My Dutch friend, Anneke, and I volunteer at the local community theatre in northwest Washington. After several years of hearing, “You have to come to Holland with me!” we decided to plan our trip with two goals in mind. We were going to travel from Amsterdam along the English Channel to Brittany France. And we were going to take the “white roads” on our journey.
You know how your big road maps have the major highways marked as red lines? The minor roads are in yellow? We were going to take the tiny little lanes – white roads – bypassing big cities and visiting little villages and hamlets along the way. Between the two of us, we’ve traveled most everywhere in Europe and one big city is much like another. We wanted the countryside. We made no reservations.
So we set off from Amsterdam on a cloudy day in October. We travelled southwest, only using the red roads when we had to cross a body of water, and ended up on the coast of Belgium the first night. It was pouring down rain all along the ‘kost’ so we headed back inland. We drove around Dunkirk, Dieppe and LeHavre – favoring the villages with old stone churches and quaint little town squares with open fruit markets. It’s apple season! I had been somewhat worried that I didn’t speak French, or Dutch for that matter, but Anneke spoke fluently in both languages and we were fine. When I wandered off by myself, I found that if I had my little French translation book and looked sincerely apologetic about butchering their beautiful language – and had them try to pronounce a word for me so I could learn – the French were quite nice about it and we parted in good humor.
We had to get on a yellow road to cross the biggest suspension bridge I’ve ever been on near Le Havre and finally landed in Honfleur for 3 nights. I fell in love with this town! It has an inner harbor that was carved out hundreds of years ago. We had dinner in a very old building with low beamed ceilings and a cobblestone floor. Fresh fish! The streets are all 10-12 feet wide so there was a lot of cars backing up – we walked everywhere. We had cavaldos brandy (made from apples) and burnt apple tart with cream. Thankfully we walked some of it off on the way back to the hotel. The harbor had cafes open late and music was playing on a warm cloudless night.
Our hotel was built in 1420 – that’s 200 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock – and has been a hotel for the last 300 years. The rooms were big, well furnished, and the front desk had wifi. We took day trips away from town, visiting the tiny ports along the coast. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly.
The white road took us to some amazing places. We were lost (again) one day and found a feed store and went in for directions. The lady spoke perfect American English – she was from Colorado – and gave us much needed guidance and advice on where to go. We wandered into Bayeaux, got a room, and went to see the Bayeaux Tapestry Museum. The tapestry itself is about 18 inches high and yards and yards long and the embroidery tells the story of the battle of 1066 with William the Conqueror.
Heading off on another white road, we found a tour bus and decided to see where it was going. We ended up going through the rolling coastal countryside and stumbled on the entrance to Omaha Beach D-Day Memorial and Cemetery. We hadn’t planned to do any WWII touring, but it was right there, so we went. In hindsight, this was a highlight of our trip. We stood on the cliff where so many soldiers died and then walked among the thousands and thousands of white crosses. A group of French schoolchildren watched me cry – with hand on heart – when they played Taps and the flag was lowered. They didn’t know what to do, so they put their hands on their hearts too.
We found the great little port towns of Maisy and Isigny Sur Mer and had a wonderful dinner and dessert. (I’m going to be so fat!) The white road then took us to Mont St Michael where it just poured down rain. We parked the car and walked to the walled town on the rock. Such an interesting history of the monastery. About the weather – it’s only rain and, we are from Washington!
The white road took us all the way to the coast through the towns of St. Malo and Dinan and the beautiful rugged coastline and long sandy beaches. Our most westerly town was in Carnac, Brittany that had the most fascinating standing stones I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of them all in rows facing the water. The guidebook says they are placed about 5,ooo years ago. Amazing to walk among them.
Our return trip to Amsterdam took us on the white roads further south of the coast where we could continue our search for the perfect Camembert ‘stinky cheese’ which we’ve come to love. We visited produce markets in the villages and had picnics beside the road. We spoke with farmers and shopkeepers who rarely get tourists. We sampled the local cuisine and walked our feet off seeing the sights.
For me, the best part of the trip was being lost driving in France on the “White Roads”. You never know where they will take you!