S’trip’15: Normandy

When I was planning my trip, I was looking for the cheapest way to get to France. I knew I wanted to be up north but didn’t know anything about the region. So I ended up in Caen, because the flight there was fairly cheap. I was lucky, I found a great city to explore. Somehow, I think I would have had a good time wherever I’d ended up though.

But I didn’t pay much attention to the departure time or the airport, and I paid for that dearly. Waking up at 3am to catch a bus to the train station to take a train to the airport was not so fun. I couldn’t even doze when I was waiting because I was so scared of missing the next bus/train. I didn’t even know Southend Airport existed before this trip. But hey, it was all good, I was off to France yo.

After a year of living in Lyon, I thought I was over France. I mean, I’d visited a fair number of cities and towns and France had lost it’s exotic feel. I remember doing les bises, the kissing of the cheeks, the first time and feeling so sophisticated. And seeing grown up men doing it was quite surreal. I mean, my dad doing les bises? Does not compute. He, who only just manages a one-armed reciprocated hug (then again, we’re asian, and in Asia, body contact is a no-no). I’d been away long enough to return and appreciate the finer points of French living (sorry France, I do love you really, I didn’t mean it, please take me back)!

In any case, I thought it was about time to see the north. Normandy and Brittany – places I’d heard so much about. To be honest, the north of France has never seemed that exciting to me, too similar to Britain I guess. I was imagining pebble beaches, grey skies and dreary little houses. But I suppose I’ve never been to Cornwall and I hear it’s quite pleasant down there. I may also be basing my expectations unfairly on Calais which I’ve passed through too many times with Megabus, always cranky and at weird hours of the day.

I admit my ignorance. It may be just across the channel but I don’t think anyone could mistake the north of France for England. Yes, the weather is not so different but apart from that… The French are just so very French. They revel in their French-ness, speaking their French at you even when you’re clearly a non-French. I’ve always said that I can spot a French person when I see one. I love it, vive la France…

I wanted to do some couchsurfing but it was tricky finding a host (nobody wanted me, sigh), so I found a place with Airbnb. It was a bit far from the center but it was easy enough to take a tram to get around. Plus, there was a massive Carrefour supermarket 5 minutes away. No fear of going hungry then.

Caen has a lot of history – the big castle on the hill was built by William of Normandy aka. William the Conqueror who invaded England in 1066. It’s also close to the D-Day beaches, half an hour away by bus.

It’s quite random that I ended up having dinner the first evening with some nice locals – it started by asking a lady for directions and discovering that she was a couchsurfer. She was hosting a guy from Italy for one night and so, we arranged to meet up in the evening. Which is how I ended up eating moules frites, which I otherwise never would have ordered, and discovering how fresh and delicious they were.

On the second day I visited Bayeux, a historical town 15 minutes away by train and home to the Bayeux tapestry. It was the typical picturesque little French town complete with cathedral, winding cobbled roads, bakeries and little boutique shops. The weather was not great, so I ended up taking shelter in a tea room eating crêpes and drinking hot chocolate.

But the highlight of the visit may have been this “local speciality”, the Saint Eve:

It was some kind of meringue ball dusted with sugar and filled with vanilla cream. The contrast of textures was really quite amazing and I’m not a massive fan of meringues. Chewy outer layer and creamy center, dreamy…

On the third day I went to the beach. It was grey and overcast which actually wasn’t such a terrible thing. It’s horrible being on a beach with no shade in full exposure to the sun (recall: Malaga). A little sunshine wouldn’t have hurt though. To top it off, it started drizzling – the worst kind of rain. The locals didn’t seem to notice. Or if they did they didn’t care. I guess you get used to it. But for only the cost of a normal bus journey and being half an hour away, it was worth it.

I went hunting for shells – the imperfect, broken shells were actually more interesting than the perfect ones.

The last day, I went to the war memorial. Up until that point, I hadn’t seen that many tourists in Caen. No big groups at least. I’d been feeling very foreign in the quiet little city. But at the war memorial, suddenly the tourists popped out of nowhere. I don’t think Caen is such a major tourist destination – it’s more of a stopping point. It was quiet and calm. But the next city I visited, Rennes in Britanny, definitely had more of an international feel, more of a buzz.

Next stop: Brittany!

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Summer Trip ’15: Normandy – BrittanyAachen & CologneBerlinMunichPrague

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