2 Countries. 10 Days. 2 Ferries. 1768.3 miles driven. Exciting, educational and keen to travel.
Go, go, go.
When my Grandparents offered me a chance to tag along with them on a trip to France, I obviously didn’t think twice. I love to travel, explore and learn (oh and leave the unpredictable British weather occasionally). Okay, I admit, the 10 days away weren’t exactly constant glorious sunshine but more ‘mizzle’ (Cornish for light rain or drizzle), rain and a glimpse of sun. Either way, I definitely had fun!
Our trip began with an EXTREMELY long drive to Portsmouth from where I live in Cornwall. The journey that would normally take around four hours took a grand total of just over eight and a half. This meant that our planned visit to the Spinnaker Tower had to be put on hold until after our French adventures. When asked what we wanted for tea, the response that my Nanny received was “chicken, anything for as long as it involves chicken”. So therefore KFC it was, followed by a Caramelised Biscoff Krispy Kreme doughnut (trust me, it is to die for) in bed at the Hilsea Travelodge.
In the early hours of Saturday morning my Grandad’s alarm clock rudely awoke us (although between my grandparents snoring and my sister’s Facebook notifications going off on her phone (constantly), I was already ‘awake’). We gathered our belongings and headed for Portsmouth Ferry Port using the ‘trusty’ satnav. The Normandie Express embarked on its crossing at 7am, the next stop being Le Havre, France. The French weather greeted us with open arms at a blistering 38°C, which for us Cornish bumpkins was a tad on the warm side. It was from here our eventful road trip abroad started.
The first obstacle being a closed road this in turn meant that we got extremely lost. It quickly became apparent that I was the only one able to read a map and so, I adopted the role of head navigator at my midday nap’s expense. We arrived in Loucé, a small village located in the north west of France near to Argentan, only a few minutes after our anticipated time of arrival. Our Gîte ‘Le Parc Aux Bretons’ was an absolutely stunning barn conversion that came with an extra-added bonus of red squirrels in the garden.
Sunday involved a rather relaxed drive around La Suisse Normande, oh and a go on a Vélorail (cycle-rail) at Pont-Erambourg. Fortunately the rain turned into bright sunshine just in time for our 7km cycle and picnic (with wasps… why do they even exist?). Throughout the day we visited a patisserie for some fresh baguette and a cake, seen people paragliding in the beautiful hilly terrain and caught a glimpse of some traditional French dancing on a riverside.
It was a rainy start to our Monday away, which ended up with a trip to Bayeux, a bite to eat in a small but busy restaurant and a complicated car park ticket machine.
We grabbed some ‘frites’ and a ‘Nutella crêpe’ in the Tapestry Garden café, which is a cute courtyard set up with the option to sit undercover outside or indoors. My Sister asked for ‘cheesy chips’, which of course, was unheard of to the owners who later on wrote down the ‘English recipe’. This was a great pit stop before we headed over to the Bayeux Tapestry museum and the Bayeux Cathedral.
Tuesday was get another rainy day and so we decided to visit Pegasus Bridge in the morning. Pegasus Bridge can be viewed as a starting point for the D-Day operations of June 1944. As the main aim of the British 6th Airborne Division, a team of gliders, was to capture the bridge in the early hours of June 6th just hours before the nearby beach landings were set to take place in France. We visited Café Gondrée, a quaint, memorabilia filled café serving hot drinks and pastries. The café serves as a time capsule, that acts as a shrine to its own history as a field hospital during the early hours of D-Day as well as the bridge itself. After grabbing a coke in the popular café, we called into the Pegasus Memorial Museum.
During the second half of the day we visited one of the D-Day landing beaches, Arromanches. This is where an enormous artificial harbour was built, notably the Mulberry Harbour, an extraordinary masterpiece that paved the way for Victory in Normandy during the war. This for me was a breath-taking sight, as on the horizon only the remains of the harbour exist today it is difficult to imagine the amounts of losses that took place on that coast alone.
A highlight for me was visiting the ZooParc de Beauval on Wednesday. Although, the drive down took a couple of hours, temperatures throughout the day reached highs of around 35°C and it was extremely busy – that for me, didn’t ruin it. I was able to see my favourite animal, white tigers, as well as some that I hadn’t seen before: giant pandas, koalas, manatees and white lions. I, being the key ring hoarder that I am, managed to pick up multiple cute animal key rings in the gift shop as souvenirs.
Thursday was warm but cloudy; we had already planned to visit the market in Sainte-Mère-Église followed by Pointe Du Hoc in the afternoon.
Sainte-Mère-Église is one of many towns that suffered during the Second World War, in particular on D-Day. A known paratrooper in the area is John Steele, who was left hanging up high on the church in the town center. Below him there was heavy fighting and during the battle he pretended to be dead in order to save himself. However, hours after landing there he was captured by the German army. A figure remains on the side of the church tower today, in order to recognise his bravery.
We grabbed a pizza slice from the local patisserie, as well as a cartoon of freshly cooked chips from the market that included mainly food stalls. My Nanny and Grandad had previously been to Sainte-Mère-Église on their last French holiday two years and knew of a homemade biscuit and chocolate shop in the area. ‘Le Biscuit de Sainte-Mère-Église’ is a gourmet chocolate shop selling expensive sweets and treats. It was here that we did a bit of shopping for friends and family at home, as well as a grabbing a quick cup of coffee (and some wifi) in the café on site.
In the afternoon we wondered across Pointe Du Hoc in the miserable weather. It was here where the American rangers scaled the 100ft cliffs overlooking the English Channel on the morning of D-Day, in order to attack the German gun pits and emplacements. The grounds now serve as a reflection and memorial of the past, covered in bomb craters that severely damaged the picturesque landscape.
On our way back to our Gîte we drove alongside Omaha Beach and visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This is a thought-provoking site that honours the American troops who lost their lives in Europe during World War II. The 9,387 perfectly aligned headstones are a moving tribute for those who gave up their lives for freedom. I found this place to be respectful, peaceful and quiet. A tremendous sacrifice made at the expense of so many lives.
It was a rather leisurely start to Friday as we made our way to Argentan’s food market in the shadow of the Saint Germain Church. We picked up some fresh raspberries and our last Nutella crêpe of the week. After we decided to retrace our steps on the La Swisse Normande tour and near Clécy-Le Vey we found a ‘luge d’été sur rail’ or a mountain coaster to you and me. Nat and I had a couple of races around the track before tucking into a mint-choc-chip ice cream. We stopped to eat our picnic high up in the valley, luckily the outing was wasp free and I got to enjoy my cheese filled baguette without any unwanted company.
I was still without a Normandy key ring and so we called into Argentan, but weren’t lucky enough to find one. In the end I spent my remaining pocket money on stationery (what a surprise, I am stationery obsessed) in the hyper supermarket.
On our way back to Loucé we drove through Écouché, a small town that contains the incredible Notre Dame church and impressive ruins. The Gîte that we stayed in neighboured Loucé’s spectacular church showcasing artwork dating back to the fourteenth century and so we decided to have one last look around there.
We left the Gîte early on Saturday morning, as we had a fairly long drive back to Le Havre ferry port (via Pegasus in order to pick up a few more key rings). Around fifteen minutes into the journey, we took the wrong turning which lead us 8.5 miles in the wrong direction (much to my Grandad’s annoyance and stress). Then for most of the way we followed other GB number plated cars to our destination. We boarded the ferry, after an hour of queuing. During this time my Grandad had to squish a terrifying spider whilst I sipped on slightly warm orange juice out of a 1L carton (as you do).
Upon our arrival into Portsmouth the heavens fell and we decided that despite the ‘lack of’ visibility to visit the Spinnaker Tower. The Tower offers fantastic views across Portsmouth town and docks, as well as a unique café located way up in the clouds. I, as per usual, ordered a Coca-Cola whilst my Grandparents grabbed a much-needed coffee. We then made our way (in rush hour) towards KFC and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, once again. My evening was spent watching X-Factor auditions in the Ringwood Travelodge and catching up on the latest One Direction ‘break’ gossip.
Sunday was the last day of our time way but before beginning the trek down into Cornwall; we stopped by Monkey World in Dorset after a ‘hearty’ breakfast in a Little Chef. At Monkey World we met up with my Mum and friends who travelled up to see us, and then spent most of the day with our eyes glued to the orang-utan nursery (so, so, so cute).