Posts filed under ‘Honfleur’

Bonjour, la France!

15 years ago, France was my first adventure in Europe. My mom was a French teacher, and in 1996, her student group was big enough to qualify 3 free trips—one for her, one for the other teacher, and one for this very lucky daughter. I took in everything, eyes wide with curiosity and amazement, and I fell in love. I had the opportunity to join my mom for two more trips before she stopped teaching, and I visited Paris four years ago on a whirlwind day trip from London. But there were still so many parts of France that I hadn’t seen, including the entire country north of Paris. The same went for my mom, who’d managed to miss Normandy and Brittany on all 7 or 8 of her student trips, as well as her semester abroad in college. So when I decided to take a course that would send me to London for two weeks, we started planning immediately.

And so on Day 14 of my trip, before the rest of my classmates were even awake, my mom and I were getting in a cab for St Pancras International train station. Destination: Paris.

The Eurostar still amazes me. It isn’t that new, and I’d even taken it before, but perhaps because I can remember how shocked I was when construction began, it still seems insane. The idea of zipping through a tunnel under the English Channel at top speeds seriously freaks me out, but at the same time, I’m fascinated by a train that can whisk me from London to Paris in two hours. From a train leaving Chicago, I can only get to Milwaukee in two hours. It’s just not the same.

So by mid-morning, we arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris, which seems to get a little crazier every time I have passed through it. Fortunately, the big train station meant plenty of escalators, so we were able to navigate our suitcases to the Métro/RER without much trouble. My mom stood in line for a carnet of tickets while I studied the map, pleased to discover that we could take the Magenta RER line straight to Gare St-Lazare.

Getting our luggage through the RER wasn’t too bad, but the real treat came at St-Lazare, where renovations meant that the station appeared to only be accessible by a steep staircase. Once we got upstairs, the station was seriously lacking both food and seating. I sat on the floor, surrounded by our bags, pretending not to speak French when randoms approached me, trying to sell me something dubious, while my mom wandered around, trying to find a café that sold cheese sandwiches.

Most of the people reading this blog (so…Jules, Christina, and my mom) know how I feel about cheese sandwiches, but for everyone else’s sake (hi Justine), here’s how I feel about cheese sandwiches: I love them. I actually require them when in France, especially for my first meal. Nothing fancy, and please, let’s not mess it up with ham. Just a baguette, butter, and a soft cheese, preferably Camembert, but Brie will do just fine. In the end, Mom couldn’t locate a sandwich au camembert or brie, but she came back with an Emmental+ham sandwich. I peeled the ham off of my half and happily sank my teeth into a perfectly acceptable French baguette. Some things never change.

Anyway, back to the travel. I’d built a couple of hours into our itinerary in case of delays, but we hadn’t had any, so we had to wait (on the floor) for a bit for our train to Caen. Caen isn’t terribly exciting, but it’s a great place to begin a car trip around Normandy, which was our plan. I’d booked a fantastic rate on a Hertz rental (tip: book early, use affiliate programs, and know how to drive a stick shift to get a good rate on a European car rental), and the guy who set us up with our Opel Corsa was very sweet when my mom couldn’t find the lights. Since I haven’t driven a stick since a trip around an abandoned parking lot in 2000, Mom was the designated driver and I was the designated navigator. We’d put France maps on my GPS, which is a fairly essential tool for Americans who aren’t used to roundabouts every half kilometre.

It was already after 4, but we were blessed with long daylight hours and a short trip to Honfleur, our destination for the night. Our hotel was in La-Rivière-St-Sauveur, but our reservation lacked a street address. We didn’t particularly want to use our phones if we didn’t have to, so Lee navigated us to the town centre, and we figured we’d see it. But we didn’t. So Mom ended up parking on the tiny town square and chased down a couple of French women. One of them volunteered to drive her car to the hotel, and have us follow her. It was very Amazing Race, which we kind of loved. She didn’t take us to the right hotel, but the guy inside that hotel told us where to go, and probably laughed about us for a while after we left, but at least he gave us the right directions.

After finally checking in, we got directions to the old part of town and a laundromat, which was essential for me. I hadn’t done laundry at all in London and I was almost out of clothes. The other people in the laundromat that evening were clearly locals and regulars who knew each other. I think they might still be talking about the clueless Americans who didn’t know how to operate their machines, but they were all quite pleasant and explained to us how to get soap, turn on the washer, and add time to the dryers. For the sake of saving time, I adopted the college-freshman-boy method of washing everything together in cold water. Not something I do typically, for the record, but when I’m in a brand new French seaside city and my stomach is grumbling, I will make sacrifices. Just over an hour later, I was spreading out still-damp clothes in the backseat, and then we were off to explore a bit while seeking out a restaurant for dinner.

Honfleur is beautiful and charming, with a protected harbour (called a “bassin”) for boats right in the middle of town.

Honfleur 1
Honfleur 2
Honfleur 3

Water is everywhere, and it’s no wonder that it has been a haven for artists, including a favourite hangout of Claude Monet. Even in the laundromat, I noticed a lot of flyers for art shows and theatre productions, so I think that the art culture is still thriving there.

Eglise St Catherine
The Église St. Catherine is the largest wooden church in France, so my guidebook said. Since I obviously love photographing churches, I definitely wanted to see it. Magic hour turned out to be a poor time to take well-exposed photos of the façade, so I settled for an Abrams-esque lens flare shot. OK, who am I kidding? I didn’t settle. You know I love lens flare.

Bell tower
St. Catherine’s bell tower is actually separate from the church, the first time that I remember seeing something like this.

Restaurants are dotted throughout the town, and we’d looked at some near the water, but they seemed quite expensive, even for France. The streets around the church also have some restaurants, and without the water view, they were a little less. We settled on L’Estuaire and sat outside on a beautiful evening. In France, it’s always cheaper to order from the prix-fixe menu, so we each got a three-course meal. I started with moules normandes (Normandy-style mussels), then had a main course of red mullet, and chose an apple tarte for dessert. Everything was amazing, and not just because it was my first real meal since I’d been in Europe! So far, Normandy had earned a huge thumbs up from both of us!



October 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm 1 comment


A serial road tripper chronicles her adventures.


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