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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jumieges & Normandy Coast, France – Apr. 13-16, 2012

SP and I are lucky travelers:  We often stumble upon places of great interest to us particularly when we least expect it.  Our goal upon coming to France was to head south to the warm beaches of Portugal as fast as we could.   But knowing that the ferry from England was already going to be a bit stressful, I booked us for two nights into Camping de la Foret in Jumieges about 50 miles from our landing point in Dieppe.  One night reserved simply to arrive and another to get our bearings (and cell plans) in France.  We ended up staying for four.

I selected the site because of its access to a forest along the banks of the Seine so I was expecting the tree filled walks but was thrilled to discover a charming town as well as a famous Abbey.  The park also offered a “service complet” option which provides, as we were hoping, a full hook-up pitch the likes of which we haven’t seen since the U.S.

Now, almost deserving of a “Musings” in its own right was our Big Talk about Group Think.  We had started using phrases like, “Would you like to stop for a coffee?” instead of, “I would like to stop for a coffee, do you mind?”  Such Group Think led us to spending our first day walking five miles to and from a bus stop and spending upwards of 7 hours (seven hours) just to buy a cell plan.  Oh My God.   If I haven’t already, I won’t bore you with the details, suffice it to say that if one of us had spoken up, we would have been driving the Pepper into Rouen not only saving time but also avoiding an exchange with the Gendarmerie on the return bus route.  (Sometimes it doesn’t pay to acknowledge that you speak a little French . . . “Madame, les chien ne sont pas permitter dans le bus” . . . but of course Les Noses are permitted on the bus, as the bus driver explained to the Gendarmerie while I was busy saying how sorry I was that I didn’t speak French.)

Anyway . . . after our talk about Group Think, SP declared that he would like to visit the beaches of Normandy, in particular a site honoring the American soldiers.  So Day 2 was spent driving the Pepper to Normandy (about 1.5 hours each way) during which we noticed that if you drive faster than 80 mph, the Pepper starts to shake.  Slowing down, and leaving the repair of Pepper to another day, we stopped in Courseulles-Sur-Mer for an outstanding lunch at Les Alizes (clearly a local favorite) opting for the plat du jour (muscles for SP and salmon for moi) while drooling over the platters of shellfish heading to the local’s tables.

After lunch we journeyed south along the Normandy coast, stopping for a quick walk on the beach at Arromanches before eventually making our way to the American monument at Omaha Beach.  After the free-wheeling (although not free parking) sites we experienced along the coast, I was appalled at the bossy U.S. signage “no picnics, do not play in the cemetery” and the metal detector screening required of anyone heading into the visitor’s center.  Nothing epitomizes the freedom of the U.S. like a full body x-ray.  Forgoing the search, we headed out to view the beach, enjoying the immaculately maintained grounds along the cliff.  Then, before you can even prepare yourself, you turn left and see row after row after row of white marble headstones.

The day had been very cold and windy causing my eyes to water quite often while outside.  But coming around that corner and seeing those headstones, I could not stem the tears at all, nor could I blame it on the cold wind.  It was overwhelming to see the sacrifice that the U.S. had made to help bring an end to that horrible war.   It is a gorgeous and stunning stop, visually and emotionally.  Definitely a Don’t Miss – and those of you who know me, know I am not fond of historical touring.  Even as a naturalized citizen, I was proud to be there as an American.  I only wish we had along my step-father Bob whose knowledge would have brought the entire experience to life.

Given what we had learned about Pepper, Day 3 was spent taking it into a Speedy tire service and trying to communicate our issue.  I personally think I did an outstanding job explaining (in French) that when we drive more than 125 KPM, the wheel begins to (and here, not knowing the word for “shake” I did a whole body pantomime of “shake”.)  They got the idea, responded with about three paragraphs of French, only a fraction of which could I understand:  That it wasn’t a big problem.  They pulled Pepper in, rebalanced the tires, charged us nothing and wished us a safe journey.  You don’t’ see that every day.  (That’s what they said.)

And so we are back on the road headed south.  No Paris this time—it’s just too cold and I am sick to death of all my cold weather clothes.  We are heading south as quickly as we can, with maybe, maybe a stop-over in San Sebastian, Spain, a town which I adore.

But only if it is sunny and more than 70/20.


PS:  Since my Tweets come faster than my posts, you know that we are now holed up in a hotel outside of Tours, France.  Pepper’s drive train busted and, miracles of all miracles, we limped off the A10 only a few kilometers from a Porsche dealer.   (I told you we were lucky travelers!)  We dropped Salt in a hotel parking lot before continuing our limping to Porsche.   They need a few days for the part to come in and Porsche thought Pepper was too dangerous to drive so they rented us a little car (mais bien sur, we tried for a Hybrid Cayenne but that is where our luck ran out.)  We are staying a few nights in a hotel with a very sad view of Salt in the parking lot; she missing one of her windows (we drove off and left it unlatched [and by “we” I really mean “I”], so it is somewhere along the A28  or A10 . . . )   When it rains it pours and it happens to be doing both right now.  Literally.  

Aventura, Baby!