After St Malo, Rennes, the official capital of Brittany. Rennes has always competed with Nantes: both city have good universities, both are lively and relatively cheap and both are buzzing cities. But Rennes has a stronger “Bretagne” (Brittany) feeling, proud and alive.
A quasi-independent kingdom during the Middle Ages, the old province was eventually split between two regions of France: Bretagne (capital: Rennes) and Pays-De-La-Loire (capital: Nantes), mostly to avoid the rivalry between Nantes and Rennes. Brittany lost its juridical existence and autonomy right after the French revolution and the cultural area was weaken. Breton language, for example, declined precipitously after WW2 and kids were forced to learn French as school, which is still resented today in Brittany.
Since the 1970’s, various regionalist and separatist movement have debated about the “Breton identity” and its revival… hence bilingual signs in Rennes and even a local “Breizh Cola” (“Breizh” being “Brittany” in Breton).
Rennes is a beautiful city by day, with its small cobblestone streets and small shops. But the city truly comes alive at night.
At night, monuments are lit, coffee shops are bars install chairs and tables everywhere in the small streets and people go out. A lot.
The street pictured below is “Rue St Michel“, nicknamed “Rue De La Soif“, or “The Street Of Thirst“, because it only has one kind of shop: bars! We went there on a Friday night… an interesting experience, indeed. First of all, since Canada and the USA both enforce a legal drinking age, I’m not used to see teens in bars anymore. But it’s fairly normal in France, as I explained in Cigarettes & Alcohol a few months ago. The legal drinking age is between 14 and 16 years old and no one is likely to check ID’s…
Because of the recent smoking ban in public places in France (and yes, people actually respect it — beat me!), people congregate in front of bars and restaurants. People gather in the middle of streets, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of beer in the other and chat. We sat in an almost empty bar (empty because the customers were all smoking outside) and had a drink. We noticed groups of teens coming in, ordering “mètres” (un mètre being shots of alcohol lined up on a meter… forming literally one meter of drinks), drinking quick and then hoping to another bar a few minutes later. Binge drinking to its best. It did get quite rowdy and aggressive later at night (gee, I wonder why) and we left for another quieter place.
At 5am, the city was still alive. We were back at the hotel and trying to sleep (man, I feel old!) and from the window, I could see people walking around with bottles of alcohol, drunk teens and students smoking pot. Man, I feel even older. I know drinking was an art in Brittany. I didn’t know it was that bad though!