Normandy & Burgundy

I always imagined that Normandy was quite close to Paris and that it basically comprised lots of impossibly green and lush fields chock full of contented cows. The bits I saw weren’t like that. It is undulating, the fields don’t look unduly green or lush and I didn’t see many cows.  Maybe they were in their barns for the winter.  And it’s quite a few hundred kilometers from Paris.
Normandy is of course where the D Day landings took place and there are plenty of reminders of these. The first I saw was on the ring road outside Caen, which is the largest local town/city.  I was heading for the seaside village of Arromanches, famous for being the site of the man made harbour for the invasion. Huge concrete block things were towed across the Channel and flooded to form a breakwater. A lot of them are still in position, so you can see where the harbour was. Friends of ours from Melbourne have decided on a pretty radical seachange and have sold up and moved to Arromanches where they have bought a beautiful house and grounds which they are transforming into a B+ B.  Work has been more or less proceeding for about 6 months and the end of the tunnel is approaching – they hope!
They have had all the same problems we did. Tradesmen are good, but unreliable. They have been waiting 2 months for their builder to give them a quote to put a couple of bathrooms in the attic. He is at the house most days but the quote is just not forthcoming.  In France, it seems to me that tradesmen are either hairy, bearded and unkempt or they affect the swarthy, shaven everything but their faces look.  Whatever happened to normal?  Northern France then, seems not much different to the south in terms of getting stuff done.
Arromanches is a lovely little village, very busy in summer. It has a military museum and lots of souvenir shops and eateries.  Normandy and Brittany are renowned for their seafood. We went to a local restaurant, right on the water, and the seafood was great — so fresh.  And it makes such a difference with seafood .
The next morning I left Arromanches and headed for nearby Bayeux to cross another item off my bucket list — the Bayeux Tapestry.  I also planned to do a little shopping for local produce.
Bayeux is a beautiful town — lots of old stuff.  And it has clearly been well looked after and restored because of the Cathedral and the Tapestry. I’m a bit over churches and museums and historical relics — my feet and back hurt. But the Tapestry was a must.  And it is just amazing!  It is over 70 metres long and about a metre high. It is embroidered on linen and looks as though it was done very recently , not a thousand years ago. Well worth the visit.
Then onto my shopping mission — buying some old Calvados and some cider.  I achieved my objective at a bottle shop in old Bayeux.  Both are really something!  Maybe down the track I’ll bring some in to Oz .
Then a drive across France to overnight in Orleans en route to my Burgundy tasting the next day.
My route took me through Le Mans, where I stopped for a great lunch. Like most large French towns Le Mans is awful on the outskirts, but the old part is lovely. They call it progress.
In Orleans I was aiming to stay in a place on the river which the Michelin Guide said was very pleasant with a good restaurant. I rang from Le Mans but got no reply. This could have been , I thought , because they were at lunch.  So I decided to just arrive and hope for a room.
France is always bigger than I think and I didn’t get to Orleans until near dark. This was partly my fault because I elected to do some of my trip on a Route Nationale, not the autoroute. As soon as you do that your average speed just plummits. My rule of thumb is that you can’t average more than 60 Kph off the autoroute.  But it is usually prettier.
Anyway, I digress slightly. I arrived at the chosen hotel to find it closed for renovations.  Just up the road I saw another one which looked OK. I was weary, it was getting late, so I made the cardinal error of just checking in without doing any research. The room was tiny and the bathroom tinier — with disposable plastic cups. The one chair in the room was about to collapse. And the bed had obviously done an awful lot of miles. I cleaned up and went down to the bar for a relaxing drink. There was a table of business people in the bar volubly discussing reports and spreadsheets. So I went in for dinner.  I was greeted by an extremely faded and clearly bored old gentleman who sort of led me to a table and then went back to the entrance to the dining room to wait for the next victims. For the first time in my life I think I couldn’t find any wine I wanted to drink. I consulted the menu. Almost Ditto for the food. But I love sole and they had it . It was just dreadful. Stale and badly cooked. Not a good night.
Nuits_St_Georges_(France_-_Burgundy)Next morning I skipped breakfast at the hotel and went to a little cafe instead. Much better!
I drove cross country on the autoroute to the burgundy region, marvelling at how rich and productive France is agriculturally. I think that the French are really good farmers who really make the most of the rich counryside and benign climate. I arrived in Nuits-St-George (photo from Wikipedia) at lunchtime, as luck would have it and headed for a brasserie which Michelin said was an up and comer. And it was.  A terrific meal at a very good price.
Then on to my burgundy tasting——–

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