We head away in the morning from the aire and head towards Cabourg. We want to get there early as the aire we stayed at on arrival is very popular and although it takes about 80-100 vans it gets filled early especially since it is Friday and the weekend will be busy. I am driving and with Scot navigating I am unsure what I am in for. We head through a number of villages on the road but as we get nearer our destination we come across heavy traffic and markets in Arromanches and this makes for unpleasant travelling especially as Scot doesn’t have google directions (or brain direction sense (Scots input not mine)) on and is trying to wing which road to turn into. After some stressful banter and several wrong turns I decide its not worth driving and take over the navigating as it is getting on, in the day. We get back onto the correct track and get into Cabourg.
We head to the aire and find that there is a circus coming and they have closed off most of the parks and have left only about 8!! Can you imagine how many motorhomes are now driving all over this area looking for their park for the weekend given that this accommodates at least 80 vans and no one, like us, knows they have closed off most of it. We need to do laundry so stop at a local one before then trying to find another place to stop. I find a couple of potential places and we pull into one carpark only to find that we must leave at 7am in the morning which isn’t likely to happen. We still park up and walk around the town, Scot gets a well overdue haircut, but on getting back to the van a couple of others parked here have left so we decide to move along.
I find out that vans can park near the stadium and supposedly they have opened up a number of parks. I know it is unlikely there is space but we have to check anyway. We get there and there is horse trotting on in the evening, making it a crowded place. I think we can squeeze into a spot on the side and talk to the gateman who is lovely and comes and looks and in French says go for it. Just as we squeeze in, another van leaves so we move there and get chatting to the group of young guys and girls parked up next to us. Then another van leaves the actual aire park so we move once more into a designated spot which is great. We can stay here for the weekend now. The guys ask us to go over for a drink with them, so we walk around and join them for a couple of drinks. They are off to the music festival on the beach tonight and tomorrow night at Cabourg. The main fellow chatting to us is French born with American parents and grandparents and we get on well. They plie us with drinks but we leave them to party on the beach and head back to the van.
As the evening gets on we see the horse racing starting up and the fellow on the gate gives Scot a free entry ticket for us to go in and check it out. Scot wants to bet on a couple of horses, but I have no idea how to bet in France so after watching a few people and trying to ask questions we give up and just pick our numbers and see how they go. This is the strangest trots I have ever been to. The horses don’t run behind a barrier, they just come out from the side and start running and in the last race the horses don’t have a buggy behind them. They have a rider in the saddle like the gallops but they are trotting. We have never seen this before and not surprising there are about 8 of the 16 horses disqualified during the race for galloping and not trotting. My 2 horses come 2nd and 3rd and we wish we could have bet even if it only got us a few euro. That night we wake to the youngies having a couple of drinks at 2am when they get back but they are really pretty quiet considering.
The next day we head into Cabourg for a nice lunch at a restaurant I have picked out based on great reviews and we have a sensational lunch. We also have checked out how many euros we have left and we need to spend it all before we leave in case we are not back in Europe before we head home. So we have it all earmarked for bits and pieces and succumb to buying some lovely sardines and fish soup which we have seen all over France but have not bought before. Back at the van and the youngies ask to join them for drinks again which we do for a short time but leave them to their own devices. Its quite funny as a couple of vans pull in beside them but on realising they have young people with music playing and drinking right beside them they soon leave. These guys are not too bad again when they get back to the van in the wee hours of the morning except on Sunday morning they set the alarm off, not once but about 10 times and they have trouble turning it off for good. Its a rental which is why. They nearly blew us all up when we arrived as they were smoking near the gas bottle when they were playing around with the connection….scary stuff! We exchange email addresses with the French/yank who’s parents are from Oregon and this seems a great destination for a future holiday, who knows.
Sunday morning we head away from here and say goodbuy to the youngies who are mostly worse for the wear and head to our final night in France at Ouistream aire. We park up here and take a walk along to Ouistream which we have not actually walked to before. It is very busy and the beach is lovely as is the small village area. We laugh at the things we could buy or a final drink but we have no euros left, not even for an ice cream in the sun. We feel like a swim but we have to sort out our gear in the van tonight as we are dropping some stuff off with Michaela when we reach the UK tomorrow. It is a quiet night and we surface to the alarm at 6.30am to head off to the ferry to head back to the UK.
We head off towards the Normandy coast towards the start of the D Day landings. What would have been French named areas area now more known after the landing areas from the June 1944 called Omaha, Sword, Juno, Utah and Red Beach. There are a number of memorials, museums and fortifications all along this region and is very popular for the WW2 history buffs, touring groups and interested parties such as ourselves. The first thing was to miss the coast road for a way so we could spend more time in the main area especially choosing the best museum to visit as there area few. I picked the Musee Du Debarquement as the reviews were the best which was a way away, but on our way.
We stopped first at the Monument du debarquement de la 2eme DB which has a Sherman tank, half track and monument and views of the beach where they landed on Utah beach. It really gives you an idea of the expanse of beach and the obstacles. Utah was less costly, luck of the draw, than Omaha. There were also battlements to look around. We then headed on now we were on the coast road to the museum I had picked out which has dedications to the different companies and divisions (such as engineers, coastguards, air sea rescue that tend to be overlooked in their part) great sculptures and well laid out areas. We had a look along the beach imagining but not really comprehending the absolute hell both sides went through. While travelling I have been reading books on WW2 including D Day and so feel I have a little insight and it has given me perspective.
The café is a wonderful tribute to the soldiers and has so much memorabilia that it is worth a look around, writing on the walls from ex soldiers, mainly yanks, and period items. I scrounge an empty D Day beer bottle as a souvenir so don’t have to buy one. We then head to the museum which I would have to say is probably the best I have seen and we are so glad we chose it. It has been renovated recently so fresh and full of all aspects of this part of the war. A wonderful aside is that an American pilot who helped fund this museum has a real replica of his plane as a memorial there, a mint Martin B26 Marauder, the only one of its kind in the world which his grandson has helped display for the museum. I could have spent longer here but saw what I need to, so we drive on detouring a bit to a supposed popular site at Le Pointe du Hoc where the Germans had built a huge bunker complex which could cover the beach both directions between Utah & Omaha up to 2 kilometres so it was vital to cripple it. This was the task of the 2 & 5 US Ranger battalions who climbed up what the Germans thought was impenetrable cliffs. They managed to get there after some difficulty and lost over 135 men faced counterattacks but held for 3 days. Amazing well worth reading on Wikipedia. The area was quite busy and difficult to get into the bunkers (school bloody holidays) but we got an idea of it especially all the huge craters from the allied bombardment.
We drove right along Omaha beach thinking what a great place to park for the night but there were no other campers so not sure of the legalities. We find a small farm aire for 6e but they have no dumping facilities so we cant stay so move on to another just down the road which is 10e but has all facilities. It is not busy so we settle in, chat to an English couple just starting their journey then have a nice nights sleep.
As we head away the beach is a lot quieter today and we reluctantly move on, we so much love being by the sea especially right on the beach. We opt for a bit of highway and a bit of local roads and as I am navigating Vicki can expect anything as Mr Google doesn’t know we have a camper and can put us on some ridiculous country roads and as the highways are away from anything really scenic I find a road that follows the coast and it is pretty good. We pass some pretty fishing villages and meander along the coast but it is a little bleak and rugged area and the villages are getting harder to navigate. We are just passing a particularly beautiful coast road with sweeping views of tiny bays and beaches when I decide to keep on this road as it seems ok. Murphy’s law kicks in and when we are committed and pass through some tiny roads and I get the feeling we should have gone on a faster road.
We head up to Auderville which is at the peak of the peninsula near Cherbourg. As we travel closer to this area the fog starts to enclose the roads and before we know it we can hardly see the road in front of us. We believe we would have some lovely coastal views if the fog wasn’t there but we have struck fog in France before and it is so thick theres hardly a chance to see cars coming from behind and in front let alone anything off to the side of the road. After a bit more tiki touring we get to Auderville and there isn’t much there but the fog has been kept away by the slight sea breeze. We stop in the aire as campers are not allowed in the coastal fishing village and have lunch and filter coffee – we are always grateful you gave us the filter thanks Gary & Jules – then head on where unfortunately we hit more dense fog where you can’t see 10 feet in front and the road is steep and windy. What a bummer we are driving in an area with what we think would be sweeping vistas as well but are denied due to the fog. We get past the top and decided to head back to the main road instead of following the harder coast road where there is nothing visible and loop around. It is about now that Morrie our van decides it wants to run rough as it has been doing now and then and is now really starting to piss us off and we don’t want to do any damage. It loses power a bit and blows black smoke but once back on the main road it settles down and we vow we will get it looked at in UK as it will be to hard here to play the language game.
We finally get into Cherbourg which is a huge port and a crucial strategic area during WW 2 as we find out in Normandy. We plan on staying the nite find an aire and look around the old town area but we can’t get a park anywhere, there are campers everywhere looking for a park and it is madness. Reluctantly we decide to move on disappointed we won’t see this historic port.
We decide to look at a town an hour up the coast called Barfleur which has been voted the best town in France in the past and worth it to see if we can get a park. We travel along some of the lovely scenic roads where the fog seems to have avoided luckily and it is really lovely scenery. Some of the small roads we are travelling on are really only wide enough for us and no one else, then we come across a couple of tractors mowing the side of the road. We can’t pass and we have to wait back where we can get off the road until they can pass us and we continue on. Then we hit a diversion of police and fire trucks which are attending what looks like a nasty accident as we find out when we move into a convenient carpark to turn around and retrace our tracks and do a large sweep to get back onto this road past the crash so we don’t have to go all the way back. As we pass the accident we see that both cars are burnt out which is not a good sign. Mind you the way some people drive on these roads it is no wonder there are not more.
The drive after this is nice and interesting through countryside that is a mix of farming and growing and close to the coast for fishing and holidays. We drive into the main part of town which is right on the harbour, and like a lot of them here is in a squashed U shape as a defensive measure. It is very quaint but like every camper before us we can’t get to the parking area for campers so do a “u’y” and pass through small lanes till we find it right next to the high sea wall – no view tonite. There are not too many left so we quickly manoeuvre in and are greeted by the resident hen who gets a few scraps of our unused baguette. There is a lot of history here between the English and French navies, Napoleon etc. This was the main port of embarkment for the middle ages, where the Normans started for the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and where William was persuaded to let his two sons and heirs depart with a renown captain back to England. The boat subsequently sunk in a storm and without heirs the whole reign collapsed leading to the era known as the Anarchy in 1120 so lots of old history. We walked around a bit looked into the souvenir shops, dodging arriving campers and had a drink at the local then headed back for tea. We were going to eat out but nothing grabbed out attention and it was starting to rain so not pleasant if you wanted an outside seat. Again the sea looked inviting but tides were out and promised to be crap weather on the morrow. All in all a wonderful town, picturesque and charming and worth a visit.
Gouville Sur Mer is a small village right on the beach with a whole parking area just for campers. If you are quick then you get electricity but we are a bit late in the morning but doesn’t matter. It is quite hot with a little wind as we back into our spot with a view of the beach behind us. The tide had started to retreat and the little kids were on wind buggies on the flat but unfortunately not enough to move much so the others had to push, bet there were some tired ones at the end of the day. As it is the holidays it is busy but really there is so much beach that there is tons of space and the tide now was too far out to swim.
We have lunch and go for a walk down to the beach and out over the flats towards the oyster beds. They just seem to stretch way into the distance and must produce so many but the oysters are nothing like the size of NZ ones that I can see. The ones here that we have had are a quarter the size of the ones we had in Northland & Coromandel in NZ.What seems close when the tide is out, such as the lighthouse, seems miles away and completely unreachable when the tide is in. At low tide you can walk out to it but is a fair distance so we hang around the oyster beds and watch the workers work the beds taking away the bags of oysters and bringing back the bags that we think have been graded and cleaned and the smaller ones bought for another period of time. It is crazy that this whole area will be under water in just a few hours as the workers race against the tide. Tractors do all the work and also go out and tow in the boats which I suppose the owners pay for if they don’t want to hang around for the high tide.
When the tide comes in you can see it moving it comes in that fast. No wonder people, like at St Mont Michel, get trapped in the mud or sand by the tide and have drowned. As you can see in the photos the lighthouse is so far away you can hardly see it. We are really enjoying the salt air and sun as we walk back to ‘shore’. We ponder whether to get frites (chips) with tea but in the end we can’t be bothered going back and opt for boiled spuds instead. An hour after we are back we look outside and the tide is already way in and the lighthouse which looked close now seems miles away. I reckon if the tide is in like this in the morning I will go for a swim.
We wake to the beautiful sound of waves crashing instead of screaming two strokes which makes us happy but unfortunately the temperature has dropped, it is raining and a bit windy so I wuss out on the swim but know I will regret it – where is the bear grylls mentality when you want it! We are heading to Cherbourg via the coast road right around the top of the peninsula so hope we get some fantastic views.
We are somewhat sad to be heading back to the coast as it means the ending of our french holiday but happy to be heading back to the sea and coastal area. We break the journey in a quiet little aire in Montbizot in a quiet little village. This is the best example of how basic and easy it is to provide a small overnite parking area with dump facilities and the chance to spend a little money in the local economy. The rest of the world should take stock of this for the growing campervan tourist industry. As it is raining we just relax and catch up on a few things and revell in a spring cleaned van and knowing all the rain is flowing nicely off the polished outside surfaces.
Vicki has pegged the coastal area of Hirel which we liked earlier as we travelled through as a likely stop. We passed here on the way to Cancale and like there this is heavily into the oyster industry. We find the large open aire with a few vans but not as many as we thought, possibly as the french like the free aires but dont think there are any around. We have to pay and no electricity but get to dump our toilet waste. Never mind, swings & roundabouts with cost.
This area has huge tidal flow hence the oyster and mussel beds and the beachfront goes for miles. It is a bit windy as we walk to the town area which is opposite the beach, not really a swimming beach, but great for walking, collecting welks in the sand and popular with the wind buggies. I spy a seafood outlet and we order 1 1/2 dozen oysters to eat on the beach but we decide instead to have a beer each and crisps and keep the oysters for tea with a whole sole each and salad. We were going to have a beer at a bar but same price as a beer each and crisps from the Spar and the oysters so this is better value as we sit and enjoy the view across the bay to Cancale. This is an area we would like to stay if only for the long walks along the beach but tomorrow we are heading north up around to the Normandy coast. Before we set off in the morning we have a lovely walk along the beach and wonder at the thousands of shells that are washed up on the shore. It is a slightly cool morning compared to the many hot ones of late so quite a pleasant change.
Fontainbleu was mentioned to us by another travelling couple as a must see if only for the magnificent chateau with 1500 rooms and 130 acres of surrounding parklands. It is quite close to Paris and is a very popular tourist destination. It has been the home of an unbroken line of french sovereigns from Francois I to Napolean III. We drove into the forest-like surrounds and drive down a very bumpy cobbled drive where we are going to park for the night which backs on to the rear of the chateau lake and expansive gardens. There are cars and a few vans, and while not stated as a overnite stay everyone says it is ok.
We settle in then go for a walk to see the adjacent town as we are not sure if we have enough time to tour the chateau. However we are assured that the 1 1/2 hours left is adequate to see it all and it will also free up tomorrow morning. The crowd is relatively small as we start the tour. It follows a set course through all the rooms and it is truly stunning and even after all that we have seen I think this is the best even above Cheverny. The main reason is that it has been in the same family for over 600 years and they are still there.
We do get the tour groups but for some reason they are courteous and quiet which makes it easier to take it all in and not have to move along with the crowd. I think that the fact we are all heading in the same direction helps and you are not trying to get around or through the masses. The art and furnishings are so eye hurting beautiful and in such excellent condition. Some have been restored to the original specs- furniture for example- and still keep their originality. Even the hundeds of year old tapestries are still colourful and not faded and, as it has not been looted and changed owners, there are still all the day to day items in the rooms such as the ladies bedrooms. I especially liked a room called the Plate Gallery with 128 Sevres hand painted, gold gilded porcelain plates fitted into the woodwork, such exquisite, detailed scenes of everyday life. It is well worth Wikipedia-ing the chateuu to get a true idea of it’s beauty. Fortunately we did have enough time to do it justice but another hour without people jostling would have been great as you do seem to rush the last bits and do suffer from a bit of sensory overload. We head back to the van as the gate will close at 7pm and if we go to the town we will have to walk all the way round so decide to see it in the morning.
The fine weather continues in the morning, we have been very lucky, and we wander around the little town area and then head off back to Orleans to take the opportunity to give the van a huge spring clean as it is on the market and we have people to see when we get back to uk and we feel that the time invested will make it easier to keep clean later on than doing it in the uk. After that it is back to the Brittany coast first then the Normandy coast to visit the D-Day Landing sites and museums on the way to the port of Caen to head home (Not sure where home actually is – seems to be anywhere we are headed….Vicki).
Everywhere we travel now we are often confronted by huge harvesters, tractors and other sorts of farm machinery on the roads and in the paddocks. All the wheat on the farms look to be ready and everywhere you look you see the big rolls of chaff left after the wheat has been cut off waiting to be collected up. I just love the look of them in the paddocks. It is obviously an incredibly busy time for farmers as they harvest their crops. The wine growers are also about 3 weeks ahead of time due to the very hot summer they have had this year so grapes will be getting picked early too. Some of the harvesters we see look like something from out of war of the worlds to me.
We have been told that Troyes is a nice town and there is a large carpark handy so we will get another big town fix. The main area is a mix of old and new and the cathederal away from the square is very ornate with detailed cornices, statues and beautiful colourful stained glass windows. Even though we have seen heaps and they are in every village, town and city somehow we are drawn to them but more for their beauty rather than the faith. In a hot busy town they are a cool and quiet haven for 10 minutes or so.
We head back to the main square check out the info centre to save walking trying to find the main sites. There is not really anything as a must see but Vicki has seen that there is meant to be a cat street so of course she wants to play cat mother. However we are told that the Rue Des Chat is not a cat haven but a street that slowly had the buildings fall together which has enabled the cat population to jump between the houses for centuries. Looking at all the bird feathers I am sure that it also lets them catch a few fat roosting pigeons! Talking of pigeons & doves there doesnt seem to be hardly any around in France that we have seen in nearly every place in Europe. We have a cold drink in a quiet bar, check out a few souvenir shops then head back to the van. Troyes does have a lovely feel to it and we are glad we stopped.
Vicki has picked out a free aire in a little village so we pull in about 5ish. There are a couple of vans already there but also a few kids on their 2 strokes and cars, and while we are there a few more turn up being the school holidays. We spy a kebab shop so decide to have an early tea but by the time it is ready the area next to us is full of teenages and a bit older, noisy with doof doof music, screams of bikes & cars so we say bugger this they will be at it all night so find another aire which unfortunately costs but at least it will be quiet as it is on a farm area, lots of room and a shower and electricity for coffee in the morning. After a nice quiet night sleep we head off towards Fontainebleau.