The temperature forecast read 49 degrees F when we woke up at 8am in Le Havre on Sunday–coldest day of our 44 day cruise so far. We’d have to bundle up. We both wore shorts but Marilyn wore her Alaska parka and I wore a sweat shirt when we started out at 915am. The day was overcast and I wondered if this was partly due to the Iceland volcano which was again spewing ash and closing airports in Northern Spain and Portugal as well as Scotland and Ireland. The day was also hazy, so this added evidence to my hypothesis. We had been in Le Havre during our cruise in Europe in 2007, but had chosen to take the train to Paris then, as did many of our cruise compatriots this day. We almost got lost in the cruise port this time trying to find our way out to the street, but we made it and I tried to memorize the route for the way back. We turned to the right or east and quickly came to a hotel we suspected might also have internet, so we decided to wait a little longer for the sun to warm the day and do our internet business.
The people at the Mercure Hotel were very helpful. Marilyn ordered coffee and hot chocolate while I obtained a map at the front desk. I asked the clerk to show me the way to Normandy and she said it might be a two hour drive. I then said that I was on a bike and wanted to know whether I could bike across the bridge over the Seine and that I might have to stop as close as Deauville if Normandy was really that far away. The clerk got on Google at the desk and printed out the instructions to the Normandy Bridge for me. This turned out to be almost 10 miles away in itself. Deauville was at least twice as far away. I realized I’d better be willing to stop at the bridge. While I was drawing out the route instructions on the map, Marilyn came to the counter to get the password for the internet. She had been interpreting a capital I as a numeral one and got locked out from the site. The clerk fixed this while I completed the map. We spent an hour on the internet. I had been hoping for the kind of hot chocolate displayed in the movie Chokolat—the thick, really dark stuff. I had found some at Naked Chocolate in Philadelphia and hoped to have the real thing in France. This wasn’t the same thing. They gave me a large cup of hot milk and a package of chocolate powder. I asked both the desk clerk and the barista whether they knew of this thick drink. They both claimed familiarity with the movie, but neither of them remembered the drink. Eventually, I exchanged the large cup for a small one and obtained a second package of powder. The resultant hot chocolate was very tasty but not the same as what I wanted. When the purchased internet hour expired, we returned to the bikes and began to negotiate the canals of Le Havre.
The entire port of Le Havre is fascinating. The city itself is also interesting. There has been a lot of city rehabilitation going on recently, and much of the city is now modern and attractive. The port spreads over several miles and has various distinct parts. There is the ferry terminal, the cruise ship terminal, many different commercial areas, and I assume there is a private power and sailboat harbor, although I didn’t see much of one. I did see commercial terminals. There may be a hundred large cranes visible above the horizon and there are trailer boxes stored everywhere. They seem not to be stacked four and five boxes high as I had seen in South America, but the area set aside for trailer storage is enormous. Le Havre is one of the busiest ports in the world and the second busiest in France behind Marseilles. These various commercial areas are connected by canals which themselves are separated by drawbridges. The city development has led to many posh mall and restaurant areas lined up along the canals. Walking and bike paths front nearly all of these. As a result, working one’s way out of the port involves a complicated series of rights and lefts around the canals past some really nice bars, restaurants, and other stores. Le Havre seems to be a very bicycle friendly city. Bike paths can get you almost anywhere and the cars are polite and used to driving on streets with bicyclists. The trip out of the city took a while, but it was comfortable, even pleasant riding.
At almost the last canal, after nearly four miles through the harbor, we were stopped by a crossing bar blinking red. I then noticed a large drawbridge reaching into the sky nearby and a large green ship moving through the canal in front of us. Once the ship passed, we waited for the bridge to reopen. The bridge moved slowly and the moving clouds made it difficult to tell whether it was coming down or not.
After a 15 minute wait, the bridge finally started moving and the barrier came up several minutes later. Finally we were off. Shortly, we realized the lonely street we were using was accompanied by a separate bike path. We moved onto the path and found ourselves riding alongside the last waterway, almost a mile long, and bordered by a grassy area hundreds of yards deep. This waterway parallels the Seine River and the grassy area reaches uncluttered more than a mile between the water bodies. The road was almost unused except for occasional bunches of bike riders who also use this path for their weekend rides. It was also very quiet. I saw few birds, but heard the calls of many in the trees and brush. The few birds I did see were ravens, gulls, and cormorants, but I am sure many smaller birds inhabit this area annotated on the map as a maison de l’estuaire. On the opposite side of the waterway were two enormous cargo ships being loaded. The diving cormorants seemed oblivious to their efforts.
I stopped to take a picture of the area and then noticed our destination on the horizon—the Pont (bridge) de Normandie. The haze made a picture at this distance less than ideal. We sped up and began to make time on the nearly straight rode to the bridge.
Along the way we passed many maritime businesses. The animal and plant inspection section is also housed along this road. There are several construction areas, which leads me to believe that this pristine area may soon be less than pristine. Six miles later we came to the turnoff for the bridge, more like a freeway entrance. Taking this danger as a sign and noting the advanced hour, we decided to call it a day and turn for lunch and the ship.
The trip back went quickly because the 10 knot wind was now following us and pushing. Coming into the canal area again, we found ourselves again stopped by the drawbridge. This time we decided to take the recommended detour, but returned soon to the original route. We picked a restaurant along the canal and sat down to a French meal in France. It turned out we had picked the right restaurant—one specializing in crepes. A series of waitresses eventually found us an English-speaking male waiter and we settled down for some real French food. I decided I wanted a salad like the young girl sitting at the table to my right and asked “Questce q’c’est?” Her mother opposite her guided us to the appropriate part of the menu as everyone in the restaurant turned toward us after hearing our English and poor version of French. I noticed that the table to my right was sharing a dessert crepe with three stacks of whipped cream atop ice cream and chocolate sauce—a French version of one of my favorites, waffles and ice cream. Eventually, we settled for a dish of pate, a Mediterranean salad, and a lox and crème fraiche crepe. Oh, and we got a bottle of Bordeaux—a small one.
All were excellent and the accompanying Baguette bread was perfect. I think we cleaned the plates so well they didn’t have to put them through the dishwasher. Our table neighbors applauded. We topped it off with espresso and apple caramel dessert crepe and dragged our stuffed bodies out of the restaurant to the bikes. On the ride back to the ship, Marilyn remarked that she should have wine more often when she rides because she suffered considerably fewer anxiety attacks. We got near the ship and had to ask some pedestrians if we were on the right path. At the ship we stopped to use the internet for phone calls and found they would only accept Euros of which we had none. A passenger nearby exchanged a five dollar bill for Euros when no commercial vendor in the building would do so. Then we learned that these computers wouldn’t support Skype. We got our Euros back and boarded the ship. Both of us enjoyed the time in Le Havre immensely.