After spending the night at a venison farm (and getting a severe case of van envy at retro fitted VW combi van with a proper fridge powered by solar panels!!) we drove to Carnac, hoping to conjure up images of Asterix and Obelix. The menhirs look as impressive as they do in the cartoons and there are literally thousands of them arranged into neat rows which adds a surreal aspect to the landscape.
If you needed another reason to come to Carnac other than to look at giant rocks, there are also lots of wonderful creperies in the area.
We took the time to share three fantastic crepes at this traditional Bretagne longhouse.
That afternoon we had a much longer walk than expected to catch the Tour, having to walk about 40 mins each way from our campsite to find a bar that was: (a) open; and (b) playing the Tour. Now that's dedication. In the end the effort paid off and we managed to catch most of the final stage to toast Cadel in style.
The next day we abandoned the idea of driving out to Brest and made straight for Normandy via the fairytale-esque Mont St Michel...
After avoiding the tourist trap and settling for taking photo's from a distance we spent our money much more wisely at a France Passion Calvados distillery/cidery/apple orchard/donkey farm where we spent the night. Needless to say, the van cellar continues to expand...
How about them apples?
The next morning, aware of what she was about to be put through, Eve seized the opportunity to visit the Dior museum in Granville after finding a brochure at a nearby coffee shop. Showing husbandly support in true man-style, Rob opted for coffee in the garden while Eve visited the museum solo. The current exhibition showed the inspiration for several of Christian Dior's designs based on works by the great artists of his era like Picasso, Monet and Dali. Unfortunately for Eve (fortunately for Rob), the gift shop was limited...
Circumstances were reversed at our first D-Day stop at Carentan (this will make more sense if you have seen Band of Brothers) where Rob checked out the Dead Man's Corner Paratrooper Museum. Eve played solitaire in the car, wishing she had a coffee!
The museum is set in the former German command post
The bottom floor is laid out approximately how it would have been on D-Day, and the window shutters and interior walls still have bullet holes in them...
Next stop was Utah Beach...
Utah Beach through the wire
...followed by Pointe du Hoc and the Ranger Memorial.
The cliffs are about 30 metres high - imagine being told that your job on D-Day is to climb up a rope ladder and capture a German stronghold at the top...
The shell craters from the aerial and naval bombardment prior to D-Day have been left unfilled...
The next morning we headed into Bayeaux and visited the amazing (almost 1000 year old) Bayeaux tapestry, depicting the Norman invasion of England. Despite everyone being handed a free audioguide in their chosen language, and spaced so there was no chance of people overlapping, well... you can guess what happened. No photos inside, so here's a picture of the building.
After the tapestry we headed to Omaha Beach. Walking along this peaceful beach it is hard to imagine the D-Day carnage. Hitler's Atlantic wall has given way to residential development and there is, quite surprisingly, very little to see here. A couple of memorials and a self guided walking tour is pretty much it...
After walking along the beach, we drove up to the American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer (think opening scene of Saving Private Ryan). We managed to track down a few Medal of Honour winners amongst the thousands, including Theodore Roosevelt Jr (a very interesting man and well worth a Google...)
And then on the the remains of the second Port Winston off the beach at Arromanches-les-Bains.
After dragging Eve around the D-Day beaches for two days, Rob was punished by way of Monet's garden in Giverny. Eve was happy to see the old house, the waterlilies, the Japanese bridge and the huge flower gardens; Rob was happy to see the exit.
We then traveled to the outskirts of Paris and spent two wonderful nights staying with our friends Martin and Isobel, whom we met on the cruise in Egypt. It was great to have a bit of a mini-break from the van and sleep in a real bed for a change.
An amazing lunch
Paris Plage (Paris Beach) manages to be absurd and absurdly popular at the same time...
Our hosts spoiled us rotten with a fantastic lunch in Paris and a whirlwind, personal driving tour past all the main sights. We can't wait to get back and explore Paris properly in September!
On our way towards Luxembourg we spent two nights in the Champagne region and enjoyed sampling the local drop and further expanding the van cellar.
Our France Passion stopover in the Champagne region, in the aptly named town of Bouzy!
On our last day in France (for the moment, anyway) we headed to the WWI battlefield of Verdun (quite by accident, Eve found a France Passion stopover that specialised in sugared almonds - we wouldn't want you to start thinking we're war junkies or anything...)
We drove through the battlefield tourist route and checked out a few of the monuments, including the huge Ossuary which contains the unidentified remains of about 30,000 soldiers who died at Verdun.
The battlefield itself is now an established forest (replanted in the 1930s) and access is restricted due to the danger of unexploded artillery shells and the fact that the ground still contains the remains of an estimated 100,000 soldiers who died where they fell.
We also visited the nearby ruins of Fleury, a village captured and recaptured no less than 16 times during the war! Not surprisingly, Fleury no longer exists. The ground the village formerly occupied is now a large overlapping network of shell craters and nothing remains of the village other than ruined foundations and twisted steel.
Apparently this used to be a farmhouse...
One of the most moving places we went to was the 'Trench of the Bayonets' where an entire French company was buried alive during an artillery bombardment while waiting to go over the top. The fate of the missing company was only realised years after the war following the discovery of rows of rifles with fixed bayonets sticking up out of the ground, still at the ready.