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?
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.
Weaving through the streets of Bayeux, snapping pictures, picking up what is needed for a picnic for two.
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.
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.
Just a few memorable addresses:
Café de France
12, quai Henri Chardon
Tel: 02 33 54 00 38.
Excellent moules frites and a cold beer.
Le Jules Gommès
34 Rue du Vaudredoux
Tel: 02 33 45 32 04
Restaurant and pub, fabulous food, great service, worth the detour.
21, rue Saint-Patrice
Tel: 02 31 92 88 86
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
Tel: 02 33 52 23 50
Small cosy hotel, very pretty and elegant. Comfortable rooms, friendly service.