Monday, March 16, 2009


Normandy, France is one of those places in the world where the mixture of emotion, beauty and history is nearly palpable. It is a majestic part of the world full of color, animals and farmland. Around every corner is a new history lesson and a new photograph beckoning for my camera lens - so I am giving fair warning - this blog entry is longer and has lots of photos. I just couldn't edit any further. It was a great weekend and a great location for a ROAD TRIP! Together with our friend, August, we took off on the open road to explore all over Normandy for the weekend.

We arrived in Honfleur, France on Friday night. Having traveled to Normandy several times already I had never heard of Honfleur. It is a beautiful fishing town that our guidebook describes as "seductively pretty, with cobbled streets and half-timbered or slate-fronted houses...brimming with colorful sailing boats; artists have flocked here since the 19th century."
There are so many cute hotels and spots in Honfleur. But we stayed in the Mercure Hotel; a budget chain for only 70 euros a night. I was glad we were able to find this place, because it was clean and perfect location to be able to enjoy the upscale town without the upscale price. Our rooms were newly renovated and overlooked the harbor and the staff were helpful providing electrical adapters and even a corkscrew for the bottle of wine we bought at the grocery for our pizza picnic! And the charming town was even more charming when the sun came up!
I loved this shot of the Frenchman walking with his dog along the harbor. He had an armful of baguettes tucked under his arm and I imagined he was headed for his boat with his dog and off for a weekend sail...On Saturday we loaded in the car and traveled 2 more hours to the Mont-Saint-Michel. The Mont-Saint-Michel is on the far western side of Normandy and it is a tidal island dominated by a large abbey located about 1 km from the mainland and connected by a famed causeway. The tides overtake the causeway at certain times rendering it a total island. The tides come and go very quickly and there is a difference of 49 feet from high to low water marks. The tides are unusually strong - running across a flat expanse of sand at 6 miles per hour. Just think about that! The place is truly breathtaking. We saw the tides at work as soon as we got there - these large trucks were pushing back the oncoming sea and silt to keep the parking lots clear. Yikes.
I was a little worried when I saw the view of the parking lot from above, but all was well. They are building a dam and bridge here to be completed in 2012 so I guess it will feel dramatically different soon.
The entire island is a round, narrow street full of stairs. We made the not-so-smart decision to bring the stroller. So picture us lugging baby and stroller up step by step. Somehow we made it. Word to the wise for moms - bring a baby backpack, not a stroller.

We did tour the entire abbey. Sweet August opted to stay behind so she graciously entertained Connor while Kirk and I went through the monastery. Those moments to be tourists first rather than parents first were divine! Entering the abbey cost a whopping 8.50 euro per person, but it was totally worth it and so much more than just a church. It was a maze of cloister and sacred spots to worship and pray. All overlooking the ocean and French countryside. Thank you August!
When we were in the abbey I was so moved by this small group huddled in a small side chapel softly singing Christian hymns. I wondered of their stories and thought how unique that Kirk and I were in such a special and international pilgrimage place.When we left the abbey quarters we gasped as we walked outside. The skies turned brilliant blue from the grey clouds of the early morning. I couldn't believe it!We found our car unscathed by the ocean and bid our farewells to the gorgeous Mont-Saint-Michel. But on the drive out and over the causeway we just had to stop for one last photo! Other than the abbey and the spectacular views the island is mass chaos of souvenir shops and pricey restaurants. So we decided we would seek out lunch away from the island. It is important to know and expect crowded winding paths and tourism overload, but I still think the Mont-Saint-Michel has a mystical feel that is unparalleled in my book!We drove across the island for lunch and picked a spot we thought would do the trick for our grumbling tummies. The hotel cafe looked across the sea to the Mont-Saint-Michel...and I guess we ended up paying for the view because the cheapest thing on the VERY French menu was 15 euros. Since I ordered and ended up eating Connor's kids meal for 6 euros, Kirk took the plunge for the traditional Normandy omelet. It ended up being very unfulfilling and foamy(???), but hey it was top in our guidebooks so at least we did it? Connor loved the "doggie" statues by the bathrooms!
After lunch we stopped by the German cemetery en route to the famed D-Day Normandy Beaches. I found this full of irony. The fact there would be such a welcoming memorial for the German invading soldiers. Talk about praying for your enemy!

We traveled through Bayeux and to the Omaha Beach invasion sight and the American Cemetery. Think the opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan" for a historical context. The bright white crosses lined so perfectly was both eerie and inspiring. You can walk right on the grass up to the graves. As Connor danced around I couldn't help but think of all these men gave so that we and so much of the world could be free.
August at the American Cemetery
There were just so many crosses. The sheer number can't help but render you speechless.

I saw these green and purple flowers blooming and the circle of life was clear. As we were there they played Taps on a bugle. "Day is Done, Gone the Sun, From the lakes, From the Hills, From the sky; All is well, Safely rest, God is Near"
We promised Connor after the cemetery tour we would take her down to the beach to play. To Omaha Beach. The site of one of the main WWII D-Day invasions. There were wind boats and gliders and the sand was brilliant gold. As Connor and Kirk ran in the sand it was such a paradox - the happy fun as compared to the blood shed all over this place way back when.

On Sunday we traveled to the Pays D'Auge section of Normandy. Known for its apple brandy and ciders we visited a chateau distillery and tasted and played in the large yard. Connor promptly rolled in the mud and got filthy. Good thing we had some extra clothes!

Then it was on to Lisieux, France where we saw a pretty amazing basillica. It reminded me of Sacre Coeur in Paris.Kirk and Connor must have taken their "super cute vitamins" today because they were precious in the basillica yard. Kirk would honestly leap OVER Connor and she laughed til she cried! Then we traveled to Rouen, France and picniced with sub sandwiches in front of the Rouen Cathedral. Connor loved running up and down the church stairs.When we stumbled upon a miniature merry go round, how could we say no? Our little traveler had been such a trooper all weekend long! Connor chose to ride the "duck" (swan), and when her swan was spun on the lucky wheel - she won a free extra ride!!!Last stop - the Joan of Arc church in Rouen where the famous accused heretic (later granted sainthood) was burned at the stake.

Poor Connor was sad and out of sorts from having to leave the carousel and we noted she had soaked her diaper and tights. Just too much excitement, I guess. We changed her right there in the courtyard and rode her home tight-less. Sometimes parenthood calls for flexibility.
It was a wonderful trip. We saw so much and had a great time enjoying not just the Normandy sites, but August's friendship.
Click here for Normandy photos (full album)

1 comment:

JackMcK said...

Someone has been taking photography lessons. The photos are amazing. Looks like you guys had an great time over the weekend. I wish I were there.

Honfleur reminded me of Hosea Williams/2nd Ave in Atlanta and Mont-Saint-Micheal reminded me of the high spot on the Oakhurst Tennis courts after a hard rain.