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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

FRANCE | Wednesday, 23 March 2011 | Views [531] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry

On June 6, 1944, my grandfather was one of 160,000 Allied troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy. Although Gramps was the most influential person in my life, I know very little about his experience there. He only spoke to me about it on one occasion; an off-handed remark that has haunted me for over thirty years. His story left an indelible mark on my psyche. When I visited Normandy all those years later, I felt a powerful connection with the place and my grandfather.

But this is not a travelogue about the battlefields of Normandy; it’s about the people I met and places I toured that made the northern, coastal region of France one of my favorite destinations.

At the urging of my grandfather, Mont Saint Michel was my first stop.

"You must spend the night at Mere Poulard and order an omelet," he said, in that commanding tone unique to grandfathers which requires one, regardless of age, to obey.

I’d never heard of Mere Poulard. I knew nothing of her world-famous, gravity-defying omelets, but my grandfather said to go, so I went.

Mont Saint Michel is a rocky, tidal island that has drawn Christians for centuries. Today, tourists of all religions make pilgrimages to tour the medieval abbey and sample the fluffy omelets.

I was shown to a charming room with a slanted roof and panoramic view of the coast. To my delight, when I leaned out, I could see the spires of the abbey piercing the cloudy sky.
After a steep climb to the monastery and back, I was exhausted and ravenous.

I sat in La Mere’s dining room, surrounded by autographed images of luminaries such as Hemingway and Dior. The inn’s charming manager entertained me with stories about Annette Poulard, while my omelet was prepared. He said she made giant omelets because they were an inexpensive way to feed the pilgrims who flocked to her hotel during their visits.
Today, the chefs use her recipes. Norman eggs and sweet butter, whipped until frothy, then baked in a copper skillet over a roaring wood fire.

He told me some of the legends associated with the island. (Did you know Hitler ordered Mont St. Michel bombed, but when his pilots got close to the island a heavy fog rolled in, obscuring their view? Since it had been a clear, sunny day, some believe the island was spared through Divine Intervention.)

My hunger for good food and lore had been completely satisfied, so I barely winced when the bill arrived. Sampling Poulard's gastronomical delight cost me forty dollars!

Later that night, I nestled in my bed in my cozy attic room, listening to the wind howl through the ramparts, and tried to decide which I would treasure the most: the memory of my first bite of a perfect omelet, prepared using a 120 year old recipe, or the memory of spending an enjoyable hour learning about local legends from a gracious Norman.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011



This is a fantastic essay on my homeland. Thank you.

  Veronique Valentin Apr 21, 2011 12:43 PM

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