After work we left central London on our tour bus to the massive port of Portsmouth, Southern Britain. Arriving at 8.45pm it was dark. How depressing that winter is around the corner! We were loaded onto the ferry via bus for an overnighter on the ferry. We settled in a huge lounge with other passengers, some choosing reclining chairs to sleep on and others (who had done it before) with sleeping bags on the floor. We were the only ones that were recommended and felt silly enough to bring sleeping bags, but it was worth it to get a good night sleep. We have never travelled by a huge ferry before, so this reminded me of the titanic when we hit very stormy waters at 1am in the morning!
We arrived at the port of Le Havre at 7am French time (very slow overnight ferry), and headed to an old town called Bayeux,
We then found the most delicious fancy French pastry shop - the pastries were amazing!!! And they were cheap too! Mind you, we were comparing this to metropolitan Paris prices!
Our next stop was just down the road, the Bayeux British memorial. For the British who lost their lives on D-day, World War II. This was quite a moving place to be, especially to see some of the graves showing how young some of the guys were - a lot young than us! The average ages seemed to be between 19-25 years old.
The next stop was the American memorial. This memorial was much bigger, overlooking the beach. Again it was really moving to see the amount of people who lost their lives for many nations’ freedom.
We continued onto Arromanches, an artificial Mulberry harbour, "Port Winston", that protected the landings of 2,500,000 men and 500,000 vehicles during the D-Day invasion. This prefab concrete construction was built in Britain. They were submerged in rivers in England away from the prying eyes of German aircraft, and finally towed across the Channel at 6kph as the invasion began. It was quite interesting to see how they were made, and how huge it was. However, all there is left to see are the remains, as it was destroyed by a massive storm during the war. We had lunch there and checked out the remains on the beach and the cheesy souvenir shops. It was quite cold with the sea breeze when the sun disappeared behind clouds - another reminder that winter is around the corner!
It is so hard to imagine how close we were to losing the war until you actually go somewhere like Normandy, and see and hear some real evidence of the war and the scary statistics- it was basically the strategy behind the D-Day landings that turned the war around, and it was really interesting (and a little scary) to hear that it was all nearly cancelled due to the combination of precise details that needed to be aligned for it all to work – including tides, weather conditions etc.
We finally headed to Caen where out hotel was. Caen was bombed in WWII and rebuilt, so not many of the buildings were old, making it quite a dull town.
After watching a le chat and le chatton (French for cat and kitten) play outside our hotel window for ages, we headed into town and stumbled into an untouched old bit, where all the restaurants were. After looking through plenty of menus we went for a cheap 3 course one that we could read the menu off, but ended up choosing something more expensive off there any way! It was nice to be served by quirky French waiters and waitresses again – we thought it was extremely hilarious when we asked our waitress to translate the menu into English and she goes “Oo la lah! I thought that was a myth that French say that! We finished off a delicious meal with the best ever creme brulee - oo la lah alright!
Extremely cute French restaurants
The next morning we got up nice and early to travel to Mont-Saint-Michel. Another UNESCO world heritage site. Mont-Saint-Michel is a massive gothic style abbey (church) on a hill out on the mud flats. From a distance it’s a distinct silhouette. During high tides in the old days it would have been hard to get to, however the sand has built up over the years, creating an access way to it. A very cool place to visit! Although it was tourist galore by noon!
Our next stop was Saint-Malo. Saint Malo is just outside of the Normandy province, in Brittany. The walled town is known for its seafood and sits on a beautiful sand beach with lots of forts off the beach. We had plenty of time that afternoon so we wandered around the wall enjoying relaxing blue sea views and sand! We stopped off at one of the many seafood restaurants to enjoy the local delights cooked in true French style, at a reasonable price too. You realise that Paris is very expensive after seeing these smaller towns.
After a relaxing afternoon, we headed back to Caen to rest up, only venturing out to get a light meal.
After having a cloudy day the day before, today was a stunner. We set off early to a fishing port called Honfleur.
Honfleur was very picturesque, with lots of boats in a small harbour, surrounded by really cute buildings. We had an hour or so to explore Honfleur, and its quaint streets and buildings, and then we carried on to Rouen-which is where poor Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. Again we were given time to explore Rouen, taking in the Joan of Arc museum, and seeing the courtyard where it all happened.
Mid afternoon we met back up with our group again to continue on our journey to Calais. As it was a long weekend, and we were returning late afternoon on a long weekend, the traffic at Calais was ridiculous! Cars were lined up for ages. While we were queuing to get on our ferry, we saw a bunch of guys walking in the brush on the side of the road-we found out that these were refugees/asylum seekers who are trying to get into the UK from France! Interesting!
Refugees on the side of the road at Calais
Although there was uncertainty whether we would make our booked ferry, we did manage to make it, due to some clever queue jumping tricks by our bus driver. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, so clear that we could see the white cliffs of Dover from Calais. We enjoyed the sun by sitting up on the top deck of our ferry drinking in the vitamin D and beer-an excellent end to a really cool trip.