After two nights in Brittany it was time to move on to our next destination, Normandy.
On the way, we stopped at the most-visited spot in France, Mont Saint-Michel. I was there over 20 years ago, but don’t particularly recall the visit. I do know that this approach was not possible then. When it’s not raining or blowing to hard, this has to be the best approach (that is if approach at night on a horse in a cloak is not possible…). Made it past the tourist hoards at the bottom and gave up a bit of money to the Church to tour the (amazing) abbey atop the island. Building this on top of a rock out in the ocean, hard to comprehend. Loved the green hue of the windows. Beyond being the most visited, this must be among the most-photographed spots in the world, so will leave with a few photos to add to the abundance you can find online.
But back to the oysters. Last post was confusing on that point, maybe reflecting the regret I still carried about missing that spot. First, I meant to link to this page, which describes the oyster journey I wished to have had. Second, although it was “only” 250 or so kilometers from our Normandy hotel to Cancale, it had been a somewhat stressful drive over and even for the oysters I wasn’t willing to dedicate a whole day to driving back and forth. Plus Jeff might have mutinied at that point. Finally, I guess I really had, back in the subconscious, a preference for Normandy oysters. Many years ago I had a plate of Normandy oysters in a Parisian restaurant that were the best of my life. Went back a second time, and just as good. On very rare occasion I’ve had oysters from Normandy in the US, and have always considered them to be the best. But, sadly, we apparently weren’t even in the best spot in Normandy for oysters. This I learned from the smart and helpful hotel manager at L’Auberge de la Source (very nice hotel, probably the only 4 star one of our trip, recommended by a friend in Paris). The hotel manager did direct me to a town with oyster potential and suggested I look for the local fish market. This, it turned out, was very good advice.
So our first full day in Normandy, we set off first for Bayeux, to see the Bayeux Tapestry. Frankly astounding to stand in front of this 230(ish) feet long tapestry, made somewhere around 1070. For a piece of embroidered cloth that’s nearly 1000 years old, it’s in remarkably good condition. Basically, it was made/used as a propaganda piece. Most people were illiterate at the time so this tapestry depicted the Norman conquest of England. Wikipedia tells it better, but basically the tapestry starts with King Edward sending Harold (Earl of Essex) to tell William he will be king on Edward’s death, Harold is kidnapped (landed in the wrong place, even farther from oyster heaven), ransomed, goes back to England and claims the throne despite swearing not to do so (on holy relics). So of course William heads over with lots of boats and men and horses and wine, displaces many locals (turning out of a mother and child depicted in tapestry, this kind of thing goes way, way back), and eventually beats Harold. Lots of dead bodies, some being pillaged, at the bottom of the tapestry. Voila, Norman conquest of England.
All this was made even more interesting given Jeff’s heritage. As opposed to me, more or less peasant stock as far back as anyone can tell, Jeff has kings, queens, knights and more in his lineage. This starts with the “Vaux’s” in Normandy. Robert de Vaux (his 26th great-grandfather) and his two brothers from near Falaise, Calvados, lower Normandy, sailed to England with William in 1066 as part of the conquest and were subsequently rewarded with large land holdings in the borderlands (Scotland/England). Sadly no direct relations in castles we can visit today.
And now back to the oyster story. From Bayeux we went to Port-en-Bassin-Huppain. Wandering around we stumbled across its fish market, and very fortunately found one solitary vendor there. One was not many in a space built for at least six, but his array of products and his casual kindness were all we needed. Sadly I didn’t get his name, but I will remember him as the fastest oyster shucker I’ve ever seen. Here we had 25 oysters, on the docks. If only we’d brought a bottle of wine with us, it would have been perfect. Twelve of them were very salty. I asked several times where the oysteres were from and basically got gestures of ‘over there’ (to the right) and ‘over there’ (to the left). The salty ones, which after four or so created a bit of a sensation of being caught in a wave, were from the right. The ones from the left: sweet and meaty and perfect. Number 25 came when Jeff took a picture of me eating an oyster and our vendor decided I needed a “pretty” one. A much happier, if saltier, me left the docks in search of more adventure.
We wandered that day back along the coast, visiting some of the D-Day beaches, trying to visit a cookie factory (no tour as it was closed, but at least we could buy the cookies at a nearby store).
Then back to a delicious gourmet dinner at our hotel. And this artsy shot of the tile floor…
Perhaps the best part of our hotel was this amazing breakfast. And the best part of it, a bowl full of the most buttery, delicious caramel sauce. How is this breakfast? How have I never had it on my breakfast table?
And note how well Jeff fits into his environment…
Our final day in Normandy we visited Honfleur. Known to have a charming and photogenic port. Can’t argue. Plus loved the chairs.
And as it was so much fun, another fish market. This time it was in full swing, and we had a full “plateau de fruit de mer”. This was my other big desire in Normandy. In Trouville-sur-Mer had our choice of stalls and concocted a satisfyiling delicious one.
From there a bit of adventure taking wrong exits and such to return the car in Rouen, but got there eventually, and in time for the train we wanted to Paris. So next up… the weekend in Paris. À bientôt.