Thursday, June 18, 2009

The working day begins

Well, the room ain't what we have gotten used to over the last few days, but the bed is comfortable and made with the crispest, freshest sheets so it was lovely to sleep in. BUT, as Aunay-sur-Odon is a working community by 6 am it was all guns blazing with everyone up and at it. Groan. Oh how I wanted another hour! The resident Cocker Spanial was busy barking to all and sundry their orders for the day. Cars and trucks and bikes turned on the pebbled car park as if to tell us it was time for us too to be up. And by 7 am we have given in and were up.

Down to breakfast just after 8 am. I have brushed my teeth before breakfast today so I don't need to climb the two floors of stairs again! Breakfast is continental (a nice change after the hot English cooked breakfasts) - we are shown to the breakfast room and instructed to take what we want and sit anywhere - very laid back after the fabulous meal of last night. We have cornflakes, the only cereal on offer (which Michael finds very plain after the lovely Alpen muesli that we have been having, so he adds some apple puree to it). Then he has a croissant with apricot jam while I opt for the lovliest fresh bagette (a piece about 6 inches long) and the y-u-ummiest rhubarb jam. Mm, mmm! Orange juice and the obligatory and great fresh coffee and we are ready to go and face our day. Turns out that the Hotel de la Place is run by a mother / daughter dynamic combo with Mum doing the cooking. We had expected it to be some Michelin trained chef - yes, the food was that good!

We are down to our last €10 in cash and have not been able to access any at the two credit unions here as our Travellers Cash card does not have a chip - maybe that is why the Commonwealth Bank is changing the cards mid-trip on us! So we set off for Bayeux hoping to find a suitable bank there. In order to get there, we backtrack about 12 kms on our trip over from Calais yesterday - but this time off the motorway and down great little D-roads (back roads) through little villages in a fantastically rural setting. And it is not only in the UK that we encounter farm vehicles! The country is so much greener than it was when we were here in February and here and there the first of the summer crops have been harvested leaving the landscape a patchwork of colours.

Kate gets us right into the car park behind the church attached to the museum where the Bayeux Tapestry is on display. Not only is this the closest car-park, it is also the only free one. Onya Kate and my fairy!!

The Bayeux Tapestry (an amazing piece of history and handiwork) has had a number of titles including Queen Mathilde's tapestry - named for the Queen of William the Conqueror who, it was thought, had commissioned the work. Historians now believe that it was instead commissioned by Odo, William's half-brother and Bishop of Bayeux for decoration in a new cathedral. Whoever commissioned it really doesn't matter - what matters most is that the story of this tale has been recorded in such a way to allow the largely illiterate population to hear the history (well, one side anyway). It is going to be almost impossible to adequately describe this work so that you can all appreciate it - Anne knows - she saw it well before me! Done with only four stitches and ten colours, this work appears to be one one unseamed piece of linen (although we later learn there are nine panels) that measures just short of 70 metres (yep, that is 210 feet!) long by about 50 cm high. The main problem is that we cannot take photos in the museum. You enter to view the tapestry into a long darkened U-shaped room that has curved beams above it that in their entirety resemble the of a boat. The tapestry itself is set about 2 feet away from you behind glass with a banister between it and you. But you can lean on the railing and get up close and personal to the glass - enough to study each individual stitch.

Now, don't let those four stitches fool you. Four only there might be, but they are done in varying sizes, providing lots of contrast. A three dimensional effect is achieved by using darker colours on the backs of people and horses - for example the behind legs of each of the horses os slightly darker. And believe it or not, those ten colours provide sufficient so that every figure is different from the next. A sense of movement is portrayed by hair flying, horses moving from a walking group to a charging pack, more paced out and with legs stretched taut. Ever so subtle. Ever so clever. And all this just under a thousand years old!!

The tapestry has over the millenium been moved from place to place, shared with people, it's story there for all to interpret. Consequently, there are bits and pieces that have been damaged over the years, but all have been lovingly and very carefully repaired. You can see the repaired works, there has been no attempt to make them 'the same' as what they are replacing, but they do blend in nicely. Little bits of linen have been added and sewn over, as though through the ages, the importance of this remarkable work has been treasured and valued. I could have spent ages just going back and forth, but we have much to see today, so we relectantly move one, and as we finish with the three floors of displays and come back through the shop, the line to view the tapestry now extends for muc longer than the fabric itself!

So, once done there we head for the Bayeux Cathedral - no, they are not all the same. The first thing that strikes you once inside (because the exterior is a work of art in stone, set in a beautiful green lawn and adjacent to the [wait for it] Cathedral Square) is the space, and then, the smell of old. This cathedral is a virtual monument to the work of the stone masons with every exposed piece of stone being worked with ever changing patterns. And the stained glass is some of the most vibrant we have seen to date. The present Cathedral dates back to the 11th Century, but like most of those in Europe sits on the site of earlier temples and churches, and has been added to by almost every generation. Luckily, as Normandy was the first major city to be liberated from the Normandy Landing without bombing, the Cathedral has escaped unscathed.

There was so much more we could have done - there was a small tourist train we would have liked to havetaken, but as in much of Europe, France closes for an hour or two over lunch and we would need to wait until just before 2 pm to do this.

We need to keep moving though as we are heading for Anjou (Angers) via Avranches. And what is at Avranches? Well, you might recall that when we went to Mont Saint-Michel in February that we noted that the manuscripts of the Abbey had been removed for safe keeping. In fact, the Scriptorial that was established in Avranches is the national (and world) keeper of thousands of precious books and illustrated manuscripts. It has been set up as the Museum of the Manuscripts of Mont Saint-Michel. For those who have seen the movie 'The Name of the Rose', picture the library that William of Baskerville (the monk played by (swoon) Sean Connery) fights so hard to get into and you can begin to picture the wealth of the world that is held here. Much of the display that climbs over four floors centres on the treasures saved from the Abbey du Mont Saint-Michel. But not all - there are artifacts as well as the story of the scripts that date back to the 9th Century.

But the crowning glory is The Treasury - a darkened circular room at the top of the Scriptorial that at any time has on display 16 books, that are only allowed to be displayed for a total of 10 days per year. So if you were to visit every two weeks, you would see new manuscripts on every visit from the vast collection. And what treasures. Today we saw illuminated manuscripts that dated back to the 10th Century - most of them were religious or related texts. After all the monks were the educated! And outside this room, there were original astronomical texts of Galileo, Nicholas Copernicus and Newton - I mean guys, these were THE ORIGINALS!!!! And a first edition hand written and illustrated Bible displaying a page from the Book of Genisis that was dated in the 1400's. Another wow day. We were actually one day too early to see a special exhibition on Lumière sur le Ciel - a Light on the Sky - a history of Astronomy and the texts held. Oh, how disappointed Michael was at that. Again, our trip was much too rushed, but at least we have seen it and some of its precious store. And we just get a glimpse of Mont Saint-Michel in the distance as we are heading away from Avaranches.

By now it is 4pm and we still have a 3 hour drive to Anjou. So it is back to the road Jack and we push on, from time to time encountering firstly the school traffic and then later the peak hour commuter rush home. We pass through a short burst of early summer rain, but for the most part travfel through a blue day with high wispy cloud that seems to herald wind. On arrival in Anjou just before 7 pm we are greeted with an absolute mess of a road system. Like many other European cities, they are part way through the works to install a tramway system. And poor Kate is having kittens because there is not one turn that she wants me to take that is possible at the moment. So after a while I ignore her repeated attempts to get me to Rue Louis de Romain and instead head for the high ground above it where she finally successfully can direct me down. There is no parking in the immediate area, but we are directed to a secure parking station where it seems half the town is parked (reminiscent of Barcelona) only three blocks away. We bring the suitcase out and rearrange the car so that everything else is out of sight in the boot. Our room at the Hotel Continental is nothing special, but we are two blocks from the Cathedral and Castle and just as close to the Museum of Fine Arts which we can see illuminated from our bedroom window. Tomorrow will be fun exploring the narrow winding streets!

Dinner tonight - there is no restaurant at the hotel, but there is one across the road. As we come down, it is filled with people being quite loud so we head off to a creperie Michael has spied on his 'ciggy' walk. Depsite the hours being advertised on the door, and the door open, the proprietor tells us he is closed when we go in. In hindsight this was a real boon because about a block away we find the Creperie Saint-Aubin. The welcome is warm and genuine from the Dessomme family - Mum Sandra, Chef Christian and waitress, daughter Marion and the menu is enticing to say the least.

After some deliberation (but not too much because we are hungry, really hungry) we choose:
I began with a Cocktail Saint-Aubin - Grand Marnier, Crème griottes et pêches, Crémant de Loire - ooh la la - very nice, cherry brandy, peach brandy, grand marnier and we can't translate the last one - but who cares? I don't!
Italienne - fromage à raclette, gratin de pommes de terre, tomato, oignons, poivrous, œuf, jambon de montagne, salade (raclette cheese, potato gratin, tomato, onions, capsicums, egg, mountain ham with salad) - Michael
Richemont - fromage à raclette, œuf, jambon de montagne, salade (raclette cheese, egg, mountain ham with salad) - Maria (I had started to eat mine before we remembered the photo!)
Crêpe au chocolat et aux bananes (Banana and chocolate crepe) Michael
Crêpe Saint-Aubin (griottes, glace cointreau, flambee triple-sec, chantilly - cherries, ice cointreau, flambee triple sec, whipped cream) Maria.
Michael finished with an espresso.
Ah yes, French food!

No comments: