Normandy Holiday - Falaise and Caen

Following our long drive to Bayeux and the beaches, we decided to stay in Argentan for the day. Partly to relax but also partly forced by a flat tyre which was repaired free of charge by a friendly local mechanic. Merci beaucoup!

We strolled through the pretty town centre, spent some money, had yummy baguette out of doors and enjoyed the sunshine. The locals were welcoming and friendly and the atmosphere overall was relaxed. A stroll through fields followed our return to the cottage. A peaceful and calm day!

After a night of rain rattling on our skylights and winds howling in the cottage’s nooks & crannies, keeping us awake half the night, it finally cleared up a little in the morning. In light of recent tyre trouble – and the change of weather – we decided to postpone our farthest trip to Mont St Michel and head for nearer places.
For once, we skipped the full brekkie and opted for a quick fix – two chocolate filled brioches and coffee. Yumm! Then we were off.
We arrived in Caen – site of much destruction during the fights for Normandy and also the final burial place of William the Conqueror – around 11am and immediately cursed the complex one-way system and bad signage for car parking and sights. I’m sure that were we searching for a hotel instead, we would have found it without problem, as there were dozens of signs for accommodation of all kinds. As it was, we ended up in a pre-paid car park in the centre, spending our last few coins for 2 hours’ parking. Then we marched up the hill to the castle, just a short walk away.
Sadly, not much is left of the original medieval buildings, just some crumbled walls and reconstructed sections. Several newer builds were still in existence although some had also suffered greatly during the bombardment. What a shame! However, the views over the city were great – but would have been even more amazing 70 years ago, before the destruction.
Caen was, as expected, a fairly modern city, although I found the limestone-coloured buildings in style with the overall picture of city and castle. Clearly, many of the planners had taken the locality into account during the rebuilding work in the late 40s and 50s. Hubby didn’t like it, though. The variety of shops was very good and there were plenty of crêperies and patisseries to keep the lunching working person happy. We bought a couple of tuna & salad baguettes, which were delicious. Can’t fault a freshly made baguette…

Following a trip to the Tourist Info we wandered off in the direction of the Abbaye aux Hommes, where William the Bastard/Conqueror/Duke and King of England lies buried but … we lost our way! By that time the clock was ticking for our parking slot, so we dashed back to the car, and made our way in it to the Abbey. My God, the city’s one-way system nearly got the better of me! It took some swearing on both our parts until we found a car park near the abbey. Again, it was pre-pay and our time there was limited. The good thing of that particular car park, belonging to the library nearby, was that university students could park for free for 1½ hours. Great idea! Just that we weren’t French students…

Due to the time restrictions of our parked car, we could not take part in the guided tour but had to make do with a short visit to the Abbey church, St Etienne. It was a nice enough Romanesque building with the burial place of William placed in the centre. Apparently there’s only one bone left of him, after the Huguenots ransacked the place so it makes you wonder where the rest ended up…
Coming to the end of our parking time, we had enough of the city and its silly car parks. We made our way back, via the peripherie and dual carriageway, south to Falaise, which we had bypassed on our way north.

Falaise was the birthplace of William the Conqueror, illegitimate son of the Duke o Normandy. He often resided there, as did later rulers of Normandy and England, the Plantagenets. To us, Falaise appeared to be a sleepy small town, with a cosy centre criss-crossed with cobbled streets and narrow high houses, and a big castle on top of a steep hill. Once inside the old ramparts, we went into the modern entrance building. There was an entrance charge and you received headphones for an audiovisual display. Walking toward the main castle, we found that again, not much was left from the old building – a few ramparts and towers – but instead they had created a semi-modern colossus, partly in sandstone and partly in concrete and metal. It made an interesting mixture but not everyone's cuppa tea. We didn't find it appealing from the outside, but once inside, listening to the recording and watching the audio-visual displays, it was a completely different story. When you entered certain rooms, the blinds came down automatically and the display started. The whole show was a reaction to sensors on our AV recorders. You were fed bits of William’s life, his parents’ backgrounds, scenes of an evening , some 100 years later, with Aliénor of Aquitaine and Henry II holding court, and general information about people’s roles in those days, compared to those on a chess board. The game of life. Amazing history. Amazing technology.

We thoroughly enjoyed our walk around Falaise castle, particularly the view from the top of the round tower (we could even recognise a tower in Argentan to the south) and the walkways and mechanics of the AV system. Glimpses of the real stones of the original building were caught through glass floors on the lower levels. An architectural feat, but not to everyone’s liking, as the guest book showed. Despite our initial reluctance, we found it incredible.

After a slow stroll back to the car, we headed home, just down the road. Dinner consisted of plain fresh pasta with mince. Nice & simple. Yawning again. It must be too much fresh air…

Photos of Argentan and Falaise / Caen!

Oh, I want to go back...


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