Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lovely Coastal Towns of Normandy

Cabourg was unexpectedly lovely. It is a small resort town on the coast near the D-Day beaches. We set up camp here to tour the beaches but as France closes in January, the Canadian D-Day centre at Juno beach didn’t open until the following week when we would be gone. This was less funny at the time. At any rate, we had some time to wander and wound up spending quite a fabulous couple of days exploring the town of Cabourg and the town of Dives-Sur Mer just a footbridge away.

At the end of our street was a little locked door for which we had the key. It led to the “beach” so we were told. This turned out to be a tributary of ocean water with a grassy bank on the side along which one could walk for about ten minutes to reach the ocean front. Cabourg beach was quite spectacular, all the more so because we had the whole beach to ourselves. Many lovely hotels and apartment blocks lined the waterfront and all were shuttered up tight. The beach carried on for several kilometers and so did the hotels. Towards the middle there was a huge casino. It is the first one we’ve seen on our trip and while not completely foreign to us, it certainly created a different feel for the place. It was open.

The next surprise was the architecture in the town. Obviously, anyone with money came to Cabourg and built their seaside nest. The places were spectacular and we took many, many pictures of various homes. We just couldn’t get enough of the interesting roof lines. A roof isn’t simply a covering over your head here. It is an invitation to create more living space. There were windows, gables, observatories, towers, and even what looked like additional rooms built out from the slope. It made our boxy Canadian homes seem so dull and we now have a bold new plan for our attic space.

Another lovely town was Honfleur. This is where Samuel de Champlain set sail for Canada back in the 17th century. He discovered the Saint Lawrence river and founded the little village of Quebec. The people who sailed with him probably came from around the Normandy area as well. His bust is here in Honfleur and we saw a sailboat flying the Quebec flag. The town is extraordinarily picturesque with a manmade square harbour around which rise many colourful tall, skinny buildings. Many of these places would have been around when Samuel de Champlain walked the streets. It has a strong Scandanavian influence beginning with its name. It means Hon’s place or shelter after the first man who settled in the area. Many of the shops were galleries, evidence of the pull this place has had on painters over the centuries. Monet stayed here at one time and many impressionists painted the harbour which looked strangely familiar to me when we arrived.

The church at Honfleur was another enjoyable surprise. You’d think after all the churches they’d become monotonous but this one was fun. It was built of wood rather than stone. It wasn’t laid out the usual way and looked suspiciously like the hull of an upside down boat. Our boy Rick, said this was because the people who built it were really good shipbuilders but hadn’t a clue about cathedral architecture. Because it is made of wood, several trees didn't grow to the same height and as you can see in the picture they had to adjust for this. You can also see the ceiling in the back of the photo. When they finished, they realized it wasn’t big enough so built another one alongside it. Then they had to expand again and added a side section to the left and right of the main area. The result is a very different looking church but we all agreed we liked it more. It had a very warm feel inside because of all the wood and seemed somehow more community oriented and less grandiose. The bell tower had to be built next to the church as a separate building because the weight of the bell would be too heavy for the wood beams of the church to support. It made for a couple of very unusual looking structures.

Speaking of unusual structures, Rhys already regaled you with the tale of the Bayeux tapestry but I couldn’t resist including this one last picture from that day. This ship is cutting edge technology for 1066. This is the kind of boat William and his boys used to sail across the English channel to win back the crown stolen by Harold. Not only were the soldiers and all their armour and weapons in the boats but also their horses! And they WON.

We had many great days touring small towns. These cute little places made up for the hours we had to spend at McDonalds using their free Wifi to connect with the outside world.


maryanncart said... is cocktail hour, but HORSES in the boats? Were these shetland ponies, the runts of the litter? Did the men wear armour? Are historians known as pinocchios? Like our news men? I am VERY VERY glad that all of you are NOT in Egypt...UGLY...Love Mom