Archive for the ‘Normandy’ Category

Bayeux, Butter and Brandy

November 21, 2010

Normandy - pastoral farmland and some wickedly narrow roads

The Experienced Travellers had a wonderful visit to Normandy.  It deserves more rigorous investigation on a future trip.  Normandy’s reputation for seafood, dairy and apple products make it a promising destination for hungry travellers. 

The Hotel Reine Mathilde where the ETs outwitted French parking authorities

We stayed in Bayeux at the Hotel Reine Mathilde.  A central location can be handy, unless you have a car.  I never quite grasped the “colored curb” parking protocol and spent anxious nights listening for the Parking Lady’s turbocharged vespa. 

This water-wheel brought out the photographer in Nurse

The center of Bayeux is old and evocative, with a magnificent Cathedral built over Roman ruins. In more recent times, De Gaulle made his first speech on liberated French soil here.   I don’t know what DeGaulle did after his speech, but the ETs give Bayeux five stars for shopping and dining.

The Bayeux Tapestry - an inspired work of public relations. photo by Gabriel Seah

William, Duke of Normandy became King of England in 1066 when he conquerored Harold at the Battle of Hastings.  I’m sure William’s people held a medieval Kaizan which determined that a 224-foot embroidery was necessary to commemorate the victory. 

It conjurs images of medieval French ladies working their needles round the clock, powered by a local chevre and shots of Calvados.  The ETs don’t mean to annoy the French, but we feel the tapestry could stand a good dry-cleaning. 

Another local boy, Taillevent, was a famous 14th century chef who cooked for the Valois kings.  He wrote one of the first French cookbooks which is a primary source of medieval cooking technique – in case you find yourself planning a joust and a banquet.

Getting the beef off the skewer was a delicate operation that became challenging after the second glass

They have gone beyond roasting mutton over a fiery pit at Le Petit Resto, located just behind the Cathedral.  With heightened appetites and high expectations, we enjoyed their artful presentation of local cuisine. 

A dash of chocolate mousse sets off gateau aux pommes smothered in caramel sauce.

In an agrarian economy, it’s important to maintain strength and stamina.  Normans achieve this through regular infusions of Calvados –  a powerful brandy distilled from the local apples. 

During the first world war, Calvados was requisitioned for use in armaments due to its alcohol content.  The ETs are not surprised by this unique contribution to the national defense. 

After an educational sampling, we unanimously agree that this is how jet fuel must taste.  It’s like swallowing a fireball that descends to your gut, then ignites vital organs.  Only a people as solid as the local stone could withstand this experience.

Calvados pot still - or an armaments factory? (Photo by Hennrik Mattson, Wikipedia Commons)

Here’s something to try for your next French dinner:  The “Norman Hole” is a brief break during the meal when you have a glass of Calvados to aid digestion. We’re sure this refers to the “hole” that the Calvados burns through your stomach. We survived Grappa, but Calvados is in a league of it’s own.

Salute the Colonel. (Photo by Santaduck, Wikipedia Commons)

Norman cheeses include Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchatel, Petit Suisse and Boursin.  Another local cheese is Livarot.  I have read that Livarot is the stinkiest cheese on earth, smelling strongly of local livestock pens.   This cheese gets wrapped in layers of military-grade material and rides in the car trunk.

The orange rind is wrapped in rings of dried bullrush which resemble the stripes on a Colonel’s uniform, giving Livarot a dandy nickname.   The ETs haven’t tried it yet;  perhaps someone among the Readership can report?

The spires of Bayeux Cathedral

After sampling the wonders of Normandy, the ETs conclude that it was the combination of Livarot, Calvados and Norman strength that gave William a decisive win at Hastings. 

William Conquers (Photos from Wikipedia Commons)

Honoring Veterans in Normandy

November 14, 2010

No mission too difficult; No sacrifice too great; Duty first. 6 June 1944

The recent celebration of Veterans Day in the U.S. reminded the Experienced Travellers of their conquest of Normandy and Omaha Beach. 

Our first skirmish was the two-hour drive in the rain after a restless overnight flight.  Nurse was all for comfort, and deftly slipped out of her bra in the front seat of our tiny Renault, under the delighted gaze of a passing truck driver.  There are no candid photos of this skillful feat, unless you count the one that the French Traffic Surveillance camera took of my speedy vehicle.  

We used Bayeux as our base camp for exploring the area.  We had just one day to see the beaches, so we concentrated on Omaha Beach, where American forces landed during the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France during WWII.   

Taking Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944. (Photo by Robert Sargent, Wikipedia Commons)

Omaha Beach today. Imagine thousands of GIs disembarking after a fantastic voyage across the Channel.

The wide, sweeping beach is tranquil, but it’s role in the liberation of France is evident everywhere.  There are still hulks of troop transport carriers and weapons scattered around the area. 

Nurse inspects the German gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer.

 The German coastal defenses were geared toward seaborne assult.  After a close inspection of this gun battery,  Nurse decided that an outdoor terrace offered a superior vantage point for planning an invasion of the local moules-frites vendors.

ETs contemplate their invasion of Norman cuisine

 As a dutiful second-in-command, I undertook reconnaissance to locate a sunny table with a view.  I can imagine what one of those soldiers would have given for my cafe creme.  Restored and refreshed, we revved up the Renault.  After a series of scenic wrong turns and dead ends, we arrived at the American Cemetery.

American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer holds over 9,000 soldiers

France granted this land to the US  in perpetuity.  White Crosses and Stars of David mark the graves of the fallen on this bluff overlooking the beach where they died.  The visitor’s center is very informative with excellent displays.  If we had it to do again, we would start here, then see the beach.  

The German Cemetery in La Cambe

We made an unplanned stop at the German cemetery which is maintained by the German War Graves Commision solely through donations.  Over 21,ooo soldiers are buried here, with 300 interred in the mass grave.  The German 352nd Infantry Division was made up of inexperienced recruits.  The American 29th Infantry Division was untested in these conditions.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

A more peaceful landing unless you're a fish

Our Renault troop transport brought us to Grandcamp Maisy in search of rations and an appetite for moules.  We found the only restaurant on the harbor that wasn’t serving fish and had to settle for quiche.  ETs are always prepared for privations, so they settled in and enjoyed their lunch. 

A canine companion barking orders - "eat your quiche and forget about moules"

It was an evocative day of sightseeing.  We headed back to Bayeux in a cool drizzle, pondering the soldiers of all nations who fought and fell on D-Day, and those who risk their lives today.

Les Braves - the French government commissioned this sculpture to honor the Americans who liberated France. They symbolize the Wings of Hope, Rise of Freedom and Wings of Fraternity.

We’ll tell you more about Bayeux and Normandy in our next post.  And yes, Readership,  there will be food pictures.

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