France May 2014: Pt 6 D Day and the Normandy beaches

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up in the free aire at Arromanches Les Bains. We’re parked up alongside over 20 hired motorhomes that seem to belong to the BBC however they are unoccupied, infact – nosey pants here had a good look through the window of one (or five!!) earlier and the beds aren’t even made up? We’ve been told by the tourist office that the aire is closed until 10th June, but bearing in mind we’d already driven onto it, parked, had lunch and a wander by the time we found this out, plus there are 3 other non BBC vans here, we’ve decided to be brave and stick it out here. The security van has just done a round and seems happy for us to be here so that’s good enough for us! 20140529-214315-78195771.jpg
There’s not much breathing room in the spaces here, but it is free!

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Our neighbours- 20 odd hired motorhomes belonging to the BBC – although no one seems to be staying in them!!

Today we had a contemplative but pleasant drive along the Normandy coast, passing the pretty Courseuilles sur Mer, Deuville and Trouville. We’ve done this tour before ( read here ) but never made it Site Hillman, so that was our first stop today.

Site Hillman was given the code name HILLMAN by the Allies, and consisted of 18 concrete bunkers buried 4m deep and linked by tunnels. It was surrounded by minefields and barbed wire, and was defended by guns, machine guns, and armoured gun posts. On 6th June, the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment captured Hillman and the bunkers seem to have been untouched since.

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the entrance to Site Hillman

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It’s free to visit Hillman, and is very interesting, if not eerie! There are info boards dotted about – I’d highly recommend it as a place to visit

After our Hillman visit, we carried on to Arromanches as we were concerned that there are only 19 spaces on the aire there and didn’t want to not get a space! As it happened, we bagged the last space, so celebrated with lunch and a stubby. By this time, I’d noticed all the other motorhomes had BBC signs on the dashboard, and were infact hire vans, but we put it down to prep for all the coverage from here next week. Still not sure why they are in motorhomes and not hotels though!!

We got soaked on our initial walk into town, and had to retreat back to Bluebell for our waterproofs. It was then that we noticed the no access sign blocking the aire. This definitely wasn’t there when we drove in as we wouldn’t have been able to get by it. Still undetered, and suitably dressed in waterproofs, of course the sun came out as we returned into town. Nosey Norris aka me, went I to ask about the aire at the tourist office, where I was told it was closed til 10th June! :-/ I decided to keep quiet that we were infact parked in the aire and we carried on up to Port Winston via the free shuttle train!

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Soldiers patrolling the beach here at Arromanches – one of the anniversary events

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the view of Arromanches from the 360 degree cinema

After a good look around and soak up of the very busy atmosphere, plus a purchase of a couple of new stickers, we opted for crepes and a vin rouge which was delicious and then headed back to Bluebell. We’ve got an excellent internet Fon signal here thanks to motorhome wifi. After dinner we enjoyed an evening stroll into the town, which was more enjoyable as it was far less busy than earlier today. As much as we’ve enjoyed revisiting, the huge crowds were off putting- but seeing as this is one of the key sites of the Landing beaches, a week before D Day it’s hardly surprising.

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Next week, we’ve heard there is lots planned for the D Day anniversary itself- Chris Evans brings his Breakfast show here on Friday morning, there is a big concert and even a Prince William and Kate will be here. So no doubt they are already beginning the preparations and tightening security.

Once the anniversary celebrations are over, be sure to visit Arromanches if you haven’t already- seeing the remains of the landing platforms in the sea is really a humbling sight.

One final thought for tonight…

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Until next time
Lx

France, May 2014 PT 5 Honfluer

Wednesday:

Bluebell the motorhome feels like the poor country cousin! She’s parked up in the official motorhome aire at our beloved Honfleur, along with over 240 other motorhomes. It’s like the forecourt of Brownhills!! There are motorhomes in all different shapes and sizes here, occupying the 240 official spaces, and seeping out into the surrounding lane and squashed into corners. We’re fairly confident that we could leave our door wide open and not get burgled (although don’t think we will try!) there are some SERIOUSLY swish vans here, including my personal favourite- a very fancy looking RV with 4 pop out sides, smart car garage and the front looks like an articulated lorry front, rather than a bus! Seriously cool, and worth a fortune I would guess!!

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a jam packed aire!

This is our 4th visit to Honfleur (you can read about the others here, here and here) and we think the €10 for 24 hrs overnight parking including services and electric is worth every single penny. Clearly other people share our thoughts as we’ve never seen this aire so busy! The aire is situated 5 mins walk away from the picture perfect harbour, that is lined with tall historical buildings, all painted in different colours, and overlooking the sailing boats moored in the small square harbour. There are oodles of restaurants, art galleries, regional produce shops and cafés dotted along the way, all of which we’ve enjoyed before, and I am sure we will do so again next time- however today we chose a happy stroll through town for a couple of hours in the drizzle, nosing in gallery windows picking out the paintings we would buy if we were rich, and enjoying the atmosphere of everyone else spending their money! We’re not being tight – but we are being careful with pennies this time round with our wedding this time next year. 🙂

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gorgeous harbour here at Honfleur

One expense we did sort today was Jazz’s return to England vets trip. This time last year we stopped here to sort the same thing out, and our visit to Honfleur was with the same intention this time. You can easily travel to France with your dog(s) now, providing they have had their rabies jab and have their own pet passport. To re enter the UK you need to take your pet to a vet 5 days – 24 hrs before you intend on travelling home, and the vet will administer the pooch with a tapeworm tablet or injection, stamp their passport and charge you a princely sum for the privilege. Today we admit, we got stung €43- however in the end we outweighed the convenience with trying to find the best deal- the vet could see Jazz there and then, so we didn’t need to make an appointment for a future time/day, plus the vet was opposite the aire so we didn’t need to move Bluebell to get Jazz there. Also the vet spoke very good English- I am capable of making an appointment in French and some basic conversation during the appointment itself, but obviously if the vet speaks English it does make the whole experience slightly more stress free. 🙂

One other note for today- we’ve been very impressed with our Motorhome Wifi and Fon set up so far on this trip. It’s the first time we’ve tried it in France, and I was curious as I had read some conflicting reviews of its performance in France. We’ve only dug it out 3 times, but every time we’ve found an SFR PUBLIC WIFI FON within range and therefore entered our FON login and hey presto, we’re online! This has saved us some pennies (again, don’t mean to sound tight!) as usually we’re forced (!!) to drink in bars after a couple of days just to check emails (being self employed, as much as we’d like to switch of for 10 days in reality we can’t)

So there we have our day, money saving but soaking up the atmosphere none the less and having a really great time. Tomorrow we’re continuing south or is it west?! towards the WW2 landing beaches.

If you’ve never travelled to Honfleur before, be it in a motorhome or not, we would seriously seriously recommend coming here. It’s a beautiful place, and if you worked your ferry/tunnel crossings wisely, we think you could make it here on a long weekend trip easy peasy. It’s 3.5 hours from Calais on the payage. What are you waiting for?

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Until next time

Lx

France May 2014; Pt 4 Dieppe and Etretat

Monday

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on the port side on the aire at Dieppe, along with around 20 or so other vans, all shapes and sizes, including a couple of other British vans. There are two aires here, both €7 for 24 hrs parking- one with services and one without. We naughtily filled and emptied at Dieppe 1, and on going to get our ticket saw Dieppe 2 across the other side of the port, so drove round and decided we preferred that location.

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The Aire at Dieppe

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a couple of choppers for company in the motorhome aire at Dieppe

The weathers been rubbish today, drizzling all day, but we still enjoyed our wander round Dieppe, taking in the history and the chocolate shops… ahem, along with the grand architecture. We both learnt about the first attempt of liberation of France by mainly Canadiens back in Sept 1942, and found the town a nice place to spend a rainy afternoon.

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The castle at Dieppe

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Dieppe town centre

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The Port at Dieppe

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Keefy getting our baguette from the bread van that visited the aire this morning

We had a good chat with another British couple on their way back from 6 wks in Portugal- lucky things, it’s always nice to swap stories with fellow motorhomer’s. Our spot on the port was brill- we watched the passenger ferry leave and also a beautiful wooden sailing boat, along with a large barge carrying what we think was wind turbine sails. a real mix of old and new.

Tuesday

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on her 1st France Passion site of this tour- we’re on a dairy farm near Etretat, which specialises in butter and goats cheese. Nom nom. We arrived around lunchtime, went to say hello, check we could stay tonight and to find out what time the shop open/closes. The France Passion scheme works in the same way Brit Stops does- your host welcomes you to stay for free, but you’re expected to take an interest in their produce etc. There is never any obligation to buy, however we usually do as we’re local food and drink junkies!!

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Parked up by the chickens on our France Passion site
After a hearty lunch (Camembert, saucisson, baguette of course!!) we unloaded the bikes with the intention of cycling to nearby Etretat- a town we’ve seen signed when on the payage, but never managed to get too. Etretat is on the map due to its amazing 3 sea arches, and what a sight they were! Even if by the time we’d got there we could barely stand due to picking a particularly hilly cycle route! Of course once there we couldn’t NOT take the cliff path to the view point at the top, so by the time we were back at our bikes we were cream crackered. Oh well, we’d cycled pretty much the whole 7 kilometres up hill there, so we were quietly confident that the laws of physics meant that we would return downhill. I’m not sure how, but it seems physics weren’t on our sides today as somehow, we managed to pick an equally up hill journey back!

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The middle sea arch at Etretat

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The arch on the left is the middle of the three and the small arch on the right is the baby arch

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we enjoyed finally visiting Etretat having passed the signs for years!

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the town of Etretat is very pretty

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the larger of the three arches, that is only visible from sea or a hike up the side of a cliff!

Once back at Bluebell, we swiftly went up to the shop to have a chat with the owner of the farm (so impressed I managed a whole conversation in French!!) we’d discovered they made yogurts, butter and goats cheese, the butter is made on site but the goats cheese isn’t because she doesn’t keep goats, and that she thought we were crazy for cycling to Etretat. Oh how we laughed! We came away with some salted butter and goats cheese, both of which we’ve devoured as a pre dinner snack- well it’s been a tough day!! They were absolutely delicious!

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another pic of us on the France Passion

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We enjoyed visiting Etretat, the sea arches were better than I’d hoped and the town is also very pretty – there are some lovely wooden buildings to enjoy housing restaurants and creperies, lots of souvenir shops, a nice stretch of pebbly beach (no dogs though on the beach, although they are allowed on the promenade) and a really buzzing atmosphere. If you’re not a member of France Passion (you should be, it’s fab!) then there is a conveniently located motorhome aire just on the outskirts of Etretat that you can park at for €8, or day parking on the Le Havre road.

Until next time
Lx

France May 2014: Pt 3 Le Hourdel and Cayeux sur Mer

Sunday:

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on the free aire at Le Hourdel which is just south of St Valery Sur Somme on the Baie of the Somme.

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On the pitch at the free aire at Le Hourdel

When we woke up this morning it was clear blue skies and we couldn’t believe our luck! Without further ado, we emptied, filled and headed to our next stop, situated on the seaside with plenty of cycle routes to try out. Perfect 🙂

We arrived 45 mins later, bagged the last space on the aire and enjoyed a cuppa in the sun before giving Jazz a little walk down to the beach. The beach here is stoney rather than the expanses of sand found further north or is it East, I’m confused!, but it’s equally pleasant to wander down, and there are lots of birds to watch if that’s your sort of thing. Across the bay you can see Le Crotoy and St. Valerie is to the right.

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View from the beach at Le Hourdel

On the beach there is a ruin of what we thought may be a WW2 Pill box, but there wasn’t any info about it so we aren’t sure; whatever it used to be on closer inspection it’s rather big, probably not in the same position as it used to be and now seems to be home to various wildlife.

We picked up our bikes from the van and cycled the easy 1.5Km to the village of Le Hourdel, where there were two restaurants, a small harbour and a not particularly pretty lighthouse. We then cycled back on ourselves and carried on beyond the aire on a special off road cycle/pedestrian track for 5km to the seaside resort of Cayeux Sur Mer. The weather by now was a mix of clouds and sunshine, and we enjoyed an hour or so looking round the souvenir shops, walking on the beach and eyeing up the pretty beach hits. The cycle ride was lovely and just the sort of thing we fancied doing today.

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The Lighthouse at Le Hourdel

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Think we may have took a wrong turn here?!

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Once back at Bluebell, it was chill time, so we’ve literally sat outside reading, listening to music, dozing and watching people come and go. The rain came about 6pm but it’s not dampened our spirits- we’ve been luckier than we could ever have dreamt of with the weather so far, considering that we are on the north coast of France and are both agreed if it changes from now, we won’t mind at all.

Until next time
Lx

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France May 2014: Pt 2 Fort Mahons Plage and Montreuil Sur Mer

Saturday:

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on a large aire at Fort Mahons Plage, along with around 40 other European vans (and one other Brit!). We paid €9 Euro to stay here tonight, which includes unlimited water and disposals and whilst at first I thought this was slightly pricey, Keith seemed happy enough to stay here and make full use of the water tonight and before we leave tomorrow. Long showers all around!

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The aire at Fort Mahons Plage

I have to say, I’m pleased we did stay as we’ve had a great time here! But before I tell you about that, let’s skip back to this morning’s adventure! We awoke to sunshine peaking through the roof vents again, and although there were definitely more clouds on the scene, it didn’t dampen our spirits after such a great day yesterday. After breakfast we drove the 20 mins inland to Montreuil Sur Mer, described as “an incredibly pretty fortified town” in my “What to do and see within 90 mins of Calais” book that I got a few years ago off Amazon for about a quid! We soon found the motorhome aire, conveniently located 2 mins walk from the town centre, and even better- free! We soon found the market square, which was a hive of activity seeing as the market was in full swing, and naturally our priority was to find the saucisson stall. 5 mins later and €10 euros lighter we emerged happy as Larry that we’d got 6 new flavours of saucisson to get stuck into at lunchtime!

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The next two hours were spent exploring the town ramparts and the beautiful and oh so typically French streets thanks to the free town map from the Tourist Office. It really is a gorgeous place to visit- the town walls are well kept, enjoyable to walk round (free) and offer lovely views of the surrounding countryside; the cobbled streets are so enchanting that they inspired Victor Hugo to make the town the setting for a major part of Les Miserables after only half a day here back in 1837. We absolutely loved exploring Montreuil, in fact it’s made it’s way onto our favourite/most pretty French town list. Happily, the weather behaved during our time here too!

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After lunch (fresh warm baguette, Camembert and saucisson!) we headed back to the seaside on a 20 min journey to Fort Mahon Plage. During our journey it tipped itself down, but luck seemed to be on our side as by the time we pulled up/topped up water/emptied etc, plus delved into the saucisson once more (rude not to, no?!) and cracked open and finished the €1.20 bottle of red we bought earlier as an experiment, the storm had passed and ever since the sun has been out!

Wanting to make the most of the sun, we took a wander through the resort to the beach, which is a huge stretch of Blue Flag beach, had an ice cream and sat and watched the world go by. On our walk back to Bluebell we passed a fishmongers selling fresh mussels for €3 a litre. I’ve always fancied cooking fresh mussels on one of our trips, so nipped in to grab a litre, and ask how best to cook them. The very French fishmonger slowly talked me through it patiently: (so impressed I understood him!) butter, onions, small glass of white wine, parsley and told me this is what’s known as Moules Marinaire- THE regional meal. I already knew this, having eaten it many a time here before in restaurants but having never cooked it for us myself, I was so excited I skipped all the way back to Bluebell (nerd alert!!)

After finishing off my wine sized bottle of cider we picked up for €1.80 (flipping love this country!!) I set to the Moules, and it was (even if I do say so myself!) AMAZING! Will definitely do this again- to think it cost less than €5 for a hearty and tasty main meal for us is extraordinary!

Oh and by the way- the €1.20 bottled of red experiment…. It’s no Pape but it’s certainly drinkable and dare I say…… Tasty! It complimented our mid afternoon cheese and saucisson feast admirably and we will definitely be picking up more!!

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Until next time
Lx