In the next 48 hours, I will be leaving on Spring Break. I am getting ready to go to beautiful, renowned cities that boast celebrated sights and get visited by people the world over. I therefore feel obligated to tell you about the simple but stunning city in which I live for fear that it gets left out of the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities that get more press.

Caen is an ancient city that, architecturally, is brand new after the destruction following the Allied bombings of World War II. To prevent the German escape and/or advancement into France, the Allied planes tried their best to bomb the bridges connecting Normandy to the rest of the world. Unfortunately for the city of Caen, they usually failed and hence the utter ruination of the city.

Therefore, when you look at the pictures predating 1944, the city is nearly unrecognizable to those of us know know it as the university city it is today.

My favorite part of the city is Centre Ville (downtown). It’s there that you can find almost anything your heart desires. Pharmacies, candy and chocolate shops, flowers, post cards, clothing and shoes, cinema and books can all be found downtown. You can have lunch, drinks, supper, pastries, the famous apple cider beer unique to this region, chase pigeons and watch the children ride the carousel near the old Notre Dame de Caen cathedral.

One of my favorite places downtown is the Jardin des Plantes, a very beautiful botanical institute began by Jean-Baptiste Callard de la Ducquerie who, in 1689, decided to conserve exotic and beautiful plant life. When you walk into the institute’s greenhouses, your camera lens fogs up because of the humidity! It looks like you walked into the Amazon Rainforest and smells like spring and summer. And the great thing about the Jardin des Plantes is that you walk from France to Brazil and then when you walk out of the greenhouse, you walk back into FRANCE. What a glorious set-up!

Jardin des Plantes

Almost like you're in the Amazon!

The city is always busy on the weekends in the shops downtown but on the university campus, it’s almost like spring break–everyone travels home on the trains and trams. If a trip to Carrefour (Wal-Mart) is in your plans on Friday night, forget about bringing anything back, let alone getting on a tram in the first place. They are cram-packed with students and travelers.

There is a glorious little teahouse on top of a bookstore that serves the world’s best Viennese Chocolate with Chantilly cream and chocolate chips. You can, of course, get home-mixed tea and freshly made desserts too. When you grab a good book in French, turn on your iPod and slowly sip your tea, there is nothing, it would seem, that could be better.

Ancient books for sale at the teahouse-bookstore downtown Caen

Viennese Chocolate with Chantilly cream and chocolate chips... le mellieur!

The port is relaxing, beautiful, and full of boats. The people who live on them year-round patiently polish their trimmings until they gleam. After all, on Sunday when the Market is just by the port, there are thousands of people who will see the boats and therefore they must be brilliantly shining.

If you look around the city, there are rolling hills that, with each passing day, get greener and greener. Spring is here! The flowers bloom happily, making the already lovely sights even lovelier.

Alleyway next to the ancient Château Ducal (William the Conquerer's Castle from 1070)

And although I will be seeing cities in the next few days that are a poet’s paradise, I will always enjoy the sweet simplistic beauty that is Caen.

To learn about Le Jardin des Plantes in Caen and look at pictures of the nearly 8,000 species represented, click here.