D-Day Beaches

by CameronM Wed, June 26 2013 08:19

One of the problems you face arriving in a new country is getting in tune with the local daily rhythm of life. This seems especially difficult when your body clock is also a little out of whack due to long days and international flights. Today we woke up at 4am, well before anything was open and eventually left the hotel at about 7am in an effort to find something to eat.

We were headed to Merville, home of a German Battery attacked by British paratroopers in the early hours of D-Day. En-route we crossed Pegasus Bridge, an important crossing that was also an important target of British airborne troops (this time glider-borne). The original bridge has been replaced, but has been moved to the museum located across the road. The early morning fog added to the atmosphere as we walked across the bridge to look at the tank located on the Benouville side of the bridge.

We eventually found an open café in Franceville, an exceptionally quaint seaside village and had a coffee/hot chocolate. While we waited for the Merville Battery Memorial to open, we walked along the beach and Zane played in the playground. Shortly before 9am I noticed a strange shape in the fog off the beach. As I watched, a fisherman immerged from the slowly lifting fog. As I continued looking, more shapes materialized, including several groups of fisherman and two horses trotting. It was strange to think that all the time we’d been on the beach apparently alone there was a crowd of folks out in the fog.

After checking out the Merville battery, we headed back across Pegasus Bridge towards Arromanches. We took the road closest to the water whenever possible, much to the chagrin of our GPS , but were rewarded with numerous picturesque villages. At one such village, Luc-sur-Mer, we stopped and did some shopping at the local street market.

We ate lunch on the hill above Arromanches. Where for some reason I still can’t understand, we had to pay for parking. The hill did offer a great view of the remains of the artificial harbor built by the allies as part of the Battle of Normandy. We enjoyed our bread, cheese and sausage, while admiring the enormity of the task facing the allies and the amazing landscape.

 

A little further down the road we stopped at the German battery at Longues-sur-Mer, which is home to four large gun casements, some with the rusted remains of their giant guns. Most of the casements are in great condition, considering they were the target of tons of bombs and barrages from numerous warships on D-Day.

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France

Paris to Normandy

by CameronM Tue, June 25 2013 00:12

We arrived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport at 6:30am and were immediate aware that it was going to be colder than we had expected. The pilot had advised that it was only 9°, which was evident the moment you entered the airport and saw the ground crews rugged up in their winter woolies. We arrived at terminal 1, which is small and old. There was a massive live to go through immigration, but that at least made me feel better about the lines that you encounter entering Australia. Even with that delay, the bags took forever to arrive, no doubt owing in part to the sheer number of passengers an A380-800 carries. Eventually we got our bags and called the car leasing center for details about the shuttle. This would be Melita’s first use of French on the trip and she was quite nervous. Thankfully they spoke English, so we were soon on our way to pick up the car.

I have rented many cars before and the experience ranges from fairly easy, to downright frustrating. There isn’t much I hate more about travelling than arguing with a car rental company that the all-inclusive price you got online should include “compulsory” insurance and fees. Picking up our brand new Citroën was insanely easy. We walked in, signed a piece of paper, were handed the keys, rego and paperwork and that was it. We were ushered outside where an assistant gave us a quick overview of the car’s features, such as the GPS and told about a few regulations that we’d need to know and we were on our way.

I haven’t owned a manual car for nearly 20-years and the last time I drove one was probably three years ago and was only down to the local shop. I was, as you could understand, apprehensive about driving a manual, especially on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  With Melita tasked with reminding me to keep her side of the car closest to the gutter and to yell if I was getting it too close, we gingerly headed off to Normandy.

Both Google Maps and our in-car GPS routed us from the airport in towards Paris before heading back out towards Normandy. I had found an alternative that I preferred that would keep us on D roads while we got used to driving, but I couldn’t find a way to get the GPS to use that route and eventually decided to trust its wisdom. This turned out to be a mistake, as we spent the next hour stuck in peak-hour traffic and barely travelled 25km.

We eventually made our way into the French countryside and all we could say was WOW. It was as impressive as the coverage of the Tour de France portrays. Amazing vistas greet you in every direction. Postcard perfect villages dot the landscape. It truly is a wonderful part of the world.

Of course what the Tour coverage doesn’t capture is how hard it is to drive down the quaint village roads that were built in a time before cars! We had a few hair-raising moments trying to squeeze down streets barely wide enough for two cars and certainly not wide enough to cater for the cars parked on the side. Thankfully no one appears in too great a hurry, so we just took our time, stopped and waited if we felt the road was too narrow and except for brushing mirrors with a parked car, we survived the day.

We stopped for lunch at one the many road-side restaurants that offer a set menu for very reasonable price. The restaurant was crowded even though there weren’t any houses nearby, so I guess lots of travelers have the same idea. The meal was basic, but filling consisting of a buffet of entrée salads, meat and chips for mains, and a desert. Including a soft drink and juice it came to under €40 for the three of us, which was good value.

We arrived in Bayeux at 3pm and checked into our hotel via an automatic key vending machine. The hotel only has a real person on reception for limited hours and not until 5pm in the evening. After a short walk through the streets around the hotel, we all fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

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France