ST. MICHEL TO ST. JOAN OF ARK


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Europe » France » Upper Normandy » Rouen
May 12th 2012
Published: May 13th 2012
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The AbbeyThe AbbeyThe Abbey

Mont-St. Michel
Today’s blog will not have a Today’s eats section, not because we didn’t eat, but because the food truly deserves to be blogged about in its entirety.

We awoke in side the walls of Mont-St. Michel to a beautiful cloud free bright sunny day. We showered, packed and headed to breakfast. I have previously blogged that breakfast in France and many European countries is not a big affair, typically croissants, fruit and coffee (hence the term continental breakfast in the United States). Today however was much more. Yes there were the croissants, half baguettes, juice, yogurt, but there was so much more. There was, as in Chateau Criessel, the ham and cheese platter, scrambled eggs and bacon, freshly made crepes to stuff with your choice of fillings, granola, cereals, bread for toast, fresh fruit and my favorite thing was the single cup automatic coffee maker. You pressed one button and it made hot chocolate, café o’lait, espresso or cappuccino. I went back twice for the café o’lait. The best part was it started with the whole coffee bean, and part of the process was to grind the bean based upon your coffee selection.

After breakfast, we stored our luggage
The CloistersThe CloistersThe Cloisters

Mont-St. Michel (ssh, I am in deep thought)
and set off to tour the Abbey. We selected the self-guided tour and purchased one audio guide to share. Actually, I listen and recap the important stuff to Jerry, he is far more interested in the architecture and those flying buttresses and capitals (what ever a capital might be), so my listening to the audio guide frees him up to take pictures, very different pictures than I might take. The pictures that end up on the blog are a fraction of the pictures that are taken. There are many pictures of up close design detail for later use by Jerry in his design career.

Mont-St. Michel is the third most visited site in France behind, the Eiffel tower and the Louvre; I was interested to learn that Versailles was not in the top three. Since we had the advantage of being on Island we managed to beat the crowds with our tour. We can proudly say they we have climbed the Mont. We went has high as you could go and the views were spectacular. There are numerous stairs, and just to get to the entrance of the Abbey is quite the hike, so wear comfortable shoes. The Mont
Stained GlassStained GlassStained Glass

Villeage Chruch Mont-St. Michel
is 100% not accessible, so anyone that is in a wheelchair or has serious mobility issues, will only get to look at the view and not see the Abbey. I am not really sure you could make the Abbey accessible, it is over 1200 years old and you would destroy the integrity of the building if you made it accessible, as sad as that is that not everyone can enjoy its beauty.

There is a lot to see and the tour without listening to all of the side information takes about 1 ½ hours. If you listened to everything it would probably take close to 2 ½ hours. There are many parts that are no longer available for public viewing, the most significant being the lace staircase which takes you to the highest point you an get to in the Abbey. My understanding is that it is in serious need of renovation and it may never be open to the public again. Despite what Fodor’s says the French guided tour does not get you access to the lace staircase.

What I came away with from our visit to the Mont, was first, I could not be a Benedictine
One last lookOne last lookOne last look

Mont-St. Michel
Monk; the life of 8 hours of prayer and no talking during meals, would not work for me. But more importantly was the absolute devotion to god and religion that existed in those times. Unlike today, when religion seems to be more about who is right and who is wrong and they forget about the actual precepts of the religious belief, no matter what the religion may be. In the dark ages, their belief in god was pretty much all they had to get them through their very hard lives, so the devotion and belief seemed more genuine. Yes, the church (meaning catholic church) spent far to much money on elaborate churches, that could have been better spent feeding the pour, and yes there was the 100 year religious war between France and England, but really was it about religion or about land, it may have been done in the name of god to justify it, but it was about land and resources, just the same as wars are today. I will stop that thought now as to not drift off in to a political tirade.

After our visit to the Monk we were off to the shuttle and
La CouronneLa CouronneLa Couronne

Where Julia Child, Jerome Janet and Christopher Wright have dinned.
back to our car to head to our final stop before our return to Paris, Rouen. To be honest, I have done zero reading on Rouen, I know that Joan of Arc was imprisoned, questioned, torched and burned at the stake hear, but other than that I know little about Rouen. The reason I wanted to come here is to complete my Julia Child experience.

You may or may not know that Julia did not know how to cook until after her and her husband moved to Paris. In fact in her book about your time in France, she says that her first meal on French soil was the best food she had ever had (that is not a direct quote). So my purpose for coming to Rouen was to eat at the same restaurant that she did when she first arrived in France. The name of the restaurant is La Couronne and it is directly across from the site of Joan the Arc’s flaming end. The restaurant has been in existence since 1345 and claims to be the oldest inn in France. We have not eaten at the oldest restaurant in Boston (the Union Oyster House), the oldest restaurant in London (Rules) and the oldest restaurant in France (La Couronne).

We dressed for the occasion; Jerry in his fancy Thailand made jacket and me in my blue suit. I had made reservations a week earlier on line to assure that we would get a seat, it is Saturday night. Upon our arrival the maitre‘d greeted us and took us to the second floor dinning room, I think this was the dinning room of the less desirable (the table with the kids was on this floor, the badly dressed French were on this floor and the Arabic were on this floor (and don’t take that to indicate that I believe the Arabic are less desirable, but that in France there is a clear issue at the present regarding Muslims and dress, etc.). That aside, the place was beautiful; Jerry says the dinning room was the very definition of Gothic Design. The waiter for the room was very pleasant spoke English, and was impressed that we did not want the English menu, after three weeks I can read a menu in French.

Many famous people have eaten here other than Julia Child, the list is far to long but one worth noting is Josephine Baker, when we were in Paris for my birthday we did a Josephine Baker tribute walk to the clubs she had played at back in the day. However, the reason we are here is to pay tribute to Julia. Many people have written about how Julia Child influenced their cooking and their experience at La Couronne, so in many ways, this might not be all that different from others. However, Julia Child didn’t just inspire me regarding cooking, I literally learned to cook by watching her on PBS from a very early age. In fact, the very first true gourmet meal I ever made was straight out of Julia Child’s Master the art of French Cooking, years later my volumes are well stained and falling apart. So with that as a back ground, I will begin.

We were escorted upstairs to the second floor dinning room; it has about 10 tables, a large buffet. Each dinning room is appointed with one head waiter and several assistants. The tables are all beautifully set blue table clothes, china plates, small floor faces and lamps (electric lambs very old cords actually all over the floor in the dinning room) The table is also pre-set with two buns (one of sesame seed one plain) and a dish of room temperature Normandy butter.

We were first handed the cocktail menu, it alone was 10 pages. Jerry ordered a Belvedere vodka neat, and I had the La Couronne Cocktail (Gin, Champagne, orange juice and a splash of something red I am sorry I can’t remember). We toasted to Julia and I devoured the bread and butter, my god French butter is just the best. With our aperitifs we were served a Mise En Bouche (petite brioche) simple but good. We choose to have the menu Idylle Gourmande. 6 courses in all.

While we enjoyed our cocktails I also poured over the 25 page wine menu. I choose a 2004 Chateau Fonbadet, Pulliac Grand Vin. This is one of the Bordeaux we had not yet tried on this trip.

The server took our order and then we were off. I truly can imagine what Julia Child must have felt like, having never really tasted French food before; it truly overwhelms your senses.

The entrée’s came and were almost indescribably good and creative. Jerry had Pressé De Foie Gras De Canard au tabac de morilles. This was the velvetiest foie gras we have had on this trip. It was served with a caramelized onion and morel side and fruit cake bread (and trust me it wasn’t the fruit cake you use as a door stop at Christmas time.) I started with Salade De Homard Facon Nicoise a L’huile d’olive noire de Nyons. In short it was a deconstructed Nicoise salad (chopped) plus avocados and Lobster, and not just a little lobster, an entire tail and two claws, I had died and gone to heaven.

For the main course we both had the Coeur de Filet de Boeuf Normand, jus court au povire blanc. This was a filet of beef so tender it melted in your mouth and perfectly cooked medium rare (except for Jerry’s last bite which was a little over done). It was served with a very nice red wine sauce and fried mashed potatoes balls. Yes you heard me right, the were so good and the frying somehow made them hallow. It went prefect with the wine. Presentation is key in this restaurant the plates all look great, but when they bring the main course out it is covered in the old fashioned metal dome and they are all lifted from the plates at the same time for affect.

Next to come was the cheese course, officially called Merveille de 21 Fromages De Chez Portret au Vieux Marche (A marvel of 21 cheeses chosen by the chef at the old market). Yes 21 different cheeses and you could pick on or all of them to try. Jerry had 7 different varieties I had 5; I cannot begin to tell you what they all were, except for the Roquefort, camembert, and brie. They were all very different and very good.

Then there was dessert. Again we both choose the same one: Soufflé Normand ou Grand-Marnier (it was the house specialty). Not only was it the most beautiful and perfect soufflé I have ever send it was light, fluffy and tasted like no Soufflé I have ever had. Mine don’t even come close to this.

After all that we were still not done. The last course was a plate of mixed sweets, truffles, petite chocolate cookies, caramelized sugar. It was put before us, so even though we were stuffed, we ate it. It was a good thing we had a 8 block walk back to the hotel.

Thus ended our evening at La Couronne. I can see why that might inspire one to start cooking. While it wasn’t the best meal I have ever had, it was one of the nicest experiences and very much worth the trip.

Now, not to sell Rouen short, it is on the Seine and is a mix of modern and old. It is famous for its hundreds of spires. Joan of Arc is the main attraction here, but there is also a museum of fine arts and other significant things to see and do. It just was not our purpose of this trip.

The hotel was a two star not worth noting really, but close to the train station and the staff spoke English. It was fairly easy to find, a bit lopsided like a vortex house, and the spiral stair case was rickety.

Rouen is the last night on the road. Sunday we return to Paris for three nights, one cooking class and what ever else we feel like doing. We got to see and experience a huge cross section of France, French cultural and French life. It was truly a great trip for my 50th birthday. Jerry’s is in 3 years and we will probably do the same thing in Italy, only because we have done the Spanish tour already.

REVIEWS:

Hotel Morand: Decent two star hotel, 5 blocks from the train station 1 block from the fine arts museum and in old Rouen. The price is right, the location is good and parking is close.

La Couronne: Worth the price, the trip and it is a must if you’re in Rouen, make sure you get the menu with the 21 cheeses, not all menu’s come with this option. Avoid the second floor, primarily for tourist; The third floor would be preferable the ground floor is noisier and more crowded.

DAILTY TIPS

If you are on a driving tour, as we are, of France, make Rouen the last stop on your return to Paris. If you choose to eat at La Couronne that is. Because if we had done the trip in the reverse order and made Rouen our first stop, the rest of the dinning experiences would have suffered.

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