Friday, June 30, 2006: This morning, we run to a patisserie for pain de raisins and then to Starbucks, where we sit at outdoor tables and enjoy watching fashionable Parisians stroll past. After gathering our bags, we take a taxi to the Hotel Invalides to Europcar, where we pick up our blue Renault Laguna, squeeze our luggage into the trunk, and take off for Normandy.
The drive is straightforward and uneventful, although I’ll never get used to the speeds on European roadways. We stop for a nice lunch at a roadside stop: for me, a salad with chicken, corn and cheese. We have trouble locking the driver’s side door, and after finally figuring it out, we realize we have to do it manually every time. What a pain!
We make a stop in Arromanches before heading to our hotel in Normandy, the northern region of France corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. This area grew out of various invasions of West Francia by the Danish, Norwegians, Vikings, and the Anglo-Danish in the 9th century. Normandy began in 911 as a fief, probably a county, in the sense that it was held by a count (Wikipedia: Duchy of Normandy).
The name is derived from the Vikings (“Northmen”), who settled the territory from the 9th century. For a century and a half following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Normandy and England were linked by Norman and Frankish rulers (Wikipedia: Normandy).
We see the artificial port remnants from the Normandy campaign in World War II. We have 1664 beers at an outdoor cafe then stroll through the little town. We also treat ourselves to eclairs and croissants at a boulangerie/patisserie.
During the Second World War, the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches, under the code name Operation Overlord, started the lengthy Battle of Normandy, eventually liberating Paris and restoring the French Republic. These landings were a significant turning point in the war.
Normandy’s population is around 3.45 million, accounting for 5.5% of France’s total population (in 2005) (Wikipedia: Normandy).
Lower Normandy is predominantly agricultural in character, with cattle breeding the most important sector (although in decline from the peak levels of the 1970s and 1980s). The bocage is a patchwork of small fields with high hedges, typical of western areas. Upper Normandy contains a higher concentration of industry. Normandy is a significant cider-producing region, and produces calvados, a distilled cider or apple brandy. Other activities of economic importance are dairy produce, flax (60% of production in France), horse breeding (including two French national stud farms), fishing, seafood, and tourism (Wikipedia: Normandy).
The region is bordered along the northern coasts by the English Channel. There are granite cliffs in the west and limestone cliffs in the east. There are also long stretches of beach in the centre of the region. The bocage typical of the western areas caused problems for the invading forces in the Battle of Normandy (Wikipedia: Normandy).
We drive on to the Manoir d’Hérouville and check in to the pigieonnier. After moving into our rooms, we take naps, since we feel a little drowsy after our long drive and the beers in Arromanches.
In the evening, we go out for dinner at a lovely French restaurant called La Grignotiere, where the chef greets us personally. We have Picot biere accompanied by mackerel and salmon spread on bread. My meal is wonderful: noix de lotte au chou vert et au lard fume (walnuts with green cabbage and smoked bacon). The boys loved their brochettes of beef. Alex liked his profiteroles (cream puffs), but Adam didn’t care for them.
Back at the pigieonnier, the boys encounter a “huge” spider, so they’re afraid to sleep upstairs in their loft. Mike brings a mattress downstairs and the boys camp out watching the video Cool Runnings. We fall asleep with a cool breeze whispering over our heads.