The Normandy Michelin gave three stars, its highest rating, to Jumieges, where the ruins of a twelfth-century abbey can be seen. But we have to admit that we lack the specialized knowledge and interest to be aficianados of ruins. We prefer beautifully architected buildings that are still standing. There were large grounds encompassing the abbey ruins in Jumieges, where the monks had labored. The managers of the national monument had turned over part of Jumieges abbey ruins these grounds to some modern artists, whose unusual creations (possibly they could be thought of as sculpture) made a rather jarring contrast with the ancient buildings. Several tour groups had arrived by the time we left, and were patiently listening to discussions about vaults and the kind of masonry, etc.
In the gift store was a display of a model submitted by a school of architecture in Normandy proposing a complete restoration of the abbey to it's original appearance. But the government had thought it too expensive, and they were probably correct. With so many historical monuments to preserve, European governments have difficult decisions to make. There was a crew of specialized construction workers up on scaffolding working to stabilize the abbey church and prevent further deterioration.
Finally, we might observe that the reason the abbey had fallen into ruin is that it had been closed down, possibly at the time of the revolution. The church did not have funds to support it, either, for the church was relying on extensive government funding which dried up with the separation of church and state. Throughout the nineteenth century, the pamphlet told us, Jumieges was basically abandoned, a local eyesore. About one hundred years ago it was purchased and turned into a mildly successful tourist attraction, and then more recently became a national monument.
Jumieges is on the Seine, and we discovered a tiny ferry crossing, with room enough for about six cars, so we crossed over and climbed a steep hill into a forest and followed the meandering river towards a famous bridge given two stars by Michelin, "le pont de Trancarville." Until quite recently, this bridge, a long suspension span, was closest to the mouth of the river, and traffic from Le Havre had to drive up the Seine to the Trancarville bridge to get The Seine at Le Havre to the other side. We walked up the roadway until we were a couple hundred feet above the river, looking down at the barge traffic. Then we headed west on the north bank of the Seine towards the Pont de Normandie, less than five years old. On the way we had a long conversation as to whether the rive was gauche or droite looking upstream or downstream, especially as the road signs simply said autre rive. We know, of course, that in Paris the Rive Gauche is on the left looking downstream; is that true all the length of the river?
We stopped to photograph the Pont de Normandie, which looks like it goes to heaven, a thin strand of roadway vanishing in the distance. On the south bank, we were still talking about gauche and droite and missed the turn, so we had a little free-form navigation beginning at Honfleur, which marks the beginning of the Normandy ocean resorts. It reminded us of Sausalito, with lots of sidewalk cafes and a nice marina.
Leaving Honfleur we lost the coast road and drove through the hills a bit but found our way back to Villerville and Trouville and Deauville, where we admired the many new beach resorts and casinos and big yachts and beach houses, a few old but mostly new. We were surprised to find a number of attractions closed, then discovered that the season is July and August, and before that many businesses open only on weekends.
Remembering our railroad trip a couple of years ago, we chose Mercure Hotels whenever we could; we were pleasantly surprised to find that most rooms Caen castle moat had a rollaway bed for Dan at no extra charge. So we headed next for the Mercure Hotel in Caen. The downtown hotel was sold out, but they found us a room in a nearby suburb. The directions were clear enough leaving Caen, but the turn to the hotel was absolutely unmarked, and we suddenly found ourselves funnelled onto the Route Peripherique, a freeway. We were nine miles away before we could get turned around!
We were intrigued to find one of the roads next to the hotel blocked off in a most unusual manner. Some ten large rocks, about two or three feet in diameter, had been placed across the roadway, thereby effectively halting traffic. We never did learn why this method was chosen to close the road, but it was certainly effective!
After checking in to the hotel, we returned to Caen and explored the gothic church of St. Pierre and the large castle on the hilltop. The bridges across the now-dry moat make a handy shortcut for residents who are accustomed to this historic ruin in their midst. We imagined the life of the old town during a time of siege, when the cattle were brought inside the walls to graze on the grass in the common, and soldiers manned the high ramparts, maintaining fields of fire to repel attackers. The castle grounds today include some museums along with the prefecture of police.
When we got back to the hotel, we had to stop so Dan could test his strength against the large rocks. He was able to move it, and we were quite happy a policeman didn't just happen to wander by to ask what he was doing!