25/07/08 – finished school at midday, so we had lunch at the Bistro de Bourgeois, in a little village called Chavignol. This village is famous for two things – the goats’ cheese (Crottin de Chavignol, which comes in three ‘phases’ – fraise, demi-sec, sec), and that purveyor of fine wines, Henri Bourgeois. After lunch, we went and purchased some of said wine (LE CHENE SAINT-ETIENNE, complete with sliver of oak from the 300 year old tree). Yum – I think you’re driving home, Paspartout!
23/07/08 -Paspartout and I had the afternoon off, so we decided to head to Bourges to visit the cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges), possibly the finest example of High Gothic architecture. The weather was stunning – low 30s (that’s Celsius – a real temperature scale, you heathens!) and not a cloud in the sky. After we had wandered around the grounds and then the cathedral itself (396 steps up to the roof – top of the world, Ma!), we booked a couple of places on a guided tour of the crypt. This should be a good test of what we’ve learned so far at school, I thought. Unfortunately we didn’t understand a word the girl was saying! We nodded politely, thanked her for the visit, and left quickly.
18/07/08 – Well, what can you say about Versaille? With the renovated golden gates, it’s one of the most beautiful palaces I’ve ever seen. We took a guided tour (in English – we hadn’t got that brave just yet – the embarrassment on that front is yet to come) of the private apartments, which I would highly recommend. Plus – major bonus – you don’t have to queue; neither for the tour, nor to get into the rest of the palace (and remember, this is only 4 days after Bastille Day – apart from Aug 1st, the most manic public holiday in France). Hall of mirrors? – yep, it looks every bit of palace ballroom as you can imagine, or have seen. If you go to the gardens (and let’s face it – this is Versaille, so you’ve arrived early and are going to spend the entire day here), then you need to finish off with a trip up to the NE corner of the estate (pause to relax under some hazel trees on the way there – hold hands: Paspartout wanted another break anyway!), to the Grand Taillon and Petit Taillon – the custom village built especially for Marie Antoinette (ah, Marie Antoinette; don’t think badly of her – coming from Austria, she knew little of France and its people, and was only a puppet in European politics).
19/07/08 – I thought Monet’s garden, at Giverny, would be dull dull dull (being the keen gardener – ahem! – that I am), but no! The garden itself is organised chaos, and a wild explosion of colour, with many flowers that I hadn’t seen before – an eclectic mix of English cottage and exotica. Inside the house is a collection of Japanese watercolours, including Fujiyama’s Wave, a particular favourite of mine. Important tip – it only costs €5.50 for the house and garden, and only takes a couple of hours to do, but for love of all that’s holy go early! They open at 0930, but by 1100 the coach park (yes – COACH park) is filling up. Old fogies and Americans – dear god, get me out of here!
The drive to Sancerre was long and uneventful, but for the most part alongside the Loire, and the weather was beautiful when we arrived (the first hint of it since we arrived). After the verbal assault from Marianne (they only allow French at the school, and the woman seemed to think we’d remembered anything from April – dur!), and a quick check-in, we had our first random event… tuba, trumpet and percussion, dressed in convict stripes, playing their way, like a pied piper trio followed by c.50 tourists, with ragtime and jazz by way of accompaniment to a guided tour through the streets. We watched in amazement, and as they faded down the hill to their next port of call, we flopped into chair and bed, et la nous reposions pour le weekend…
Another (for me) trip to Pegasus Bridge at Bénouville, and I found it to be still as moving as when I first went in ’04. The museum now has a relief map and a 10min film which together show the gliders’ flight path in and the subsequent battle (probably now referred to as a ‘contact’ in modern parlance). After the museum, we took lunch at the Café Gondrée, which now belongs to the daughter, Arlette, and her English husband. The café, and the Gondrée family, who were hiding in the basement at the time, was the very first piece of France to be liberated at 30 minutes past midnight on the morning of June 6th 1944. Read the account at the link above, or on Wikipedia, it’s real Boys’ Own stuff.
Btw – avoid pegasusbridge.co.uk – it’s really not what you think it might be! Oh dear, stirred your interest, have I? You’ll be sorry…
A dull 2 hour ferry crossing (cold, grey and windy – let’s just say I’m not a good sailor), followed by an uneventful drive to Honfleur. I say uneventful, but the bridge across the estuary at Le Havre (Le Pont de Normandie) is pretty impressive. It held the world’s record for the longest cable-stayed bridge from when it was built in 1995, to 1998 (when the record was broken by the completion of Tartara bridge in Hiroshima, Japan). To cross the bridge, one has to drive quite a steep incline, alonside lorries who apparently care naught for the speed limits (as I was to be constantly reminded of).
Our hotel turned out to be directly opposite the one I had stayed in back in 2004, and was very comfortable. It was the first of a number of Hotel Kyriads we eventually stayed in. The first day’s drive was celebrated with beer on the quayside in a cafe-bar called L’Albatros, followed by a wander round the town (an original Cinque Port), and Moule-Frites ‘La Bisquine’ followed by tarte tartin for dinner. Paspartout had Bulots (large sea snails, not the gastric complaint you may first have thought of) with garlic mayonnaise followed by cheese (and here, with Paspartout and cheese, is set the tone for the coming weeks…).