Friday, October 30, 2015

First Adventures with our Car

So a bunch of things to check off today:

  • is the rental car big enough for Wayne without being humungous for French streets? Check. Got a Renault Captur, perfect size. We scored a car with diesel (save on gas) and GPS (save on getting lost) which we hadn't ordered since they'd be so expensive. We even got a car whose distinctive colour pattern will make it easy to identify. Wayne thinks the colour scheme matches my shoes (which Jamie alleges qualifies me as 'hip to the kids')
  • Can we get back to the apartment without getting lost? Check.
  • Can we find a parking place near the apartment to load our luggage (can only take one bag down at a time in the tiny elevator)? Check. Found a convenient place right around the corner.
  • Can we make it out of Paris without getting lost? Check. One minor miss easily corrected by going around one block.
All in all, sad farewell to the lovely Paris apartment but good start to our trip.

Here's us having our lunch of baguette, eggs and salmon pate at a rest stop by the road.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Monet to Monet

We started our trip to France with a visit to the Musée d'Orsay, with a focus on wallowing in Monet paintings there. And we ended with a pilgrimage to Giverny and Monet's (surprisingly large) house and garden. Another item (along with Mont St. Michel) off my bucket list on this trip.

The lily pond didn't have any lilies in bloom, but still managed to exude the serenity of Monet's paintings (or rather the paintings capture the serenity of the pond).

Of course, I needed to have a picture of myself on the bridge, to have the sense of living in a painting:

As I was standing there, a clutch of young Australians arrived and squealed "We're on the bridge. THE ACTUAL BRIDGE". I was of course more restrained, but I felt the same way about being on the actual bridge! And then there were the trellises, familiar from another painting:

The garden was glorious - so much more was in bloom than one would expect for end of September. We met a young intern gardener (from PEI no less) who informed us that there were eight full-time gardeners as well as two apprentices and two interns, the same contingent as in Monet's day. He had started the garden with just his family - mind you, he did have eight kids - but ended with eight gardeners. Despite all the effort put into it, the garden managed to look ever so natural and almost unplanned. My camera was constantly clicking to provide me with a permanent record. Here's a sample:

Giverny was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Rouen. City of One Hundred Spires.  City where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. City of streets and streets of old half-timbered houses.

We stayed in the old town, in a hotel in a historic old 'hotel' (name for a big house in the old days), a scant block from the old market where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

One of the city's big landmarks is its old clock bridging over the pedestrian walkway.

Rouen's cathedral, made famous by Monet's paintings, is indeed a remarkable piece of architecture:

But despite its complexity, you can't get to 100 spires on this church alone! We saw a couple of other lovely churches too, all of them prettier on the outside than the inside.

Then, finally, there was the audacious modern design of the bright and airy Joan of Arc church:

Even given all these beautiful churches, my most enduring impression of Rouen will be the remarkable number of half-timbered houses surviving in the old town, with facades like these:

Friday, October 2, 2015


The Bayeux Tapestry was mind-boggling. You can read about this incredible tapestry, but 70 metres long doesn't really sink in until you walk slowly past it.  (Another clever logistical device here. You are given an audio guide with your ticket, and the pause button is disabled.  So you're sort of forced to go along at the rate of the narration. The French speakers seemed to move more slowly, so I guess the English was a faster narration. With a big bus tour there, we had to skip ahead and find a way to peek in. Still, the view was really quite good.)

The tapestry is actually nine pieces of embroidery and its stitches provide a fulsome tale of how William the Conqueror came to rule England (told, of course, from the point of view of the victor). The tapestry is unbelievably well-preserved. There was a museum as well, which told more about the history and daily living of the time and a bit about the stitches used. As someone interested in knitting, crocheting and embroidery, I would have liked to learn more about the needlework, and how multiple people worked on the tapestry at one time.

We ate dinner in a lovely restaurant on the river by the museum. As was our custom in Normandy, we ate gallettes (the buckwheat crepes with savoury fillings) for main course and crepes (with sweet fillings) for dessert, with Normandy cider for accompaniment. As we heard the many American voices around us, we realized that Bayeux was a tourist destination not just because of the tapestry but as a jumping off point for touring the landing beaches from WW II. It was the greatest density of American tourists we'd seen.

The big thrill of the evening was seeing the Bayeux cathedral lit up as we walked back to the car and came upon the Bayeux Cathedral dramatically lit up. This picture doesn't capture the magical quality but it's the best I could do!

The church was very impressive in daylight as well, although the interior was not as interesting as the many churches we'd already seen.

As we left Bayeux, we decided to take the coastal road to look at the beaches where the Normandy landings took place. The beaches went for miles, much more dispersed than I had realized.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mont St. Michel

When you've seen pictures of something for years, you wonder if the real thing can live up to your immense expectations. In the case of Mont St. Michel for me, it did. As you drive along, this monumental church rises up out of the ocean built on top of an island slightly offshore. It dominates the landscape and fills one with awe of these medieval builders who put together these immense structures.

We snuck a peek in the misty distance as we drove in to our B&B in Avranches:

The next day we joined the masses making their way to the island* on the wide causeway.  As you draw nearer, the words tumble out: spectacular, awe-inspring, fantastic, down to the mundane wow.

The climb to the top was not as difficult as the guide books had claimed and we went right to the top where the views were extraordinary. There was an island in the distance, and streams of the devoted were walking across the sand at low tide as a pilgrimage.

My favourite place on the Mont was the serene cloister

If I had an official bucket list, Mont St. Michel would have been on it. It didn't disappoint. A wonderful day. 

* The logistics of the whole visit were amazing. We were directed to a very large parking lot - number 6 of 13 - and walked over to the shuttle bus stop for the ride to the island. The bus was so clever - there was a driver seat in the front AND the back. Rather than using space for turning these buses, the driver just walks around to the other end to drive the other direction!

You get dropped on the causeway, for a remarkable walk over to Mont St. Michel, with your eyes riveted to the island. 

You pay your parking ticket on the way out, and off you go. There seemed to be hordes of people, but except for the narrow street at the start of the climb, it didn't feel crowded at all. The site is that huge. Of course we were there in a low season. . . But still, it was so smooth. 

Brittany Day Two

Our first stop on our drive north in Brittany was at Sable d'Or, where we gazed and stretched for a long time (something our bodies really needed) on the steps from the dunes down to the beautiful beach.

After another brief stop to take in the rugged coastal scenery

we headed to the iconic Cap Frenel lighthouses (old on the left and new on the right)

As we walked out on the headland, the hill was covered with a prickly yellow plat that a lady said was agonc(?). Great contrast with the deep blue of the sea.

Our next stop was a dramatic Fort La Latte, perched high above the sea with great views over the ramparts.

Fort La Latte was our last stop before heading off to Avranches, our jumping off spot for Mont St. Michel.

But a few last remarks. My memories of Brittany will include so many lovely houses, in grey stone or white stucco outlined in stone as opposed to the honey stone further south, and huge beautiful hydrangeas. Although we were at the tail end of the bloosoms there were still a few to give us a hint of how beautiful it would be in summer. So, a few summary pics of hydrangeas and some pretty houses.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


The highlight of Brittany was staying with an old friend who runs a beautiful B&B in the little port of D'Haouet:

This gorgeous old house was gutted completely and refitted with all the mod cons, while retaining its characters.  The kitchen was to die for:

We had this lovely view out our window:

Our friends took us out to the next town for our first, best, but not our last taste of Breton crepes and galettes.

We took a lovely day trip along the coast. Our first stop was at the serene Beaufort Abbey. The Beaufort monks were the first to finance fishing ventures for cod to the new world, so rather significant for Canadians.

We stopped for lunch on the beautiful square in Treguier with its medieval buildings and beautiful cathedral.

We've seen many churches, but each one is rather different: this one was distinguished by its eclectic mix of stained glass windows ranging from traditional to modern to abstract. Fascinating:

Strange to see all these styles jumbled together in one church.

The signs in this part of Brittany are bilingual - French and Breton (a Celtic language most closely related to Cornish). 

We ended up at Ploumanac'h and took a long walk along the shore, with its tumbled boulders in precarious arrangements. A  beautiful day and a beautiful walk.



There was a beautiful chateau offshore to gaze at

and interesting rocks to walk under

Or to marvel at like these

A  beautiful sunny day with a light wind - just the ticket to whet our appetite for the magnificent feast of fresh food from that morning's market David prepared for supper that night.