Phew, we are exhausted. There is just so much we have done over the last week.
We based ourselves in the town of St Lo - a small town over near the Atlantic coast in Normandy, that was almost blown of the face of the earth during WW11. Needless to say St Lo is possibly one of the newest towns in France!!
Day one we hopped up the coast to one of my favourite towns in France, the beautiful fishing port of Honfleur. It is a tiny little harbour filled with yachts tied up to the seawall and surrounding the three sides of the seawall are of course the cafes, restaurants and tourist trap shops. It is an absolute delight of a place and so colourful, even when it rained. After wandering around the harbour we walked out to the mouth of the Seine, which is very wide at it's opening. On the opposite side of the river is Le Harve, the huge container terminal.
Day two we drove off in the opposite direction to another favourite - St Malo. We arrived early in the morning which enabled us to get a parking spot just near the city walls. Again this is a city that was almost blasted off the face of the earth in WW11, but was painstakingly restored to it's former glory. Again, lots of cobbled winding laneways, cafes, restaurants and shops, but it has so much character and personality. It faces the Atlantic Ocean and is subject to tremendous forces of nature, but all was calm when we were there so we actually managed to walk all the city ramparts. It was Bastille Day when we were there, but there was nothing happening, no-one in funny costumes or wearing the flag, nothing - so unlike Sydney. Maybe it all happens at night.
A trip to Normandy is not complete without visiting the Normandy landings, but before we got to the beaches we stopped off in Bayeaux to see the tapestry. Then on to the beaches. I think we visited them all and spent time at each one. The most interesting is Omaha which is where the US Cavalry arrived and sustained huge losses of life. The town of Arromanches-Les-Bains the small village behind Omaha Beach was another village almost destroyed by mortar fire. We drove the 80 Km of beaches, finishing at the American Cemetery above Omaha. It is a beautiful graveyard, but so very sad to see a sea of white crosses that extend for as far as the eye can see. There are something like 9500 graves there and seen like that you get a great feel for the futility of war.
Our final visit in Normandy was to the magnificent Le Mont St Michel. Since my last visit they have put in a new bridge that is above the tide level, which means you can visit any time now, unlike the old causeway they had which made for a quick exit when the tide turned. New car parks have been built away from the abbey and special buses run backwards and forwards every 10 minutes. Backwards and forwards is the correct description for the buses, like the Manly Ferry these buses can be driven from either end.
Who can not be impressed by Le Mont St Michel. I think everyone is familiar with what it looks like, so it needs no description. Arriving early in the morning and once inside the entrance we took off as fast as our little legs would go to get to the top to visit the abbey without the hordes and masses that arrive mid morning. It is a long, long, steep climb to the top, but well worth the effort. The views are glorious and the abbey defies description. How people built something so beautiful in such a precarious position one thousand years ago is incredible.
From St Lo we moved on to Chartres, firstly so we could visit the cathedral and also because of the proximity to Paris and Versailles.
The cathedral will one day be beautiful. At the moment is is almost all under wraps as over 1000 years of grime and pollution are being removed from its walls and beautiful blue windows. The parts that have been cleaned look magnificent, but unfortunately we were unable to see the cathedral in its full perspective.
Yesterday we headed in towards Versailles. We told the GPS where we wanted to go but it let us down, mega big time. Where it took us we have no idea, all I know was I was driving in Paris surrounded by mad french people who knew where they were going and who got very impatient when I spent too many seconds pondering where to go next.
Anyway we did get to Versailles eventually. The crowds were huge, we knew they would be, so we opted to do the gardens and then perhaps visit the palace in the afternoon. But the gardens were a disappointment, last time I was there it was a sea of colour, not so this time. We walked miles through the bottom gardens and saw a couple of brilliant water fountain displays to music, but decided that our legs were too sore so we gave the palace a miss, primed our collective psyches up for the drive out of Paris and headed back to the calm of Chartres.
Today we arrived in Lyon where we will be for the next three days. We hope to mainly veg out and collect our thoughts before heading back to Italy.
Starting off in Sydney we head over to the US for a few days in Los Angeles, then Las Vegas and finally over to the Big Apple. Then off again, down to Cuba for about 18 days for some old cars, cigars and Baccardi. After that we head north, this time to Toronto in Canada for a whistle stop before crossing the Atlantic to the UK. One of the highlights there will be a week down on the Isle of Wight. Jetting off again we will then spend approximately the next two months driving around Italy and France. After all that hard work we journey over to Greece where we will island hop using the local ferry systems, with 3 nights on Santorini, 3 nights of Mykonos and 3 nights on Paros. Yep, we love doing the tourist stuff! Finally we begin the long haul home stopping off on the way in Honkers for a little retail therapy.