Geverny and San Malo

Less than two hours outside of Paris, Giverny seems to be a world away from the busy, hyperactive, insane beauty which is France’s capital city. There is still a sleepy, dreamy quality to this hub of Impressionistic creativity. Just walking down the street, it is easy to understand why a painter so obsessed with light and greenery would choose to make his haven and inspiration in this gem of a valley in Norman France. However, the moment you enter the house and gardens this understanding becomes complete. Monet, in his obsession with the natural world, managed to create a garden which is in bloom year-round, while being the most spectacular in late spring/early summer. It is truly breathtaking without being overwhelming. There is a simplicity in its over-abundance of flora which somehow manages to never overwhelm the senses. It is beautiful, serene, and blissfully quiet, even with gads of people milling about, marveling at the highly orchestrated, yet a seemingly natural, testament to a man's love of nature.

Brittany is an entirely different thing altogether. It is somehow French, Celtic and an entity all to itself, especially St. Malo, which seceded from not only France but Brittany as well, to be its own self-governing city-state in the 17th century. It was described by one British merchant as a town full of the depraved, thieving pirates of stories and even today there seems to be a local pride in this fact, despite the fact they seem to have settled down a bit and play up the pirate thing, mainly for tourists.

The Bretons are insanely proud of their Celtic heritage; you are far more likely to see the regional flag flying than the French one. They are Breton first and French second, reminding foreigners Brittany didn't become a part of France until 1532. Around every corner is some reminder of their Celtic origins, their role in the Arthurian Legends (Lancelot de Lac was Breton after all) and examples of their regional dialect, which isn't French, but rather a Gaelic language resembling Welsh or, even more closely, Manx.

As for the town itself, it is charming in that walled fortress sort of way. Despite the height of the walls, the sea air envelopes everything, lending its subtle crispness to the already ever-present fragrance of crepes and seafood which wafts everywhere. The streets twist and turn, almost encouraging the lone tourist to get lost, with only the distant sound of waves as a guide. Everywhere you look there is a point of interest, whether it is an artist painting, a group of traditional dancers prancing or a group performing French sea shanties on top of all the interesting architecture. It is ridiculously charming. Tourists and locals seem to blend together, with the only way to tell the two apart is in shops and the wait staff. Much like the people of Bath England, the St. Maloians seem to understand how much of their prosperity comes from tourists and welcome them accordingly.