Thursday, 11 December 2014

Winter Break, Wednesday

We had - no, I had - a bit of a disappointment on Tuesday evening with our dinner.  Started with half a dozen snails - difficult to go wrong with those, and they were delicious.  But I had chosen paupiettes de volaille with langoustines to follow, and "bland" doesn't even begin to describe it.  Tasted of absolutely nothing, soaked in a floury pink sauce that also tasted of nothing.  The Swan Whisperer had ordered magret de canard sauce groseilles, which he said was delicious, and I wished I'd ordered that!  Then he'd ordered profiterolles, which I think I would have found too much, although they did look good.  I'd ordered the cheeseboard, which was Pont l'Eveque, Camembert and Livarot - just what we'd been watching made earlier in the day!  Which would have been gorgeous, but, alas, they had only just been taken out of the fridge.  So when nobody was looking, I wrapped them in my napkin and took them home to enjoy the following evening.

I think, on balance, that much as I love France, I prefer a country where it is light by 8:00 am, even if it is dark by 4:00 pm.  In France, because they are an hour ahead, but with almost no geographical displacement (Caen, where we were, is almost directly due south of Worthing), it stays light until about 5:00 pm, but of course it doesn't even begin to get light until about 09:00. 

We were hoping to get away by then, and it wasn't much later that we had packed our bags, loaded the car (airing it first, as it stunk of Livarot) and headed off.  As we had plenty of time, we decided to drive cross-country at first, visiting first of all Deauville/Trouville (which I always link with wealthy Brits in the 1930s flying themselves over and going to the casino or the races), and then to Honfleur, which we remembered as a very pretty little harbour, which it was. 

But then it was time for some serious motoring.  I finally worked out how to tell the Satnav to filter its Points of Interest, and to find us a supermarket near Abbeville, which is where we decided to do our shopping, and we set off, over the Pont de Normandie
and up the motorway to Abbeville, where the Satnav found us a Hyper-U and we did our shopping and had some lunch.  Although I had meant to buy some céléris rapés, and a couple of ready-meals for tonight, but forgot.  Got everything else we wanted, I think.  And then on to Calais, up a very empty motorway, and we decided to drive quickly round the town, rather disappointed that it wasn't dark enough to enjoy Calais' renowned Christmas lights (they make Oxford Street look distinctly dull), and then back to the Eurotunnel terminal.  The M20 made a stark contrast with the A28 - no danger of anybody feeling sleepy while driving on that.  We made it home just before 7:00 pm, and got unpacked and so on.   It was a good break, and I should have enjoyed prolonging it a couple of days, but being home and with my grandsons is good, too.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Winter break, Tuesday

A much better night's sleep, but I still have very little energy. We wanted to visit the Christmas markets this morning, and the SW was confident he had parked really near, but it seemed like miles. It was too near breakfast for gluehwein, alas, although they were selling it, and not all stalls were open. We had a potter round those that were, and bought one or two things. Then we went back down towards the car, but wanted to call in at the cathedral where William the Conqueror was buried, next to the town hall
so we found the entrance and went in. First thing we saw was the wonderful Christmas crib. The French do cribs so much better than we do. This one, correctly, had no Baby Jesus and no Wise Men as yet, but it was still lovely:

After looking round the Cathedral seeing the Conquerors tomb,

and, in my case, sitting quietly in front of the Blessed Sacrament for awhile, we came out and walked back to the car, passing the ruined church of St-Etienne, 
destroyed by British soldiers including, I have a horrible feeling, my father, who was certainly here or hereabouts in 1944

Then we drove up to and round the Castle, and up to the Memorial, but it was getting late and there was nowhere to park, so we came back to the hotel, bought fresh supplies in Monoprix, and had lunch. 

In the afternoon, we drove cross-country to Livarot, and found a factory that made the eponymous cheese, also Camembert and Pont L'Eveque. They didn't lay on a factory tour, as such, but you could wander round and there were films and information panels telling you about the dairy herds that produced the milk, mostly Normande  cattle, and then showing you how they made the various cheeses - and you could peep through windows to watch them being made, wrapped, etc. Fascinating and a great gift shop, including local court, so we stocked up. Then a wonderful drive to Falaise cross-country, through the village of Camembert (which also had a museum, but we didn't stop there as we were cheesed out (though not in any way cheesed off!))  

Falaise was lovely, although not much difference between its castle and the one in Caen that I could see.  And so back to Caen, and my insides are telling me it's supper time. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Winter break, Monday

It is, I feel, just as well that I booked us a twin room, since we kept waking each other up by snoring, and I'm as glad we don't also wake each other up every time the other turns over! Mind you, I was waking myself up with my snoring....

But the hotel breakfast is pretty good. I'm a bit off coffee, but you can have fresh-squeezed orange juice - there is a clever machine that you feed whole oranges in one end and juice comes out the other. I have had at least two glasses both mornings so far.

So we were not out and about very early this morning, either! We had decided to go to Mont St Michel, about 116 km away.  The Satnav kept calling it Saint (pronounced the English way) Mitchell, which was rather irritating of it, but the computer voice does at least give road names and numbers so it is worth the irritation.

I hadn't been too sure what to expect, but it was incredibly impressive, both from a distance and close up. You have to park about a mile away, but there is a shuttle bus that takes you to within 500 metres of the village, with a very cold wind blowing in our faces.
 Once in the village, though, we were sheltered from the worst of the weather, and wandered round the do-the-tourist shops. I bought a pair of gloves, which I needed as I only had one glove with me, and later a slice of kouign amann to have as part of our lunch. When we got to the top of the street bit, the SW went on up the steps and I went back to the shuttle bus.
At which point, of course, the heavens opened and I got soaked to the skin! And frozen. At least the wind was behind me. So I sat on the bus, but the SW, who had not, after all, gone much further, joined me before it set off. He had been sheltered from the worst of the brief storm, and I was reminded of Augustus Toplady, who is said to have sheltered from just such a storm in the cleft of a rock, and then to have written that great hymn "Rock of ages, cleft for me".

After which pious thought, we decided to go on to St Malo, which is not very far away and was gorgeous. We told the Satnav to take us to the town centre, and I'm so glad we did, as this turned out to be in the old, walled city. We found a parking space, and then went in search of loos, but I decided a cup of tea would be welcome and we could use the facilities in the cafe, so we did, and it was! I finally dried and thawed out.  Then we wandered on, and found a place where we could look out over the beach.

We discovered, quite by chance, that we were almost back at the car - how did that happen? - and it was time to head back to the hotel, which we did, stopping for petrol and later for a leg-stretch. I then had time to potter round the shopping centre - not very exciting - and to buy some stuff for this sore throat, which seems to be helping.  

We ate in Hippopotamus, which was ok, I suppose. Not my favourite, but the SW likes it. And when we came back, there was an ancient Robin Hood film with Errol Flynn on, so we watched that, and now it's bedtime. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Winter Break, Sunday

Unfortunately, although I seem to be successfully staving off a cold, a gang of little men appear to have been slashing at my throat with razor blades, which kept me awake half the night, although a cup of tea and an ibuprofen did help. But I felt like a wet dishrag, and after breakfast I went back to bed and slept most of the morning while the SW explored the town.  Lunch was a piece of fruitcake, after which we set off through the rain to Bayeux, to see the eponymous tapestry, which was marvellous. I'm so glad I've seen it in the flesh - I have seen pictures of it, of course, and my father has a book of it that he bought when he saw it a few years ago.  But the real thing has an impact unlike anything else.  There is a fascinating museum, too, not just about the tapestry, but also about the way life changed in Norman England after the Conquest. And a short film about the events it depicts. Brilliant. And worth the journey, quite definitely.

After this, we drove on up to Arromanches where the remains of the Mulbrrry harbour are all too plainly visible off-shore,
and then along the coast for a bit until it got too dark, whereupon we drove back to the hotel, and after a cup of tea, went out to a "Relais d'Alsace" restaurant, where we ate far too much choucroute, and I had a couple of scoops of sorbet and the SW had a chocolate thing, which I think has given him indigestion.  And an early night. I shall take an ibuprofen, and hope to sleep a bit better.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Winter break, Saturday

We haven't had a holiday since Oberstdorf, and the Swan Whisperer had plenty of leave days to use up, so here we are in Caen for a few days.  We set off from home at 8:25 this morning, only ten minutes later than planned, and had a fairly uneventful drive to Folkestone, getting used to our new SatNav, which is very clever and knows street names, but its French accent is appalling!

We got to Folkestone in plenty of time, but couldn't get on an earlier Shuttle as it was very busy - an awful lot of people appeared to be going on a pre-Christmas booze-cruise. And something went wrong - I don't know what - but we were sat in the holding bays for ages, and didn't actually get off until 11:20, 30 minutes later than scheduled. Not impressed!  However, it couldn't be helped.

Our first stop was at the Aire de la  Baie de Somme, which is a cut above your average service area, although the food was mediocre, and far too much. I didn't even try to finish my potato, onion and cream pie, which I think was supposed to have bacon in it, but maybe one lardon to a pound of spuds. Plus overcooked green beans (which I prefer to the raw ones we get in the UK), and carrots.  But then I had cheese, which was lovely -Roquefort, and a wonderfully ripe Camembert.

The thing I like about the Baie de Somme is the ducks.
And we weren't sure whether these were young coot or young moorhen:
Then we set off again, but needed petrol so came off the motorway at a pace called Totes, where there was a most peculiar Intermarché, which appeared not to sell essential things like coffee and tinned peas, but only fresh and frozen stuff, and non-food items. Luckily we only wanted fresh stuff for a picnic in our hotel room.

Back on the motorway and over the Pont de Normandie and on towards Caen, stopping once more for the SW to have a breath of air, and apart from trouble parking, we arrived safely at the hotel. And have settled in and eaten, and I am in bed, although not ready to snuggle down yet.

One new thing this holiday is that we have invested in a Liber-T pass, now available for British cars, which is wonderful - you just drive straight through the toll booths. It beeps to tell you it's read it, and then the barrier goes up. The T-only lanes barely slow you down.  It takes it out of your bank account by direct debit, and send you an invoice when you get home again.