2013 France – Part 1

Sunday 14 July
There’s nothing like 3 days in transit to make you feel lees than fantastic.
Qantas flight from Brisbane to Singapore was surprisingly good. They exceeded my fairly low expectations and the seats seemed unuSually comfortable.
At Changi Airport we registered for the free 2 hour tour then killed the time till it left by visiting the butterfly house and the koi pool. These were nice but not spectacular. The longest part of the tour seemed to be getting through immigration. Painless but boring. The tour itself was pretty much a giant ad for Singapore – well, it is free so pretty much what you’d expect. But considering it started at 6.30 and was supposed to be 2 hours, they could have done a lot better if they hadn’t had us back at the airport by 7.40.
The Air France flight from Paris was a bit disappointing. I don’t know why, but I’d expected something better. The best part was the breakfast – yes, I know, it’s hard to believe someone would compliment airline food – but the breakfast was exceptional.

Monday 15 July
The car pickup was the easiest thing ever. We had a freecall number to ring and they told us where to wait. Pickup and handover was seamless, and here we are with our brand new Peugeot. Not so seamless was Stu’s driving. He only tried to kill us twice by driving on the wrong side of the road – once down a motorway exit, but we’re blaming the GPS for that one.
Visited Pegasus Bridge where British Commandos were parachuted in from gliders as part of the DDay offensive. The bridge was raised to let boats through so I had to cross my legs as the toilet seemed to be locked. There was, however, a trough on the outside for the men – how is that fair? – so Stu did get to go. At least I hope it was a trough and not a drinking fountain.
The current bridge is a replica of the original. The original is on display at the museum on the other side of the river, which we did eventually get to after three boats went past. This is a fantastic museum, especially because they have toilets.

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Off to our B&B which is on a farm and very quiet. A lovely spot. We were pleased that we’d arranged for them to cook dinner for us tonight. We knew we’d be tired after 3 days in transit. Stu was in bed by 9.30 and me by 10.00, which seemed quite good, considering, and hopefully that will alleviate the jet lag.

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Tuesday 16 July
We went to see the Bayeaux Tapestry this morning. I knew it was quite long, but didn’t realise it was 70 metres. You’re not supposed to take photos, but since this is France, they don’t seem to care if you do. So I did. At least I wasn’t using a flash like some people.

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We’d been told this museum was hard to find, and it was. The GPS told us we were there but we couldn’t see it. So we parked and followed the signs and found it. Lots of Pay and Display parking here, which I hate. You have to decide how long you’re staying which means you have to do one of 3 things – overpay to allow plenty of time, underpay and cut your visit short or underpay and run back to put more money in and get another ticket. Weirdly, none of these things happened. We paid for 2 hours, but the ticket printed out with 4 hours expiry. We found out later that most places in France don’t charge for parking between 12 & 2 (presumably to appease the restaurant owners).
Also in Bayeaux is the Battle of Normandy Museum which we visited. Lots and lots of information but the images are what I find most moving.
We had lunch at a random roadside stall at Omaha Beach where Stu discovered he doesn’t like Andouillette. He also didn’t know what it was – but he does now. I had a hotdog and frittes. Safe and tasty.
Pointe du Hoc, where the Rangers climbed the cliffs when they landed on D-Day, has been pretty much left as it was. Lots of craters and remains of bunkers and what look like gun emplacements, though we heard a guide saying that they weren’t, so may have to do some research into that when we get home.

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Somewhere along the track Stu managed to go the wrong way down a one way street. Luckily, the Frenchman coming the right way was patient and seemed to have a sense of humour.
At our next stop at Arromanche we mistakenly decided to trust the GPS which proceeded to take us driving along a walkway and directed us to cross a creek with no bridge. Mmmm. Thomasina TomTom is not behaving herself very well at times.
At Arromanche there are the remains of one of the artificial harbours from DDay which are clearly visible but hard to get the impression of in photos. There’s a few museums and other displays but mostly rip off souvenir shops and tourist traps. As it was late in the day we ended up at the pub for a beer. Of course we did.

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Went shopping for dinner on the way back then sat outside and ate it – cheese (au lait cru), ham, pate, sausage, baguette, rockmelon and wine, with little pastries for afters. It was fairly late – maybe 9.00pm but the sun was still blazing. It does get dark eventually.

Wednesday 17 July
Mont St Michel looks like something out a fantasy novel, visible through the morning mist as you approach it. We wanted to get there by opening time at 9.00 and pretty much made it. Unfortunately, half of France was there ahead of us and by the time we got the shuttle bus from the carpark across the causeway and walked the rest of the way to the Mont, it was already packed.
We asked for an audio guide but they said they didn’t have any (though we saw people with them, so couldn’t figure that out). But there was a free English 1 hour guided tour, so we waited for that. The group was way too big so it took longer than an hour and we ended up leaving before the end as we had places to be.

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Stu wanted to see St Malo, which I didn’t know anything about. Driving into the town I couldn’t see anything to write home about, but then you come upon the ancient walled city and it’s definitely a WOW moment. We would have liked to stay and walk around the town and the wall and have lunch there, but there was absolutely nowhere to park within walking distance. The half of France that wasn’t at Mont St Michel was clearly in St Malo. We ended up having lunch at a random pub. Stu, of course, ordered the moulles frittes. The moulles looked and smelt different so I tried one. I wouldn’t order them but I didn’t spit it out either. I had a nice warm camembert salad.
We eventually made it to friends’ place, later than we intended. The other half of France (yes, I know that makes 3 halves) was at the beach by the lagoon over the road. Dinner was couscous, lamb shank and sausage and veges. We ate enough and drank way too much beer, champagne and wine. Went to bed too late.

Thursday 18th July
I was up early and went for a walk before breakfast – the first and last time so far this trip. Friends took as for a drive, first to the Barre D’Etel at the mouth of the river, then to St Cado which is them most gorgeous little island and oyster farming village. At the chapel there is a stone that will, if you put your ear on it, cure your hearing problems. I made Stu do it, but it doesn’t seem to have worked so far.

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Had lunch at the pub and were joined by some French and Canadians. The French man was crazy, and funny. He kept singing different songs, and whoever else knew the words joined in.

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Drank too much wine.
After lunch we went to Carnac where the Asterix and Obelix stories are set. Spectacular standing stones – not as big as Stonehenge but there’s miles and miles of them.

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A walk to the port in Auray and marvelled at the medieval buildings. Not that there’s been any shortage of them in places, but it’s still astounding to me to see things so old.

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Drank too much.
Back in Etel we had to wait for the restaurant to open to book for dinner. Where did we wait? In a bar, of course. The barman greeted us like long lost cousins.
Drank too much.
Crepes for dinner – mine with egg, ham and cheese, Stu’s with sausage, cheese, tomato and onion then dessert crepes with caramel with salty butter and icecream.
Ate too much. Drank too much.

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