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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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.