If my time spent in Germany and Spain over the winter holidays weren’t enough, then making my way over to the Normandy coast for the new year satisfied my itch to travel once again. Granted, it was a short stay, but all the same a peaceful and quiet time with good company.
After getting back to my small town in Normandy from Madrid on Christmas Day, I had a few days of rest during which I caught up with work and *tried to* get back in physical shape (if anything, traveling and not really exercising can really take a toll on one’s health!) before I headed back on vacation (and more traveling!).
Two days before the new year, I left once again to catch the train to Le Havre, where I would be staying with an assistante friend and otherwise hanging out to celebrate the holidays together. I had to make one transfer in Rouen, and while my first train over was relatively uneventful, the second one over to Le Havre was not very pleasant. Not to say that anything egregious happened, but rather minor things made me realized just how spotty train service and cleanliness could be depending which ones you take.
Let me tell you, the train from Rouen to Le Havre was ghetto: worn-down seats, no heating in second-class, and a bathroom with literally a hole for doing your business. I kid you not, if you decided to go use the toilet, you would basically be displacing it outside on the train tracks! Too much information, I know, but seriously…gross.
Also didn’t help that a passenger that decided to sit across from me smelled really bad; usually, I have a good tolerance for b.o., but that one was so awful that I moved after ten minutes. Thankfully, le conducteur came by and after stamping our tickets said that we second-class folks can move over to the first-class cabin, since there was heating there. You can bet your buttons that I raced over there to bask in the warmth, even though there was only ten minutes of the journey left.
Finally, the ghetto train ride was over: I arrived in Le Havre around 15h00 where my assistante friend picked me up and we walked over to E-Leclerc at the Docks Vauban to get some groceries for that night’s dinner. We also popped into the mall complex’s coffee shop for a snack break: we caught up on life, considering that we hadn’t seen each other since our last formation (teacher’s training) earlier that month (I know, it hadn’t been that long, but with the nature of this job, it felt longer than usual!).
Around 17h30, we decided to head out and back to her flat, located a bit outside of the city center; we took the tram over and went over to her place, where I settled in and freshened up before helping prepare dinner that night. Had our meal, chatted for a bit, then turned in for the night.
The following morning, we woke up early to catch the bus at the gare to Étretat, where we would spend a day there. It’d been over a year since I’d last visited the place, and since I was near the coast for New Year’s weekend, I thought that it would be nice to return. It was absolutely freezing, though: during the 60 to 90-minute bus ride over, all I saw was frost…and lots of it. Light flurries, even! My friend noted the temperature on her phone and it read -5°C (23°F). Absolutely insane!
Around 11h20, we arrived in Étretat. Since it was the middle of winter, there were few tourists who were around; some of the cafes and restaurants, normally packed during the summer and fall seasons, appeared to be deserted. All that there really was were the cliffs, covered in frost as well, and the silent pull-and-tug of the cold, Atlantic waves.
The last two times that I visited Étretat, I’d hiked along the famous cliffs. This time around, we hiked the other side of the cliffs, going up a flight of stairs to the top where we came across a small church, and from there we spent the next 90 minutes walking along the frost-bitten road. Seriously, it was freezing: it definitely helped that I’d brought my gloves and that my friend had lent me her scarf (because stupid me had decided not to bring it to Le Havre)- anything to feel even a hint of warmth, really!
Even the grass, white with frost, seemed to have a hard time staying green, as you can see in this photo:
Eventually, we turned around and headed back, descending the flight of stairs heading towards the town center. Before going down, I got one last glimpse of the frosty, but beautiful cliffs:
We still had about two hours to kill before we needed to take the bus back to Le Havre, so we decided to find a cafe to pop into and get warm. Went into one of them, which was surprisingly packed with tourists (I guess even during off season, there’s still a lot of people who come!). At first, we just wanted to order a drink, but after a little tiff with the waitress who said that the place was for “eating only,” we also ended up ordering some food. Wasn’t intending on spending more money, but the galette that I ordered wasn’t bad.
Once we finished up our food and drinks, we headed over to the bus stop where our bus came at 15h00. We took it back to Le Havre, arriving back around 16h30. We decided to head into the city center to check out if any bars would be open that night for New Year’s Eve celebrating and to our surprise, nothing was really open! Kind of a let-down, but in any case, we ended up having a quiet, but lovely celebration back at the flat that evening: we made dinner again, along with some vin chaud, and all was good. Rang in the New Year once it struck midnight, and by 0h30, we were already asleep. Personally, I much preferred turning in early, especially compared with what I’d done on New Year’s Eve the year prior in the Calais region!
The next morning was the first day of 2017: we woke up at a reasonable hour (around 9h00) and after a slow morning of doing nothing, we decided to head out for a walk in the neighborhood park and woods. It was very silent, but also very peaceful as we made our way over. We also came across a pond completely frozen over (a sight which I’d never seen before in Normandy) and watched the ducks try to ice-skate across it, to comical results!
Made a huge loop around the park before heading over to the woods for another cold, but refreshing stroll. We headed back to the flat after about three hours out, and we spent the rest of the day relaxing, having dinner and making more vin chaud.
Next day was my final day in Le Havre: we headed out together in the late morning, taking the tram down to the beach which, despite the winter chill, was nice and sunny. Relatively deserted, too, but all the same lovely to see the coast again since October.
Around a quarter to 13h00, we walked all the way over to the gare, where I said goodbye to my friend, thanking her for the time in Le Havre. Caught my train over to Rouen where I had about an hour gap before my next train back to my small town; I ended up heading over to the city center to my favorite kebab place (if you want to know, the one near the Church of St. Ouen) to grab a falafel sandwich to-go. Ate on the train ride back to my town, feeling happy and fulfilled (from the mini-vacation and the food, of course!). Finally, I arrived back at my flat around 17h00, tired but satisfied.
…and that’s it for this past winter holiday! While I did see a lot of places in this two-week period (mind you, in three countries), I found it to be less stressful and more relaxing. There was less pressure to know how to get from point A to point B, and it certainly helped to have my family come over and travel with them, in terms of planning itineraries and spending money!
Funny enough, after I finish this post on my December holidays, my February vacances will be starting very soon, about a week from now. More adventures to come soon, and until then, à bientôt!