This morning I popped out to the ATM for some cash and spotted Mrs Bale out early washing down her restaurant windows. I said “bonjour” and she answered as grim as last night. According to Veronique and Georges, when Queen Elizabeth visited Chateau Sassy, she also popped into Au Caneton for a meal. This was 20 years ago but I bet the food was still as terrific.
The day was gloriously blue for our last morning in Orbec. We posed for photos with Veronique and George (their middle son took the blurry one on the right) then left Cote d’Jardin at about 10:30 for the drive to Lisieux. After a few times round a few roundabouts we managed to locate the Europcar garage on the Route de Paris – really, would it be SO difficult to supply a small map; it’s not like it’s obvious!
The same taxi driver picked us up and remarked how much heavier our bags were.
We had a 15 minute wait at Lisieux for a train to Caen. Not the most comfortable of 25 minute train rides. The train was packed and they have far too many smoking carriages in France. And why do so many people spend train trips walking up and down? They may as well walk in the first place as I’m sure they cover at least 40 miles. It’s also odd how the French stand up at least 5 minutes before the station – perhaps this is a comment on how likely the train is to leave on time. It’s a bit annoying when you’re crammed in with the luggage while hordes of French women gabble at each other regarding whatever it is they gabble about to each other. At first I thought they were all American as various bits of their clothing was emblazoned with various bits of Americana but no, they were all French, even the terrier quivering on the floor.
We had a choice at this point: stay in Caen and catch the bus to Ouistreham in the morning or go straight to the ferry port. It didn’t take much of a look at Caen to decide us. To be fair, as the bus passed out of the station precinct and drove along the river, it didn’t look too bad.
As we arrived at the invisible seaside, at first it was obvious we had made the right choice. (In retrospect, Caen would have been better!) We found Le Normandie Hotel, recommended by our trusty Rough Guide and managed to secure a room. After a rest and the discovery of English Language television, we hit the town to check out the action.
It has to be said that if it’s action you want it’s nowhere to be found in Ouistreham. Okay, there’s a massive casino and a very big beach but they are not easily accessible to the part of town where the accommodation lives. Apparently the port of Ouistreham (population 8,600) has existed since Roman times. It gained importance in the 11th to 14th centuries. I cannot find out why!!
We walked up to the centre ville and around the back streets, marvelling at the truly hideous ideas some people have in house design. It seems pretty typical of seaside resorts that people without taste are allowed to inflict their lack on the rest of us. For instance, here we spotted a suburban castle – all turrets and battlements squeezed onto a normal block which I assume explains the lack of a moat – and the half timber option for those who own a simple 1930s seaside bungalow – nail a few bits of wood to the outside wall because no-one will EVER guess. It did look truly awful.
The very impressive St Samson church, on the other hand, dominates the top of the town in a calm and assured manner, seeming to cast peace over the boulongeries, pattiseries, charcuteries and numerous other ‘ries’, which surround it. In the church, near the altar, where the transept would normally be, are merely two arches on either side, suspended from which are two wooden sailing ships. No doubt harking back to Ouistreham’s shipping past or looking to the future now that Brittany Ferries and P&O are there.
Anyhoo, we ended up back at the hotel, to snooze till dinner at 7:30. We had some English language TV but it was more fun laughing at the German version of Judge Judy.
Dinner at the hotel restaurant was an experience. The best seats in the house are reserved for the smokers while the non-smokers (the majority of guests) are crammed into the back room! Huge meals are beginning to take their toll on us where we’re almost at the point of not enjoying eating at all! Mind you, it was fun ordering only meals which included alcohol – smoked salmon with vodka, duck in cider and strawberry soufflé with beer sorbet.
Service at the restaurant had all the appearance of cool, calm efficiency but lacked a lot of actual service. The wine waiter didn’t pour our wine, leaving me to do it. And we had to do our own washing up. Throughout the meal there was an annoying thing in a pink sweatshirt running loose in the smoking section annoying all and sundry. It’s mother did not seem overly concerned. We avoided all eye contact, even when it pressed it’s nose up against the glass door separating us. Our waiter, who obviously had been practising his English for the last two years of his career, proudly proclaimed to Mirinda that her dessert of assorted sorbets was, in fact, a rabbit.
We left as soon as we could and went for our customary digestive stroll. Back in our room, bathed in the cold glow of a blue neon strip outside our window, I watched the worlds strongest men pulling trucks and generally straining humungous muscles, before getting too tired to stay awake.
The people upstairs appeared to be waltzing across the floor.