Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Norman Invasion

I just love these buildings—Honfleur!
(oops, I'm getting ahead of myself)
[Our Wifi in Le Cheval Blanc Best Western is extremely slow, so I just now got a chance to upload the photos. I made a couple of editorial comments to this post and added photos, but other than that, it's exactly the same.]

Our last view of Plymouth
as seen from high atop the ferry
After an incredibly traditional Sunday roast lunch at Quay 33 and a ridiculously leisurely afternoon at the Imperial guesthouse in Plymouth, A.K. and I loaded up our baggage and two bottles of Plymouth Gin (one traditional, the other sloe) onto Armorique, our home for the next 10 hours. We had no idea our little ferry was nearly a ship—nine stories tall, including two levels for cars, campers, bikes, and 16-wheelers! The amenities included a casino, restaurant, two cinemas, a bar, and loads of places to just hang out, inside and out. We dumped our luggage in our room, which was just a little smaller than our lovely room at the Imperial (I'll leave it up to you to decide whether that is a comment on the grand size of our berth or the quaintness of our little room in Plymouth.), downed two Dramamine each, and headed off to explore before the drugs could take effect.

Leaving the port of Plymouth
... toot toot
As the ferry pulled away from the dock and headed out to sea, we toured the various levels of the "ship," including a walk across the helipad to enjoy our last views of Plymouth. Once it started getting a little blow-y and rocky, we headed to the cafeteria and dined on pasta salad, bread, and cheese, plus a mini bottle of wine each. We figured the wine would provide a little extra insurance for sleep to come quickly—besides, we were heading to France, so, wine? ... Of course! Anyone who eavesdropped on our dinner conversation would probably giggle as our diction rapidly disintegrated, with slurred "S"s and I'm sure many a repeated phrase. As we both felt our limbs and heads getting heavier and heavier, we wisely decided to make our way to our bunks.

A few short hours later, we awoke to Lans by Dremmwel, a tune they broadcast through the ship's speaker system every two minutes or so to wake up the snoozing passengers. You may wonder how I know the tune! Well, in my fruitless search for an answer to whether we could bring our bags into our berth, I did discover the name of the wake-up song and the helpful fact that I could purchase a CD of Dremmwel's greatest hits in the ferry's gift shop. Brilliant.

Upon leaving the ferry at 7 a.m. we discovered that EuropCar rental staff does not show up until 10 and the ferry station was not really anywhere close to the fishing village of Roscoff ... at least not close enough to encourage us to lug our wheelie bags out into the misty morning. So instead we had surprisingly lovely croissants, pain au chocolat, and cafe while waiting for time to pass. At last, the young man led us to our car and sent us on our way. After a few ground gears, we were happily cruising through the Normandy/Brittany countryside!

The walled city of St.-Malo in the distance
with the floating docks in the foreground
Our first stop was St-Malo, which was beautifully described in Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. I was very excited to explore the old walled city and climb the stairs of the steeple. But, alas, the traffic leading to the massive parking lots surrounding the old walled city were chock-a-block full of cars parked, cars waiting to get in, cars waiting to get out, and pedestrians everywhere. It didn't take A.K. and I long to find our way out of the madhouse and into the newer part of St-Malo, which is still quite old. We got some great shots of the city's exterior, marveled at the floating docks, and then took a little driving tour of the rest of the city.

Hunger was setting in, so we made our way to equally quaint Dinan, only to find that it was between noon and 2:00, when everything pretty much shuts down. We did find one cafe-bar still open, so we had our first dejeuner of ham/cheese/mushroom galettes (like a cross between an omelet and a crepe) and salad. [Ed: I had originally said it was Sunday, but I forgot. It was Monday, which is like Sunday here, in that lots of places are closed.]

About as close as we got
to the abbey at St.-Michel
The next stop was Mont St. Michel. We'd heard that you should definitely not come here at the height of the tourist season, but that is when we are here. So when in St. Michel ... We parked our car and hopped on a bus that took us and nearly 50 other tourists across the causeway to the ancient abbey island. Unfortunately, there was a never-ending stream of said buses going to and fro, dumping loads of tourists on the little island.

It truly is a spectacular site to see, but we barely made it 100 feet into the walled area before realizing if we didn't get out soon, there was a good chance we might take one of the millions of little plastic souvenir swords and disembowel, behead, stab, and generally wreak havoc on the mobs of people all around us. It was like a combination of Epcot, Disneyworld, the Grand Canyon overlook, and every other tourist destination—all on their busiest day and all crammed into narrow, cobblestoned alleyways. And not to stereotype, but it seemed that very few had an iota of interest in where they were. They were just intent on buying as much Made in China crap as they could and take as many pictures as possible before heading back on another sweaty bus to the next tourist stop.

Karen washing her shoes
in our ultra-posh "loo" in Honfleur
So we fled the walls and hustled our way back to our rental car and on to the road to our final destination for the day ... Honfleur.

Karen at Vieux Bassin in Honfleur
What a surprise this town is! Although it too is packed with people, most are here to wander the little alleys, sit in cafes while sipping the lovely local cider/rosé/café, and enjoy the nightlife and fine dining—not to mention the Bastille Day festivities, which included cherry bombs, bottle rockets, sparklers, and much more being set off throughout the village all day; a competition in which young men dashed over the edge of the dock and up a slippery pole in an attempt to grab the flag before crashing down to the water below; and a spectacular fireworks display that was set off on the other side of the river, about 2 football fields away from our balcony view. Thousands of people stood along the banks of the Seine to watch and cheer the big finale as they danced along to American pop music blaring from the carousel. We made like Marie Antoinette, and enjoyed the festivities from our regal suite overlooking the docks while nibbling on pizza and sipping our Sloe Gin. Luckily no one threatened to behead us for our decadence.

We fell asleep to the sounds of cars filing out of the crowded streets, kids laughing, more cherry bombs, and disco music. We then awoke to a muted, misty morning. From my bed, I watched the village slowly wake up, with fresh fruit deliveries to the cafe down the street, a man hosing off the remnants of last night's revelries, a crew of men taking apart the firework mortars and cakes across the river, and a few people wandering the now-quiet streets.

C'est la vie, vraiment!

[ED: We also took a walking tour of the village center, where we saw many beautiful and ancient buildings, including the salt warehouses and the cathedral of St. Leonard and his gardens.]
The ceiling of the salt warehouse is constructed
using the same techniques to build a ship ... just upside down
The gardens of Saint Leonard in Honfleur

1 comment:

Katie said...

Press Release: Two savvy and adventurous American tourists have been "charged" with causing general mayhem in Mont St. Michel. They are currently being held at an undisclosed location awaiting pats on the back, free wine, and croissants as tokens of appreciation from the local authorities. "They really helped quell the tourist problem," commented a French police officer, "it was getting out of hand." It all started when one of the women whispered to her companion, I'm about to "take one of the millions of little plastic souvenir swords and disembowel, behead, stab, and generally wreak havoc on the mobs of people all around us." A stuffy blue-haired lady traveling with a church group from South Carolina overheard the comment, leaving our heroines no choice but to follow through. The gift shop does plan to charge the two women for the broken swords, but those fees will be taken out of the handsome monetary award the residents of Mont St. Michel have gifted the women in gratitude. One local mother stated, "The women have helped us rid ourselves of a major annoyance. Sure, at first the incident was a little, well, icky, but in the end they made our home a better place. We are so so grateful and hope they will return again and we can show them around in true Mont St. Michel-Native style."

It's been so fun reading these entries Tara! Keep writing and I'll keep reading :)