A good friend of mine has a great travel philosophy – Big Day, Little Day. The premise is simple – when traveling, alternate big busier days with little simpler days. But I must confess, when traveling with students I often fail to adhere to this principle. Don’t get my wrong – I definitly try. But when we get out on the road, when given a CHOICE between something, and nothing, the students choose something. To quote a great number of them, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead….there is so much more I want to see.” And that’s the truth isn’t it? They’ve come all this way to Europe, and there is SO much to see. Seems like a “waste” to take a break. Except the part where a break is 100% necessary. On day 6 students didn’t think they were tired, until the day was over and they were grateful for our “normal” norman day. On day 12 though they felt it. Students falling asleep at the dinner table, and dragging their feet another 5 km. I digress…
On day 6 we opted for a day of relaxation. Kept it simple. After breakfast at the farm (which in Normandy is a baguette, jam or marmalade, and tea or coffee served in a bowl), we took the 45 minute drive to Rouen. Being that it was a Sunday, almost everything was closed, and the streets were quiet. All except the local markets. We broke into small groups of 6-7 and began to wander the streets. My group headed to the Notre Dame Cathedral first, before walking over the Vieux Marche – or the Old Market. It is located in the town square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Now there is a memorial to her, and a new church in her name. The memorial has a wall, a garden, and a cross erected in the square. Joan was burned at the stake in 1431, burned 3 times to ensure she was ash and that no relics of her body could be collected. She was then thrown in the Seine. Joan was considered a heroine in France during the Hundred Years War. Joan claimed to have visions from angels, that helped her aid Charles VII to reclaim France from the English. She had great success, but at the age of 19 was captured by the English who put her on trial for a variety of charges – the main being heresy.
My group walked through he square and then the market – which contained only food and was frequented by locals. Vegetables, Seafood and Fruit were popular, and stands with fresh Paella and other dishes were beginning to pop up.
We then headed for the biggest of the Sunday markets – Marche de la St. Marc. Still a “locals” market, there were also stands with watches, underwear, chairs, records, used goods, clothing, cheese, dried fruit and more. It was wonderful to be able to walk among the locals and see how they would spend their Sunday. The regular shops of town were all closed, though we did stop at Monoprix, the local grocery store, in a hunt for something to drink. And then there was the macaron shop – for our students first taste of a real French pastry. It was also their first opportunity to be placing orders in French. I was so impressed with their efforts, as were there, but of course equally overwhelmed by people responding in French MUCH faster than they were ready for.
After the market, it was time for lunch. While some groups went for pizza, our group wanted FRENCH food – so we sought out a creperie. PERFECT choice! What better way to start your time in France?!
After lunch we headed home. The Monoprix was closed and markets were shut down by 1:00 PM. Sunday’s are quiet days with the family in France, and these was evident in the quiet streets of medieval Rouen. So we headed back to the farm. At this time a few students elected for laundry and a nap, another pair for a walk, and 1 for a run around the nature preserve. The remaining 21 students elected for some good fashioned down time – at the BEACH! Just a 10 minute walk from the farm was a local lake and beach. Soft sand, cold water (which was nice given the muggy day we were having!), mini-golf, ice-cream, and fun with friends. The beach was filled with locals and their families enjoying quality time together, and it was evident that we were the only tourists on the block. It was fun to be able to let go and enjoy some relaxation and fun together while still engaging with the locals.
After the beach we had dinner back on the farm, complete with the best deserts you could imagine (still dreaming of their chocolate mousse!), followed up an improve game called props. Thing group charades with random props, and much laughter. In this game, the audience is always the winner.
So there is is. A lazy European Sunday. Market, lunch, beach, dinner, games. Family. Doesn’t get better than this.