Where the Seine Meets the English Channel

Originally emailed end of August 2001

Did I mention that I still have a very painful and sore heel on my right foot from my last trip to the Louvre in flip-flops?  What was I thinking? I decided to grin and bear it because Lois is coming into Le Havre aboard the Royal Princess on the way to Iceland and I didn’t want to abandon my plans to meet her there for her one day layover.

Lois led the trip to Sicily last Easter and was a highlight of my trips this past year. For those of you who do not know Lois, she is a good friend who I met through mutual friends several  years ago.  Our paths crossed geographically without us knowing about it.  Her energy is unmatched. She is a walker who never fatigues.  All her friends struggle to keep up with her.  She is an Auntie Mame character who cannot get enough of life.  Her loyalty to friends makes her even more special.

Hit a few snags on this trip to Le Havre. I was on my own again. To start, the car I reserved was reserved for September instead of August so I had a three-hour wait while they found me a car. Le Havre turned out to be a driving nightmare with confusing one-way streets and beat up old street signs which were unreadable. For the first time all year, I felt travel weary.

At last I spotted a sign for my hotel which said 400M with an arrow to the right. I turned off but could not find the hotel. I circled around several times and even checked the other side streets around the sign. (It reminded me of the time the kids and I were driving around Washington DC attempting to visit the Lincoln Memorial.  We could see it plain as day but could not find the turnoff.  We continued to drive in circles around it until we finally broke into laughter).  No hotel in sight. I was getting a sinking feeling.  To add to my distress, I was driving a car with a clutch which was painful between the left knee and right heel. I’m falling apart at age 60! I finally laughed at myself.

I stopped at the first hotel on the arrow turn and went in to see if they ever heard of my hotel. “Oh, we are your hotel. We changed our name three years ago but not the signs,” explained the desk clerk. Not a good sign. Were they trying to hide from someone?

 

 

 

 

Finally, I got to the front desk determined to forget the interesting ride. They apologized but there was no single room for me and they claimed that they had faxed me in Paris. There would only be a double at double prices. I have no fax machine so I knew that was a lie. I showed them the confirmation I had received in the mail. I stood my ground and insisted that they honor it and give me a double room for single room price. So they were forced to find me a room but it would not be ready for three hours. Oh yes, I got the “shrug.”

Determined not to get annoyed,  I went to the dining room. In spite of the time {between lunch and dinner serving times] they took pity on me and agreed to serve me. There was a table with four people lingering over coffee. All the tables for two were covered with dirty dishes. I sat down at the only clean table but it was for four. “No, no madame, I cannot seat you at a four-top. You will have to wait for a clean table for two.”  Why? No one else is in the dining room.  Lunch was over. No one will even be coming for dinner for several hours.  I had to stand my ground once more. I stayed at the table, gave him a big smile, made believe I didn’t understand what he had said, and asked for a menu.

Speaking of not understanding the language. Isn’t it odd that no one speaks English in Le Havre, the Port of Europe, where huge cruise ships arrive every day with American tourists?

I tempted fate and ordered the steak. I figured that risking “mad cow disease” would be better than sinking my teeth into tripe or lapin, the only other offerings. No thank you. With my last sip of coffee and the waiter watching me take every sip so he can get me out of there , the room became ready.

Of course, this hotel is undergoing renovations so one has to take the elevator to the first floor, walk to the other end of the hallway, take another elevator to the third floor and walk back across the hotel. At last I arrived at my room. Just a slight problem – a man in my room in shorts and a sleeveless undershirt smoking a big cigar. Back to the lobby. Again I pulled out my confirmation letter for “Non fumer” or no smoking room. Now it will be another hour to find me a clean, non-smoking room without Tony Soprano in it. Lots of shoulder shrugging and eye rolling going on.

I pulled my luggage over to the lobby and sat down in a wicker chair and opened my book to wait. A man walked up to me and asks me to please leave the chair as he has reserved this part of the salon (lobby) for a business meeting. Back to the dining room with my luggage and another grumpy puss where I get the “dinner does not begin until 8 pm” routine. Where can I sit down, I ask. La toilette? Le curbe? Le tapiz? La rue?

It is now six pm and we (the sullen desk clerk and I) are off to my new room with some trepidation on my part. Finally a clean room. Spotless but hideous. The toilet and sink look like space ships. Couldn’t figure out whether to brush my teeth or pee in them. More good news – extra pillows and towels. Better news – Sports Channel on TV with early rounds of US Open Tennis. Yippee.  Room service. Heaven.

Now I try to find out where to locate the Royal Princess in this huge port. Found the phone book and started trying to use the phone. It had a busy signal. By 7 pm I try to call the front desk. Still busy. Off I go down the zig zag route to the front desk. No English speaking help. No Info # to call. I figured out that the desk clerk was telling me that I am dialing too fast and that is why I get a busy signal. All this conversation was in sign language and the making of phone sounds.

Trek back to the room. Dial slowly. No luck. Back to the desk. They hate me at the desk. I can see it in their eyes.  I insist on seeing the manager. He was almost cross-eyed listening and interpreting my dilemma. He gave me the same song and dance about dialing too fast.  Who ever heard of that? Finally the manager headed to the room with me limping behind. He tried the phone. “The phone does not work.” He is fit to be tied. He has been humiliated. I was right and he was wrong. They really hate me now.

Guess what? I was getting yet another room. Settled into my new room. Peed in the space ship. Dialed the cruise line number. Everything in the Port is now closed and won’t open till 9 am. I am scheduled to meet Lois at 8 am. This was a mess.

I ordered a wake-up call for 6 am. Settled down with luke warm tea and the US Open. I was totally exhausted.

In spite of exhaustion, sleeping was fitful. The room was right next to the RR track. Freight trains ran all night long. And guess who does not get a wake-up call at 6 am. It was inevitable. Maybe they did it on purpose as they truly despise me. I was now paranoid. I fear this email is sounding a bit like those boring missives attached to Christmas cards with way too many details.

Woke myself up at 7 am. Jumped in the car to find the Royal Princess in 45 minutes. Headed for the main Port entrance. Spotted a huge cruise ship in the distance. If there is a God, it would be the Royal Princess. I wiggled my way towards it going over bridges, causeways, etc. I made a turn around a warehouse on a cobble stone driveway and voila! The Royal Princess. It is 8:01 am and Lois is waving from the top of the gangplank. There is a God.

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Lois ran back aboard the ship and grabbed me a cup of coffee and a bran muffin. We ate in the car and mapped out the day. We decided to go to Liseaux to see St. Therese. We were chatting away and missed our turn at one of the “Toutes Directions” circles. So we stopped at a service station where two happy clerks were delighted to help two American women – lost and “en vacances.” They pulled out several maps and pointed the tangled way back to Liseaux. At their suggestion, we decided to scrap that trip and head for the Alabaster Coast (called that because of the milky water and chalky coastline).

We first stopped at Fecamp, a picturesque ville with a cathedral whose apse was the size of the one at Notre Dame. IMG_2846The altar contained the imprint of an angel’s foot. I believed it. The town was filled with quaint doorways, arches, stonework with seashells or snails or fish. We peeked into houses through the lace curtains. Lots of seashore related items in the shops.

We walked to the Benedictine Abbey at the other end of town where the monks make the liqueur with twenty-eight herbs and spices. I could have easily been talked into a sip of brandy.

 

 

 

As we drove along the coast to Entretat, we happened on a high rent district filled with charming seaside estates. Lots of courtyards and gardens with umbrellas and trellises similar to Bay Head. Spotted a sign “Auberge” and pulled in for a late lunch in a gracious garden restaurant.IMG_2852 We tried the seafood – mussels for Lois in an iron kettle – poached dorado for me in a lemon sauce. Yummy.

Continued to head for Entretat. What luck that we would explore a seashore town – two Jersey Shore girls. It was great to breathe the salt air again. Crowded but cute. So this is what the French version of Point Pleasant, NJ looks like. We took turns watching our illegally parked rental VW to run up to the beach with all the other tourists to glimpse the “Elephant” carved out of the coastline by tides – his giant trunk dipping into the ocean. Magnificent.

 

 

 

Poked our way back to Le Havre just in time for a cold drink and meet Lois’s ship mates before the Royal Princess headed for Iceland. I waved from the shoreline as they sailed into the English Channel. The day made all the other misadventures worthwhile. Lois was so patient with my driving (impaired by the need for cataract surgery causing me to occasionally hit a curb) and my walking (impaired by the knee and heel causing me to limp along slowly). I am sure you are bored with my ailments.  So am I.IMG_2840

Stayed overnight in my favorite hotel, smiled at my favorite desk clerk, watched tennis, listened to the trains until early am when I brushed my teeth in the space ship and caught the train back to Paris.

 

 

 

 

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