As I noted at the end of Part I of this post, my family and I—traveling in France and the U.K. during the summer of 1995–departed Paris and headed for Normandy in our rented Peugeot. Leaving Paris (where we’d been “down and hot”), we hoped for cooler weather in northern France.
But, although Normandy was not as oppressive as Paris, we still encountered heat and humidity almost everywhere we went. Our stay in the beautiful city of Rouen was delightful. But our side trip to Giverny, where we explored Monet’s home and gardens, including the famed water-lily pond, was more ordeal than delight, the sun beating down on us as we tried to admire the brilliant flowers.
From Giverny, we drove to see what remained of a 12th-century castle, Chateau-Gaillard Les Andelys. Meredith was determined to hike around the ruins, and the rest of us decided to join her. But it soon became clear that to see the crumbling chateau walls up close, we had to walk down a steep hill, then climb another one, with no shade anywhere. Leslie and I waited in the car in a shady parking spot, content to see the disintegrating walls from a distance, till Herb and Meredith returned, exhausted.
The day we traveled to Honfleur, an exquisite seaside town, and the twin resorts of Deauville and Trouville, we ran into a steady rain. The rain and cooler temperatures were welcome, but they literally dampened our seaside visit. Was it asking too much to have a single day of lower temperatures without any rain?
The sun returned the next day as we made our way to the charming town of Avranches. We checked into our hotel, next door to a painstakingly manicured Jardin des Plantes, before crossing the bay to Mont-St-Michel to see the abbey built there centuries ago. We propelled ourselves, sweating, up 357 stairs to join an English-language tour of the fantastic structure. Our perky tour guide, a young Frenchwoman who wore 501 Levi’s with a 25-inch waist (I peeked at the label) didn’t seem the least bit affected by the heat, but everyone else in the tour group looked about to faint as she energetically herded us through the abbey’s three storeys.
Our daily routine was becoming depressingly familiar. Every morning, we rose to another day of brilliant sunshine. We then proceeded to rummage through our bags for any lightweight clothing that was still halfway clean.
Next, we applied generous amounts of 1990s-type sunblock to protect our skins from the torrid summer sun. Coating ourselves with the greasy, unpleasant-smelling stuff every morning was distasteful, but we forced ourselves to do it anyway. We did not want to resemble some of the English tourists we saw at the seaside resort of St. Malo in Brittany–as red as freshly-boiled lobsters, walking gingerly to avoid unnecessary pain. I chose sunblock instead, thank you very much.
Our morning ritual included filling our plastic water bottles with the coldest water we could find. Back home, we weren’t reliant on plastic water bottles. But from our first day in Paris, we began buying small plastic bottles of Evian, Volvic, or one of their competitors in the mineral-water business, then refilling them for a couple of days before we tossed them and bought replacements. Those water bottles saved us from dehydration and possible heat stroke. Sometimes we were so hot we defied extreme thirst to pour the water over our heads and arms instead.
The water bottle, extra sunblock, maps, cameras, and other gear were stashed in the tote bags we carried around. Early on, my daughters and I dumped our heavy tote bags from home and opted for virtually weightless cotton bags. These flimsy cotton bags were sold throughout France—I’d never seen them in the U.S.–and mine was a lifesaver.
Before setting out, we added the final touch: our visors. Some kind of headgear–the lighter, the better–was an absolute necessity to deflect the sun’s rays. Chaos reigned one morning when Meredith couldn’t find her only visor. Calm was ultimately restored when, searching through my bags, I found the extra one I’d brought along. Meredith wasn’t crazy about my spare, but it kept her from expiring till we found hers buried in the Peugeot’s trunk.
After ten days in France, we departed for England, hoping to find cooler temperatures there.