When in Normandy…

Saturday morning started out with a bit of a struggle and some good intentions. Sheila and I got up at 6:00 AM to get ready and have breakfast after we were up very late last night Skyping Kyle and looking at Quick Memes for the sake of Skyping Kyle and looking at Quick Memes. We noticed that Madame had run the dishwasher last night, so we put away all of the dishes after we ate… well, we put away all of the dishes that we knew we could put away. We weren’t sure where all of the mixing bowls went, so we left them neatly out on the counter, then we rinsed off our breakfast dishes, put them in the dishwasher, and got ready to head out the door. I had intended to ask Madame to get my carry on/overnight bag out of the cave that she had so I could pack it, but this would have meant getting all of my suitcases since I’d placed them all inside each other like Russian nesting dolls. This got me all sorts of crap from Kyle and Sheila earlier in the week since they thought I actually wanted one of my big suitcases for the trip. I packed my school bag instead. Fast forward to today… Sheila’s backpack is much bigger than my bag for the weekend. Thank you, Karma. All of Paris (certainly the 17th arrondissement) is asleep at 6:30 AM… Sheila and I were the only ones out on the streets. We got to our metro, and when we got off of the train to make our transfer to ligne 12 at St. Lazare, we “picked up” Katie. Once we got off at Rennes to go to Sweet Briar to get to the bus, Joan got off of our train and joined our group. We waited for about 20 minutes outside of Sweet Briar/Alliance Française before we boarded the bus and left for Normandy (this was about 8:15). I sat by Suzannah since she was going to be my roommate at the hotel, and that’s where our grand adventure began…

I dozed periodically on the bus, but not for too long at a time. Dear Readers, just a note. Normandie is NOT a town. It’s a region. Our first stop was for lunch in Bayeux. As soon as we got off of the bus, it started to rain just a little bit. We had déjuner libre meaning we were supposed to go explore a little bit and find a place that we wanted to eat instead of having it dictated like every other meal on the trip. Our café choice was partially dictated by my gluten-intolerance, and partially dictated by the fact that it was pouring buckets by the time we got onto a small side street and found a place to eat. I can’t remember the name of the place we ate at, nor do I remember the name of the street, but it offered lots of comfort foods like soups, omelets, and croque monsieurs/madames. Suzannah and I were the only ones that didn’t order alcohol. Joan had an Irish Coffee, Rouge and Sheila had Monacos (beer with added grenadine, which evidently doesn’t exist back home unless you make it yourself at home), and Kyle gave me a little lesson on what you’re supposed to drink when you’re in Normandy: cidre. Cider. For the record, I had hot chocolate since I was cold and wet. I made a mental note that I’d have to try cider at some point on the trip before we went home. I had a cheese omelet with fries and a salad… and the damn gluten snuck up on me again. The second ingredient in the ketchup was that wheat-derived glucose syrup! Sadly, I’d already used some with my fries, but not very much of it. Joan was the one that caught it, I hadn’t thought to look. At least in America, we use high fructose corn syrup and not high glucose wheat syrup… It took Joan nearly an hour to get through only 2/3 of her Irish Coffee, so the group convinced me to finish it for her in all of two minutes. It was the first time I’d had whiskey, so Rouge actually taped me drinking it. The alcohol didn’t affect me very much since there wasn’t much left. Thankfully, the rain had stopped when we needed to leave, and the sun was starting to come out.

There was one “dictated” stop we had to make in Bayeux, that was to the city’s Tapisserie (tapestry). The Tapestry is kind of known as the world’s first comic strip since it tells a big story. This tapestry is huge, it’s in a big room inside a lit case, and you get an audio guide in a language of your choice (I picked French, bien sûr) that tells you the story (and the number of the scene to look at) so you can follow along. After we looked at it, we went to the gift shop, and I picked up a few trinkets to bring home as Christmas gifts. Here are some pictures I took of the tapestry. The rest will be on my Flickr page.

We had about half an hour or so to kill before we needed to be back at the bus, and there was a big cathedral in the area that we wanted to check out, so we all walked over to go see it. We explored it for a few minutes, and I took a lot of pictures.

Outside of the cathedral

Detail on the pulpit

Hooray for high ceilings

I really love arches…

Mary statue

We got back on the bus, and drove for a little while to our first “big” stop of the trip: Omaha beach and the America Cemetery. A little history… This cemetery was established on June 8, 1944, but it was only temporary at the time. It was also the first American cemetery to be established on European soil. The current cemetery is actually a little to the East of that first site. France has granted America a special concession to the land that is occupied by the cemetery that’s free of any charge or tax. Our congress pays to maintain it. This whole moment was really big for me, and not just because I’ve seen Saving Private Ryan. I silently hated how beautiful Omaha beach looked, the way the sun was shining… All of the terrible things that happened here so many years ago… I thought it was fowl. It was almost inappropriate. It’s incredible to actually set foot on the grounds of that cemetery, and physically see all of the crosses and Star of David markers. Rouge and I both got teary-eyed and patriotic. Every single one of those grave markers has a name of someone that gave his life for our country during WWII. To walk among all of those crosses… I’m usually pretty good with words and I can’t think of any. The monuments were beautiful as well. You can tell that the French definitely have a different way of doing monuments than we do. Especially here. I had one song going through my head the entire time I was walking through the cemetery… try playing it while you look through the pictures.

You can see the rest of the pictures I took here. Use your LEFT arrow key to look through the rest, that link takes you to the first photo.

We got back onto the bus, and headed off to the last site for the day before the hotel and dinner: Pointe du Hoc. This is where the Nazi’s where situated on June 6, 1944 to defend Omaha beach. All of the craters on the site were created by our bombs. It was so windy here… I kept trying to do and redo my hair… I ended up just giving up after a while. Here are some of the pictures I took at this site.

The “entrance”

Rouge and Joan exploring a crater

The Ranger memorial

Super windy group photo! Denzel, Suzannah, Joan, Rouge, Sheila, and me… and Kyle’s Shadow…
How did Suzannah and I get down into the crater?!

The rest of the photos start here, again, use your LEFT arrow key to navigate through them.

Back into the bus for an hour and a half, and we made it to the small, sleepy town of Pontorson to check into our tiny, comfortable hotel. We dropped our things into our tiny, comfortable room, and headed down to dinner. We grabbed a big table, so our usual group (me, Suzannah, Rouge, Joan, Kyle, and Sheila) were joined by Denzel (a friend of Kyle’s) and his usual roommate Eric (goes to USC so we’ll hang out with him back home). I only remembered to take a picture of the entrée course, which I’ll explain in a minute… so here’s that…

Warm brie and apple with a small salad.

Our table was given a bottle of red wine, and a bottle of white wine, which we split equally between the eight of us. Since I was drinking on an empty stomach… and we had the red wine first… which was another Côtes du Rhône… which was 13%… this is why I forgot to take pictures of the rest of the meal… I now have the nickname “two glass Claire.” Eric is Asian, and my “Asian glow” came on faster than his did. The plat principal was a chicken leg and thigh with a butter sauce, some haricots verts, and a potato gratin with egg. I couldn’t eat it all, much like the rest of the girls at the table, which was a good thing since Eric and Denzel were starving, so there was a lot of plate switch going on and Eric and Denzel ate any chicken that was left on anyone’s plate. The table with only five people (the five adults) didn’t want their bottle of white wine (and we’d already finished ours), so they gave it to us. So we’ve now split three bottles of wine between eight people. I neglected to mention that Suzannah doesn’t like white wine, so the two bottles of wine were split between seven people. I have also neglected to mention that I have “party fouled” twice. I was the second to last person to serve myself white wine once I’d finished my serving of the red, and because white wine is supposed to be served chilled, the bottle had been placed in a bucket of ice water, so it was cold and slippery. Once I’d poured my glass, I went to go put it back on the table, and the bottle flew out of my hand and across the table. Thankfully, because the bottle was almost empty, it didn’t spill very much. I was smart enough to let someone else pour my new glass of wine out of the gifted bottle, but when I was dragging my glass across the table, it hit the crack in the table (where two had been pushed together) so I splashed some wine all over it… Oy vey… We’d decided that we wanted to go out and find a bar after dinner, but I’d decided that I should probably stop drinking for the night. Three glasses of wine seemed to have done me in pretty good…

Half an hour later, we headed out into the night with a little group shuffling (sans Suzannah and Eric, adding Joel who was currently rooming with Denzel and Kyle)… and there was no one out. We found a single bar/pub called Le Train Bleu that was next to the train station in town, so we went inside. Our bus driver was there, so it must be good… They had cider (which is usually only 3% alcohol) for only three euros, so I figured I’d have that to try it (when in Normandy, after all). Joel ordered one with me, and the rest of the crew (Kyle, Denzel, Joan, Rouge, and Sheila) all ordered cocktails… which came in these horrendously girly glasses rimmed with pink sugar, with straws that had glowing lights in them that went up in the straw when you took a sip of the drink. The bartender was really happy that Joel and I ordered the cider, and excitedly explained that it was artisinal, and it was bottled only three kilometers away from the bar! I nearly had my third party fowl of the night, since I tried to pour the cider from the bottle straight into the glass it came with, and it foamed up very quickly. Kyle had to explain that I was supposed to tip the glass a bit…

The cider was absolutely delicious. It was sweet, and I could barely taste the alcohol. We played King’s Cup with our drinks, and while Joel and I were content nursing our ciders for the entire night, the rest of the group had to order another round of fruity drinks to finish the game. The bartender brought us something a little different to try (for free) when we had finished the game, two different liquors that were specialties of the region. One was Calvados, which is a VERY strong liquor, and I forget the other’s name, but it was similar to Calvados, but it was perfumed with orange and coffee, so much so that you couldn’t taste the alcohol. 

Once we paid our tab and left the bar, but none of us wanted to go back to the hotel right away. We walked back to the hotel, then walked past it, and we found a park with a teeter-toter and some benches, so we hung around there for a while… and then Rouge made an interesting discovery. “GUYS. There’s a river back here! And I see docks! Let’s go!” We headed over that way, and went down onto a small but sturdy dock to hang out for a while, then Rouge got even more interesting. “Let’s swim!” It was about 11:30 by this time… and Rouge started undressing. The guys figured they’d play it safe, so they went and stood on the ramp that connected the dock to terra firma so that they were close enough to run and dive into the water should the need arise, but were far enough away to not get themselves into any trouble. So it began, all four of the girls were all in various states of undress. Rouge and Sheila were in their underwear since they actually went in the water, Joan and I had our shirts off, but we stayed dry. Joan remembered that she can’t swim, and I didn’t feel like going through the whole process of taking off my rain boots. From their vantage point, the guys were close enough to see what they wanted to, and Denzel got points for saying “oh, Claire’s got a tattoo” as soon as I took off my shirt (as opposed to… well… you fill in the blank). Of course, all of the guys complimented us on our choice in bras… Thank you, Victoria’s Secret. Our alcohol blankets kept us sufficiently warm, but when Rouge and Sheila were done with their dip, we all put our clothes back on and headed in the direction of the hotel. Sheila and Joan went in for the night, but the rest of us went back to the park to chat and look at the stars, which you never get to see in Paris. We ultimately called it a night at about one in the morning.

I didn’t sleep well on a few counts. For one, we had to get up around 7:30, and because I got in at one in the morning, that meant about six hours for sleeping, which meant that taking Nyquil was out of the question, so I was all kinds of stuffy. Furthermore, the walls in the hotel were thin, and the person in the next room was snoring hardcore, so that kept me awake. Suzannah and I got up at 7:20 to get ready to head down to breakfast. I asked if I woke her up since I came in so late and I noticed she stirred, but she said that she didn’t notice, so I was relieved. Breakfast (as I kind of expected) was a crapshoot for me. All I could have was fruit cocktail… The rest of the group got croissants and about five other kinds of bread, jam, cereal, meats… I was definitely jealous. I had hot chocolate, though. I forced the fruit cocktail down my throat so I could take my allergy medication and my aspirin and stop my god-awful sniffling. Suzannah and I went back to our room to round up our bags, then we checked out of the hotel, got on the bus (slightly awkward since our bus driver had seen us at the bar last night and had grabbed Joan’s behind), and we headed off to Mont St. Michel.

Our hotel was very close to Mont St. Michel, so I didn’t get much of an opportunity to sleep. We took a shuttle to get closer to it, then we walked up the mountain itself through the small village (and all of its shops and restaurants), and all of its steps to get to the abbey. I was so exhausted by the time I got up to the abbey, the lack of sleep and sufficient breakfast was killing me. We were able to take a free tour of the abbey with audio guides, but these were in English (Laura got all of them for us in a large group, so that was why). The outstandingly British accent on the audio guide got annoying very quickly. Here are some of the photos I took.

Right after we got off of the shuttles. Joan cut off the top of it…

Le Mouton Blanc (the White Sheep)where we ate lunch later on.

Candid photo of Pensive Rouge

More statue douchebaggery!

The rest of the photos start here, and you’ve figured out the whole “use your left arrow key” thing by now, right?

We were done with our tour with nearly an hour before we needed to be at Le Mouton Blanc for lunch, so we visited pretty much every shop on the way down. I bought some postcards and other trinkets for Christmas gifts. Here’s something I thought about buying, but opted not to…

Noah’s nickname around the house is Nono, and the family dog could always use a special dog bowl with his name on it, right?! That thought came into my head, and I immediately squashed it. I could paint a bowl like this myself at home, when it’s not going to take up room in my suitcase…

We finally went to Le Mouton Blanc for lunch, and I was informed that my meal would be a little different than everyone else’s. We’d all be having gazpatcho for entrée, then moules-frites for plat principal, then everyone (but me) would have Tarte Tatin for dessert… and I’d be getting crème brulée! We opted to not order anything to drink for lunch since we’d have to pay extra for it, but Mme. Parnet’s table had ordered a bottle of cider and couldn’t finish it, so they gave it to us to polish off. It wasn’t nearly as good as the cider I had last night… Here’s the meal. I actually remembered to take pictures of every course!

After that, it was time to head back to Paris… and not in the most comfortable fashion. We took the bus back to Pontsorson, but not to Paris. We were going to take a train, which was fine… I was going to be taking a train to Toulouse in November, so I needed to learn how to take it anyway, but this was two trains (we had to transfer in Rennes)… and it was all kinds of awful. The train we took from Pontsorson to Rennes had a car reserved for us, but there were people in it that refused to leave… and the train was incredibly tiny. Most of us ended up standing for the 45 minute ride, myself included. Worse for me, I stood in a perfect spot: sandwiched between a crying baby (who was adorable, so it wasn’t that bad), and a woman who had to run to the bathroom and loudly vomit for ten minutes every five minutes that she wasn’t actually in the bathroom. My music was not loud enough to drown out her retching. The only solace I had was Joan’s typing of a message on her iTouch, then showing it to me… in her rage at the poor man behind her (she was mad because he didn’t stand up to give her his seat)… well… her message read “I just farted on the guy behind me.” Remind me not to be down wind of Joan when she’s mad… We made our transfer at Rennes and the train to Paris was much larger… and we all had our own large, cushy seat. There were also plenty of clean restrooms that were not being hogged by women that were clearly on their way to rehab despite trying to say “no, no, no” (if you did not catch my Amy Winehouse reference… I’m sorry you haven’t lived). I got a chance to nap on the train a little bit after Joan and I played some rat slap.

Sheila, Kyle and I took the metro home, and Madame made us dinner. She’d already eaten, so she heated up this really cool potato dish for us (I forget what it’s called) that was made with ham and cheese that I’m pretty sure was invented by angels, and tossed a fresh salad for us. She was excited to hear all about our trip, and was very pleased to hear that it only rained for that first half hour or so, and then it was sunny for the rest of it.

Devine, si tu peux, et choisis, si tu l’oses. -Corneille: Héraclius

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