I’d like to start this post with a little housekeeping. The GPS has been named R.A.L.F. (retired Aussies loving France) and the motorhome, after visiting the Bayeux Tapestry, is now called Norman (click the link if you don’t get the connection). Thank you all so much for the many wonderful comments and we will try to implement some of your suggestions, starting with adding more photos. Remember you can subscribe by clicking in the ‘Leave a Reply’ field at the very bottom of the post and then beneath that tick the box ‘Notify me of new posts via email’. I should also point out that if you would like to see a larger version of any of the photos (especially the panos) you can simply click on them and then just hit the ‘back’ button to return to the post.
Our first stop in Normandie was the quaint little village of Yport then onto the slightly larger Etretat. It was here we had our first French meal ‘out’, Moules Mariniere Frites (for you uncultured lot that’s mussels in a white wine sauce with chips.). As yummy as it sounds and quite filling it supplied enough energy for us to tackle the breathtaking coastal cliff walks that surround the town.
So far not as many WWII remnants as I would have thought.
From here we ventured inland to Rouen where after many hours of trolling through Lonely Planet I had planned a very busy day. By now I was starting to learn that many of the cities & towns had an old quarter at their heart (think Sydney’s Rocks area), and while these usually turned out to be the most interesting place to go it also usually meant they were built in the middle ages, so think cobblestone streets and buildings on either side of the streets that nearly touch each other…. in other words not the sort of place you would want to drive down in a motorhome let alone park one.
It was a chance visit to an Office de Tourisme that alerted me to the fact that most of these places would have a place for what the French call ‘camping-cars’. It appears that touring by motorhome is very popular with the French and so there are facilities for them everywhere around the country. Ranging from up market caravan parks to what they call Aires (free camps). The Aires are usually just a car park style area put aside for motorhomes and most have services from a single vending machine style unit that allows for the dumping of grey water & toilet cassettes and provides limited amounts of drinking water & electricity. If needed these services are around 2 euro but staying there is free except for the more popular areas near a major attraction which may be up to 10 euro overnight.
In Rouen the nearest car park I could find was 4 km from the tourist area so by the time we had walked into the old city we were ready for a coffee & croissant. This is when we learnt our next lesson…..I haven’t quite figured out the criteria yet but opening hours appear to be arbitrary depending on industry & location but here at 10:00am everything was not quite open yet . One thing that is consistent is that all retail businesses except eateries close between 12:30pm & 2:00pm and stay open ’til 7:00pm
So while it was ‘safe’ to walk around the shops with Deb I had a list to get through. We quickly ticked off the impressive Palais de Justice, Notre Dame (another one), and the site of Joan of Arc’s burning, the only place left was the Musee de Beaux Arts which I had allowed 2 hours for. Next lesson…… when planning trips to museums or galleries always ensure it is not on the one day of the week they close, in this case Tuesdays.
Having had enough of the big city for a while it was back to the coast to the medieval fishing village of Hornfleur.
Fun Fact: Shakespeare’s line “Once more unto the breach…” was spoken by Henry V to his army whilst they lay siege here.
As we were now heading to the D-Day beaches it occurred to me that the 70th anniversary of that event would be upon us in a few weeks and many events are planned for the area to be attended by big crowds, not to mention the ‘ganse machas’ (French for heads of state). Thinking it wise to not be too leisurely, we started our trek along the historic coast, Swordfish was first followed by Juno.
There are many monuments, museums & cemeteries along the route and the first major one we visited was again the Canadian Memorial at Juno Beach.
However it was the American memorial & cemetery at Omaha Beach this time that had the biggest impact.
Some 9000 graves are marked here among the magnificent grounds that overlook Omaha Beach. If everyone was able to visit and experience a place like this we would hopefully view the worlds troubles in a different light.
Travelling south-west just before we left Normandie is the Unesco world heritage sight of Mont-Saint-Michel, pictured at the very top. Obviously designed by Walt Disney, it was started in the 10th century and kept receiving additions until the 15th century. It is built on a small patch of land that is about 1.5km from the mainland and joined by a narrow causeway, but the bay that surrounds it drains completely at low tide so it is possible to walk around it then.
The site contains not only the abbey at the upper levels but many restaurants, shops & hotels around the base and we managed to spend a full day exploring. While there is a free shuttle to take you to/from the car park at the mainland it was much nicer (&cheaper) to walk along the river from our caravan park another 2.5 km away.
Next up is Brittany with more walled cities and the mysterious stones of Carnac.