Friday, February 9, 2007

Normandie

Soooo...I went to Normandie last week. And Bretagne, or Brittany, the region directly west of Normandy. I had a mini-adventure right off the bat, missing my train in Paris due to snow, catching a different one to a slightly different city, and then frantically calling people back in Grenoble to ask them to search on the internet for a hotel for me in Caen. Other than the one moment of desperation/tears in Paris Gare St. Lazare, it was all right, and makes for a good story. I ended up staying in a Holiday Inn in France, which sounds slightly absurd to me, but there you go, now I've done it. There are apparently no hostels in the city of Caen which answer the phone in January...weird. Anyway, since I was in Caen, I decided I was going to see some of it, so I walked around in the morning and saw some churches, the Hotel de Ville, and William the Conqueror's Castle, the dude who won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and made (at least part of) Britain part of France for a time.
After becoming slightly lost in Caen and actually running through the streets to make it to the hotel in time to check out (note: running in thermal underwear equals bad idea, it makes you smell rather delightful), I caught a train to Bayeux. It is a delightful little town, with typical Norman architecture, small buildings, different materials than in the south of France. I saw the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Battle of Hastings, and is amazing and amazingly well preserved for being nearly a thousand years old! I also got to walk around in a British WWII cemetery for a time, which was sobering but good at the same time.
Then it was off to Mont St. Michel. I stayed in a very nice hostel, run by an old British couple (yaay for PG Tips!), and they even picked me up at the train station. I biked it to the abbey the next morning, the Normandy farmland is very pretty, if a bit cold in January. The abbey was amazing, walking around in the dark, heavy stone corridors I could almost imagine I was a monk 800 years ago, truly nothing has changed in there since then I don't think. I attended mass in french just for the experience, which I will remember forever as the coldest church service I have ever attended -- you could see the priest's breath!
At this point, my solitary journeying was at an end, I popped into Rennes that evening and joined the other Fulbright scholars for the midyear meeting. Although I was rather dreading it leading up to the experience, it actually was very enjoyable. It was good to hear about what other people are doing, the American accent was nice to hear for once, and the people were much less stuck-up than I remembered. I think everyone must have just been stressed during that first orientation; understandably so, everyone was newly into the country and still trying to adjust at that point. So, three days in Rennes, many galettes and nights out later, I headed back to Grenoble to find a synchrotron run staring me in the face on Thursday. But now I have been to an absolutely beautiful part of France, and I'm actually starting to be able to hear differences in the french accent from different parts of the country, which makes me happy. :)

2 comments:

Kyle said...

I should note that England was not part of France. William the Bastard's played a dual role as Duke of Normandy and King of England. In fact, I think it's somewhat debatable whether Normandy was part of France at the time.

That's all, just being a jerk. :) I'm glad you had a good trip, and am jealous, as I would really like to see Normandy and Bretegne. And I've also had a bad experience in a Parisian train station.

Sarah said...

Well, regardless of the technicalities of it, I got the feeling from the french that they are proud that a Norman (nominally French) king beat the pants off of an English guy. :)