, and nearby was the massive chateau.
Part of me wished that I had arrive the day before so I could have explored the town and visited the chateau. The organisers of the conference though had booked my travel and hotel, so there wasn’t much (if any) time in my schedule for sightseeing. When I was organising the trip I had the offer of them organising the travel or I could have done it. The reason I took the train was that there was no easy route for flying, it would have taken longer than the train and then there was the challenge of getting from the airport to Brest. I did think about driving down to Plymouth and catching the ferry across to Roscoff and driving down to Brest. This did appeal as I thought I could spend some more time in France to see Brittany, which I hadn’t been to since 1982. However I wasn’t sure about the logistics of this. So went with the offer of the travel to be organised by the conference hosts.
Brest was badly damaged during the war that a lot of it had to be rebuilt post-war. As a result it doesn’t quite have the charm of other French cities and towns with its modern architecture.
I walked around Brest trying to find somewhere to eat, but in the end decided to hit the hotel restaurant, the Nautilus, as it was getting late, and when I finished I wouldn’t have too far to walk back.
There was a nice warm welcome from the staff on a visit to the Nautilus. They have English menus so if you have a poor grasp of the French language then at least you know what you will be ordering. There is a limited, yet good choice on the menu, which I think is a positive thing. Many of the items are not very French, so I went with the ribeye steak with pomme frites.
The steak was cooked perfectly and was delicious. I di dn’t think too much of the frites, which felt like they had been cooked twice. I enjoyed the meal and the service was excellent. It was getting late, so I retired to my room to get some sleep.