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Tag Archives: France

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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Paris, France

24 Jun

2013-06-10 11.46.41My dear friend Danguole and I had been talking about taking a trip abroad together for a long time. In fact, we were thinking about going to Columbia together a couple of years ago. I ended up moving to New York, and she (being the brave, little toaster that she is) went on her own. But finally, we got ourselves together and decided to go to Paris. A lot of people were surprised by our choice. The trend for people our age is to go to more exotic places, like Asia or Central America. Those are places we discussed, and it just came down to Paris. D had never traveled around Western Europe, and I’ve been dreaming of Paris for years. It’s kind of a mainstream option. But not liking something because it’s popular is just as sell-out as liking something because it’s popular. Like what you like, do what you wanna do. We had an amazing time in Paris.

Nutella crepe in the Tuilleries Gardens

Nutella crepe in the Tuilleries Gardens

Our trip was divided into thirds. Paris the first third, Normandy the middle third (later post), and back to Paris for the last third. We spent the first third doing all the things one has to do and see. Eiffel Tower, Louvre (outside, we didn’t go in), Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, Arc du Triomphe, Place de Concorde. All the major things one is supposed to do. But it got to the point where we were weary of our guidebooks and didn’t want to be herded like sheep along with thousands of other tourists. We had seen that side of Paris.

The French don't fuck around with salads. This one has foie gras, duck breast, and roast potatoes.

The French don’t fuck around with salads. This one has foie gras, duck breast, and roast potatoes.

The French have the idea of how to live right. They take their time with things, they enjoy everything. If you’re going to eat a meal, why not eat a delicious one? If you’re going to drink coffee in the morning, why not have a delicious espresso while watching the rain inundate the streets? If you’re going to get dressed in the morning, why not look stylish and amazing all the time? Some of the laws the French have might sound unnecessary, but they make life more enjoyable, so why not? One of their laws is that all bakeries have to make bread both in the morning and the afternoon, so that your evening baguette is as fresh as your morning one was. So. Logical.

10AM watching storm clouds roll in

10AM watching storm clouds roll in

So much of Paris is an experience. While I was there I was reading a book called, “The Most Beautiful Walk In the World: A Pedestrian in Paris” by John Baxter. It’s written by a man who gives literary walking tours in Paris. While he talked about his favorite places in Paris, he likewise talked about how Paris is at its best when it becomes your own experience. D and I stayed in the Northern neighborhood of Montmarte, and it got to the point where after a day of sightseeing, we were so happy to be back in our neighborhood. OUR neighborhood. Our last couple of days we didn’t even leave Montmarte.

Having a picnic of baguettes, cheese, and strawberries in front of the Sacre Couer, Montmarte.

Having a picnic of baguettes, cheese, and strawberries in front of the Sacre Couer, Montmarte.

So I can tell you how we ate two meals at La Marmite on Rue de Clichy. But I can’t guarantee that when you go there you will also have Linda, the most badass waitress we’ve ever met or that it’ll be pouring rain just beyond your table. I can tell you that we drank beer and chain smoked cigarettes at the bar across the street, but I don’t know if you’ll have as much fun as we did playing “Marry/Murder/Sleep With” as French boys walk by. You can go to Les Deux Moulins where “Amelie” was filmed. But if like me you sit and write for an hour, I can’t guarantee that two French boys will wave at you and go to great lengths to get your attention and make you smile. France was an experience. It was a true vacation with relaxing, eating, drinking, laughing, staying out late, getting soaked in the rain. It was perfect.

View of Paris from the Sacre Coure, Montmarte.

View of Paris from the Sacre Coure, Montmarte.

  • Travel Notes
  • Learn a little French- Just a little! Know how to say hello, goodbye, know how to order in a restaurant, please, thank you. I’ll take you a loooooong way. The French were so warm and kind to us, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we made a bold attempt to speak their language.
  • Sacre Couer- I know I said that Paris is your own experience, but if there is one touristy thing I can recommend, it’s going to the Sacre Couer. We went a lot. We had picnics, I laid in the sun reading, we drank beer at 1 in the morning while someone blasted pop music from their car nearby. Best view of Paris.
  • Eat with abandon- I gained 5lbs in Paris. I’m not ashamed. I ate duck, foie gras, escargot, stinky cheeses, weird pastries. I regret nothing!
  • Dress your best- This is Paris after all. When I travel, I often opt for the comfortable walking shoes, layers, maybe even a backpack. In Paris, people are on display. The seats in cafes all face the street, none face the other way. Parisians love to watch one another, to inspect your fashion choices. So give them something good to look at. It’s the least you can do.
  • Find your hood- Paris is divided into arrondisements (neighborhoods). We loved Montmarte and were happiest exploring every nook and cranny of it. But there are many other neighborhoods that are lovely as well. St Germain de Pres was incredible, the Latin Quartier was beautiful. Enjoy your neighborhood, don’t rush through it.
  • Take your time- Enjoy that beer. Sip your coffee. Taste every last bite of your Duck Confit. Stare at that piece of art for 20 minutes. At one point, I saw a little old French woman let go of her husband’s hand, walk toward a beautiful rose bush, lean in and take a deep breath. She literally stopped and smelled the roses. That’s the way to enjoy Paris.