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Home Travel StoriesNormandy, France 2011 - By Ren Withnell

Normandy, France 2011 - A Good Walk Around Honfleur

The "Click-Clack" bed is very comfortable.  We sleep well but as is my way I'm up and awake at 0630.  I try to mill about quietly but in the small area of the studio I wake the gf.  I think she can pick up on my boredom even when she's asleep, either that or I'm subconsciously being a bit noisy to disturb her.   Breakfast comprises of cornflakes and toast, made from "Brioche" bread.  That brioche is gorgeous!  Sweet, it's more like Victoria sponge cake than boring old British bread.  The sun is up but the wind is still blowing, not hard but enough to make the gf pull faces.  The weather report on the netbook suggests the morning will be dry but there's a risk of rain later, perhaps.  The gf makes brioche and ham sandwiches and I put a jacket in my rucksack.  Initially the gf doesn't pack a jacket but I suggest it may just be a good idea.

the narrow tree lined road at the start of our walk into honfleur
Our walk starts down this narrow road before the valley comes into view

The walk into town is 1.5 miles, to the edge of town.  Along the road it's obvious we're in quite a wealthy area.  The road looks over a valley full of large houses of all shapes, styles and sizes.  Each has its own garden, some have the odd sheep wandering around, some have noisy barking dogs and some have electric gates defending new houses that are quite out of place amongst the older French houses.  Some are clean and well maintained with sharp lawns, yet most have that French look, worn and unkempt with gardens full of all kinds of blooms growing out of control as nature intended.  Don't get me wrong, the place is not scruffy or unsightly, it's quite beautiful.  It's just different to the smart and strictly controlled gardens and houses of the Cotswolds or the Home Counties.  Here the houses appear more rustic and lived in, the gardens grow freely and the atmosphere feels more laid back.

A modern house looking out of place in the valley we walk along into honfleur
A very modern house, looking out of place in the valley that leads down to Honfleur

As we get closer to town the houses become smaller and closer together, as you'd expect in any town.  There's still a mix of the old and new.  As we approach the centre there are no more new houses, just tall large French terraces.  Unlike a UK terrace each house seems to have it's own character, style, faded colour and design.  Its like each house was built individually and by a different builder yet it still forms a long row of residences.  Tall thin windows, each with their own shutters, open into all kinds of rooms.  None of these rooms are sharp and modern, they look lived in.  It reminds me of the sort of rooms that old people lived in when I was a kid, tidy and presentable but everything's faded and worn and dated.  It's either that or a student's house full of borrowed furniture.  

Individual and unique houses all together in one terrace
Notice each house is quite different.  All kinds of shapes, sizes and styles for one single row of this terrace.

The first view of the town centre is the Church.  I'm sure it's quite impressive but regrettably on our visit the tower and front part of the church are covered in scaffolding.   A look around the back indicates it’s a very old church and the sharp corners of the stones have become rounded and worn, probably leading to the work that's being done as we walk by.  The church has no graveyard, it's directly surrounded by small individual shops and more of the individually unique terraces.  These are back street shops where sleepy small business owners stand behind counters whiling the time away, serving the odd customer.  One shop has a couple of Suzuki GS500's outside, covered in an array of crash bars and handle bar protectors.  I figure this is likely to be a motorcycle hire shop, but the door is firmly shut with little sign of life inside.

two suzuki gs 500s with crash protection bars on the engine, handlebars and exhaust pipes
Look carefully, crash bars on the handlebars and headlamps, engine casings and even the exhaust silencer.

The next street is the main street, where we purchased our supplies from yesterday.  In some ways it's quite like any main street back home, yet in others it's quite different.  There's a large imposing bank and a car park, a few trees and planted areas and a couple of shops that could be the French equivalent of a Spar or Co-op.  These are all familiar, but there are also a lot of small business type shops.  I'm struggling to describe them, it reminds me of how I remember the shops used to be back in the UK before the Tescos and Asdas and Sainsburys killed all those local shops run by families.  It's as though corporate capitalism has not stripped the character and individuality from this place just yet.  

We walk the short distance to a part of the harbour where a rectangular marina is surrounded by cafes and restaurants.  Just because the town has no visible corporate presence does not mean the local businesses are not trying their hardest to maximise their profit margins.  Each café or restaurant has an inside area as you'd expect then a covered area stretching from the front of the building and then as many tables and chairs as they can squeeze onto the path outside.  At this time of day its still pretty empty, just a handful of people sit and sip coffee from tiny cups and nibble on pastries.  We take a moment to look at the prices, curious as to where we could eat this evening.  Anyone who knows me will know I'm tight,  I like to think of my self as prudent, careful and sensible.  The gf is not rich but she's not averse to living a little, so I know I'm in trouble when even she gasps at the prices!  The "Plat du Jour", plate of the day, also known as what they've got in cheap that day, is 13 euros in most places.  That's about £12 for just one course, no wine or drinks, no starters or deserts, just the "Plat du Jour".  Mussels and chips, a waste of good chips if you ask me, could cost as much as 35 euros.  Looking at these prices I thank the gf for ensuring we have our own cooking facilities.  

a row of cafes and restaurants by the marina in honfleur
The cafes and restaurants by the marina, all very nice and very costly.  Notice how each building is still unique.

The rest of the town has a pleasant, if slightly touristy feeling.  It's obvious from the number of boulangeries, patisseries, ice cream shops and cafes that the town is geared to cater for the visitor.  There's an arty feeling too with a handful of galleries and a man in a white coat painting by the side of the marina.  He's practically a cliché, wearing a panama hat and white coat, holding a piece of tissue in one hand and a brush in another, I expect him to look up at any moment then hold his thumb in front of him whilst he assesses some artistic perspective.  Judging by the mess on the canvas he's either an abstract artist or he's been paid by the council to make the place look authentic.

The man painting by the marina
Is he for real or is he just what my imagination would expect to see in such a scene?

By now my feet are getting tired.   We decide to walk up to the large supermarket out of town, I'd spotted it when I got desperately lost yesterday and I've also found the road there from Honfleur and I now know the way back to the studio too.  I know it's quite a walk but it will mean we can spend the rest of the day chilling.  So far the weather has been windy, but sunny and dry but as we walk out of the town I start to get that feeling there will be rain soon.  The road is a long straight hill that climbs for 2 miles. The road is lined by trees and as we leave the town the footpath becomes broken then turns into gravel and grass.  As this footpath changes the weather changes too, the rain starts.  Light at first but soon it is coming down hard and wet.  I get the jackets out of the rucksack and we put them on.  

With the changing of the weather comes a change in my mood, and the gf's too.  My feet really hurt, her leg is giving her some grief, we're both wet and bedraggled and it no longer feels like a fun holiday.  The road climbs on and on, relentlessly forever uphill, the rain comes down and our jackets become sodden, then we become sodden too.  There's nothing interesting to look at, just the odd plain houses set back from the gravel edges of the road.  We don't talk much.  I know the gf hates getting wet, hates the wind and will probably be hating this.  After what seems like forever we reach the top of the road and a corner.  It's a great relief to see we've only another 300 yards to walk up to the supermarket.

Even French supermarkets are different.  This one reminds me of supermarkets back home...30 years ago.  It's quite large but not enormous, it sells a wide range of food, but not electrical goods, toys, clothing or stationary and the shelves are closer together.  They do however have strange modern plastic baskets, with wheels on!  Imagine a granny's shopping trolley but in plastic with tiny wheels and bright primary colours.  I feel a little camp walking round with this thing trundling behind me, I desperately look to see if I can find any other men doing this or is it purely for the ladies?  Maybe real French men carry theirs with the handle.  

We fill the rucksack with more brioche bread, some microwave rice and a few other items.  By now every step feels like agony.  I'm wet too, it's not too cold but it's clammy and uncomfortable.  We start to trudge back to the studio.  We do still talk but the mood is subdued, we're both very tired and we've both had enough  The narrow back road is steep and wet.  Almost at the bottom of the steep road across the valley is a large steel manhole cover.  I'm trudging behind the gf as I spot the manhole and I instinctively move to avoid it.  Years of motorcycling has taught me how slippery these things are when they are wet.  The gf doesn't but she is always more sure footed than I am.  WHOOP!  The gf slips quite badly and almost goes on her arse, her other foot goes too, she must be going down this time.  Arms flail, legs buckle yet somehow she manages to come to a halt, upright, still on the manhole cover.  For a brief moment she stands there to ensure she's in control, then starts laughing out of control.

the steep narrow road between the supermarket and the studio gite
The steep wet road between the Supermarket at Equemauville and the Gite.

She's a sick puppy my Mrs.  She can't abide stand up comedians or any "prescribed" humour, but she kills herself with laughter at any unrehearsed comedy moment.  Things like slips, trips, falls and stumbles just crack her up.  She assures me it's only funny if no-ones badly hurt, but if I ever remove a finger whilst fixing the bike I expect she'll be in tears of laughter whilst calling the ambulance.  She just stands there, laughing.  Eventually she gingerly steps off the manhole cover and laughs some more.  If she laughs any more she'll wet herself, but we're so wet by now I don't think anyone would notice.  This lifts the mood a lot.  That and the fact it's not that far to go now, maybe another half mile.

Back at the studio I remove my boots as fast as I can.  I then remove all the wet gear and dry myself down.  The gf does the same whilst still giggling and talking about the slip.  We shower, make some kind of evening meal out of our supplies and talk.  Outside the rain comes and goes along with the wind.  I said before we'd come back to the studio and chill for the evening.  That was my plan, but I can't just chill.  There's still a whole lot of evening left by the time I've eaten, showered, uploaded pictures, sent emails, straightened my gear out, looked at the maps, decided what to do tomorrow and even looked the bike over....again.   I play chess, badly, against my mobile phone and the gf seems happy with a book and her thoughts.  I hate my thoughts.  They bore me, then scare me, then annoy me then bore me again.  The sound of my brain working without direction is the worse sound ever.  I'm bored.   I can’t go to bed too early otherwise I'll be awake at 0400.  The gf comes up with a good solution, you know, nudge nudge wink wink.  That's a good way to end an up and down day, if you know what I mean.

Normandy, France 2011 - Prologue
Normandy, France 2011 - The Ride South
Normandy, France 2011 - The Ferry, French Roads and Honfleur
Normandy, France 2011 - A Good Walk Around Honfleur Ren and Sharon spend the day in and around Honfleur. It's a pretty and characterful town. The day has it's downs, and ups.
Normandy, France 2011 - A Bit of D-Day and Normandy Coast The Normandy beaches and the busy roads of France are on the menu today. There's a little time to relax too.
Normandy, France 2011 - Another Good Walk Around Honfleur
Normandy, France 2011 - The Beauty Of Beuvron-En-Auge
Normandy, France 2011 - Back To The Ferry and England
Normandy, France 2011 - The Trip North and More Images

Reader's Comments

pat said :-
I've not long been back from Honfleur, so read this with interest but am a bit mystified about your comments re the artist on the quay. His work looked good to me, but I'm just an artist and ex gallery owner so what would I know?! I went with a group of other artists and we all set up our easels and produced work of varying quality but most of sell regularly.
There were plenty of other artists (regulars)on the quay but none of them looked as good as your man in the white coat, it's a favourite subject for artists so it would be a rare day when there are no artists around. In fact we were a coach load of artists, all painting away, every day.
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Pat
I'm just a luddite when it comes to art. I couldn't tell a masterpiece from a painted wall. I just hope you enjoyed your visit...and made the effort to speak a little of the local lingo
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC

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