France Recap: Normandy and Paris

 

Part two of my recap of our trip to France over the holidays. This post includes Normandy and Paris! Pour a glass of wine, grab some cheese and baguette and enjoy! 

 
 

Bonjour! Popping in once again with part 2 (or is it part deux??) of our trip to France. Check out part one, where we spent a week in the Loire valley with my family for Christmas.

The hubs and I tacked on a couple extra days on the end of our family trip to explore Normandy and spend NYE in Paris. First stop was Mont St-Michel with a brief detour in Fougeres to break up the four hour trip. The drive there was absolutely stunning, especially towards the end. As we drove through tiny country roads, farms and fields of greens, you could catch glimpses of Mont St-Michel perched on it's rocky island looming up in the distance.

 
Random ruins all over town in Fougeres. This old fireplace was just chillin’ in the middle of a park.

Random ruins all over town in Fougeres. This old fireplace was just chillin’ in the middle of a park.

Getting closer to Mont St-Michel!

Getting closer to Mont St-Michel!

 

Mont St-Michel has been on my bucket list since my parents bought me back a Mont St-Michel t-shirt after a trip when I was a kid. If you've never heard of it, it's one of the top sights in France, an abbey built high on top of a rocky island just off the coast of Normandy. It's famous for it's extreme tides, which vary by almost 50 feet, and turn Mont St-Michel into an island with high tide. When tide is low, you can see miles and miles of sand punctuated by streams. They recently built a bridge to access the island by bus, but before you used to have to navigate the tides to visit.

We made our way through the crowded streets to tour the abbey. There's one main road that leads from the entrance to the town up to the abbey, the same road that medieval pilgrims once took. Once we finally made it to the abbey, we spend a few hours exploring the church, cloisters, and other abbey buildings, some of which were over 1,000 years old.

 
Needless to say, there's lots of stairs involved with a trip to Mont St-Michel
Needless to say, there's lots of stairs involved with a trip to Mont St-Michel
The Grande Rue: It's like the disney world of monasteries
The Grande Rue: It's like the disney world of monasteries
The bay at low tide.

The bay at low tide.

The cloister. This is actually on top of three other stories of buildings, so the monks had to be really careful about waterproofing the garden otherwise the whole complex would collapse.

The cloister. This is actually on top of three other stories of buildings, so the monks had to be really careful about waterproofing the garden otherwise the whole complex would collapse.

Pretty impressive…

Pretty impressive…

 

After our tour, we grabbed a quick snack of quiche and nutella crepes since we hadn't eaten since breakfast, then checked into our hotel. We stayed at one of the few hotels on the island and splurged on a room with a bay view - so worth it! We cracked open a Loire valley bottle of red and went off for a sunset stroll.

 
View from our hotel room. Not too shabby!

View from our hotel room. Not too shabby!

Sunset at Mont St-Michel

Sunset at Mont St-Michel

We finally got to enjoy streets without the crazy crowds!

We finally got to enjoy streets without the crazy crowds!

 

While we were out on our stroll, we lucked into seeing the tides come in. We read somewhere that it was going to happen in the middle of the night, so hadn't even thought about catching it. But all of a sudden, we saw a huge five foot wave come in through the river and slowly start to fill up the bay. You could even hear it from where we were perched high on the island!

 
Tidal bore coming in. Not as impressive in my picture, but trust me, it was huge and loud!

Tidal bore coming in. Not as impressive in my picture, but trust me, it was huge and loud!

Tide beginning to rise

Tide beginning to rise

 

After the sun set, we took a walk around town to find dinner. We had been warned that the food on the island was pretty bad, so we were debating if it was worth it to splurge on the nice restaurant in the town. We decided we'd be pretty annoyed if we spent a lot of money on dinner and it was just mediocre, so we settled on a place that looked nice and simple and made the two dishes we really wanted to try - salt lamb from the marsh and a Mont St-Michel style omelette. FAIL! Not only was the service awful, but the food was SO gross! Apparently the Mont St-Michel-style omelet is made with lots of whipped egg whites, so the middle is basically egg foam. So weird. Scott's lamb was edible, but honestly, I could make better at home and I've only cooked lamb myself once! At least our cider was tasty!

 
It looks like melty, delicious cheese is running out of my omelet, but no, that’s weird egg foam. Oh, and it needs salt.

It looks like melty, delicious cheese is running out of my omelet, but no, that’s weird egg foam. Oh, and it needs salt.

Not sure if I could taste the brine from the salt marsh fed lamb, or if it was the overly salted and weird gravy…

Not sure if I could taste the brine from the salt marsh fed lamb, or if it was the overly salted and weird gravy…

 

What to do after a failed dinner? Drink wine! We grabbed a couple glasses then headed out to explore the ramparts at night and stargaze. We used the Sky View app and it's really cool. Point it at the sky and it shows you what constellations you're looking at.

 
Drinking away the icky tasting omelette! Hello red wine mouth.

Drinking away the icky tasting omelette! Hello red wine mouth.

Had the streets all to ourselves

Had the streets all to ourselves

Mont St-Michel at night

Mont St-Michel at night

 

The next morning we slept through plans for an early morning run (because it was hella cold) and instead bundled up for a sunrise stroll before the tourists came in. It was so neat to see the island now surrounded by water.

 
 

After a quick breakfast, it was off for Paris, stopping in Bayeux along the way. While in Bayeux, we had a nice hearty lunch to make up for the previous nights failed dinner. Then we stumbled into the cathedral on a whim,, which turned out to be one of the prettiest I've ever seen. The stained glass was amazingly intricate and the way the sun was shining at the time, it covered the cathedral will all sorts of technicolor lights.

Then we went to the museum to see the Bayeux tapestry. Normally, tapestries aren't exactly my thing (are they anyone's thing?) but Scott really wanted to go and it actually turned out to be one of the most interesting things we did. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside, but a 1,000 year old, 230 ft long tapestry spread out in a giant room behind glass. It tells the story of the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror, scene by scene, which is explained through an audio tour. Weirdly, it was like watching a movie. I was even anxious for the characters!

 
Bad lighting but Scott’s AMAZING burger. It had the juiciest rare beef burger with camembert cheese, onion jam and was topped with a slice of andouillette (the only part I didn’t like – look it up!)

Bad lighting but Scott’s AMAZING burger. It had the juiciest rare beef burger with camembert cheese, onion jam and was topped with a slice of andouillette (the only part I didn’t like – look it up!)

My roasted leg of lamb with sauteed wild mushrooms and mashed Jerusalem artichokes. Totally made up for last night. Perfect with a bottle of cider!

My roasted leg of lamb with sauteed wild mushrooms and mashed Jerusalem artichokes. Totally made up for last night. Perfect with a bottle of cider!

Bayeux cathedral

Bayeux cathedral

The inside looked like it was ready for a rave!

The inside looked like it was ready for a rave!

 

We finally arrived in Paris as it was getting dark. We stayed in a little airbnb apartment in a building originally built in the 1300s. It was off a tiny little side street called Rue Visconti, the home of many famous artists and apparently a scene in Les Mis (although I can't figure out which one - musical theater geeks, help!). I'd highly recommend staying in our neighborhood, St. Germaine. It's the artists neighborhood so it's a blast to wander around and look in the windows of different artists studios. There was a ton of great shopping and plenty of cafes and restaurants.

We had to wait to get in to our airbnb (our poor host's elderly mother fell and broke her arm!), so while Scott returned our car in the airport, I hung out by myself in an old cafe, La Palette, and had a couple glasses of rose (hey, I was there for awhile!). Back in the day, the bar was frequented by Cézanne, Picasso and later by Ernest Hemingway and Jim Morrison.

 
 

After finally settling into our apartment, we walked to L'Avant Comptoir, which was essentially a tapas and wine bar, but served French food. It was packed with people drinking and starting their night out, but somehow we found a spot at the bar and ordered a bottle of rose and a few appetizers. It came with LITERALLY THE BEST BREAD I'VE EVER HAD. Super crispy outside, tender and fluffy in the middle, speckled with a few nuts and spiced with chilies - take me back! Ack! And I just found out via google that Antony Bourdain went there. My husband is probably really glad I didn't know that at the time. I have a huge crush on him and probably would have done something embarrassing like trying to sit at the same seat he was at ;)

 
The menu hangs from the ceiling, which looks cool but is also kinda annoying when it's packed and something in the back corner looks good but you can't read it.
The menu hangs from the ceiling, which looks cool but is also kinda annoying when it's packed and something in the back corner looks good but you can't read it.
We went the meat and cheese route, as you should when in Paris. Charcuterie plate, goat cheese cake with parmesan crumble and pesto smothered burrata.

We went the meat and cheese route, as you should when in Paris. Charcuterie plate, goat cheese cake with parmesan crumble and pesto smothered burrata.

I was a little tipsy and decided I wanted a selfie capturing my joy while eating this bread, but I think I only managed to capture awkwardness…

I was a little tipsy and decided I wanted a selfie capturing my joy while eating this bread, but I think I only managed to capture awkwardness…

After dinner, we walked along the Siene to see Notre Dame lit up at night.

Le Siene….sigh…

Le Siene….sigh…

Notre Dame at night

Notre Dame at night

Institut de France

Institut de France

Rue Visconti, the cute little street we were staying on

Rue Visconti, the cute little street we were staying on

 

The next day was New Years Even. We started with a croissant and too small coffee breakfast, then spent the morning at the Louvre. If you think you're not an art person and find yourself at the Louvre, I highly recommend getting the audio tour. You can plug in difference pieces of art and learn the back story, which gave me a whole new appreciation for pieces I would have otherwise glanced over.

 
It was a cloudy and COLD day, perfect for museum-ing

It was a cloudy and COLD day, perfect for museum-ing

We saw the Mona Lisa!

We saw the Mona Lisa!

 

Afterwards, we headed towards the Latin Quarter for a late lunch at Marche Mouffetard, a food market where they sell a lot of artisan and organic goods. We picked went to the restaurant Le Mouffetard, where we split a salad and a cheese, potato and ham cassoulet. Pure heaven on a below freezing day! Afterwards, we explored the market with a cup of rich hot cocoa in hand.

 
Southwestern salad, which in France means southwestern France, which means covered in duck things like fois gras, duck confit and duck prosciutto

Southwestern salad, which in France means southwestern France, which means covered in duck things like fois gras, duck confit and duck prosciutto

Cheese, ham and potato gratin plus gratuitous salad

Cheese, ham and potato gratin plus gratuitous salad

Fresh scallops at Le Marche Mouffetard

Fresh scallops at Le Marche Mouffetard

More fresh seafood, ready for NYE celebrations

More fresh seafood, ready for NYE celebrations

 

We were going to explore the area outside a little more, but it was SO cold. So, we stumbled into this random and awesome beer cave to hang out and met up with my childhood friend from New York, Justin, and his wife, new baby and nanny, who just happened to be visiting Paris at the same time. Yay for social media making the world seem small again! My South Carolinian readers will appreciate the fact that they sold Westbrook, our favorite Charleston brew. You can't get it hardly anywhere outside of South Carolina, but you can find it in Paris!

 
He's very happy to have a hoppy IPA after a week of wine!
He's very happy to have a hoppy IPA after a week of wine!

For New Years, we had reservations at Willi's Wine Bar. It was really hard to find reservations that night, even though I tried looking almost a month in advance, so I just picked this one out of an online article. I was worried that it sounded like the name of a bar selling Franzia in Alabama, but it actually turned out to be really good and had a great atmosphere!

Creamy cauliflower and smoked haddock soup

Creamy cauliflower and smoked haddock soup

Walnut bread with apple compote, fois gras, and figs

Walnut bread with apple compote, fois gras, and figs

Seafood “paella” made with acini di pepe

Seafood “paella” made with acini di pepe

Scott’s entree, which was some sort of meaty dish, I think wild boar, with a berry sauce and mashed sweets

Scott’s entree, which was some sort of meaty dish, I think wild boar, with a berry sauce and mashed sweets

Amazing little flourless chocolate cake! Scott got truffle cheese and I stole approximately half of it.

Amazing little flourless chocolate cake! Scott got truffle cheese and I stole approximately half of it.

After dinner, we made our way to the Siene where we found a spot on the Pont des Artes to ring in the new year. The bridge was packed with people popping bottles of champagne and watching the fireworks over the Arc de Triumph in the distance. Couldn't think of a more perfect end to 2016!

Ringing in 2017!

Ringing in 2017!

 
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