Thursday, November 20, 2014

WWII Road Trip: Caen, France

Actual date of this event: 11-13 July

Growing up, I was not one bit interested in history, but Europe has changed me, and I actually aim to learn about things I should already know. Since we live in London, we are so close to where our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers made history in the Second World War. It was a must for us to make the journey to the Normandy, France to stand on the some of the most historical beaches in the world.
This wasn't an easy trip for me to research as it was very different than any other trip we have done. The gist of the planning went something like this:
1.) Should we take the channel tunnel train or the ferry? We chose the ferry as it was cheaper even though it did take a bit longer.
2.) How do we know where to drive? I bought an atlas, but a week before our trip, our mobile service (Three) launched the Feel At Home Destinations so we were able to use our phones along with data completely free.
3.) Will there be any issues with the driving our vehicle in France? We learned that we needed to modify our car slightly to drive on the "right" side of the road, such as attaching a GB sticker to the car and alter the headlights. Insurance was all good as well.
4.) Where do we go? The whole north coast of France is littered with memorials and museums, but not all of it is online. I did quite a bit of TripAdvisor Forum reading and blog reading to find the majority of it.
We were prepared for our journey as much as we could be with what we knew. Luke did all of the driving - I am not licensed to drive - so I contributed by bringing eggs, cold cuts, cheese, and coffee for breakfast each morning, and even made chicken salad to eat for lunch every day. I was not, however, prepared for the number of American flags I would see during these two days. It was like being in 'Merica! Most of all, I was absolutely not prepared for the ridiculous amount of toll roads in France. And oh my gosh those things are expensive! We really take that for granted here in Britain. Over the course of our drive on Friday from Calais to Caen, we spent at least 25EUR (approx 32USD) on tolls, and a bit more than that on Sunday as we took a different route. Thankfully, we had euros with us from the beginning or else we would have been in a bind, but we did have to stop at a cash machine along the way.
We decided to base ourselves for the weekend in Caen. We debated between Le Havre, and I also heard Bayeaux was nice, but decided on Caen as it is a slightly bigger city than the others, has more accommodations options, and is also more central. When we arrived, we dropped our bags very quickly, then headed to the Memorial de Caen, basically the World War II Museum of the area.
I am very thankful that Luke and I already had a very good knowledge of the war because we would not have had enough time in the museum. It was neat to learn about the French side of the war though - we really only had knowledge of what the Americans and Germans went through. The museum includes a bunker, a few gardens, a huge information center, several artifacts, and a theater, which we were too late to see one of the showings.

We stopped in the gift shop afterward because Luke LOVES history books. In the process of looking around, we came across a book that had Luke's grandmother's first husband's name in it. I will talk about this in another post, but he died defending a bridge in the Western area Normandy. Thank you for your service and bravery, Major Kellam.

Both evenings of our trip were spent having dinner in Caen and wandering around. The city was pretty quiet, but it was nice. We found a few streets that were filled with restaurants (Rue du Vaugueux) and bars (Rue Ecuyere). I didn't do any research on Caen, so I was surprised when we stumbled upon some major sites (see captions).
{Rue Porte au Berger}

 {Abbey of Sainte-Trinite}

 {Leroy Tower}
{Church of Saint Pierre}
{Le Chateau de Caen} 
{Hotel de Ville aka City Hall} 

{Leroy Tower at night}
We had a long day on Saturday driving from beach to beach along the coast, and then spent Sunday stopping in a few different towns to visit some of the most beautiful cathedrals I have seen. I have to say that this road trip was one of my favorite trips we have taken so far!

Other Normandy posts: Caenthe Landing BeachesLa FiereFrench Cathedrals

From June 6th to August 6th, Anglo and Canadian forces fought the Germans to take back Caen for the French, conquering in the end. The majority of the old city, dating back to the middle-ages, was destroyed. It wasn't until 1962 that post-war reconstruction of Caen was completed.

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