Another Normandy weekend found La Famille Kessel welcoming a newbie to our oh-so-humble abode in Blangy-le-Château, which of course meant hitting the road. Though perhaps ‘hitting’ is too strong a term, as the rental car we have this time around is a Suzuki Celerio, a strange tiny beast of a vehicle that huffs-and-puffs at the slightest incline. Maybe ‘patting the road’ is more accurate. Also, it offers the strangest version of an automatic transmission I have yet encountered, with a three-stop gearshift that one pushes forward (into ‘R’) to go backwards and backward (into ‘D’) to go forwards. Neutral (‘N’), I am glad to say, is rationally located in the middle, which is just as it should be.
Also, if the driver prefers they can manually shift the gears by tapping the gearshift slightly to the left from A, and then tapping it up (into ‘M+’) to move to the next highest gear and down (into ‘M-‘) to downshift.
An automatic Standard? A non-standard Automatic? I have no idea what to call this new breed of auto (though a quick spin around the Internet just now seems to indicate it is “automated manual transmission”), but regardless of drive type moniker it is one awful ride. Setting that aside, the Celerio did perform its function, though with no élan whatsoever.
But enough about the car already.
On Saturday afternoon following lunch and a rainstorm (or two rainstorms…three?…this time of year the weather shifts so fast in Normandy it is a fool’s errand to try to delineate such) our band of four piled into the Celerio and headed for Honfleur, the remarkably picturesque port town that bumps up along where the Seine meets La Manche (that’s “English Channel” to all of you good mother-tongue English speakers out there). A regular visit we make with first-time visitors, I have to say that My Missus and The Boy and I really do enjoy making the 25-minute drive from Blangy to Honfleur a few times each year. Honfleur is beautiful, quaint and extremely charming and as expected this serves to make the place a little too touristy. Still, it is the perfect size for an afternoon walkabout and offers plenty of high-end shopping for the well-heeled, including a good amount of art galleries whose wares (and probably owners) are in some form of constant shift as well as some be-careful-what-you-touch antique shops. There are a number of interesting churches to walk through, a museum dedicated to the life and artwork of Honfleur favorite son Eugène Boudin (who had much to do with Monet becoming…well, Monet), and all manner of historical this-n-that surrounding the oh-so-postcardy harbor. Finally, Honfleur offers some truly marvelous grub to be had…great seafood restaurants, a few very nice creperies, and — of course — Alexandre Bourdas’s matchless Sa.Qa.Na).
I parked the Celerio — pushing the gearshift forward to back into my spot in front of Saint-Leonard — and shoehorned my group out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Recompressed, we began easing into Honfleur, and as always the town didn’t disappoint. Boats in the harbor, crushes of people packed into the cafés and restaurants lining the northern end of the port (all tourist traps that should be avoided at all costs, but which aren’t), and a truly awful rock group playing badly under a tent at the port’s southeastern corner next to the ubiquitous carrousel. All good.
We wandered over the drawbridge at the mouth of the harbor and walked up into the north end of town. Honfleur is one of those places where you just can’t help but repeatedly snap your shutter, even if you have a comprehensive souvenir album and have also already taken every picture there is to take (and many times over, at that).
“The way the clouds layer the blue sky over such-n-such church…wow.” “What a remarkable boat! And the flags!” “Isn’t that cute?”
At one point My Missus headed into the Musée Eugène Boudin with my visiting friend, and The Boy and I shot over to La Belle-Iloise to grab up some quality canned mackerel products. Soon we would all reconnect at the Celerio, and…well, just in case we got stuck inside the darn thing I wanted to be prepared!