Brest is a small city on the extreme western edge of France. It currently house around 150,000 inhabitants. Being situated on a small tongue of land with the Atlantic Ocean both north, south and west the obvious industry of this town is fishing and fish related products. Due to it's extreme western position it's also a major port.
The French navy maintains a large presence in this town, with both a repair yard and also a officer's school.
Being in France, tourism is also a big hit here, with several seaside health centres, a large aquarium and a few scattered castles in the surrounding area.
One of the beautiful things about Brest is that it is very international. English is mostly understood by a lot of people, and you can buy Guinness at some of the local tabacs. There are a lot of Scottish and Irish bars, and there is even a McDonald's and some steak houses here.
Brest is readily accessible, and frequent flights go from Paris' Charles De Gaulle to Brest's Guipavas. The high-speed train (TGV) also links Brest with the rest of France. I would recommend going there in April or September/October - the amount of tourists is acceptable, and so is the heat.
The coast of Bretagne is slowly being eaten by the Atlantic ocean, and this creates some spectacular waterfronts. If you have the means, try renting a car and take a drive along the coast.
The people of Brest trace their roots to the Celts - and traditional music and dance is still very strong in Bretagne.
The selection of music is very good - while in the Tabac's you will find mostly French music, the music stores have an almost unbelievable selection - who would buy Norwegian satanic music in France? EBM and Gothic styles are well represented as well - showing a very urban mindset.
What to see
* Town Centre
If you have a few days in Brest, I would recommend that you just spend a day walking the town centre, Siam. The place is absolutely crawling with bars, parks and nice shops. At the southern tip there is also a castle - even though it is built more for defence that to look pretty on postcards, it's still worth a look.
A large aquarium and ocean research site. It shows the different species living in the Bretagne area, but it also has an exhibition on the interaction between sea and the mainland.
* The arts
At first the local graffiti might seem a bit dull. Coming in from the airport to the town centre, only the usual "signature-style" is painted on the walls. Taking a trip down to the port though, especially the eastern end - away from the military part of the port, graffiti really blooms. There is a separate "training ground" for the young, and old abandoned walls bloom with colourful paints.
On the more "legal" side, there is also a lot of walls painted up with different (often sea-related) motives. Although not very political in nature, they do spice up the neighbourhood.
Oh - and there is a theatre/dance centre in the town as well.
* Sights for engineers only:
Brest must be a Mecca for engineers and tech's alike - a walk along the seaside will bring both mammoth cranes for unloading the ships, but also great steaming pipeworks and huge movable bridges.
The natural harbour has been improved by wave breakers, and in some places by mooring decommissioned destroyers from the French navy as wind protection. There are several dry-docks present giving an excellent view of the ships. Most of the government buildings in Brest (and probably all over France) use a style that makes you feel trapped in a '70 sci-fi movie. Beams and trusses go everywhere forming what nearly can be called works of art.
Maritime activity is large in this area - so you will find museums covering a lot of different aspects here. Worth mentioning is that the next big tall ships festival will be in Brest in 2004 - plan early !
Other museums include a fine arts museum, and the National Botanical Conservatory.
P-I also believes there is a bra museum somewhere in Brest - I still curse myself for not finding it.
What to eat
Eat it all! - Bretagne is famous for both it's meat and fish products, but do try the local favourite - the Crêpe.