Saturday, 4 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 1...

Well, been a while, so I suppose I better get writing on here again!

Note that this entry has been updated on my return from France, with photos and added notes, as the original entry was written on my phone!

Having been volunteered (read: roped in) to assisting a couple of friends, I'm on the way to Normandy in France, to provide low-profile escorts to veterans at a few commemorative events leading up to, and perform a wreaths laying, over the D-day commemorations there this year.

An early wake-up (05:30, bloody hell!), and we got to Newhaven ferry port for 07:30.

Getting through passport control and the ticketing booth was easy enough, and then the inevitable waiting started.

We got to wait for 45 minutes, until they began loading the ferry.

It's not as large a ferry as I remember from the crossings at Calais back in my school years, but it left promptly enough at just gone 9 a.m. I'm actually rather impressed with DFDS Ferries; the staff were friendly, polite, approachable, and spoke good English - it's their business to be like this, but their professional attitudes certainly showed, and spoke well of the company.

About half an hour after we left dock, the restaurant opened for business, and one full English ("un petit déjeuner anglais"), two coffees, and a mild walk around the weather decks later, it was just over a third the way through the crossing (four hours, Newhaven to Dieppe).

Views from the two weather decks were alright, but given the weather (damp with sea mist) nothing brilliant; to the aft, our wake, there were good views of the sea mist port and starboard, and the view to the front was obscured by the bridge superstructure and the radio antenna farm there.

Cues to sing "We are sailing"
were loudly shouted down!
Even with the sea mist, it was remarkably less humid outside, than inside - this, despite the air conditioning within the ferry.

I found this slightly odd, but as it wasn't that cold, (not warm either), we spent a lot of time on the upper weather deck, just relaxing (the others could also smoke there, which was handy for them!).

Before long, we had our first sight of the French coastline, and their version of the White Cliffs of Dieppe. With some landslides apparent. Still, it was a nice sight :)

Once docked at Dieppe, offloading was of the hurry up and wait form; never the less, we were off in about half an hour, and were shortly thereafter on the road down to the Normandy area. A couple of hours later found us on the A29 toll (Péage) road towards Caen.

The péage roads are a feature of roads in France; the money made from the tolls are used exclusively to maintain them, and apparently to help to fund the building of new ones. However you cook it, though, they do the job.

For the most part, you enter the motorway, pay a fee, and that's that; in some stretches, where there are multiple entrances and exits, you receive a ticket, and that ticket is used to calculate your toll when you leave the motorway. It's a good system.

I'll also note that their roads, outside the rush hour, have an incredibly lighter usage loading than ours do, especially at weekends; I was told that this is even more noticeable at weekends, as heavy goods vehicles (except for perishable goods loads) are prohibited from using these roads at weekends.

I'll make one more bleeding obvious observation here: say what you will about the French (and we British often do!), but they could teach the ministry of transport back home about how to maintain roads -  these are some of the best roads I've travelled on in years! Even their road repairs were excellent; the asphalt may have been cracked and had holes in it, but their repairs were top-notch: You could have rested a glass of water on the dashboard, and it wouldn't have spilled a drop!

First sight of the
Pont du Normandie
suspension bridge
There is also one of the most picturesque bits of bridge architecture that I've ever seen - the Pont de Normandie suspension bridge, which spans over the River Seine; it's quite a sight as you first see it, and driving over it is a sight as well.

It's like driving under a
massive capital "A"!
Surprisingly for a slightly windy day, there wasn't much - if any - wind buffeting as you might expect on similar bridges - certainly, the QE2 bridge over the Dartford crossing is much more blustery than this one.

Remembering the flooding to the north of France, it wasn't very surprising to see how high the river was along its' banks. It was one heck of a sight, though, very, very impressive.

A couple of hours later, we arrived in Rots, to our accommodations for the next few days, and spent a few hours setting up, before it was off to McDonalds for dinner.

I'm not entirely enthused with Le Premium Royale, which is their version of the Big Mac, there weren't pickles, there was a massive slice of tomato, and what passed for onion was strange and somewhat spongy. I suppose the French like them, but I guess it was the surprise of the new to me. My overall reaction to the burger was a resounding 'Meh'. Pulp Fiction will never be the same ;-)

The coffee, though, was interesting. It was nice, but they have one size. Medium. Be warned: If you like large McD coffees, you won't get one - you'll have to go back and buy another!

So, that's the end of day one. More to follow...

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