New-old Saint-Malo

When it finally stopped raining on Friday, and we unwound enough from our computer travails, we took some time to walk around the fortress city of Saint-Malo.

If we didn’t know better, we would be in the usual awe at the medieval homes and streets as we stumbled over what we have lovingly come to call “hobblestones.” But the truth is that this city was so badly bombed during the war that very little remained of the historic center.

There was a strong will to rebuild it, however, and that collective determination created a replica of the fortress that seems to satisfy the throngs of tourists who come annually. It is charming and evocative, and enough of the truly ancient remains that one is seduced into the past.

The same cannot be said of the rest of Saint-Malo, which is completely undistinguished. After the war, the mayor supposedly said, “Don’t worry about the style. Just build!”

And, imagining what they lived through, we think he can be forgiven for the results.

An interesting footnote: When Anne of Brittany – much celebrated in Saint-Malo – married Charles VIII in 1491, she united France and her kingdom under some duress. One concession she received from the king was that there would be no toll roads in Brittany, as there were in other parts of France.

That concession continues to this day. While the auto routes elsewhere in France exact a toll, in Brittany, you drive for free. There is just one catch. On the toll roads, the speed limit is typically 130 km/hour. But in Brittany, you are not allow to go over 110 on roads of the same quality. And the minute we crossed into Normandy, everyone hit the gas. Anne – thanks for a week of toll-free driving!

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