Normandy Road Trip. Part Deux (17/08/12 - 21/08/12)


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August 24th 2012
Published: August 24th 2012
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Far from Home with the Screaming Eagles


Come the morning we set out for another traditional breakfast of a Baguette each, 2 Croissants each and a Pan au Chocolat. Suitably stuffed on Butter, Pastry, Bread and Chocolate we set out for St. Mere Eglise. This small town on the route up to Cherbourg was the Western flank of the invasion effort. Paratroopers of the US 101st airborne division, The Screaming Eagles, were dropped in and the town has become famed for the Paratrooper who's parachute became tangled around the church spire in the main square. These days there is an effigy of a paratrooper hung by his parachute from the spire and the Church commissioned a stained glass window to be designed to forever commemorate the efforts of the Airborne troopers who liberated the town. We went into the 101st Airborne division museum and had a look around and were able to go through a Waco Glider that were used on the night of the Invasion.


At this point we were at the furthest point away from Home in our Road trip, and thanks to our 50 mile detour, had now covered well over 640 miles. We had a crepe in

St. Mere Eglise that tasted disgusting and was partially stale. So:

Joe's Top Tip in St. Mere Eglise


Do not eat a crepe from the vendor next to the 101st airborne museum. Unless you like the flavour of stale pancakes with ASDA Smart-price French-equivalent sauce for topping.


On to Utah.


From St. Mere Eglise we drove on toward the coast to Utah beach. Quickly it became apparent French Drivers hate English Drivers. Especially English drivers who stray too far from the touristy parts of France. We were making our way cross country and had come to a junction, where we sat waiting for ages for the traffic to thin out as none of the drivers would wait and let us out. Ho-Hum. We finally made it to Utah Beach. In my opinion by far the most picturesque of the Landing beaches we visited and with a lot less in the way of tourists, although not without some.


We explored the memorial and the museum and generally had a look around. Inset into the floor in the museum was a diarama of the Normandy country-side, showing the view Paratroopers would have had if they had sufficient light to see the landing

zone. My picture illustrates my point pretty well.

Bayeux bound


Finished at Utah we drove back toward Bayeux. The drive was uneventful and we just took in the Normandy countryside and the villages that appear largely unchanged since the early 1900s (aside from the obvious desecrations of warfare).


We arrived in Bayeux and went into the museum, we looked around and then made for the Commonwealth War-graves memorial. While not on the same scale as the American Cemetery at Omaha, the Cemetery is nevertheless a sobering and thought provoking place. Each headstone is lovingly cared for by the Commonwealth War-graves Commission. Another thing I noticed about the graves is that they are more detailed than the US ones. With messages from family members engraved on them.


Into Bayeux


Bayeux is obviously famed for one thing. The Tapestry. My brother had told me that when he went years ago with his school he was told that the Tapestry would be put away from the public view for 40 years while undergoing restoration. This turned out to be untrue and after we had driven around Bayeux 2 or 3 times looking for somewhere to park we made our way to the museum.


The Tapestry is phenomenal. At nearly 70 metres in length, it is kept in a dark room at a controlled temperature and humidity with specially made lighting so as not to damage the cloth which has been around since the 1070s. It depicts the events leading up to and including the Norman conquest of Britain. Dan told me that photography was banned however at no point was i asked to put my Camera away, as i walked in with it in my hand and passed at least 8 museum employees before entering the Tapestry room. So naturally i took some photos, Dan took a photo and his flash went off. Rookie. I had the foresight to keep my flash off. We had an audio guide to explain what we were seeing and the tale is genuinely fantastic. It's essentially a medieval version of the Beano. . After finishing in the Tapestry we went into the gift shop, where i bought a copy of the Tapestry as Gemma hasn't seen it (that'll change shortly I'm sure)


Devils in the Lord's House?


Bayeux is without doubt (up until now) the most beautiful place I have ever visited. We explored the little alleyways

and side streets walking through a town where the modern shopping experiences clashes with old-world architecture. We decided to go to the Cathedral and have a look around the town. The Cathedral's full name is Cathedrale Notre-Dame De Bayeux, and is adorned with Gothic design including Gargoyles and statues. We went into the Cathedral just as a sermon of some form was about to begin (I'm not religious so am ignorant to which denomination of Christianity the Cathedral is accessed by). We wandered around the Cathedral to the entrance to the Crypt directly below where the Sermon was taking place. A sign inside the Crypt firmly stated that flash photography was banned, however every one seemed to actively ignore this rule, i attempted photos without flash but resigned myself to rule breaking as well so I would have something to show for our time in the Crypt.

We left the Cathedral and as we were walking out i took a photo of Dan as he walked ahead of me. Now, as i have said I am not religious, I am not superstituous and, while paranormal goings on interest me, I like to think there is scientific explanation for what happens.

(This doesn't mean I flat refuse to accept when people encounter such occurrences). Back to the original point. I took a photo of Dan as he walked passed two priests and when the picture appeared on the display on my camera you could clearly make out a Ghostly Apparition in his T-shirt. I showed Dan the photo who was as equally stunned as I was, because whatever it was looked pretty evil. (I've always maintained there isn't something quite right about my brother hahaha). So while we couldn't explain the face that had appeared in the lower left section of his T-shirt we decided to get a pizza and try and ignore the Omen-esque goings on inside the Cathedral. (When I uploaded the photos to the laptop the apparition we could clearly see on my camera wasn't there so I assume it was just the pixels on the display condensing the image, so it turns out my brother isn't possessed by evil)

Pizzas and Pompeii


We decided it was high time we found a Pizzaria, Dan has a simple rule. "If there is no one inside, it's probably crap" so we bypassed several Pizzaria's that I, in my malnourished state,

deemed perfectly viable. We finally came upon one in an alleyway at the back of the Cathedral and decided to try this one (funny though, as it was empty.)

Any way I ordered an "Africa". A pizza topped with Merguez sausages, and while we waited i quizzed my brother about his Travels. He has been all over and was telling me about Pompeii... Why had i never thought to go there?! Since returning to England I have told Gemma "We ARE going to Pompeii". Sorted.


My Pizza arrived and we wolfed them down in a terrible fashion, befitting only of a British tourist in an upmarket foreign restaurant. However:


Joe's two Top Tips in Bayeux:


1) Eat a Pizza topped with Merguez sausage. If you are a Vegetarian or Vegan abandon your principals for at least 20 minutes of indulgent delight!


2) Ignore the areas that charge for parking, there is a giant free car park about 5 minutes walk from the cathedral in which Italian's in motorhomes were all using as a campsite, use that.


Late in the day


We realised we were pushing the time as we still hadn't booked a campsite and currently had nowhere

to stay. Dan had researched a Campsite and we decided to hot foot it to Merville-Franceville. While driving there however we got side tracked as our journey took us OVER Pegasus Bridge. We did a U-turn, parked up and piled out the car. Here we were stood on Pegasus Bridge. With not a single tourist in sight. Too good an opportunity to miss. Mrs Gondree was sweeping the area outside her cafe and disappeared inside as we arrived.

For those who don't know. Pegasus Bridge was the first stage of Operation Overlord and was a resounding success. The bridge, and Cafe, were held by the German's as a major crossing over the Orne River (along with Horsa Bridge). The British 6th Airborne were tasked with capturing the bridges in tact in a coup de main assault on the bridges. To do this they crash landed 6 Horsa Gliders (3 per bridge) near the bridges and took them in tact with only 1 Death (Lt. Den Brotheridge) and 2 casualties. They then successfully held the bridge from a counter attack by German Mechanized units. The action at Pegasus Bridge showed British troops at their very best and they had to be

Me at Pegasus Bridge. Me at Pegasus Bridge. Me at Pegasus Bridge.

Taken by the British in an extraordinary raid in the opening stages of Operation Overlord.
as they were the spearheard of Operation Overlord. While they crashed in a field less than 300 yards from the bridge at 0016, the rest of the invasion force was waiting in the English Channel for H-Hour at 0530. In that respect British forces sustained both the first death of D-Day but also achieved the first victory.

We explored the nearby area which is littered with monuments to the British 6th Airborne and then went to look at the Cafe next to the bridge. The Cafe is significant in the fact that the owners The Gondree's were French Resistance members who smuggled key information through complex lines to assist with the assault on Pegasus Bridge. The Cafe is also recognised as the first house in France to be liberated by the invasion forces. The current owner of the Cafe was aged 12 (I believe, could have been 10) when the assualt happens and remembers it as she was hiding in the basement as a bullet tore through a window and embedded itself in one of the beams in the house. It was also fantastic to see two Red Royal Mail post boxes in the cafe that had been presented as

The Gondree's CafeThe Gondree's CafeThe Gondree's Cafe

The first house in France to be liberated
"awards" to the Gondree's. Their cafe is littered with keepsakes they have been presented with over the years. More about that later.

To Find a campsite...


It was now getting to be about 20:30 at night and we really needed to find a campsite. We set off to Merville-Franceville to try our hand with the one Dan had researched. Camping Le Peurpleus (or however it was spelled). Anyway, they were closed for the night, we tried 4 other campsites all of which had been closed for at least 2 hours. We had repeatedly driven passed a campsite that looked awful called Camping Du Rivage, but we threw in the towel and rolled up, just in front of some Germans in a motorhome. The Sino-French woman who worked in the reception looked especially put out as we arrived (more so than the one at Camping Le Robinson 2 days before). But she agreed to turn her laptop back on and after much confusion and Dan trying his hardest to communicate in French with her we got a pitch (number 33) with the instruction to "camp anywhere you like" and handed over 19,50 (after she'd originally tried to charge us 50 Euros.

The Shower/Toilet blockThe Shower/Toilet blockThe Shower/Toilet block

It looked exactly like the Pathology Department at Sachsenhausen inside. Hence the nickname we gave to the camp site.
In a Field in Normandy a group of German's and Two Brits sat less than 50 yards apart. Impossible 68 years apart.

They had sausages, I was becoming increasingly depressed with our lot in life at this point.


We set up the tent in diminishing light, not very well however as the top-sheet was all skew-wiff. No bother, we sat out on our deck chairs and I brewed up my first Cuppa of the Road Trip.


Joe's Top Tip for a British National in foreign territories:


Take your own teabags as foriegn tea is disgusting. A lesson learned the hardway in Berlin.


We sat and i jotted some notes down from our day while Dan used my phone to text his fiance as he hadn't told her we were moving to a new campsite and may not have Wifi. I drank two Black cups of tea before retiring to bed for the WORST nights sleep I have ever had.


The Todeslager (Deathcamp)


While not actually a death camp, or camp of doom, or any other type of camp used for nefarious activities, it was nevertheless a god-awful place. At 4 in the morning I awoke while being eaten alive by

The shower cubicleThe shower cubicleThe shower cubicle

This photo was taken in a clandestine Operation, while the camp matron mopped the floors, because the world needs to know the horrors I suffered in that cubicle.
mosquitoes and by 6 o clock I had given up tossing and turning and slapping the blood sucking, soul destroying vampires from my arms and torso. I set up a camping chair and my trangia and brewed up repeated cups of tea. Dan joined me some time later and at 8 o clock the Camp Matron unlocked the shower block.

I walked into the shower room which had two cubicles with my wash bag and change of clothes and me and Dan crammed ourselves into our respective cubicles. Never mind worrying about dropping the soap, I didn't even have room to wash my essentials! The cubicle, as depicted, comprised of a indentation in the floor with a pulg hole in, white tiled walls and a hot and cold tap which fed water to a pipe running across the top of the two cubicles. The hot tap in both showers didn't produce any water, and the cold tap dribbled out water in the range of 3-6 degrees centigrade. Dan said there was no way he was showering in that and went without. I (valiantly or stupidly?) stepped under the dribble of water coming from the nozzle two foot above me and

instantly let out a high pitched squeel as my muscles contorted and I, er, succumbed to the effects of extreme cold. quickly lathering up with shower gel I hopped back under the dribble of water and let out yet more high pitched squeels and grunts that could be heard all over the camp. I lasted the entire shower and towelled off. stepped out of the cubicle in order to have room to get dressed when a gentleman of oriental descent walked into the room. I wash shivering uncontrollably and trying to get dressed as quick as possible. I exaggerated my shivering and said "Cold" to the gentleman who laughed at my misfortune then turned around and walked back out the room.

Into Merville-Franceville


We left the camp as quickly as possible, taking the tent down and shoving our items into the boot of the car. We must have left a Peugot shaped blur as we sped through the gate, never to return to that God-forsaken pit of a stench-hole. Now I am no snob, I have slept rough in some very questionable places around England, however this took the biscuit. Dan said upon waking up and joining me outside the

Merville-FrancevilleMerville-FrancevilleMerville-Franceville

Looked more German than French in terms of style of the buildings. Still a picturesque village... if you ignore the campsite we stayed in.
tent "I have never had to check to make sure I still have my kidneys after a nights sleep, until now". That's how bad it was.

We drove into Merville-Franceville to find a patisserie and get some breakfast. We then wolfed down our legally-gotten gains on a bench in the street which drew some very peculiar looks from the locals. Evidently eating in the street isn't a done thing in France. After that we came across a Carrefour Contact (equivalent of Tesco Express) and went in to get some supplies for the day. I then saw a particularly risky named brand of cheese, which I have depicted.


We stocked up on crisps and Water and it is here I hit upon another Lesson in France. So:


Joe's Top Tip for Journeying through France in Summer:


Find a Carrefour, buy a 6 pack of 1.5L bottles of water for 1,20


The Day The Devil's Dropped in


Stocked up to the eyeballs and well fed we made our way through Merville to the Merville-Battery.


The Merville Battery was an inland Artillery location occupied by the Wehrmacht from 1941 - 1944. Shortly after the action at Pegasus bridge, 600 paratroopers were dropped from

The bunkers of the Merville-BatteryThe bunkers of the Merville-BatteryThe bunkers of the Merville-Battery

Now a museum that recounts the tale of the taking of the Merville Battery.
C-47 Dakota's over the town of Merville. As if guessing this would happen Rommel had ordered the flooding of farm lands all throughout Normandy. This proved to be detrimental to the forces dropped to take Merville. Of the 600 men dropped into Merville only 160 men (give or take) made it to the drop zone. The others had landed scattered throughout Normandy, many of whom had drowned in the flooded fields, a massive blow to British capabilities on D-Day. Anyway, the 160 men carried out their task of attacking and taking control of the Merville Battery. When the guns went silent and the remaining Germans surrendered only 69 british troops were still standing, the rest having been wounded or killed in the effort to take the battery.

As we explored the Battery we came across an emplacement where an artillery piece would have been. Scratched into the concrete was the following "V (For victory) Should Germany Fall Then We Shall All Die" with the date of inscription, a Laurel wreath and the Eagle Logo of the the 3rd Reich carrying the Swastika. We stood dumbfounded that for 68 years this had survived intact and in such perfect condition. I couldn't

resist and snapped a few photos. Within spitting distance of this was a small store area used by the Wehrmacht in which numerous rusted shell casings and amunition tins had been piled. Still intact as well.

We finished up at Merville by going in to the final bunker in which there was an interactive experience of the raid at Merville. Basically it was very loud, very smoky and very dark. Just how I imagined the actually fighting at Merville to be. It was great fun and a young lad was in there thoroughly enjoying himself diving around in the bunker pretending to shoot Wehrmacht troops and being shot at. I remember doing that with my mate on his farm when I was a child. Good times.


Back to Pegasus Bridge


As we had originally planned to view Pegasus Bridge today we returned sticking to our itinary. We got there and parked up near the museum, which had been closed the night before. In we went. The museum charts the history from the planning and training for the operation as well as key and decisive moments that happened in and around the towns of Merville and Benouville (where Pegasus Bridge is

located).

The museum has the original bridge that was liberated 68 years ago. It had the be replaced with a larger and wider replica as the bridge became a main route for traffic and the Government decided it needed to expand the bridge, much to the dismay of the Gondree's and surviving members of the 6th Airborne division. In the end it was agreed that the Bridge was to be replaced but the Museum would keep the original Pegasus Bridge as a monument to the efforts on that night.


We walked onto the original bridge and had it to ourselves for a short time. We stood and reflected upon what took place all those years ago. Without the taking of this bridge all of Operation Overlord would be imperilled by the inevitable movements of Rommel's Panzer divisions over the Orne and into the theatre of battle.


We then went to the replica Horsa glider and into the museum section about the Horsa and Bailey bridges that both took part in that operation. After the museum we headed back to the current Pegasus bridge and were greeted by the most horrific of sights.


A Frenchman running across the bridge in Lycra

shorts... with his entire manhood swinging wildly to the rhythm of his running. Seemingly oblivious to this he ran on and Dan and myself, and many other tourists stood slack jawed staring as he ran into the distance with his Wang waggling wildly. (haha try saying that 10 times quickly). We crossed the bridge after seeing the monuments nearby and the locations of where the 3 gliders landed. (The German's recounted that the crash landing of the Gliders sounded like the tail section of Allied bombers falling from the skies into the nearby fields. Something that they said happened regularly. Hence their apparent lack of interest in the noise generated by the crash landing).

We crossed the bridge and headed to the Gondree's cafe which was now open and after quite a wait we were served and we sat out in the sunshine (well I sat under an umbrella being terrified of the sun and all that).


I was attacked by the call of nature and had to find the toilet... apparently they hadn't got one, so I enquired at the bar and was handed a key and told "round the back of the house and through the gate". So

off I went. I found my way there and back and we called it time in Benouville. We wanted to see Rouen before our drive back to Calais that evening.

Ville de cent Clochers


We drove into Rouen mid-afternoon in brilliant sunshine. Parked up after driving around and made our way to the centre of the city. In the Centre is a magnificent Cathedral (which was actually more spectacular than Bayeux's). We took the customary photos and headed inside (dodging the alcoholics at the door touting for shrapnel). Inside the walls seemed to extend upwards inexorably. We wandered around inside the cathedral, sadly there was no crypt to enter and we didn't encounter any paranormal activity like inside Bayeux Cathedral. After some time we decided we needed some lunch and some water so made our way out of the cathedral and down a busy shopping street. We went in to a shop to buy some water (as we'd left our 1.5L bottles in the car) and then moved further on to buy Paninis from a street vendor. We wandered down to another church at the far end of the shopping parade and sat on a wall.


Arguing with the Police

The Rouen CathedralThe Rouen CathedralThe Rouen Cathedral

Ignore the slanty-shanty photography

While sat eating our Paninis in the square we could hear a commotion on the other side. Someone was shouting loudly at two police officers and was chasing a rather large, angry looking dog around. The point of this gentleman's frustration seemed to be aimed at the male police officer and he was going beserk at him. The female police officer was trying her hardest to diffuse the situation without having to resort to force. Either way, I don't think the police in England would be that understanding of a situation and probably would have drawn pepper-spray about the time the gentleman began waving his arms wildly in the Police officer's faces.


Either way it offered a good opportunity to people watch and also view something we hadn't yet seen in France. The entire square appeared to have ceased functioning and everyone was transfixed on this lively argument, with a group of Chinese tourists snapping away furiously with their cameras. We did a large loop taking in Rouen walking along by the river that runs through the town, went for an ice cream, took a photo of a massive group of oriental tourists (Payback hahahaha) and after 1 and 3/4

hours we made our way back to the car for the long drive back to Calais.

On the road again


We hit the road and made our way out of Rouen toward Calais, hitting toll booths on the way, but not getting hammered for toll money as much as the way into Normandy. We drove for several hours onto Calais pulling in at the Baie De Somme for some petrol, wifi, food and the toilet. We carried on until we got to the Holiday inn we had booked in Calais-Coquelles. We checked in, dumped our bags and hit the bar. 50 CL of Honey-Lager and a 25 CL bottle of Cidre cost us nearly 12 Euros, and we didn't have many left. So we had 2 drinks each then retired for the night, eating the crisps, we had bought earlier in the day, for dinner.


We awoke at 09:00 and got ready to check in for our crossing back to England. It was here that i noticed the large bite mark forming on my left arm that i had sustained from Camping Du rivage. It just added to my profound dislike for that campsite.


We headed out to the Channel

Tunnel Crossing, I drove as Dan had driven in-country, and back in England I wasn't covered to drive Dan's car. At the English Border crossing in Calais we finally had our Passports checked by a border-security official. We were still amazed how far into a foreign country we had got without having our passports checked by an official person. We nipped around the duty free and i got Gemma some Alcohol and biscuits (because I'm an awesome boyfriend) and then it was time. We boarded the carriage and after a short delay due to a car breaking down inside the carriage we set off for England. I hit upon the most ingenious invention ever on the carriage. I was wearing a Hawaiian Shirt and had buttoned it up right to the top. I then stood over one of the Air-Con outlets in the carriage and my shirt inflated with cool, soothing air. It was like having my own personal air-conditioning and I was loathe to step away from it so we could get off the train and back on the road home.

The Long Road Home

We exited the train and drove on to Ashford to find a Macdonald's to get some quick release energy before the long drive back to the midlands. We headed back around the M25 the way we had come 5 days previously. Missed our exit, luckily this time it was only a 5 mile detour not 50. We joined up with the M1 and were homward bound.

I always know I am coming to the end of a long journey down the M1 when I can see the memorial and Old john at Bradgate park. Shortly afterwards we had pulled onto my driveway, unloaded my stuff from the car and said our goodbyes. We had driven a round trip of 1,102.4 miles in 5 days, and had a great time doing it. We gained a lifetime of hilarious anecdotes and stories in 5 short days, and I hope I have done France and our experience justice by the 2 blogs I have written about our experiences.

My perceptions of France, and the French have been improved immeasurably and I cannot wait for the day I return with Gemma for a road-trip of our own.

Parting note

On a final note I would like to add, that while it's a hollow and somewhat lacking dedication I would like to take this opportunity to dedicate these two Blogs to the hardwork and effort, the sacrifice and the courage put in by every man and woman who played their part in Operation Overlord. As i previously stated, had it not succeeded the landscape of the World we live in would be very different.

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15th February 2014

Scars of Angoville-au-Plain
A great trip, some good ideas, thanks! We learnt about the two incredibly brave Screaming Eagle medics in Normandy 1944 visiting the tiny village of Angoville-au-Plain. Photos including the church that served as a first aid post, the two incredible medics and a still blood stained bench that brings the horrible reality of 1944 into focus here: http://www.normandythenandnow.com/the-scars-of-angoville-au-plain
5th May 2014

Thanks
Thanks for the feedback, I loved Normandy what a fantastic place, with so much history!!

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