WHEN A PARIS PÉNICHE IS MORE THAN JUST A BARGE

A variety of boats & peniches moored along the Seine in Paris. Photo, wikimedia

One of the most pleasant ways to relax in Paris is to take a stroll along the banks of the Seine.  It’s a busy, working river with a constant flow of craft of all descriptions.  Ranging from the many tourist boats crammed with sightseers enjoying the unique perspective of the city’s great landmarks from the river, to serious, business-like barges riding low in the water, filled with anything from building site rubble to bales of shredded paper heading to the recycling depot, while others are piled high with freight.  Many also have homey touches such as pot plants, plastic garden furniture, laundry fluttering in the breeze, and perhaps a small car and bicycles perched on the back deck.  As well, there are other barges, tied up dockside, that are clearly used as floating homes.  Aside from these though, there are a number of traditional barges, or péniches, that have been converted to quite different uses.

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MONT SAINT-MICHEL, NORMANDY’S JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Rising tide at sunset, Mont Saint-Michel. Photo, citywonders.fr

It is surely one of the most stunningly beautiful sights in Europe, and in its setting in a bay shared by Normandy and Brittany, Le Mont Saint-Michel draws the eye from a great distance.  It has been a great Christian pilgrimage site from the early 8th century when a local bishop claimed that the Archangel Michael himself came to him in a vision and pressured him into constructing a church atop the island just off the coast.  It’s safe to say there’s nowhere in the world quite like this magical island, topped by its Gothic-style Benedictine abbey that arises out of the bay like a heavenly apparition.

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ROUEN- NORMANDY’S VIBRANT, HISTORIC & CULTURAL CAPITAL

The Gros Horloge Rouen. Photo, travelawaits

Situated on the banks of the river Seine, Rouen is the capital of the Haute Normandie region.  An active port and commercial city even in the Roman era and Middle ages, Rouen has a number of ornate Gothic churches, beautiful medieval half-timbered houses, a cobblestoned pedestrian centre and its famous astronomical clock.  Even if you’ve never been there, you’ll likely to recognise its Cathedral of Notre Dame from the numerous paintings of Claude Monet and J.M.W. Turner, and of course, know it as the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.  As well as its long, and often turbulent history, Rouen is also a modern city known for its art, culture and excellent food.

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HISTORIC NORMANDY – FROM THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY, CHÂTEAUX, MEDIEVAL TOWNS & A RICH CUISINE

Beauvour-Druval, on the Route de Cidre. Photo, tripadvisor

Normandy offers a rich feast of contrasts for the visitor, ranging from fashionable beach resorts, stunning scenery that inspired the Impressionists and the dramatic coast of the D-Day Landings, which we’ve touched on in the last couple of blogs.  There’s a whole lot more to explore though, from historic artefacts, medieval fairs and ruined abbeys, to châteaux, cheeses, cider, conquerors and the childhood home of one of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century.

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NORMANDY AND THE D-DAY LANDINGS

‘The Braves’ sculpture on Omaha Beach. Photo, ricksteves

As well as the delightful seaside towns such as Deauville, Trouville and Honfleur and the extraordinary natural phenomena of Étretat, there’s another important aspect of the Normandy coast.  It’s something of a pilgrimage site for travellers who want to visit the landscape of the momentous day that changed the course of history.  The D-Day Landings just before dawn on 06 June 1944 were nothing less than the largest and most complex combined airborne and amphibious military operation of all time.

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