I'm still sorting through our fabulous photos of our week in France, but wanted to send a brief message to TA folks for your help with our trip, which was a roaring success. My family (husband, 3 kids, 2 cats) are living in Italy for a year, and for each person's birthday we have taken a trip, using those Ryan Air cheap fares. This most recent was for my daughter, who just turned 11, and when she went to bed on her last night in Normandy, she closed her eyes and breathed, "This was the best trip ever."
We had planned to stay in Rouen for 2 days, and then the countryside for 5, but our plans were stymied by the Armada. No rooms were available, and besides, I don't like crowds, and read that 10 million people filled the city last time. We ended up staying overnight at a blissful B&B in Beauvais overnight the day we arrived. Our plane had been scheduled to arrive late at night, which is why we wanted to stay where we landed, but as it turns out, the strike cancelled our plane the night before we were scheduled to leave, and we hurriedly had to rebook for one leaving early in the morning. Which meant that we had 7 hours to prepare for our trip (and eat dinner and sleep), rather than 24. Which meant that we were not at all prepared. I had no idea what we'd do in Beuvais for a day, in Paris for 2 days, or in Normandy for the 5. Normally I don't leave planning those details until the last minute, but my husband had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia (hospital in Italy? that's another post), then our town celebrated its annual Infiorata, where the town carpets the streets in flowers, and our children had their last week of school with all the attendant emotional and logistical issues. So it was a busy time, and I'd counted on that one day to prepare. I was nervous when I realized I had, in fact, no time.
And it turns out, that besides the sleep deprivation and traveling with dirty clothes that I didn't have a chance to wash and dry (we don't have a dryer in Italy) before we left, it worked out wildly for the best. Because I remembered how people traveled before the internet.
Answer? They talked to people. Our host in Beauvais sent us to Gerberoy for the afternoon, and we had a splendid time in a magical (though, it must be said, not really vibrant, as many of these "most beautiful villages" have become) town. The host of our B&B, Le Jardin des Marie-Jeanne, made us dinner and it was one of the best meals of our trip. And we fell asleep to the smell of cooking jam for our breakfast. Lovely.
Then in Paris, we decided to skip the tourist attractions, and just wander. We'd been to Paris with our children 2 years ago when we were trying to decide between living in France and Italy, and our children unilaterally told us that it was this visit that made them fall in love with Paris. Who knew? Just wandering and eating and sitting and eating made us all feel much more cleaved with the heart of the city. We were absolutely smitten. Even though we hardly left the Marais, where we stayed. It was utterly glorious.
And then to Normandy. I had posted questions months ago to help isolate where we'd stay, and I so appreciate the advice I received to stay in the Pays d'Auge region. As promised, it was bucolic, with rolling pastureland, dotted with grazing cows, and flourished with apple orchards. Truly lovely, and also fun with the signs for cheese and cider around every bend.
Once we arrived at the Priory Saint Michel (the gardens of which were sublime, and we were out of doors all the time enjoying them) I remembered hearing about Lisieux, so we went there our first day, and went to the tourist office. That tourist office was a treasure trove. We received a detailed map and a booklet of activities. Everything we did—the towns, the cheese factory, the cideries, the castle, the markets—was from that tourist booklet. The blurbs about each place to visit were short, so we didn't have so much information that we arrived knowing exactly what we were going to see, and therefore were deprived of a sense of discovery. Rather, we knew enough to be tantalized, and then arrived ready to be pleased.
I'm guessing most people know this already, but though tourist offices were how I traveled when I backpacked through Europe in college, I hadn't really considered them a resource anymore, and instead relied on the internet. Which can be overwhelming and confusing, there is just so much information. How lovely to sip our coffee in the morning, flip through the lovely little booklet, and decide where we'd go, based on what we felt like, rather than what we'd planned.
As a person who tends to plan every detail including where to stop for snacks, this trip was a giant departure. Part of my "work" in this year abroad has been to accept imperfection and just be present, and this final trip of our sabbatical year absolutely brought that home. Arriving in France with dirty clothes and little information and nothing marked on maps and in fact no maps at all would once have sent me into a tailspin. So I wanted to write this for others who are oriented similarly. To suggest that perhaps abandoning the safety of secure details can lead to spontaneous bliss.