The last port before my Crystal Symphony cruise came to an end was an overnight call in the quaint town of Honfleur, with a population of 10,000 and located where the Seine River meets the sea.I am always struck at the different perceptions people have on a port or a shore excursion.
My first impression of Honfleur was that it was as picturesque as any town could be. Their old port is now home to a myriad of sail boats but the buildings around the yacht harbor are as they have been for centuries. The new additions to the waterfront would be the dozens of outdoor cafes, with umbrella covered tables, which cover one end of the harbor walk to the other.
The town is full of cobblestone streets and half timbered buildings as seem on the picture below. It is also home to the Eugene Boudin Museum. Known for his landscapes and seascapes, Boudin was born in Honfleur in July, 1824. While not as famous as his contemporaries such as Monet, Boudin’s work was none the less highly regarded. Fans of Impressionism should visit this small museum about a five minute, well signed walk, from the waterfront.
Also in the old town of Honfleur is St. Catherine’s Church. The most interesting feature of this church is the ceiling. As Honfleur of the past was a town of shipbuilders, the church was built by these men. Their experience was building boats, not buildings. The church has a distinctive nautical flair as the roof takes its design from the hull of an inverted ship.
Of course, perception is reality, for that person. I mention this because I did not think anybody could NOT fall in love, or at least be impressed, with Honfleur. What I thought charming about Honfleur others that I spoke to on the ship found the town too crowded and too small.
Those who thought that were lucky since they could spend their time in other places such as Deauville (famous for its film festival) and Trouville-sur-Mer, both easily within reach via public bus. I do want to mention the most popular tours from Honfleur would be to the awe inspiring Normandy Beaches. I 100% recommend these tours. Visiting the beaches, museums and cemeteries is an emotional experience. It is both sad and inspirational.
As these places must be, in my opinion, visited with a guide, and cannot be reached via public transportation I will talk about places you can visit by public bus from Honfleur. It has to be by bus as there is no train station in Honfleur!
Many people overlook a valuable resource, the local Tourist Information Bureau. Nearly every port offers one. At the very least a representative usually comes onboard with maps and brochures. Seeking out more information yields more information and local tourist boards offer a wealth of information. In fact, had I not stopped by the tourist board I would have not known about the Sunday Marche in Trouville -sur-Mer and how to get there by bus.
The tourist office representative equipped me with maps of Trouville as well as Deauville and the schedule for the bus that would take me there.
Public buses depart from the very central bus station which just happens to be where the shuttle from the ship drops guests. The No. 20 bus travels from Honfleur to Trouville in 26 minutes at a round trip fare of €4.80. You can stay on the bus for another three minutes and reach Deauville. The drive is scenic. If you didn’t know you were in France you could have thought you were in rural England. Thatched roof cottages peek out from the apple orchards that dot the countryside. This is the area of France that is famous for its Calvados liquor, made from apples, and for its apple cider.
The market in Trouville is a typical Normandy market. You can find everything from live lobsters to mattresses for sale.
The market stretches for about 1/2 mile along a canal that separates Deauville and Trouville but that is not all there is to see in the area. This is a seaside town with a large beach, a casino, lots of antique shops and a photogenic jetty stretching along the beach into the sea.
As so many impressionists were inspired by the beach, the sky, the sea and the views, walking along the jetty you can see not only the views they saw, but also copies of their paintings. The jetty is dotted with copies of works of various artists, including Boudin, who took inspiration from this area. Below is an example of a work by Monet which is displayed on the jetty.
Trouville is more sedate compared to its brasher neighbor Deauville. Trouville is antique stores, Deauville is chic boutiques. In fact Deauville is where Coco Chanel opened her first eponymous shop. Deuville has an air of sophistication that it has built its reputation on. That being said, it’s a pleasant town to walk around and like Trouville the beach is long, wide and beckons you to walk on the sand. Be prepared though if you dip your toe in the water. It’s cold.
All too quickly my 11 nights on the Crystal Symphony came to an end. The experiences both onboard and ashore were excellent. It also helped that for the most part the weather cooperated and the infamous swells of the Bay of Biscay were almost non existent.
The night before the cruise ended I dined on the best sushi and sashimi I have ever had, including my meals in Japan. I love the fact that the Sushi Bar in the Silk Road Restaurant is small and is a first come first served basis (though the regular Silk Road restaurant is by reservation). You can watch the chefs preparing and presenting the various offerings. I started with the specials by Nobu, the celebrity chef that works with Crystal to create these epicurean delights.
If you are dining at a table in Silk Road you can still experience the sushi as part of your dining experience. (By the way, Prego – the Italian specialty restaurant, like Silk Road, is reservations only and dining times start at 6:00 pm.)
Disembarkation was very civilized. No unwanted announcements starting at the crack of dawn, no warnings to vacate your cabin by 8:00am. Crystal has a “No Announcement” policy. That goes for shore excursions a well as disembarkation. The day of disembarking a full breakfast was available in the dining room and at the Lido Buffet. I did not get a feeling that this was anything other than a regular day. No harried waiters, rushing through a service so they can be somewhere else, no cut back in offerings. It was lots of smiles and happy service experienced up to the last.
Passengers were advised when their transfers would depart and asked to be in the Starlite Club 15 minutes beforehand. Disembarkation began from there. As the Bistro Cafe was open I grabbed a green tea to go and I was, reluctantly, off.
Is a Crystal Cruises for You?
In my opinion (Eric Goldring’s may differ) Crystal Cruises is perfect for the the person that wants an all inclusive experience combined with lots of choices for entertainment, activities and dining that only a large ship can offer. While Crystal Cruises offers the traditional two seating dining for those that enjoy the same table, table mates and server nightly, for people like me, Crystal also offers the Dining by Reservation. The result: You have choices and a luxury product should be all about choices: Your choice.
While the stateroom categories below Penthouses on the Crystal Symphony, are smaller than the suites offered by the other luxury cruise lines, I do not see this as a deterrent to booking a Crystal cruise. No matter the category I am in, I am rarely in my stateroom; so having a well-furnished stateroom, rather than a larger suite, was a non-issue. Of course, it may be different for you.
A luxury product is also all about service. While I may not have been greeted as “Mrs. Riley”, I was always greeted with a big hello and a smile. To me that is as important as being addressed by name.
My cruise had an older demographic than usual. That could be due to the itinerary and that many were staying on for the following sailing: a transatlantic crossing to Boston. The average age seemed to be mid 60’s. I know it is younger for seven day itineraries and summer sailings. I also noticed that formal night had a greater percentage of actual formal dress than I have seen in recent years. This definitely has an appeal for many.
The true success of a cruise is if it makes you want to come back again and I want to go back on Crystal Symphony again. To that end I have booked my husband and I on the April 19, 2014 sailing of the Crystal Symphony from Bejing to Tokyo. Will I see you onboard?
I hope you enjoyed my series on the Crystal Symphony’s Aquitaine Tapestry itinerary. I enjoyed sharing it. If you have any questions on Crystal Cruises or would like a price quote please contact Goldring Travel at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.