Monday, September 15, 2014

France Road Trip: Day One

We packed them in.

When we packed for France, we each filled a carry-on suitcase but we also needed to pack for camping. Between Paris and Provence, we were going to save money by staying at camp sites. And while I was not keen on the notion of sleeping on the ground with a thin layer of nylon between me and the outdoors, I agreed. My wife assured me that the campsites in France were clean and comfortable, and right in the towns we were visiting.

She also argued that the money we saved on accommodation could go towards good food and wine. That reasoning won me over.

Our ride for the next 12 days
We booked our car with Aeroplan,  which seemed a good deal because we could use points, rather than dollars, to drive,  and the arrangement also allowed us to pick up the car in Paris and drop it off in Nice at no extra cost.

What we didn't learn until I actually picked up the car was that our rental agreement did not include insurance, the cost being essentially the same as a rental. We saved little to nothing.

With our luggage and camp gear—tent, sleeping bags, and mats, we had precious little room for the kids in the back,  which meant we couldn't be on the road for more than a couple of hours without taking a break to let the kids stretch.

I wouldn't want to sit in the back seat. Luckily for me, I was our driver.

We headed north from Paris, toward Normandy. We were hoping to stop in Giverny,  to see Monet's famed garden, but because it took so long to get our car, return to our apartment, pack the car, and get out of the city, we were a couple of hours behind schedule.

Our schedule for the day was to visit Giverny in the morning and be in Rouen in time for lunch. Our ultimate destination for the evening was Honfleur,  where we would camp. With our delay, we were lucky to make it to Rouen for a late lunch, so the garden was out.
We arrived in Rouen around two in the afternoon: too late for a lunch in a proper French restaurant, so we had something to eat in a cafeteria-style eatery called Flunch. It's a chain across France and offers a variety of food in a format similar to Richtree, but not nearly as good.
Three words: don't do it.
Once the kids were fed (number-one priority), we headed to see Normandy's capital city. Developed under the Romans and established as the seat of Norman dukes in the Middle Ages, Rouen is famous as the town where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. In the fifteenth century, two-thirds of the town fell victim to the plague: so many people died that in order to deal with the vast number of bodies, a cistern was filled with liquid lime and the dead were dumped into it. A cemetery and marker over the cistern still exist.
And in World War II, the city was heavily bombed: evidence of shrapnel scars many buildings to this day.

We toured the cathedral, visited the plague cemetery, and paid a visit to the site of Joan of Arc's burning, and then continued on to our final destination of the day, Honfleur.
This seaside town is the site of where Samuel de Champlain set sail for North America. It is picturesque beyond words, and the site of one of our best restaurant meals of the trip.
Not much could be said about our camp site, except that it was inexpensive (17 € for the night) and a very short walk to the harbour. But it had the worst facilities of any of the campsites we visited and our Russian neighbours kept us up all night with their partying.

Tomorrow, I'll share our day of remembering fallen soldiers and taking a stroll along history lane.

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