So, when Americans land in France, where do they go? Yes, Normandy, that’s right! Anyway, if not the sunniest, that’s the closest to Paris. And if you’re missing Ocean Beach, why the h*** would you go to a warm and sunny beach anyway?
So on a gloomy December holiday Monday we rented a car (if that’s really a question, yes, we miss the Mustang too), Alex’ parents one being down since just the night before, and headed to Rouen (you know, the place where our common best enemy burnt Joan of Arc). It was freaking cold and gothic, and even though it was about the distance of Santa Cruz from our place, it was not exactly the same feeling. Don’t get us wrong, the stonelace is amazing, but having mussels and fries in a cafe on the main plaza did not exactly felt like having an ice cream while watching the surfers. But Chloe had some mussels, and started a 3-day long orgy of raspberry sherbet. And even had a round of a mini-vintage carousel.
When we left Rouen, we only had one hour of daytime to go, and when we arrived on the coast at Fecamp, it was night, windy and cold. We found a room with a view (yes, a view on the ocean!) that was not too expensive (well, especially if Alex had insisted to pay the reduced rate that we were offered )
Chloe was very disappointed to find out that we were not going to the beach on that same night and we had to entice her with (again) raspberry sherbet and a sausage to console her. We ourselves went “Normands” and had every variation on the menu with apples and hot camembert.
It did the trick and on the morning after she was delighted to see the ocean through our window, even if she had to wait until sunrise to actually see it (remember, we were right at the winter solstice). She was a little surprised at first to find rocks instead of sand, but after we told her that sand was in fact very tiny rocks and vice-versa, she started to have fun collecting them (and having us carry them, of course). We were even blessed with some sun on the cliffs. Before leaving, we stopped at the Benedictine factory, where a smart entrepreneur miraculously found the lost recipe of the monks’ liquor at the end of the XIXth century and made a great business out of it. You can have it at our place now, if you dare!
We did not even take time to have a coffee, because Etretat was waiting! We wanted to have a look at the famous cliffs before heading to lunch with Francisco. Etretat was tremendously windy, but the view from the little chapel on the top of the cliffs was magnificent.
We did not stay for a long time, because Chloe was too excited about having a pizza with Francisco at LH. We picked him up at Sciences-Po Paris-Le Havre, right on the old docks, and he took us to a Brasserie on the beach. Chloe did have some pizza, although she did not eat more than one or two slices…and of course, some raspberry ice cream!
According to the Lonely Planet, “with its friendly, progressive feel, LH is far more than just another ferry port”: we were not fully able to feel that, but the Eglise St Joseph did surprise us in a good way, inside.
We left right before sunset so we could cross the Pont de Normandy by day, and arrived in Honfleur, a very charming town. Probably incredibly touristy and crowded in the summer, but perfectly nice on that December night. Chloe fell asleep in the car, so we decided to postpone the sand beach session for the next day, and found a room and a seafood place to have dinner instead. It’s funny to imagine that some of the most famous French explorers of North America left from this tiny port…And after all we’ve seen in the US (eg Solvang, St Augustine, etc) it did not feel too much like Disneyland
After a good night and a great breakfast, Chloe was ready for a sand beach. A pretty obvious choice was Trouville. The weather was so-so, but she got used to the cold, and was happy to gather shells and build castles for a little while.
Then we went to the Criée, to have fresh shrimps and oysters right from the Ocean and finished our meals in the brasserie le Central, where Chloe could happily have sausages after her shrimps, and we could have yet another apple pie with whipped cream.
Chloe was again ready for her nap and we took the coastal road to Caen, in D-Day country, where we ended up finding a fine spot for kite surf, with crazy aficionados braving the cold and the tide, at Merville-Franceville. We parked in front of the ocean, and spent some time napping and people-watching.
On the same night, we arrived in Caen, where Manue’s aunt Claude lives and spent a very nice night together, with Chloe very very busy collecting beads in a pot and then overthrowing the pot on the carpet and again and again.
To finish our Normandy trip, on the next day, we had lunch in the old city, and could admire some nice architecture again. And it took us about as much time to have lunch in Les Touristes Brasserie, go to Paris, and then from the Periph to our place (about 2hours each!), which meant we arrived too late to return our rental car, and Alex had to do it in the morning, right before catching our 8:15 train for la Chacunière. But he made it!