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Savvy Travel: The ABC's of Normandy

Fifi LaMode goes to Normandy.Abbeys, beaches and laughing cows—The Budget Babe's International Shopping Advisor Fifi LaMode reports on the ABC's of Normandy, France. —TBB

by Fifi LaMode
There is soooo much to see in Normandy, one visit won't cover it all. This is the birthplace of William the Bastard, whose victory at Hastings changed his name forever to the Conqueror (good thing for him, right?). It is also home to the Bayeux Tapestry, a nearly 1,000-year old work of art depicting said battle, which changed the face of England.

In more recent times, Normandy saw a different type of warfare during World War II, and the D-Day landings have left a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the people, along with some of the most moving memorials to the dead of both sides—a stark reminder that there are no real victors in war. The French have not forgotten that we (and the Brits, Canadians and other Allies) liberated them and hospitality abounds here.

On a happier note, Normandy has served as inspiration to the Impressionists: Monet's garden in Giverny teems with tourists in every season, and the picturesque harbor at Honfleur really does look like the paintings. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, with its famous cathedral (also painted by Monet) and clock; the rich and famous congregate in Deauville for the races and the annual film festival, pausing to shop and dine in this fabulous jewel with its half-timbered houses where one can really use the term 'spoiled for choice;' the white cliffs of the Alabaster Coast contrast with Dover across the English Channel (call it La Manche here); the rugged beauty of Cap de la Hague draws hikers, fishermen and nature lovers, and Mont Saint-Michel with its abbey ruins reminds us that truly "time and tide wait for no man." (Visit Mont St-M. early in the morning or in the evening—this place gets CROWDED!). The Dukes of Normandy wanted to make sure that they had a place in heaven after all their conquering (they got as far as Sicily - Monreale Cathedral has a mosaic of St. Thomas a Becket!), so they invested some of their hard-won loot into building some of the finest churches and monasteries in Europe. Visit at least one.

If you must shop, there are some beautiful tapestries from French Flanders in the shop across from Bayeux' cathedral. Reasonably priced too. The museum housing the Bayeux Tapestry has a gift shop where my husband could not resist buying his own repro of a piece of the big cloth.

What you will do a lot of in Normandy is eat and drink. The food is outstanding (here's the "budget" bit). The French have a talent for making wonderful meals from local cheap things like eggs, meat, fish and cheese. A typical Norman dish is the "gallette", a crepe made from buckwheat flour and filled with whatever your heart desires: We usually ordered some combination of the following - fried eggs, ham or bacon, melted camembert, caramelized onions, sometimes with some calvados thrown in. Yummmmmm! Add a carafe of house red (Remember Fifi's rule about wine in France? Always order carafes of the house wine - cheaper than bottles and never a disappointment in our experience) and you've had a hearty, healthy, and inexpensive lunch. They use natural ingredients, no "enriched" anything, because they don't take the goodness out to begin with so they don't need to enrich it afterwards!