November 28, 2016, Monday:
Hanging with Friends in Normandy:
This was a totally relaxed day—and one we badly needed after our ultra-hectic week in Israel when each day had been spent galloping from one spot to the next. This was a day to savor the company of close friends, to recharge our mental and psychological batteries in the peaceful quiet of the Normandy countryside, surrounded only by fields and farms.
We woke up very early as we did want to meet the Lerouxel children—Jean, Marius and Julia—before they left for school as we would have left by the time they returned home in the evening. Again, we were really amazed at how big they’ve grown. Julia was under two when we had last seen the family and spent time with them in Normandy. After they had eaten their breakfasts, we took some pictures with them and they left for the day with Florence driving them to school.
Jacques had bought lovely fresh croissants for us and together with French baguettes and Florence’s homemade apricot jam (she is a hobbyist jam-maker) and coffee, we had ourselves a terrific breakfast. After we had checked the train schedules to plan our departure and arrival at our next venue (Lourdes), we were invited by Jacques to accompany him to his smoked ham processing plant which is his business. The enterprise is called Jambons d’Antan and we are quite familiar with it as we have visited it on every trip we have made to Normandy.
What surprised us is how big his business has grown since we were last there (about eight years ago). He has expanded hugely and now has much larger premises (designed by Florence who is an architect) and has a much greater output. Jacques gave us a wonderful tour of the plant and took us into his little theater where he showed us a film made very professionally on his products. It was quite fascinating indeed and we enjoyed it. Next, Jacques took us to his office where I was able to use his computer to get something urgent printed out. That chore done, we made our way back to his home for lunch.
Lunch was very much a repeat of the late night dinner we’d had—roast beef, some of his wonderful smoked ham, bread, cheese and apple cake for dessert. After lunch, Jacques suggested a long walk around his farm and we readily complied. He showed us his walnut and hazelnut trees (there were still some last late nuts on them which we picked up and enjoyed), his cider-making outfit (Normandy is noted for its cider and its calvados), the wheat fields that he recently sowed for the first time, the chicken coops from which Florence collects fresh eggs each morning. Indeed, Hotel Cocagne is a working farm and we were treated to the full works as we did the rounds.
Not long afterwards, Jacques loaded our bags into his car so that he could drop us off to Lison station for our 6.18 train back to Paris from where we would take a red-eye train to Lourdes. We stopped en route at Florence’s office in Marigny, said goodbye to her and then drove off to Lison to catch our train. Our friends were very sorry that we had stayed for just one day and kept persuading us to stay longer. But we really did want to cover quite a lot of French ground and we needed to get going.
We reached Paris Gare de St. Lazare at 8.40 pm. From there, we took the Metro again to Gare Austerlitz where we made the decision that Llew would leave his large suitcase in the Left Luggage Locker and that he would travel with a small overnight bag. Each time we returned to Paris, he would take the things he would need for his onward journey. It turned out to be the best decision we ever made as he was able to move around with so much more freedom.
A little later, we boarded our train (at 10. 45 pm) to Lourdes. It was supposed to arrive at Toulouse at 6. 45 am, so we settled down in chair seats for the night.