Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Normandy - It Is More than just Cheese

   I still haven't finished telling you about our trip to the northern part of France. It did not stop with Paris. We reluctantly got ourselves to the rental car agency and headed out of the city which was a hair raising experience in itself as the GPS gave very short notice to upcoming directions. Trying to cross multi-lane, French highways in an obvious rental car is tough. As long as I played the nice tourist though, it all went well- smile, wave at those who yield briefly, appreciate the time others have taken out of their flurry to escape the city, to let your car in front of theirs. Getting to the country is a competitive experience up there. Luckily, I rented a small, speedy thing, opposite of the monster I drive in Provence.
   The road opened up to continue to Giverny, the home and gardens of Claude Monet. The Town of Vernon is tiny, charming and cheery. The sun was actually shining which made everything all the more brilliant. Once inside the gardens, colors flourished. Rows and beds were bursting with blossoms of every conceivable shade of the color wheel. Monet's large, bright house stood at the top of the hill, behind the gardens. A path leads one deeper into the gardens and winds around a large pond with the wisteria covered Japanese bridge represented in many of Monet's paintings. The pond has lily pads waiting to bloom and be painted.
   We wandered through the house where wonderful portraits and copies of Monet's most famous work hung. Each room was brilliantly painted and had large windows that opened above the gardens for a spectacular view of the colors below.  The shockingly yellow dining room was fun, then we passed through the blue kitchen with walls lined with perfectly polished copper pots. Even though I adored Paris, it was good to be in the country with a feel like this.
   Onward to Bayeux, another hour east and close to the Normandy coast. This was a great town. Our hotel was a pleasant change with modern amenities. There was even a TV that none of us cared whether we were zoning out to French speaking shows or English. We had a delicious meal where we enjoyed seafood as you could smell the salt in the air from the sea. Youngest Child, of course, had escargot- he will miss those chewy little critters upon our return to USA.
   Bayeux has an amazing cathedral which was untouched by WWII. Unlike many other towns in the area, Bayeux survived the war with no physical damage. The Bayeux tapestry is a 70 meter long cloth that wraps around a large, dark room enclosed in a glass case. Audio guides tell you the story that is represented on the tapestry, the Battle of Hastings led by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. The kids' audio guide must have been really fun because my children said it was their favorite thing they saw during the whole northern trip.
   Next stop was Omaha Beach, the US landing beach of the Normandy invasion. Though we read many excerpts and talked at length about this beautiful place, the magnitude of loss was not understood though a short video at the museum did put a lump in everyone's throat. The cemetery is perfectly manicured, overlooking the cliffs and the English Channel. The perfectly symmetrical rows of over 9,000 graves are a spectacular sight, obviously evoking tears to anyone comprehending the fear and loss during those days of the war. The sky opened up long enough for the younger two to have a swim, so into the frigid water of the English Channel they went.
   We had alot to pack into our three days up there, so our agenda made us continue south into Brittany so we could see Mont St. Michel. The weather turned wet and grey again, making it perfectly clear why the rolling, Normandy countryside is so brilliantly lush and green. Beautiful Normande cows dotted the fields. Apple trees abound. That part of France is famous for cider, calvados and camembert cheese, which of course I purchased while in Bayeux and it was heavily perfuming the car with the cheese stink.
   Mt. St. Michel was a bit of a let down as the gobs of tourists have the Mount jam-packed with trinket shops and terrible food stalls, masses of people slowly walking through as if on a conveyor belt. We had to get out of there. It was spectacular from a distance, we all agreed. Further along the road we found several seaside towns, lovely places to enjoy the fruits de mer(seafood ). We stopped in Cancale to indulge in a fabulous lunch and wander around this seaside village. I want to go back in the summer and stay...for a while. Rather than a traditional farmer's market, stalls selling oysters were set up above the beach. You could get a takeaway platter of freshly shucked oysters with a lemon wedge, to slurp down while watching the tide change. I wanted to stay.
   We covered alot of ground in those three days. Train tickets forced us back to our home away from home, though we were tired. About 30 minutes from our station in Aix en Provence, the skies cleared which I was incredibly grateful for. I am not much for rain and as I have said, it rains alot up there in the north of France.
Monet's Garden
From Monet's bedroom window
Delicious crab!!!
Bayeux Cathedral

American Cemetery

Over 9,000 graves of AMerican soldiers, mostly killed during the D-DAy invasion.

Omaha Beach and the English Channel along this coastline are fabulous.
Normandy cows for ooey gooey camembert- yum again.
Fruits de Mer platter

Oyster stands in Cancale
Mt. St. Michel-much better from a distance!

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