Tour de France (Part V): Normandy / by Deborah Clague

Nine days in the City of Light wasn't nearly enough, but the remainder of my month in France would be spent exploring the countryside. I picked up a rental car a few blocks away from my hotel which, in retrospect, was a mistake. It's not that Paris is hard to drive in, it's just that...Paris is hard to drive in. If you're on one of the city's famous main boulevards, lanes exist in theory only with cars and delivery trucks fighting for space with motorcycles weaving in-and-out of traffic (the drivers of which obey no laws whatsoever). The side streets are narrow and hard to navigate. Street names are not visibly posted anywhere and then there are weird traffic lights that I've never seen before. I admit, I had no idea what was going on and nearly had a stress-induced aneurysm. Thankfully traffic only moved at a snails-pace so any fuck-ups that could have happened would have been minimal (and thankfully none did; I'm as surprised as anyone, tbh). 

My rental vehicle was a brand new Peugeot 206 or 306 (I can't recall the exact model and will just refer to it as "piece of crap" in the future). The damn thing had no power whatsoever, which was especially evident when traveling through the Alps. Its one saving grace though was that it came with a GPS system which, while in French, definitely aided me along the way. It took about an hour to get from the Eiffel Tower to the perimeter highway that surrounds the city and once off that, it was smooth sailing. The highways in France are immaculate and well serviced but you pay for the privilege of driving them: over the course of my holiday, I estimate that I spent around 150€ on tolls. This didn't bother me though, as a lot of the sights that I wanted to visit were not easily accessible via train. 

The first region I visited was Normandy and it remains one of my favourite places in the country. The villages were relatively small and placid, contradicting the more recent history of which it will forever be remembered. I laid my head to rest for two nights in Bayeux, a short drive to the D-Day Beaches, before visiting the citadel of Mont St. Michel, once a prestigeous abbey...now a prestigeous abbey and place to buy tacky souvenirs, regionally famous toffee and Nutella crepes. It was pretty awesome and better than anything at Disneyland Paris. 

I must admit that before my holiday I braced myself for the "legendary" rudeness for which the French are known. This stereotype couldn't be further from the truth though. Everyone I encountered was friendly, helpful and willing to bridge the language gap between us in whatever way they could (hand gestures, primitive cave art-esque drawings, etc.). Some of my most memorable moments were going into restaurants and meekly asking "Parlez-vous Anglais?" only to be given an initial look of horror and then genuine embarrassment as they replied "non" with a bashful smile, as though they were almost apologetic. A saying that I kept hearing over and over again was "as you wish". And so it were. France is one of the most hospitable nations I have ever visited. 

Mon Peugeot: 

Driving the streets of Paris: 

Interior of Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux: 

Medieval streets of Bayeux: 

Gold Beach: 

World War II wreckage off the coast of Normandy: 

Visiting the American War Cemetary at Omaha Beach: 

There are over 16,000 headstones at the American War Cemetary in Normandy: 

Omaha Beach, one of the landing spots of the D-Day Mission on June 6, 1944: 

Mont St. Michel: 

The narrow streets of Mont. St. Michel: 

Mont St. Michael: