A Snippet of Normandy

We rented a car and headed to the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer, where Juno Beach, one of five Allied forces landing sites, is located. Doing a little more than the “suggested” speed limit of 130 km/h, the 250 km drive from Paris went quickly.

The countryside is bucolic with green meadows and rolling hills, dairy cattle and stone buildings. It’s hard to imagine the devastation this part of the country saw in the 1st and 2nd World Wars. At Juno Beach, a beautiful and impressive memorial rises from the dunes and beside it stands the Inukshuk built by Nunavut’s Peter Irniq. We paid for the tour which is informative and gets you inside the remains of a German lookout bunker and onto the very beach where so many young soldiers bled their lives away 65 years ago. It’s chilling.

The actual beach is located at Courseulles-sur-Mer, a quaint fishing village and popular tourist destination in the summer. This August day was quiet and we found a place for lunch at the Brasserie Martin. With our language skills somewhat more acceptable, we ordered a a bucket of fresh-from-the-sea mussels followed by a salad of butter lettuce, boiled eggs, duck, roasted ham, tomatoes, pan fried potatoes and soft crostinis spread with foie gras: an unusual combination of foods, and the flavour was incredible. It was one of the best meals our whole trip.
When we plan vacations, we spend hours researching hotels. The Hotel Bristol in Caen (20 kms south of Courseulles-sur-Mer) came up as a favourite in the area…but I’m not sure why. It was clean, yes, but that was about all it had going for it. Two single beds pushed together took up 90% of the room and the bathroom was the size of a refrigerator with the shower taking up most of the space. No A/C meant we had to open the windows (that’s good), but a bar across the street meant we got to hear its noisy patrons until 2 a.m. (not good). We should’ve joined them I suppose but at midnight instead we went out in search of food.

We wandered around until we found a restaurant that was a) open, b) had a menu we could read and c) had food that was appealing. I admit we were cranky. It was a long day, we were tired and we were hungry. We ordered the seafood platter.

I’ve never eaten winkles before. They look like tiny snails, and snails I love, so how bad could a winkle be? Well, these winkles tasted like they’d been sitting at the bottom of a boat for weeks and to make matters worse, they ran out of welks, so we got double the amount of winkles. We didnt want to offend our waiter (who had already huffed at us for sitting on the “drinks only” side of the restaurant instead of the “food and drinks side”) so we tried eating as many as we could. Bad idea…I paid for it dearly the next day. I think our winkles were wonky.

Caen is home to the Chateau Ducal – a castle that William the Conqueror built. It is open to the public and also houses the beautiful Museum Beax Arts. But it was Tuesday, and the museum was closed. Who closes shop on a Tuesday? Ga! Thankfully the shops in the “old part” of Caen were starting to open… it was after all almost 11 a.m.

The shopping in Caen was fantastic. It is a surprisingly hip little town with great boutiques that offer gorgeous shoes and clothing, kitchen finds, calvados (which Normandy is known for), and incredible patisseries and boulangeries.

The little bit of Normandy we saw was beautiful. Caen is a town worth exploring, as is the whole area but our next stop was Reims in the Champagne region where I knew I could wash that winkle taste away and if it took more than one or two bottles of the bubbly to accomplish that task, so be it! I was ready.