Our first real day of this trip started much like it ended. With us feeling exhausted, and in a sea of fog. I wanted to explore the Opal Coast heading south from Calais, but after taking a detour to one of the capes, I realised we were doing well to see where the roads went – sightseeing wasn’t going to happen.
Still, we had a quick wander around Cap Griz Nez, looking at some of the German WWII concrete bunkers that were still in-situ. It’s incredible to think of how many people have died here in the last 100 years – and that is only going to be reinforced over the next 48hrs.
We gave up on the Opal Coast, and headed south, only to find that the skies were clearing. We ambitiously ventured back towards the coast, this time to see the Alabaster Coast. …and the fog was back. It was a long detour, and it had proved completely fruitless – other than enjoying the drive through sunny agricultural France.
And, the drive had genuinely been pleasant, passing by countless tiny villages with their houses that had stripy ‘Tudor-style’ exposed wooden framing – it honestly felt like we were still in England, other than the sunshine and the driving on the wrong side of the road. The farms were all bursting into life, with the fields of rapeseed vivid and yellow.
It had been a long day, and it felt like we hadn’t ‘achieved’ any sightseeing. It’s a weird way that I look at things, and I do want to try and change that outlook.
The fog was still around when we woke this morning, and it was also surprisingly cold in our van. Our phones told us that it was 3˚C outside. The cold coupled with the fog, rain and general fatigue made for a very slow start to the morning.
We’d made it to Cambremer, the heart of the Cider Route. We’re not much of a wine drinker (I love the taste of a rich red, but my body doesn’t agree with it, whereas Risa just doesn’t like the taste at all), but we both like cider – especially Normandy Cider. So, the chance to do a tour visiting the farms that grow and press the cider was too good to miss.
Our first stop, rather fortuitously was to Manoir de Grandouet. I say fortuitously, because in hindsight, it was by far the most ‘authentic’ feeling of the three that we visited. It was in a small rural town, with more ‘Tudor-style’ buildings. We walked around their little display area, showing how the cider is pressed – complete with a great video of the process!
It was off season, so we had the place to ourselves. We had to ring a bell to get someone to serve us to sample/buy some cider. We grabbed a fantastic bottle of cider, as well as some amazing apple juice. As a bit of a treat, I also bought a mini bottle (50mL) of calvados, which is a distilled apple liquour – about 40%.
We continued around the Route du Cidre, pulling into farms as they grabbed our attention, sampling their wares, and purchasing even more cider and juice. I also grabbed a Pont l’Évêque cheese, created using the milk from the farm. It was much stronger than I was expecting, and was a bit too pungent for Risa – I’m sure for a local, it was probably quite mild.
The fog continued more-or-less throughout the day, but as our next stop was the American War Cemetery near Omaha Beach (Colleville-sur-Mer), it kind of suited the sombre feeling of the place. There was a great museum with stories of survivors, as well as tales of those whose final resting places are here in this cemetery.
The fog made it impossible to see the beach where so many perished on D-Day (as was famous in Saving Private Ryan, and many others).
We were in time for the lowering of the flag, complete with (simulated) rifle salute, and a bugler playing The Last Post. It was quite moving, as the sound of that song always is, and the hairs on my neck and arms stood up.
This cemetery is said to contain 9,000 graves, which while being a very large number, didn’t sound like that large a number. However, once we saw the endless rows of perfectly aligned crosses (and stars of David), it really made the scale sink in. It’s also great to see the level of respect that is continued to be given to these people, as the gardens were in immaculate condition.
On a purely aesthetic level, it was incredible to see the accuracy that these tombstones were erected, satisfying an OCD nature I have with things.
The whole region was the site of the D-Day landings, and the beaches are littered with the remnants of WWII. We planned to go to the site of some German artillery at Longues-sur-Mer, however, a road closure that necessitated a rather hefty detour put an end to that plan – once we were almost within walking distance of the site…
The D-Day invasion has been featured in dozens of movies/TV shows, but still, seeing the area with my own eyes, somehow made the reality of the war feel all that more real.