Every four years, the tall ships visit the French port of Brest, located on the western tip of Brittany, and so we rushed there by train to catch a glimpse of these wonders with their huge
sails that collect the ocean winds. The port is a naval base where, during WWII, the Germans employed a large submarine fleet for their nasty search and destroy missions in the Atlantic.
Sadly, at the end of the war, the city was destroyed along with its historical architecture, apart from a few select monuments such as the Castle and the Tour Tanguy. British and American pilots bombed the town to smithereens to destroy the submarine base
built in the harbour. The town was rebuilt in the 1950's using a large amount of concrete. The West German government paid several billion dollars of reparations to the homeless civilians, but the city looks drab today with its utilitarian gray granite and concrete buildings. In 1972, the French submarine nuclear base was located here and the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier was also later built here.
But we were more interested in the tall ships, and there they were in the magnificent landlocked bay. Brest
itself occupies the slopes of two hills divided by the Penfeld River. The hillsides are so steep in
places that ascent from the lower to the upper town is by flights of steps, and the second or third storey of one house is often on a level with the ground storey of the next.
It was obvious that Brest shipping is big business. Nantes and Saint-Nazaire offer larger docks, attracting bigger vessels, but Brest's protected location renders it ideal to receive any type of ship from small dinghy to the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier which has visited a few times.
The last great naval battle took place in 1694 at Camaret, where the Anglo-Dutch fleet was severely defeated.The Musée de la Tour Tanguy houses a collection of dioramas that depict the city of Brest on the eve of
World War II.
The Musée de la Marine de Brest contains exhibits which outline Brest's maritime tradition. Under Louis XIV, Richelieu turned Brest into the main port of the Royal Navy. Eighty warships and hundreds of smaller ships were allocated there by Colbert, who also created the Seamen's Register, the Gunnery School, the Sea
Guards College, and ordered the construction of the Arsenal in 1664. Vauban, assigned to fortify the site, completed his work in 1689.
At the nearby aquarium, the Océanopolis Marine Centre, we enjoyed a few hours marveling at the marine exhibits.
Of course, Brest offers a wide variety of seafood. Fresh fish is featured on every menu, and there are a fish-only restaurants. Local markets and supermarkets also offer an abundance of seafood. Nonetheless, we savoured Brittany's most famous local delicacy, the Breton crêpe which was most tasty but opted for wine rather than traditional cider. The biscuits, Traou Mad, reminded us of Scottish shortbreads.
Brest hosts a yearly Short Film Festival called "Festival Européen du Film Court de Brest"
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
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