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Trip Report Normandy Trip Report Day #1 of my Month Stay

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After 10 days of traveling, I've finally arrived in Rouen, my home for the next month in Normandy region of France. Why Rouen? Well, it was the absolutely most affordable spot I could find to take French language lessons in France. I was looking for a program I could do between 4-6 weeks (and choose the length) and that arranged affordable acommodation along with the lessons (affordable meaning far less than even a cheap hotel, since it's a longer timeframe. I'm single and on a budget!). Alliance-Francaise in Rouen fit the bill. They have other locations but the Rouen programs set you up with a studio apartment for very cheaply (about $600 USD a month...) or with a homestay with a French family for slightly more (about $800 USD) that includes breakfasts and dinners. More on why I opted for the studio later... Also, I had a fabulous time in London, Oxford and the English countryside, and Prague for the 9 days before I arrived in France, but will do a separate report on that.

First things first. Why did I take a train to Paris from London vs flying? I originally had planned my trip to Europe this summer to include a month in Prague, not a month in France so I'd already purchased a non-refundable RT ticket from California to London (not cheap this summer!) where I planned to stop and spend a few days on the way to Prague. After a change in my plans ( I need to learn French in order to better facilitate the small group trips to France I will be leading this next year and am finalizing during this trip to France) I shortened my Prague trip to 3 days and booked a round trip train voyage from London to Rouen (which requires stopping in Paris to change trains and train stations). While not the most cost-effective way to get to France, it was my only option being that I already had a set-in-stone ticket to London and the flights were really quite similarly priced to the trains (I booked almost 90 days in advance) and I felt the train would save me a little time as it would nullify the need to be 2 hours early to the airport, remove costly airport transportation and so on. Then, add in that taking trains in Europe is actually quite enjoyable and I'd get to see some of the countryside... and bring my own food and drinks, walk around more easily, etc and really this was no less convenient than flying in my case.
The trip was a total of 4 hours to Paris, 1 1/2 hours connection time between my arrival at Paris Nord station and getting on an RER train to Paris St Lazare station. This 1 1/2 hours was taken up between getting off train, taking about 10 min to get to RER line train, then waiting for next train, then getting off at Paris Lazare station and walking the mazes of hallways and levels of the station from the local train station where I arrived, and the international station to which you must walk to take the SNCF longer voyage trains (vs Paris metro), plus I had a few mishaps due to language barriers and a misprinted ticket (oops accidentally printed my return Rouen to Paris ticket instead of my Paris-Rouen ticket and didn't realize until I was on the train to Paris..) but just in the nick of time, I had a freshly printed (correct) ticket (for which i had to go to information center and wait in long queue while panicking that I'd miss my train, to find out I could just use my confirmation code and enter it into one of the machines in the information center and print a new ticket- lesson learned for future!) and i hopped on the train to Rouen. After a short 1 hour journey (so in total from London St Pancras to Rouen this journey took about 6.5 hours) I was in Rouen, where my first stop after exiting the train station was the nearest hotel to get directions to my studio (no one at my language program works weekends so I had been given the address, and instructions as to how to enter my building and get my keys from a lockbox, etc).
I got a small map of Rouen, and started off on the 15 minute walk to my studio, dragging my brand new suitcase behind me (the new suitcase I bought that is somewhere between the size of a long weekend bag, and a moving to Europe bag as everything I had at home was too small for a 6 week trip or too big to drag behind me through as many metro stations, train stations, airports, and cobblestone streets as I was going to have to traverse on this journey). About 3/4 of the way to my studio, a wheel broke off my suitcase and I had to drag it the rest of the way. Not fun, but I'd determined I'd walk there and I did. I arrived, entered the code into the door of the building, found it completely deserted, and began to attempt to find the lockbox where my keys were hidden, using the French instructions I"d been sent. Through process of elimination (and opening all doors in the building that were able to be opened) I found the lockbox in the laundry room and entered the 2nd code I'd been given. Voila! I had an envelope with my name on it, and the keys to my apartment, as well as the wifi code, etc (well there was more info but it was in a more advanced level of french than I currently possess/remember so will leave it until I've finished my first couple of weeks of immersion).

After dumping my suitcase gratefully in my studio (perfectly clean, small, modern studio equipped with mini-fridge, small toaster oven, a couple of electric burners, a bathroom, and a counterspace which doubles as kitchen table and desk, I set off to find a supermarket or somewhere I could buy food, and hopefully also to see a few sights on the way (had no idea where in Rouen everything touristy was located, but I figured I'd happen upon something). I wandered around some streets, happened upon the Musee de Flaubert (definitely going to check this out!) a couple of pretty quiet Places (squares) and then, attracted by a weird looking geometric shaped roof off in the distance, I set off to find out what it was I was seeing. I ended up in the main historic center of Rouen where Joan of Arc was burnt, and where the Les Halles of Rouen are (I call all indoor markets in France 'Les Halles' now after spending a few weeks in Avignon where their indoor market is called Les Halles and was told by my French friend, this is what they are all called so If I'm incorrect please pardon) which was what was underneath the weird roof I had seen from a distance. Behind Les Halles, and farther into the historic picturesque streests of Rouen, was the Cathedral. At least one of them. As I walked and walked I realized there were either multiple cathedrals or the one is absolutely enormous and it takes up a lot of the town. It seemed to branch off and have pieces everywhere, creating many squares where restaurants are cloistered with outdoor seating in view of it. I meandered through the streets trying to get an idea of what was available food-wise and whether I was in the right area to find a supermarket or whether I shoudl wait and get out of the touristy center and go to where locals more likely shop. After realizing I was exhausted, hot (temperature right now is about low 80's/hgih 70's Fahrenheit) and hungry and getting irritable, I settled on sitting at one of the overpriced cafes (Cafe de Rouen) and having a salad lardons (egg, lardon, frisee salad), a bottle of water, and a coffee and chatting up my French primary school teacher neighbor who was seated beside me grading his school papers, smoking, and drinking coffee.
The food was nothing special, nor was the coffee, but I got some valuable information from my teacher friend, Christophe, about seaside towns to visit for half days while I'm here (spots within 30-45 min from Rouen, near the sea, with nice restaurants, etc). I plan to hit a few with my friend, who is arriving in Rouen the day after tomorrow to spend a week with me, and who has rented a car for the entire week so we can explore Normandy at our leisure.

Over all, so far what I've noticed about Rouen (in comparison with Provence where I have a good friend and have spent some time, and which is where I'll be taking my groups for my wine-history-French food tours.) is that it's priced highly in comparison with other places in France (besides the nice neighborhoods in Paris), it is very touristy (everyone apparently hops over from Paris on the weekends so you have international as well as lots of local tourists), and it is much bigger than I had imagined (as far as the city itself). It is also very charming in the historic center and Im' looking forward to taking a run through the center again in the morning before everyone is up and figuring out just how big this cathedral is, and how many restaurants face it (on any side).

Tomorrow is Monday, and I start my French language lessosn at 9am. This week, I have a goal of finding a good tailor (for some clothes I need altered), a gym I can buy a month's pass to, a big supermarket outside the touristy center, and a couple of good clothing shops where I can buy some items I need (dark colored clothing/wraps, etc) and I waited to get until I arrived in France. These might sound like boring things, but when spending a month somewhere I like to find these things when I arrive, so I can get my to-do list done and start just enjoying the area.

Other than school, and getting to know my way around Rouen, I will be entertaining a guest who's arriving on Tuesday, and our goal is to drive to a different place every afernoon/evening when I'm out of school. Somewhere close to Rouen, near the sea, where we can have a nice dinner, a walk on the beach, and see some sights.
Then this upcoming weekend we are planning a bit of road trip, with the final destination being Mont St Michelle. We may or may not get to Honfleur and Bayeaux (there's a medieval festival there this weekend so it's appealing.. but not in the direction of Mont St Michel) but we are definitely going to Mont St Michelle and are planning to hit it early in the morning as apparently it is PEAK tourist season and can get crazy there. Other than that, we are looking forward to driving around and stopping wherever takes our fancy. Hoping to run across some Calvados producers or cider producers we can stop in at... or some nice little picturesque towns to eat in, and have coffees on sunny porches..

Will post more, later this week. I have been recommended to visit Veules les Roses and Etretat (seaside spots within 30-45 min of Rouen) so will likely try these out for beach walks and dinner spots this week and will definitely also be visiting the historic beaches of Normandy one day as well.

a bientot!

Brooke

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    I am enjoying your report and will be following along as you update us.

    I went to the medieval festival in Bayeux and enjoyed it. I believe it is always the first weekend of July. the streets were covered with sand and straw. Crafters dressed in sort of medieval outfits, food cooking as it would have been in those days, street performers, etc. Many of the street performers were on stilts covered with leaves.

    There was a similar one in Pont Audemer (near Honfleur) the following weekend.

    Just a note about cathedrals. Being large does not make a church a cathedral. Cathedrals are seats of a bishop. I did enjoy sitting on the steps across from the cathedral in Rouen as I ate a sandwich bought from a street vendor and watched the light change on the cathedral front. No wonder Monet was fascinated with this view!

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    irishface thanks for the info on Bayeaux festival! I am still torn as to whether we will make efforts to make it to this festival, or just drive along and make a random road trip out of our trip to Mont St Michel for the weekend. Bayeaux is somewhat out of the way and there is a pilgrimage I want to do later in the month I'll have ot rent a car for again. I love to jump in the car and have a couple can't miss destinations and then some 'let's try ot make it but if we don't it's not the end of the world locations, if we find something amazing along the way :))

    the Rouen cathedral is massive, it literally runs the expanse of the entire center of the town I'm sure you noticed when you were here! other than that, I Have to say that I'm a bit disappointed with Rouen as a city, outside the little cutesy center (and I believe that I will get tired of the overpriced touristy restaurants with a whole month here...:))

    I've been used to traveling to Paris, or through vineyard areas and lovely little towns like Sancerre, Beaune, etc as well as Avignon (not small, but the old center within the walls is where I spent all my time and where my friends live) so the rest of Rouen just sort of looks... well unimpressive and a bit dumpy. But maybe I haven't seen enough of it yet to make a real opinion :)

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    Ok So I'm on Day 3 in Rouen, and I am still of the same opinion I had my first 2 days and that is, that there is not much to Rouen, as far as from a tourist perspective (someone wanting to see picturesque towns and beautiful historic buildings and be in beautiful places with great food, etc) other than the cathedral and the main square which is really cute but very touristy.

    The prices and the restaurants are higher than other places I've been, and not as good but then I've been lucky and have been to some of the nices areas in France so I think I'm just spoiled. Even the indoor market here is smaller and has less to offer than the ones I've been to in Provence and Paris, etc. Oh well Im' here to learn French so, c'est la vie! I've walked from area to area and even across the bridges to the pretty sketchy areas of Rouen where everything is dirty, dingy, and not cute in any way and am quite read to now spend as much of my time as possible, elsewhere in Normandy.

    Lucky for me, I will be busy in my French classes each day from 9am to 1 or 3pm (differing schedules every day based on how many activities I choose to do on which days) and this week I have a friend arriving who has rented a car for us to use to drive around to lots of picturesque coastal places each day when I get out of school.

    With it being light outside til basically 10pm we have plenty of time in the afternoons/evenings to explore some spots in Normandy and we are also now definitely going to be heading to Etretat and Honfleur this weekend. Mont st Michel is now on the back burner for me, until I find out whether hte language school I'm studying with, is doing an excursion there one day or not as if they do, I'm inclinded to join the tour as it would give me an opportunity to merge with my classmates and see something that was on my must see list anyways.

    While woefully lacking in my French abilities currently, I am still using my tiny bit of French when going out for lunch, coffees, etc to order and to say thank you, please, hello, goodbye and it's earnign me some brownie points with the locals who at first try to find someoen to speak Englis to me, and then allow me to stumble my way through in French, once I insist. They then seem very happy with my efforts to cope in their language so I've found my reception in Normandy to be quite warm. That said, fewer people here speak English than in other areas I've been to in France and those that 'speak English' speak a much more limited amount.

    So it was a great choice of a place to study a language for a couple of reasons. I'll give some info on the program I chose, here (Alliance-Francaise) for those to whom it might be of interest:

    1) The price I'm paying to stay in a studio for one month during this program is cheap. About $600 American dollars. I would have paid double in Paris. The language lessons themselves are also set up very flexibly and allow for choosing a # of hours per week that you want to study and thereby allowing you to study more or less (and sightsee more).

    The prices are extremely reasonable when you look at a 2 week or 4 week total of only $200/week when you choose a 25 hours per week program (this is 15 hours of classes and 5 hours of 'activities' per week which are things like coming to a class for one hour where you watch a video and then discuss in French what happened in that video, or you read the news in French, or you take an exercise class in French, see a museum with a French speaking only guide, etc). A program like this doesn't exist in Provence (which is where I wanted to be) or elsewhere that I've seen (at these prices)

    2) People will allow you to practice French here in Rouen, rather than simply switch to English because they don't want to listen to your awful French (like happens in Paris and other bigger areas)

    Back to touristy/sightseeing stuff. I did stumble across a very beautiful church when roaming through what appears to be the 'ghetto' area of Rouen today. I had almost given up on finding anything of worth (was hoping to stumble on a big supermarket with lots of affordable items as the touristy center has small markets and some pumped up pricing and I needed some set-up house stuff and am on a budget)but then about 10 minutes across the bridge, into the dodgy area of Rouen I came across this stunning church. I've tried to look it up but it's not listed anywhere. The only churches or cathedrals listed for Rouen are the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saint Maclou, and Saint Ouen which are all viewable when meandering through the center of Rouen and are mostly in nice areas (seems the areas are nice because they are near the attractions...) from what I can find online. So I'm going to find the name out from a local this week at school, using my photos :)

    It goes to show you ( and by you I mean me) that even in a place where you think there's nothing else to see, beauty can pop up out of nowhere and smack you in the face.

    Can't wait to have more to tell about Normandy.... when I have the freedom of driving around it. One more day....

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    Thanks for reporting on your experience in Rouen. It sounds like you have found a good program with the Alliance Française and good accommodations at a reasonable cost. Since your main goal is to acquire proficiency in French, you are in a good place.

    As for the attractions of Rouen, I share your opinion about the city. It's nothing like the Loire, Provence or Burgundy. It is, though, worth settling into like any other city and looking for whatever experiences it offers. You have already discovered that people are more willing to engage with you and encourage your growing capability with French. Perhaps you will make a great deal more progress with the language there than you might have in other places.

    Hope you will enjoy your explorations of Normandy both north and south of the Seine. Since you have an interest in wine, you might also be interested in the liqueur that has been produced for many years at the Benedictine monastery in Fécamp, just north of Etretat on the coast.

    You mentioned hoping to see some Calvados or cider producers. We saw many while driving around some rural areas. At one, we encountered the matriarch of the property who told us the history of the farm that had been in her family for centuries. We bought some Pommeau and cider.

    Have you read Madame Bovary?

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    Hi Maine GG-

    great suggestions thank you! We are driving from Rouen to Etretat tomorrow, and then driving to Honfleur for dinnerand to stay the night. We are then going to drive to Southern Brittany (at least we think we are... we are delving into maps and drive times as I type...:)

    I am definitely interested in any local products like the liquer you mention. We likely won't be able to go farther North than Etretat on this weekend, but we will definitely keep an eye out for the calvados producers and cidre producers and stop whenever possible! I Love the little regional differences in food, drinks, etc one finds in France and Italy.

    We have been reading up on Brittany actually and both of us have agreed we want to go delve into some of the Celtic history, the festivals, the rock formations (Carnac...) and the salty seaside village type spots. We've only got Saturday and Sunday so we are currently figuring out whether Vennes will work for us as a base to explore the parts of Brittany that we want to explore.

    On the subject of learning to love Rouen more... I found an absolutely fantastic restaurant (I'm sure it's not news to anyone on here I may have even seen it here in past recommended) called Le Petit Auberge. Sometimes it's just one fantastic meal at a fantastic price at a place with a great wine list that wins me over (I love a good wine list!)

    We at there a couple of nights ago and I could not believe how little we paid for such an amazing meal of many courses. I had moules Provencale for my 1st course, confit de canard with pommes for 2nd, then there was a cheese or salad course (your choice) and a dessert. All excellent (I'm a picky gal after 13 years of ebing in the wine industry!) and the wine list had plenty of options from a good amount of regions (something nice about Normandy since they don't really make their own wines they offer more than one region's wine on their menus!)

    We had a fantastic Menetou-Salon and Touraine Sauvignon Blanc with our meals (it was a hot night and we were eating a lot of seafood and didn't feel like red wine: Loire is where I always lean towards for best quality and affordable high acid whites in France).

    We loved our experience so much we are making reservations again for my friend's last night in town. I'll be checking out other restaurant and adding details here though.

    So, now we are in the process of planning our weekend to Brittany, from Honfleur. Will post here once we've plotted our course. It looks like we'll be doing a lot of driving but our plan is, get on the road early, and go to the farthest point we want to visit, and then work backwards. Right now we are looking at driving from Honfleur to Quimper on Saturday morning, doing Carnac and then staying the night in Vannes. Sunday we will relax and poke around nearby Southern Brittay towns and then work our way back towards Rouen that night (likely stopping in Rennes for night)

    I'm particularly looking forward to some good seafood, ciders and Breton crepes made with farin de sarrasin! (buckwheat, since I'm a celiac and these are the only crepes I can eat :))

    My friend is looking forward to the ancient Celtic culture stuff and the fishing villages

    Tonight though, we have the whole night in Rouen and will be trying out another recommended restaurant (will report on after), hopefully searching out some Petanque (he hasn't played before) and seeing the light show at the Cathedral (at 11pm during summer apparently)


    More soon!

    Brooke

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    Last spring we found a new local product, Le caramel de pommes dieppois, which comes in several flavors and was only available in that part of France. I highly recommend it! Brought two jars home for gifts but I ate them both with a spoon. We found them in the supermarkets and some specialty shops but there wasn't a wide distribution at least at that time.

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    Ok So, on with my report of our trip to Honfleur and Etretat, which turned into a trip to Mont St Michel, St. Malo, and Cancale as well.

    We debated quite a bit over the drive to Southern Brittany (where we really wanted to go) but we had so little time together we opted for the slightly closer (2.5 hours vs 4.5 hours) Mont St Michel area (we were driving from Honfleur and would have to return from South Brittany to Rouen to drop me off and my traveling partner to leave for Paris for his flight home).

    First, we hit Etretat, It was less than a 2 hour drive from Rouen, and we packed a picnic of cheese, olives, bread (I picked up my freshly baked loaf of GF bread at the bio bakery on the way out of town), charcuterie, veggies, and fruit to eat on the cliffs.

    We parked up above the town and walked down to the beach entry way and climbed the stairs first up to the one side of the cliffs where a great view of the beach and 1st arched rock can be seen. Then back down, to climb the stairs up to the rest of the cliffs. The scenery was impressive the white cliffs, the huge arches (can provide link to instagram images for anyone who wants the or you can visit my travel facebook page which I've posted a few on https://www.facebook.com/adifferentkindoftravel )

    We hiked around for a couple of hours, poked around the cute little town and had a coffee, and then got on the road to Honfleur where we were sure we were going to want time to explore and relax before dinner.

    It was only about a 45 min drive from Etretat to Honfleur (this was Friday during peak tourism season) and then about 10 minutes to drive the 4 crowded blocks through the tiny center streets to our awesomely located airbnb apartment on Rue Les Hommes du Bois.

    After getting our key and apartment instructions from our airbnb hostess, we both collapsed into a 1 hour midday nap (our sleep the night before in Rouen had been fitful due to heat, bad pillows and sheets, and early morning construction noise- 6am start right outside my window. Luckily our airbnb had great sheets and pillows (a first for me in a home in France-of course we found out later that the owner had brought everything from the UK for the bedding...heheheh)

    Then we pulled ourselves together and went out into the village.

    We absolutely loved Honfleur, with it's quaint streets, myriad of shops, great restaurant and seaside atmosphere. stic... etc) We wandered the streets, bought some calvados and ciders for my partner to take home for gifts (great town for good little high quality shops and boutiques), checked out the cathedral and chose a restaurant for dinner (La Tortue). After freshening up we went to our table for dinner. The slow pace of the restaurant made sense considering how high quality the food was. The best meal we'd had yet in France as far as the quality of the food. We realized we were suddenly in the presence of a real chef, not just someone cooking good quality food, well. The extra little touches, the delicate yet packed with flavor reduction sauces, the perfectly smoked salmon (that did not taste smokey in any way yet was perfect consistency and meshed with all it's accoutrement) the savory amuse bouche and refreshing calvados glace palate refresher in between courses were all the sign of someone truly creating food vs just cooking it (I'm game for either style-depending on my mood, but at this time in our trip it was definitely welcome for us to see smaller portions, with flavor and texture matches made in heaven.

    I had a glass of champagne which was well priced and nice and crisp and dry (vs the cheaper glasses of champagne often found when you see 'coupe de champagne' on a menu because they are serving whatever the house champagne is and the quality can vary from ok to great)and Eric had a chilly shaken calvados cocktail which was utterly delicious.

    I couldn't make it to dessert I was so tired so Eric stayed and took one for the team, by finishing his 4th cheese plate in 4 days (he had a love-hate relationship with cheese by the end of the trip, just like I normally do...:))

    The next day, we hit the lovely cafe near our apartment early in the morning after a patisserie run (the coffee shop we wanted to go to didn't serve food but said yes I was welcome to grab something and bring back, when I asked) to pick up every pretty pastry we could get our hands on, for Eric to try (he had never eaten a pastry in France and is in general a no bread or simple carb kinda guy) and for me to watch him try (since I'm a celiac these pleasures are not for me...) as well as a couple gorgeous macaroons for me to have alonside my espresso.

    I can't remember the name of the patisserie, but Eric got pastries from 2 spots on the same road so we could compare and contrast and gave the 2nd one a standing ovation above the 1st one. We found both by going down to the end of Rue de l'Homme de Bois from our apartment, and taking a right on the first street we came to. We then passed two patisseries stopping in both. The 2nd one (less fancy than the 1st) was the best.

    During our sugar and caffeine feast, we were caught by a massive thunderstorm with lightning so close I'd never seen something like it before and thunder so loud it was like a gun or cannon shot right next to us. Eric, knowing a lot about storms was visibly shocked and then got pretty excited about how close the lightning was and the change in pressure in the air that we had felt leading up to the most massive thunder explosions. I of course, screamed and dropped my macaroon with the first explosion of epic proportions and the woman making coffees behind the counter grabbed her chest and gasped as well so I didn't feel too badly about have had the pee scared out of me.

    After the storm lessened, we hit the Saturday morning outdoor market. It may be the best one I've been to in France (I've been to Provence markets and love them!)with the combination of insanely good and fresh seafood, Normandy cheeses galore, Cider and Pommeau and Calvados stations, fruits and veggies, charcuterie, marinated stuff, breads, and even a Vietnamese booth with rice paper wrapped spring rolls and bbq'd pork! I was in heaven. I grabbed some Vietnamese spring rolls for later in the day (a super rare find in France-at least ones that are large in size, inexpensive and done the way I like them and eat them back in SF) and we filled up a bag with more picnic stuff (a bottle of dry cider, 3 different normandy cheeses, marinated olives, a baguette for Eric, and some marinated artichokes).

    During our morning in Honfleur we had decided to give up Basse-Bretagne (Southern Brittany) and go to Mont St Michel and stay in a Chateau we had been recommended to by a Norwegian friend in my French class in Rouen. We wanted to cut a few hours of driving time out of our day, and we loved the sound of staying a Chateau out in the middle of the country, with horse stables, gardens, etc. We had called late the night before and gotten the last room (the most expensive also but even at most expensive it was only $140!).

    The drive took about 2.5 hours to our Chateau (Chateau Ramatiere in a tiny town called Plomb) where we commenced picnicking on a table in the shade in the gardens, after checking in and unloading our luggage.

    After a few hour nap (still making up for the bad night's sleep in Rouen) we decided to wait to do Mont St Michel til the next day and instead opted for driving to dinner in Cancele (fishing village near St Malo- a little past it). We had dinner at less than great restaurant (Chez Victor) nothing impressive there, after being disappointed by stopping in at a Chateau a few mile outside of town recommended by Fodor's, hoping to get a table, but they were fully booked. We peeked into the dining room and it was lovely. Big open doors out onto a veranda with water view (and view of MOnt St Michel) and lovely high end restaurant. The whole place made us wish we had known we were coming, so we could have eaten or stayed there. (Forgetting name of this place, but it's in Fodors guide to Normandy/Brittany under the details about Cancale.

    After a quick walk by the water (by now it was 10pm) and past the lovely church here to take a photo, we took the 1 hour drive back to our Chateau, eager to get back to our lovely apartment (we had a little living room, small kitchen (which we didn't need or ask for but was part of the apartment) a great bathroom (with multiple shower heads of the kind that give a great shower...:)) and a big bedroom with a pretty comfy bed.

    We decided to drink calvados and look at the stars from the porch of our B&B/Chateau. The calvados we were drinking was so smooth (neither of us are hard liquor drinkers as far as drinking it straight) we finished a half a bottle before we realized what we were doing (this stuff is 80 proof watch out). The producer of the bottle we drank (10 year age bottle) was Lefranc .

    The next day we tackled Mont St Michel. But decided to do in a different sort of way...

    More soon

    Brooke

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    Just realized I made a lot of typos in this post, and Fodors won't let me edit it. I meant Cancale not Cancele (the fishing village with the chateau outside we tried to stop in)

    amongst other embarassing errors. I'm back in Rouen and again not getting any sleep thanks to 6 am construction every morning, and No AC or fans (and no blinds). Hope to be changing apartments this weekend!

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    On to Mont St Michel!

    We arrived (drove from our lovely chateau, name of Chateau Ramatiere run by a Norwegian/German woman Christine/Kristin) later than desired, at 11am. We had meant to arrive for the first tour of the mornign and then get the heck out of dodge due to the legendary crowds EVERYone told us about. Yet, we had had a whirlwind tour of Normandy ( I was trying to show my new paramour, Eric) as much as possible in his one week in France) and we ended up enjoying our peaceful mecca at Chateau Ramatiere so much we had played cards and drunk calvados (while peeping at the golden moon from our birds' eye window view) until 2am and after a nice breakfast with other travelers (I brought my own GF bread and the owner made us some eggs, and there was jam, nutella, cheese, ham, honey, milk, coffee, tea out for all to take) we found we could not arrive as early as hoped.

    So! We got to Mont St Michel and parked, and took the shuttle in (this is part of process) which takes about 10 minutes. I, hating crowds, was quickly overwrought by the crowds and Eric seeing this told me he was going to pop into a hotel to ask directions to the key tourist attractions quickly. But instead, he emerged with a hotel reservation for the night at Les Terrasses Poulard (not the best not the worst) so that we could leave and come back in the evening and enjoy the 'Mound' at our leisure. I have never been so happy about anything.
    We left to go have a lovely lunch of Brittany crepes (which I'm obssessed with as they are made of buckwheat and I can eat them with my allergies), Normandy cidre (this time a nice dry sparkling version) and a green salad and to walk by the water in St. Malo.
    We returned to Mont St Michel just before 6pm and just in time to gain access into the Abbey at the Top of the island, the thing we most wanted to get into. (they close doors at 6 to get in, and kick everyone out at 7pm). We wandered the Abbey for an hour, enjoying the picturesque gardens, arches, vast halls and cool chambers (natural AC). Then, we went to freshen up in our hotel room (pretty basic but we got it for $120 without reservations on a tiny walled island village-we thought it was a steal!), enjoy the view from our windows, ate a quick dinner at an average restaurant (only a few things open for dinner on the island) and commenced to exploring the island to our heart's desire. Wit bottle of Muscadet in tote, we poked into every nook and cranny, enjoyed views from every vantage point on the ramparts, toasted under medieval arches, and on stairways leading to the monastery...

    In short, the island was our playground for the night, and there is no better way I could imagine seeing this gorgeous attraction.

    With it being light to close til midnight in June, we found ourselves wandering until 2am admiring the beauty of each and every part of this charming town.

    Afterwards, I googled the wikipedia stats for Mont St Michel due to a debate Eric and I had, and it turns out there are supposedly 44 actual inhabitants on Mont St Michel. Can you imagine? How far back does this grandfathering go woudl you wager?

    All in all- while a completely touristed site, and one I almost gave up on due to my hatred of crowds, this was one of the most magical experiences I've had in France. HIGHLY recommend seeing it this way, if you can. If not, the next best thing is to grab a room at Chateau Ramatiere (in the middle of nowhere yet 30 min from the Mont) and then getting to Mont St Michel at 7 or 8 to explore, then end your visit with the 1st tour at 10am... and get out after that before the 10,000 ppl come...)

    ....

    Brooke

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    Enjoying your report....will return to read more! I'm glad you were able to enjoy MSM so much. We stayed at a lovely B&B (La Jacotierre) with a great view off MSM. We visited late in the afternoon as the crowds were leaving and planned to return in the evening but it was so cold and rainy we just stayed in and enjoyed the view. I'm sorry we didn't get to experience it at night like we did in Carcassonne, which we loved.

    I'm glad to hear you are able to practice your French. Last year my son went to Spain to practice his Spanish (he's fluent but only gets to use it at home with people who speak TexMex) but everyone insisted on speaking English to him. So he spoke Spanish and the locals responded in English! I guess they wanted to practice, too!

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    drchris-well it's not as easy as I thought I'll admit! When I was just trying a few words out it was fine but now I'm trying to get ot the next level it's not working out as well. I keep staying with the same few phrases because people don't seem to understand when I try to go further. Also I"m staying alone and so don't have any French people to speak with on a social level. I'm going to try to get my French friends in Provence to speak to me 100% in French next weekend when I'm in Avignon (we'll see what happens since they both know fluent English!)

    As for this weekend I'm laying low and just exploring Rouen since I can't afford anymore adventures (I'm not on vacation, I'm here for a purpose and only ended up traveling around so much because the guy I'm seeing wanted to treat me and he only had 1 week here!). I'm in the process of planning to move to Europe for a year to work on a small business Im' starting. I"m at the end of my funds and if I move somewhere like Prague, I can afford some more time (6-9 monhs) to make my business successful. However, I'm also considering Franc since my businss includes bringing people to France and I"d like to continue learning the language It's just expensive here. So I'm looking into job opps in Avignon when I go to visit my friend to see whats 'possible...

    Will post anything relevant that I find out, here.

    As for upcoming travel, I'll be celebrating Bastille Day with a school group in Paris including concerts and parades, and will be in Avignon for 4 days during their Summer Festival so should have some more to report on here soon!

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    hi Brooke,

    just found your TR [in real time, brill!] and am enjoying it very much, especially as I have also been to the odd language school [though in my case in Italy and only for periods of a week at a time, unfortunately]. Also DH has the idea that we should both spend some time together at a french language school so I'll be very interested to read what you think of the school, its methods and whether you are achieving your aim.

    BTW, could I put in a plea for shorter paragraphs - for some reason it makes the text easier to read for older eyes and I don't want to miss anything!

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    Loving your stream of consciousness. I've found Rouen a bit meh but I also find that asking the locals about local restaurants normally sieves the wheat from the chaff.

    You need to invest some real time into conversation to move the language along. Mrs Bilbo uses a skype based swop time system but you are "in-place" so go talk to people. http://www.fluentin3months.com/ gives all the basics. Go find someone who wants to improve their English and take them out for some hours to a bar, walking on the beach, anything. The course all sounds a bit laid back. But you need to be working 18 hours a day in French to get the benefits.

    Hugs :-)

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    good ideas there from bilbo. on a less ambitious level, I take every opportunity to speak and engage locals in conversation. Some will, others won't, but you've nothing to lose.

    bilbo, thanks for the link to that website. you have prompted me to sign up for Spanish in the hope that I can get it up and running by the time we go to Cuba in Jan. I know that they are likely to speak a very different sort of Spanish but some is likely to be better than none.

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    You might find someone on a site like this one who would meet with you for conversation in exchange for your help with their English.

    http://www.mylanguageexchange.com/city/Rouen__France.asp

    In Paris and some other cities there's a program called Franglish that offers get-togethers in groups for language exchange. Perhaps there's something like that in Rouen that your school might know about.

    http://www.franglish.eu/

    It does take a lot of time and practice to develop conversational skills, but they will improve. Bon courage!

    It sounds like you had a lovely look around Normandy.

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    Hi bilbo-

    haha easier said than done! I have French friends but they don't live here and when I'm with them they revert to ENglish because they are fluent and I'm such a beginner at French

    it's not as easy as one would think to engage strangers in conversation that go beyond the basics i already know... :)

    but the skype program sounds awesome. I'll definitely need to try something along those lines when I get home

    annhig- you are right my 'paragraphs' are more like books. Has always been a weakness of mine! :)

    I'll be traveling solo all day tomorrow via train from Rouen to Paris changing trains in Paris, then train from Paris to Avignon, then taking shuttle from Avignon TGV station to main station where I'll wait for my friend. SO, I should have a lot of opportunities to practice my travel/train/directions French...!

    Hi MaineGG- thanks for the link! I did find a Meetup group in Rouen when I arrived that was supposedly for French learners but ended up being mostly English spoken

    I will check out your links and research what I can join up with. Ironically I'll probably be practicing more at home than here because groups will be full of eager people trying to learn vs people relaxing back into native language after frustrating days of attempting French (perhaps.. I won't make presumptions for everyone...:))

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    New Post as I want to break up my TR from my responses to people's comments

    TOMORROW (JULY 17TH) I head to Avignon to stay with my winemaker friend for 4 days. I have dual purposes for being in Avignon. My #1 purpose is to find B&B's and other unique lodgings (potentially even a country villa) to book for a trip I'll be hosting next year for a small side project I'm starting (hosting small groups in beautiful areas, and injecting amazing food and wine into the trips without having them be 100% wine and food based. I love history, architecture, etc etc so I like a good balance).

    I've been in the wine industry for 13 years, created and managed events for years at wineries, and worked with sommeliers, importers (a French importer in particular), and distributors for the past 5 years so this has always been a dream of mine. I'll be looking to add an Italy trip next year (hilltop villages or Alto Adige), and then Croatia trips the year after. I do speak Italian and lived in Italy for a year in 2005-2006.

    I had a list of food/hotel spots compiled, last time I was in Avignon, so this trip is about confirming rates and whether open during season I'll be there, confirming cancellation policies, finding new/better spots, finding drivers, testing a few more restaurants, etc and coordinating with my 2 French guy friends (winemakers) as to what dates during my group's visit they are available for dinners/lunches, and assisting with different things.

    So, for the purposes of this site, I should have some good/detailed reviews of eating spots, lodging, and other tourism related services etc after this weekend, to share

    It's also the Festival d'Avignon all of July (Juillet) so tomorrow evening I'll get to experience that.



    More soon!

    Brooke

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    Question: Does anyone know how to edit the name of a trip report you've already started?>>

    you can press the yellow triangle and ask the moderators to rename the thread.

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    PS - thanks for the paragraphs. So much easier to read.

    Good luck in your endeavours for the next few days. if you have time, [perhaps while you're on the train?], could you post your opinion of the language school? as an habituée of several italian ones [and DH being on the look-out for a french one] I'd be very interested to read your impressions.

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    Hi annhig-

    Yes, I can give you my opinion of the language school (was stalling a bit as I have mixed reviews now after having taken some trips they set up). To be fair, I'll say that my personal opinion isn't the same as the people I've met at the school (though they are advanced levels and I'm beginner).

    Positives:

    1) The cost of lodging/living in Rouen is far lower than other places in France I've been to/researched so that alone was what brought me to this program in the first place. Particularly if you are staying a month, the lodging costs with Alliance Francaise are extremely reasonable:

    Around $600 USD per month for a studio (very basic), $800 USD per month for a homestay (with 1/2 board) with French Family, and then I believe $800 for a 1 bedroom apartment (whih I heard are nicer)

    2) Rouen is only about an hour by train from Paris,so this makes it very convenient if you want to travel to Paris (without living in the expensive city itself), have friends coming into/out of town (they can jump on a direct train easily to come see you), yet is also only about an hour/hour and a half from seashore towns. It's a big enough city that there's plenty to do, yet not insanely busy like Paris. There's a fair amount of shopping areas, good restaurants, etc

    3) Normandy is a unique region that I'd never thought to visit unless I happened to be nearby, but choosing this program put me right in the thick of Normandy and I've seena lot of very cool spots, learned a lot about this region (ciders, calvados, it's weather, it's fight over Mont St Michel with Brittany.... etc)

    Negatives (for me. this won't be the same for those who splurge on 1 bedroom apartments, or stay w a family, or have shorter stays or don't like to cook, etc):

    1) If you get a studio (the cheapest option) you will not have some things some might consider essential like: a coffee pot of any sort (!), cooking utensils (you will get eating forks and knives and spoons and one frying pan of low quality one boiling pot), an oven (only 2 burners and a microwave).

    This might not bother many people but one of the main reasons I chose a studio was so I could cook for myself since I have some allergies (and didn't want to be a pain in the *** for the family I would stay with). For me, cooking requires a non stick pan, a spatula to flip eggs with, a chopping board, and an oven or toaster oven at the bare minimum in addition to some plates, glasses, and utensils.

    I also went on a couple of trips that Alliance set up, assuming meals would be included due to the high price of the trips (which was higher than traveling to these places on my own would have been, by a significant amount) and they ended up incluiding nothing: no food, nothing other than transportation (and thereby lack of freedom in addition to no meals, drinks, or anything else). The trips are often advertised without actual descriptions and you have to inquire nad inquire as to the details before the trip. In both cases I was told at the last minute, before the day of the trip 'oh you must pack a picnic for all of the meals that day (18 hour day in Paris!)'. Everyone was in the same boat.

    I would not do the trips again, given the option. And, in particular, would AVOID the Paris Bastille Day Trip which was a nightmare and I only went on assuming we'd be taken care of and at least have one sit down meal at some point during our hot, long, 18 hour day... WRONG. We basically shuffled around all day for 15 hours, in a group of 60 with 60% children and teenagers and were not every given a printed itinerary of where we would be when (we'd get told 1 thing at a time), so that we could leave and perhaps meet back later.

    Being a former event planner for wineries, I was horrified at the lack of foresight and care for our comfort level as well as lack of communication about what trips included ahead of time/the itinerary.

    I must have picked the 2 worst trips, as I heard a couple of others were decent. However, I did hear multiple times from people that they were surprised at how little was included on each trip (they assumed there would be lunch and there wasn't, etc etc)

    My personal recommendation would be to stay with a family. Everyone I spoke with who did this seemed to be very happy with their situation.

    2) The beginner beginner course is full of all beginners so it is slightly tough to get a lot out of your 3 hours per day with such a varied group. Also, I want to learn conversational more than learn all of the super uber basics, so I didn't get much out of my 1st 2 weeks. Private lessons are much better (for me) but they are quite expensive (even comparatively to other programs) at $50/hour.

    I chose 20 hours/week which cost $800 for the month (more if you aren't doing a longer time). This is broken up into: 15 hours of group classtime (3 hours per day 10am to 1pm) and then activities (called Ateliers) that you can choose 5 of per week to make up the last 5 hours. You can choose fewerhours per week, can combine with private lessons, or etc etc.

    I'm learning more now than I was in the 1st two weeks, and I've exchanged some days of classes for private lessons which I think is helping.

    Also, my friends who are in advanced classes really like their classes (more than the beginner beginner's do) so if you are alread intermediate-advanced I think you'll have a better time of it

    Hope that is helpful!

    Cheers

    Brooke

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    Brooke, thank you so much for taking the trouble to post such a detailed answer; more than I could possibly have asked for and much appreciated.

    I think your experience only goes to underline how different language schools can be and how important it is to do your homework before you book. Of course I'm not suggesting you didn't but I think that if you've never been to one before, it's more difficult to tell whether a school is going to be right for you or not.

    I agree about staying with a family; you certainly learn more that way, though it's not always successful as the experiences of the 2 danish women I met at the first school I went to testified - one had a wonderful time with her family, the other's was dreadful.

    the private lessons sound like a good idea. IME beginners learn at such different rates that it must be hard for the teachers to pitch it at the right level for everyone; when they come a bit more fluent it gets easier.

    good luck with your research trip.

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    annhig-exactly! I agree it's tough to impossible for a teacher to give a great quality lesson for a group of varied beginners when the students are changing every week. Wouldn't want to be in their shoes!

    Also, my instincts are usually right-which is, for me, I need ot live somewhere to learn a language or stay for a significant time. Give me 3 months in France where I have to use the language every day, and I'll be on Duolingo and Rosetta Stone at night, and meeting online tutors and going to language meetings etc and I'll have a pretty good conversatoinal level at the end fo that time. I just couldn't afford the 3 months at this time (at least that's what I thought-now that I'm considering using last of my savings to spend a year abroad I'm thinking I shoudl have bought a one way ticket!)

    I think I'm going to post a new Thread for my Weekend in Provence called 'Another Trip to Provence: Trip Report' so this thread doesn't get confusing :)

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    Because I can't spare 3 months off work either, to learn Spanish in the 6 months I've got before we go to Cuba I am trying to use the "fluentin3months" approach linked to above by bilbo. finding time to do it every day isn't easy but I listen to Michel Thomas [my preferred audio language teacher] in the car every day and I find that the 20 mins bursts I get from it are just the right length for me to assimilate something new.

    Will you post link to your new thread here so we can follow your travels?

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