Although I had to say very sad farewells to Kim as I boarded onto the train, I was excited for my next vacation journey: Paris, France... my third time this year! The trip from Brighton Station from London took 1 hour 18 minutes, then I hopped onto the Chunnel at St Pancras Station. After a 3 hour 15 minute nap, I found myself at Paris Nord. Last June, my very good friend Bertrand (or simply "Bert" for terrible American accent French speaking people like me) and I spent my birthday weekend celebrating in Amsterdam where the topic of my life bucketlist came up. It is a VERY long list which included going to Le Mont Saint Michel. So Berty had promised to take me there, if time permitted. Well... time permitted and here I am in Paris, once again.
When I plan trips, I always leave room for spontaneity. Shit always comes up when you travel, so I have learned that you have to be flexible when you plan vacation... But I always like to have at least a basis of what I will be doing and plan a place to stay. Bert, on the other hand, is an on-the-spot planner and did not even plan a place or city to stay in... just the direction where we were heading to... to Le Month Saint Michel. I am usually the one who takes charge and plans when I travel by myself or with friends, so giving him the reigns to this trip made me a bit hesitant and nervous. He asked me if there was anything specific I wanted to see other than Le Mont Saint Michel and all I said was Étretat Beach and lots of French wine and food (when I say "lots" I mean... A LOT of wine and food. Especially wine ;-) ). Bert is someone I respect and really enjoy being with, so I put all my trust in him to take me on an road trip adventure to the country side of Normandie, North France. He was so ecstatic to show me France outside of Paris, so I couldn't help but be excited as well to have a "real" countryside French man to show me the "real" France.
I was picked up in a tiny little blue Renault and with our road snacks, European Haribo and Dark Chocolate LU cookies (SO FREAKING AMAZINGLY GOOD), we were ready for our way to Étretat Beach. The highways were very similar to the ones in the US. Maybe not as huge as the ones in Texas, but everything's bigger in Texas ;). The highway system was very clean and new, but there is definitely a fee for that. The highways here in France are extremely pricey. You are literally stopped every 15-20 minutes on the highway to pay for a toll which can range from 2€ - 27€. YES. TWENTY SEVEN EUROS. That's like 37 USD!! Ridiculous.
As said by my French tour guide, most villages or towns in France are set up in the same way with a church as the main point in the city centre and the rest of the city surrounding it. Étretat was exactly like that. It was overcast when we got there, but that did not stop us from enjoying our first French meal (I was really excited)! Étretat is not only famous for the picturesque cliffside, but also for their mussels! Bert found a great place right by the beach that was famous for their mussels at Les Roches Blanches. We enjoyed two pots of moules and French white wine, while breathing the salty sea air and soaking in the amazing view. After our very delicious lunch, we raced up the never ending stair case to the cathedral, Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde where there is a breahtaking view of the cliffsides Étretat is famous for. Seriosuly, wow! Arch formations with never ending turquoise water that blends with the skies. There are great walking paths that lead you onto your own little landing space (it's a bit dangerous!). I wanted to get on there, but my tour guide believed that I was too clumsy and would trip/fall/die (I honestly, probably would have sneezed so hard, I tripped, then fell over, and died)... So I just admired the view within a safe distance.
Driving through country roads, Bert decided to find a place to sleep in Cabourg, another quaint little French coastal beach town along the English Channel. As Cabourg is famous for Calvados, a Normandie apple brandy, we started our night going Calvados tasting at Chez Guillou, where the bar owner makes his own flavored Calvados! It is thick, sweet, strong, but with good flavor. We then explored the beach right in front of the famous Grand Hôtel, where we enjoyed the sunset running (unfortunately for me, slipping and falling) on the beach and enjoying an ice cold Leffe. It was strange to see how low the tide was out here, but I quickly learned that in this region of France, the tide slowly comes in and dies out once a day with the cycle of the moon. The sunset was quite beautiful as many warm colors of oranges and purple would reflect off the Grand Hôtel's white French exterior and along the small pools of water left behind from the tide receding back into the channel... Eerie but beautiful. Bert and I were famished and determined to have some delicious seafood, so we stopped at cute French restaurant right off the main street called Le Hasting's. They had a great set menu of dinner portions of seafood and dessert. My tourguide ordered all the food and chose a wine that he knew I would like and would pair well with the seafood he ordered. It's so nice to have a friend who knows me (especially my tastes) so well, so I just sat back and enjoyed the chilled ice wine and amazing weather until our food came out. I don't really like cold seafood, but this seafood was so fresh and so tasty! To top it off, I had a delicious authentic French créme brûlée. Yum! There is one casino called Casino Cabourg Partouche where we were going to spend our night at, but (luckily) they did not accept my Texas ID. We would have destroyed the place and our wallets if we went in! haha Instead, we went to this eccentric bar and enjoyed the rest of the night catching up over drinks.
Next morning Bert wanted to take me to Omaha Beach also known as D-Day Beach. Knowing my ridiculous love for French patisseries, Bert surprised me with a HUGE bag filled (like a Whole Foods brown paper bag filled up to the rim) with traditional French cakes, pastries, and bread for our on the road snacks. YAY... I think I died a little inside I was so excited, but how the hell will we eat all this? haha This bag was filled with croissant (MY ALL TIME FAVORITE OMG GET INTO MY BELLY), pan au chocolate, pan aux raisin (Bert's favorite), apple tart which was famous in Normandy, delicious pizza bread (don't know the actual name), and... so many more I can't even remember! With our giant bag of pastries, we were ready to head over to D-Day Beach. With the little knowledge I remember of D-Day from history classes, I came thinking that it will just be another monument to pass by... boy was I totally wrong! It is very clean, modern, and everything was in English which was refreshing. The National D-Day Memorial is a huge park that covers 172 acres of land filled with rows of 9,387 crosses in remembrance of all who have died on this beach. I knew from history class that this war was the turning point of WWII and that many have died, but visually seeing over 9,000 crosses spread through the 172 acres really impacted me. I was extremely moved and really grateful for all those who serve our country and for my freedom. There are so many places to explore at this memorial, but I wanted to go see the actual beach. Truthfully, I wanted to ride a horsey and look all cool with my hair flying in the wind on a galloping horse, but Bert wouldn't allow it :x... So walking along the beach would do! Omaha Beach is actually considered one of the best beaches (here), and it really was beautiful... Never ending sandy beaches with graceful ripples along the sand left by the receding tide.
The rest of the day, we drove towards Le Mont Saint Michel through the fields. Bert driving through the French country side and quaint villages, me napping in and out with the sun shining on my face, windows down, eating delicious French pizza bread, and breathing in the French country air. What could be better than this? OH WAIT, I know... BORDEAUX WINE! The Frenchy planned to have a picnic in the park, so we went to a grocery store where he introduced me to my disturbing obsession of Bordeaux wine. We went aisle by aisle, while Bert pulled this and that and this and that which he thought I HAD to try. He was so excited to show me all the foods of his country and I was really excited to eat them! We ended up having a meal to feed a family of four which consisted of breads, cheeses (the only ones I remember are Normandy Camembert and Munster cheese), French potato salad, fruits and veggies, paris-brest pastry, meats, and cannot forget the Bordeaux wine in plastic cups (we foncy). The bread and cheeses here DO NOT taste the same in the US. The real French Andouille is very big circumference wise, soft, and moist with a very strong flavor, which is not how it is in the US. I was actually a bit scared to try the Munster cheese since it was soft and stinky, but I always tell myself that I will try something at least once or twice. Eating Munster cheese twice was enough for my lifetime... especially since it made my hands smell like butthole... 8O
After a copious amount of food and wine, I ended up falling asleep until we reached Le Mont Saint Michel. It was about to close, so we decided to visit tomorrow early morning and admire it from a distance today. We ended up finding a "DO NOT ENTER" road that at the end of the road, had a great view of the island with a sheep pasture in front. I was so excited! So close I can taste it! The island looked so dreamy and mysterious, I was desperate to go explore and see what was inside. Was the inside just as magical as it looked from afar? I was dying to know but had to wait until tomorrow.
Bert decided to stay in Cancale, which was another hour drive along the coast. Bert was planning on going all out on our last night and stay a night at a foncy hotel with a great view of Le Mont Saint Michel with dinner at a famous fusion Japanese/Crepe restaurant, but all was booked and the restaurant closed for the season. Sadness, but that did not stop us from having a great night! Cancale is famous for crepes, oysters and mussels, and apple cider (Cidre) and that is exactly what we had! Bert took me to Breizh Cafe, a little creperie right along the water with their windows/doors wide open to the pier. I was still extremely full from our picnic and giant bag of pastries, but Bert made me eat one whole savory crepe and one whole dessert crepe with a bottle of delicious cidre. Don't get me wrong, everything was just amazing! These were the best crepes I have ever had in my life (trust me, I've had some good ones), but I was SO FULL. If I was wearing pants, I would be the indecent American that unbuttons her pants in the restaurant. Yes, I would do that. Luckily for Bert, I was wearing a dress!
After all this food, I really had to walk it off. Just like the other cities we visited on this road trip, the tide was subsided and there was no water on the beach. During our walk (we actually raced and I won. I always win! muhaha) along the pier, the turquoise water was slowly creeping back onto shore. As the tide rose, the sun was setting, so magical colors of cerulean blyes, violets, with hints of orange were reflecting along the creeping waters, truly a beautiful sunset! The rest of the night, Bert and I decided to have mojitos on the outside patio of Le Galion. I was craving more Bordeaux wine, so we took our bottle, sat along the edge of the pier with our legs dangling above the rising creeping tide with a beautiful full moon out, drinking out of the wine bottle enjoying each other's company. It was a lovely night!
Tomorrow, I will be finally going into Le Mont Saint Michel. Although the mission was to get to the island, the road trip to the here has been amazing. My belly was always full with French deliciousness, I found the wine love of my life (Bordeaux), and have been able to just relax with no stress on planning or driving, on work, or anything in life. I am really glad that I put my trust in my French guide and followed him on this trip with not a care in the world. I am really excited for Le Mont Saint Michel, but just the journey up to here has really been an unforgettable, pleasant experience with Bert filled with laughs and smiles. I have learned and practiced the livin' easy feeling of the French countryside outside of Paris with someone I care and enjoy being with! The Chinese girl is very happy! Merci beaucoup, Dagnicourt! :) You da bestest!