The next morning we woke up and leisurely packed up the room to head to Normandy with my friend Amandine and her 18 month old son. She lives in Paris, but grew up near Caen and offered to host us for a couple days at her parents home. Before we left to meet her, Patrick went for a run along the Seine and stopped by Notre Dame to explore what he could of the reconstruction.
We lugged our baggage to the metro stop around the corner to catch the line 14 from Chatelet to Bercy. Chatelet is huge has a bunch of little satellite spots, luckily for us line 14 was just a short walk from where we went underground. It is a driver-less metro and is super deep underground which means a lot of escalators. Line 14 is fully handicap accessible- if you can find the elusive elevators. I never could even when I lived there- not from the metro stop underground, or from the street level. I only ever saw people whizzing by me in the clear elevator once I had gone up a few flights of stairs and was walking to find my exit. Once we got underground and spotted the escalators for the 14 we also saw an elevator so we waited. And we waited, and waited as the car made trips from the ground floor to the street level multiple times ignoring the call button we had pressed. Tant pis, we took the escalator.
When we arrived at Bercy we searched for the exit we needed to meet my friend. Using a map I figured out the number exit we needed, then tried to find that number on the sortie (exit) signs. Getting to the correct exit in the metro can be an adventure on its own. You can find your exit, 3, marked on a sign also listing exits 1, 2, and 4. You follow exit sign 1, 2, 3, 4 until there is a fork in the road and you see a sign for exits 1, 2, then a separate sign for exit 4, and nothing for your exit 3. Sometimes you get lucky following one of those signs and your exit 3 signs magically start to re-appear. But other times, like that day it never showed up. We took the second best exit and as we walked down the street found the top of what we think was exit 3. Then we had to find my friend. That took a while too, but once we finally spotted her she asked why we didn’t just take the elevator to exit.
Once we got in the car, we headed for the autoroute and began out journey northward. After two hours or so of driving we stopped at a restaurant called Les Tonneaux in Pont l’Eveque for lunch. Amandine has been there numerous times and recommended any option with the fondue cheese. We each got one and washed it down with a cidre. The restaurant also has a little market area where you can buy knick-knacks as well as terrines, cheeses, and the regions famous Calvados. After lunch we continued to the coast and drove along the smaller roads to visit main towns along the sea. Starting with Honfleur we chose to just do a car trip and not worry about parking and getting out and walking around, which would take FOREVER and us with no specific plan to see anything.
From Honfleur we continued on and got out at Deauville to walk on the boardwalk. After that stroll we headed to another beach town and in our attempt to get an afternoon gouté in a café, the skies opened up and we got drenched! Once we got seated we realized the little guy was totally over our adventure and it was time to pack it in and get him home to grandma and grandpa’s house. Amandine and Patrick dashed off for the car and let me wait for them at the café and then it was a straight shot home.
We were greeted by her wonderful parents and shown around the house. They had us in the room over the garage which had some precarious stairs, but I could make it work so no big deal. I always LOVE to see other people’s homes, but even more so when I am in another country. It is so neat to see different neighborhood layouts, architecture, and decoration. Even better is to have a meal with a family. I am obsessed with dishes, glassware, and flatware- always have been, and enjoy seeing what other people use to serve guests and of course taste delicious new foods. Dinner that evening was no exception. We had simple appetizers of some sort of sliced sausage, olives, and peanuts. Normally in the States you would just have a bowl of nuts and everyone would dive in, but we had a spoon in the nut bowl so we could each put some on our plates AND we got to wash things down with my favorite CHAMPAGNE. Once enough time had passed Madame brought out a plate of oysters. Not just a dozen oysters, which would have been enough for our group of 5, but a plate layered with oysters the freshest I have ever had. Monsieur explained that when Amandine and her brother were kids he would send then down the street to the stand where they would get fresh caught oyster about 2 or 3 times a week. Heaven. I downed the majority of the oysters, Patrick was very little help. Then came the main course, a delicious chicken dish with sides and a new wine to go with it, then came the cheese course, and then came the dessert. I knew to expect at least 3 courses, but was totally blown away by what we had. All homemade, no frozen Picard in that home!
That night laying in bed in the room over the garage I had to go to the bathroom. To go to the bathroom I had to climb down the stairs-literally because they were super steep and narrow and it was just way safer than me trying to take them on head first. Then I had to exit the garage door to get into the sunroom, open the sunroom door to the main house, and walk all the way to the front of the home. The first time was okayyyy, but the second and third got more interesting each time I made the trip. Normally I don’t have to use the bathroom so much in the night, but I drank way more than I ever drink on a normal night, and I think my nerves regarding the big trip to the toilet made for an anxious bladder. And with my nerves keyed up, my spasticity increased with it to the point my whole body was shaking at one point on the stairs. In the morning I asked my hosts if I could opt for sleeping on the couch the next night, and they graciously agreed.
Our breakfast was a typical French breakfast- that you would have with guests in your home. Amandine got us fresh baguettes, croissants, and pain chocolat, from the bakery which we enjoyed with coffee, juice, yogurt with fruit and muesli, and for me petite Suisse – like a super thick mix between a cheese and a yogurt that you eat with sugar on top. It was a dish that was served as a cheese/dessert at the Foyer that I was never a big fan of, but was craving before we left for our trip.
The grandparents offered to take care of their grandson for the day so we were free to explore Mont St. Michel and check out any war spots in Normandy. Amandine has been to Mont St. Michel a few times, but not since they changed the parking regulations. Back in the day you could park right up near the building, but as surrounding earth began to erode, and unsuspecting tourists found their route back blocked by tide waters the tourist bureau added in required parking and shuttles.
Amandine chose to drop me as close to the shuttles as she could and then park the car and find. Once she was with us we got first dibs on entry into the next available shuttle because of my obvious handicap. Unfortunately even with said handicap we were still dropped with the general public about 200 yards from the entrance of the building. We laughed at the logic of it as the bus drove past us all the way up to the building in order to turn around.
Access to Mont St. Michel is free, the only thing that will cost you access is the Chapel which is at the very top of the structure. The steps to the chapel are very narrow and steep.
We walked in and got swept into the crowd of people going up. When the space was wide enough people would pass me. There were a couple issues with people cutting us off and separating me from Patrick, but when spaces were narrow we did not have a problem because we were all only able to inch along at a snail’s pace. There was a couple who rode the bus with us who passed us down. The woman spotted us and said she was giving up, it was too hard. We kept chugging away. Eventually we hit a look out area where we could see the sea and out to the surrounding area. Amandine wanted to know if I was satisfied. I was not. We kept going.
I heard that Mont St. Michel could be a tough trek, but I was determined to get to the top of it. I am a pretty stubborn person so I kept my head down (literally, head down is pretty much my basic walking stance so I can see if there is anything tricky I will have to lift my feet over) and just kept plugging away. I did not think it was too bad of a hike. The stairs are in decent shape and between using my cane on one side and resting my hand on “the railing” (what do you call the stone that forms a wall on the side of steps that does not actually have a bar to hold on to, but that you can use for support? I am going with railing) I was able to get up without issue. I think going at a turtle’s pace and having so much aid with my arms was a big help. Eventually we made it as high as you can go without having to pay. The chapel is the highest point, costs 8€ to enter, and has a long wait line if you did not buy a ticket in advance. It also has some crazy thin, steep stairs that would have been super dangerous for me go walk. All reasons we chose NOT to go up.
We took time to enjoy the view and get crepes for lunch, then started the slow journey back down.
We all stopped at the bathrooms and my sneaky friend has me go up the handicap ramp and we got to cut the line. We still had to pay the .50€ to use it.
Like with getting to Mont St. Michel, we were able to cut the line onto the bus to the parking lot. Amandine decided she is taking me with her anytime she travels!
When we were on our way home, Amandine called her mom to give her a heads up so she could be ready for dinner. When we arrived there was soup on the stove so we assumed we were having a light meal after the never-ending courses we had the night before. We were wrong. The soup was only round one served with white wine. After that we had some sort of amazing chicken dish with more wine, after that we were offered cheese, which we politely passed on, and while we waited for dessert we had some brandy, then we had a an apple tart that Amandine’s dad coated in Calvados. It was delicious, although pretty boozy with the generous pour!
All the alcohol had me totally ready to pass out on their couch!
The next day was our LOOONG journey home. Amandine drove us to the train station to get back to Paris, once there we picked up our luggage at the hotel, lugged our things through metro Chatelet to the RER to the airport for more shenanigans with trying to get a wheelchair.
To be continued…