May 15 Portsmouth-Caen, France
We took the train into Portsmouth in the morning to avoid city traffic and then went to the Invasion Museum that is very close to the harbor where we spent the balance of the morning until about 1:15. The highlights were an invasion flag signed by the invaders and an outstanding tapestry 272′ long with vibrant colors that depicted many of the preparations for the invasion and the invasion itself. We did not see the sign prohibiting photographs so we took a bunch.
We got a bit lost getting to the ferry slip which turned out well for us as we loaded as soon as we paid for our tickets and cleared security. The 2:45 p.m. ferry actually left a few minutes early. The crossing was very smooth with sunshine and calm seas all the way.
We landed as the sun was setting about 10 kms. from Caen and bedded down for the night in an upscale Ibis Hotel just beyond the ferry slip.
May 16, Outskirts to Caen.
Rode from the Ibis Hotel by the ferry slip to our hotel in town. A beautiful, clear day, but on the cool side. Then to the Museum de la Paix, arriving about 2:30 p.m.
Spent more than 4 hours there. Watched two short films about the build-up to the invasion and the aftermath of the invasion to the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944. The invasion was brutal in itself, but the destruction and loss of life from bombardments that leveled cities and killed thousands of civilians from just before the invasion and until the liberation of Paris on August 25 was heart wrenching.The pictures immediately below are of Caen just prior the bombardment by the Allies to disrupt German communications a few days prior to June 6, 1944, and shortly after.
So much destroyed and so many dead and wounded. No individual stories nor much in the way of attributing of the ideas to the planners, just that much planning had to have preceded D Day.
We got sidetracked after the introductory movie and went through the build up to the war starting with the armistice in 1918, the collapse of the stock market and the total devaluation of the German economy and wholesale unemployment although little was said about the rise of Hitler. We got to Pearl Harbor and the brutality of the Japanese from the Sino-Soviet War, well before and including the Second World War. At that point we had our obligatory cup of coffee, and realized that we had missed the portion of the exhibits explaining the invasion and the progress of the war until Paris was liberated. We rectified that and spent until 6:30 p.m. on that section. We had dinner in the museum because in France most places are closed on Sunday, and it was a way of maximizing our time at the museum. Little did we know that the restaurant next to the hotel was open.
Spent the rest of the evening until about 9:30 working on getting to Tours, France, and the Loire Valley. The train we had wanted requires reservations for bikes and there were no open slots so we settled for a train on Saturday morning which will take us from Mont St. Michel back to Caen, which is in the wrong direction and then on to Tours.
Monday, May 16 Caen-Arromaches Cool with a headwind, but mostly sunny
Got a bit of a late start since Ed rode to the train station in Caen and purchased the tickets for our train on Saturday from Mont St. Michel to Tours in the Loire Valley. Only able to buy bread and muffins at the boulangerie as there were no other type of food stores open as it is the Christian Holiday of Ascension.
The 20+ Km ride from Caen to Arromaches was entirely through farmland with the crops coming close to the road.
Very colorful. Not much traffic and no trucks the entire route.
Arrived at the first of the Normandy beaches around 2:30. The remnants from the invasion are still evident, huge parts of the breakwaters and the pontoon bridges are still there.
There are also numerous plaques commemorating and memorializing the fallen soldiers, in this case, the British and Canadians. The task of getting onto and then off the beach was formidable although the town of Arromanches is at sea level in order to get off the beaches, the allied forces had to scale hills and cliffs. There are no German pill boxes left.
We watched a theater in the round film about the invasion which showed actual war footage accompanied by the sounds that the weapons made. It portrays the enormity of the invasion quite well, and leaves out the gory footage. The invasion force consisted of 7,000 vessels and 120,000 men attacking on June 6 with more than 200,000 men and 30,000 vehicles arriving before the end of June. The film and exhibits go on to explain that the invasion was not considered successful until the middle of August with the liberation of Paris.
The invasion was a success not just because the allies had a better equipped army, but also as the result of Allied dominance of the sky.
Arromanches is a very small village and littered with tourist trinket shops and restaurants. We had a very good dinner at an Italian restaurant on the main drag. Great salad with melted (actually fried) camembert, walnuts, apples and greens.
Tuesday, May 17 Arromanches-Bayeux
We rode to the American Cemetery at Normandy just above Omaha Beach.which is the final resting place of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors killed in the trek to Paris. Very beautiful and moving.
We create such great and beautiful monuments to the bestiality of war. We also toured the Museum on the first floor of the building which was an easy and in depth review of the preparation for and aftermath of the invasion.
It was a cold day and we were very cold. Had lunch in a small restaurant just outside the cemetery. Then rode to Bayeux. Jane visited the Bayeux Tapestry while we shopped for dinner and a few necessaries before we went back to the hotel and had a picnic.
Ed fell while negotiating the main street. His leg was a bit bruised but not as much as his ego.
Wednesday, May 18 Bayeux-Tessy-sur-Vire … 2200’ Elevation Gain
Stopped at the huge sports store on the way out of town to have Jane’s shifting worked on and bought 2 mirrors, one for her and one for us. Then it started to rain which was accompanied by a strong wind. That formula continued most of the day. We stopped for coffee and lunch and the opportunity to dry off a bit then continued on our way. The countryside is really very pretty with large expanses of farmland. The villages we rode through were small. At one point we took shelter on the road, but near a stand of trees that shielded us from a down pour and howling winds. When that subsided we rode on for a short time and then took shelter at a farm just off the rode. The farmer invited us in for coffee.
We spent about 40 minutes with he and his wife. They spoke no English, but we were able to communicate using broken French, an atlas, an envelope on which to write dates and the universal language of pantomime. The farmer was 85 and remembered the fighting between the Germans and Americans just outside the farm in 1944. The respite was very much appreciated. It had stopped raining. We returned to the road only to be plagued by a continuous headwind and some rain most of the rest of the day. Upon our arrival in Tessy-sur-Vile we stopped at a bakery and had a snack. We found a B & B in town. The owners and family were really nice. The daughter cooked us a wonderful fish dinner. Her husband an 2 children had let us in. The parents were also very nice.
Our room displayed the evidence of our tough day.
Thursday, May 19 Tessy-sur-Vire-St.Quentin de l’Homme 31 miles 2800’ of elevation gain
A tough day of riding with many ups and downs into and out of drainages and up and down hills. Although we had wanted to skirt Avranches, the route we chose included a steep, long hill. Aside from Avranches, we rode through farm land all day. Green, green and more green. The countryside is all farms with a sprinkling of cows in the mix.
The GPS has been very reliable and has proved its worth and saved us the time and aggravation of getting lost. The process is as follows: if we know where we are staying the following day we can plot a course directly to the place the night before. In the past not finding our lodging although we had gotten very close was frustrating and very time consuming. The GPS has also helped us get out of town and on to the road much faster. The learning curve was 2 years.
The small village of San Quentin is about a kilometer away from our B & B. Ed cleaned his bike and then we walked into the village for dinner at a pizza place recommended by our hostess. Unfortunately, it was closed so we opted for the fancy place (only other place) down the block. The owner/proprietress spoke English and the chef, her husband, was able to make us salad and cheese dishes that did not include meat. The food was very good and attractively served. One wonders how a couple can survive in a village such as this with a small hotel and restaurant that must keep them busy for 18 hours a day. Tomorrow, Le Mont St. Michel, one of the truly beautiful places we have ever been to.