With the news full of the French Air Traffic Controllers’ strike, we were really glad to be boarding the Eurotunnel for an efficient, bang on time crossing.
Should you, as I did, think that Notre Dame is the Cathedral in Paris you would be wrong like me. Notre Dame means our lady, a French title for the blessed Virgin Mary and there are a number of Notre Dame cathedrals in France. Not a lot of people know that, he says, adopting his best Michael Caine impression. A resplendent version of these architectural giants, sits in Amiens, our first stop in France on the way to our camping stay. This one is the largest Gothic cathedrals in France (it could house two of the one in Paris) and began construction in 1220 to house the skull of St John the Baptist. We saw the skull embedded in the wall and framed with gold and jewels. Amiens is criss crossed with canals & in the picturesque quarter of Saint-Leu (the little Venice of the North) there were colourful houses, cafes, and restaurants to stroll around. We also saw some interesting fixtures, such as the Dewailly clock at the Place Gambetta. Sadly the weather was against us today and soaked to the skin, we decided to head off to Honfleur.
From this direction Honfleur (twinned with Sandwich in Kent) is reached via the imposing Pont de Normandie, who’s 2,000 plus metres cross the River Seine. At the time of opening in 1995 it was the largest cable-stayed bridge in the world & its still quite an impressive sight as you cross it. The Ibis Honfleur, Cours Jean de Vienne (our accommodation for the next two nights) is at the budget end of the scale but provided us with clean, comfortable accommodation, a great shower and we found the staff very welcoming. It’s just outside the town, about a 15 min gentle stroll into the centre. Honfleur is said to be a favourite with painters and we saw quite a few around town using different methods to capture this most picturesque of places. A fair bit of the artistic activity takes place around the Vieux Bassin (old dock), once the departure point for explorers to sail to the new world. Armed with some free maps and literature from the tourist office next to the library, we settled down at a cafe beside the basin to take in the view and plan our tour. The harbour side reminded us of the Nyhaven (new harbour) at Copenhagen, both lined with similar tall coloured terraced buildings and an abundance of cafes and restaurants. There is also a carousel close by and our silvertraveladvisor bag wouldn’t let us leave until it had had a ride on its favourite horse. The town was a delight to wander around with its fascinating churches, like Eglise Ste-Catherine which has stood in the square for 500 years, cobbled streets and timbered buildings. It truly was a feast for our eyes and Claude Monet agreed with us, he painted a number of pictures here including his Rue de Bavole in 1864. We visited the stage for the painting and it hasn’t changed a great deal, apart from a couple of annoyingly parked cars that completely ruined my photograph. There are a few hills to manage but you can take the petite train touristique, which trundles round all the main sightseeing points. It also passes another Notre Dame (Chapelle Notre-Dame de Grace), right at the top of quite a hill with, apparently, amazing views. Boat trips are also available from Avant Port.
For something different for lunch we went to La Cidrerie, 26 Place Hamelin, to sample the Galettes. These are sort of savoury pancakes that you can have filled with ham, cheese etc. we selected a set menu which included cider from the barrel, a Galette and a sweet pancake. Of course I didn’t want the cider but as it came with the meal it would have been rude to refuse it (and my nose is growing progressively longer as I write this). All in all an absolutely delicious and unusual lunchtime treat.
Oh and to make up a bit for yesterday’s drenching, the sun shone for most of the day. We hoped it was here to stay as we headed off for our camp site the following day.