After some intense research, it was finally here: our very first car. Sure, we had had our own van in Australia but the adventure had only lasted for a couple months before we had said farewell to our trusted old Mitsubishi van. Now was different and we looked proudly at our antiquated red Fiat Punto, eager to know where it would take us on the roads of Normandy, where we were settled for a bit more than six months without having the occasion to venture further than the city of Rouen.
The possibilities were endless, from the rugged coastline of the Côte d’Albatre to the D-Day Beaches, but we decided to stay inland and hit the road to the east, following the Seine River through the green countryside of Normandy. After an enchanting hour drive across an ultimate postcard made of sleepy thatched cottages and fields of cows and bullocks, we eventually arrived in an incised valley overhanging the village of Les Andelys. The white limestone cliffs in the back and half-timbered houses along the main road of the village were all the proofs we needed to know we hadn’t left Normandy yet.
The engine of the Fiat Punto coughed a little, expressing its disapproval, as we left the sealed road for a gravel path going up to the top of a hill but the car didn’t let us down, even as we drove towards the dramatic ruins overlooking the valley on a bumpier road than ever. It had fulfilled its duty faithfully and we parked it under the branches of a hanging tree whose shadow would help it rest after all this hard work.
Back on our feet, we were now ready to plan the assault of the Castle of Château Gaillard which, sitting on its throne of rocks and tall grass and controlling the whole valley, looked at us in contempt as it had resisted the attacks of much harsher opponents in its long, tormented history. Still, we were determined and tackled the climbing that would take us to the castle, finding out pretty quickly that it would actually be a small walk rather than a tough climb, even though the stony path was a little too slippery for our liking.
We reached the castle but it wouldn’t let us in so easily and we first started exploring the remains of the external walls that had now been invaded by ivy and moss, which seemed to be the new masters ruling the place. Windows carved out of stone were still letting light burst into what had been a room long ago but there was no roof above to protect it and the windows themselves looked like gaping holes left with no purpose. Part of the walls had been destroyed down to their base, leaving the edge of the castle fall prey to all eyes.
After spending long minutes taking all the shots we wanted, we walked away and passed several stone structures destroyed to the ground, going on to a part of the castle where the path had disappeared, replaced by a lawn of yellow tall grass that looked like wheat. We turned around and were left speechless by the stark contrast between this place of ruins and untamed wild grass, and the main building of the castle that still stood proud and unshaken in front of our very eyes.
It was time for Château Gaillard to reveal itself from within and we decided to cross the former drawbridge to get to the gates of the castle, where we had to pay a couple euros to enter its main courtyard. Greeted by locals wearing traditional medieval outfits, or so it appeared, we were also encouraged to sample ancient board games under a few tents that had been set up for every visitor to jump back in time and put themselves in the skin of their ancestors for a split moment. We then moved towards the central tower whose loopholes were still apparent, underlying the core defensive function of the castle, and then proceeded to the basement.
Going back to the surface, we found an alcove that no one had dared make their own and sat there for a moment. The loud, thundering music of a fairground and muffled shouts of kids enjoying the rides suddenly broke the silence and took us by surprise. Hidden behind barred windows, we stared at the village lying to our feet in the comforting anonymity the castle provided us, aware that we would have to go back to the real world at the end of the day.
Sun was at its peak when we left and we stopped at the platform below the castle to enjoy one last all-round view of the scenery, while more and more tourists were beginning to storm Château Gaillard. Our Fiat Punto had befriended a lot of cars that weren’t there when we arrived, many of them much more gleaming than it would ever be, but it took us back home without flinching nonetheless.
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