Today was the day. Carson and I journeyed to Normandy. The town we were going to isn’t on any rail lines. It’s a small fishing town on the beach called Grandcamp Maisy. It’s just off Point du Hoc, and between Utah and Omaha beaches.
The nearest we could get by rail was another very small town called Carentan. It was hard to find information about busses online, so we decided to figure the rest out when we arrived. We were close enough if we got to Carentan that, had we no other options, we could have split cab fare without it being devastating.
We were hoping to get on a train around 10:10 and arrive in just after noon. This was not how our morning was destined to turn out. I, of course, took longer to get ready and pack than I had estimated. This wasn’t too serious as we had given ourselves plenty of leeway. The fatal error occurred on the Metro. I’m not sure how it happened so don’t ask me, but when we had to transfer lines we accidentally got on the train going the opposite direction. It took us a few stops to even notice.
Even this wouldn’t have been devastating, had we been in London. The tube is an efficient means of transportation. The Metro, however, is not always so efficient. I’ve waited 15 minutes for a train, and sometimes they stop on the tracks for no apparent reason.
Our train made 5 minute stops at every one of the 12 platforms between us and the national rail station. By the time we arrived, we had two options left: we could sprint to the platform and hope we made it onto the train, or we could have a leisurely breakfast and hop on the next one at 12:00. We chose the latter. We couldn’t go that long without breakfast or lunch, and there was no real hurry.
When finally on the train, the time went by quickly. Carson is reading about the theory of relativity (for pleasure) and is curled up in an empty row to take a little nap. I slept for most of the way. Towards the end I roused myself for lunch, and then we found ourselves in Carentan.
Carentan is a tiny town. We had a little time to wander around, as we discovered we’d have to take a train to backtrack to Bayeaux. There are no busses from Carentan to Grandcamp Maisy, despite it being less than 1/3 of the distance.
The train back was an hour later. After poking around the city center for a bit, we played chess in the train station til it arrived.
We made it to Carentan just after the bus for Grandcamp had departed. This gave us another opportunity to spend an hour in a small French town. Bayeaux was slightly larger and just so cute. It had a large cathedral, but was still very quaint.
We had a snack of crepes and tea. The proprietors of this little crepe stand were the nicest people. They didn’t speak any English, but were very sweet and animated. When they took our picture, they had us say “sheep!” Is that what French people say instead of “cheese,” or is that what they think English people are saying? They just couldn’t be nicer. Occasionally one or the other would chatter away at us in French, long after we made it clear that we couldn’t understand a word.
The bus trip to Grandcamp was amazing. The countryside is beautiful. It was exciting to get further and further from civilization and realize just how off the grid we were going. American flags appeared with greater frequency the longer we went along. We knew we were headed to the right place.
Once we arrived, we had no idea where we were going. I knew that there was only one hotel in the city and that it overlooked the sea, so we headed to the beach. The distance from one end of the town to the other is quite short, and we found it about halfway through.
It’s quite cute. Our room doesn’t have a direct ocean view, but you can still see it from the right hand side of the window. The ocean must have been at low tide when we arrived. The distance between the beach wall and the water was greater than the distance from one end of the town to the other.
Carson told me that the tides in Normandy are particularly strange, and when D-Day was being planned there were only two dates even possible for the attack.
We were hungry for dinner, but wanted to find ourselves a bottle of wine before the stores closed. We found one very tiny corner store with an odd assortment of unrefrigerated cheese and a few wines. It was much chillier on the coast, but we were hoping to enjoy it on the beach if weather permitted.
There seemed to be a few restaurants in town but we wanted to try the one in the hotel first. Our table was in front of large beautiful windows looking straight out onto the beach. The sun was setting, and through the course of our meal we watched the tide roll in with alarming rapidity. It was crashing up against the see wall and sending huge plumes of water into the air by the time we made it to dessert.
Dinner was amazing. The fixed menu included all of my favorite French foods, and was only €21! We both started with oysters from the bay that we were looking at. One attraction of Grandcamp Maisy is guided tours of the oyster beds. There was no question as to how fresh these were. Some of the barnacles on the shells were still alive, poking in and out of their little holes. They were completely amazing. After that I had moules meunière, and that was followed by a regional cheese plate. The cheese was amazingly good, but since we had two plates (two prix fix menus) there was way too much of it. For dessert, we had creme brûlée and pear and raspberry sorbet. This is the stuff dreams are made of. A luxurious leisurely dinner watching the tide roll in at sunset on the beaches of a small town in Normandy in the springtime.
We found out that bicycles are only available to rent from June to September, because these are the only months the rental office is open. However, we are literally sandwiched between two beaches and less than 10 km from the American cemetery. We’re going to walk it tomorrow instead. I was excited to bicycle and we won’t be able to cover as much ground as quickly now, but we can still easily see everything we want to. I’m very excited. This is a grand adventure, and it feels like I’ve finally found the real France.