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A trip to Rennes

I went up to Rennes on Tuesday, as part of my Bloody Brexit Bother.

This is a Good Thing, as it means that my application has not only been accepted, but it has wandered along the corridors of beaurocracy to the point where something is happening.

Being used to the unreliability of British public transport, I made a plan B, a plan C, a plan D and got a little bit stressed (translation: upset stomach) over having to make it to a one-off rendezvous. Without a bloody good excuse (dying of Covid = good; missed the train = fail) you don't get a second chance. Be there, or else.

The site manager for work said I could park in the car park (safer), but he wasn't entirely certain if my RFID access key would work. I have a duration of time that I can open the gate, which roughly corresponds with the time I would be working. He didn't know how much leeway there was around that.

So I got up at six and didn't have tea (didn't want to need to go to the toilet) and got myself ready. I left at quarter to seven to get to work at about ten past. The gate opened. I noted to myself that normally my wake up alarm would be going off now.

It was chilly. Like really chilly. I wondered if I should have had another layer. Well, too late. I had to man up and walk a kilometre (or so) across into the middle of town to the bus stop.

Then wait about half an hour for the bus. Which was on time. Sitting in the seat opposite was a young woman dressed in black, with black fingernails, black hair around her face, enormous glasses, and even bigger headphones. She wasn't quite goth, exactly, but was definitely giving off those "leave me the hell alone" vibes. I can spot that a mile away as I do much the same thing when I'm shopping (like this evening!). Though I'm aware that it is probably worse for a girl. I mean, nobody looks at me and makes unwanted advances...

In the bus
In the bus.

I did wonder, briefly, how introverts hook up and date and such when their basic attitude is "go away...please" (see, we're not rude, we just don't want to interact). I've not figured that bit out, which I guess explains why I'm still a singleton. ☺

The bus had signs in the windows saying that it was obligatory to wear seat belts. I think I was the only person that bothered to put the seat belt on. A simple waist belt, not good but better than flying around should something unfortunate happen.

The bus eventually took me to a larger town called Vitré. More specifically, it took me to the train station at a larger town called Vitré.

A classy-looking railway station.
A classy-looking railway station.

I went to the kiosk and there was a man in front of me. I noted that the train I was supposed to catch was there waiting. The man in front didn't want a ticket. He wanted information on this, on that, on something else. The woman behind was getting agitated.
Eventually the man got the hint and ambled away. I got myself a rather expensive ticket for the 38km route, and paid by plastic. For some reason they weren't equipped to accept contactless payments.

An enormous train ticket
An enormous train ticket.
There is a 'cheaper' ticket option where you pay to go and get a free return, but they are limited in taking certain lesser used trains. Whilst the next compatible train into Rennes was at 9.02am (an hour after the one I took), the earliest return to Vitré left Rennes at 4.39pm, and got to Vitré at 5.12pm...about a quarter hour after my bus left the station. It was a no-go for the cheaper fare.

I got onto the train. It was quite nice inside, but had a lot of up and down bits, with a first class higher up.

In the train
In the train.

The journey into Rennes was pretty uneventful. It was a stopping service, so it didn't go terribly fast. I noted that the points crossings seemed rather violent. I don't remember the changes being quite that brusque on British trains.

In Rennes, I headed towards where it was signposted 'M' for Métro. But there were barriers in place now. You'd need some sort of ID card to access the train. Looking around, I saw a vending machine. A wide array of options was available, but I decided upon a day ticket. This cost around €4,60 (I think) and gave me access to the Métro and the town's bus service. Anywhere, all day.
The machine gave me a little piece of cardboard about the size of a credit card, and change.

Metro ticket
Contactless Métro ticket.
This ticket is actually a lot smaller than the regular train ticket, however the b.log image resizer scales things down to fit a width of 680 pixels.
Still, it's big enough that you can see the chip inside (just above the 'O' in "SANS CONTACT"), as well as the wire strips of the antennae.

I took the card and waved it over something with LEDs on it in front of the closed barrier. The barrier opened, and that was it. I could walk down and down and down and down and...you get the idea.

I took the line to Pontchaillou, the big hospital and the adjoining cancer treatment centre. I know that bit of Rennes a little more than I'd have cared to.

Pontchaillou station
Pontchaillou station.
Yes, we're up in the air. Something of a necessity I'd imagine given the ground underneath that side of hospital houses the PET-CT scanner, MRI scanners, and a secret closed off place where they prepare the radioactive isotopes for the people unforunate enough to need to deal with "nuclear medicine". Not really the sort of place you can put an electric train with its own large magnetic fields.
Still, here I was in a PACKED train carriage, at the stop for a hospital, where sick people go. If I make it through the next week with no Covid symptoms, it'll be a bloody miracle.

The Métro itself is interesting. For starters, there are no drivers. It is all fully automatic. The video that I made was taken from right up the front.
Secondly, it doesn't run on rails exactly. Not like a regular train. The things that you can see in the above picture that look like rails are actually a sort of smooth track, because the carriages (there are two par train) actually have wheels with rubber tyres. This is probably to help traction going up and down. I suspect that these tracks may also carry power.
It isn't the white tracks providing power, for they appear to be some sort of signalling to the train. It looks like the second gap in the side white track instructs the train to slow down, and then there are a number of short white tracks underneath that get the carriages to stop exactly at the right place for the doors to open on both the carriage and the station. You can see some of these in the above picture.
It's actually a pretty clever system. It was, originally, plagued with problems and bugs and crashes (of the electronic kind). However after the burn in period (and getting savaged in the local media) the system has worked reliably. A new train comes by every, I think, three minutes. And they just go back and forth automatically all day long.
It's perhaps also worth noting that unlike normal trains that "drive on the left" due to the British heritage of railways, these ones go on the right.

I got to the Préfecture just after 10am for a 1.50pm appointment.
What I hadn't counted on was "social distancing". There was a massive queue outside the building, and they were only letting in people with appointments just before their appointment time.
I took one look at that and was like "nope". Turned around, went back to Pontchaillou station, and took the dinky train to Sainte Anne. Sainte Anne is the patron saint of Brittany (among a load of other places), and she is supposed to have been Mary's mother.
The station of Sainte Anne was ridiculously deep. Forget the bowels of the earth, this was whatever lies below that. Annoyingly, the escalators were going down, not up. So I had a billion or so steps to climb.
I "guessed" that maybe Saint Anne would be sort of the middle of town. Well, it was a large open square surrounded by cafés. I picked one that looked "cosy" and went to get a hot chocolate. The server was this really scary looking punk woman with tattoos and freaky hair, who actually turned out to be a lovely friendly person. That said, she's not the first "punk" I've met who had a somewhat scary appearance and turned out to be completely different to appearances (yeah, you know who you are ☺). Don't judge a book by it's cover ... at least read the blurb on the back, and forget reading the book if it talks more about how wonderful the author is than what the story is about... oh, wait, I'm getting sidetracked... <record scratch sound>

I was sat by the tourist information place to drink the hot chocolate, which was actually pretty good. I would have prefered a tea, but Frenchies don't really "get" tea. Well, they do, but it's like green tea with mango or some crap like that. Their idea of black tea is... let's just say the smart kettles have a setting that clicks off at around 60°C for black tea, and that it would probably take an entire box full of Yellow Label to rival one single bag of British Tetley. So, I try to avoid tea in France. From time to time I can be surprised. Most of the time, however, I'm disappointed.
Maybe there's a quaint little English style café that does a decent Victoria Sponge (and not that awful Quarte-Quarts)? It's probably a good thing I never found such a place, or I'd be back to Pontchaillou getting my stomach pumped after attempting to eat...everything. Hmm, would that count as a suitable reason for missing my appointment? Self inflicted cake wounds?

A beggar came by and asked if I had any money. I apologised and said I don't have any money, everything is contactless these days.
Blatant lie, I was carrying nearly €40 in one and two euro coins because I didn't know if the ticket machines would take debit cards. I guessed that they would, but made contingency measures just in case.
However, as a rule I don't give any money to beggars. I used to watch one near to a place I lived in England back in the late '90s who would tell this elaborate tale of woe to anybody who was dumb enough to notice him. He'd get some money, as people aren't fundamentally cruel unless they work in the Home Office. And then just before ten when the Off Licence would have to close, he would saunter in and come out minutes later with his best friend Jack. Jack Daniels.

I went to the information place and picked up a few brochures, in English. Then I went looking for a toilet. Harder than it looks, given that all the eating places are "outside only" or closed.
I found a woman in some sort of uniform and asked her. She pointed me to some stairs in the middle of another open square. I think these led down to an underground car park or something like that, but the stairs on the left went to a toilet. Which wanted a 20 centime coin. After rummaging, I eventually found such a coin. I put it into the slot and... nothing. Not a peep. There was a little LCD with buttons. So I pushed a few. Nothing. Not a peep there either. But the bastard kept my coin.

Looking at Google Maps, and discounting the many toilets marked as closed, I found one near to a sort of covered market called Les Lices.
It was a pretty grim metal affair, but it was functional and it was free. On that alone, I rated it three stars.

After that, and not wanting to go back to Sainte Anne and down and down and down (actually, I completely forgot that the escalator went down so I wouldn't have to walk all those stairs), I decided to just walk to the next station, La Republique. I didn't really have an itinerary in mind, just a "it's this way". So I walked, and walked. I discovered an entire cathedral wedged in amongst a load of buildings. It was... kind of meh to be honest. But then, being Catholic, all the glory (and bling) would be inside.

The cathedral
The cathedral.

I then made it out to a larger road, surrounded by these great examples of French big-town architecture.

French big-town architecture
French big-town architecture.

At this point, I went down to the Métro and got the line towards Pontchaillou. The next stop was... Sainte Anne!
I took the Métro all the way to the end of the line (J F Kennedy). I got out, went to the above level, took the stairway down to where the line going the other way is....and ended up in exactly the same place I started. I hadn't realised, but this station only has one track!
It's good that I didn't go up to ground level in Kennedy. It's not the good end of town. Many tower blocks. An active graffiti scene, and possibly pimps and hoes on every corner once the sun has gone down.

I took the Métro all the way to the other end (La Poterie), and then back to Pontchaillou. Mom said she would have liked to ride the Métro end to end, but there was always tomorrow until one day there were no more tomorrows.

I got to the préfecture at about noon. They were closed. They had just closed, I heard a guy arguing with the security guard who kept saying that they open at half one.

So I went under a tree and sat on a wall and plugged my earphones in and listened to some music for about an hour. Given that it was Avantasia and Nightwish, that would have been about four songs. ☺

Just after 1pm I got up and stood in the queue. I was third, behind these two black people that I think were from one of the Caribbean islands. They were talking in their language, but I was unable to place it. They might have been African, but I just had a hunch that they were from further west than Africa.
Behind me was a guy who, let's just say that it looked like he owned exactly one manky tracksuit that was both his best suit and his pyjamas. A bit of absent-minded shuffling later, he was in front of me. I didn't pay any attention which probably angered him as he kept glancing over as if to want to start something. Prick.

At half one, the guard came out along with a young woman holding a clipboard. Does anybody have an appointment at half one? Is such and such here? She was reading out names.
A dozy looking woman came up and said she had an appointment. She had no letter. She had no mobile phone. She seemed to have difficulty managing her own name. She was politely declined, told to phone to make another appointment, and perhaps next time turn up with both the appointment letter and sober.
Clipboard woman looked at my letter (a print out of an email) and checked my name off the list, and told me in English that she would call for me when it was my turn.

1.50pm came.
And went.

2pm came.
And went.

Eventually I was called. As I walked around, I noticed a lot of signs written in English stuck to the walls. I could only guess that the majority of English people that came for their dose of Brexit-inflicted bollocks could not understand French.
Or arrows.

The security checkpoint was the guard, now around the other side, who had me empty my pockets into a little plastic box. I showed him my pockets had tissues (hayfever) and he agreed that I could just leave those in my pocket. I showed him the muffin I got from punk-girl was really a muffin and not a weapon. I opened my satchel-bag-thing, took out my phone, the battery, and a lot of wires (charger cables for USB C and micro-USB, and two sets of earphones, plus... I forget what the other wire was... oh yes, a USB OTG adaptor with SD card reader attached). So either the guy was a geek and understood all this stuff, or this was a formality and he'd already sized me up before I'd even entered. Probably the latter.

I sat and waited for a couple of minutes. I knew I was at the right kiosk because these frazzled looking retirement age Brits came out. The sort that have this permanent "uuuuh" expression, because everything going on is just so confusing (that's why I don't understand why so many don't make any effort at all to understand any French).
The woman waved for me to go in. "Am I ..." and she rattled off a complicated name that wasn't me. "No, I'm Richard Murray". She looked at her stack of papers and pulled out one. Then, in rapid-fire French, she asked for my passport and an identity photo. She seemed slightly surprised that I handed my passport over instead of drooling down my front.
I then passed over three sets of passport photos. The idea was that she could pick the one that best fitted the criteria. I didn't smile, looked right at the camera, and so on, but sometimes they can be brutally strict with what they accept.
She took the photo on top and handed the rest back to me. Well, okay, catastrophic hair and zombie eyes, yup, it's a true likeness of me.

I then had to put the four fingers of my right hand on this scanner. A big box with mirrors inside that glowed green. I think it was a Sagem Morpho or something like that. Given it's a government official in a government building, photography there is probably akin to setting the flag on fire in terms of "stuff they will make life hell over". So no photos.

I did observe that she didn't wipe the machine down after the last people. Hmm...

Then my left hand. Then both of my thumbs. She kept looking at her screen, so I'm guessing it showed up the fingerprint scans there.
I don't quite understand the point of the fingerprinting. I mean, I've been in France for nearly twenty years. It's only now that I need to have a residency permit that they are taking biometrics (and I have no doubt they've analysed my photo, and probably had some other cameras recording my interaction). If I wanted to come to France and enjoy a life of crime, wouldn't I have done that back when I could walk through the door unhindered?

She smiled (wow, didn't need to speak to this one in English!) and told me that I would receive an SMS when my card was ready. I asked if it was posted. She said no, I had to come back to pick it up. It'll be about three weeks.

And that was it. All of that for three or four minutes.

 

Back to the main train station, I visited the toilet and had my mind blown by a woman with a till. You had to pay a euro. Granted, it was a nice toilet, soft music, even had toilet paper, and didn't smell like a nursing home... but...
You know, this would probably be a rather difficult occupation to guess in "What's My Line?". I mean, how would you arrive at "I'm the train station toilet till operator"?

Here's the return train (the one on the right).

The return train
The return train.

And here is the inside.

In the second train
In the second train.
It was a rather older train, the furnishing has seen better days.

I had planned to catch 4.18pm stopping service that would get me back to Vitré for 4.53pm to catch a bus leaving at 4.55pm. As it happens, everything actually happened so quickly at the end that I could take the 2.57 train which was not a stopping service, dropping me in Vitré a mere twenty minutes later.
I fired up the GPS speedometer on my phone and it clocked a steady 160kph. That's why it didn't take long. Actually, much of the time on the journey was getting out of Rennes' massive railyard. But as is the way with French towns around here, get beyond the border and you're plonked into open countryside. It doesn't slowly fizzle out like, say, Basingstoke or Slough.

At Vitré I stopped at a café to pass some time. It turns out that this "café" was a "maître restauranteur" (pretentious much?). The hot chocolate was okay but expensive. To be honest, punk girl made a better one.
I took my glass back inside, to the utter shock (and maybe some horror) of the employees. Like, nobody tidies up after themselves.
I asked if it was too late for anything hot. In French.
He asked, in English, what I had in mind.
A bowl of chips (I was still speaking French).
"Just chips?", he asked, in English.
"Oui."
"Okay."

After a really long wait (I had time), a bowl of chips arrived.

Chips.
Chips (with my umbrella and muffin on the right).

Some were overcooked (recycled from lunch, no doubt), some were undercooked, and they were all rather greasy. The amount of "bits" and the limp state of the chips suggested that they were "fabrique maison". And it cost €4,50.
I wasn't going to complain about being stiffed by lame chips because by that point I was hungry and it's one of the few places I've been to in France that didn't just say "no" after the clock struck two.

I ate them, then waited for the bus. Which arrived. Two stops along, a pretty redhead aged about twenty asked if she could sit with me, as the bus was starting to fill up. I undid the seat belt, shifted over, and put on the belt of that seat. She was staring at me. I'm not sure if it was more in disbelief that I was wearing the seat belt, or that seat belts actually existed. She, of course, didn't wear one. She just switched her iPhone to silent and spent most the time in some messaging app writing utter gibberish (no doubt the French equivalent of "text speak"). I don't do text speak in English, I'd rather stick a hot soldering in my ear than call anybody my em-eight.

The bus took me back to the town where I work. I guessed I would get back to the gate for exactly 6pm. I missed it by thirty seven seconds, which I guess might still count as 6pm. My RFID tag opened the security gate. I don't know whether they trust me so have left it with a fairly wide time allowance, or if the big boss pulled a few strings to make sure it worked, but it did and that was good. I waved at the camera on the wall, then got into my car and went to the supermarket to buy...... more chocolate. I was getting a bit irritable (lack of tea) so I dosed up on chocolate instead.
Of course, my stomach didn't much appreciate all of that. ☺

 

As I will be going back in about three weeks (ish), I took at look at Google Maps. Around La Republique, I noticed a shop called Au comptoir des sorciers, which seems to have a lot of Harry Potter stuff. I'm hoping there might be some stuff for those more interested in actual magic and not the Hollywood variety. Down the way a little is Japanim that looks like it sells figurines and manga and such. Might be worth a look. Then there's the Palais des Thés to visit, and finally a Japanese takeaway called Bubble Ramen that can serve as lunch. Maybe the last two the other way around? Or maybe begin with the tea? Depends on how the timing goes.

Pickup of cards and such happens in the morning (9am to noon), so I'm planning on doing the same morning route, to be there for about 10am. Pick up my card, then maybe be back at La Republique for about half ten (ish). The return bus is the same time, 4.55pm, so if I don't drive into Vitré (and I probably won't), I can get the same train back at 2.57pm which will leave time to wander around Rennes. The tea place seems to be open from 10am to 7pm. The magic-maybe place is 10.30am to 7pm (except starting at 2pm on Monday). Japanim is 10am to 7pm closing for lunch between half noon and half one.
I'd better print out a map and note this stuff down!

Plan of things to look at in Rennes
Plan of things to look at in Rennes, next time.

Either way, the next time in the Huge Town, I can have a little bit of fun rather than the OMFGPANICPANICPANIC!!!!1!!!ONE!!!1!!! that I had this time.

 

Here's a video I made about it all. I pretty much just pointed a camera at myself and talked about things, inserting some location video here and there. The video was not made from this write-up, actually it's the other way around. A number of things written here were taken from what I said on the video. But... my throat hurts. I don't think I've said so many words in... ages. I'll have to be really quiet for about a week to get over it (fx: reaches over to phone, selects Epica from playlist, hits play 😂).

If you don't want the endless blabla and would like to watch the train journey out of Rennes (so many TGVs and things just parked there!), then that's the last six minutes...ish. Good luck understanding anything the conductor says.

 

Oh, I've just noticed Ragnarok season two is now on Netflix. Nice. Loads of chilly scenery porn and something about a hammer.

 

 

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Gavin Wraitth, 29th May 2021, 15:02
Glad the adventure went well. 
 
I have only been in Rennes twice. The first time, over thirty years ago, I flew from Shoreham airport - in a Dragon Rapide. In those secure times formalities hardly existed. I went to give a lecture at the university. I departed the same day for Paris, stayed the night with friends and gave another lecture at Paris Nord. I ventured into central Paris to buy a fraggle-rock tent for my daughters and came home by train and the Dieppe-Newhaven ferry. My second visit to Rennes was when the afore-mentioned friends both had positions at Rennes University, having fulfilled their obligations to teach in the french colonies. My family stayed with them for a week; they had two children by this point. I remember that Rennes had lots of unpretentious creperies; cider and a crepe being a delicious cheap meal.
Rick, 30th May 2021, 12:26
I think crêperies are fairly ubiquitous in France. There's the crêpe which is light and sweet, and there's the galette which is harder and non sweet, usually served with pig pieces and grated cheese inside, and if you're lucky, a raw egg broken on top as garnishment.
Rick, 30th May 2021, 12:27
Just discovered what appears to be a HUGE bookshop near to St. Anne. 
If time permits, I'll swing by there as well.
David Boddie, 2nd June 2021, 22:09
A nice guided tour of the environs. 
 
Railway videos tend to remind me of this Chemical Brothers video: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S43IwBF0uM

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