Thursday, November 13, 2014

Greetings from Normandy!

Hello, friends and greetings from beautiful Normandy! We've had another great day of adventure in the French countryside, but I'm going to focus my post on our trip to Mont Saint-Michel because we have a special "guest post" coming up soon with other significant details. I won't give the poster's identity away, but he loves espresso and wears a John Deere cap!

We're staying in the charming city of Bayeux, in the "centre historique" right by the cathedral (which we plan to visit before leaving tomorrow). We also plan to see their world famous tapestries, even though we rolled our eyes about it when we got here. Now we're just curious and don't think we can leave without one more tidbit of history! 

Interesting note -- we've heard a lot more English here in Normandy. I'm guessing there are a lot of Americans visiting the D-Day sites, and the restaurants and hotels are extremely welcoming. Signs proclaiming "English spoken here" and "Welcome to our liberators" have been observed at more than one establishment! Yesterday, we ran into an American family on the narrow stairwell of our hotel - grandparents, young parents and a months-old baby. We coo-ed at the baby, mentioned our grandchildren and said, "If you need help, call us!" 
"What room are you in?" the parents half-joked.
"Room 11!" I said.
Later that evening, we were returning from supper and the Dad was outside gently jostling the baby. "Room 11, right?" he laughed. (But you know I really wanted to just go on and bring that baby to our room and give them a break!)

Back to today's road trip -- we got in our little car and set our sites on Mont Saint-Michel -- an ancient island off the northwest coast of France -- population 44. It's held strategic significance since the fourth century -- the fourth. century. And since the eighth century it's been the seat of a monastery. We traveled through some beautiful countryside on our way there…

Then, while we were still 10 miles away, it came into view...

The island is not accessed by car. We parked and caught a shuttle (free! wow!) that brought us close to the walkway then made our way into the ancient community.

(taken from the shuttle on the drive in)

Now this is one of my favorite stories about the island: According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared in 708 to Aubert, the local bishop, and instructed him to build a church on the island. Aubert (now St. Aubert) repeatedly ignored the instruction until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger. This dramatic event is recorded on one of the pieces in the abbey: 

We felt almost like we were on a movie set in this ancient community. (Helms Deep, perhaps?) Parts of this place are 1500 years old -- and the newer parts are still centuries old. 

Oh, hello Joan! 

Joan of Arc was inspired by the absolute refusal of Mont Saint-Michel to surrender despite repeated sieges during The Hundred Years War. The Engish finally gave up, (in around 1434) and even abandoned a couple of their cannons on the spot. One is still on display there.

Saint Michel slaying…something. A sea creature?

There's something about walking in ancient footsteps that really gets to me. 

In the midst of all the rock and stones, green spaces popped up. Lovely.

On our way to the top. This was another one of those really active days -- lots of uphill climbing and tons of stairs. (makes me feel a little better about all the bread and cheese I've been consuming!) We saw a grandmother, mother and two cute daughters trying to take a group photo and I offered to take the picture for them. They're from Texas! Small world! The daughter's husband is stationed in the Air Force in Germany and the grandmother used to live in DeRidder! Naturally, she offered to take our picture! 

A few of the stairs...

The cathedral...

Ancient doors...

Green spaces...

The refectory...

Jesse's dream dining room table...

Beautiful views…(and a chance to rest. I'm not even kidding -- there was a defibrillator up there. Wondering how many folks fall out after climbing to the top?)

Beautiful stonework...

At the top with the muddy flats in the background. The fast-moving tides come and go...

One last look back as we were leaving. So thankful we got to visit such a magical place. When we got back to our Normandy home-base -- Bayeux -- we had one of the best meals we've eaten in France. We went to Le Petit Normand on the recommendation of one of the hotel managers for "authentic local food." It was truly petite, with maybe 10 tables. But the food was absolutely spectacular! (I know you want to see it, right?)

This was my entree (which is what the French call appetizers). It was basically the fanciest cheese toast I've ever eaten -- bacon, camembert, a beautifully-dressed fresh salad. C'est bon!

Jesse's entree was a salad featuring bacon and goat cheese wrapped in puff pastry. Delicious!

Jesse's main course was scallops in some kind of yummy, buttery sauce with slivers of apple. Normandy is famous for their apples and we've enjoyed delicious apple dishes and ciders while here. He also had artfully presented mashed potatoes and a tiny spinach quiche.

My main dish was a gratin of potatoes, sausage and camembert in a creamy bowl of goodness. (I hate to admit this, but even my dessert was kind of cheesy. I *may* be overdoing the cheese a bit!) It was exactly what I wanted to eat tonight and I just about licked the bowl clean.

This was our view from our dinner table -- we were seated in the front window facing Bayeux' gorgeous cathedral. We got to the restaurant fairly early -- right at opening at 7 this evening and were seated in the window. All restaurants here have their menus posted outside and people stroll by, perusing menus as they're deciding where to eat. I made eye contact with three different couples who were contemplating the menu at Le Petit Normand and gave them a sincere nod, a thumbs up and even a "come on in" gesture and I felt like I did them a huge favor when they walked in to dine! One of our favorite meals here! 

Well, after we visit the Bayeux sites in the morning, we'll be headed back to Paris for the last days of our trip. Bon nuit, chers amis! (And stay tuned for a guest post coming soon!)

1 comment:

I'm Jess said...

I love that little ginger kid in one of your St. Michel pics!! And, it's kind of a shame but, my favorite selfie of you guys is the one in front of the muddy flats ;) Also never had camembert before but now I'm obsessed with it. Love you so!!