Normandy is four hours away from Marchiennes by car, and since we'd wanted to go to Barcelona but Gilles and Isabelle had had too much work to leave for more than two business days, we ended up driving to Normandy instead. I was pleased because while Spain would have been great, I am here to see France after all. we left at noon and drove for about three hours down to Etretat, where we stopped to see the famous cliffs and walk along the beach. The wind was crazy strong but the cliffs were really amazing to see, and it wasn't too cold. There was a cliff with a tunnel-like passage though it that was open to visitors, so we went through it and on the other side was a sheer (ish about seven feet) drop to the beach with nothing but a scraggly looking rope to help you down. Sarah and I were down that cliff faster than you can say quick-trip-to-the-emergency-room, but Gilles and Isabelle waited at the top for us. Thomas had worn shorts in an attempt to wish the weather into beach mode, but due to the wind he was cold, and so he waited in the car. Once we were down on the beach in the little cove, the cliffs blocked the wind, and the was out so it was really lovely. We didn't stay long, however because they were waiting for us in the tunnel and the little cove was too small to really walk much.
Then we hopped back in the car and drove the last hour to Vilers-sur-Mer, which is right next to Deauville (and Trouville) where the hotel was. We had chosen the hotel because of its proximity to the beach, but it was actually across the street instead of on the beach, and because of the wind, we didn't end up walking on the beach at all. Plus, we had 2 rooms and then room I shared with Thomas and Sarha had a spectacular panorama of the parking lot in back, so that was unfortunate, still, considering the amount of time spent in the hotel room, it didn't really affect the trip overall. That night we had a really delightful meal at a cafe in Deauville, right on the port. We sat outside at one of the tables in a long strip in front of heater-lamps that worked marvelously. We all had mussels and frites (like at the braderie de Lille) excpet for Thomas who had a nice fillet of salmon. The prices were very cheap considering the food and ambiance, and a good time was had by one and all.
The next morning we got up early and drove down to Le Mont-Saint-Michel (about an hour and a half) and walked up the mountain. It was truly remarkable to see, like a little mideival town built from around the side of a mountain which is surrounded by water at high-tide, and which culminates in a spectacular gothic abbey. Unfortunately, it has become an insane tourist trap, I mean Disney Land four times worse. First, there are four museums along the main route up the mountain, all four $9 per adult, free for children, so that's $18 dollars for all five of us for four museums, why not? The first one was two stories (three small rooms) of toy boats with a narration on a tv screen about the tide and the wild-life, plus a bit of history, ending in a large gift shop. It wasn't bad, a little corny, we'll say 10 minutes. The second one was supposed to be a 'light and sound' show about the history of the mountain. Ok. We go in, sit down on these little bench/ leaning pots, and the lights go down. A model of the mount surfaces out of a pond in the stage with a screen displaying footage of the real thing behind it, all to the inspirational tunes of choral singing. For the next 30 minutes we get passionate discourses on the metaphysical importance of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, including a large section on the vertical light from heaven that shines directly on the mountain 24/7 (?!). They kindly added about 5 minutes of history which sounded something like: "Then, disaster strikes! The foundation built by the romans at the heart of the abbey crumbles. . . . But wait! The mount perseveres, a new structure is built. Amazing innovations in gothic architecture are born in the reconstruction of this ethereal national treasure. Unfortunately, the bad times are not over yet. With the second world war, the mountain, gift to humanity falls into disrepair, and is over looked by the outside world. Then, The Mountain Is Saved!!! Mont-Saint-Michel is declared a national monument!" A very moving tale, no? As you can imagine Isabelle was very peeved about being so misled in terms of the content of the show, and being for to sit through something so metaphysical, and over exaggerated after having paid for history. The third museum was the home of a high up clergyman from the 16th century. It was three tiny circular rooms that smelled so intensely of dust that several small children had covered their faces with their t-shirts, and I was tempted to follow their example for fear of asphyxiation. It was interesting while it lasted but it was over so quickly that we actually went back in and tried to find the next room because we thought we'd been mistaken in leaving. The fourth museum was a guided tour ending in another spectacle of sorts, so we were packed like sardines into a waiting room with some historical artifacts to entertain us while we waited for the tour to start. After fifteen minutes of waiting we decided to skip the last museum and walk the last few feet up the side of the mountain to the abbey. The Abbey was a separate fee from that of the museums to enter so we walked around the outside a bit and then we walked back down.
In between the second and third museum we got hungry for lunch. There is a famous restaurant in Mount Saint Michel called 'La Mere Poulard' after a certian Madame Poulard who had made omelettes for the weary travelers who made it through the bog, crossing from the mainland to the mount, and then harbored them at her inn. They still serve the famous omelette. We thought it would be packed because we came right at the hight of the lunch hour, but actually everyone was standing around outside taking pictures, but no one was actually going in to eat, so we got a table right away. In the window there was a sign for Omelettes: $15. When we looked at the menu there were specials ranging from 39 to 79 euros including different appetizers, drinks and desserts with your entree. For the entrees there was a baked camembert cheese for 14, a lobster for 49, a lamb for 49, a steak for 39, and the omelette for 18 per 100 gm of a rather expensive fish that I couldn't translate, cooked with truffle oil. When the waiter came we all decided to order the omelette, but it turns out that you can only order the omelette in either 250 gm, 350 gm, or 450 gm of fish, which means the cheapest omelette you can order is 44 euros. Well, considering that neither Sarah, nor Thomas, nor I for that matter actually like fish very much, we decided to leave. We went and got galettes (crepes with savory filling) and crepes from another little restaurant a bit farther up the mountain. Not bad, not great. Overall a much nicer experience than that which we'd had at the La Mere Poulard, which is advertised like the NY hat at Yankee Stadium.
That night we went to Cabourg (about five to ten minutes from Villers-sur-Mer) for dinner. It was a pretty interior, with art deco style etchings on the large mirror in the corner, and draped silk on the ceiling culminating in a pretty little chandelier in the center. The menu was very classical french bistro food, but it wasn't very good, and certainly nothing compared to the little treasure we'd stumbled on the night before, and yet the prices were the same. We returned to the hotel and enjoyed some bad late night television, which is always most appealing in hotel rooms. The next morning we slept in a bit later, because we didn't have to go as far. We stopped at the famous boardwalk in Deauville and walked along the beach for a half hour. It was cold and cloudy, and the wind was just as strong, or we would have stayed longer. Instead we hoped back in the car and drove to the main place in Trouville and walked around the farmer's market. Then it was off to Honfleur.
Honfleur was my favorite of part of the trip. It was really magnificent. The buildings were arranged in a horse-shoe around a square port. They were all three or four stories high, which little square windows, and colorful awnings. There was a large, double decker Carousel, and all the cafes had put their tables outside to soak up the sun. We ate lunch in a cafe that had huge white stone brick walls, with an arched entry to their wind cellar, and floor to ceiling white washed french windows, open to the spring weather. I had a nice salad with little toasts of goat cheese, and prosciutto. Then Isabelle bought me a little coffee bowl with my name painted on the side, in the normandy tradition, because apparently everyone of their generation had a little bowl with their name on it, so I was very honored. When we'd walked around a bit and had our fill of the sea air, we got back in the car and did all four hours back with a five minute pit-stop so that we were back in Marchiennes by 5 o'clock. It was really a lovely little weekend trip.


Post a Comment