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Heading to Normandy, we drove through a heavy snow storm for about an hour.  We drove out of it into a sunny, calm, warm day.  The weather placed the greens, greys and glues of Normandy into sharp focus, and made it a very photogenic day.

We finally got a good grasp of the French toll road system, after a few stressful times when we got into the wrong lane, or not knowing whether a card or cash was needed.  The French freeways are excellent and have a 130 km/h speed limit.

Our first stop was the German cemetery at La Cambe, which we reached after a few small detours along small country roads and stone farm walls.  The cemetery was peaceful and thought-provoking, and had an info centre outside. 

When we got back in the car, we realised we were chronically low on gasoline.  We drove slowly to Omaha Beach for lunch, before continuing our search for a gas station.  The beach has an evocative steel sculpture in the sea, facing a simple land-based memorial.

Heading westward we passed through a number of somber stone villages, centuries old.  Very cute but probably not comfortable in winter!  We found a self-serve gas station, but our cards lacked the smart chip frequently used in Europe but unavailable on our cards.  Thankfully a Frenchwoman came to our aid, filling up our car with her card and us repaying her in cash.  Who says the French were snooty?

We stopped into a local cider winery, and sampled and bought their delectable apple juice, cider wine (6% alcohol), a cider spirit, double distilled, called "calvados" (45%), and a mix of their cider and calvados, called "aperitif" (16%).  We placed pins into our home towns on his world map, as the cider-maker told us of his dream to visit New Zealand.

The next stop was the American cemetery.  This was far more impressive than Andrew had expected.  It is immaculately groomed and well designed.  After getting through security (welcome to America!), you go downstairs to a museum that takes you through the Allied invasion.

Exiting this, you pass the poignant memorials to fallen soldiers, and to freedom, and into the cemetery proper.  It is massive, geometric, and a fitting resting place to the soldiers who restored freedom to Europe. 

We continued eastwards to the artificial harbour created by sinking concrete boats to make breakwaters.  Luckily for us it was low tide and we had an excellent view of them.  We even climbed on top of one to look down into the storage compartments of the thing, before reading on the side not to do what we had just done!

Omaha Beach is now a popular seaside resort, and even in winter kids played on the beach with dogs and balls, a buggy horse rider raced the sands, and lovers enjoyed the scenery.  The juxtaposition of war and peace was quite pleasing.

This particular beach was landed by Canadian forces.  We took a peep at the local museum before continuing on our way, our GPS winding us through more quaint villages and countryside before reaching the highway.

We decided to have dinner at Caen, a city heavily bombed during the war.

Reaching downtown, we found a little cafe by the temporary skating rinks that are ubiquitous, and very popular with kids, in this part of Europe.  Of course we forgot our French customs and expected a dinner menu at 5:45 pm.  Instead we satisfied ourselves with hot chocolates and crepes, and picked up some McDonalds takeaways on the highway home. 

Normandy was as charming as we expected, and aside from a few grumpy ones we found the locals to be friendly enough.  We recommend the calvados.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Rhine River area of Germany

Lucerne, Switzerland

the Swiss Alps at Murren, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland

the French Alps

Geneva, Switzerland

Lyon, France

Paris, France

Rouen, France

Normandy Beaches of France

Brugge, Belgium



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