Slept in, got up and washed out some clothes, showered, and ate croissants and fruit and yogurt in the dining room downstairs. French yogurt is whole milk and, in Honfleur, was served in a glass jar. So smooth and creamy that it doesn’t even need sweetening.
After breakfast, much of the group was taking a walking tour of Honfleur (but I hadn’t been ready in time) so I walked down to the old port to see the town and to purchase a warm hat for the crossing of the bay of Mont St Michel. The port is located on the southern bank of the Seine estuary across from Le Havre (which is the second busiest port in France behind Marseilles). The port is old and beautifully picturesque, and the area has been a favorite of artists from Claude Monet to Gustave Courbet.
Walking along the cobble-stoned streets of Honfleur, you notice that most store windows display either foodstuffs from the Normandy region or art. Here is a typical store window displaying fish products of the region.
Back at the hotel, directly across the square is the Sainte-Catherine church, which has a bell tower separate from the principal building, and is the largest church made out of wood in France.
The first nave (main area) of the Sainte-Catherine church “is the oldest part of the building, dating to the second half of the 15th century, constructed right after the Hundred Years War. It was built on the model of a market hall, using naval construction techniques, which gives the impression of an upside-down ship’s hull. Then the bell tower was built a good distance away, so that parishioners would not be burnt in case of a fire. In the 16th century, a second nave was added, whose vault was like the wooden vaults of modest Gothic churches. This second part was rather rounder, and did not look like a ship’s hull” (Wikipedia). The builders of the local naval yards created this building without using any saws, only axes, using techniques handed down from their Norman and Viking ancestors.
I especially enjoyed the many banners hanging inside, many richly embroidered and appliques. The lighting was very low and the banner hung high so it was difficult to get photos.
At late morning we all gathered and climbed into the vans to drive to Le Havre for lunch and walking along the cliffs along the mouth of the Seine. We traveled to Le Havre, on the other side of the Seine, crossing on the Normandy Bridge, the second longest cable-stay bridge in the world.
While Honfleur was largely unaffected by the two world wars, Le Havre was not so lucky. The city lost about 6,000 people, mostly soldiers, although the city was spared massive destruction as the front was much further north. During the Second World War however, the city was occupied from the spring of 1940. “Le Havre suffered 132 bombings by the ‘Allies’ during the war. The Nazis also destroyed the port infrastructure and sank ships before leaving the city. The greatest destruction occurred on 5 and 6 September 1944 when the British Royal Air Force bombed the city center and the port. The results of the bombing campaign were appalling: 5,000 deaths, 75,000 to 80,000 injured, 150 hectares of land razed, 12,500 buildings destroyed.The port was also devastated and some 350 wrecks lie at the bottom of the sea. Le Havre was ‘liberated’ by Allied troops on 12 September 1944″ (Wikipedia).
in 1945, the decision was made to rebuild the city of Le Havre under the direction of the architect Auguste Perret. Perret was considered a “concrete poet” and an innovator. He supposedly pulled off the feat of taking classic tradition and combining it with modernity to reinvent the city center with architecture that is clear, airy, harmonious, and resolutely innovative. The project has been described as an outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture.The material used for the building construction was concrete and the general plan was an orthogonal frame. Officially, the reconstruction was completed in the mid-1960s. The site was declared a World Heritage Site in 2005. One of our guides compared the architecture to Soviet-era apartment blocks, although supposedly the interior of the buildings were much better than the exteriors. You can decide on the exteriors yourself.
The weather had turned a bit so instead of the picnic lunch planned in the trip guide, we were taken to the Musée d’art moderne André Malraux or MuMa, containing one of the nation’s most extensive collections of impressionist paintings. As we parked across the street we gathered around a small sign by the side of the parking lot displaying a copy of Monet’s painting, Impression, Soleil Levant, This painting is attributed to giving rise to the name of the Impressionist movement. The sign is supposedly located where it was painted. Le Havre has changed so much as to make this seem impossible.
Lunch was in the restaurant within the MuMa. Unfortunately we did not get to go into the museum itself. Lunch was a choice of several salads and Croque Monsier. I opted for the classic Salad Nicoise and apple cider. Yummmmm!
After lunch we trundled off to hike the Etertat cliffs above the English Channel. The geology of this area is interesting. At one point in the distant past, the area was under the ocean. A thick layer of microscopic sea animal shells was deposited interspersed with sediments. These layers now make up the chalks and flints of the cliffs in the area. Erosion has caused the arches and needles that Monet later painted (like the painting below).
We were walking on top of these cliff looking down on these beaches. It was incredibly windy and rather wet. Before we reached the end of the cliffs about half the group decided not to continue and returned to Honfleur. The rest of us climbed to the end of the cliffs. As we gazed around we noticed a quaint little fishing village just beyond the end of the path. Instead of retracing our path, we asked whether Arnaud, our guide, would allow us to climb down to the village for drinks while he got the van. In moments he agreed and off we went. He told us later that the path back had gotten quite muddy and slippery so we had made a wise decision. We found a outdoor bar with umbrellas and settled down to several bottles of cider. Wonderful afternoon!
Dinner that night was on our own. It was pouring so I ate a three-course dinner in our hotel. I couldn’t possibly describe but it was excellent.