|On the road--the editor's travels part 3
Arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris on a Sunday was quite nightmarish. My traveling companion and I had no idea how to get to our hotel on the outskirts of the city. For what eventually turned out to be a 15 minute ride one cab driver wanted us to pay €60 (with the rapidly deteriorating rate of exchange about $75). While we were walking in circles one section of the arrivals area became cordoned off after a suspicious tote bag had been left on the floor in front of the airport's main information booth. At the same time two gendarmes were hauling off an apparently suspicious man of Middle Eastern orgin and his luggage. We solved our dilemma by extending our car rental agreement two days, limiting our stay in the area to overnight, and eliminating going into Paris proper as we had originally planned.
Instead we headed off to Normandy considered one of France's most appealing regions. Thatched roofed cottages dot the countryside, ancient churches line pedestrian streets paved with cobblestone and small groceries sell bread, cheese and wine, basic ingredients that we would have bought for a picnic in a town park if only it weren't raining. We might have lingered in Rouen, the ancient capital of Normandy, but we found the weather simply dreadful for sightseeing. Consequently, we only had a passing glance of Rouen's Cathédrale Notre-Dame which artist Claude Monet painted many times, the spot reportedly where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and the half-timbered houses originally dating from as early as the fourteenth century.
The abbey at Mont-St-Michel was enshrouded in mist and looked particularly ghostly rising 260 feet from the primordial quicksands of the bay in which it is anchored. Through the raindrops on the roadway leading to the village we could see the soaring chapel perched on top of the rock. Mont-St-Michel is famous for having the highest tides of continental Europe. A sign posted in the parking lot where we made a U-turn (no cars are allowed in the village) warns that the tides can rise as high as 50 feet in a few hours.
We didn't stop to explore the abbey but we did have to stop while a herd of cows had the right of way. Although not evident from the rear, the cow herder was female.
Most of the time we also had to use an umbrella to explore the charming fishing village of Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine. However, our memory of Honfleur is more clouded by the disagreeable overnight stay we had at a Premium Classe motel. Smoke permeated everything in the room and caused us to gasp for air more than once during the night. Smoking in Ireland is restricted to the outdoors, but in France no such rule applies. The French are quite fond of the weed.
The rain also abated long enough for us to explore the remains of an artificial harbor off the coast of Arromanches--code named Mulberry by the Allied forces that invaded Normandy and set in motion the liberation of the European continent from the Nazis during World War II. We also visited the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie 1944 in Bayeux, the first French town to be liberated. The museum houses weaponry, aircraft, uniforms, news clippings and other memorabilia from both the German and allied sides.
Our route eventually took us through Le Mans where for a short stretch we actually were driving on the famous raceway route with its high guard rails. By the time we reached Bourges, our final destination in the Normandy area, we found the hotels to be complet (full), but just southeast of town we came upon Le Cheval Blanc, a small but quaint restaurant/inn, our first exposure to having to search for le toilette down the hall.
...Onward to the mountains of the Loire Valley, crisscrossing the Rhone and visiting the medieval village of Monas. It was still raining when we stopped overnight at the 3-star Novotel Aix-en-Provence before we headed towards the French Riviera.