Friday, May 1, 2015

Europe Days 7 and 8: Normandy, Mont Saint-Michele, and Paris!

We left Belgium on day seven and headed south to France.  We first stopped in Honfleur, a beautiful old port city that was popular with impressionist painters like Monet (it inspired paintings like Rue de la Bavolle, below).  I can see why!  I was especially fascinated by Saint Catherine's, the biggest wooden church in France. I read somewhere that this church was built after the city had been destroyed in the Hundred Years War. All of the carpenters in town were away rebuilding the country, so the shipbuilders stepped in and built the church--and it definitely looks like it!

We didn’t spend much time here as it was just a stop on our route--and it was raining again--but I would definitely spend more time here if I was ever in the area again (and I hate that we didn't have time for the Bayeux Tapestry!).  We walked around town and grabbed a quick breakfast to eat under a tree in the park before hitting the road again.  I think the item below is apple-filled....I usually just pointed at what looked good. :) “Meals” like these are some of my favorites, though...people watching and pastries.  Swoon.

We headed south along the coast for another hour until we reached Omaha Beach.  I don’t think anyone needs me to sell this as a “must see” stop on a trip to the area, so I’m not sure what to say.  I just really can’t imagine being an American on vacation in Normandy and not taking the time to visit.  The cemetery, the beach, everything...just standing and staring was beautiful and moving.  I also definitely suggest taking the time to visit the museum and the memorial on the sand.

We headed south again, this time toward Mont Saint Michel. We stayed at Hotel Saint Aubert, which was less than a 5 minute shuttle away.  Be prepared, though, that the shuttle can only take you to the bottom of the hill...and while it doesn’t look that feels it! We had to walk from where I was standing in the photo below all the way up.  I kind of regretted not spending the money to stay in one of the neat hotels on the island, but I did not regret not having to haul my luggage that far on cobblestone! :)

I could have walked around there forever.  So many alleyways and neat restaurants and shops.  We were there in the evening on an odd day, so not a lot was open, but it also meant that it was not crowded, either.  Every inch of the place was picturesque.  It was like heaven for me.  

After wandering a while, we decided to try one of the omelettes for which Mont Saint Michel is so famous.  Well, everyone else had them, but since I don’t eat eggs...I had a tomato and onion crepe.  My crepe was fantastic, but the omelettes didn’t impress as much.  I think they’re still glad to have marked that off of their bucket lists, though. ;)

That omelette is so darn fluffy!

That night, I was pretty surprised by how “dead” the area was.  Our hotel was full of Japanese tourists, but we saw almost no one else other than that.  We decided to spend the evening hanging out in the hotel lobby and we enjoyed a bottle of DuPont, a gift we received from some other guests staying at the Saint Bernardus B&B.  On our first night at the B&B, we spent hours talking to a New Jersey couple that was living in Belgium and on a weekend trip to the Saint Bernardus brewery.  James and the husband, Jack, discussed Trappist beer quite deeply and when we were checking out our last morning, the hostess Jackie gave us the bottle of beer that Jack and Diane--ah!--had left for us.  Such a sweet surprise and nice ending to our day.

The next morning, we headed toward Paris.  We gave ourselves an entire day for this so we could enjoy the drive.  We stopped at a bakery on our way out of “town” and I still regret not getting one of these precious Mont Saint Michel-shaped cookies, although I can't complain about what I did get.  I took too many photos of the gorgeous homes and streets we traveled on, and just couldn’t get over how beautiful every inch of France seemed to be….We didn’t notice until we’d gotten to Paris that somehow our GPS had been set to “scenic” drives (or something similar).  Good thing we allotted an entire day for that drive! :)  

Can I please move in?

Besides the beautiful homes, we saw (and stopped at) many brocante shops.  While I’m more of a “vintage” kinda girl, my parents love antiques (and European ones at that) so they were in heaven.  Mom had been dying for a French antique cast iron fireback to mount behind her stove (if this idea is as new to you as it was to me, see so we were on the hunt for one of those.  My parents just moved into a new house, so the fireback isn’t installed yet...but when it is, I’ll post photos and tell the whole story. :)

And we finally made it to Paris! After ditching the rental car and checking into the hotel, we headed a few streets over to Rue Cler for an early supper.  We settled on Cafe Central and had the very Parisian meal of croque monsieur and frites. ;)

Gorgeous flower shops everywhere.

Still having a bit of daylight left, we decided a Seine River cruise was the best way to get our bearings in Paris.  They sold mini bottles of champagne where we bought our tickets, so we relaxed on the upper level of the boat and toasted the last stop on our trip.  

We strolled the streets around our hotel and watched the sun set over the Eiffel Tower before checking in for the night (and finishing off a few more of those Belgian beers--sadly our carryon bags weren't great for bringing home souvenirs!).  

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