Friday, March 18, 2016

to Bayeux

I leave a windy Midwest, I arrive in a brooding but not without spring life and color France.

Sometime in the fall, I thought long and hard about March travel and it seemed then that a moody Normandy might be mild enough to keep me out of winter coats and green enough for me to not mind that it's not full blown spring yet.

I had planned a week of meandering in various pockets of Normandy, but then came the saga of the Warsaw apartment and so I cut my roaming to two days (two day!), so that I could hurry to Warsaw to get started on apartment work. Well now, that was silly: there is certainly no hurry anymore -- the apartment project is stalled so long as there are students living there with their huge musical instruments. But, I have my flights to Warsaw in place and I can surely do some gentle planning in the few days that I will be there. I'll finish my spring break with a couple of nights in Paris and still manage to get back to the farmette in time to cook Easter dinner.

Bayeux is the one Normandy place that survived the cut (when I decided to travel to Warsaw).

I've never been to Bayeux, but I've read a little about it. The town sits inland, maybe 10 kilometers from the English Channel. Its fame comes from two very historically significant invasions: this is where William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, launched his invasion of England back in 1066 (becoming then William the Conqueror, King of England). And, just to keep the invasion theme going -- it is the first town to be liberated after the D-Day invasion of Allied troops in 1944.

Surprisingly, Bayeux was not damaged during World War II. Much of the fighting took place just a few kilometers to the east, in Caen. It seems unfair, right? The least destroyed and still, the first to taste freedom. So much of history is unfair!

My travels here are not unusual for a March trip: crowded airports (spring break!), blustery winds, the sadness of leaving, the excitement of being in the travel bubble again. I'm turning my back on dozens of blooming crocuses! Sniff! Oh, but I expect something will be blooming in France! What's this? Snow showers in Warsaw?

In the end, I pack my winter jacket.

The trip is off to a good start. Flights are more or less on time, weather in Paris -- so full of promise! I have to pass through this city to get to Bayeux and honestly, when I came up from the underground tunnel of the airport train, I thought for a minute -- why don't I just stay in Paris and forget everything else...

There is a light mist that only slightly tempers the rays of sunshine. France is going to welcome spring tomorrow with a smile -- though ironically, the coldest spot will be on the Cherbourg peninsula, which is where I am heading. Bayeux was lucky in warfare, not so much in climate.

Rather than go directly to the Paris train station to wait there for my 3 p.m. train to Bayeaux, I decide to take a city walk instead. My suitcase is used to being wheeled along garden paths and it's light enough for me not to worry about the inevitable Parisian steps. And so here I am -- in my favorite spot in this city -- the Luxembourg Gardens.


You're thinking -- it looks pretty wintry still, no?
Look closer.


By the fountain, the man with the yellow flower sits by the yellow primroses and talks to his sweetie on his yellow phone. Spring is in the air!


When else do you let your beloved taste your sandwich as you hold tightly onto her hand?


Your legs wrap around hers as chestnut branches release the season's first leaves...


I can't say that I tried very hard to get the best photos for you. I'm just a tiny bit tired, loaded down with that little wheely and my attention is on not losing things. Am I more forgetful than I once was? I can't tell, but just in case, these days I spend a great deal of time counting what I have with me: suitcase, backpack, small purse, camera. One, two, three, four. All here.Passport zipped away, phone hidden. Good. Now let's proceed.

I'm on the lookout for a place to have lunch. It is, for me, the biggest eating challenge in Paris. This meal can be indifferent or expensive and not infrequently it can be both. You walk, you study menus, you look to see if a place is popular and still, none of this is really predictive of anything at all: a place that's busy with French speaking clients means very little in this city. People get attached to their neighborhood bistro bar, or maybe it's close to work, or they know the dish to order (or not to order). Honestly, I think people here are just less fussy at lunchtime. Put a warm goat cheese on fresh greens or reheat that chicken thigh and call it a day.

In the end I stop in at a place I know well. (It's called the Cafe du Metro -- can you guess why?)


It's never been great, it's never been awful, they use good breads from Poilâne and so what the heck -- I'll order a Croque Madame -- an open faced ham and cheese melt with an egg on top.


And of course, they bring the whole platter -- fries and all and monsieur asks -- a glass of wine? and I'm on auto pilot -- of course! ...then think better of it and add a whole big bottle of fizzy water. And coffee -- that's a must! And of course the tab climbs, but hey, it's a Croque Madame and I am feeling very madamish and buoyant and the food fills me in that way only runny cheese on good bread can fill you.

After lunch, the clock is ticking the minutes away and so I walk just a little more. My eyes stray to the children of course...


Then finally I take the metro...


... to the train station -- Gare St Lazare which services most of Normandy -- and I take the train to Bayeux.

I wont, in this post, give you an overview of Bayeux. Just a few introductory photos to set the tone. First the amusing: this is my first image to this town -- a man walking his goat. You wouldn't guess it right now, he tells me, but she's a very friendly goat.


And of course, no matter which way you look, you'll see views of the cathedral, consecrated by William (see notes above) in 1077.

Here it is from the back:


Here it is with an old Citroen driving up.


Here it is from my bathroom window:


Here it is from my evening walk to the restaurant:


Let me back up a bit. I'm staying at the lovely four roomed  Hotel Particulier Poppa. I closed the season in October for the proprietors in Giverny and I opened it for these guys in Bayeux. You're our first guest of the year! Well now, I don't waste a minute to get here, do I...

Like Giverny, Bayeux is not undiscovered. It's the Normandy beaches just down the road that are the draw. Perhaps this is the one place in France where one feels a unity of purpose between our two countries -- a theme that sometimes gets lost elsewhere as points of pride get tangled with transnational politics.

My bed and breakfast hosts and I came up with two dinner restaurants for my stay here and today's surely got me off to a grand start -- it's the Ptit Bistrot and it's a modern take on Normandy standards. Superb fish and artichoke as a starter and a duck breast that madame down in the next village probably personally massaged to get the meat just right. Exquisite. Really exquisite. With a poached pear and hand crafted cassis (black currant) jellies swimming in a chocolate something or other for dessert.


Tomorrow marks the beginning of spring. I have great plans for it. Until then!

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