Normandy/Calvados

26 Jun
Morning in the countryside.

Morning in the countryside.

I have decided upon a new rule for myself when traveling. Up until now, I have always had a ratio of 80% in a major city and 20% off-the-beaten-path. This needs to change. The truly amazing, awe-inspiring, life-changing moments I’ve experienced while traveling usually happen in the middle of nowhere, in a place no one has heard about. Case in point #1: Yoshino. Case in point #2: our road trip through Normandy.

D and our Twingo which we dubbed Amelie.

D and our Twingo which we dubbed Amelie.

A bit of wary of driving in Paris, we decided to take a train to Versailles and rent a car there. Easier said then done. We ended up wandering around in the rain, trying to find a car rental place. We finally found our way to a Hertz station where two French men assisted us in broken English. What we gathered from them, though, was that they had given us their most pink car, since we were ladies and must like that sort of thing. As we prepared to leave the lot, I ran in quickly to ask them which way to the highway. The cute boy with bright, blue eyes looked at me worriedly before rushing into a back room. He brought out a GPS unit and showed me how to work it. “Uh, it’s no charge….um…but that’s…exception for you.” He was truly our hero as we would have been quite lost without it.

View of Honfleur from the Ferris Wheel.

View of Honfleur from the Ferris Wheel.

We had reservations at a bed and breakfast place in a tiny town called Torigni-sur-Vire. But along the way, we made a detour to the north at a small fishing village called Honfleur. Dr. G had recommended it to me as his favorite place he has ever been. Dr G has yet to steer me wrong in life. Honfleur was possibly the highlight of my entire France trip. Everything about it was charming. From the chocolate museum with mechanical beavers making chocolate to the old Ferris Wheel to the old man painting the carousel to the apple brandy liquor to the fresh mussels caught that morning. We would have loved to stay longer, but we didn’t want to be late to check into our B&B.

La Beauconniere

La Beauconniere

After much skillful driving along winding roads, past cows and other speeding French drivers, we found the B&B where we were to stay two nights. As we pulled up, a smiling man waved eagerly at us. This was Dean. He directed us where to park and as we got out of the car, he introduced us to him and his wife, Suzanne. I can’t say enough wonderful things about them. They were two of the warmest people I have ever met. Kind, happy, eager to learn everything about us. We were likewise interested in learning about them. Their story is a tale that proves happiness is possible, and it’s never too late to lead a life you love. They originally owned their own law firm in Manhattan, but they didn’t like the hustle and bustle of city life. Dean is British and had always loved the French countryside. So one day they packed up, moved to France, and opened La Beauconniere. She has a passion for horses and cooking, and he loves history and gardening. They share this with the visitors that pass through. Dean calls himself a collector of stories. He loves to learn about his visitors.

They advised us to get dinner at a small bistro in town. We drove through the tiny town with one streetlight. We drank Calvados (apple brandy made in the region, 40%, not for beginners), and I ordered a Nicoise salad. The lettuce in the salad was so fresh and flavorful. I was in heaven. We went back home and crawled into our big comfy bed with the windows wide open to let fresh air in. We slept like the dead.

American cemetery at Omaha beach

American cemetery at Omaha beach

The next day I had made arrangements to spend the day horseback riding through the countryside with Suzanne. But there were huge gusts of wind, and Suzanne was worried about the horses getting spooked and didn’t want to not be able to communicate with each other. She offered to take me out the next day, but we had to return our rental car by a certain time or face a huge penalty fee. I was disappointed, but Dean promised to map out a good sightseeing day for us.

We headed to the D-Day beaches and in particular Omaha beach where the American cemetery was located. It was fascinating to see what those men had to go through, the long beaches and dunes they had to cross over. It was a moving experience, and I’m so glad we got to see it. There was a quote engraved there that stood out to me.

“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: All we asked…was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”

-General Mark W. Clark

Amazing to see you much of the war came down to that one moment, that final hope to free France, all the countries that worked together to make it possible. USA, England, the French resistance. Astounding.

Afterwards we drove to the small town of Bayeaux to see the Bayeaux tapestry which was made in the 11th century depicting the Norman conquest. A stark contrast between the two wars and what people have fought for over time.

Our next stop was going to be Mont-St-Michel, but our trusty GPS broke, and we were nervous about getting too lost. So we found a convenient store with some maps and made our way back to Torigni sur Vire. Once there we found a little pub that was open, bought some beers (whilst noticing a black cat napping on the bar) and played darts. Naturally.

D proved to be a formidable opponent.

D proved to be a formidable opponent.

Once we started feeling a bit hungry we headed out to wander around the town. We stopped in a bakery to grab fresh baguettes, a liquor store to buy a bottle of cider (apples are big in that region), a grocery store so D could pick out some smelly French cheeses, and a butcher to buy some sausage. Back at La Beauconniere, we ate our humble feast and followed it up with some more Calvados brandy. D fell asleep early while I took a long shower, played with the cat Jake, gazed dreamily at the horses and wrote a little.

Jake resting in a sunbeam.

Jake resting in a sunbeam.

The next morning we said our goodbyes to Dean and Suzanne while they packed up some baguettes, homemade pear bread, and what was left of our stinky cheese, so we could snack on the road. We drove back to Versailles to drop off the car and spend the day at the palace. After our amazing countryside experience, it was difficult to stomach the mass amounts of tourists. The palace was interesting to see, but we ended up rushing through it, trying to get away from the crowds. The gardens were beautiful, and it was good to get fresh air after being herded like cattle from room to room. If I were a wealthy Queen of France, I think I’d rather stay at La Beauconniere as opposed to Versailles.

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One Response to “Normandy/Calvados”

  1. queerf0x June 27, 2013 at 12:29 am #

    I approve your changing the ratio — more exploring off the beaten track always equals better moments and memories.
    I love the story of how you got a GPS, that’s adorable. Sounds like you made quite an impression! Also, that is the best name for a car in France.
    The B&B sounds great, and the owners’ story actually kind of made me think of my parents! They are very similar in the way they treat their guests, and in the way they chose to “retire” from their previous lives.
    All those places sound amazing. You’re having such wonderful adventures! I’m so happy for you!

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