Normandy and the Pays d'Auge
21.08.2010 - 21.08.2010 22 °C
Our last port day was in the French region of Normandy; we docked at the Port of Le Havre around 7 am and woke up once again to a sunny day. I think it was the hottest day of our entire trip with a high of 22 °C with an almost cloudless sky. The majority of people booked an excusion to Paris, which I find crazy because it was a 3-hour drive both ways...that means you spend 6 hours on a bus for 4 hours of free time in Paris. My parents did the same thing for their excursion to the D-Day landing beaches - 2 and a half hours on the bus both ways. I opted for a morning excursion to Honfleur, a small village on the estuary of the Sienne, a 30-minute bus ride. The fishing village is charming and is well-known for being the birthplace of the Honfleur school which contributed to the Impressionist movement. Honfleur still has much of its 14th and 15th century buildings, narrow streets and churches. One in particular is the St. Catherine, a wooden church built in the 15th century; the church was built by ship carpenters, so their woodworking skills can still be seen and the detailing is exquisite. The stained glass is newer, being donated to the church less than 100 years ago. I think it is the largest wooden church still standing in France with its own seperate wooden bell tower.
I'm getting a little ahead of myself...we first started with a drive through the Pays d'Auge countryside and saw some limestone cliffs and farming country. Our tour guide took us through some quaint villages where there are still some thatched roof cottages. There aren't that many left, since replacing the roofs is expensive, and there aren't that many people who still practice the craft. Once in Honfleur, we had a 45-minute walking tour through the cobbled streets. Our guide took us to see the old salt barns, which stored the salt that was taken onboard the cod fishing trips to the Newfoundland coast in the 17th century. The two barns now hold art and historical exhibits.
Quick fact for the Canuks reading this - Samuel de Champlain sailed from Honfleur in 1608 to go discover Quebec. There are a few plaques and a bust dedicated to him and to the Honfleurois-quebecois relations.
We visited a few other sights, like La Seigneurie, but the guide let us go on our own because it was Saturday and that meant market day in Honfleur. The venders were everywhere in the streets selling cheeses, meats, sausages, duck products, honey, ciders, apple and pear liqueurs, chocolates, more cheese, sweets and fruits and veggies. It was unfortunale that it was our last day at sea, because I would have loved to buy some meats and cheeses to bring back to the boat, but there was no time to eat it and no way customs would let us keep it. I comforted myself with a fresh baguette sandwich with local ham and goat's cheese (so good!) and bought chocolates, candies and macarons..not to be confused with the coconut-based macaroon. The French macaron is meringue-based and is characterized by its smooth, domed top and the center yields to a moist and airy interior. If you've never had macarons, you must try them. I think I'll be able to buy some in Ottawa - I've heard that there's one or two bakeries in the ByWard Market that sell them. Anyhow, I had some leftover Euros, so I went into a boutique that sold unique jewelry peices and took care of the problem. ; )
We went back to the port after crossing the impressive Normandy suspension bridge and although I had all the afternoon free, I chose not to take the shuttle into Le Havre and spent the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine on our balocony sipping a Pellegrino and eating macarons. What a way to vacation!
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and that night we sailed away towards Southampton to disembark the following morning.