Friday, August 27, 2010

Michael, are you sure there aren't engineering jobs in Normandy?

I asked that question every day of our trip. And I'm sure there are engineering jobs in Normandy but none of the large international, interested in an American with only some knowledge of the French language, engineering companies. Oh well, a girl can dream.

So we have these etching of French cathedrals at home. They hung in our bedroom before being packed away into my parents' basement along with all of our other worldly possessions. But when we came to France, we came with the motivation of finding those cathedrals and taking modern day pictures of them to hang with the etchings. The first one was in Rheims, and that photo has already been taken care of.

The second etching is of the cathedral in Rouen, which lead us to our first city to visit and to say that Rouen has had a rich and interesting history would be an understatement.

Day 1

This is the original etching of the Rouen Cathedral. (Please ignore the reflection of me taking the picture in my bathrobe)

And her is one copy of the modern day shot. We probably have 30 that we will have to pick through and edit when the time comes to actually frame it. Unfortunately, the city was heavily bombed and damaged during WWII so like Dresden, much of what used to be the beautiful part timber houses pictured in the etching is now ugly 1970's concrete.

This was a small square in the city wrapped around with houses (or buildings of some description), it is known as the plague cemetery because it was used as a mass grave to store as much as 2/3 of the population that were taken by the disease. 

 Rouen was also known as the city where Jeanne d'Arc was taken by the English.

 She was imprisoned during her trial in this tower.

 This is the square where she was burned at the stake.

And this is the church that was built many years later to honor the patron saint of France.

Day 2

After a nice stay at a very cheap hotel we hit the road towards Etretat, which is considered to be France's answer to the white cliffs of Dover.

It was extremely windy, we spent most of the time trying to keep the hair out of our faces.

 But regardless of the weather we took our time hiking around, admiring the quaint village

 And the strikingly beautiful cliffs.

 We hit the road again towards the coast and the mouth of the Seine River, which we had to cross. From this view we thought the bridge looked pretty impressive...

 Until we got past that bridge and realized that this was the impressive bridge.

 Our next stop was in the seaside resort town of Deauville. I could do an old, classic resort town like this. It's nothing like what we see along the American Atlantic coast.

 We used this unexpectedly beautiful time to get our feet wet in the English Channel.

And from there we made our way back inland into the Calvados region to our B&B. This the view from our bedroom window. The B&B was actually a beautiful old dairy (or cattle) farm. 

We were slightly confused by this fir rug on our floor though. Our best guess was a giant guinea pig.
Since this was a Monday night and in the French countryside almost everyone was closed on Monday with the exception of a nice restaurant, suggested to us by our lovely B&B host, we decided that this would be our nice dinner out at the Auberge du Lion d'Or (Inn of the Golden Lion). Here's what we got:


Flambéed apples and cheese wrapped in brick dough

Goat cheese and smoked salmon salad

Main Course

Veal kidneys in a calvados and mushroom cream sauce

Seared thin steaks with a camembert sauce

Roasted mixed veggies


Flambéed apples and cognac in puff pastry
Pont l'Evêque and Camembert cheeses


Max, the adorable yellow lab

Day 3 

After a scrumptious B&B breakfast complete with fresh dairy milk and butter we set out for the day. 

First on our list of priorities for this trip was to buy some calvados (distilled apple cider) straight from the farm. At the suggestion of our host we turned the corner and was at a wonderfuly small family farm that happens to be one of the 18 best selected on the "cider route" in the most prestigious part of the calvados region.

 And after all, if they drink their own product, it must be good (notice the empty cider bottles on the table).

On the farm was the original barn from the year 1480. Oh, and in case you weren't aware, calvados is difficult to taste at 10 in the morning (just think of whiskey tasting if you aren't familiar with calvados) even with a full belly of breakfast.

 But somehow we managed to taste and snagged some very well priced hard cider

 And a bottle of 10 year aged calvados.

The middle part of this day I will be leaving out for another post. We did a lot of WWII sight-seeing and I would like to put that together with an earlier trip on the subject. For right now, we'll keep this post light and fun.

So after a full morning and afternoon we made our way to our 2nd B&B of the trip. It was another lovely house in a tiny stone village, with a lovely host to match. After settling in we got back on the road to check out the beautiful fortified (walled-in) city of Dinan.

This is the street that winds it's way down to the river and port. The street is filled to the brim with artists' galleries and crêperies.

We walked along the ramparts of the city to get some spectacular views and be serenaded by a man singing along to his radio in his nearby shed.

We found Michael's street (with the French spelling, of course) in Dinan.

And we found another future home

The port area was beautiful though a long (and slippery-when-wet, we know, it rained during dinner) and winding way from the city center.

We stopped at one of those crêperies for dinner where we split some gallettes (savory, buckwheat crêpes), one with scallops, tomatoes and mushrooms and the other a traditional ham, egg and cheese gallette.

For dessert we had a sugar and butter crêpe; sometimes simple is the best.  

Day 4

We took off that morning to visit le Mont-Saint-Michel, the beautiful (and impossible looking) island city on a tiny island about a kilometer off the coast. Well, it was once an island but to accommodate the huge number of religious pilgrims and tourists they built a causeway since originally, the only way to get to the island was to walk out the bay during low tide (or I suppose a boat would work but that was never mentioned). So they built a causeway but without much forethought and the causeway messed with the water flow of the bay and ended up silting up the bay so that now you can essentially walk across the bay at all times. They are, supposedly trying to remedy this though by building a new causeway that will allow the water to flow underneath (a bridge?) although I don't know how they're going to get rid of all the accumulated silt.

Did I mention that there are a lot of tourists?

We slowly made our way up to the Abbey on top of the hill; it's a steep hike.

We got a nice view from the top of where our car was parked (be careful where you park though, cars and even buses have been swept away!).

This is inside the Abbey's's collapsed a couple of times.

Here we are in the beautiful cloisters.

At one point in the Abbey's history it was used as a prison. During that time they put the prisoners in this huge wheel and made them run to bring up supplies from the bottom of the mountain. 

Michael being the saint version of himself (Saint Michael, that is).

This gives you a better idea of the scale of the mountain, and we weren't even on the bottom yet!

We ate lunch that day on a beautiful beach in between Mont-Saint-Michel and our next destination. The menu included some cider camembert (we're thinking the rind of the cheese was washed in cider), baguette and roe buck terrine (fun piece of trivia: bambi was originally a roe buck; it wasn't until Disney made the movie that he and his family became white-tailed deer).

After lunch we did a barefoot hike (oops, left our shoes in the car) up the left "mountain".

 Here's Michael at the top, being a daredevil.

After lunch we packed up and made our way to our evening destination of Saint Malo, yet another fortified port city along the coast.

 While walking along the ramparts we came across this awesome pool that fills up when the tide comes in, complete with two diving platforms.

 We walked out the breaker to get this beautiful view of the city before sunset. The city is nice but very modern. It was completely bombed during the war and while they did a much better job reconstructing (all classical styled buildings) it just didn't have the charm of Dinan.

 It got dark quickly so we grabbed dinner (another ham, egg and cheese gallette and a sausage gallette) and headed back to the ramparts to watch the show.

 And then, we went back to the B&B (sorry I didn't get a picture before we destroyed it).

Day 5

 This was the view from this B&B of the horse farm and stable across the street. The tractor woke us up, and sadly, it was time to pack up and head out. Not until after a wonderful B&B breakfast complete with homemade prune jam and crêpes.

 As a last hurrah before our long drive back to Metz we made our way back to the coast to do a little English Channel swimming. 

 It was cold.

 But it was very enjoyable with the sun.

One last picture before the 9 hour drive.