Normandy and Burgundy Archives

July 1, 2006

A Complicated Travel Day

Today was a very complicated travel day. I spent more time planning and fretting over the details of today’s transportation than I spent planning the entire rest of our trip!

The walking tour company provides a free shuttle back to Shannon Airport on Saturday mornings, but we didn’t think the shuttle would get us to the airport early enough to check-in for our Ryanair flight to France. After considering numerous possibilities, I finally decided to rent a car in Killarney for the drive to Shannon. We left our guesthouse in Killarney at 7:15 am, and the trip to Shannon took us about two hours. Charley quickly refreshed himself on how to drive on the other side of the road. We queued up at the Ryanair counter two hours before flight time and checked in numbers 45, 46 and 47. We had read that Ryanair was very strict on baggage weights, so I was especially relieved that we had packed well—Charley’s bag weighted 19.7 kilos and mine was 19.6. Just under the 20 kilo limit! (Of course, I ended up wearing my heavy hiking boots on the plane to get my bag under!)

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July 2, 2006

Exploring Honfleur

Le Vieux Bassin in Honfleur

I’m reminded now of the wonderful rhythms of “Our Grand Tour”… arriving in a new place for a week or two, awaking that first morning to explore. We always took it easy on that first Sunday, taking a day to settle in and feel a place become “home”. So it was today in Honfleur.

Charley made a bread run to the boulangerie Dave and Aralynn had recommended. Wonderful croissants! This is just one reason we’re glad to be back in France. We sat on the sunny terrace and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, reading the Sunday Times from London as is our tradition in France. Dave and Aralynn stopped by for a few minutes before they headed back to Paris.

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July 3, 2006

A Day in History

The American Cemetery - 9387 graves

We made a special pilgrimage today to the beaches of Normandy, site of the famous D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. Sixty-two years later it is hard to believe that this beautiful and tranquil countryside was once the site of war and death.

We took a meandering route through the countryside (on the route the Tour de France will take later this week) to the city of Caen, a seemingly modern city that was very badly damaged during World War II. We began our day at Le Mémorial, the Museum of Peace on the outskirts of Caen. The museum told the story of the events leading up to World War II and key aspects of the war. There was a very compelling film on D-Day using actual footage shot by the Allies and the Germans… narrated only by music.

After lunch we drove to the coast and then along several of the landing beaches: Juno, Gold and Omaha. Off the coast near Arromanches, we stopped at a lookout point where we could still see remains of the temporary Mulberry harbor and the German bunkers built into the cliffs.

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July 4, 2006

On the Beach in Honfleur

Honfleur beach.jpg

We came to Normandy with a long list of places to visit, most of which we realize, now that we’re here, are an hour or two away. And so we’ve adjusted our plans, deciding not to do so many day trips. We’re happy to spend most of our days right here in this town, simply enjoying our little cottage and the easy life in Honfleur.

Today we visited the Musée Eugène Boudin, named after one of Honfleur’s most famous citizens. Boudin (1824 – 1898) was a pre-Impressionist, a mentor and inspiration to many of the Impressionists who followed him. Our cottage—Les 36 Marches—has been documented to have been Boudin’s studio for several years. Boudin specialized in painting local beach scenes, many including people of his era enjoying the seashore, the ladies in long dresses and carrying umbrellas. Monet is one of our favorite painters; he said: “Everything I know I owe to Eugène Boudin.” Monet spent several months here on two different occasions, and the museum had two of his paintings along with paintings by Boudin and several other noted artists. It was a surprisingly extensive museum for a small town.

Later in the afternoon, when the sun was not so hot, we spent an hour on the small beach just west of Honfleur, probably a spot that Boudin painted many times. Honfleur is on the estuary of the Seine, where the river meets the English Channel (Le Manche) and the water is a mix of salt water and fresh water. Kelly was anxious to swim; Charley and I planned just to watch. It was a pleasant beach, though strange to see the oil refineries and other industrial buildings of Le Havre on the other side of the river. Charley stood down by the water and watched Kelly while she swam. I sat on a towel further back on the sand.

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July 5, 2006

La Route du Cidre

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Apple farm on the Route du Cidre

Honfleur is in the département of Calvados, which takes its name from a cluster of rocks off the coast and now gives its name to the famous AOC (appellation d'origine controlée) apple brandy that is made in this area. The department of Calvados was the center for the “Battle of Normandy” that followed the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, and most of the towns and villages were badly damaged during this battle that ultimately resulted in peace in Europe. As we’ve driven through the beautiful and very peaceful countryside this week, it’s almost impossible to imagine the tanks and soldiers—and death—that traveled these same roads just sixty-two years ago this summer.

The tourism office of Calvados has developed five thematic driving loops within the département, and today we drove the "Route du Cidre” in an area called the Pays d’Auge. This was the driving route closest to our location in Honfleur. We had a brochure, but the route would have been easy to follow without it, since each turn was marked with a special sign.

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July 6, 2006

A Day of Surprises (Mont-St-Michel and Bayeux)

Kathy at Mont St. Michel
My long-awaited visit to Mont-St.-Michel (photo by Kelly)

This was day with some surprises... one a disappointment, the other an unexpected delight.

I’ve wanted to visit Mont-St.-Michel since I was Kelly’s age, first seeing pictures of this magical island when I studied French in the 7th grade. In July 2004 we had visited St. Michael’s Mount, a sister abbey and island off the coast of Cornwall in England. Now we found ourselves two-and-a-half hours from Mont St. Michel… a very long day trip, but still possible. It was overcast on Wednesday morning and not a good day to go. It was still a bit overcast this morning, and since this was our last opportunity, we decided to make the trip.

We set off about 8:30 am, joining the steady stream of pilgrims who have traveled to Mont-St.-Michel for 1300 years. Our route was mostly on the autoroute, passing through Caen and then southwest toward the coast… almost to the border of Brittany. We chose an indirect approach to the island, detouring off the main road to circle around a few small villages and take a dirt road out through the salt marshes, past flocks of grazing sheep, and finally to a dead end at a sandy beach. And it was there that we had our first view of Mont-St.-Michel, sitting out in a huge sea of sand, the abbey spire rising high into the sky. From that vantage point, we understood why Mont-St.-Michel is considered one of the “marvels of the Western World.” The island is 984 yards around and 262 feet high, crowned by a large and distinctive abbey dating as far back as the 11th century.

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July 7, 2006

The Day We Didn't Go to Chartres

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Kelly in Honfleur on the day we didn't go to Chartres

A few months ago a good Slow Travel friend and I discovered that we would be in northern France at the same time. Ginger (suncoast) and her husband Craig would be staying in the Loire Valley during the time we were in Honfleur. Although our locations would be four hours apart, we decided to meet at a half-way point: Chartres, famous for its massive Gothic cathedral. We would explore the town, have lunch, and go on a tour of the cathedral.

Ginger and I were both psyched about the Chartres plan. We posted on the Slow Travel message board and got all kinds of great input, which fueled our anticipation. One friend Brenda (BGE) posted especially helpful information, including a link to her trip report about her day at Chartres last year, including her experience walking the labyrinth. Ginger and I were both very interested in the Chartres labyrinth. Many people probably think a labyrinth is a hedge maze—a puzzle or game of sorts—but I had taken a short class at a health spa last spring and had walked a “copy” of the Chartres labyrinth there. I knew that a real labyrinth is a meditative experience, and as various Slow Travelers gave us more insights, the opportunity to walk the labyrinth at Chartres with Ginger became an important part of my plan for Normandy. We ended up scheduling our get-together for Friday, the only day of the week that the labyrinth was available. (It is inside the cathedral and apparently normally covered by chairs.)

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July 8, 2006

The Saturday morning market in Honfleur

Honfleur market.jpg
On la place Sainte-Catherine

We were up early on our last morning in Honfleur, another cool and drizzly day. We had to finish packing, but we also planned to visit the Saturday morning market and shop for provisions for a special meal we would fix for Dave and Aralynn in Burgundy tonight. These wonderful people—the owners of our Honfleur Cottage and Slow Travel friends we just met in person last Saturday—had invited us to spend a few days at their house near La Charité-sur-Loire on our way down to Provence.

I love the outdoor markets in France, and the Honfleur market was especially good, the food stands set up around the square at the beautiful wooden Église Sainte-Cathérine, its belfrey tower standing separately from the main part of the church. Charley had noticed yesterday that metal poles had been pulled up from the pavement in preparation for the market. Today the poles were topped with awnings, needed with today’s drizzle. We wore sweaters and carried umbrellas—just in case. We didn’t end up needing them.

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July 9, 2006

An Interlude in Burgundy

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Happy sunflowers in the Nièvre

Yesterday we began our journey from Normandy to Provence, where we will stay for the next five weeks. This trip will take us almost the whole length of France… a nine-hour drive if we were to do it all in the same day.

But we’re not doing it in one day—we’re enjoying an interlude in Burgundy, courtesy of Dave (“Happy in Paris”) and Aralynn McMane. Several months ago they invited us to break our drive in two and spend a couple of days at their house in western Burgundy (in the département of the Nièvre) near La Charité-sur-Loire.

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Allez Les Bleues!

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La Charité-sur-Loire from the pizzeria on the island (photo by Kelly)

Tonight we had dinner at a simple pizzeria on the island in the Loire, looking across at La Charité-sur-Loire with its beautiful abbey and old ramparts. After dinner we walked across the bridge and joined several hundred local residents on the beach along the Loire to watch the World Cup final match—France vs. Italy—on a large screen television. All the chairs around the screen were already taken, so we sat up with others on the hillside, watching the match and the crowd activity.

I wonder what percentage of the French watched this match tonight? Some people watched at home, perhaps with friends. Many watched in bars, overflowing into the streets. We watched with an entire town on the banks of a river, observing a fervent patriotism for the French team. The event attracted people of all ages: families with small children, teenagers, elderly people, a few other visitors like us. Many locals wore red, white and blue; others painted French flags on their cheeks or waved flags.

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