Monday 22 June 2015

Il pleut

There are 100 words in Norman French for rain, we were told today. You can't always believe such things, but we were inclined to accept this one because it rained solidly all day. Of course that's why this region is so green and lush, and it's perfectly usual even in summer, but it was disappointing since we saw such pretty places today that really didn't look their best dripping wet - well, who does?

First was the village of Aizier, which is known for its thatched cottages. Long, low and narrow, they're apparently horrible to live in - cramped, dark, low-ceilinged and inconvenient since there are no corridors - but they're delightful from the outside. They're half-timbered, on stone foundations, and the distinctive thing about the thick thatched roofs with their beetle-browed little windows is that the ridges are planted with irises and succulents, to hold the reeds in place. Even the wells are thatched.
It was raining still at Pont Audemer, laughingly called the Venice of the North because it has some canals, but since there are fifteenth-century privies built over them which were in use till the 1960s, perhaps that claim is a bit grandiose. Or accurate, come to think of it. There were lots of lovely half-timbered buildings of various vintages (you can tell by the colour of the timber, apparently) and the market was on so it was obligatory to buy locally-made unpasteurised Camembert and Pont l'Eveque cheese, which will make their presence increasingly felt over the next few days in my stateroom on the Tapestry 2. The stall-holders were cheerful and friendly, and these two asked to have their photos taken.
And then the greatest tragedy of the day was that it continued to rain throughout our visit to the outrageously pretty little fishing port of Honfleur. It's very like Neuhavn in Copenhagen with its tall, narrow and colourful buildings surrounding the harbour where lots of boats are moored and every ground floor is a restaurant or gallery. The lanes are narrow and cobbled, there's an old-fashioned carousel, on the top of the hill is an unusual double-nave church, and good luck finding a shop that's not tourist-focused. It is gorgeous, though, even on such a miserable day.
Finally, the sun came out, far too late, but we did do a little post-prandial wander around our mooring-town - Caudebec, which on a Monday night is disturbingly silent and still. There is a fine Gothic church, tumbling streams of clear water, remnants of ancient walls, pretty window-boxes, some lovely buildings and, thanks to the war, many hideous ones - but scarcely a single local person to be seen or heard, just blackbirds singing, doves warbling and swallows swooping. Kind of creepy.

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