Seafood, especially oysters and mussels are in every restaurant in this popular tourist town. In times past, French pirates or corsairs, ran this walled city. As we walked the walls surrounding the city, it was easy to imagine them in the bars, looking out to sea and causing havoc. Now the tourists do theses things and the costume of today is the striped French “marine” or sailor look. Stripped shirts, shoes, jackets, purses, you name it, are featured in shops and on the dress of the people strolling.
We are staying in a really gracious old hotel 3km outside of the walls, along the long boardwalk. It is comfortable and the staff members are among the most solicitous I have experienced. Barry has had oysters for 3 meals straight, then took a break for mussels. We have walked and walked and walked all over. So much to see and the weather is just gorgeous! Life is good.
Having had a little previous experience with overseas toilieting, I was so excited to read about a little funnel type device, molded in a sweet pink plastic, that allows we ladies to pee-pee standing up. Thus, we may avoid the horrors when presented with a less than suitable toilet. I have been presented with a hole in the ground behind a public toilet door or a “toilet thing” so disgusting that I had to flee, rather than pee. I amazon primed one for myself and one for my BFF, because it seemed like a gift to give to someone you love. ( I need to order one for two other dears who will soon be traveling, EH and PD., interested? )
The other day, I had one of those toilet horror experiences, described above. A nice brasserie in St.Malo had a unisex potty, as I entered the foyer to said room, an embarrassed Swedish lady was exiting. She grimaced and said, “It is not nice.” She wasn’t understating this. Many men had “missed” during their use. There was no seat on the pot and it was at least 3 feet off the ground! Go Girl to the rescue! I stepped to one side toward the back, used the device, as described on its packaging. I included some Clorax wipes and some hand sanitizer in my little kit. I wrapped up my new little friend neatly in its washable case and, “voila”, I’m outta there. Phew!
The Bayuex Tapestries, 11th century embroidered scenes from the conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conquerer, are stunning. I wasn’t overly excited to see them, but once they were in front of me in that long, long 70m piece of lines, I can better understand why they are registered on the UNESCO Memory of the World. The drama of the scenes and the emotive quality are more than I had expected on a tapestry. They didn’t allow photos, due to conservation efforts, but we really thought that viewing them was very worthwhile.
Very close to the Tapestry exhibition is Bayeux Cathedral. Certainly, it is impressive also. It was consecrated on July 14 (Barry’s birthday, only a few years before he was born tee-hee), by the bishop who happened to be William the Conquerer’s brother. It is a marvel of Norman architecture. The town of Bayeux, especially within the conservation area is very charming, with gardens and gracefully aging buildings.
Deeply saddened, yet feeling profoundly patriotic, Barry and I were able to visit Arronmaches-les-bain, The American Cemetery and Omaha Beach. We are staying in a modest hotel just a block from the coast where the British build an artificial harbor during the D Day invastion, in just a matter of days, complete with long pontoon roadways to bring a steady of supplies to the forces that landed on D Day. The planning and engineering involved in this feat is, really, beyond my imagination. There are still remnants of the complex quite visible. A small museum there features the scope of this project.
Interesting info: On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed on five different beaches along the Normandy coast. TO the west of Arronmaches were the two American beaches, Omaha and Utah. The Allies knew they would need a port to keep supplies flowing to the forces and they were unable to seize any German occupied harbor which already existed. As a result, on June 5th the first convoys left England and construction of the harbor began on June 7th. A line of old merchant ships were sunk to make an outer breakwater, then 115 huge concrete boxes formed a protective sea wall in an the length of 700 football fields. Three landing wharves were installed to unload supplies, extending up to 750 m out into the bay. They were floating causeways on which heavy cranes, tanks, trucks and bulldozers could drive from ships to shore, keeping the supply line moving . Additionally, the harbor was fortified with artillery, helium filled barrage balloons floated at different altitudes to prevent enemy planes from attaching, AND artificial fog was created every night to hide the lights of the harbor. The harbor operated night and day.
Omaha Beach now has wind surfers crossing where thousands of Americans fell during a previous generation. As we looked at the folks at the beach, there appeared to be no one there who could have remembered the day that the invasion took place. Yet, I felt there was a a feeling of resect and deep gratitude. The American Cemetery has a really wonderful museum which focuses on the ultimate sacrifice made by inconceivable number of Americans, and the cemetery itself, with rows and rows of tombstones overlooking the now breathtakingly beautiful beaches, tears at my heart.
I talked of my dad, who served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific and have a new renewed appreciation for how remarkable it must have been to leave a semi-rural existence in Pennsylvania and enter into what many of the quotes in the museum describe as “hell” and “Dantes inferno”, this in his early twenties! I love you, Dad! At aged 91, he still has rarely spoken much of the war at all.
On our way back to the hotel, and maybe to “buck-up” we turned into farm advertising tastings for cidre and calvados. Yes, good stuff. We picked up a small bottle of calvados, apple liquer (which has no apple taste) and hard cider with a low alcohol content. Though the farmer spoke no English, we were able to broker the deal 🙂 . In no stretch of the imagination can I speak French, but I have been able to get through our dealings SO FAR.
Finally, back at our modest little hotel, where the water runs hot and cold no mater what the dial is set at, and the church RIGHT next door bongs out the hours, we had a really nice meal. The madame is a very good cook, says Christian, the host. He is right. My duck confit was luscious, with an amazing chocolate dessert that they described as mousse, but was a dense, rich chocolate that was thinly sliced and floating in a pool of creme Anglaise. Barry had some local oysters that were sweet, briny, with a whisp of the sea, a steak with unusual pomme frites (French fries) that were semi-circle strips which were sooooo crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. A nice evening after a very serious day.
Arrived in Brittany, in the city of Rennes to enjoy the second largest Farmers Market in France, strolling medieval streets, sampling gallettes (buckwheat crepes), local beer and cider and enjoying the Celtic music….life is good.
We where able to try some iconic Chicago food when we visited a few years ago such as —– and —- pizzas, super dawgs, and some great Greek food, (Millers ribs?) THIS trip we tried out a casual and popular place with Leslie that served Chicago beef, Portollo”s. The long rolls were stuffed with thinly sliced beef, a little au jus, and topped with some spicey veggies. Whoa, delicious! I couldn’t help ordering up a cup of frozen custard to share for dessert. I believe that it’s a Midwestern thing? Deep in my mind’s recesses, I recall eating lemon custard and how different it seemed from ice cream. I didn’t really taste much of a difference between this frozen vanilla custard and a moderately good ice cream. Hmmmm, a trick of a childhood memory?
Another thing that I remember pretty well from childhood was visiting an upscale Chicago steak house, Stockyard Inn? With my parents and brother in the 1960s when I was a kid. My parents were incredibly brave ( and generous) about taking us to nice restaurants so that we would learn how to behave. The best part was seeing how much my parents enjoyed the meal and also that the waiter brought a quite fancy cart to the table with different steaks in it. The diners were invited to choose a small but very hot branding iron and burn their chosen symbol into the raw steak. Then your personalized steak would be returned to you cooked to order. Tres chic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a listing for this restaurant in Chicago. We tried to get into another famous steak house, but couldn’t get in.
Our Sweet Caroline turned us on to Brew Dogs, a really unique show on the Esquire channel (yes, I never heard of it). Two adorable Scottish rapscallion brewers travel in the USA to make different kinds of beers with the locals. One of their shows included a stop at Paddy Long’s in Chicago. Paddy Long’s specializes in beer and bacon, genius, right? The bar keep had only compliments for the Scotsmen who came a-visiting and served up some. Very nice local brews, including a nice stout that hit the spot. Barry, being a mans man, ordered their specialty, a bacon bomb! God knows lhow much beef was on that bun, and wrapped in bacon. I was quite wise in ordering a salad, HA! It had tons of bacon on it too. Hopefully, we will walk enough to reduce the risk of heart attack.
My lovely son-in-law recently purchased a vitamix, and is quite the juicer. I am going to ask him to duplicate a wonderful juice that I found here in Chicago. It contained apple, beets, ginger (lots), and lemon. Though it was pricey, it was fabulous!
Our overnight plane arrived this morning and we spent the day in Brussels. We were here about ten years ago, for just a day. At that time we stayed in charming Brugges during off season, and were delighted to be there. We had taken a train from much smaller Brugge to see the larger city of Brussels. At that time we toured in the central, historic area and very much enjoyed seeing it. Now, in Brussels some time later, and staying outside that heavily touristed area, our feelings are a little different.
The historic area was being visited by international travelers, of course, speaking many languages. We saw few Belgian people. CertInly the lovely historic buildings had lost no grand urge but, somehow the tee souvenirs were less charming and the endless rows of the little peeing boy, maniquin pis, less cute. There were some extremely lovely chocolatiers and patisseries though and we stopped at a nice restaurant for a local bier (beer) and a croque Monsieur (cheese and ham sandwich). Nearly all the signs in the city, as well as the airport were in English and everyone we have spoken with are politely tolerant of our attempts at French, but quickly and graciously switch to English for us. Our goal here is to keep moving as long as possible to get on to Brussels time and fight jet lag.
However, there is a grey cloud hanging over us, literally and figuratively. It is threatening to rain and we used a travel agent who did some of our bookings, she put us into a hotel that made the cab driver shutter. He went as far as to write down the name of other hotels in the area that were much better for about the same price. Hotel Van Belle is no “belle”, utilitarian would be an overly generous compliment. It IS clean we keep telling ourselves…but…so tired and so ugly and cheap. Most disconcerting is that the neighborhood is not well kept, it has fairly recently filled with immigrants. The cab driver said it was the Turkish and Algerian part of town and we had to promise him that we would not go into the streets after dark, that there were gangs and drug addicts. He said the Eastern Europeans stayed in this hotel, not Western Europeans or Americans. We decided to check it out and possibly go to another place. The staff was pleasant and we were tired and it wasn’t that far from nicer areas and we would taxi at I if we went out at night. It might have been the worst place we’ve ever stayed in, it not that much worse. We ended up buying some fruit and trail mix at a Turkish grocery, then slept on and off in a jet lag haze ’til morning.
We broke up our long flight to Europe by spending a few days in Chicago to see the city AND my formerly California girl cousin, Leslie. She has been in Chicago for several years now and should be on their Chamber of Commerce, her enthusiasm is infectious. We’ve had a wonderful day catching up, sharing memories of our grandmother, Gertie , walking, walking and eating.
I don’t know of anywhere else in the world that has more striking and varied architecture than Chicago. The Chicago Architecture Foundation has a wonderful boat tour down the Chicago River for an hour and half. I was just fascinated. The history of Chicago is written in the monumental buildings that fearlessly shoot up to the sky and make me gasp with delight. Somehow this city that was the crossroads of America, where monuments to capitalism were erected many decades ago has managed to rethink the waterfront and repurpose them into awesome living spaces, “warehouse to our house”. Further, they continually invite new architectural styles to play. The city will look different in just a few years as they complete the full river walk and add at least four major skyscrapers. It is fitting that we travel to ancient sights in Europe after touching lightly in this mighty, robust American city.
I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard.It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail. H. L. Mencken