we are starting our own travel guide...
02.06.2009 - 07.06.2009 26 °C
We got to Bayeux mid-afternoon, and it took us awhile to find our hostel. This one was called "Family Home"... run by a family. It was more like a bed and breakfast turned into a hostel. The people running it were strange but friendly enough. We just checked in and discovered our sink did not drain very fast, but otherwise the room was nice. That afternoon we headed to the tourism office to get all the information we could for the next few days and then headed to the Normandy 1944 Battle Museum. It had the whole history of WW2 and a neat little movie we got to watch, then tons of vehicles and tanks and guns. You weren't supposed to take any pictures but Michaela did not see the signs and took tons of pictures. Breanne noticed the signs in the beginning but decided not to tell Michaela so we could get some great pictures. Oops. Serves you right French Government your buses suck. More on this later.
Just to give everyone a little lesson, Bayeux is in the province of Normandy in France. It was one of the first major cities to be liberated in WW2. Surrounding it to the north on the coast are the D-Day Beaches. Utah and Omaha, which were liberated by the US, and Sword, Juno and Gold which were liberated by the British and Canadians, and other countries (Scotland, Norway, etc). This was one of Michaela's major excitements on this trip.
The next day we headed to our first beach, Omaha. BUT this took awhile. We found out that the buses in these towns are absolutely horrible. Because other than the memorials these are nothing but tiny fishing villages, the public transportation is horrid. Apparently the best way to tour around is by renting a car. At first we considered this as we found out the price was not too high, but we found out that we could only rent a standard and since neither one of us can drive stick very well this was not an option at all. Imagine the two of us stalling in the roundabouts (they use these other than lights out here) and getting lost in the middle of Normandy. Not a fun idea. So we ended up sitting and waiting for the crazy confusing bus schedules. Fortunately we had figured most of this out the night before so we were mostly prepared. While we were waiting some woman walked by, noticed our canada flags and asked us for some info on how to get to Juno Beach. Thankfully for her we, at this point, have more information than the Tourist Office can give her and the bus station, so she and her husband got to Juno beach without any confusion. So after this we decided we are going to write an entertaining travel book about things that no one else tells you about and you must learn on your own after being lost for hours. We hope you all buy it. We are going to call it "How to Get Creeped On in Every Country You Visit... and Other Important Travel Advice."
Eventually we got to Omaha. Luckily for us the crazy Normandy weather didn't happen and it was hot and sunny. We visited the American Cemetary, which is one of the nicest cemetaries. It was very beautiful, but parts of it were covered as they were getting ready for Barack Obama's visit on D-Day and the ceremonies. We did get to look around and then headed down to the actual beach. There were lots of memorials, lots of plaques, tons of veterans. We spent a few hours here, then decided we might try to head to the German Cemetary. Michaela really wanted to visti this because the way it is set up is so different from every other cemetary, but unfortunately like we said the bus system sucks and the cemetary was quite far away. We asked the lady at the front desk of the Info Centre if we could walk there and she informed us we could, but it would take about an hour. We thought what the heck why not. So we start walking. Now since D-Day is just around the corner, there are tons of old military vehicles being driven around these places by veterans, military personnel and tour groups. So it is really neat because they are all dressed up in full uniform and there are areas set up making it look like things did in 1944. As we are walking towards this town one vehicle (we are not sure what this is so Michael let us know) full of army men starts waving at us and ask us if we want a ride. Of course Michaela hops on that idea and runs up to the truck. Breanne is not so sure about this but follows her. We get there and they tell us they can give us a ride part of the way. So we hop in. We find out that they are Belgian soldiers here for the ceremonies. Quite cuuuuuute. So they give us a ride and then we continue walking. We finally see a sign and realize that to walk to the cemetary will not be fun and too long so we turn around and head back and wait for the bus back to Bayeux. We finally get back and head to bed early as we are super tired.
The next day we decided to head to Arromanches, at the British Gold Beach. The Arromanches are the remains of the Mulberry Harbour that the Allies built after D-Day to get equipment and stuff in for the war. So we got to take a really good look at these, and then walk up this weird hill to get to some leftover German bunkers. Unfortunately you could not go inside of them, but there were lots of other memorials and plaques around to check out. After we were finished we walked along Gold Beach, then headed to take the bus to Longues-sur-Mer. This is another little beach town, but this is where there are the German Gun Batteries. The Germans used these during the war to attack the Allies as they landed on the beaches. They were massive machines and hard to get at and attack. So we got to walk around and inside of them, pretend we were shooting all that fun stuff. They also had a little camp set up showing what the camps would have looked like right after D-Day, and everyone was dressed up and cooking, it was really neat. Afterward we headed for some ice cream because here, unlike back home, it is 25 degrees celsius everyday. Ha ha ha. We got these massive ice creams called MAGNUMS. They even came in gold boxes which we weren't sure if we were supposed to throw out or not. Pretty rad.
The next day we headed to the Canadian beach, Juno. This is at a little town called Courseulles-sur-Mer. The people here absolutely love Canadians, so our patches came in handy. When we first started walking around we got to see a Sherman tank that was actually taken out of the water years after the war. It sunk on D-Day, but fortunately a veteran was actually in it when it went down and knew exactly where it sunk, so they were able to go back and get it out and it is now on display in the town. There are also tons of memorials and plaques randomly all over the town. We headed to the Juno Beach Centre, where they had a big museum about the Canadians. We found this museum really really educational and it had tons of neat features. There was a whole section about Canada before, after, and during the war. The temporary exhibit was about the Canadians in Italy, which is a campaign of WW2 that no one ever really knows about. Afterward we took a tour of the Juno Park, where we got to go inside an old German bunker, got to learn some really neat facts about the town and about other areas of the Canadian invasion on D-Day. We walked around the beach for awhile, and also collected some pretty neat shells. Afterwards we decided to hit up the closest Canadian Cemetary. We found out the cemetary, like everything else, was 5km out of town, so we went and rented some bikes. Well, was this an experience. We followed some really sketchy instructions while trying to ride bicycles down a busy road, around roundabouts, in super super hot weather, until we finally found the cemetary. It was really pretty and well-kept, but the thing that stuck out most was that at each grave they had flowers growing. This is really nice because at other cemetaries there are only flowers or plants that people have brought, so this gave it a different touch. We looked through the register to find names of people we might know. Fortunately the only war veterans Michaela knows are still alive, and Breanne does not know any on her side. But we did manage to find some Bouchards from Winnipeg, and Michaela actually found a Drouillard from Windsor, Ontario (she has more info from the cemetary register on him). So that was pretty neat. Afterwards we biked the 5km back, then headed for some ice cream. We got back to the hostel that night totally wiped out and basically died in our beds.
The next morning we went to the only internet place in Bayeux, but the internet wasn't actually working. We were worried that the man just wasn't letting us use it because the night before we were there, but he suddenly disappeared so we just left. But being the honest people that we are, we left a note and the money we owed for it. Talk about nice. So after this we went to get some phone minutes. As we were walking to the little corner store that sells them, we notice that there are more and more police around us. And then more, and more. Then, around the church, there are groups of people lined up, obviously waiting for someone. We have absolutely no idea what is going and really only want to buy some minutes. All of a sudden they start yelling, and Prince Charles walks out. That's right, PRINCE CHARLES. We had no idea this was happening because we do not read the paper or watch TV. Then another man, who we think is the French Prime Minister, came over. We could have shaken his hand but we were unsure who he was so we just took a picture. We since found out that it was the British Prime Minister. So after this crazy little turn of events we decided to go to the British Cemetary, which happens to be in Bayeux. We start walking there, and notice the hoards of police again. And then even more. When we get to the cemetary it is absolutely packed full of people and veterans. This wasn't really surprising as it was D-Day and there are ceremonies all day. But then we hear some British people start talking about the Prince, and we realize he is also here too. So this time we get smart and go and stand beside some veterans, and some crazy little Welsh ladies who follow the Royal Family around. So Prince Charles walks by, and actually gets really close to one of the veterans around us. So, totally be coincidence we have now seen him twice. Then we decide to get out of there before the crowds start, so we start wondering through a random path. There is one old veteran standing by a bush, so we go walk beside him, then the Prince drives by in his car and waves at us. That's right, at us. He even gave Michaela a little wink... we know that he is thinking about how he is going to tell Prince Harry that he must visit Canada to find this mysterious girl with curly hair. This has turned into quite the afternoon.
After we head back to Courseulles-sur-Mer for the Canadian D-Day Ceremony. We wait forever for the Prime Minister to show up, and finally he does. We got to see tons of Veterans, and the group of 11 Veterans who actually funded the Juno Beach Centre. It was really really nice. It started pouring by the time the ceremony got started so we were all drenched. Thankfully some British people beside us gave us a blanket and they handed out ponchos so it saved us a little. We had to leave the ceremony early because it started so late in order to catch our taxi back to Bayeux.
To make a long story short, our taxi is late, which makes us miss our train in Bayeux to Paris. We get to Bayeux and all other trains to Paris are not happening, so we take the taxi to Caen, the next big city. All trains to Paris there are also cancelled, so we get stranded in Caen. Thankfully Michaela runs around trying to find a hotel, and after informing the man that she must go back to the train station to buy a friend (her French hasn't improved THAT much), we find a place for the night. Thank God we got to see Prince Charles so many times or else we would be quite upset at this point. We find some really really strong Bavarian beer in a store and drink that too drown away our sorrows of missing so many trains.
We arrived in Paris this morning and are just here for one night, then we are taking off back to Canada! We are really sad about this. In some ways it feels like we have been here forever, but then again it has only been two months. We just keep saying to ourselves that this is definitely not the last time we will be in Europe. We are already planning our next trip!! We hope you all have enjoyed following us on this trip, and hope we have inspired you to get out and travel!!
See you all when we get home,
Michaela and Breanne
PS - We can NOT wait to get nice hot showers in clean bathrooms...