On the 15th July 2018 a group of eight went on a five day trip to Monet’s Garden and the Normandy Coast. We had a 7.05am start from Cosham taking us down to Folkestone for the channel Tunnel journey to Calais on the 11.36am crossing.
Once over the other side we had the usual comfort stops before making our way to Flibeaucourt for a ¾ hour stop to get a meal before going on down to the hotel in Rouen.
The Hotel could not have been situated in a better location for us, but it was not the best hotel we have stayed in. I personally thought that it did not cater for the over 65’s (more of an over night stay) and the lay out of the hotel was far from perfect. I did mention it to Angela Holidays on our return and put it on trip adviser. To make matters worse they were doing some sort of pipe work in the road right outside the entrance, there was a dirty big hole.
The first night we arrived we got taken to a very nice restaurant just about a five minute walk from the hotel. Outside the restaurant was a large screen where masses of people congregated watching the football World cup final as France were playing. As we were having our meal the news came through that France had beaten Croatia. It was nice to see the French rejoicing their victory win, but it became manic.
In the morning we all drifted down for breakfast, all feeling very tired through lack of sleep as the celebrations went on until about 3am and we had to have the windows closed. To make matters worse we had no air conditioning but after a nice continental breakfast and caffeine we were ready to start the tour to the Benedictine Abbey at Fecamp. The Abbey was first founded in 658 but the Abbey was destroyed by the Vikings.
The Abbey was rebuilt by Richard the 1st of Normandy and became famous for the Benedictine herbal liqueur based on brandy. It was Dom Bernardo Vincelli who was supposed to have come from Venice and created this herbal medicine made out of 27 herbs and spices.
This was a fantastic building and very impressive and they still distilled there. We were shown the distillery on our tour round the Abbey. We spent a long time looking at all the Icons and paintings. To finish the tour we ended up sampling one of the liqueurs and of course a visit to the shop.
After leaving the Abbey we drove to the lovely holiday seaside resort of Etretat where we spent the rest of the day. Etretat is famous for its chalk cliffs which form arches going out into the sea. The scenery around this area attracts artists and Monet came to paint here.
Two World War 1 pilots attempted to make a non-stop flight from Paris to New York and their plane was lost and this was the last place it was sighted. There is a monument constructed by the museum here, as the first monument got destroyed during German occupation in World War 2. We were spoilt for choice for restaurants and shops. It was a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon before we drove back to our next stop which was Jumieges. It was Michaels idea (he was our guide for the holiday, but he is also a driver for Angela Holidays) was a pity it was just a whistle-stop visit as this place had quite a few places some of us would have liked to visit. On the notice board outside the Abbey was some information saying this was the place William 7th Duke of Normandy (1027-1068) set his stamp on history on the stamp of the Dutchy of Normandy and England. Time was against us as we would have had to pay to visit the sights here and would not have seen everything, but most of us enjoyed having an ice-cream.
On the way back to the hotel Michael suggested he and Paul took us on a walking tour of Rouen in the evening. By this he could point out places of interest we could explore on the free time we had on our last day and places we could eat. Once back at the hotel some of us just had enough time to drop off some belongings and start the walk.
On day 3 - We visited Monet’s garden at Giverney. It was a blessing we had already got the groups tickets as the queue to get in was long. It was very tranquil walking around the lake with all the waterlilies in bloom. When you came to the bridges there was a bit of a hold up because of people with their selfie sticks.
Once in the garden some of the walkways had been cordoned off to stop people walking which was a rather a pity as, when we visited once before you could roam everywhere. It was easy walking around the house, which still had its` lovely vibrant colours and I noticed things I had missed on my last visit. Monet’s bedroom was painted yellow with a lovely view of his garden, whilst his wife was painted a very pleasing to the eye blue. Then it was time to hit the shop which was much bigger and then the hard choices of what to buy.
Once outside his house the queue was horrendous, so we timed that just right as we had plenty of time to explore. Spoilt again for choice for restaurants. We walked up the only narrow street to the church Eglise Sainte-de Giverny where Monet is buried with his family. This is a beautiful little church in a quaint peaceful village. We also found in the church yard a plot which had Union Jacks flying and buried there were seven British airman who crashed near Giverny. On the grave is a war memorial in the shape of a propeller of a Lancaster bomber.
On the way back to the hotel we took a route where the Tour de France had taken place and had cycles hanging in the trees and bales of hay shaped into bikes .We had a short stop at Les Andelys and the on to a place called Bienvenu sur Coteau which was a beauty spot with views that stretched for miles and no one else in sight .This place is preserving vegetal and animal species which are going extinct .You could follow a nature trail that took you to Chateau Gaillard. I understand it to be a ruined medieval castle and construction began in 1196 by Richard the Lionheart .It would have been a nice walk there if we had, had the time but it would have been hard work walking back up the hill.
On the last full day, we visited the Rouen Botanical Gardens. It was quite pleasant with ponds and roses but little else there, as most of it was closed or the plants were out of season or had died. When we got back to the hotel it was free time to look around Rouen. As the hotel was situated in the heart of the city we had time to look around but had to plan what to go and visit first. The first stop was to look at the Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral as we could see the spires from the hotel. All around the outside of the Cathedral was very elaborate with the masonry and statues. It was free to get into the Cathedral but very little information. We saw the tomb of Richard the Lion Heart but only his heart was encased there. There is also a very decorative staircase known as Escalier des Libraires.
We walked passed the Law Courts which were built in in the late middle ages and stood and read up on the history of the restoration of the building after some of it got bombed in 1944 which had a devastating effect on the law court but it all looked closed up.
We next visited the Jeanne D ’Arc church which was a very strange building from the outside. I did read that it was to represent flames and a boat and with a bit of imagination, I could see it. We went and saw the tall cross where she got burnt before we had paid our entrance fee. Once inside, it was very light and had beautiful stained windows. When you looked up to the ceiling you could see the resemblance of the bottom of a boat. We spent a good hour in here as it was so cool and peaceful.
After that we went and had a snack before we walked to see the towns clock (Gros-Horologe). This is supposed to be one of the oldest working clocks in Europe. It was placed in an arch way. Beneath the dial they have chariots with different gods that can be seen on different days of the week and with them signs of the zodiac which illustrate various trades. As this is in an archway in a narrow street you must be careful as there is oncoming traffic.
Before returning to the hotel we had a walk around to see Vieux Rouen houses which are 13th Century and are half timbered which had survived the second world war. The last visit was to yet another church called Saint Maclou. To me it was in rather a seedy part of the town. Reading about it the church was used by drapers, dryers and families of merchants. Yet again it was built in a flamboyant style like the Court of Palais of Justice and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It had a very morbid past.This church was used to bury the victims of the black death. As this church was having restoration done we missed the bones etc that were in the church and the court yard. By this time, it was time to return to the hotel for a rest before going to the light show.
We went to a restaurant where we could sit and wait to go and watch the show. They used the east side of the Cathedral to project a sound and laser light show starting at 10pm from June to September. The show we saw was Vikings and William the Conqueror.
On the day we had to return we left the hotel just after 9 am to start our visit to Abbeville which was a very nice town with seating around a nice square and fountain. Much to one’s delight it was market day so there were some bargains to have here. We started to walk to the information centre but on the way we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Having a good read it was supposed to be on this spot that the first crusades left in 1098. Apart from the French Revolution when the spire made of wood and lead was removed not much changed until the two world wars. During WW1 the painted church windows were blown out and in WW2 the steeple was destroyed and the southern aisle was partly damaged and the church windows were blown out once again. This church had some nice pieces of furniture.
We would have gone to the Belfry and the Boucher-de-Perthes but unfortunately it was closed. The last visit was to another Saint Vulfran church. The stained windows were vibrant colours and pleasant to look at. To the right of the alter there was a hollow in the wall and I could not make it out as whether it was an old font or something that had been taken out of the wall. On the way out we noticed some old solid wood doors and when you viewed them from the outside they had some tremendous carvings on them. By this time we were churched out and went and had a coffee to await the coach to take us to Calais for the approx. 2pm Euro train to take us back to Folkstone.
On the way back, we did the usual comfort stop at Cobham so some people could buy milk etc if needed. We arrived back in Cosham about 7.30 pm, all thoroughly exhausted.