Wednesday, June 17, 2009

France - a gourmand's delight & a joy to be back

Ah, the bliss of a good and large bed. We both slept like babes to the sounds of waves breaking gently against the pebbles on the shore. This morning was just beautiful - the sun was shining, the breeze blowing, so we opted to have breakfast on the open deck at the back of the pub. Wendy must think that we look starved or something (and believe me, we do not - we have both put weight on while we have been in the UK and Ireland). I have poached eggs and tiny little tasty pork sausages while Michael has the full English cooked brekky - after all, it will be his last!

Stewart and Colin were filling us in on lots of local knowledge last night - such as HG Wells living in Sandgate, drinking in the pub and while living there wrote The Time Machine! Forgot that little gem last night in the aftermath of the cider. And they are telling Michael about the Battle of Britain Cemetery in Hawkinge just up the road. Now that is something to see, so once we set off we head there first. Takes us a little while to find the cemetery, but once there we ask a funeral director who is walking past for directions and we are graveside in a flash. Very moving. Lots of young lives lost - British and German buried within a stones throw of each other. Reverently and thoughtfully laid out and beautifully kept. Still, what a waste of a generation.
We then head over to Folkestone so that we can post another series of parcels home. As well as the usual packets of brochures and guide-books, today we post the last of the whisky from the Caol Isla distillery, and then there are the DVDs. Now, we have taken heaps of photos as you might imagine and I have an external hard drive (thanks to the generosity of my former workmates), but we are loathe to just have one copy, so before I deleted them from the laptop (all 120GB!) I copied them on to DVDs as well and off in a parcel go 32 DVDs!!!! Yep, just a few photos. Funny, now that they have been deleted from the laptop, it is running much faster (ha ha ha - no need for anyone to comment). It takes forever at the post office that is staffed by one woman, but finally they are done.

However, we have missed the check-in time and so instead of being on the 12:50 pm train, we are re-allocated to the 13:19 train. And here we were hoping to get an even earlier one Ahh, as I seem to often say, "The best laid plans . . ." Still we are in France in 25 minutes - how crazy is that but of course lose an hour to the time difference, so it is almost 3 pm before we hit the road. Back on the right hand side of the road and the 'wrong' way around roundabouts - ah, all good fun. I had hoped for a more interesting trip that did not involve using the motorways, but given that we have a 3½ hour trip ahead of us, and no hope of seeing the Bayeux Tapestry today, we follow the motorways so that we can get to Aunay-Sur-Odon before too late. And that little exercise is costly - a total of €23.70 (or $40.45) in tolls! Michael has to do the paying as the toll collectors of course are on the left hand side of the car! Ouch - don't want to do that too often. And the roadworks continue . . . good thing though is that the speed limit is 130 kph so we can move along (when not held up in roadworks!). And only one chateau worthy of a photo was on our route today.

We are looking to stay in some small towns as well as larger ones during our next while on the continent. So tonight we are booked in to the Hôtel de la Place in the town of Aunay-sur-Odon in northern France - heading west. It has a history that goes back to before the Gallo-Roman occupation of the area and was an important crossroads between Caen and Vire and between Bayeux and Falaise. In fact, it is because of this that the town is almost completely destroyed by strategic Allied bombing between 12 and 15 June 1944 - when 25% of the population was killed. All that remained was the bell tower of the Church of St Samson - and that was shaky too. In the next six years though, the town is re-built, including the church that originally dated back to the 12th century (as did a Cistercian Abbey now in ruins).

Tonight it is a bustling little town as we arrive around 6:45 pm with everyone hurrying to complete their tasks and get home for the day. Dinner is served from 7pm to 9 pm so at 8 pm we head down to the restaurant. We are somewhat surprised at the breadth and maturity of the menu. Feeling a bit sheepish, I did not expect to find gournet food at such a level in a small town of 3,000 people - but Oh. My. God. the food is absolutely to die for. We trawl over the menu and finally decide to choose from one of the set menus. Kamala and Wayne, don't drool while you are reading this (or you Helen, or Lisa). So, in the end, we have between us both the starters, mains and two of the dessert choices:
Ricard Pastis (whoo hoo - thanks Fliss!)
Salade campagnarde (salade, gésiers, magret de canard fumé et aiguillette de canard) salad, gizzards, smoked duck breast and duck aiguillette (Michael)
Saumon fumé frais par nos soins et sa crème de raifort (Fresh salmon smoked by us and horseradish cream served with home made wonderful melba toast and cannelled lemon slices topped with caviar) Maria
Tête de veau sauce gribiche (Calf's head with gribiche sauce) Michael (of course)
Faux filet de bœuf au pommeau et camembert de Normandie (Sirloin of steak with apple and camembert of Normandy) Maria
Profiteroles (filled with frozen créme patisserie) Michael
Petit crousillant de Camembert aux pommes sur son nid de salade (Crispy cooked camembert served on mixed leaves) Maria
Une coupe verre de vin rouge (Merlot) Maria
San Pellegrino water (Michael)
Espresso coffee for both.

Now, you can forget about needing taste-a-vision last night. For all the wonderful things about english cooking, they are not even on the same planet as the French. They have a sublime way of creating flavours that allows each to shine out, complementing each other while creating fulfilling dishes that are still light so you don't feel like you have just downed the beast. Michael's calf's head was served casserole style and to be honest, while it did not appeal to me, he salivated as he ate it. The broth looked deliciously light and it was filled with yummy vegetables. My steak was served with a small cassolet pot of veges - grilled tomato topped with thyme and rosemary, garliced french beans sitting atop the finest sliced mushrooms and a perfectly sculptured potato. Oh, how we love France. The service was wonderful as well with our waitress anticipating our needs and our order in English (but we need to practice our French again!!)

After dinner we take a quick stroll through the centre of town. The light is amazing and the buildings just shie in front of the waning evening. It is now 11:07 pm and has been dark for all of about 15 minutes. So I will finish and let Michael check his emails. Off to see the Bayeux Tapestry tomorrow.

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