France - Vive La France (August 25th - August 29th)
Cherbourg - Valognes - Bayeux - Vire - St. Hilaire

Distance biked so far: ( 1,051  km)

Welcome to France.
I arrived in Cherbourg France at 11:00 am on Wednesday August 25th after a 17.5 hour ferry ride from Rosslare.
Instead of reserving a cabin which you would share with 3 others, I reserved a "reclining" seat. I carry a sleeping bag and mat and remembered from prior travel in Europe that most people in the reclining seat sections end up sleeping on the floor. If you buy a reclining chair in your home you assume that it will actually recline but the chairs on ferries are like those on airplanes, they recline about 2 inches. I don't usually sleep sitting up next to vertical so was happy to find a place on the floor and got a decent sleep. Apparently word is out and in our section of about 30 seats, not one was actually occupied, people were sprawled out all over the place. It was nice to be 21 years old again for a short time because when I got up in the morning, I sure didn't feel that young. I'm starting to appreciate the value in a good mattress.
This part of France is in the Province of Normandy, famous for the 3 - C's of Cows, Camembert and Cider but to most it is known as the site of the D-Day landings and subsequent Battle of Normandy. June 6th, 1944 was the day that the invasion by the Allies of the European continent would occur with the Americans landing at the beaches of Omaha and Utah; the British (and others like the Polish, Australians, New Zealand etc.) at Gold and Sword with the Canadians at Juno. It was truly a world wide effort to defeat Hitler. It's amazing to think that it did take the entire world to defeat 1 country.

Imagine trying to land 176,000 men, 20,000 vehicles, 3,000 guns, 1,500 tanks and 5,000 armoured vehicles within 48 hours on beaches occupied by the Germans. Britain's incredible battles with Germany years earlier over the skies of London during the Battle of Britain meant the Allies could have mastery of the skies over the beaches, without which the mission would have been mass suicide. It also would have been a different ending if Germany knew what was coming but they were convinced the invasion would come at Calais opposite Dover, due to the proximity of the shores. So in addition to the logistical nightmare, the Allies adopted various deception operations to convince the Germans that the attack would be at Calais. It's not easy hiding so many boats, men and equipment but they were all docked around various ports in England in advance of the attack. In addition, false news reports were leaked to neutral journalists and in one case a body double of General Montgomery of the British Army was used to give credibility to an attack in Spain. The attack and subsequent battles ultimately led to the defeat of Germany and at a great cost to all those involved.

We tend to focus on the events of 9/11 which is the most dramatic event in most of our lives but the reality is it pales in comparison to the number of deaths resulting from D-Day, the Battle of Normandy and the ultimate victory for the Allies.

I cycled to the town of Bayeux in Normandy, the first town liberated by the Allies after D-Day. American, British and Canadian flags are everywhere as are signs in restaurants with thank you notes to those liberating France. France was under German occupation in 1944 and they have never forgotten the sacrifice. It is quite a scene to witness and I can only imagine what it is like on June 6th.

I spent an entire day in Bayeux to visit the war museum (excellent museum) and spend the time out of the rain. It has been raining heavily for 3 days and when I arrived in Bayeux, I decided to stay at a Hostel instead of camp. It's just no fun setting up and taking things down in the rain. Accommodations in France as in Ireland are easy to come by due to the downturn in the economy however in Ireland you get the sense that people are at least still working. I was in Bayeux and noticed that many places open from about 10:00 (10:15) am to noon (11:50 am), and then from about 2:00 (2:15) pm to just before 5:00 (4:45) pm, at least that is the case if they are not on strike. With 5.5 hour working days, I can't imagine why there are so many strikes in France.

That said, the French certainly know how to live well and since I'm not working at all, who am I to comment? They have fantastic coffee which is served with a small piece of chocolate, a simple but great idea. You can get wine in half-bottles (perfect for single travellers) and of course you have the best cheese, although I am partial to Dutch. As noted, Normandy is famous for Camembert, one of the soft cheeses and the hostel served it for breakfast (along with great coffee, chocolate croissants, fresh bread and the ever present nutella. It's giving the full Irish breakfast a run for the money. Neither country seems to put too much of an emphasis on a healthy start to the day but for a hungry cyclist I am trying to adjust. I always seem to be hungry and an hour after breakfast, am usually looking for more food.

I was thinking of the French Paradox after eating my breakfast of cheese, bread, coffee and nutella. For those of you who don't know, it is the term assigned to the seemingly contradictory fact that the French have far less incidents of heart disease when compared with those in North America despite their large consumption of cheese, wine, fois gras and other fatty foods. One explanation was that they get more exercise by walking which is true but has to be negated by the far higher rate of smoking. I think the answer is they have less stress due to working 5.5 hours per day and then as a double impact on those of us from North America, we increase our stress levels because nothing is open. Hey, it's a theory.

On Saturday August 28th I cycled south and slightly west to the town of Vire. The terrain was still pastures but some hills snuck in. If this is the flat part of France I will have my work cut out in the weeks ahead.  Just past Vire I noticed a sign for camping and it turned out the camp is on a farm.