Jun 292007

Juno Beach tank and carousel Mont Saint-Michel Mont Saint-Michel
Photos of Normandy, France

April 2-4, 2007

If you ever rent a car from a Paris airport (CDG in my case), make sure you book it from the net first. I spent a while talking up all the counter people up to get a decent rental rate. The price started at €500, and I eventually got them down to €320 by calling bluffs. Still not exactly great for two days. I remembered much better rates online when I looked the day before, so we walked over to a terminal with internet access. Reassured by the better rates online I returned and tried to bargain some more, but I think the agents were locked out from the better prices. Back to the terminal with internet, and a few minutes later I had knocked a further €80 off the price with a reservation. Lesson learned; reserve ahead.

We piled into the rental and navigated the freeways out of sprawl-land into the lush green of Normandy. We headed to Rouen first and enjoyed the half timbered buildings and the Gros Horloge before grabbing some dinner. We spent the night in Caen and the next morning in the WWII memorial museum. Some of the exhibits were interesting, but I think the €18 ticket price soured us on it. Forty junior high kids running around didn’t help much either. After that we headed out through the back roads towards Courseulles-sur-Mer.

I really enjoyed the drive. Every few miles you drove through a quaint little stone village with a stone chapel. There are still farms here, but it is obvious that industrialization means a whole lot less people live in the countryside. Which turns out to be a bit of a mixed blessing. There is very little ugly suburban development, only old stone buildings that blend in perfectly with the landscape. But the towns can feel a bit ghostly.

We picked up a delicious lunch at a little bakery in Courseulles-sur-Mer before walking to Juno Beach. It is a bit odd to see a WWII tank beside a carousel, but I suppose it makes a point. We all really enjoyed the Juno Beach Centre, a museum dedicated to the war effort made by all Canadians that opened three years ago right near the beach. Perhaps we are a bit biased, but the €6 ticket seemed more than worth it. I was quite impressed by the amount of information they packed into exhibits.

We walked the beach for a bit and watched the kite surfers before packing up and heading west along the cost. Eventually we reached Arromanches and the remains of Mulberry Harbour. After poking around we got lost in Bayeux for a while before heading to Saint-Lô, Avranches, and eventually arriving at Le Mont-Saint-Michel for a blazing sunset. We grabbed a cheap hotel and shared a mostly empty restaurant next door with a Japanese tour group. Definitely not high season, just the way I like it.

I woke up early to walk out the spit of land towards Mont Saint-Michel with the relatives of my dinner the night before. Each morning the sheep wander around the salt marsh and trim the grasses back. They also seem to enjoy running in front of cars later in the day. The fortress, abbey, and town are beautiful and amazing. Once inside, it can be a bit of a glorious tourist trap on the main drag. But it is worth braving the commercial gauntlet to explore the town.

We chose a different rural route back to Paris, rather than the toll-ways, and I was happy we did. Once again the countryside was lush and filled with great old stone buildings and chapels. We arrived full of cider and camembert. I really enjoyed Normandy, and the slower pace of off season car travel. Definitely a spot to come back to again.

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