For as long as we can both remember we have wanted to visit Normandy in France for a mixture of family reasons and of course 20th century history. The driving force was Jo’s desire to visit the Normandy beaches of 1944 where her Dad was involved in the biggest military action ever known, but she’ll tell you all about that in a forthcoming post.
Our housesit in wet and windy Tisbury, Wiltshire was over almost before it had begun and we found ourselves packed ready to leave just six days after arriving. Nowhere near long enough but leaving us hoping for a return visit someday, Our hosts weren’t returning yet though, we were due to be handing over to another housesitter who was a friend of the family.
She arrived with four extra dogs to add to Mowgli and Maggie the spaniels so it was complete and utter carnage! Dogs everywhere as we battled out of the front door in our backpacks. Sad to leave but six dogs!
The big plan was a train down to Portsmouth and then catch the ferry across to France. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Ha. We don’t do things the easy way. Two trains to Portsmouth and Southsea, then a 40 minute walk to the passenger terminal, wait for an hour and a half, then overnight ferry leaving at 11pm bound for Le Havre. Oh, and no cabin either, just a couple of reclining seats. It’s all about the experience isn’t it?
Trains were fine followed by a lonely walk through the deserted shopping centres of Portsmouth to the equally deserted Brittany Ferries passenger terminal. Were we the only foot passengers going to French France? Felt like it as we shared three hundred seats between the two of us.
It didn’t stop us being giddy with excitement though (perhaps giddy is too strong a word for it, we may have been a little wobbly with excitement).
All aboard the Etretat
The Etretat was our ship, our boat, our ferry. Eventually there were nearly ten foot passengers travelling across the English Channel so it was beginning to feel a little crowded. Loads of cars and lorries of course so the ships lounges weren’t completely empty but we could have had a row of ten seats each if we had really wanted to stretch out.
It may sound very quiet and boring but we were actually really excited and looking forward to the night voyage. Great views of the lights of Portsmouth as we left England gave way to the complete darkness of the channel and we settled down to try and grab a few hours kip.
Unbelievably the bar was packed with people knocking back glasses of Chardonnay and pints of Stella until 1 o’clock in the morning. And most of them must have been drivers surely? Crazy. After that it was quiet and peaceful, a really smooth crossing and lovely to wander round the decks in the pitch black in the middle of the night.
Good morning Le Havre
All too soon it was getting light and we were docking in the industrial harbour of Le Havre. All we had to do now was pick up our hire car at the Enterprise desk in the ferry terminal and we were all set. It didn’t quite work out that way. The staff in the terminal claimed they had never even heard of the company Enterprise and just gave us Gallic shrugs before looking away. Great. What a lovely French welcome.
We checked the actual address of the Enterprise office and it turned out that ‘Enterprise Car Rentals, Le Havre Ferry Terminal‘ was nowhere near the ferry terminal but over a mile away in the town. Could we get a bus there? Shrugs again. Taxi? No taxis. At least it was dry as we started walking. Eventually we found the office after a lot of no-help-whatsoever from the locals.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of it. Our car that was rented from 8am wasn’t available as the office didn’t open until 9am! Thank you Enterprise. When the young lady eventually arrived just after 9 she was very helpful so we were soon on our way. Not the best start obviously.
The Crack JWalking Driving Team
If you’ve been following our blogs for a while you will know that Jo loves to drive and that Jonno isn’t bothered one bit whether he is at the wheel or not. So we always tend to stick hire cars in Jo’s name. What you may not know is that I absolutely love map-reading, so navigating in a new location or even better a new country is really my thing. I did used to be a cartographer so I guess it’s no real surprise.
So straight out of Le Havre and south over the very cool ‘Pont de Normandie‘ and then down towards Cabourg. Now apologies before I go any further, the main reason for our trip to Normandy was to visit the beaches and museums of D-Day so there will undoubtedly be a lot of military stuff in forthcoming posts. It’s a fascinating period of history so sorry if we go over the top about it but we are both extremely interested in the whole story.
First stop on our way to Courseulles-sur-Mer, where our Airbnb for the next few days was booked, was the strategically critical bridge over the Caen Canal known as Pegasus Bridge. A force of 150 British soldiers from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry dropped the night before D-Day to secure the bridge before the following days invasion. Only 2 men were lost and the bridge taken in 10 minutes in an incredibly successful operation.
We skipped the museum as we’d decided which ones we’d be visiting over the following days but popped into the little cafe right next to the bridge that had hardly changed in 75 years and was still run by the grand-daughter of the original wartime owner. What a place.
Airbnb Apartment in Courseulles-sur-Mer
As usual Jo had surpassed herself with her Airbnb booking skills and we had a great little apartment overlooking the harbour at Courseulles-sur-Mer. Sitting right on Juno Beach it was almost dead centre of all of the places we wanted to visit so absolutely perfect. The weather forecast wasn’t great but hopefully we would get to see everything that we’d planned and a whole lot more.
27/09 – 02/10/2019