Finally, June 7th arrived the day for our first trip to Fougères. A party of 16 eager and expectant travellers assembled at Ashford International station at 09.00hrs for our journey on the Eurostar. Having completed the security checks, which I am pleased to say we passed with flying colours, we settled ourselves in the departure lounge where a bite to eat and a drink were had by some, we can recommend the bacon butties.
Soon we were all aboard the train and speeding through the countryside of Kent and into France. Our journey had to be re-routed due to industrial action by the French and instead of changing trains at Lille we had to go to Paris to get our connection to Rennes, consequently, we had to get from Paris North station to Paris South station with only an hour to get across “Gay Parie”.
This proved to be somewhat stressful as the journey was made by taxi with parties arriving at various times, but despite Matthews visibly growing grey hairs, we all managed to get the connection, although some with only minutes to spare! At last, we were on the final leg of our journey and, despite the Paris section, the whole journey seemed to be quick and was well organised by Matthew.
We arrived at Rennes at 17.00hrs in the midst of a stormy downpour, but not with dampened spirits as we were soon to see the smiling faces of our hosts, who greeted us with warmth and friendship and soon enough we were on the road to Fougères.
We reached our first destination, a converted nunnery, which was quite impressive and was met by more of our twinning friends, where the opportunity to rekindle friendships and make new acquaintances was undertaken with gusto. Speeches were completed followed by light, but delicious refreshments, including some very fine local Cidre, all contributing to a very pleasant welcome.
Soon we were off with each of our hosts to our accommodation. We were being hosted by Janine Deshayes, who lived in a wonderful apartment in the centre of town. No sooner had we dropped off our suitcases and got unpacked than we were whisked off to Monique & Jacques Jolivel’s home for a very pleasant evening, with a delicious meal and drinks (lots) with Sue & John Rowlands and their hosts Madeleine and Pierre Jolivet a most enjoyable evening was had by all despite the last course being served at 10.45pm. Wearily we got to our beds but with a smile from ear to ear.
Friday was a gloriously hot sunny day and we were looking forward to a programme of events organised by our twinning partners. First, we visited St James textile factory, where we were given a guided tour of the production areas, finishing with a leisurely walk around the visitor’s shop, where some made purchases, although not ourselves on this occasion. This was followed by a very pleasant and satisfying lunch of poached Salmon with vegetables and rice, Tiramisu followed by Coffee, in a small village pub, with of course wine flowing throughout. Then we went on to the American War Cemetery, where we were given a guided tour by the curator who explained in both English and French many details of the cemetery and graves there, which was interesting and humbling.
Late afternoon saw the two twinning groups gather in Fougères Town Hall with speeches from the Deputy Mayoress and both presidents, followed by light refreshments.
That evening parties spent time with their hosts. Janine took us to a lovely pancake restaurant (a Creperie), where we opted to sit outside due to the glorious warm evening, however a sudden thunderous and very windy downpour forced us to retreat inside. An enjoyable, if not different meal for us was had, along with of course Cidre and wine, hope we aren’t starting to give the wrong impression! We arrived home, tired but happy we took to our bed to listen to the thundery rain through our balcony doors.
We awoke Saturday morning to the rain continuing to pour, but that didn’t deter us from spending time visiting the local Fougères market, where fresh local produce from fish, crabs, lobster, appetising looking fruit and vegetables, tempting cheese’s as well as the locally Brittany produced Cidre was all on display. Walking around we met many of our fellow Twinning friends and at lunchtime we all assembled in a pub near the market where we enjoyed a locally produced sausage and chips from one of the market stalls whilst drinking, yes you guessed it Cidre purchased from the pub, we were somewhat surprised that the pub allowed us to bring in our own food, especially as they served their own extensive menu, can’t see that happening in Ashford. After lunch we walked round the town a little longer, taking in the beautiful gardens and stopping at a local florists to order some flowers for Janine and Monique to thank them for their wonderful hospitality and friendship, finally heading back home to catch up with Janine, finding out even more about each other, looking through photo albums and exploring her beautiful apartment some more.
Then in the evening we again all got together with many more Fougères members in attendance and enjoyed a delicious dinner in a local village restaurant, which went on late into the evening.
Sunday was spent with hosts and we were privileged to be given a tour of Normandy and Brittany which included a visit to “Le Mount St Michel” where we had a splendid lunch followed by a noteworthy tour of the coastal road through Calcan and onto the port of St Malo where we met Janine’s son, Patrick and his dog Opal in his home. The return journey to Fougères took us through the pleasant countryside with many interesting sites seen and visited.
Sadly, Monday arrived and it was time to return to Ashford. Once again, all parties assembled at Rennes station, sad farewells, hugs and promises were made and with heavy hearts we were soon aboard the train on our, less eventful, return journey home via Lille.
Our first trip to Fougères was most enjoyable, and not due to the copious amounts of alcohol consumed but meeting up with old friends and making of new ones and the opportunity to see some of the beautiful French sites and we look forward to seeing even more in future visits. A big thank you to our wonderful host, friend and in her words big sister Janine.