Sunday, November 22, 2009

Le Havre: it doesn't suck quite as much as I thought it would

And we’re back to posting in not-so-real time… I started this post a few weeks ago and am only getting back to finish it now. So I’ll stick dates in to make things clearer.

Franglophone Fou has arrived! I went to pick him up at the airport on Wednesday (Nov. 4), which went off without a hitch (except when I got un tout petit peu lost… Shush. Charles de Gaulle is big and complicated). Here we are being cute on the train:

Sitting a few seats in front of us was my chorus director! She recognized me and said hi, although I have a feeling she was trying desperately to place me.

Logan was too jet-lagged to do anything much, but we did manage to cook dinner (roasted vegetable and goat cheese sandwiches again, because that’s never going to get old) before he went to bed. Then he was off to Le Havre on Thursday to meet his teachers, one of whom graciously offered to pick him up at the station.

On Friday (Nov. 6), I headed off to Le Havre after my last class. About 20 minutes before we were meant to reach Le Havre, I noticed that the train was traveling more and more slowly. “Ah well, I imagine we’re going through a town or a small station – we’ll speed up again soon,” I thought gaily. An announcement came on and I snatched my headphones off to hear: “Ladies and gentlemen, because of [incomprehensible french word], our train will go more slowly than usual. Please excuse the inconvenience.” At this point, I looked out the window and saw a small lake alongside the train, then saw a signpost sticking out of the lake. Wait… Something is not right. No, that’s not a lake, that’s a road. Perhaps that incomprehensible French word was “flooding”? My guess was confirmed immediately by the sight of a warehouse with water past its foundation. The tracks were clear, though, so the Petit Train Who Could continued chugging gamely on. Then the train stopped. Completely. Nowhere near a station or a town or anything. Another announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, because of flooding and mud, only one track is open. Trains are taking turns, and we’re waiting for a train from Le Havre to come through so we can continue. Please be patient; the SNCF apologizes for the inconvenience.” Annoyed rumbles from passengers – I texted Logan and plugged back into my iPod. Half an hour later, the other train whooshed through and we limped on our way. I arrived in Le Havre about an hour late, and Logan was there to guide me through the rain and wind and ickiness. Because it was raining, of course – what were you expecting? Bienvenue en Normandie!

We took the bus back to Logan’s prison cell (not entirely an exaggeration) and made a lovely romantic dinner with the cheapest stuff we could find at the Super-U down the road. Also, the previous tenant (also an English assistant) had left wine glasses! La classe, hein?

The next day, we were very lazy (I blame jet-lag and the presence of Logan’s external drive and its oodles and oodles of movies and TV shows) and stayed in most of the day, only looking out the window to confirm that yes, it was raining. Again. At one point, the sound of the rain changed and we looked outside to see:

Yes, that’s hail. It continued for about 5 minutes, then stopped, and then the sun came out and it turned quite nice, although a bit windy. We decided to take advantage of this to go downtown and buy Logan a shiny new French cell phone. Handily, there were four cell phone stores in a row on a street near the Hôtel de Ville, so comparison shopping was very easy. After looking at every single pre-paid phone in every single store (and playing with all of them, too, which amused the saleslady to no end – I tried to explain that the feel of a phone is very important but she just kept looking at Logan incredulously) Logan ended up getting a very sexy slidey phone (you know, the kind where the top part slides up to reveal the rest of the keypad) which he still never stops playing with. We wandered around downtown a bit and found this awesome pedestrian bridge:

The next day (Sunday the 8th), we walked to a bakery we’d discovered the day before that is open on Sunday afternoons (Hallelujah!) to buy a baguette. Here is Logan, looking as French as you can get:

We walked down to the ocean to have a picnic, where we saw an adorable dog, chasing stones into the surf:

The ocean view was also pretty spectacular:

We had noticed lots of signs pointing to various tourist attractions and giving the walking time, so we thought we’d follow the ones saying “Jardins suspendus” (hanging gardens) because it sounded cool. They pointed us up a hill

and said “Jardins suspendus – 15 min”. Fifteen minutes? We can do that, we’re young and strong. Ten minutes later, nowhere near anything and with the signs still saying 10 minutes to the gardens, we started to doubt their accuracy, but figured we might as well keep going.

As we were walking up (and up and up), we spotted a little boy in a pirate hat, lion’s-mane-yellow velveteen coat, and rubber boots wielding a blunderbuss and running around. Fighting back jealousy and an urge to tell his father how awesome he was, we continued on to the gardens, which were closed. There are greenhouses and other things there, though, so we’re planning to go back in the spring. So as not to waste the walk, we headed out to a lookout point, where we found le petit pirate again! This time, we noticed that he had a leather belt and a Jolly Roger sash criss-crossed across his chest as well. Best. Costume. Ever. He and his (sadly uncostumed) friend were looking out to sea, shouting to their fathers about what they saw. “Daddy, look! It’s a pirate ship! I can go on it because I’m a pirate!”

(Pirate ship is teeny-tiny, clearly planning to board the cargo ship next to it.)
“Yes, you can. What do you see on the pirate ship?”
“Nothing, it’s too far away!”
“Look closer, I’m sure you’ll spot something.”
“Oh! Cannons, of course!”
“Yes, well done! But now we have to go home…”
The boys ignored him, of course, so out came the parental manipulation:
“Hey boys, who has the treasure map?”
“I do, I do!” (waving a piece of paper)
“So, do you think the pirates are on the ship? Or perhaps they’ve gotten off and are sneaking inland to our house to steal our treasure!”
“Oh no!” (running back to the car)

So that pretty much made our day. Then it was back to home sweet prison cell, and thence to Rouen on Monday (since I have Mondays free).

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