Honfleur, thatched roofs and an aviation mystery…

As we soon found out, it was not a very long ride from the Manoir Apreval to Honfleur. The city of less than 9,000  has been a port since the early middle ages. Its harbor is so beautiful that it has attracted artists for several centuries. We were dropped off in the bus parking lot where we would meet up again several hours later. Our guide, Irene, gave us a brief tour of the harbor area and then  we were free to wander around at our leisure.

My view of the harbor, it was a lovely romantic spot.

The Ramblers could see why the harbor had been painted many times, the reflection of the tall medieval houses in the still water was framed by a host of sailboats in the marina. I took a number of photos but none of them really did it justice. The good thing about this is that many skilled photographers have photographed it and you will surely see one of these in any article about Normandy. We ducked out of the tour early because it was fun to just to wander aimlessly around the harbor looking in the shop windows and admiring the view.

I had wanted to buy one of those Breton blue and white striped sailor shirts but missed my chance the first time I saw them at a highway rest area. Honfleur seemed like a perfect place to get one but alas,  they seemed to sell shirts for only petite French women, although I saw many much larger folks wearing them. Not to mention  they were very expensive. The shops in the harbor area were mostly upscale and seemed to cater to  wealthy tourists. As it turned out, I wouldn’t get one until we got home when I ordered a very nice one, on line and  on sale, from a British company, Boden. So much for an authentic Breton shirt. LOL

Here, once upon a time, working class women used to gather to do their laundry. Now it is a pleasant spot for people watching.

In our search for the elusive shirt, we headed away from the harbor but learned most of the shops faced the harbor. Instead  we found a relic from the past. Honfleur had preserved a covered pool where women used to gather to wash their clothes in the days before washing machines and running water. The pool was now a nice mini-park so we sat down for a while and did some people-watching. There were many family groups in Honfleur that day, enjoying the beautiful weather at the end of summer.

Wide selection of fresh fish available at the market. Note the eels in the right bottom corner.

Truthfully the Ramblers were a little tired. We had already enjoyed a very busy day, so we headed back towards the parking lot to wait for our bus, and found some  of our fellow passengers already there. Guess we weren’t the only tired folks in the group. However, I couldn’t resist walking over to a large building close to the harbor which seemed to be a fish market. I was curious as to what kind of fish they caught and even how much they cost. The market had an amazing variety of seafood on ice in the market, many you rarely see in the US, including eels. I am sure eels are tasty, but somehow they have never appealed  to me.

One of the problems about a busy tourist spot like Honfleur is the large number of busses  arriving to pick up folks from river cruises and land tours. Many of them  are very similar and sometimes it is necessary to walk right up and look inside to see if you recognize the driver. The Ramblers had absolutely no desire to board the wrong bus and miss our own. Fortunately all the  Baroness passengers who had congregated at the edge of the parking lot were looking for the Uniworld busses which made spotting them much easier.

On board, our guide, Irene, told us that she had another point of interest for us to see on the way back. We did drive by the impressive modern Pont de Normandy which connects Honfleur with Le Havre, but we didn’t cross it.

The Pont de Normandy, which somehow looks out of place among these historic spots.

Instead we were headed inland for a while before we reached our quay at Caudebec. Irene explained that this area of Normandy was famous for houses built with grass or thatched roofs, many with plants growing on then. As we passed through the small towns of Berville sur Mer, Jobles and Conteville, Irene asked our driver to go very slowly and even pull over if he could, so we could see them.. Fortunately there was not much traffic on the narrow two-lane road, so he was able to do so

One of the prettiest of the cottages, it looked inviting.

As luck would have it, I was sitting on the side of the bus  closest to the buildings, which usually didn’t happen. The cottages and barns were indeed picturesque and seeing them was lagniappe forus on a pleasant day. I did look them up later and found that this area has few permanent residents. Indeed many of the buildings have been turned into gites     ( vacation rental homes) or bed and breakfasts. As you might expect, many  of them are listed on Trip Adviser.  if you are considering a vacation in the Normandy countryside, it is a pretty place.

Another thatched roof farmhouse in the distance, set in the rolling hills of Normandy.

Back on board the Baroness, we went to the top deck after our ship set sail. We didn’t want to miss  the airplane carved in the sandstone cliffs mentioned by our hotel manager, Celina Sousa. The Latham 47 Monument was not far from Caudebec and again, on the port side, so we spotted it from the boat and I took a photo. What we saw looked amazing but it was too far away to take in all its details. Neither did we learn anything else about its story, so we promptly forgot about it.

Here is my original photo much enlarged. Wish we could have seen it close up.

When I started blogging about this trip, I vaguely remembered the airplane as did the senior Rambler but we didn’t remember exactly where it was in Normandy. Also I didn’t remember my photo as it was taken from far away and the plane was barely visible.  Well, I thought, something so spectacular should be easy to find. Wrong! Even though I had some idea where it was, my search descriptors brought up nothing. But there is more than one way to locate a place. I had run across an excellent blog titled, Normandy Then and Now written by Pip and Ian. They thoughtfully provided a contact email so I sent them a query about the sculpture. The next day they replied that they hadn’t heard of it but they would send out a Tweet. Amazingly one of their followers sent the link to the Latham 47 Monument the next day. Bingo!

The Latham 47.02 before it took off from Norway on its last flight.

Caudebec is a small town, and it wasn’t much bigger in the 1920’s. Who knew it had been  the site of the Latham seaplane factory. The factory  no longer exists, but Societe Latham and Cie built seaplanes for their government there in the late twenties. The Latham twin-engine flying boats were a fairly large plane for the day, equipped with two engines mounted below the upper wing. It was flown by two pilots in an open cockpit  but had two more cockpits and room for additional crew.

Although these planes are long gone, one particular Latham 47 made the news when it disappeared on a mission to rescue  the Italian polar explorer Umberto Nobile. Nobile and his crew were stranded on the polar ice cap when their dirigible crashed. One of the crewmen jumped out with a two-way radio, so the would-be rescuers knew their position. However, getting to them was another story.

For more information about Nobile and the rescue mission, look here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umberto_Nobile

The stone plane seems to be fling out of the fog.

An attempt was made to rescue Nobile by 6 men, including Roald Amundsen credited with being the first to fly over the North Pole in the dirigible Norge. They chose the new Latham 47 because it was capable of landing on ice or water. However, after the flying boat left Norway, it was never seen again. A piece of  its pontoon was later found by searchers but the fate of Amundsen and the Latham remains one of the great aviation mysteries.  The daring but failed rescue mission was commemorated in a striking memorial sculpted by Robert De Landre in 1931, It is an amazing sight.

Alas we are leaving Normandy behind and heading back to Paris. Our next stop is Conflans Sainte Honorine.


From the Cliffs of Etretat to the Orchards of Normandy

After two nights docked in walking distance of the Rouen historic district, the Baroness now sailed as close to the Atlantic coast of Normandy as we would get on the Seine. Our ship sailed at night to Caudebec en Caux, a river port on the edge to the Seine estuary. The town itself boasts a beautiful flamboyant Gothic cathedral but we had no time to visit it. It also held other secrets which we wold discover much later. The Ramblers were ready to go shortly after breakfast. Those who took the tour would be gone all day and the Baroness’ crew would stow away the gang plank and head back towards Paris  as soon as our busses returned.

Needless to say, the river is wide here, and we saw more commercial traffic on the Seine than is usual further inland. You realize that this river still has a strong commercial purpose in Normandy. Caudebec must get quite a bit of river traffic because they have a large permanent dock which makes it very easy for even elderly passengers to disembark.

The dock at Caudebec, according to Emmanuelle, most of the town was destroyed during a fire in 1940 and rebuilt.

From Caudebec we would travel to not one, but three different places. For our enjoyment, Uniworld had combined an optional tour with our scheduled tours which made for a long but interesting day. I know some passengers complain about  long bus rides to get to a scheduled destination on river cruises. The Ramblers don’t mind the bus rides as they provide a glimpse of the countryside not visible from the river, the nearest thing to being able to drive the narrow country roads oneself. This day, we drove through many tiny villages with ancient churches, saw crumbling  chateaux and fortifications in the distance and learned something abou daily life in rural Normandy.

However prolonged busing that results from either too high or too low water in the river is another story and is not always so pleasant.

Our time on the bus would be relatively short today as nothing seems to be too far away in Normandy. Our first stop was the Cliffs of Etretat

You can see the pebbly beach, and the arch, with gold course on top of the cliff in the distance.

. One always hears about the white cliffs of Dover, but there are similar cliffs on the coast of France. The ones in Etretat are particularly spectacular and attract many tourists, while locals come to the pebbly beach to swim in the chilly waters. We learned that the cliffs and the beach had been attracting artists since the times of Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet. They boast three spectacular arches ; our guide told us that a reckless German pilot had flown his Messerschmidt through the largest one when the Germans occupied the area during WWII.

The cliffs of Etretat also have another connection with airplanes. It is where the white bird, (L’Oiseau Blanc) was last seen. This was the plane piloted by Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, French WWI air aces. They attempted a non-stop flight from Paris to New York City  two weeks before Charles Lindbergh took off from the other side. Unfortunately, the white bird disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic; their disappearance is considered one of the great unexplained mysteries of aviation. However, some researchers feel that Nungesser and Coli actually reached the coast of North America but haven’t proved it conclusively. This is but one of many theories regarding their disappearance.

Striking monument from the Etretat page.

A monument to commemorate their flight was built on top of the cliffs in the 1930’s  but destroyed by the orders of Hermann Goering during the German occupation of Normandy during WWII. Fortunately it was replaced by a new, taller monument in 1963 and a small museum which commemorates their lives was added. Why was this particular monument destroyed? Legend says that Nungesser tangled with Goering in the air during WWI, and challenged him to a duel. I can find no hard evidence of the but it would not be surprising if the swashbuckling Nungesser had issued such a challenge. Yet Goering did order the monument destroyed… Since all parties are long dead, it will likely remain a mystery but it is still a great story.

Main street of Etretat

Unfortunately we did not have time to visit either the monument, museum,  or the small church  of Notre Dame that guards the cliffs just visible through the arch of the monument. In more recent times, a golf course was built on the grassy expanse at the top of the cliffs.  It is always difficult to put together a tour that interests people from several countries and with varied travel experiences, but Uniworld does a good job hitting a balance.

Ancient hotel on main street, it had 7 1/2 stars on Trip Adviser. Hmm

We did walk along the main street of Etretat. a small town which seems to survive on tourism. The houses are a mixture of well-kept and shabby medieval buildings. Frankly the Inn we strolled past didn’t look too appealing and gave the impression it might fall down in a stiff breeze. They were holding a market while we were there, mostly with inexpensive and pretty awful looking clothing. Our friends kept suggesting the senior Rambler should buy some to replace his still missing clothing with many chuckles. Mixed in with the clothing stalls and beach apparel were a few local producers selling Normandy ham and the cheese for which it is famous. These did look appetizing.

A local vendor of ham and cheese setting out his wares among the clothing stalls.

Our next stop was the Manoir d  ‘Apreval, one of Normandy’s  family owned organic farms producing cider, pommeau de Normandie and Calvados (apple brandy. . This was our first visit to the Normandy countryside and fortunately it was a beautiful, sunny day,.  Apreval was a homey and welcoming  place where the Letellier family has farmed and produced cider for three generations.

Our busses turned into the gates of Apreval, with the manor house in the distance.

We first enjoyed a tour of the cider-making facility and the Calvados distillery. I have been to many wineries and distilleries in the US, so this part of the visit wasn’t particularly interesting to me. The process is very similar no matter the fruit or grain used. What did interest me was the kind of apples Apreval grew for their cider and brandy. They mentioned that they raised 17 varieties of apples, bitter, bitter-sweet, tart and sweet. I had never heard of bitter apples and wished I could have tasted one. Sadly they didn’t offer an apple tasting. Before writing this blog entry, I googled Apreval and found a list of the apple varieties,many of which can now be grown in the US for cider which has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years.

A selection of apples, cider, Pommeau and Calvados from the Apreval website. As you can see the French apple varieties are considerably smaller than most grown in the US>

The cider produced at Apreval contains a small amount of alcohol, three to four percent, depending on the variety, definitely not apple juice. A tasting of all their products including Pommeau  a mixture of 1/3 Calvados and 2/3 cider would be part of our lunch. In France, Pommeau is often served as an aperitif before a meal. This is a beverage I had never tasted and I am not sure that I would try it again. While the cider and Pommeau were pleasant tasting, I prefer water or wine with meals, the Calvados is another story. After dinner we tasted the 4 year old Calvados which is often drunk as a disgestif. The Apreval Calvados was excellent and even available at a few stores in the US but at quite a high price. It started at $68. They did have a store where we could have purchased Calvados and other products but glass bottles are always difficult to bring  on a plane alas.

After the distillery tour, we enjoyed a farmer style lunch in their dining room .  Emmanuelle told us that this would be a meal similar to what the staff of the manoir ate at home. It was a nice change from the many wonderful choices  available on the Baroness.  We enjoyed farm fresh green salad, cucumber salad and tomato salad along with roasted potatoes and a duck terrine along with a tasting of Norman cheeses. We started with a taste of the  Pommeau as an aperitif and drank their excellent cider with the meal. Four year old Calvados Reserve provided a satisfying finish to a simple and delicious lunch. During the lunch we had a chance to taste their local cheeses as well, along with good home made bread.

Normandy cows grazing among the apple trees

Normandy’s famous spectacle-wearing cows are famous for  proving milk for three cheeses, Camembert, Pont ‘Eveque and Livarot; relatively mild, medium and strong. The senior Rambler is not fond of  any French cheese having had a bad experience when we were in France years ago.  I enjoyed it all, particularly the strong and stinky Livarot.

After a pleasant, leisurely time at the farm, we headed for our busses. Although we had seen much already, there was still one more stop, the picturesque port of Honfleur. For the moment though, it felt good to relax on our bus for the relatively brief ride and so we did. Next stop Honfleur