Monday, 2 July 2012

Dorset & Normandy - Day 10 (& 11)

For our last day in Normandy, the day dawned grey and threatening rain so we decided that something with more indoor options would be a good bet. So we headed to the ancient town of Bayeux, most well known for it's tapestry that tells the story of the Norman conquest of England. . .from the Norman point of view. Naturally, we headed there first and it was really very interesting. Fortunately for us it is still very early in the tourist season and so we got to take the audio guide tour at our own pace (during the month of August they disable the pause button on the audio machine to keep people moving). The richness of the colours and sophistication of some of the story telling techniques were incredible. The little museum behind the tapestry and the cinema were really very good (and bilingual, with good translations into English).

We spent a good several hours in the museum, after which the rain had stopped again just long enough for us to head over to the Cathedral, which of course would have been the original display case for the tapestry itself, way back in the 13th century. When we arrived, we caught the tail end of a wedding and got to cheer the new bride and groom. I always like seeing churches that still have a living, working life in the community. In and of itself, it was a fantastic place - you could still see the various stages of building and architectural features from some of the original Norman columns right through the Gothic revival and into the 19th century. All the stained glass was from the Victorian times. The whole town was really lucky during the 2nd World War, in being only very lightly damaged - the focus of the two sides being on the nearby larger city of Caen rather than Bayeux.

After our visit to the Cathedral, we took a quick pit stop for crepes and tea/coffee to wait out the rain (very tasty!). Once it hit another pause we had just over an hour left before we had to head off to meet Patrick and Peggy for dinner, so we took a little DIY tour of Old Bayeux following a little trail of medallions on the sidewalk that took us through various historical features of the town. Really the whole town is a massive mix of architectural styles, with a long craft history including needlepoint and porcelain. In fact most of the house numbers and street signs were in locally made porcelain from the 17th century. Really beautiful. Still, even this early in the tourist season, the town was already starting to feel quite full and busy. I think we heard more English spoken in Bayeux than any other place since crossing the channel.

Then it was time to head over to the tiny port town of Honfleur for dinner with Peggy & Patrick. Fortunately, we got to Honfleur with just enough extra time to walk around the basin and visit the local parish church of St. Catherine's right before it closed (and obviously also was the site of a wedding earlier that day as they were still sweeping up flower petals). It was the most unusual church we've seen on this trip, having 2 naves and being built entirely of wood. I'm honestly not sure how it has survived this long (being wooden and next to the sea!), but I'm glad it was.

As we came out of the church, we saw our dinner restaurant (Côte Resto) right across the plaza and Peggy & Patrick coming around the corner. Talk about perfect timing! We were seated on the covered terrace, which proved to be a good thing as it started raining not long after we placed our orders! So we got to stay nice and dry while still enjoying the pleasant evening air. The food was amazing and service extremely attentive. Gib & Patrick chose an enormous (extremely fresh) seafood platter to share between the two of them; Stephen had a starter of salmon & scallop tartare, a main of turbot fillet and a dessert of mint ice cream; I had a half lobster (!!) starter, scallops for my main and double chocolate mousse for dessert; Cherrie had oysters to start, the same scallops for a main and the mint ice cream dessert; Peggy had a foie gras salad for a started and a really lovely chicken roulade as a main and the house ice cream sundae for dessert. All of this was topped off with a great bottle of Puilly-Fumé and teas/coffees. This was probably some of the most amazing seafood I've ever had (not surprising, being right on the coast!) and of course of the company could not be beat. We would definitely return.

From there it was just a little walk around the town and then back to Lillebonne to crash at the end of our last full day in Normandy. But what a day! We got to see so much, enjoy the hospitality of some truly outstanding people. Yet another place that would be great to return to, and easy enough to reach from London for a long(ish) weekend. With any luck, we'll be back soon! Perhaps in time to see the apple harvest for the beginning of the Calvados making process. . .

The next day would find us just packing up and chatting with Patrick and Peggy before heading off to the ferry terminal in Le Havre. Fingers crossed for a smooth crossing and easy transfer back to London!

UPDATE: The ferry crossing was indeed pretty smooth; not quite as tranquil as the one over, but still pretty good for the channel. We even managed to score a last minute inside cabin for £12, which gave us a place to stash our things, eat our picnic out of the way of the horribly smelling food in the onboard canteen, have a nap and a bit of privacy. On arrival in Portsmouth, a convenient shuttle bus was waiting to take us to the train station and we were on our train with time to spare - a good thing considering it was the last train to London! We finally arrived home at just before 1am after dropping Gib & Cherrie off at their hotel. Work on Monday is going to be a bit rough, but the memories of a great trip (and a tan!) should see us through. Look for pictures posted over the weekend!

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