Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chapter 22wo: Normandy


Étretat, on the north coast of Normandy, was our final destination of this big road trip before settling into Paris for two months - the second half of France Once Again. 

We crossed over the Le Havre Pont de Normandie, a large cable-stay bridge that spans the wide mouth of the Seine River where it meets the English Channel. Honfleur? Sorry to say, wby-passed it, and we also had to ignore the road signs to Rouen, Dieppe and other great centres in Normandy. They will not be a part of this Grand Voyage.

Narrow secondary and tertiary roads took us through small villages and farm fields, all aglow with crops of rapeseed.

Day after tomorrow - May 1, our car has to be turned in, in Paris. Sadly, we have left only one day for Normandy. 

We have seen and experienced a lot of France since we arrived on the first day of March.  In some places we stayed for weeks at a time; in others, we stopped for three days, or two, and in a few places, we just did an overnight.  But everywhere has been very cool.

"Cool." This colloquialism of the '60s generation, as in, "Wow, that was really cool," or "She is really cool," or "Now, that's one cool dude," is a word that is less in our own vocabulary these days, than it is in the international lingo of people we meet, wherever we happen to be. We share the meaning with them, of the concept, the feeling, the ambience, that "cool" means: without having to pause for translation.

Étretat Golf Club
Standing beside Joanne is a very, very cool woman named Annick

Annick is shorter than Joanne but larger than life itself. She took us in, she shared her home with us, a warm dinner and breakfast. And, of course, she shared her husband, John (Jean)

John and I traded stories of the sea. Like me, he worked as a younger man in the sea trade - I, on the ships (who among you readers knows this?), he, supplying them as a supercargo (this moniker will also soon be explained).

More about sea stories soon: maybe while the blog is still on the coast of France before we head inland to Paris.

Let's go back for a moment to Biarritz (Ch 13). When we were there, Anne-Sophie asked us what our plans were for Normandy before going to Paris. We said we had intended to reserve a place in Étretat, but had not yet got around to it.

"That's my home town, where I'm from," she said. "My parents live near there. My mother helps international student home stays in the area, and rents out a little house in the back garden from April through September. Maybe she has a room available."

A call was placed to mom, but she was all booked up. Daughter lobbied with mother, and we were offered a bedroom in her house, on the top floor. This was Anne-Sophie's room when she lived with her parents. We were delighted. We were honoured.

Our new friend, with a very big heart, was waiting for our arrival - So, we began our last day, not as strangers taken in, but with a big embrace and smiling eyes. Joanne and I, from time to time, talk over a glass of wine, of how alike the greetings were by both daughter and mother.

view from our table to the #10 T-Box

Annick happens to be a member of the Étretat Golf Club. Our tour of the old city began from there, with a glass of Normandy cider at the 19th Hole. From the window, "a nerve jangling drive."

waiting to T-off from #1 - left

The Étretat Golf Course is one of the most picturesque in France

Étretat is a very popular destination in Normandy. It happened to be a long weekend in France so parking was hopeless. Annick left her car at the Golf Club and she guided us down into the city from there.

First through the woods, then along a hedgerow and on down into the old city.

Few people enter the town this way.

Once again, we were spared by the weather. It had been raining before and after our outing, but not a drop fell from the sky during our excursion.

Normandy has its share of Medieval half-timbered buildings, but here they are maintained well, and are situated in open airy quarters of the city.

the Porte d'Aval arch

Stand on the beach. Look to the left, the northwest, where you will see the Porte d'Aval. You can walk under it at low tide.

To your right is the northwestern arch, Porte d'Amont.  Zoom in and  you will see that the beach runs right up to the cliff wall. 

A little research revealed that these arches were originally formed by underground rivers. The sea has done the rest.

The limestone cliffs and arches are very accessible. If only we had planned our time better ...

There are many more cliffs, arches, and rock formations on the other side of this one. While I was excited about what I saw, there is so much more on the other side. I highly recommend to readers who are nature lovers, make an excursion to this part of France. Plan it well and take time to explore. If you are a visual artist, bring your creative tools - Claude Monet did, along with other Impressionist artists, Eugène Boudin,  Gustave Courbet ...

Take a look at my photo above with the boat on the shingle beach. Now do an online search for Claude Monet paintings at Etretat and browse his amazing number of paintings to see the different ways he saw this place. One of Monet's original works that looks just like mine - hah - is on display in the Musée D'Orsay.

On our way back to her house for dinner, Annick drove us through the nearby port city of Fécamp, stopping at a majestic old brick building. This is the Palais Béntédictine. Yes,
Benedictine liqueur. It is not my favourite drink, but its story is very interesting. If one needs another reason to visit this region of Normandy, consider putting this historic institution on your list.

Annick, John, et Anne-Sophie, merci beaucoup. Joanne, my occasional editor, has reminded me that you celebrated our arrival with the sharing of a chilled bottle of champagne. Moi, I cannot imagine a more comforting way of spending the last night of our grand voyage


So ends a personal review of a spectacular two months in France - March and April, 2017. Not all has been revealed, of course, but we have shared some highlights.

Google Blogger tells me that as of this posting, there have been 3,400 people checking in for a read. (though I suspect that some of these numbers are "crawlers" - not real people, but robots). 

Thank you all for following along.

If I can say that this has been Part One, then the City of Light will be Part Two. Paris, however, will not get the amount of space that I have used in these twenty-two chapters. 

a bientot!

For more travel and other photography visit my website 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Chapter 21one: A Magic Brittany Forest

A Magic Brittany Forest

I am not an historian, just a curious man. Two nights here at La Grande Sauvagère had me asking myself, who was here before us, what were they thinking and doing?

rusty manual fuel pump on ruins of old garage, lost in the woods, date unknown

READER CAUTION: To some, the following text may be irrelevant and boring. To others, it may be thin, unsubstantiated armchair history. But if you are a keen reader, it might just keep you on my shoulder for a while longer, where you will get another glimpse of where my thoughts and my camera were during these travels. If you are the latter, then read on.

The earliest records for the property go back to 1513 (Henry VIII invaded France).

flour mill and bakery

Changes in seigneurial ownership have been well documented. For centuries this property was owned and farmed by the landed gentry - not nobility, rather, Lords and Ladies of the manor.

These bigwigs had special property ownership rights with taxes and fees paid to them by the commoners. After the French Revolution (1789) this feudal system was abolished. 

mill screw and ear

There is mention of a chapel on the ancient Sauvagère property. 
The chapel is long since gone, but was reckoned to date back to the Carolingian Period - you know, the two centuries which ended in 814 AD with the death of Charlemagne, first Christian king.

Pope Leo lll gave him that job.

note the holes in the barn wall just below the roof
the barn also served as a pigeonier - a dovecoat

Why the odd name, Sauvagère?  What is its etymology? Well, one can imagine a wilderness forest here, in what is now called Brittany, more than a millennium ago. Surely, with savage beasts too … 


Frederique’s legacy document lists the property owners from the Middle Ages, almost up to the present. It mentions Lord Rolland Geffroy in 1542 (death of James V), during the time of the Protestant Reformation. France was not a friend of England in those days, but Scotland and France were friendly allies. 

One will find that the surname “Geffroy”, and its numerous variations, appear in both French and Scottish archives.

sheds connecting barn and part of exterior manor wall

So, globally - and remember, the globe was small in those days - what was the nature of the known world ...

at La Petite and La Grande Sauvagère, about 500 years ago when there was no wifi in front of the giant hearth, and no internal combustion engine to power the four wheels outside these stone walls?

Here is a timeline I dug up from


1504 Leonardo paints Mona Lisa
1506 St Peter's basilica begun in Rome
1509 Michelangelo takes 3 years to paint ceiling of Sistine Chapel
1513 first records of La Grande & La Petite Sauvagère
1517 Martin Luther defies the pope with Wittenberg theses
1522 Ferdinand Magellan sails around the world
1531 Henry VIII breaks with Rome
1540 Jesuits are founded
1542 Sir Rolland Geffroy acquires Sauvagère property
1545 RC Council of Trent opposes Protestant Reformation
1553 Mary Tudor becomes Queen of England
1555 Peace of Augsburg settles Protestant-Catholic conflicts
1558 Elizabeth I becomes Queen
1588 Defeat of the Spanish Armada
1599 First known production at Globe Theatre is Shakespeare's Julius Caesar


1516 Erasmus edits Greek New Testament
1522 Luther translates Bible into German
1532 Italian political theorist Machiavelli writes The Prince
1543 Copernicus founds modern astronomy
1564 William Shakespeare is born
1571 Galileo Galilei is born

One thing we do know for sure. 
The sun still rises and falls on the forest here. 
It is by no means savage.
It is magical.

For more travel and other photography visit my website 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chapter 20enty: Brittany's Cancale Oysters and the Big Savage

Brittany's Cancale Oysters and the Big Savage

Cancale, a short drive north along the coast from St. Malo, 
is the oyster (huitre) capital of France. 

We did not know that this is France's oyster city (my bad) until we went there for a day trip from our retreat in the forest.

More on oysters later

We always do some degree of research about places we travel to, but I must admit that Brittany has suffered in this regard. Brittany has been full of surprises though - good ones.

When people ask, and they often do, "What place do you like the best in France?" 

... our answer is invariably, "No one place. France is such an incredibly varied country - its history, its geography, the people, their food and drink. The language sounds good, and it sure is fun trying to speak it,  ñ'est ce pas?" 

But nowadays, having seen so much of France, many of these being return visits, I would say that I most want to return to Brittany for extended stays. Joanne's reply may be different.

I am getting ahead of myself. Our third and fourth nights in Brittany were very different than what anyone might expect. We were deep in the forest at an old manor house that goes by the unlikely name of La Grande Sauvagère.

This 16th Century domain (why is everything around here 16C?) is managed by the owner, Frédérique, a very nice accommodating hostess (pardon the pun).

We'd booked online and the directions were good, but in the blink of an eye, I missed my turn. I took a left off the tertiary road onto a dirt track that led to La Petite Sauvagère.

"No," said Joanne. "Wrong road. This goes to the Little Savagery. You just passed the Big Savagery."

our room bottom right by wisteria bloom
Sure enough, easy to miss, especially when day-dreaming about eating fresh oysters, and wondering which  dry white to pair it with ...

Anyway, another magical mystery tour: passing by fenced and unfenced farm pastures, working (olfactory) barns, farm houses, dairy cows, some mud, winding through pine forest, maple trees, and gorse. 

The forest road reminded me of fishing trips in the mountains of British Columbia back home. The difference being that the forest here is not a dense coniferous jungle, but more like woodlots and thickets that one could easily walk through.

at the back of the manor house

"Joanne, the word is not savagery. It's sauvagere, which in French means something like wild, as in a wild forest ... which this probably was five hundred years ago."

With the exception of a young mother and her little boy who stayed for a night on the upper floor, we had the place completely to ourselves. For two evenings: lunch out, dinner in. We brought our own meal of wine and bread, and good French things to eat with those staples, to the huge stone dining room in front of the centuries old hearth that had cooked many whole pigs, sheep and goats, and who knows what else, since at least, 1533. I'll return to this later.

Back to Cancale now, before relating the tale of La Grande Sauvagère. 

Never mind the red 2CV, look at the bronze statues above left. They are carrying baskets for the collection of oysters. This is Cancale. 

The parking fairy helped us once again She followed us from Antibes (See Chapter 6), and found us the perfect Peugeot 308-size parking space in the square, in the old centre of the city.

Then we walked down the hill to the harbour.

On the way, down, down, down to the waterfront, we walked by the postman/person. I said to her, "Prendre une photo?"

Her smile said, "Oui." 

Cancale is sometimes called the Emerald Bay. 

The colour of the ocean here changes with the tide and the light.  People who live near the Pacific Ocean are often surprised with the colours and the brightness of the Atalntic. It has a reputation of being cold and dark waters. Not so.

On a clear day, a really sharp eye one can pick out Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, way off to the east. We did not see it.

The bay here is very shallow. Many boats wait out the tide, sitting on their hulls in the mud until the high water sets them afloat again. 

While eating lunch at a waterfront restaurant, we saw a farm tractor drive by, pulling a large boat on a trailer. Later we saw the tractor and trailer parked way out on the mud flats, as though abandoned. The boat was motoring out into the bay. This guy really knows his tides, I thought.

This is one brave young woman, about 15 metres up the mast. She had a small audience on the boardwalk. She ignored them and kept her composure.

The Breton language of the Cancalais, as the locals are called, seems to be alive and well. 

What does it say on the top of the fishing boat 
above the three windows?

At every one of the many waterfront restaurants oysters are on the menu.

It is much more fun to buy them fresh from one of the many vendors at the tents adjacent to the jetty.

We ordered a dozen shucked of the No. 2, for six euros.

Joanne loves raw oysters. She is picking a small piece of shell from her mouth, I think.

Together, we shared the seawall with other oyster eaters. You just squeeze some drops of fresh lemon onto the slippery morsels, pull off the top shell and use it to slice the meat away. Joanne swallowed a couple whole. I chewed the other ten, savouring each one. So raw and fresh!

Everyone recycles their shells by tossing them on the ground. When in Cancale, do as the Cancalais do.

We left Cancale for a drive to nearby St Malo. Alas, we did not get into the old walled city. Sometimes there is so much traffic on a weekend that we just give up. There was no parking inside the walls of the city, and all the parking lots around the perimeter were full. As we have done before, in places that everyone wants to see at the same time, we look at each other, and say, "Do we really want to do this?"

We turned the car around, and headed back to La Grande Sauvagère.

Just as well, because I really feel the need to get back to the story of the wild forest.

And the cat missed us. If you look closely, you will see her on the roof of our car ... purring. You cannot hear that, but I bet you could imagine it.

By way of replying to my many questions about the property, its origin, the buildings, the surrounding woods, Frédérique handed me the only documented history she had - a booklet that the previous owner had given her, based on his research.

She regretted that it was only in French. I photographed the pages and did some simple translation, the results of which I have to continue in the next and final chapter on Brittany. 

For more travel and other photography visit my website