Phew. OK. We think we’ve caught our collective breaths after three crazy days getting started here in France.
In a nutshell…our AirFrance flight from SFO to Paris was a breeze. Eleven hours actually flew by pretty fast. Sonja watched three movies. I watched one…a silly Robert DeNiro in “The Intern”. Entertaining…but really. Is some sappy 70 year old really going to be hired by an Internet startup beauty…Anne Hathaway…then immediately enable her to discover her hidden passion? Lots of music from my iPod passed through my ears….and voila…Charles de Gaulle airport soon beneath us. It took us about 45 minutes to get through customs…4 gendarme agents for 400 passengers ‘prairie dogging’ it in line, hoping there’s a French ‘toilette’ right around the corner on the way to their baggage.
Truth be told…it seems we caught a break arriving here when we did on Monday the 16th. The French are currently experiencing rolling transportation strikes to protest proposed changes to employee/employer laws. Air traffic controllers, lorry drivers and railway workers claim they will continue these strikes through July…so we are anxious to see if our travel is impacted by them along our way the next two weeks in France. C’est la vie, eh?
Our first task upon arrival was to get outta the airport and over to the Renault Eurodrive station to pick up our new Megane diesel four banger. Actually the first task was to find a landline so we could make a call for the Renault shuttle to come pick us up and deliver us away from the insanity which best describes the scene at Charles de Gaulle. However, no such thing as a landline in Paris evidently. My ugly, grimacing mug in the unsuccessful search for one caught the attention of a friendly, brave airport employee. He kindly allowed us to use his cell to make contact with our ride.
Half hour later we had grabbed our Renault. I was behind the wheel and we were on our way…sort of. The new Renaults have a different GPS system from the instructions I was sent and studied a few weeks ago before the trip. So, learning on the fly…we circled the airport once or twice I think…before we understood that the bossy, Brit accented female voice understood we were in control and we wanted to go to Honfleur and not back to Terminal 3.
The green, lush Normandy countryside at 2:00 pm between Paris and Honfleur sparkled beneath mixed clouds and sun…with miles and miles of ripe yellow rapeseed on either side of the expressway. Arrived in Honfleur around 4. Honfleur is a quaint, picturesque, touristy fishing port on the Normandy coast between Le Havre and Caen. When we arrived in Honfleur, the sun was bright…a rare occurrence from what we determined by hundreds of French enjoying pier side strolls and cold beverages at the crowded outdoor cafes within easy walking distance of the many art galleries and bistros in town.
To my untrained eyes, Honfleur architecture seems to be an interesting hybrid of English, Dutch and country French. Structures in the old town appear to be anywhere between 100-200 years old…each narrow, adjacent 4 story building squeezed tightly together and supporting each other up with timber, masonry and…in some instances…prayer.
We really wanted to avoid going to bed too early so we’d be able to get a fairly normal body clock rhythm set in each of us after our long travel day. A light meal sounded good and decided on omelettes at a brasserie not far from our Hotel Mercure. Satisfied, we finally climbed into our comfortable bed about 36 hours after we had awakened in San Francisco. A long day…but glad we survived to be able to talk about it.
Caen and the incredible D-Day Museum was on Tuesday morning’s agenda, followed by a visit to the American Memorial cemetery a few miles up the coast at Omaha Beach. These two locales should be required visitation for every American; stark reminders that only 70 plus years ago racist segregation, deportation and extreme religious based nationalism inspired by a hateful, self-righteous demagogue damn near brought our civilization to the brink of annihilation. Fast forward to 2016: paying attention, 2016 American electorate?
A leisurely return drive to Honfleur along the French north coast took us through one small ‘ville’ after another…many with boulangeries, patisseries, boucheries, and bistros…but most with only a few, century old homes and mighty church spires in along the narrow road way we drove.
Each time Sonja and I visit overseas, we are reminded of the real sense of history most Europeans have in protecting structures and lifestyle. Most buildings are not torn down…many are passed generation to generation and then repurposed as the times reflect the need.
Normandy is damp and rainy right now as it always seems to be, we hear…with temps in the 45-50 degree range. Rain is in the forecast for the next several days as well. We are looking forward to some warmth and clear weather as we head south to the chateau rich Loire Valley and our next stop in Amboise.
However, we will take what we get without complaint. It is just so much fun being here.