Day Four

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Tigres de Voyage

May 14, 2002

Caen to Bayeaux - Abbeys and Armies

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Caen: A New Car and A New Friend

Peace Museum / Musee du Paix

Ousterhaus, Arromonches

Isigny, GrandChamps-Maisly

Day 03 Return to Main Page Day 05


Once around Caen: A New Car and A New Friend


Dave: This was a strange morning for us. We both had trouble dragging out of bed after our late dinner and walk in the rain. We both slept soundly but had been chilled to the bone and walked to exhaustion. This was our morning to pick up our first car, we would keep it for three days, driving across Normandy, then return it in Rennes to head back to Paris.

I was up and showered first, in our teeny-tiny French bathroom. We had layed our clothes and umbrellas out to dry last night, but they were all soundly cold and damp. We watched "Morning Live" as I got myself dressed. We had decided to take a small risk today (against Lyn's wishes) and have me set out alone on foot back to Hertz at the Gare du Caen (train station) while Jesse stayed behind, showered and changed at his own pace, and organized our laundry and luggage. He could be a little more flexible with packing today, as we would have a car when I returned! The walk to the Gare was rather boring, and today I knew my way. There would be no confusing cut backs and cross overs (in the rain) like yesterday, but the traffic and construction was just as bad, as they busily built their new trolly line. I took several pictures of interesting signs along my way, and was at Hertz in just about 15 minutes.

Mon Ami at Hertz en Caen FranchI stepped into the small office as the lone counter attended spoke animatedly on the telephone to somebody. When finished he turned to me with a delightful grin and a chipper "Bon Jour!". Oh dear, I said, "English?" (I was still "le poulet" about speaking French). "No", he said, pointed to the empty spot at the counter beside him. "Ten Minutes", he added, motioning me to take a seat.

No way, I thought, I have rented cars a hundred times, and could do this with just grunts and hand gestures. "Non, Merci", and fishing Lyn's note out of my pocket, "Rezervazion, si vous plait", and holding the sheet out, I pointed to the numbers (sparing him my awful French rendition of those nine digits). I presented my license and he whacked away at his keyboard. I added "Merci, Monsuir", and he grinned. As he typed, I paced about and enjoyed the various guides and posters, thinking how such transactions always seemed to take longer in France than the USA, and how more than "ten minutes" had already elapsed. I pointed to the "Hertz Club Gold" sign and asked "Club d'Or? Oui?" "Non!", he replied making fun of his American employer: he dropped his musical French accent to poke fun at all Americans: "Klu-buh, Ghol-duh". Then, he (and I) smiled from ear to ear.

He printed and I signed the contract, (then I read it) and the numbers did not match my note from home. Oh no! (Montreal all over again) How on earth would I communicate this? I pantomimed concern: eyebrows, frown, head scratch, lip bite; held up the two papers showing him the different numbers. Oh yes, he explained it all very quickly (in French, of course), but I sat dumbfounded while we both sat in silence for a moment. He then pantomimed showing the "extra charges", adding them up. I would learn about renting a car in France versus the USA, that all charges are spelled out beforehand and match EXACTLY what you pay at drop off. In the USA, the papers at pick-up match the reservation, but all the add-on fees (taxes, airport fees) are added on upon return. I was afraid of a "double whammy", but instead was simply experiencing France's equivalent of "full disclosure".

I verified our drop off would be in Rennes but could not pronounce either city. He had fun teaching me Caen ("Khon") and Rennes ("Rhun"), but to this day my American mouth cannot say either. Don't even ask about Cannes and Rouen. I won't ask directions in France without a map in my hand! He pointed to "H25" in the box marked drop-off and repeated "Ruhn". "Oui, merci" I smiled.

"Map?", "no, no". I tried to tell my story, "A Pied" (on foot). He was confused so I pointed to my shoes, and made the little walky guy with my fingers. "American, a Pied, sans Auto". then pretended to walk about. "Kuhn", "Castille", "Abbey du Homme", "Abbey du Dames"..... " A PEID!!" then looked forlornly, "no, no carte".

He stepped from around the counter, so I lead us to the front door and opened it. As I began to step out, I turned to see him standing with a plaintive face. "Oui, Monsuir?" he asked, then slowly turned toward the back door where the car was parked in the back lot! "Si vous plait", he motioned to the front street, inviting me to see if I could find a car out there. No less deadpan was his face than Buster Keaton. The car (out back) was fine, a grey Renault. It was large by European standards, with a roomy interior but a small European footprint. It was a manual transmission (naturally), and he pointed to the gauge. "Dee-sal" he said for me (NOT unleaded  "Benzine Sans Plomb" en Francais). Oh? I added concerned eyebrows and wide-open eyes. "Diesal en Caen? Diesal en Bayeaux? Diesal en Rennes? Oui?". "Oui, oui, oui he calmed me, "deisal OK". then added "Diesel" to make sure I completely understood the big Red sticker on the face of the fuel gauge. OK.

He was delightful, I started the engine. Then we shook hands. He added "Au Reviour" and headed back inside. I sat a bit adjusting the seats, the mirrors, finding the gauges, setting the fan and vents. Then I went to back out, and could not. I pushed on the shift knob, then pulled it, then looked for a button or a twister. Nothing. There was, of course, a safety on reverse and I could not find it. Sheepishly, I shut off the engine and went back inside. "Monsuir? Pardone?" I put on a grin, "Reverse?". He smiled, grinned, his eyes twinkled (and rolled a little). He shook he head, followed me to the car, then jumped in and showed the small ring that head the leather boot over the stick shift.  He pulled up the ring, and dropped the car into reverse. He pointed to the alley exit and reminded me "Droit, Droit" (Dwah, Dwah: Right and Right to exit). We shook hands again, and this time he stood and waited for me to drive away.

Suddenly, I had left the country of "Pedestria", but what a surprise as all of the arrogant Frenchman that had been stepping in front of cars, were suddenly stepping in front of me! Sans Pied, Avec Voiture! Way more than half an hour had elapsed and his English-speaking partner was still nowhere to be seen (so much for 'ten minutes'). And the clock was ticking with Jesse back at the hotel.

Our little euro-car at the hotel in CaenI drove back to the hotel, and found that I had not noticed a small parking lot behind the building. I was wondering how I was going to 'double-park' the car. But I would only be a few minutes, so I parked (along the fence) and walked around front. Our French hostess was very concerned, chattering, pointing to her watch. Then chattering more! Not a word in English. This was delightful yesterday, but the extreme anxiety made it less enjoyable this morning. I did the universal calm down gesture, finger spread palms down slow vertical motion, all the while pantomiming a big smile and slow large nod. "Yeesss!  Yeeesss!" and I headed up the stairs. The maid was cleaning the room next to ours, and Jesse was very agitated, and upset. It was no big deal, but I had left him alone and, indeed, a crisis had developed. We were to check-out by 11am. It was 10 minutes to eleven, but I had "disappeared" so to speak. THANK GOD I had not waited for the English speaking person at Hertz!

Jesse had us packed, but did not have the presence of mind to start taking the luggage to the lobby to wait for me there. He was mostly dressed, but still confused. He had not wanted to fully pack the suitcases (ala for the train) and therefore he would have been hauling open bags of dirty underwear down the stairs had I not arrived just in the nick of time. He had to tell the story, sitting on the bed, and I kept making the universal gesture for "get moving" (broad sweeping forward arm swings in unison from the knees up and outward) and "finish" (spinning the forearm in a circle from a stationary shoulder and elbow). We grabbed the stuff, and headed downstairs. I poked into the other room, and said simply "Pardone, Si Vous Plait, Au Reviour, Merci" and nodded and waved and made sure she knew we were out. It was here that we looked up and learned the short hand French term "Oost", which translated as "Scram" in our little cheat list.

In the lobby, our Francophone hostess wanted so badly to tell us her story, and I thought it would be fun to try to bond with her, my telling her a little about us. But we had such a bad experience with finding the place, and her dinner recommendation, and now this little circus this morning, that I consciously left without taking her picture for this page (the biggest insult I know). And I still feel that way. I tried to tell her about dinner at L'Etoile (the star). I said "lay-E-Twah" even pointing to the ceiling and using the finger thumb pinch to say a "small thing" in the sky. She had a French-English dictionary and I found "etoile" and pointed to it. Ah, she said "E-Twah" (which sounded exactly like I had been saying!). Oui, Brasserie de l'Etoile, but the effort had been so taxing as to make the conversation totally pointless.

I thought it would be fun to try to tell her that we "home school" Jesse, and that we are in Normandy due to his cooking us "Normandy Sauce" as a home school project. I pointed to Jesse and said "Ecole" (school), and Oui? Then added "Maison" (house). Pointed to me and added "Professor". She was stupefied (again). The point soon became pointless, but I tried one more time. "Ecole"-"Maison", "Ecole-Cuisine-Normand", and she stared blankly, blinking her eyes. We had all laughed when she told HER story about Jesse saying "CHECK OUT", which she parroted and showed that she couldn't find in the dictionary. (duh, its an idiom!). I had added "Sortie" (exit) and later we learned "Oust" (scram!) as an all purpose word meaning "time to go". We had been good sports for her, getting the point of her story, but she was simply lost. I might have tried talking German instead. I thought about the conversation for a long time, then figured that "Ecole" "Maison", rather than Home-School, might translate as "School-house". So I pointed to him and told her I was building a school house or something. No wonder. Later, I figured I might have said "Ecole" "Residence" for Schooling in our Home. But who know, and come to think of it, who cares?

Many 2-star hotels in Caen spoke only FrenchWe packed the car, and I excitedly told Jesse about the delightful guy at Hertz. We drove around a bit, to the places we had walked in the rain yesterday. We stopped and took a picture of "Brasserie de L'Etoile" (in the daylight) for the web-page. Then I headed us back to Hertz. We would need a picture of my friend for the web page.

I pulled through the back way, parking in "my spot", and brought the camera and Jesse in with me. When he saw me, he looked immediately concerned (had I wrecked the car? Had I filled it with Unleaded?). When I showed him the camera, he knew immediately! The empty seat was now filled with a lovely young woman who spoke English with a French accent directly from spy movies. "Can I help you, sir?" she asked. "Non, Merci, Photograph, Mon Ami" I said to her (but actually to him).

I went to pose us at the counter, but he grabbed my shoulder and walked us outside. Then we all looked up at the sun (he knew about casual photography) then he positioned us to get optimal light and to get the car in the shot. We took the picture, and since I always take two in these cases (just in case) I added "Encore" and switched our sides. I pulled out a web-card for him, and wrote "Une Mois" (one month) on the back, and pointed to the URL. He took my elbow and lead us to his office, fired up his terminal, and we brought up our site. He peeled off a business card from his desk, and showed me the email address on it. I committed to write him as soon as this page was finished. We smiled and shook hand and patted each others shoulders while Jesse signaled it was time to go. But I wanted just one more minute, then we headed out. I was so very glad to have made a new friend. Mon Ami en Caen!


Peace Museum / Musee du Paix


Dave: We drove once about Caen, stopping to send Jesse into a small Patisserie to grab us sandwiches, tarts, and juice. We circled around a couple times, getting stuck in traffic and the horrible street construction. We finally got stuck behind a schoolbus and said "enough is enough". We pointed the car toward the "Museum of Peace".

As we parked in the lot, I said a gentle "BonJour" to the people getting out of the car next to ours and the chimed "BonJour Monsiur". When one asked the other "are you ready to go?" I added in my best American accent. "Awright, where are you from". They were from California, and raved about museum, stating that every book made it a "must see". You know, in the end the museum was nice, but don't let yourself get bullied into a visit if you are not fond of such things. We found it to be satisfactory, but not of our particular interest (military artifacts and geopolitical development). I liked the battle maps, and the broad historical perspectives of the various turning points leading up to World War Two and its various battles and flows. Just because that was my personal interest.

The museum was very nice, with two auditorium presentations going on at various times, and a walkthough timeline with fairly standard museum presentation items (blown up posters of correspondence, pictures of various characters, maps, newspaper headlines, artifacts and mementos, etc). We spent a little over an hour and it was time to go. We stopped at the gift shop to purchase post cards and a small souvenir, and were on our way.

The docent suggested we visit the "Jar-denne du Wuzzel" and we both had a double-take. The "Garden of Wuzzels"? Would we find Ellaroo and Butter-Bear? I went to the post card rack and found one showing "jardains to ouseaux", actually pronounce Jar-Dan du Woo-So (not Wuzzle). Woo-So, of course, is "bird" or "songbird" so it was a garden of birds. No, we would be pressing on to the Normandy beaches instead.

Museum of Peace in Caen (Musee de Paix)

Jesse in front of Caen's Peace Museum

Museum of Peace in Caen (Musee de Paix)

Presentations of D-Day era Military Equipment

Mural at Museum of Peace in Caen (Musee de Paix)

Jesse was taken by this painted mural


Ousterhaus, Arromanches


We were finished in Caen so we drove toward the beach, to Oosterhaus, just getting the hang of the stick-shift diesel car and the other French drivers. The route was nothing special, 2-lanes, and we followed the signs to UK ferry. We passed the signs to Pegasus bridge, an early D-Day battle where British paratroopers captured and held the strategic crossing, but we did not stop to visit.

Ouserhaus was a nice little town, we looped it and stopped at a Boulangerie for tarts, Jus d'Pomme, et Eau. The young woman at the bakery spoke only French, so we spoke the universal language of pointing. She was very worried that we meant "or" instead of "and" and she kept trying to ask which ones to put back. "Non", I said, "Un, Deu, Twa", all of them. She was wondering where we will store the extras. I didn't have the heart to tell her we would be ordering another round at another Boulangerie in another 45 minutes."Chaud?" (Hot?), we asked, for the quiche. She pointed to her microwave and we all laughed. One tart was Custard for dessert. One Quiche tart was Ognion (onion) another one was labeled "Thon". What is that? Ah, whatever, we'll try it.

We ate in the car, and took pictures of ourselves.  The tarts were Delicious! Marvelous! YUCK! Hey, this last one is Tuna Fish! We looked up "Tuna" in the phrase book. Sure enough, Thon. We were very careful to be sans-Thon for the rest of the trip, and it did show up on various "Plat du Jour" choices in the coming days.

We drove along the beach from Oosterhaus to Arromanches. Ordinary stuff, like all beach roads and beach towns everywhere. Only this was the English channel, and every few kilometers was a tribute or sign of the D-Day invasion. Here to the east it was mostly British and Canadian landings. All of them referred in French to "d'Embarkment", reminding us that the US "Invasion" of Europe, from a French perspective, was an "Arrival" instead.  We couldn't help but ponder how nearby Omaha beach required the GI's to scale cliffs in the face of raining gunfire and lobbing shells while these flat locations only required driving up onto a flat beach and promenade.

In Arromanches we stopped to visit the D-day museum associated with the artificial "Mulberry" harbor. Huge pieces of cement still remain in the channel. We tried, again and again, to photograph the huge remains, but it just wouldn't show. The museum had wonderful dioramas, with scale model ships, showing the configuration of the harbor. It had required scuttling 10 or so ships and connecting their sunken hulls with huge cement blocks floated over from hiding in England. It created a paved highway out into the channel to provide the Allies quick and steady embarkation of supplies, trucks, tanks, etc. Incredible scale, incredible engineering. The museum was ok, with D-Day uniforms, medals, mementos from the period. The most eerie item  was a German reconnaissance photo of the harbor taken around the middle of July, 1944. It all seemed very vulnerable to bombing, and there were obviously German planes overhead from time to time.

After the museum, we headed our little Renault to Bayeaux (once around) then 10 more miles onto Isigny to check into the hotel before 9:30 (as Lyn had reminded us only ten times so far today).

Lunch time in Ousterhaus

Lunch in Ousterhaus

The beach near Ousterhaus and English Channel

Jesse, the beach, the English Channel

Beachfront near Ousterhouse

A beach town, slightly before summer holiday season

Avenue of the Beach (not the Plague)

"Plage" is Beach Ave, not the "Nior Morte"

The Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches

The Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches

The Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches

The remains of the Mulberry harbor are immense, but cannot be easily photographed 


Hotel in Isigny, Dinner in GrandChamps-Maisly


After the museum at Arromanches it was getting late, so we thought through our schedule for the next two days and beat it straight to Isigny. Lyn had reminded us 10 times that we must check in by 9:30, and we arrived easily at 7:30. The Hôtel de France has earned its two stars, and is truly a simple motel layout one block from the Isigny town square. Our room contained the standard French issue twin beds. The pleasant surprise was paying two star rates!

The desk was staffed by 3 or 4 18 year old femmes, and I stopped myself from asking to see their mother as we checked in. We needed a laundromat, and they could not / would not speak English for us. The girls were quickly embarrassed when spoken to and blushed. We used the word "laval" (wash) and pointed to our clothes, repeated the sign "lav-a-mat" we had seen elsewhere. Oui, oui, not in Isigny, but in Cocoa. Oui, OK, we said, then went to the room to look at the map to find the city of "Cocoa".

We wouldn't have to do laundry for another day, wanted to find a place, find the price, etc, today. No Cocoa was on the map. As we left for dinner and exploring, we took our map back to office for one more try. "Si vious plait, show lav-a-mat". We get out our French cheat sheet. "on the Carta". No, it is "Car". The French, it seems, swallow the last consonant on each word, inhaling it and only implying its presence. Nobody can understand my French because I actually pronounce them. Oh, "Car", not "Car-te". Sure, here, she points to GrandChamps-Maisly. Oh. "Grahnd-Shamps", when properly slurred, sounds like "Cocoa" to American ears but is actually "GrahnSha" or even "GroSho". Duh, the laundromat was in the next town, where we were heading for dinner anyway.

We drove the six block length of Isigny in 10 minutes then headed the seven miles to "Cocoa" (Grandchamps), laughing all the way. We couldn't find the laundromat, and the town was only one mile long with only two main streets and all the sidewalks duly rolled up. It was shut down tight except for the two restaurants on the pier.

The Hôtel-de-France in Isigny sur Mer

Our Hotel in Isigny sur Mer

The little town square in Isigny sur Mer

The little town square in Isigny sur Mer

 Sortie sur Mer

Grandchamp had a large marina for sailboats.
Careful where you park! Sortie sur Mer.

Both seemed too hoity-toity to us and neither offered the "Normandy" cuisine we really wanted. Oh well, we were screwed, but had no other options for dinner.  We went in, sweaty, dirty, tired, and in a mixture of jeans and jackets. Everybody else was "dressed" and sipping wine around small tables, clinking china. Yet nobody looked up. Nobody gasped. And we were seated at a regular issue table in the middle of the room, not against some post in back by the kitchen. It was my quick guess that everyone was on vacation.

Both our server and the hostess say they speak "a little" English, but of course they both speak "a lot" but were either too shy or too proud to admit it. We ordered our dinners in French (en Francais), relaxing and teasing and taking extra time to check each menu entry against our French word guide. We were definitely Sans-Thon (ravioli du thon? Bleh!). I had Foie Gras (goose liver) and lamb everything. Of course, everything was delicious and haute cuisine. This was neither the first nor last time our dinner bill was larger than our hotel bill. We were self-conscious and uncomfortable that the restaurant seemed so upscale and we were so underdressed that we didn't want to make a scene by taking dinner pictures. Consequently we have no pictures of our delightful little dinner or the little restaurant or the little city or the little harbor of Grandchamps. We got over that shy nonsense after tonight, and took our camera to each restaurant and took pictures at every meal for the rest of this trip. Of course the dinner was fabulous, as were the French desserts and the glass of Calvados (the region's famous distilled apple cider) and, yes, a cup of cocoa for Jesse.

We looked up "Bizarre Question" in French (literally "question bizarre") and explained that we needed a Laval (j'besoin laval, Grandchamps? tout pres?) pointing to our clothes. In doing this, we officially passed the "college try" French test, and embarrassed ourselves enough that our hostess would now speak English to us. Yes, there is one, but first we must pronounce it correctly! (One of our memories of this trip). Lavah, c'mon now, say it ... "lavah". Now "Ma-Tique". Oh Lavah-matique. It is droit, then gouche (dwa, then goush). Sure enough, after we finished dinner we turned right, then left and we found the place just two blocks from the restaurant. We scouted it, (open till 10pm, takes Euro coins), marked it on the GPS for tomorrow night, then drove back to Isigny.

The little motel car-park is packed at 11, but we slip the car into a corner area that looks like an employee break picnic table. Who cares, we are off to bed. We called home, and were still trying to find a way to upload pictures for Lyn. The motel had an old-fashioned French telephone jack, but there was no local number to dial in Isigny. There would be no upload of pictures for Lyn tonight.

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Last Update: March 18, 2008