We arrived in Avranches and at first it didn’t look like anything much. We had seen so many, so beautiful, rustic, historical villages on our way here! What’s happening? What’s going on? Is this it…?! We were a bit lost and confounded: where was the beautiful small town He-Herder remembered and had described to me? Where were all those beautiful buildings we had seen when we had googled the town? Where?
And is that your school? No, wrong name. Ok. No worries. We’ll find it. (Erm… eventually, we would.)
Following the “Centre Ville” sign, we find ourselves on a narrow one-way street, quite steep, going down the hill. On either side were two storey houses, many with shops and small restaurants or bistros on the ground floor, and two rows of neat paned windows on the two floors above. Compared to those we had first seen, these houses, clad in the beige-grey stone we were already getting accustomed to seeing all around us, already oozed character. And at the end of this road we found a little central square with a moderately impressive town hall, a good choice of restaurants, and plenty of commerce.
I have to say that the ooh! aaah! started here. As in Oooh!! I can definitely see myself living here, can’t you…?! (but then, what can I say, I had been Oooh Aaahing similarly all over beautiful, verdant Normandy). To which He-Herder promptly replied, compliment of compliments, that yes he most certainly could… if only I could win the lottery to buy the house with. Looking at the properties advertised for sale at the estate agent’s, it is a fact that I might just as well start working on my lottery winning skills.
Avranches, just like the rest of Normandy, stole our hearts. Don’t ask me why – it’s just that there is something about it that did it. Many of the houses are clad in the regional stone, and some others are built in brick which is a couple of shades lighter and beiger than the stone. Even though the buildings or the streets are not as grand or as full of character, or homogeneously as old as can be found in other historical towns (for instance Quimper), the overall effect is of harmony and rusticity. Maybe the dark of winter will change the atmosphere and feeling of the place, but we thought that all this fawn stone and brick, rather than cold and forbidding, actually felt quite pleasantly clean-faced and welcoming.
Walking around the lower part of town for a while, as we tried to locate where to buy several things we were missing — including batteries for the only camera He-Herder and I could possibly get working in time for some snaps! — we noticed the different types and periods of architecture, though their juxtaposition did not feel quite as jarring as in other places (England does actually spring to mind, sadly), maybe because of the harmonizing effect of the stone and matching brick.
We parked our car next to the square and its little esplanade, across from the Hôtel de Ville (the town hall, above), and were greeted by an horticultural rendition of a map of the region, locating Avranches relatively to Rouen and Caen, and with what seemed quite a liberal representation of the island where the most famous local attraction, the Mont Saint Michel, is located.
It was 47° Centigrade, which we would later be told (though we don’t know whether this is true) was the highest temperature ever registered in France. If we had been moderately ‘hot and bothered’ on the way there, it was nothing compared with what hit us as soon as we opened the car doors. It was stifling hot, and we could feel the sun biting our skin. Besides, we were parched. And we were famished, breakfast having been too early to remember it had ever happened. And of course, we had seen that board outside that little bistro, as we’d been driving down to the town centre, advertising moules frites… and that too had done it for us. We swiftly glanced around and, after the shortest of confabulations ever, decided that lunch it would have to be. There was no dearth of all kinds of places: restaurants, bistros, brasseries, cafés. Cue in eatery inspection.
The menus all revolved around regional cuisine dishes, and fresh fish and mussels predominated. The prices varied from between 12.50 Euros and 15.00 Euros for a full 3-course meal, to slightly higher per course in one particularly nice looking place with quite an impressive menu. But — and this is a massive but — we had seen the moules; and besides, 100.00++ Euros busted in one single meal for two on our second day out… well, it simply wasn’t an option. We opted for our second choice, a little brasserie at the square end of a side street, near the castle and dungeon ruins. It was called Tandem, was a cute little place and full to the brim (we had to wait a little while for an outside table), belonged to two partners (a man and a woman), was very, very reasonable (10.50 Euros for a meal of moule frites), had a fab and cool, shaded balcony by way of an explanade… and her mussels tasted impossibly better than mine (but next time I’ll add thyme too, and then we’ll see – and that is definitely war talk!)
Unfortunately, there aren’t many pics of the Tandem, because our co-traveler, He-Herder Honorary John, who was charged with taking them, lost his camera – together with every single picture he had taken of He-Herder and me, documenting our varying stages of happy lovey-doveyness, in front of a number of local attractions all throughout our road trip (which is also the reason why we do not have more photos of many of the places we visited). But I, new batteries already in the Sony bridge camera, have some, both of our meal and of the lads expertly dealing with their massive bowls of mussels, silence reigning supreme, and all else but a very distant memory. Here they are:
All in all, full marks to the Tandem for their mussels and very pleasant balcony, and most of all for the polite attentiveness of its owner, who very kindly tried to explain to us how to get to the Lycée de Notre Dame de la Providence.
After lunch was, therefore, the Lycée. The very reason why this road trip ever got thought of, then about, then got planned… and why we were now here in Avranches, in the middle of the afternoon, on one of the hottest days ever, getting muddled with streets and ending up in the wrong place (or altogether lost), all while dreaming of a nice cool swimming pool (well, me at any rate).
By the time we had walked back across the square, and despite having stopped every three or four paces to take pics of everything (as for instance…
… and all the others we no longer have), we quite firmly decided that walking all the way up hill in such heat again was not our cleverest idea. In fact, we firmly decided we simply would not take another step beyond what was necessary to get to the car. But we don’t know how to get to the school by car! I reminded them. The instructions we were given were to walk there! Panic stations. Tourist information office? Right there, next to the horticultural map. Super. Er… Do I really have to…? Really?
I did. Being the only (sort of) French speaker in the group, I am permanently on call, though I’ve got a good idea the lads would definitely take good care of themselves. And of course there was no telling them that, for a job with the Tourist Information office, English language was ‘quite probably’ mandatory (sometimes I do marvel at my sudden mastery of English understatement…). In the end, between my rather hesitant and rusty French, and the young woman’s rather proficient English, we got what we needed: down this road, left, left, up hill a bit, then right, left, keep going round and up, and there! Easy. Yes, easy. And we had a map. But we still got lost, ending up by this church, l’Eglise Notre Dame des Champs, which I quickly photographed before we retraced our steps.
Second time around we were successful. And when we found this sign affixed to a visibly old wall, we knew. We had found He-Herder’s quarry.
Oh, so what else could I possibly say…? To dream of moules frites if you will, or of rabbit casserole, if it’s more your thing? That too. But more (much more!!) about all this tomorrow. Or the day after. Or some other day. Because, right now, I’m on holidays. At long last, I’m on hols. And so for now it’ll have to be goodbye.