day 2 :
tuesday, 28 april
After a rather restless night of sleep at our gîte, we finally fell into a deep sleep a couple of hours before the alarm went off. As much as we wanted to snooze all day (and trust me, Eric loves to sleep), we tore ourselves out of bed, knowing it would be better all around to get going reasonably early. It helped us get over our jetlag faster, but more importantly it gave us extra time to see beautiful sights along our drive through Normandy.
We enjoyed a lovely breakfast in our room – two croissants each (not as good as the best Seattle croissants, but very respectable indeed for a tiny French town), a small loaf of bread, yogurt in glass jars (can someone tell us why these are so hard to find in the States?), butter, two types of jam, and black tea in an English teapot – then off we went. Like yesterday, the weather was cloudy, windy, and rainy – sometimes very rainy. But luck was with us, because the rain miraculously abated each time we stopped off to see the sights.
Dawn convinced our GPS to avoid the roads of standstill rush-hour traffic heading into Paris, and we made our way to the Normandy coast, arriving in the small town of Étretat around lunchtime. Our friends Kye and Eric had recommended stopping by this town famous for its cliffs and natural arches; we're glad they did, because we hadn't heard about it otherwise, and it would have been a shame to miss. With sack lunches of jamon-tomato-mayonnaise sandwiches, local jus de pomme, an éclair, and tarte framboise in hand (hey, this is France, there has to be a law requiring you to have a pastry with lunch), we ambled up along the precipitous paths and admired the stunning rock formations overlooking the sea. Occasional sunbreaks painted a warm glow on the cliffs and turned the deep blue water to aquamarine. Along the way, we got a peek at the laissez-faire approach Europeans take with their children: toddlers happily ran along the pathways, untethered with thousand-foot dropoffs into the English Channel all around. No one batted an eye, and although there were "Danger!" signs at the entrance, there wasn't a single American-style safety railing to be found.
The enchanting cliffs of Étretat had charmed us a bit too long, so we skipped our planned visit to Honfleur and high-tailed it to the World War II American Cemetery and Memorial, hours away. The heavy rain hammering our car didn't slow Eric down on the autoroute, but the speed zones were another story. As we discovered today, France kindly labels their radar-enforced speed zones with big signs along the roadside. Since we weren't familiar with how the system worked, Eric simply slowed down to within 10km/hr of the posted speed limit and kept his eye out for gendarmeries. Driving through the first zone, Eric suddenly noticed a flash of light off to the right. What was that? As his brain started processing the information, it dawned on him: there are no people manning these zones; they use fully automated radar and cameras. Hm, 10km/hr apparently isn't close enough to threshold, and Eric realized that it would also explain why all of the cars around us were going noticeably slower than us. Oops. But hey, it was a rental car; we won't ever see that speeding ticket, right?
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. We looked at each other and both knew that there simply wasn't enough time for a proper visit. But, there we were, so we took a short walk to see the expansive, dare we say serene?, English Channel beach. Turning around, it was quite sobering to see the acres and acres of white crosses in every direction. As we walked back through the memorial, we noticed a crowd of people around an enormous, detailed map on the wall. We didn't have time to study it closely, so we snapped a picture to review later. We're still getting used to the capabilities of our camera, so we were shocked to see every last map detail and bit of text clearly in this photo of the D-Day invasion plan. As a result, we've probably studied this in much more depth than we ever would have if we simply stood there and looked at it.
Our destination this long day was Dinan, a walled medieval city in Brittany. We had visited Dinan once before, on our college student let's-travel-with-backpacks-by-train-on-the-cheap-through-France-and-Italy trip in 1997 – our first big trip together! (And long enough ago that all of those pictures were taken on film, if you can believe it.) After finally finding a parking spot where we were pretty sure we wouldn't get towed, we checked into our cute little bed-and-breakfast, La Villa Coté Cour.
Tonight's dinner was particularly exciting because we got to see Eric's college-buddy Laurent and also meet his family. We had crashed at Laurent's Rennes apartment back in ‘97, so here we were a dozen years later, getting to meet his wife, their adorable four-week-old baby girl, and his parents. We spent a wonderful evening catching up at popular restaurant called Crêperie Ahna. There was little doubt as to why it was so popular, given that we had the best crêpes we've ever eaten for dinner tonight. (To be precise, a crêpe is made from wheat flour, whereas a galette is made from buckwheat flour.) The exterior of each galette was uniformly browned, crisp and lacey on the edges, and the fillings inside were amazing. Dawn had the Forestière, filled with mushroom, lardon fumée (smoked bacon cubes) and cream. Eric had the house crêpe, La Galette Ahna, which is served with "escargot butter" (essentially, parsley and garlic without the escargot), and thinly sliced meat on top. For dessert, Dawn polished off La Toffee, which had salted butter caramel and vanilla ice cream, while Eric devoured the Chocolat Crêpe Flambée with Grand Marnier – set on fire tableside like all good flambées should be.
We strolled down the wet cobblestone streets, with a sliver of a moon peeking out from behind the parting clouds, hinting at clearer skies ahead. After the rest of his family headed home, Laurent joined us for a nightcap, we finished our reminiscing, and then it was bedtime for all. We slept soundly tonight, and we're quite sure it was from our crêpe-filled dreams.