Monday, June 30, 2014

Lost in Normandy

Friday 20 June
Hey, the train strikes are over! Yay! I take the train to Bayeaux then have an hour and a half until my bus leave for Colleville. I'm not going to just sit at the station, so I try to decipher the map outside the station and head towards Bayeaux. I'm kicking myself for not researching what to see in the city, but I'm guessing there's at least one church and a city centre that's cute. I know it is a major tourist city for people heading towards the D-Day Beaches, but it doesn't truly hit me until I hear American English everywhere. Seriously. It seemed that everyone was saying a version of "oh gee golly George wouldya look at that cute church! Howdoya think they built it?!" It was great. 

Look I found a cathedral!

I splurged and got an espresso. Naturally I pick a place with free wifi so that I can consult the map and tell Mom and Dad I'm still alive. 

The plan was to take the bus to the American Cemetary, then walk 30 minutes to La Ferme de la Sapiniere for a calvados tasting. It's very important that I make it by 2:30 because that's the only English tour they do each day.

Since I think I'm a smart super-traveler, I decide, while on the bus, "why get off at the American Cemetary and walk when I could take the bus to St-Laurent-sur-Mer and walk from there. It must be closer because Google says it's IN St-Laurent-sur-Mer."

Full of confidence, I tell the bus driver to stop. He looks at me with hesitance and asks if I'm sure. "Oui!" I even see a sign pointing in the direction I though I had to go. I quickly realize there are no sidewalks, the road is only wide enough for one car to go through, and there are walls on either side of the road. After dodging traffic for a bit, I leave the village behind so I have a tiny grass ditch to walk in. Safety first. All I'm using for a guide is a picture of google directions, but those google directions are from my original starting point so it's a bit of a guessing game. 

After 30 minutes I realize this isn't right. I made friends with some cows and some donkeys, but I haven't seen anything else for ages. I turn a curve and see the water, a sure sign that I've been walking the wrong way. I feel like I've committed this far, I might as well keep walking. 

I find civilization at the bottom of the hill, as well as the Restaurant de la Sapiniere. Well THATS not what I wanted. UG. I inquire inside and am told La Ferme is only 5 minutes away. It's only after I start walking again I realize she probably didn't realize I was walking, not driving, so it was going to be longer than 5 minutes. The good thing is that I got to walk the beaches. The bad thing is that it was over 80 and sunny. Again. I'm sweating. 

I wanna go in the water but now it's nearly 2 and I have no idea how long it will take for me to find this place. After several anxious moments I end up back where I began. I scowl at the bus stop and trudge on. I get to the corner where I THINK I made the mistake and what do ya know, just 50 feet around the curve was this sign. 

Yay! An oasis of booze!

For a whopping 2.50€ I get a tour of the facilities and a tasting. Bonus: I was the only person! 

Fiberglass vats instead of stainless steel or cement. 

Some pommeau aging. Those barrels are hundreds of years old. 

I wanted to buy everything there, but logic prevailed and I only got a tiny bottle of calvados. #backpackerproblems

It's time to walk again, and I reluctantly set out. I follow my google directions backwards full of skepticism. I end up in this. 

It was muddy and wooded and I was sure I was going to die in there. The thing is there were only 3 options: this path, the road I had already taken which lead me to the water, or the main road which was certain death. I gambled on the woods. 

After the woods was an industrial zone, but eventually....


I spent way too much time in the museum, but I really enjoyed it. I could have spent all day there, but all of my side trips took up valuable time. I had to made the 5:11 bus to Bayeaux or else I'd be stranded in the Cemetary. 

Back in the city, I meet Julian and his friend Emily to go watch France beat Switzerland. 

First a sandwich while sitting on the harbor. 

The pub was packed but we snagged a spot by the wall. Eventually my neighbor lent me a chair to stand on so I could be tall like him. The French national anthem was sung several times with gusto and I almost got crushed with enthusiasm. 

And the bartender gave me this bracelet! Score. 

Thanks for the great time in Caen!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Train Strike

Thursday 19 June
Last night I was asking Julian about the food in Normandy and what I needed to try. I wake up to a note saying that if I want to have a real Norman breakfast I should put Calvados in my coffee. I don't intend to actually do it, it's 9am after all, until I find this mug... Leftover from an America theme party Julian threw. So now I HAVE to. 


I need to take the 12:15 train to Bayeaux then the bus to Colleville and Omaha beach so I left the flat at 11. I get to the station and am very confused because the departures screen is only showing trains starting at 14:15.  I ask an attendant and discover my train isn't running because of the strikes, and the trains start running again at 14:15. Well, that's not going to work because I need to be at the Calvados distillery by 2:30 for my English speaking tour. I decide to postpone the whole plan until tomorrow and hope the trains are running by then. I consult my map and see that I'm near the hippodrome, so I head there. If anything it will be a nice place to study the map and decide my route. 

Lucky for me I got there in time to see a warm up and a race!

I have no idea who won, but I could hear yelling so it was an exciting finish. Also, it looks very uncomfortable to ride that way but what do I know. 

I then start walking aimlessly through the city. 

Is it just me or are all these churches starting to blend together?

Place de la Résistance 

I got sucked into Château de Caen for 4 hours. It's free to walk around, you just have to pay if you want to go into the museums, so of course I had to walk everywhere and see every angle of the ruined castle. 

I finally tear myself away and head to the cathedral across the street. 

I go up a street filled with shops and end up near some impressive looking buildings. 

I soon realize that it's Town Hall, where Julian works, and L'Abbey-aux-Hommes, where William the Conqueror was buried. 

I take a look at my map, and see a very large green space by the Abbey aux Dames. Ahh grassy shade. (It's over 80 and sunny again) It's so far away... My feet hurt... But it's only 4pm and I probably won't have another day in the city for sightseeing. *sigh* I can do it. 

Just some kids playing soccer around some ancient ruins. 

Finally I make it!

Yay. Shade. I enjoy an hour with my feet in the grass, then get a text from Julian saying if I meet him at the town hall he can drive me back to the flat. It's a deal. I quick pop into the supermarket for some food, then meet him under the American flag in front of the town hall. 

Once at the flat we change and go to his friends house for a dinner party. Everyone was incredibly nice, and I entertained myself by trying to understand the French spoken around me. I understood the general conversation. Sometimes. haha Julian had to be my translator. All of a sudden it was midnight so we all said goodbye. Checked online and it said that the train strikes are over, so I'm optimistic for my adventure tomorrow.