Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ROAD TRIP TO NORMANDY

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; 
it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. 
G. K. Chesterton 


Road trip! Freedom, the wind in our hair, sun streaming in the open windows to warm our bodies as adventure heats our souls. Road trip! How long has it been? How long have we yearned for the freedom, the reckless irresponsibility of our days and hours, the excitement and romance of finding ourselves alone, totally alone to do as we please and with only ourselves to please? He yanks off his tie, throws his jacket carelessly across the back seat and yells “Road trip!” joyously, loudly, for all on that Parisian street to hear. I laugh along with him as I slide into the passenger seat, kick off my boots, shrug off my coat and prepare myself for whatever excitement lies ahead.


I’ve lived in France for a very long time. I am married to a Frenchman who knows this country and her history like the back of his hand. We’ve done our fair share of traveling, roads of discovery, days of revelation. Yet as it had been quite some time (some would say much too long) since our last vacation, we decided that it was time to get away for a few days and leave Marty in the capable hands of Simon. But where to go? We flipped through travel magazines and guide books, mulled it over and discussed it up and down as we scrolled through google maps and this website and that. Italy again? Basque country? A bike trip through Holland? Should we board a plane for lands unknown? The wild jungles of New York City, the blazing heat of India, a cool Nordic landscape?


I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. 
Susan Sontag 


And finally he came up with our destination: Normandy! A short drive from Paris and a shorter drive home, he offered me another taste of his own country, promising me the discovery of a region I have never visited. No exotic voyage, no far away lands, no airplane tickets tucked into hand luggage, simply a few things tossed into a suitcase thrown into the back of the car, him and me. Yes, I have lived in France for eons and travelled well and often, yet there is so much I have yet to see. And together we find adventure, create spectacular experiences wherever we go. Sea breezes, history, beautiful landscapes and stunning monuments enough to fill up as many days as we decide to stay away for was our need and our agenda.

Langeais. What the Foulques? Foulques Nerra conquers Langeais at the end of the X Century and builds a chateau. The House of Anjou, the Plantagenet Empire, tormented, turbulent, eventful, Langeais eventually returns to France. Kings and Lords, and finally an historic royal marriage and one that particularly excited me: the union of our own Anne de Bretagne, Duchess of Brittany, and Charles VIII, King of France, in 1491! Which began the attachment of Brittany to France. And a rather titillating story of Anne’s marriage to two Kings of France, the second which was in her prenup for the first….


A stunning day, a stroll through the beautiful gardens of the chateau and through the town.


Bayeux. Deep in the heart of Calvados. Approaching the Channel, the air is decidedly cooler, the sun brilliant, guiding us through the lovely, picturesque streets of this ancient yet pristine town. Remnants of the glory and splendor of this magnificent city hint of past turbulence and upheaval. We spend part of the morning in a long, dark corridor, entranced by the tapestry that tells the tale of the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. William the Conqueror, Odo and Harold, the glories of battle in tiny stitches of black, green, terracotta and gold, towers set aflame, boats in movement on rocky waves, galloping horses carrying messengers bringing news of life and death, scenes of war and scenes of reconciliation, an exciting tale told in comic book scenes.


Weaving through the streets of Bayeux, snapping pictures, picking up what is needed for a picnic for two.



To travel is to take a journey into yourself. 
Danny Kaye 


Omaha Beach. Up and along the coast, the Channel, I keep thinking of my dear old dad fighting in the Pacific, wondering aloud why those brave souls aren’t remembered, aren’t made as much of as those who defended this small stretch of beach, but that is the daughter in me speaking. Cool, clear water, grassy dunes, a picnic spread out between us, baguette and local jambon de Bayeux and farm fresh Camembert. Listening to a silly man puffed up with extraordinary self-importance as he speaks very loudly in heavily accented English, some kind of improvised tour guide imposed upon this apparently bored and hapless family. His arms flailing in an odd jointless way as he walks, his voice carries on the wind as he offers minute details of every single soldier that stood on every inch of dune or fired a shot from every single bunker. JP and I roll on the ground with laughter as we imitate him. Wander up and through the sprawling cemetery, silence, sadness, disbelief hang heavily over the white marble headstones, crosses and stars trailing into the distance, standing straight as soldiers.



Barfleur, Bricquebec, Saint Saveur le Vicomte, Coutances. Up, up, up and around we drive. He craves the sea, any body of water will do even if we spot land far off in the hazy distance edging the horizon; that is deep water rushing in between. We dine on moules frites more than we care to admit, but when in Rome do as the Romans and when in Normandy…


We wind our way along the stunning coastline, breathtaking every inch of the way. We are astonished at the purity and cleanliness of this whole region, from the largest town to the tiniest village, from the rolling countryside to the sandy seaside. The people are kind and generous, shops open, everyone speaks at least a dab of English, as if recognizing what they owe the American, Canadian and English forces, appreciative of the tourism those past horrid events have brought to this cool, green sweep of land like nowhere else in France that we’ve been.



And a final meal before we find our way home, yearning, as we are, to be back in our nest, in our own bed and own kitchen and familiar surroundings with sons and warm dog. A final meal selected carefully from the guide, studied and researched as we studied cathedrals and churches and old Roman ruins. The descriptions held promise and although it was a winding drive from where we found ourselves, we decided to make the trip. Sometimes, you know, one just has that feeling that something will turn out better than expected, a rare pearl, worth the trip.


Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, 
and thinking what nobody has thought. 
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi 


And this trip, this region was indeed a rare pearl, a stunning find. With our eye resolutely on the future, we set our sights on Bayeux, on Normandy, adding it to a fragile, romantic yet concise list of where we could one day live. We gathered our belongings, climbed back into the car and headed home.

Life is a voyage. 
Victor Hugo 

Just a few memorable addresses:

Café de France
12, quai Henri Chardon
50760 Barfleur.
Tel: 02 33 54 00 38.
Excellent moules frites and a cold beer.

Le Jules Gommès
34 Rue du Vaudredoux
50590 Regnéville-sur-Mer
Tel: 02 33 45 32 04
Restaurant and pub, fabulous food, great service, worth the detour.

Hôtel d’Argouges
21, rue Saint-Patrice
14400 Bayeux
Tel: 02 31 92 88 86
hotel.dargouges@gmail.com
Beautiful hotel in the center of Bayeux, clean, comfortable, quiet, excellent, friendly service.
Speaks English even when you speak French.

Hôtel des Ormes
13 Promenade Barbey d'Aurévilly
50270 Barneville-Carteret
Tel: 02 33 52 23 50
hoteldesormes@wanadoo.fr
Small cosy hotel, very pretty and elegant. Comfortable rooms, friendly service.

22 comments:

shruti said...

fun trip ! the image of you in the warrior costume is hilarious :)

La Table De Nana said...

Looks like a wonderful trip..So much history in more ways than one..I am certain thoughts of your dad were so present with you.
I would love to visit Normandy..Cute photos as well as beautiful and interesting ones.

Nous aimons beaucoup les moules.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

It looks like you had a wonderful time! Normandy is a ploace I wouldn't mind visiting...

Thanks for sharing your impressiosn with us!

Cheers,

Rosa

Jill Colonna said...

So glad you had such a super trip to Normandy. We're planning on finishing our first ever car trip with the kids up there and so your addresses and descriptions have made it all come alive, Jamie. Loved Les Visiteurs style boots on - I do hope the weather was good enough to take them off! What the Foulques? LOL. As for one of these hotels - brings it all back when people would answer in English to my pigeon French 20 odd years ago. Great read.

Robin | what-about-the-food said...

What a wonderful travelog and I must say you are giving your new camera a super workout! As the best travel writers do, you make me feel as if I were there with you and entices me to visit on my own. Bravo!

Christina said...

It looks absolutely beautiful. What a wonderful trip this must have been!

WiseMóna said...

I love the image with the red and black chequered tiles and shoes! And also love the fish photos at the end. I have not put Normandy on the list ... And we will let you be our guide Jamie x

Jamie said...

@WiseMona: With pleasure! You will love it!

@Jill Colonna: If you want any suggestions, just call me!

A Thought For Food said...

I love everything about this post. Those pictures, the stories... I'm ready to travel now!

:-)

Aoife - Babaduck said...

It's a beautiful region of France - I've many happy memories of finding an antique shop in Barneville-Carteret and returning the following year to shop some more!

Javelin Warrior said...

It looks like it was a wonderful adventure, Jamie. The photos are beautiful and it makes me crave a trip to Europe (I've never been) and more specifically to France. I love ancient/old historic castles and villages - you can sense the history around you. A beautiful post...

Lisa said...

I love the life you and JP live..such free spirits, moving every couple years to start anew, and your travels throughout France, whether it be bike rides through the countryside, or this trip to Normandy. Your photos are beautiful..the new camera is really turning you into quite the photog! You make a pretty hot knight, my friend ;)

MilkJam said...

Great post! It is a beautiful region :-) I loved seeing the names of some of the towns which are so familiar - I live in between St Sauveur & Bricquebec!!
I just wish summer would show up sometime soon, it's been sooooo rainy - even for Normandy!

David @ Frenchie and the Yankee said...

Oh la Normandie !

I love your post. I have a Normand side in me so I always liked going there.

Thanks for sharing. Looks like you had a great time.

Junglefrog said...

Of course I would have preferred you coming on a bie trip to Holland! That being said, I love Normandie. We used to go there all the time with my parents wen we were little!

Rambling Tart said...

I love this trip so much, Jamie. :-) I experienced similar emotions visiting Anzio in Italy and reliving the stories, movies, books that have shaped my understanding of that time in history. I would love to visit Normandy one day. :-)

Ivy said...

What a fun trip! Thanks for sharing it with us. Love your picture behind the armour and your boots.

A Canadian Foodie said...

Life is truly a voyage. So wonderful your family could be with you. When I went to Normandy - and I have only been their once - it was me and my students - unforgettable - and very moving. Did you go to Mont St. Michelle? Everywhere was wonderful... but, as a Canadian - the D-Day Memorial Museum is incredible, but it was like a day at a funeral. Emotionally exhausting. Your photos are exquisite.
:)
V

Jamie said...

@A Canadian Foodie: Val, we didn't go to any war museums this time although several years ago we took our kids to several including a Canadian war ground where everything including the trenched have been preserved. It was amazing and moving.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

A road trip to Germany would have been amazing ;o) But I love Normandy, it's food and scenery. Love traveling with you and your boots. Thanks!

Nuts about food said...

Normandy is one of those places I have always dreamed to go. It looks like you were really lucky with the weather and I am so jealous of the camembert you ate. Love the foot pictures and agree with your thoughts about all the men and women who gave their lives in WW2, all over the world, not just there.

wendy@chezchloe said...

Exotic vacation is a matter of definition. I love these trips that are fabulous then topped with efficient and practical.
sounded like a great time...

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