“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
On Tuesday morning, we awoke to the sounds of the Cathedral bells ringing 7 o’clock in Rouen. After attempting, unsuccessfully to upload new photos to this website with poor WiFi, we went around the corner to a little boulangerie (bakery) for a fresh crossaint and a baguette for the road. The hotel rang for a taxi and we went to the train station to pick up our rental car for the remainder of our trip.
I have driven (drive) in New York City…in England (where you drive on the different side of the road AND different side of the car) so driving in France is pretty simple. We have a little Prius…so good on fuel, and soon we were on the road, headed further northwest to Honfleur (pronounced Ohn-Flu-er).
Besides being ridiculously photogenic, Honfluer is a great little gem of a town. Like many of the towns we’ve visited in France, in spite of the throngs of tourists and shops and cafes catering to the busloads of sight-seeing masses, these towns are the homes to locals. You see the postman delivering mail, and women getting their hair done…old ladies passing one another chatting in French. They seem to tolerate, if not even ignore those of us with cameras and guide books. That is what I love about Europe. The towns may look too picture perfect and post card like, but they are authentic.
We found (paid) parking quite easily and it was an easy walk only a few hundred yards to the historic center. I think my first reaction to seeing the little port of Honfleur, besides it’s obvious charm, was that you can’t put your finger on what it reminds you of. It’s a bit like Amsterdam, somewhat like Bruges in Belgium…and maybe a pinch of Portsmouth in England? But it’s none of those things and all of those things…it’s simply a little European port town. Steeped in history. It was from here 600 years ago that explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed to found the City of Quebec in Canada in 1608 as well as explore and describe the Great Lakes of America.
One of the highlights of Honfleur is the little wood church of Sainte-Catherine. This 15th century church is made entirely of wood, something very rare in France. The church, built by the local ship builders, is example of doing what you know how to do. You step into the “nave” and rather than looking up to see vaults, you see the hull of a ship.
Also unlike most church construction, the belfry is it’s own unique structure and it separate from the main church. Historian surmise that the builders feared fire and decided to make the two buildings apart from one another.
Honfleur is also known for artists…particularly impressionist artists. Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, and Claude Monet all spent time here painting this picturesque port town.
When we are out for a day of sightseeing, we usually choose one meal per day to be a long, sit down affair. There is simply to much to do and see, and we would prefer to maximize our time. This morning, we picked up the crossaint at the boulangerie, and for lunch, we decided that instead of wasting money on an overpriced meal at one of the many port side tourist traps, we would just grab something and have our own picnic by the water. We found a little sandwich shop where I got thon (tuna) on a baguette and Josette got ham and cheese. We also found a quaint bakery that had all of these little sugary buttery soaked dough things with different fillings…we had to give them a try. They are actually called kouignettes (kween-ettes) and they are definitely not something that this 45 year old with a low metabolism should be eating…they are so not good for you…but they are delicious! It’s a vacation, after all.
We walked back down to the port and found a nice spot on a wall by the ships and enjoyed a quick bite in the sun. This is my idea of a nice lunch.
Soon, we were back in our car headed a bit south to our next stop and what will be my next post, Bayeux! We will be there for several days which include a lot of interesting day trips. Until then……