Thursday, November 4, 2010

Just in time, I'm so glad you have a one track mind like me...

In Amsterdam Mike and I boarded a train heading south, pausing in the cities, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels, and speeding through the forests and countryside of the Netherlands, Belgium and France, arriving about 3 1/2 hours later in Paris.

Paris was a mess. The trains were running late, the station was overflowing with travellers, some in lines looking disgruntled or resigned, others sitting forlornly on the floor with their luggage and pets and children.

There was a lot of French in the air, punctuated now and then by the Thalys theme, (dum duddy DAH-da,) which always put me in mind of Britney Spears' "Crazy". This was a little bit annoying as I couldn't recall any of the lyrics to that bit of pop drivel.

However, I figured that when one is in Paris, being slightly annoyed with something largely imperceptible to anyone else is going with the long as you look good doing it.

We decided we would get our tickets and move on, getting away from the inexplicable masses. (We never did figure out what was going on that day!) Mike was fussing about finding and going through customs. Which...were nowhere to be found.

I decided that if the French had wanted us to go through them, they would have made such obvious to even the most dense tourist. Perhaps with the event of the EU, security laden border crossings have become a thing of the past? Welcome to the new Europe.

We went on Paris' excellent and nearly foolproof Metro to find the station where we would pick up our next train. There was just enough time to grab a quick meal, and here I hang my head with shame that our first meal together in Paris was at...McDonalds.

Oh, the shame, the shame. (Then again, french fries in France...salty, hot and tasty...) It was also the most sterile meal I have ever ordered. We used an automatic machine to place our orders and to take our credit card, and picked up the finished product at the counter. I don't think we actually interacted with a real live human being for any of the process.

They weren't pommes frites in paper cones, but it did the job. I felt so damnably American, though. I kept hearing Red Buttons as Pvt. John Steele in The Longest Day: "Je suis American, je suis American".

Onto the next train, where we learned how it works on the trains: if you don't have a seat number on your ticket you might be able to snag one, but more likely, like us, you will be out of luck. They'll let you ride, but you have to find someplace to wait out the trip that's out of the way, and if there's no dining car, you'll probably end up, again like us, in the noisy luggage area between the cars.

We hunkered down with our luggage and an experienced traveller who'd brought a baguette -no McDonalds for him. With some squirming around we found a spot that was mostly out of the blast zone -the opening and closing doors let in the roar of the train- in a niche where no one would step on us and we could brace our knees to stay relatively stationary. Tuning out on headphones to non-Britney Spears music, well, we were good to go.


But it didn't matter! We were on vacation, on vacation in France, and going to the place around which we'd set the rest of our trip: Normandy. The train was taking us, moment by moment, towards Caen and Cherbourg, the landing beaches of D-Day, St-Mère-Église, places we'd long envisioned while learning about the second World War.

It was hard to believe we were really going there.

I demonstrated my excitement by taking half a nap. I'm like a little kid that way.

Mike had done exhaustive research on train travel, towns, tours, and B&Bs for us. Impressive, considering he was also wrapping up his work in Dubai, closing down the house, and dealing with his wife. (Yes, he only has one. I should think that would be more than enough, wouldn't you say?) Thanks to his efforts we'd decided to stay in the small but history-rich town of Bayeux, whose name we couldn't quite pronounce. (Bay-oo? Bye-uh? Beeh-you? Criminey.)

Finally, our carefully-chosen destination. We stretched kinked limbs, emerged into the sunshine, and began to hike towards the spires of the unmistakable Notre-Dame de Bayeux, a Norman Romanesque cathedral; according to the map our B&B was nearby.

When we got to our new home, Le Castel Nobel, I turned to Mike and said, oh, wow.

(photo from Le Castel Nobel Guesthouse website)

We spent less time than we might have admiring the outside of our new residence, being eager to drop off our luggage. Mike had warned me that the reviews of Le Castel Nobel had been stellar with the caveat that the hostess spoke no English.

We found this to be true. Which was fine, we were in France, after all. She spoke twice as much French to make up for our lack, utterly undeterred by the looks of confusion. Our responses were limited to oui, (yes) non,(no) and Je ne sais pas, which I thought translates as "I don't understand" but what actually means "I don't know."

Making absolutely sure we understood how to let ourselves in with the key, demonstrating several times (as non-French speakers we were in the category of obviously stupid but worthy of pity and compassion) our hostess finally showed us up a beautiful staircase to our room.

She never stopped talking. We were smothered in motherly French.

Upon entering our room, and escaping le déluge, I did a slow 360 and said once again, oh wow, Mike!

Luxurious, with a balcony one one side and a charming little alcove for reading looking over the gardens on the other, lovely bathroom with all the trimmings, elegantly decorated, and this was the view out our leaded-glass windows:

Mike did good. We headed out, giddy as kids, to explore a medieval French village that had been spared the bombings, the great Cathedral amongst the wood and stone houses on narrow cobblestone streets, and the River Aure.

And to find something better to eat than McDonalds.


*Paula* said...

Oh wow is right! That looks stunning. I'm going to go with Bye-uh, am I right?

More, more!

Marc said...

I LOVE reading your posts!

In hindsight we could have probably met up in Amsterdam...I think our times there overlapped.


Cindy Napier said...

Looks like a beautiful place!

AKBrady said...

Oh yeah. Oh, oh, yeah. All of it, such memories. Except I slept on the floor of a train under the seat. Yes, when I was about 20 years younger and not at all deterred by the prospect of staring at feet for 15 hours.

Julia said...

Way to go Mike! I am so totally impressed with the hotel, that I (almost) won't poke fun for the mirror incident.

Too bad about McDonalds, a lovely Croque Monseiur is easy to find, but it sounded like you just didn't have the time.

Make sure to post about chocolate croissants! That's literally one of the things I remember the most about Europe (sad, I know, but those breakfasts were heavenly!)

Joanna said...

I didn't get to try a chocolate croissant in Paris, but the regular ones were delish. Looking forward to hearing some descriptions of the real food!

Mumsey said...

I'd guess most Americans can't really pronounce the name. Closest I can come is By euh., but really the tongue has to get curled just right. At least it's not DEZMONS for Des Moines.
Wonderful photos. Sigh!