Sunday, October 15, 2006

Thursday, 12th October - Graye-Sur-Mer to Paris

Today we entered the next phase of the trip, as we returned the rental car and left rural France for Paris. For the rest of the trip we will be in big cities, and coping with public transport. We are excited and looking forward to seeing some of the world’s great cities, and happy not to be driving on unfamiliar roads on the wrong side of the road, trying to cope with inadequate maps (we were too mean to buy a decent one), sparse road signs, and a disappointing GPS. On the other hand we have really enjoyed the little towns and different regions we have been through, and the people we have met through the B&Bs, not to mention the peace and quiet.

Our last stop before returning the car was in Honfleur, at the mouth of the Seine, said to be the home of impressionism. The small square harbour filled with pleasure craft and surrounded by tall narrow buildings with colourful awnings has been (and still is) the subject of many paintings. We had a lovely stroll around the harbour and then found a spot at an outdoor café with a lovely view and had soupe de poisson for lunch (sounds much more interesting than fish soup). Behind the harbour are lots of little pretty alleyways to explore (next time). We did call in to the unusual church of St Catherine, which clearly was designed by a community of sailors and fishermen, with plenty of boat builders, but no cathedral architects. The timber ceiling looks like the upturned hull of a boat. And the bell tower is across the square, as it was too heavy for the timer church.

Our next challenge was to return the rental car in Rouen. No worries we thought – this time we made sure the car hire company was at the railway station. So after many wrong turns, and an unplanned scenic tour of Rouen (very unusual cathedral, with unmatched spires, one made of cast iron - this is the cathedral which Monet famously painted numerous times) we finally reached the railway station, whereupon we had another, less scenic drive trying to find the Europcar drop off. Finally, in desperation, we asked for help, and found it: inside the pay car park & out the other side then down 3 floors – you can’t miss it! The train trip was uneventful and fast (and much cheaper than in England) and we arrived in Paris.

Several flights of stairs later (with 2 heavy suitcases – haven’t these people heard of escalators) we negotiated the Metro and found our hotel. At the price we are paying (the second most expensive place we are staying at, but very cheap for Paris) we didn’t expect much and found less. But the bed is comfortable, the location is good, and I haven’t seen any rats or fleas (yet). We don’t plan to spend much time in the hotel anyway.