Day 45 - Wed May 18 to Honfleur (in Normandy)
(Jen) After breakfast at ... come on ... you can do it ... where do you think? Teehee. Yeah, at least we find a plan and stick with it. So after breakfast at the Bakery we purchased fresh strawberries, baguette, and cheese from the market in Rue Cler for our journey to Honfleur. We wanted to purchase Brie but the woman said we had to buy a pretty large slab so she chose Camberbert for us instead (neither of us really wanted it and we both waited for the other to tell her 'no thanks' - but too late). Camberbert looks like Brie - but smells like old gym socks. It's really quite revolting to be honest (sorry Christophe). I tried it and decided once was enough - Chris tried and it and kept trying and said it got better with time, but it sort of made his tongue numb. Split decision I guess. The strawberries were delicious (local French strawberries). (Chris) Obtaining food in France, at least the way we did it, can take a long time. Stopping at several small stores (which was fun for us) takes time, but all the goods seemed to be first rate so you probably end up with better quality.
(Jen) This morning we picked up our car at Hertz in Paris and drove to Honfleur. For the next 2.5 weeks we'll be driving the Peugeot 206 - 4 doors, hatchback, AC, manual - quite nice. It took us an unbelievable hour to get out of the Hertz store. After our Florence experience with a car, Chris was determined to get solid directions out of the garage and onto the highway. Luckily it worked and we didn't have to turn around or back-track at all. About 2 hours later we arrived in Honfleur, a tiny fishing village on the coast of Normandy. There really aren't any sights to see in Honfleur, so we just walked around in the evening and had dinner. Dinner was amazing - the best meal we've had all trip. Lots of the restaurants here offer a prix fix menu - typically 3-5 choices each for starter, entrée, and dessert. Chris chose the E16 menu and I went with the E30 menu and we'd share (we almost always trade plates ½). Between the two of us we had lobster cream appetizer, fish soup, lobster in 'his own cream' (YUMM), apple brandy, pork with little potato cubes in some sort of yummy cream sauce, filet of beef in a to-die-for red wine sauce, chocolate mouse, and an apple turnover with caramel.
After dinner we turned in for the night, but not before I finished off the last 20 pages of my book, Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. I bought it in Madrid to read and had already read it once when I was in junior high. I'd forgotten how good it was. Now I'm dying for the second book in the series, but we're probably 2 weeks away from any major city that might have English books. Grrr. (Chris) Jen won't put that darned book down. You'd think it had pictures of corn on the cob in it.
Day 46 - Thur May 19 to Aromanches (Normandy)
(Jen) We checked out of our hotel and drove about 2 hours to Caen to see the WWII Memorial Museum and then to Aromanches to our hotel. The drive was absolutely gorgeous. The Normandy countryside is truly breathtaking. It rained lightly most of the day, which seemed fitting as everything we saw was spectacularly green and lush. The buildings are also quite a bit different than I expected, the buildings and farmhouses are either solid stone which almost looks like rough pored cement, or white and dark brown and look sort of like the buildings in Leavenworth, WA.
We arrived at the WWII Memorial Museum at about 2 PM and avoided paying E18 each because we're both unemployed - so we got in free (this would work at many of the other museums in Europe as well, though the others have required proof, which we don't have). The museum is quite large and "dense" with lots to read and view. It was both interesting and sad. (Chris) The museum had a section leading up to the war, another big section on D-Day, and the remainder on the Cold War and finding a lasting peace. There were a few short movies scattered throughout. Per Jen's comment, it would have been more satisfying if it weren't stuffed to the gills with disinterested 15 year olds.
(Jen) After the museum we drove for another 30 minutes are so and arrived at Aromanches where we are staying for the night. We had dinner in our hotel's restaurant and we were in our hotel room by 10 PM - probably for the first time in weeks. We're both pretty tired so I think it will be an early night. Tomorrow we are going to visit the D-day Beaches and then Mont St. Michel where we will stay for the night. I'm looking forward to seeing fewer museums and Cathedrals and more sights of beauty and just visiting towns. I'm also hoping the weather perks up a bit because I'm a bit cold again
Both Chris and I seem to have gotten over our colds - although Chris does have allergies. My headaches have also gotten better after kicking the caffeine habit again. No coffee and a rare Coke for me - only hot cocoa and 7-up.
Day 47 - Fri May 20 to Mont St Michelle (barely Normandy)
(Chris) After a mediocre hotel 'included' breakfast (which actually cost E7.50 apiece), we headed out for Mont St. Michelle the slow way, with 4 planned stops, all WWII related, mostly focusing on D-Day. The museum at Caen is up about 10 miles off the coast, so you can't really see where the action took place. At Aromanches that was not the case... it's right on the beach (and looks a bit like any touristy beach town in Oregon).
Stop #1 was a viewpoint above Aromanches. From there you can see some remnants of the temporary harbor they hastily constructed (in less than a day I think) at the time of D-Day named Port Winston. The Nazis had put up huge concrete defenses (a huge effort over 2 years) around every port they thought would be attacked, but only moderately-heavy defenses at Arromanches. The only remnants of Port Winston are giant blocks of concrete.
Stop #2 was the main American Cemetery & Memorial, a few miles West of Aromanches. I've seen lots of pictures, but to be there... it's pretty amazing. There are almost 10,000 graves, in a perfectly manicured cemetery, on an extremely peaceful bluff over the ocean. The grave markers tell which state the soldier came from (didn't see many from Washington State), and what day they died (mostly from the summer of 44, and an awful lot on June 6 itself). It was raining pretty good which seemed somehow appropriate. The memorial is nice (and informative, showing the lines of advance), but the real attraction was the cemetery. It was quite moving. War looks fun when it's in a movie or a video game, but not here.
Stop #3, yet a few more miles West, was a monument to the 225 Army Rangers who stormed the cliffs at Point Du Hoc, using grappling hooks and fire ladders. Allied Command thought Point Du Hoc was key for D-Day, as it directly overlooked the 2 American beaches, Omaha and Utah. Of the 225, only 80 made it back out, though they succeeded at their mission. The site had been left largely intact (though it's on the top, and you can't see the cliffs due to safety reasons). You can see the Nazi gun emplacements, and the 30' wide bomb craters from where the Allies tried to destroy them. There is a short clip of video in Caen of the Ranger attack and it's pretty amazing.
The final stop before the 2 hr drive to Mont St Michelle was one of a few German WWII cemeteries. It too was somber but there far fewer people there.
The drive to Mont St Michelle was largely uneventful. We stopped at a grocery for lunch (which is always sort of interesting, to see what the locals actually eat). Jen got better and better (translate: more aggressive) at roundabouts (if we are lost we just circle around and around until we decide where to exit), and we got to play 'guess the speed limit.' In fact the French have this great system where you enter a town, and the sign says slow down to 50 or 70 kph. And then when you exit the town there is a sign with a 50 or a 70 and a red slash through it, indicating you can speed back up. But how fast? We just guess. Perhaps the French do too! (Jen) It is true that I was guessing how fast to go, but my method was very logical. Look at the car behind you and if it doesn't look like a rental (new & shiny) then it must be a local - go as fast as needed until they get off your ass, and that surely must be the speed limit. (We have since read that there are default speed limits for each type of road, 90/110/130 kph, or 80/100/110 if it's raining).
(Chris) Mont St Michelle is all about geography. It's a sharply peaked rock, out in the middle of a giant mud flat, that about 1200 years ago monks built a deluxe Abbey/Cathedral on top of. These days there's a road out to the island, and many tourist-oriented businesses along the bottom, including hotels. So per Reeck's advice, there we went. It's really quite beautiful (see pic), both in the day and night. Though it does smell a bit of manure (it's probably because we were there at a series of low tides). We found a bizarre dinner there, prepped for our big drive South the next day, and drifted off to sleep. (Jen) My starter with dinner was salmon - raw salmon. I thought it would be cooked (I had asked but they must have misunderstood). Anyway, I ate about ½ of it and it was okay. My first raw fish experience.