Monday, June 20, 2016

Caen, France: A Rainy History

Just over a year ago, a few of my friends and I decided to head to Normandy for a history-rich weekend away from our small towns in France. Visiting Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery was important to us, which made the city of Caen the obvious destination. This region is known for its abundance of rainy days, but we were lucky enough to score a tiny bit of sunshine that weekend.

Our only full day in Caen happened to fall on Easter (we had arrived Friday night, spent that Saturday at the WWII sites, and left on Monday), so we started the day at Easter Mass at the Abbey of St. Étienne (l'Église Saint-Étienne). L'Église Saint-Étienne is the final resting place of William the Conqueror, who rose from Duke of Normandy to King of England in 1066 following the Battle of Hastings. (You can learn more about him here.) Although I did not partake in the service (I'm Jewish), I loved being part of the celebration! For my practicing friends, this was an especially meaningful Easter Sunday. Something cool about Caen is that their Hôtel de Ville (city hall) is attached to this church, so we got to see two landmarks at once.

The sun shone briefly, and as the entire city (/entire country) had shut down for the holiday, we visited the Château de Caen for its open grounds. William the Conqueror built this fortress around 1060, and many of its original foundations are still there (in ruin-form, which you may see below)! Today, it also houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, a church, and the Musée de Normandie (which we visited the following day and LOVED!). While I do not have photos from the Normandy Museum, it was a fun and interactive way to learn about this city's (and this region's) historical importance. Plus, castles always offer the most stunning panoramic views! (After all, you need eyes on the entire city in order to keep out intruders.)

The Abbey of St. Étienne is also known as l'Abbaye aux hommes ("Men's Abbey"), but William the Conqueror made sure to have an Abbaye aux dames ("Women's Abbey"), as well. This former monastery now functions as a church and convent, and the grounds and architecture are beautiful!

Perhaps one of my favorite memories of Caen was making flower crowns amid some Romanesque ruins! I had never made one before, so Maria gave us a lesson. We weren't quite sure where we were or the origin of these ruins, so if any of you know the answer, comment below!

And what sort of girls' weekend would it be without alcohol? Let me rephrase that--what sort of visit to Caen would exclude calvados?! Calvados is an apple brandy that originates from Normandy, and man is it strong. Yes, it comes in a shot glass, but I highly advise that you do not take it like a shot! Rather, you sip it slowly and enjoy it after your meal, like how you would drink limoncello. As they say in France, Chin chin!

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