The seas on the way over to France were far rougher than those encountered when going to England, but still within the realms of tolerability and we stumbled onto the Continent grateful for escaping the worst of what winter Channel crossings could be like. After breezing through an extremely laissez-faire immigration point at Caen, we met a friend of ours and were whisked away into the heart of the Normandy countryside. We’d first met our hosts by chance at the mask festival in Andong (at the free soju sample tent), had hung out with them a little and were now following up on an invite to their house should we ever come to northern France with time to spare.
It had been dark when we arrived, but the morning revealed a beautiful valley dotted with rolling hills, small forests, farmhouses, streams and lines of trees that marked the place indisputably as rural France. It was extremely tempting to sink into the atmosphere of fresh air, books, animals, bread, wine and cheeses and do nothing at all, but we were made of more inquisitive stuff. A couple of walks around the local area revealed a seemingly endless supply of countrified charm, and a visit to the local market a bewildering array of local foods that would be considered gourmet back home. We could have stayed forever, and a return trip WWOOFing would certainly not be out of the question.
On our final full day in Normandy, we took a drive with our hosts out to Mont Saint-Michel, a giant monastery and tourist magnet I’d last seen when I was doing GCSE French. As expected, it hadn’t changed much and we first saw the huge edifice rising out of the sea mists when we were still miles away. According to legend, St. Aubert (then just Bishop Aubert) was approached by the archangel Michael and told to build an oratory out in the mouth of the river. He ignored this order for a while, presumably fearing the quicksand and chilly winds, until Michael got annoyed and bopped a hole in his skull with a finger.
We walked along the spiral approach road and outer walls, exchanging derisive comments about the souvenirs on sale, craning our necks to look at the monastery buildings looming above us and gazing out at the wind- and sea-blasted flats surrounding the island. To warm up afterwards, we made a beeline for a nearby city (Granville) and ended up in a restaurant run by one of the most stereotypically French guys we’d ever seen – a wild-haired, effusive, chain-smoking bon vivant by the name of Claude. After dinner, I left a decent tip as food had been good and the service entertaining and he immediately insisted we take 8 free drinks to make up the balance (tipping apparently not too customary). The drinks turned out to be calvados, a local and highly-prized apple brandy running to about 40 % alcohol (also the regimental drink of the Royal Canadian Hussars). We slept in the following day, dreaming of Basse-Normandie.