Category: Normandy & Brittany
Discussed in this Episode
- Carnac (Eglise Saint-Cornely and the patron saint of cattle)
- Arzon (Le Petit Mont and Butte de Cesar)
- Ile aux Moines
- Côte Sauvage
[00:00:00] Annie Sargent:
[00:00:14] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 408, quatre cent huit.
[00:00:21] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France.
[00:00:38] Today on the podcast
[00:00:38] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the mysterious Standing Stones of Carnac in Brittany.
[00:00:48] Carnac is a gorgeous beach destination in Brittany and the large field of Standing Stones are quite the mystery and really interesting to visit. I think it’s an excellent place to visit for repeat visitors to France.
[00:01:04] Podcast supporters
[00:01:04] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app. And you can browse all of that at my boutique JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique.
[00:01:22] The Newsletter
[00:01:22] Annie Sargent: There is a newsletter to go along with the podcast. I sent out a newsletter on Thursday about the wonderful long weekends coming up in 2023 in France. Those are wonderful for French people, but visitors don’t like them as much because they are very, busy travel dates.
[00:01:42] And most visitors have no idea when those long weekends are going to be, and they wonder why on earth everything is booked up, when they happen to visit on those dates. So, with this newsletter, you can plan this and make your reservations accordingly. French people are already making those plans for April and May 2023, and you should do the same.
[00:02:06] You can sign up for the newsletter at JoinUsinFrance.com/newsletter.
[00:02:21] Annie and Elyse about the Standing Stones
[00:02:21] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.
[00:02:23] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.
[00:02:24] Annie Sargent: Lovely to see you today, we’re gonna talk about the mysterious Standing Stones of Brittany today.
[00:02:31] Elyse Rivin: Yes we are.
[00:02:33] Why the stones were made
[00:02:33] Annie Sargent: We don’t really know why, but we’re going to try and figure it out.
[00:02:37] Elyse Rivin: Well, this is one of those where it would be interesting to have people try and figure it out and send what they think these were all about because so many archeologists, so many people have tried and basically they’re there, we look at them, but no one has a clue as to why they were made.
[00:02:59] The towns in the area
[00:02:59] Annie Sargent: Yep. Yep. Yep. So we’re going to talk about the towns of Carnac, Auray is very pretty, you told me.
[00:03:07] Annie Sargent: The Petit Mont, which is in the town of Arzon. Cesar’s Butte.
[00:03:11] Elyse Rivin: Cesars Butte, which is a tumulus. A tumulus is basically a structure that is been made of stone, that’s been covered with dirt or earth and grass. So from a distance, it just looks like a mound of something.
[00:03:28] Elyse Rivin: And it’s only when you examine it or in these days, I guess, using laser and things like that, that people discover that there’s something underneath.
[00:03:38] Annie Sargent: Yeah, no, that’s cool. So these are places that you go to regularly because you go to Brittany every summer, so you have a lot of experience. We can’t wait to hear about, this is not a part of France I know that well, personally, so I rely on your expertise.
[00:03:52] Elyse Rivin: Oh, my goodness. Oh my goodness. My expertise, here we go.
[00:03:56] Annie Sargent: So tell us a little bit about like generally speaking, what are those Standing Stones?
[00:04:00] What are the Standing Stones?
[00:04:00] Elyse Rivin: Okay. So what we’re talking about are generally called Megaliths, which basically means big stones, and it turns out that for reasons that nobody knows, the largest concentration of them in all of Europe is in Brittany. They are scattered actually, some of these megaliths, everywhere, literally everywhere. I didn’t even know that, but they’re pretty much everywhere in Europe.
[00:04:27] Elyse Rivin: But there’s a kind of swath of them that covers up Brittany that kind of goes across, and interestingly enough, for a very long time, people thought that they were constructed by the Celtic tribes that were the original, the ones that you see in Asterix cartoons. But it turns out that they’ve now discovered through scientific studies that in fact, they are way older. Way, way, way older. So no one knows who put these up, because these are massive pieces of granite most of the time. And they required an ingenious method for putting them together. So there are two kinds, basically. One is called, a menhir and the words that are used to describe them actually from the old Gaelic or Breton, because they were the first ones to describe them.
[00:05:15] What’s a Menhir?
[00:05:15] Elyse Rivin: And they were talking about them when the Romans showed up. So the word menhir comes from the ancient word in Breton, which is basically maen, which meansstone and hir, H I R which means long.
[00:05:29] Elyse Rivin: Okay.
[00:05:29] Elyse Rivin: And these are monolithic, if I dare say rather phallic-looking, individual stones that are of an enormous height, the smallest are four or five meters high. They can be up to 13, 14 meters high, which is enormous.
[00:05:47] Annie Sargent: That’s like several stories tall.
[00:05:48] Elyse Rivin: Yes, there aren’t too many that are like that. Most of them, most of the ones I’ve seen, they’re in the range of four or five meters at the most.
[00:05:56] There are different kinds of standing stones
[00:05:56] Elyse Rivin: And the thing about them is that a lot of them have carvings, very superficial carvings or marks on them, some of them which are kind of abstract, like squiggly lines, but they’re clearly made by human. And some of them have, there are two that are near where I go and stay every summer, that have things that almost look like, one looks like a casserole and the other one looks like something else. And nobody has any clue as to what these things things are.
[00:06:25] Annie Sargent: Nothing definitive anyway.
[00:06:26] Elyse Rivin: No, no. And there’s apparently an arrangement of them that is repeated on a bunch of these stones, so it clearly had some kind of meanings, it was a marker of some kind. But the thing about these stones, these menhir, is that you find them eitherin groups, or solo, or just standing by themselves.
[00:06:46] And what makes it even more curious is that, because very often they have similar markings on them, it’s assumed that it was made by the same people, but no one has a clue and it’s very strange. I mean, there’s nothing that helps understand what they were for, you know.
[00:07:03] How they put them together
[00:07:03] What intrigued me was, how did they put this together? Because there are so many of them, so you just wonder how did they do this?
[00:07:10] Annie Sargent: And so I went looking on YouTube. If archeologists had tried to reproduce, you know, how they did it, and actually, there’s a pretty simple method. You do like rails, tracks, so you do two long tracks of nicely rounded pieces of wood, and they have to be of the same size and shape and stuff.
[00:07:31] Annie Sargent: And then across the rail, you just put a smaller piece of lumber and you get a lot of people to pull on those smaller pieces of lumber that roll on the tracks. And then you have to move the lumber as you go along.
[00:07:47] Annie Sargent: But you know, you get 20, 30 people, together with a system like that, and you can move a huge stone.
[00:07:54] Elyse Rivin: And how do they get them to stand up?
[00:07:57] Annie Sargent: Probably what they did is they probably dug a big hole. And then they just, again, got lots of people to pull. And then once gravity takes over, it just falls into that hole. And then you need to make the hole the right shape and length, you know, they had to be very clever about it. And it probably took 30, 40, 50 people to pull on these ropes. So they had to have ropes, they had to have lumber and they had to have a lot of people to do this.
[00:08:26] And if this is in fact how they did it, that means that there’s a chunk of this stone that is under the ground. So, they’re even bigger than what you actually see.
[00:08:34] Annie Sargent: Oh, definitely. If there wasn’t a stone under the ground they wouldn’t stand.
[00:08:38] The orientation of the stones
[00:08:38] Elyse Rivin: Now what’s interesting is that, since there are sites that have multiple stones like this, that are standing, these upright stones, they know that when they were put together, when it wasn’t just a single one, they were oriented in a certain direction. Most of them are oriented Northwest Southeast, which is very interesting because I don’t know if that has to do with the fact that this is in Brittany, which is so further west. I have no idea because in fact, there are certain sites where they are aligned with the solstice. Very much like I’m sure most people have heard of Stonehenge.
[00:09:09] There’s an alignment there. So of course, some speculation is that some of these were for some kind of ceremony, which is most likely true anyway, because why would you go through the trouble of doing all of this? Because one of the things about these menhir, as opposed to the other kind of construction is that they were not funeral stones.
[00:09:29] Elyse Rivin: This is a fact because there’s nothing under the ground or anything nearby any of these vertical stones. So when they were standing, whether it’s just one by itself or whether there were groups of them vertical that were standing vertically, they were not burial stones because there was another kind that actually was a burial stone.
[00:09:50] And by the way, I’m not sure exactly how they do this because obviously, we know that stone is not carbon dated, it’s nothing organic in granite. Although they can measure a certain amount of radio activity, but it was not the stone itself that helps understand how old they are, but the little things that were found either in the dirt, at the base of it or something nearby, because they estimate them to be probably about five to six thousand years old.
[00:10:18] Annie Sargent: Yeah. I saw as long as seven thousand.
[00:10:20] Elyse Rivin: Yes. I have seen that too.
[00:10:22] Interestingly of course, you know, we’ve talked a bit about the prehistoric caves. The prehistoric caves were far before, much earlier.
[00:10:28] Associated with the first farmers
[00:10:28] Elyse Rivin: So what’s interesting about this is that, I was doing a whole bunch of reading about it, this is what they associate with the first people who farmed. So these were basically not nomadic peoples anymore, or they were mostly farmers and maybe a little bit nomadic. And so, they think there’s a connection between crops, for instance, with growing crops and maybe fertility, because just, this is just about when the period of what is called neolithic is when people started farming and growing crops.
[00:10:59] Elyse Rivin: So they think that there’s some kind of relationship between the two of them. In fact, there are even some in the Middle East, these kinds of stones and they were clearly associated with that time period. So it, it’s kind of interesting and no one knows who, which group, you know, which civilization, which group of people, whether it was one, whether it was more than one, you know, there’s all kinds of speculation that the same people who did Stonehenge, or these people that did this and various things, because they have very similar structures. But now it’s up, you know, you can make up your own story about it.
[00:11:32] Carnac, a World Heritage Site
[00:11:32] Elyse Rivin: Now, the biggest field of Menhir, anywhere in the world is Carnac, and it’s a World UNESCO Heritage Site, it has been since the early 1990s. It was known since ,the end of the 19th century and people would come and visit it. Even at the end of the 19th century, people would take pictures, they even did selfies way back then, you know? But the thing about Carnac is that, it is extremely special. The entire area is filled with several distinct fields of these upright stones.
[00:12:06] Annie Sargent: And they’re in kind of like, the height of them is decreasing, right? As you go towards the water.
[00:12:12] Elyse Rivin: As you go towards the water, as you go towards the Northwest, they decrease in size, they actually have a size, you know, it’s kind of like, you wonder whether it’s directive kind of thing, say directing you towards the water, who knows, you know? Over eight kilometers long of fields. I’ve been there several times and I’ve never done the whole thing.
[00:12:35] Visiting Carnac
[00:12:35] Elyse Rivin: It’s really, really big. If you do a big chunk of it, the first chunk, when you go to Carnac, if you’re going to visit it, there’s a ticket you can get that takes you to a museum that’s there, that’s very good, it’s new, modern, nice and air conditioned on the inside. That gives you a history of all of the megaliths and the whole prehistoric area around there and covers pretty much what you see all over Brittany. And then it’s the same ticket that allows you to walk into the fields with a guide.
[00:13:01] Now, it used to be my very first trip there, was so long ago that there was no museum, there was no gate around it, there were no fences, you could just wander through. That shows you how old I am. Is it almost as old as the stones themselves, you know? Now everything is very carefully controlled because of course, it’s a precious site.
[00:13:20] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I read that you pay between like April and September and then the rest of the year it’s free, but I don’t know if that’s still true. So that would mean that they want locals to be able to see it without paying.
[00:13:33] Elyse Rivin: Maybe, because I was just looking yesterday online and it said it was 6 Euros, which is not a lot of money.
[00:13:38] Elyse Rivin: And the 6 Euros gets you into A, the museum, B, the fields of Carnac, and then it gets you into two other sites that are on the South side of the Gulf of Morbihan, because this is the department of the Morbihan. And so, all of this, you can’t see in one day because you have to really drive all the way around the Gulf to get to the other side.
[00:13:59] Elyse Rivin: So it’s not a timed ticket even, at all, you know, they want you to go, they want you to go and see some of these things. But I have to say that Carnac, which is very, very famous now, there are a few other structures, not just the menhir.
[00:14:12] Elyse Rivin: You know what it made me think of yesterday? I realized it made me think of a military cemetery.
[00:14:17] Elyse Rivin: Because I’ve been to a few in Normandy and in Northern France. And of course, the markers, the crosses and other markers are very small, but they’re aligned like that, you see?
[00:14:29] What could you do with the stones?
[00:14:29] Annie Sargent: So when I think about this, what could I do with a thing like this? I think, well, you could hang all sorts of things on those stones.
[00:14:37] Annie Sargent: You could hang ropes, you could tie things to grow things onto, you could build a roof, like a wooden roof. I really don’t know, you know, just speculation. I’m sure the specialists have speculated much brighter things, but for me, if I had this in my garden, what would I do with it?
[00:14:57] I think I might use it to make a patio or to grow like vine things on it.
[00:15:04] Elyse Rivin: Can you, I don’t know if you can grow things on the big chunk of…
[00:15:07] Not on the stone, but between two stones you can hang a rope. And then on that rope, you can hang other ropes and you could grow things that climb, you know, like peas or whatever.
[00:15:18] Annie Sargent: I don’t know. It’s just me thinking of today. What could I do with a thing like this. Or you could, you know, hang some planks between the stones and then create a roof, like some sort of shelter, but I’m pretty sure they would’ve found
[00:15:32] Elyse Rivin: Right. They would have,
[00:15:33] Annie Sargent: You
[00:15:34] Elyse Rivin: have,
[00:15:34] Annie Sargent: not what it was, I’m just speculating.
[00:15:36] But what’s interesting is, as you’re saying all this I’m sort of speculating myself, but what I was thinking was that a lot of these have these almost superficial carvings on them, you know, they’re not very deep. And I don’t know whether that means that they were deeper, but with time they’ve just, you know, been worn away, because it’s exposed to the elements. But I wonder if they ever put any color on any of them, for instance, you know, because I would guess that there’s some kind of ritual, like I would imagine them dancing around them.
[00:16:04] Annie Sargent: Ah, yes.
[00:16:05] Elyse Rivin: Or playing some kind of music. There’s some speculation that lot of these stones were fertility stones. That is that they had some magic.
[00:16:13] Elyse Rivin: I mean, there’s something about the idea that these stones were magical. I don’t know whether it was the shape that made them magical, whether it was the size, there are clearly a few that have imagery that looks almost female on them, you know, and then some of them, as I said, there’s squiggles and round things and triangles and maybe it’s a map, I mean.
[00:16:34] Elyse Rivin: But the Carnac is an alignment, which is very different from most of the others, which are either a 1, 2, 3 or four. There’s not that many of them in the same place at the same time. So it had to be a place that was very special.
[00:16:47] Elyse Rivin: It had to be, it’s the kind of place where you imagine a group of people coming once or twice a year for some major ceremony, I mean the equivalent of a rock festival 7,000 years ago.
[00:17:00] Elyse Rivin: I don’t know.
[00:17:00] Annie Sargent: Well, because there weren’t that many people to begin with, like population growth happened in the Middle Ages. Even if it’s just 5,000 years ago, there weren’t that many people around, so first of all, they had to find enough people to pull those stones, and then they had to, it had to be a reason.
[00:17:19] Standing stones are as mysterious as painted caves
[00:17:19] Annie Sargent: It’s kind of similar to the painted caves, where we can speculate and we can study, and there are people who make this whole life study out of this, which is stunning to me that you could spend your whole life studying this knowing full well that you probably won’t uncover a definitive answer.
[00:17:38] It’s not like somebody can solve this, I don’t think. But there had to be a really important purpose for them to do this. This does not happen by mistake. And it also makes this part of Brittany really pleasant to visit. This is the sort of visit you can do, you’re outside all day, you look around, if the weather is good, it’s really pleasant. And those little towns are charming.
[00:18:00] Elyse Rivin: Oh, they’re very charming, they’re absolutely charming. And it is a fact. I mean, it’s one of the things about this area of Brittany and Brittany in general, I would say, but since this is the part, I’ve been to a bunch of the other parts of Brittany.
[00:18:12] The stones are marked, named, and described
[00:18:12] Elyse Rivin: But you can go anywhere, and on a small country road, you will see a Menhir. And most of them have, because everyone knows that these are important in terms of the history of the area, even if we don’t know why they’re there, they all have little signs and explanations. They have names, most of them. They’ve been cleared away, so you have access to them, most of them.
[00:18:34] Annie Sargent: So like, is there a little place where you can pull over and walk to them?
[00:18:38] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. Like the two that are near where I stay, one of them, well, there’s a teeny little footpath. I mean, you just, you, there’s a road that leads very close by and then there’s this footpath and there’s a nice sign with a good explanation, and even in English, and I think I actually have a photo that we can maybe post that gives a good explanation of what the people have thought might be the reason for these, and the measures.
[00:19:01] Annie Sargent: Right. So they tell you it’s so many meters tall.
[00:19:04] Elyse Rivin: And they identify, because some of these carvings are hard to see, especially with the light, you know, the shadow and the light in full sun and everything.
[00:19:12] The Dolmen as burial stones
[00:19:12] Elyse Rivin: So they have good explanations and you find these little menhir, and then the other kinds of structure which are called, a dolmen. I just wanna mention that’s on the other side of the Gulf, but you also have these dolmen everywhere.
[00:19:25] I know a lot of people go to Brittany now, it’s a place that’s become very popular with tourists, most people go to see the charming towns because they are really beautiful and they go for the water, but this is one of the most essential elements of the mystery of Brittany.
[00:19:40] How is a Dolmen different from a Menhir?
[00:19:40] Elyse Rivin: So the dolmen, so dolmen, the same thing, you have menhir and dolmen. So maen is still the same word for stone and “dol” comes from a word old Breton for table. And the reason why is because a dolmen, as opposed to a menhir is a structure with several huge pieces of stone, and it is several pieces that are set up vertically. And then you have two or three enormous, enormous stones that are set like a lintle across horizontally.
[00:20:12] And these are in fact, burial sites. And this is something that they know for sure.
[00:20:18] Interesting, no, they haven’t found bones, so I did a guided visit this last time, which was very interesting. And being that I’m a guide too I asked a zillion questions. You know, the guy was looking at me, like I said, I’m sorry, I’m a guide I have to ask. So it turns out that except for one dolmen, and I don’t remember exactly where, but not in this part of Brittany, they have never found the bones, but they have found fragments of other things, including objects that are like little fetish objects and even fragments of what probably was either fur or some kind of cloth, because it is assumed the way these structures are made, imagine going into a kind of, you know, how sometimes with auto roads that are highways, you have that kind of under pass that goes underneath, that’s kind of a little bit underground, but not completely underground.
[00:21:10] Elyse Rivin: Well, that’s kind of the thing in some of these dolmens, some of them are deep into the ground, so they are like couple of meters underground that you walk into and you go down and then some of them are kind of half underground and half above ground, but covered with these very flat horizontal stones. What they think is that the reason why there haven’t been any bones found is because they did not bury the bodies.
[00:21:36] Elyse Rivin: They actually laid them surrounded by either a piece of skin, a fur of some kind of animal, or maybe they were making cloth, I don’t even know at the time. But they laid them down without covering them completely with dirt and soil. So that, between whatever animals might get in and the acidic soil which is what it is in Brittany, the bones eventually disappeared.
[00:21:59] Elyse Rivin: But because they were able to find all these little objects and they could test into the soil to see at what time period these were actually placed there, they know that these were that old. These were thousands of years old and that they were specifically for one, two or maybe three people. So it was clearly for important people. Because it would not, otherwise you would not findchambers that had all these things just for one.
[00:22:26] Cairn of Le Petit Mont in Arzon
[00:22:26] Elyse Rivin: It’s kind of like, obviously nowhere near as sophisticated, but imagine, we know that the pyramids very often as big as they were, were for one person and maybe a couple of his wives or servants, you know? And so this is basically what the dolmen were. And there’s a one site that’s actually quite impressive. So this is on the Southern side of the Western part of the Gulf of Morbihan. It’s called, Le Petit Mont and this is what I visited, took some pictures of, and it is enormous. It looks like a flattened pyramid.
[00:22:58] Elyse Rivin: It’s all made of walls, it’s just drystone, in a kind of step pyramid kind of like in Mexico, you know, the step pyramids with a flat top and originally, it was covered with a huge amount of dirt and grass. So it looked like a small hill or baby mountain.
[00:23:15] Elyse Rivin: And it’s up on top of this, it’s on a promotory where you have a 360 degree view of the ocean and the Gulf of Morbihan. The view is spectacular in every direction, and it’s huge. It’s 10,000 square meters of stone, which is enormous. And inside, are two small chambers and there are two hallways that go down a couple of meters.
[00:23:40] Elyse Rivin: And then now of course, they’ve made it so that it’s accessible to modern humans and all of that. But when you get inside, these little chambers are really not very big and there are carvings on the walls. It’s all very primitive. I mean, it’s not nearly as sophisticated as the Walls of Lascaux or something like that. It’s just these huge stones, you can see that they’ve been set up so that they form a kind of small anti-chamber in U shape. And they’ve got, one of them has carvings of feet on it.
[00:24:10] Annie Sargent: Huh.
[00:24:11] Elyse Rivin: And who knows, is that the person that was supposed to be buried there, some of them have a series of lines, some of them have figures just like the menhir have, but we know for a fact that these dolmen were in fact burial sites. And since this one is so huge and it’s on a spot that basically looks very majestic, you know, it is assumed that these were the most important people of whatever this group of humans were that buried there, because they were clearly the chiefs or whatever it was. The place is absolutely fascinating to visit.
[00:24:46] Other places not to miss in the area
[00:24:46] So what other ones would you say are really not to be missed in this area?
[00:24:50] Elyse Rivin: So you have, going back across, it’s really hard to sort of explain, but on the side that Carnac is on, the beautiful little town next to it is called Auray , but there’s another town very close by called, Locmariaquer.
[00:25:02] Elyse Rivin: And there, there’s a special site right in the middle, it’s a cute little town also, where lying on the ground is what is supposed to be the largest menhir ever found ever, and it was 18 meters tall, but it’s broken now into three sections by, I don’t even know if they know how it broke.
[00:25:23] Elyse Rivin: Or, you know, but nobody even tries to lift it up.
[00:25:26] It’s been left and they talk about when you go to visit it, they talk about the history of it and the carvings on it. And it’s kind of amazing. I mean, it looks like this dead monster lying down, you know, Jack and the Giant, and he killed him and he’s lying down there and it’s really kind of strangely impressive.
[00:25:43] There are a couple of other sites nearby that also have dolmen. And in Carnac strangely enough, in one of the other fields, there are a few small dolmen, but they’re small.
[00:25:53] They were like, it’s like car size dolmen, they’re nothing like this Le Petit Mont one which is really like a pyramid, I mean, it’s enormous.
[00:26:01] That’s funny, it’s called Le Petit Mont.
[00:26:03] Elyse Rivin: It’s gigantic. Yeah. Well, I think that’s because the name of the place is the Petit Mont. Because they didn’t realize what it was until the end of the 19th century, when they started doing real exploration and everything.
[00:26:14] Elyse Rivin: And I guess, it’s the town of Arzon, which is a lovely town with gorgeous beaches, all around it and everything. And obviously for centuries, it was just this hill with this rounded mound on top of it. In fact, there’s a story, you can see this as well during World War II, this area was taken over and occupied by the Germans.
[00:26:35] Elyse Rivin: And the dolmen had it, the access to the dolmen, it already was there and they took it over and they turned a part of the, not the chambers that are still authentic, but they added a section, they kind of dug out some of the stones and poured some concrete and they used it as a hiding spot to make a bunker for themselves.
[00:26:56] Elyse Rivin: Because they set up artillery on the top of the hill on the outside. And so, they’ve left it that way so that you can see, because they’re even some of the signs that the Germans had put up, there’s even one, this is awful, but it, I mean, it’s basically, it says in German, watch out for your head because you have to go down under these things that are very low. It was used again as a hiding spot by the Germans in World War II.
[00:27:19] Elyse Rivin: But otherwise, if you go to the Northwestern part of Brittany, up in the Cote d’Armor, you have a whole bunch of them along the coast. You have some dolmen and some menhir. And on a couple of the tiny little islands that are just off the coast that are part of that, you still have some. So it’s very interesting to see because honestly, they count that in Southern Brittany, there are over 500 of these sites.
[00:27:44] Elyse Rivin: And I’m sure that isn’t all of them. If you go to the Gulf of Morbihan there’s a beautiful island in the Gulf, that’s got a town on it called Ile aux Moines.
[00:27:52] Elyse Rivin: It’s very, very beautiful.
[00:27:54] Elyse Rivin: It used to be a place that had just a monastery, long time ago. The monastery is no longer there. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place to visit. You can get there by boat from just about anywhere. There’s I think about five different directions you can get a ferry boat or a little boat to go there to, and there, there is a field with a whole group of menhir, not as big as Carnac, but it’s right there. And the last time I was there, I was wondering, it was a part of the island I hadn’t seen before. It’s not that big, but hadn’t seen all of it and it’s actually on private land.
[00:28:25] You just pay a couple of Euros, and you walk through and there, the menhir are lined up, like making a fence around a huge field.
[00:28:33] Elyse Rivin: So, they’re not that big, and some of them have carvings on them, but they look like they’re enclosing something, you know? I mean, and they’re not that close together. I mean, they’re, you know, a few meters apart each one, but there they are. I mean, all four sides of them.
[00:28:47] Annie Sargent: But they might have strung some sort of roping material to close it off at some point.
[00:28:52] Elyse Rivin: Right, or they might have corralled the animals in or I mean, to me, it clearly means that they did something with some kind of ceremony inside or you know, attaching them, who knows. But it’s fascinating, it’s just fascinating.
[00:29:07] Perfect area to visit for people who like to be outside
[00:29:07] Annie Sargent: Right. What I really like about it, it’s that it lends itself to a nice little walk outside and you can just check it out and think about what were they thinking? What were they thinking?
[00:29:16] Elyse Rivin: And honestly, going to Brittany, one of the things that’s wonderful is that there are lots of these tiny little country roads, really, and you could discover one, you know, it might be one that nobody’s ever noticed before.
[00:29:30] I think they still find them now that we have drones everywhere, you know, when people fly drones, they find stuff and they realize that, I think it’s in Carnac that it actually extend into the water. So they’re now finding some of these stones buried underwater.
[00:29:46] Elyse Rivin: That’s right.
[00:29:47] Annie Sargent: And, why would you do that?
[00:29:49] There’s gotta be maybe,
[00:29:51] Elyse Rivin: You know, I mean, maybe they did sacrifices and people walked into the water. I mean, just think of all the…
[00:29:57] Annie Sargent: Oh, that’s that’s morbid.
[00:29:58] Elyse Rivin: I mean the Aztecs did things. Like, the Vikings sent their dead into the water on a little thing that they lit with a fire, and then the people would go to Valhalla which was their heaven.
[00:30:10] Annie Sargent: But they were already dead.
[00:30:11] Elyse Rivin: They were already dead, but yeah, I know that there’s another one not far from the Le Petit Mont in between where actually, I say it’s called, the Butte du Caesar, and the reason it’s called, a butte is because even though they have discovered what is underneath, which is a dolmen with a burial site, it’s not been uncovered. You see, the Petit Mont they’ve taken all the earth and what you see is the stone, you see the fabulous structure of the stone.
[00:30:37] Elyse Rivin: But the Butte du Caesar they’ve left all the earth and the grass, and the reason it’s called, the Butte du Caesar is because when Caesar and his Romans came to fight the gauls, he stood on top of this hill and he directed the army in a big battle that took place in this area. And so that is now, I mean, he doesn’t know it, but it’s named after him, you know, it’s not named after the poor people that got massacred by the romans.
[00:31:06] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so speaking of the Romans, in the town of Carnac, which has about 5,000 inhabitants, they have a cute little church, it’s very different from the kinds of churches that we see in the Southwest or that you see in Paris, the architecture is quite different, and it’s called the
[00:31:24] The legend of Saint Cornely
[00:31:24] Annie Sargent: Eglise Saint-Cornely. And he was the patron Saint of cattle.
[00:31:30] Elyse Rivin: Of cattle?
[00:31:30] Apparently he was the Pope in the 200s.
[00:31:34] Elyse Rivin: That’s a long time ago.
[00:31:35] Annie Sargent: That’s a long, long time ago. And he was traveling with a few oxen, the oxen were carrying his stuff and he was probably preaching along the way because that’s what they did.
[00:31:45] Annie Sargent: And Roman soldiers came after him and he hid in the ear ear of an ox.
[00:31:53] Elyse Rivin: He hid in the the ear. That was a big ox.
[00:31:56] Annie Sargent: Yes.
[00:31:57] Annie Sargent: And he turned the Romans who were after him into stones.
[00:32:02] Elyse Rivin: Maybe the stones, maybe the menhir are all Romans.
[00:32:05] Annie Sargent: So that’s what the story was for a long time in Brittany, that it was the Saint who had turned Roman soldiers into stones, which I will leave it to you to appreciate whether that is feasible or not. Probably not.
[00:32:23] Elyse Rivin: I mean, you know, there’s Excalibur and King Arthur and the magic of the forest, and who knows maybe in those days, things were different than now.
[00:32:33] Annie Sargent: But anyway, if I ever go to Carnac, which I hope I do someday, I will definitely go into this very nice Saint Cornely and see…. It’s a pretty
[00:32:41] Elyse Rivin: pretty popular
[00:32:42] Annie Sargent: church inside.
[00:32:43] Annie Sargent: It’s very nice, but the architecture, you know, looks quite different from the outside. But Carnac looks like a lovely little town where it, they have nice long beaches, and it’s the typical Breton beach where you have, it’s a mixture of sand and rocks. And you have areas where like, algae pull up and you have a lot of little living creatures in the sand at low tide. And, you know, it’s got to be a really fun place to go with kids because they can dig up the sand and find little…
[00:33:18] Elyse Rivin: Oh well, the beaches, I mean for people who are used to the Mediterranean, there are huge tides up in this area. And the Gulf of Morbihan is known for having a huge current and lots of very dramatic tides.
[00:33:30] Elyse Rivin: So, yes, it’s got the gorgeous beaches. The other side of Carnac, which takes you to the West, which it’s called the Cote Sauvage, it’s the wild coast, it’s the town of Quiberon.
[00:33:41] Elyse Rivin: And that part of it is these gorgeous cliffs. And part of it is this magnificent sandy beach that goes forever and ever, and ever, but the tides and the currents are nice and strong.
[00:33:52] Elyse Rivin: But it’s an area where you can walk, as you say, it’s wonderful for meandering. It’s wonderful for walking along the beaches, being at the water and discovering all these very, very interesting things.
[00:34:04] Annie Sargent: And you could probably do fun, really fun bike rides, because I assume it’s not super hilly.
[00:34:09] Elyse Rivin: No, it’s not. I mean, there are a few places where it’s a little bit hilly. It’s not mountainous. It’s a little
[00:34:14] Elyse Rivin: bit hilly That’s all.
[00:34:14] Biking around Carnac
[00:34:14] Annie Sargent: So for biking, it would be ideal, like you could go from town to town and well, I actually did that when I was a very young kid. We did a summer camp where we biked around a lot. And it was fairly fairly easy, you know?
[00:34:30] Elyse Rivin: I mean Brittany, at least this part of Brittany, to be honest, because this is where I really go a lot, lots of people bike. There aren’t necessarily bike lanes, which is a problem sometimes.
[00:34:40] Annie Sargent: Right, so, so these are like one lane roads or two lane roads, right?
[00:34:44] Elyse Rivin: There are a couple of places where they’ve specifically set up paths that cut across in the fields that are for the bikes, so that you can avoid the, because the area has some main roads that have lots and lots of traffic, lots of cars. And then you have some of these side roads that are nice because the cars usually don’t go too fast.
[00:35:05] Elyse Rivin: And there are people on bikes everywhere, absolutely everywhere.
[00:35:09] Elyse Rivin: So they’re starting to set up bike lanes, but it’s kind of hard because some of these are, as you say, narrow country roads, you know, and it’s all private property pretty much, except for the coastline and the beaches. And, so it’s hard to cut out a bike lane out of that, but yes, it’s a great area for bicycling.
[00:35:25] Riding Your Bike in France
[00:35:25] Annie Sargent: Well, and in France, people are used to seeing bicycles, so it’s not scary. Like people wonder if it’s scary to ride your bike in the French countryside. And typically it’s not, I mean, you have to be visible, you have to have lights and you have to have something bright on, you know, I never understand when I see people riding like, and they’re all dressed in black. What if you get delayed and it’s dark and nobody can see you like this, so just make sure you have some sort of bright…
[00:35:53] This part of Brittany is great for slow travel
[00:35:53] Elyse Rivin: You see whole families out on bicycles, either going for a ride to explore or going to the beach. Andit’s actually a common thing to, to see pretty much everywhere.
[00:36:02] Annie Sargent: This is great for slow travel and for like just enjoying a week where you don’t do much, you just go see some standing stones and you go to the beach.
[00:36:11] Elyse Rivin: And you eat some gallettes, and crepes and nice buttery pastries.
[00:36:16] And go to some markets
[00:36:17] Annie Sargent: And drink some cider, Calvados.
[00:36:20] Elyse Rivin: No. No. Calvados is Normandy.
[00:36:22] Elyse Rivin: Actually they drink a lot of beer, I have to say, you know, they drink some cider but they drink a whole lot more beer, you know. But it’s really beautiful. The towns are gorgeous in this area too. Auray is a gorgeous small town with a beautiful ancient city centre, you know, half timbered houses, well taken care of. The little villages are all beautiful with granite stone, gray granite, but lots of flowers everywhere.
[00:36:46] Elyse Rivin: This is Southern Brittany, this is totally different from Northern Brittany. It’s not gray, it’s colorful, it’s colorful. It’s colorful partly because the weather allows there to be the kinds of plants that flower for six months out of the year. And because a lot of the houses are still, they have beautiful colored shutters on them, so even if the stone is gray, it’s not the same gray as the northern part of Brittany.
[00:37:13] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Because Saint Malo. It’s kind of a gray town.
[00:37:16] But, and of course, all of Brittany has acid soil, like you mentioned, which means that hydrangea loves it.
[00:37:23] Elyse Rivin: Love it, love it. And they’re beautiful, and they’re, you know, they flower and then, and Roses of Sharon, which is a flower I absolutely love which grows everywhere. It’s very, very lovely, you know, so, and I love the fact that you have this ancient mysterious quality to all of this stuff at the same time, at the same time you’re eating your oysters, you know.
[00:37:43] Weather in Brittany
[00:37:43] Annie Sargent: Yes, yes. Yeah, Brittany is definitely a lovely place, and also nowadays, with the super hot summers that we’ve had, I mean, Brittany can get very hot. Did you get very hot this summer over there?
[00:37:55] Elyse Rivin: We had lovely weather and it got hot enough for me to get tanned and even burned during the day, but it gets cool enough to sleep comfortably at night.
[00:38:05] Annie Sargent: So temperature…
[00:38:07] Elyse Rivin: It got to be in Celsius, 30, 31 at the highest.
[00:38:10] Elyse Rivin: So it was hot for there.
[00:38:12] Annie Sargent: So 30, 31 is what? Low nineties. Yeah.
[00:38:15] Annie Sargent: Yeah. That’s very hot, and there because you’re really close to the water, it burns. It’s like going high in the mountains, the temperature isn’t as hot as it is down here on the South of France, but you really feel the sun on you. But that’s why it’s nice being next to the water.
[00:38:31] Annie Sargent: So, we recommend you check it out and you know, I think it’s one of the parts of France that I know the least, because I know Northern Brittany, but I don’t really know Southern Brittany, so, I’ll put it on my list.
[00:38:43] Elyse Rivin: You’ll have to come with me Annie.
[00:38:45] Annie Sargent: I would love to, I would love to.
[00:38:46] Annie Sargent: Merci beaucoup
[00:38:50] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for supporting this show, and giving back. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing that. You can see them at Patreon.com/joinus P A T R E O N. Join us no spaces or dashes. Thank you all for supporting the show, some of you have been great fans and supporters for a long time, and you are wonderful.
[00:39:22] New patrons and video update
[00:39:22] Annie Sargent: And a shout out this week to new patrons, Joel Grover and Michelle Schiffbauer. Thank you so much for becoming patrons and making this podcast possible. This week, I published a video update with Elyse and myself, chatting about what’s going on in our lives, and also about how French people feel about the passing of Elizabeth II.
[00:39:46] Annie Sargent: We try to do a chit chat video once a month for our patrons and we enjoy doing it. Although I definitely have a face for radio. Oh, it’s hard to see myself on video, but so, you know, I need to get over that.
[00:39:59] Annie Sargent: By the time you hear this, you will have probably already received the newsletter with a sign up to reserve your spot for the France bootcamp in Toulouse May 21st until May 27th, 2023.
[00:40:15] Annie Sargent: If you did not and would like to hear more, email me right away Annie@JoinUsinFrance.Com, but there are only 40 spots, so this is going to go fast. If all goes well this year, we’ll do this again next year and perhaps the next as well.
[00:40:32] Preparing a trip to France?
[00:40:32] Annie Sargent: If you’re preparing a trip to France and listening to as many episodes of the podcast as you can to get ready, keep listening, because that’s a great way to do it.
[00:40:42] Search the website as well because it’s hard to remember all of these things that we talk about, all these places that we mentioned and they are all in writing in the show notes on the website.
[00:40:53] Itinerary consultant
[00:40:53] Annie Sargent: You can also hire me to be your itinerary consultant, where hopefully I remember more of these things. I’ve made some changes to make the service better. Here’s how it works now. You purchase the service on JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique. Then you fill out a document to tell me what you have in mind, we make a phone appointment, we talk for about an hour, and then I send you a document, usually a pretty long document, very detailed so that you can have a reminder of all the things we discussed on the phone.
[00:41:26] I’ve done some particularly long itineraries this week, they are a fun challenge, but I wish the days were longer, so I could do more. So remember that my time is always booked up several weeks in advance. You’ll see the date for my next appointment availability on the only page where you can buy the service at the JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique. Please pay attention to that.
[00:41:52] VoiceMap Tours
[00:41:52] Annie Sargent: And if you cannot talk to me because I’m all booked up and you’re going soon, you can still take me in your pocket by getting my GPS self-guided tours on the VoiceMap app. I’ve produced five tours of Paris. They are designed to show you around all these wonderful neighborhoods of Paris, you don’t have to do much thinking at all, you turn on the app and then I guide you with my voice. The VoiceMap technology makes it really, really easy to find your way around the best of Paris, so take a look at those tours JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique. Okay.
[00:42:28] Travel question of the week: Train Conductors and getting told off
[00:42:28] Annie Sargent: For the travel question of the week, I want to relate something that was discussed on the Facebook group for Join Us in France.
[00:42:37] Annie Sargent: Lisa Waisath, I’m not sure how to say your name, Lisa. Sorry. She says, I need to post this as a counter to the posts I see, not in our Facebook group but in some other, about how awful the French train conductors are. And if someone doesn’t have the right ticket, how quickly they issue a fine.
[00:42:58] Annie Sargent: She says I’m currently on the TER train, in the Loire Valley on our way to Chartres. I had my SNCF app open and ready when the conductors came by, one scanned my ticket, paused and said the ticket was for tomorrow. I had a mini panic moment. Checked my ticket, he pointed out the date, then I saw it was tomorrow’s ticket to CDG. I opened the correct ticket and he then scanned it without any problem.
[00:43:32] Annie Sargent: The lady across from me also seemed to have the wrong ticket. I couldn’t hear the exact issue, but the two conductors spent nearly 10 minutes helping her change her ticket so it was correct and answered her many questions. No fines were issued. The folks in France are really helpful and I just wanted to help dispel the rumors that they are cold rigid and indifferent.
[00:43:58] Annie Sargent: Indeed, indeed. And then when I asked her for permission to discuss this on the podcast, I think it was somebody else that says: I would love if you would discuss this, I didn’t write who it was, sorry. We had an encounter with the conductor on our way to Ventimiglia. Ventimiglia is in Italy, they were just going for the day. She did not issue a fine, but we were in trouble for not validating our tickets. We were very confused by this because the tickets we bought that morning had the date and time of our trains, but it turned out they were valid for two months. This seemed strange, but we didn’t make the same mistake on the way back that afternoon on our day trip to Marseille.
[00:44:42] Annie Sargent: So, yes, some trains on the TER, on the regional trains, you normally need to stamp your tickets with a time. Because even if you buy them for a specific time, on the regional trains you can use the tickets for two months whenever. And so they want you to punch, it’s a hole in a date stamp showing that you’ve used that particular ticket.
[00:45:07] Annie Sargent: It’s a bit antiquated, but that’s how it works. But you know, if you are not argumentative about things and you just say, I’m sorry, I made a mistake, they will help you.
[00:45:16] Annie Sargent: And in a similar vein, someone on a different travel group complained that she was at a train station with her young son. She picked up a newspaper to read the headline. That’s what she said. And the shopkeeper told her to cut it out, which she thought was rude and it made her feel terrible that she got told off in front of her son. And she wanted to vent about it on Facebook. Now, I wish nobody ever got told off, but come on, you know, don’t read the paper before buying it.
[00:45:47] Annie Sargent: Don’t read the book before buying it. Don’t eat the candy before you buy it. And while I’m at it, don’t put your feet on the chairs in front of you in public transportation, no matter how tired your legs get. Be on your best behavior and such things will not be a problem. People in busy train stations see it all, they see it all and they are not going to be shy, letting you know that what you’re doing is not okay.
[00:46:13] Annie Sargent: So my advice to you is be polite, be respectful, take the criticism if any is given, and don’t do it again, that’s it, you know. Most French people don’t get a kick out of being confrontational, but there are rules like any other country and you just need to abide by the rules. So roll with it, you know? And the American mentality is that you can never offend a customer, or a potential customer. Well, that’s not so in France, you know, for the most part, but if you make a mistake and you apologize and they can tell that it was just an honest mistake, they’ll help you, you know? On the other hand, if you get all offended and acting like nobody should point out to me that I’m not doing the right thing.
[00:46:58] Annie Sargent: Well, it’s not gonna go well for you. So there you have it. Just be on your best behavior, be polite, be friendly, be smiley and apologize if you make a mistake. The end.
[00:47:09] Personal Update
[00:47:09] Annie Sargent: For my personal update this week, well this week I got a shot of Hyaluronic acid, I can’t say that, in my left knee. It’s commonly called visco supplementation in France, and it’s used to relieve arthritis pain due to aging cartilage in the knee, in my case, there ain’t any left. And it hurts. So the rheumatologist told me that it works great in some people and not so much in others. Time will tell if it helps me.
[00:47:42] French people are not used to paying for medical care
[00:47:42] Annie Sargent: But I wanted to bring something up that’s relevant to all of you listening. French medical care has been free since pretty much World War II. When we see a doctor, we pay 26 Euros, but we get it back very quickly through our National Health Coverage. In the past 10 years, they’ve stopped covering certain things, certain drugs, things like cortisone spray for people who have allergies like me. My doctor used to prescribe a cortisone spray for, you know, the seasonal allergies.
[00:48:16] Annie Sargent: Well, it’s not reimbursed anymore. So if I want it, I need to pay for it. It’s like three bucks. It’s not that much. Blood tests for vitamin D are not covered unless you really have a problem with it, and your doctor wants to keep an eye on it. If you just wanna know, well, you have to pay for it. This Visco supplementation thing that I got today is not covered anymore.
[00:48:37] Annie Sargent: The drug was 75 Euros and then the medical procedure was 140 Euros. And in the process of discussing this with my doctor and then making the appointment for the procedure and then getting the drugs at the pharmacy, because in France, when a clinic or a doctor is going to inject something, usually you have to go get the product and you bring it to the doctor.
[00:49:02] Annie Sargent: Okay. So that’s what I needed to do this time. And along the way, there, at least 10 people told me that this procedure was not free anymore. French people are so used to free medical care that as soon as something cost any money, it’s a big deal, right? So if you are in France and you need a drug or anything medical that costs money, do not be surprised if people are reluctant to sell it to you.
[00:49:30] Annie Sargent: And if you are okay paying for it, tell the medical provider, tell the pharmacists that you’re okay paying for it. Perhaps repeat it a few times. Not because your French sucks because I don’t know what your French is like, but possibly you are speaking English and they can’t understand what you just said, but the biggest issue is that they’re not going to be willing to hear that you wanna pay for something that they think should be free. Okay. They really think you shouldn’t be paying for anything, and they might suggest that you go ask a doctor for a prescription because they think then they can give it to you for free, like they would to a French person. That’s not correct either. If you have a prescription, but you’re not in the French system, you’re gonna have to pay for it anyway.
[00:50:17] Annie Sargent: The take home message is that if you need something from a medical professional in France, let them know that paying is normal to you, and maybe repeat it a couple times. They’ll probably think you’re from Mars, hopefully you’re not gonna care, and hopefully you can convince them to sell you the thing that you need.
[00:50:38] Annie Sargent: This weekend I’m hosting a cousinade. Cousinade means cousins get together. It’s get together for all the cousins on my father’s side. We’re expecting 22 people, which is, you know, it’s not a huge family, but wish me luck on the weather because it would be best if this could be an inside /outside event rather than trying to cram us all in my, you know, pretty small house. I’ll report next week on how that went.
[00:51:07] Annie Sargent: Show notes and a full transcript for this episode are on JoinUsinFrance.com/408 the numeral. And if you’d like to help your Francophile friends plan their visit to France, tell them about the podcast, would you? That’s all it takes. Just tell them that there’s a podcast where they can plan their trip to France and they will thank you.
[00:51:30] Next week on the podcast
[00:51:30] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, a trip report with Brooke Cunningham, who is a French professor and who took a bit of a whirlwind trip around France. She went to Normandy, Brittany, Loire Valley, Dordogne, Saint Etienne, which is not a city that has come up a lot on the podcast because it’s not that touristy, but where I have cousins on my mother’s side. So they’re not gonna come to the cuisinade this weekend. She also went to Arles and the Auvergne and Paris. This French professor gets around, and I think you’ll love the episode.
[00:52:03] Annie Sargent: Send questions or feedback to annie@JoinUsinFrance.Com.
[00:52:07] Annie Sargent: Thank you so much for listening and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together.
[00:52:14] Annie Sargent: Au revoir!
[00:52:15] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2022 by addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial, No Derivatives license.
Subscribe to the PodcastApple Google Spotify RSS
Support the ShowTip Your Guides Extras Patreon Audio Tours
Read more about this transcriptEpisode Page Show Notes
Category: Normandy & Brittany