Les Américains Visit Normandy
Adventuresome travelers disparage organized bus tours, and often for good reason—getting lost and then finding your way are happy accidents that reveal a place to you in ways that no organized tour can. However, when you’re travelling with an elderly person and you want to cover lots of ground in a little time, these tours do make sense.
In fact, one of my most memorable trips was such a tour, made with my mom, an aunt, and a cousin, that in 10 days took us from Paris to Normandy and then to the Loire Valley. One day’s journey took us through the battlefields of Normandy—a site that I’m lucky to have visited with my mother and a few other travelers on the tour bus who were old enough to remember World War II.
After touring the vast and heartbreakingly quiet American cemetery, we went into a little museum. Near the door was a guest book where visitors shared their thoughts. I remember not being quite sure what to write, but my mother—80 at the time—knew exactly what to say. She stepped right up to the book and wrote, in her country school-perfect penmanship, “Way to go,fellas. I’m so proud of you.”
That night, we motored to Brittany; we were staying at a simple Logis de France (a network of charming French inns), where we dined with a far-off view of the Mont Saint-Michel, glowing warmly in the dark, drizzly night through rain-speckled windows. The menu began with one of those famous soufflé-like Mère Poulard omelets—a specialty of the region. The main course was a rich chicken Calvados—breasts of chicken served with tender apples in a cream sauce spiked with Calvados, the famous apple brandy of Normandy—a dish I’ve re-created here.
Outside, it was a cold autumn night, but inside, we were merry and warm—just another rather ordinary group of American tourists drinking good wine and enjoying a hearty, gratifying meal together. Even so, there was no other night quite like this one on the trip; I’m sure that the evening’s mirth had been made all the more precious by the cold outside, the warmth inside, and, of course, by all that we had seen that day.