Monday, July 13, 2015

Paris Diary part 23

Day 28
15°, partly cloudy.

This was our last full day off in Paris and I wanted to make the most of it. We didn't work every day we were there, but sometimes it seemed like it. I wanted to experience the city as much as I could while I could.

I went for a morning run along the Seine in what was looking like a gloomy day. Our first few days in Paris were cold and wet, but the weather cleared up for most of the month. By the end, we were back to cold and wet. There might be better times of the year to spend a month in Paris, but April is not a bad choice.

Lily & I went to Normandy because it was one of the places to see on both of our lists. It was not on the top of the list, so it had to wait until the last minute. Had we not gone on this day, we never would have.

We took the train up to Caen, which is easy, and then rented a car, which was more complicated. June is the big tourist season, for obvious reasons, but April is not exactly empty. We wanted to take a guided bus tour, but since we decided to go at the last minute, nothing was available. The tours also tend to go to one beach or another, and we wanted to see Omaha and Juno.

We went to one of the many car rental places near the train station where we met an American couple who also never bothered to reserve anything in advance. We solved all of our problems by renting a car together. They also wanted to see Omaha, but did not mind going to Juno. With the other couple, we could all save money and we would have more drivers. The area around Caen, Bayeux and the beaches is not especially large, but Lily can't drive a manual transmission and doesn't have an international license even if the rental company had automatics.

We drove from Caen through the country roads to Courseulles-sur-Mer, which looked like a great little village. I wanted to look around more, but we had places to go.

From Courseulles-sur-Mer, we followed the coast to Vierville-sur-Mer. It was not the fastest way to get there, but the scenery was beautiful and it took us to Gold Beach on the way. We went to most of the monuments, but spent most of the day on the beaches. West of the American Cemetery is an enormous stretch of beach with nice French cottages behind wooden fences.

We picked a great day to go to Normandy. It was cloudy, but there was no threat of rain as there was in Paris, and it was cool enough to walk along the beaches and coastal paths.

From the beaches, we went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. No one in any of our families was buried there, but we had to go anyway. After looking at so many battle sites, it seemed only appropriate. From the cemetery, we drove down to Bayeux.

Bayeux was a nice little town with more monuments and cemeteries. We also checked out Bayeux Cathedral.

After Bayeux, we headed back to Caen. I had done all of the driving at this point, so I offered to let our new American friends drive. One of them could not drive a stick shift and the other was too intimidated by the French freeway system. It seemed pretty basic to me, so I stayed behind the wheel.

We spent more time in Caen than we had in Bayeux. There were more D-Day monuments, but Caen took us further back in time than the 1940s. William the Conqueror was everywhere. He built several of the older buildings, including Château de Caen, Église Saint-Etienne and Église de la Sainte-Trinité.

Château de Caen is right in the middle of the city and a good place from which to branch out. It was attacked a few times during the Hundred Years' War, vandalized during the French Revolution and bombed before D-Day. William would never recognize it today – especially with its ample parking.

Église Saint-Pierre is an ornate but small Gothic church across the street from Château de Caen, but has nothing to do with William. It was built and rebuilt a few hundred years after he died.

Église Saint-Etienne and Église de la Sainte-Trinité were built at the same time by William to make the Pope happy. St-Etienne is larger and more elaborate than Ste-Trinité, with museums and grounds rather than simply sitting on a street in the middle of town.

When we were all done for the day, we returned the rental car, exchanged contact information with our new friends and hopped on separate trains. They were headed for London and we went back to Paris.

Back in our Paris apartment, Lily & I decided to eat in rather than go out. We spent the entire day eating snacks in various seaside villages. We were ready for a home cooked meal. I also wanted to use that kitchen while I still could. We have a nice apartment in Hong Kong, but we don't have access to the fresh ingredients we had in Paris. I miss that apartment kitchen with its morning sunlight and the smell of the flowered courtyard outside the window, but more than that, I miss what I could find in local markets and bring back to it.

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