Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Crystal Symphony - Patricia Riley's Review: August 22-September 2, 2013 (Lisbon to Dover) - Part VI (A Tale of Two Cities)

I want to preface my comments with some background.  Having worked for various cruise lines for over 25 years I know that there is much planning that goes into making a cruise the best it can be.  It has always amazed me that most cruises are as seamless as they are with all that has to go on before the ship sets sail.

One of the critical parts of any cruise belongs to the Itinerary Planning Department.  Every cruise line has a different name for these people but their job description is basically the same.  They are tasked with finding ports that are attractive to their guests and balance that with the costs of operations as well as marine needs. A port can be included or excluded based on tides, docking facilities or tendering, costs or ground operators. (I remember years ago Seabourn was going to go to Libya.  While permissions were forthcoming a visit there showed that their tourism infrastructure left much to be desired.  While the destination held appeal (at that time) it was thought that any positives would be outweighed by negatives.)

This now brings me to my Tale of Two Cities.

My cruise on the Crystal Symphony continues with port calls in Lorient and St. Malo.  Both are in Brittany, France.  Both have a maritime history.  Both have fabulous seafood restaurants.  But that is where the similarities end.  For example,while both Lorient and St. Malo are seaports with large harbors the topography of St. Lorient does not make it especially scenic, while the harbor at St. Malo offers extraordinary vistas in all directions.

Lorient was, for me, underwhelming.I know there must be a good reason for Crystal Cruises to include it in the itinerary; I'm just not sure what that reason was. Lorient,actually L'Orient, in French, is where the first boat to serve the East India Company was built.  That was in 1666.  Their maritime link continued with an unfortunate detour in 1940.  It was in that year that the Nazi's began their largest construction outside of Germany:  the Keroman Submarine Base.  It was virtually indestructible and so the Allies concentrated their bombings on the city.  As a result Lorient is a modern town and the base is now a tourist attraction.  

 The best thing to see in Lorient is the Marche.  The Marches (markets) in France are obligatory in most towns or cities.  Sometimes, daily, sometimes, just on weekends, they always offer a taste of the area.  Fruit, vegetables, cheeses, fish and more are always on display and wandering with the locals gives you a real feel for an area and their cuisine.  Please remember most markets close by 1:00 p.m.

 
If you are interested in the history of the East India Company and its connection to Lorient, you can visit a relatively new museum dedicated to the two.    Both of these are out of town and the public transportation options are limited.  Taxis are the best way to get to these attractions and should be around €10.00.  If you don't take a shore excursion you can always spend time in the city center.  Though not especially noteworthy there are some nice shops and a pedestrian zone.   On the other hand, I would have loved more time in St. Malo. The harbor front at St. Malo looks up onto the ramparts of the old city.  It's a lovely walk within the walls as well as on the ramparts.  The pedestrian streets are lined with cafes and shops and of course there is the abundance of seafood restaurants featuring the local favorite, mussels.


St. Malo is best known as the gateway to Mont St. Michel but the town and nearby villages can be visited and appreciated in their own right.  As most people are familiar with the magnificent island known  as Mont St. Michel. with its famous citadel, now connected with a bridge to the mainland,  I will talk about other places to visit.  If you do decide to visit Mont St. Michel it is best to do it with a ship shore excursion or make private arrangements.  It's not an easy do it yourself destination. The harbor front also offers ferry service to the charming town of Dinard.   The body of water that the ferry crosses is the Rance River.  You have some stunning views back to St. Malo.  It's a nice trip as its a little bit off the main tourist track (most go to Mont St. Michel or stay in St. Malo)  and is only a ten minute crossing and is a bargain at €6.00.

Though Dinard saw its greatest popularity in the 1800's it still is popular.  It's attractions include sedate beaches, a charming town square and a casino you can explore, have a different aspect of the surrounding area and see something that others sometimes overlook, and still have time for a seafood snack back in St. Malo.  The views, no matter where from, are beautiful.