Foot Fishing, a Normandy tradition

French people love their fruits de mer or fruits of the sea! When sun, moon, and earth are aligned just so, exceptionally high and low tides, called les grandes marées, cause the sea to retreat like a turtle into its shell, leaving the ocean floor drained and perfect for a little pêche à pied, or fishing-on-foot, a longstanding Normandy pastime. When we first moved here, of course, we knew the sea was quite close to our house (under 5 miles) but we could never really find it, until one day, we were there at the right time and the water was suddenly incredibly close and high. Only then did we realize just how drastic these tides are! To give an example, the Bay of Mont St. Michel has the highest tides in the world with up to 50 feet (15 meters) difference between high and low. We also took note of the … Read More

The Mount by Night

After our first experience on The Mount, we could hardly wait to return, albeit even later at night. Le Mont St. Michel is an actual commune with a fireman, a mayor, a post office, clergy, a farmer, a fisherman, and a few police officers, and unlike what you might think, there are no opening or closing hours to the fortified village. Only businesses have operating hours, as does the abbey. We may be semi-permanent travelers now, but we don’t like tourists and avoid places that are packed with them as much as possible. Which is why The Mount is an ideal hangout for us … between 8pm and 8am. It speaks for itself that respect is of the utmost importance when doing that. Around 40 people actually do live there permanently, and there are a number of hotels with paying guests as well. It is so cool to be there … Read More

Bucket List: Le Mont St. Michel

1300 years of history, a unique fortified village built on prayer and torture that has never been defeated, and a world heritage site like no other. That is Mont St. Michel—or “Le Mont” as it is affectionately referred to around here. The Mountain or Mount. As mountains go, the Rockies in Colorado; the Pyrenees in Spain and France; and the Alps in Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, all made me feel tiny, overwhelmed, and respectful of Mother Earth’s magnificent production/symphony. And I don’t know, because I haven’t been there, but I can imagine that the 110 peaks of the Himalayas reaching up to 24,000 feet would feel like gazing into the eyes of God. The Mount, a tidal island rising from the beautiful bay between Normandy and Brittany coasts, doesn’t reach anywhere near those heights. It is quite tiny, yet it looms large, and what it lacks in volume, it most … Read More

Lower Normandy Countryside

The definition of a dérive (drift in English), according to Wikipedia, is an unplanned journey through an (urban) landscape on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travelers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience. It describes our way of traveling to perfection. In urban cities the only transportation you need is your own two legs and maybe a bus, tram or metro. In the countryside you need your feet, a bike or a bus schedule. Or a car. Visiting Normandy even for a short stay, renting a car is definitely the way to go. The main providers are located in the city of Caen, just across the street from the railway station. This will allow you to go on little adventures discovery, dérives, that will bring surprises around every corner. Because in addition to planned sightseeing, isn’t surprise and adventure what takes a … Read More

Bucket List Item: Tour de France Does Normandy (Stage 7)

Out the door at 7am for a pleasant 1hr and 15min drive to the town of Livarot for the start of Stage 7: Livarot—Fougères! When we arrived at just after 8am, cars were already lined up along the two-lane road leading into a small village. The person who was meant to guide traffic jumped out of the car in front of us and got straight on the job. We were in an entirely different part of Normandy, away from the sea, with lovely rolling green hills and dotted with the patchwork colors of healthy crops, freshly hayed fields, cows, and orchards. We were in the Department of Calvados, where the cheese is pungent and the apple brandy will knock you flat on your ass. Always eager to get there but also to get up and get out, we took a hard right away from the queue and parked by an … Read More

Bucket List Item: Le Tour de France Does Normandy (Stage 6)

There are many experiences at the top of my bucket list that have been fighting for attention for a really long time. If it were up to the list, I would see a New Year’s Day concert in Vienna; climb Machu Picchu; take my camera on a voyage from Tunis to Cairo in a sturdy Toyota; wine-taste my way through Bordeaux; see at least one Formula 1 race, a big football match, one grand slam tennis tournament … a multitude of places, cultures, music, and sporting events across the world. High on this list are several ways in which to see Le Tour: start, mid-stage, finish, mountain, and of course … the whole thing from start to finish. That’s a lot of bucket list items for one event! The thing is that forcing bucket list items into reality can end up costly. More costly than necessary. It’s not really the … Read More

Market Days

Market days in any town are always a little bit exciting, certainly much more exciting than taking umpteen shopping bags to the grocery store for boring searches up and down the aisles and standing in line at the register. As tourists, we see grocery stores in other countries almost like an attraction, and it is true that they give a small snapshot of how people live. In France that snapshot can be so much more exciting than any ol’ brick-and-mortar building. The outdoor market culture is an absolute boulder in the foundation of French culture. Traveler: use this to your greatest advantage! For purposes of living in Normandy, and to help the reluctant traveler build itineraries outside of the norm, I did a lot of research into the markets of Basse- and Haute-Normandie and built a list of all the market towns each day of the week. The list is remarkably huge and a treasure trove for people … Read More

Normandy Celebrates DDay

It’s palpable you know, still. D-Day. The rescue. Liberation. The prefecture (this is the office nearest to your residence where you do some of your required governmental bid’ness) where we needed to be for Stampson’s immigration application, St Lo, happens to be the same city his grandpa helped liberate in the days following June 6th, 1944. It was a serendipitous moment, we think. Another one. Stampson married a girl from Belgium after all, where Pop was eventually gunned down. When we mentioned this to the person who took care of his case, she stopped everything she was doing and wanted to know everything that happened to Pop and if he’d lived or died and where. Just like Monsieur Lebrec, she was impressed that he had made it to Bastogne (Belgium). It’s an impressive feat. And strangely amusing. On the journey from the States to England, Pop was an MP (Military … Read More

Mon Retour à La Campagne

Le Parc Naturel Régional des Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin. It’s a mouthful! It’s where we live, a natural park measuring about 570 square miles including 150 towns, 74000 inhabitants, over 1500 farms, around 2800 miles of hiking trails, and 105 square miles of moors and wetlands. In other words … it’s a treasure trove of farmland (growing carrots, leeks, rapeseed and flax), oyster cultivation, and natural habitats for birds as well as rare species of plants—the most fertile area in France. Spring and summer make the wetlands accessible while winter leaves them blank, and the moors, while least fertile in the area, are covered with heather in the fall. To France, Normandy means economic riches and tourism. To me, it has meant coming home to La Campagne, the very rural countryside. Granted, it’s not the home from my childhood. The question people ask me the most—and some don’t enjoy my … Read More

Horsing Around in Normandy

Every morning around 9:30am, on a “home” track at the corner of our street, sulky training happens, and that sparked my interest. Gallop races were something my parents took me to see because we had a family friend whose job it was to care for racing horses. It’s been many years but it gave me a behind-the-scenes peek of that world, and how these beautiful animals were treated like …well, probably like the gold they were worth. After a race, he’d proudly care for his charges, rubbing them down lovingly (tirelessly) and then pouring entire bottles of 4711, the famous cologne from the German city of Cologne, over their bodies. I remember steam rising from the horses’ hides as it cooled them from the exertion, giving the scene in the stables something ethereal in my child’s imagination. Horse racing was invented by the Ancient Greeks. In Normandy there are records … Read More

Paddling For La Libération

I had been wondering when it would hit me … my job. That we live in France occurs to Stampson (a.k.a. my husband) and me both just about every time we drive leisurely through the landscape. Sometimes it happens in a quiet way, and other times the realization is accompanied by a burst of knee-slapping joy … we live here! But the job change, the self-imposed opportunity to write, work freelance and have a start-up business, the incredible privilege to not miss so much of our animals’ lives, that happened this morning on our way back from the weekly market in Isigny-sur-Mer. My to-do list for today showed that I should log on to the blog, create posts, add pictures, etc. I should go au marché for fruits and vegetables. Set up a new spreadsheet for the new fiscal year. And both Stampson and I had to register with the French social services online, in French. … Read More

Meeting Monsieur Lebrec

I’ve been wondering how to address the terrible reputation the entire French population seems to enjoy in the mind of many an American. Having met so many wonderful, helpful people in France over the years, I’m kind of passionate about chipping away at this stigma. When comments are nothing but hearsay, or if the opinion is based entirely on treatment by a handful of tired waiters in Paris, I get the freaking heebie-jeebies. Yes, okay, admittedly I’ve had the occasional run-in with a Capital Sourpuss too, but overall I’m happy to be an advocate for the bulk of the French population, and I’ve figured the only way to do that is to showcase their kindness one by one. To begin this mission: the tale about a most wonderful experience that unexpectedly ticked two boxes off the ‘ole bucket list! We have been in awe of the tremendous farms that rise … Read More

Colza, or the Plant with the Unfortunate Name

Spring in many parts of Europe brings landscapes quilted with fields of gently waving colza, or rapeseed flowers, in an explosive sea of yellow. Basse-Normandie, where we live, is no exception and makes for breathtaking drives through the countryside. Despite its unfortunate name in the English language, the plant represents good business not only in the European Union but worldwide, and because of its usefulness, the popularity of rapeseed has been on the rise for years. The plant’s benefits include so much more than a low-saturated-fat, high-Omega content. Rapeseed production doesn’t only bring a mild-tasting vegetable oil to our kitchens and salads, it also brings a high-protein meal used as feed for livestock. Where the seed is the only harvested component of the plant, the rest of the crop—i.e. straw, roots, and seed pods—is tilled back into the soil. Oil harvested from rapeseed is known in the Americas as Canola. This … Read More

The Magic of Omaha Beach

My husband’s grandpa on his father’s side landed on Omaha Beach during the liberation of Normandy. I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time we went there, but we found an odd mix of people using it for recreation, tourists visiting for its historical significance, and dogs barking happily into the wind. In your mind’s eye, the beach is red with the spilled blood of heroism, and for that reason I expected it to be quietly moving. But in reality, to be honest … it’s just a beach. You do see people going for a private walk or reminiscing in small groups, recalling the memories of parents and grandparents, or the accounts they read in books. But any expectations of solemnity washed away when I heard waves lapping gently onto shore and saw children building sandcastles, flying colorful kites, or playing a game of football as their parents looked … Read More