Waking up in a parking lot – even a nice one – is a strange way to start a day. We had managed to sleep pretty well however, mostly because the drive had totally tuckered us out. I had arranged with the landlord the night before that we could use the showers, but we were also curious if he’d do anything more for us. I went and asked if he’d give us a discount for the next night, which he did, but only 3€ at that, and in an unfriendly manner, so we decided to forge onwards in the direction of the Allied landing beaches (plages du débarquement allié en Normandie). Your loss, buddy.
But first we had an important stop to make: breakfast on the beach!
I’m not sure exactly where we stopped, as it seemed to take ages of driving along those winding country roads before we found the beach, let alone a place with parking lots without the dreaded “2m” access bar – a scourge we would come to know in the following days. Any route, we were somewhere to the west of Honfleur, directly across from Le Havre. As we munched on our baguette and cheese we watched as ships of all sizes glided by on a surprisingly fast current into the Seine estuary. Despite the windy weather the temperature held out at a steady “almost warm”, reflected in the various states of dress of our fellow beach-goers. You could see everything from beachwear to full winter clothes, a funny sight.
After dusting the sand off our feet we jumped back into Paul and headed off to secure our night’s accommodation. Though I had booked the hostel the night before ahead of time, we had otherwise left things open on the assumption that we’d be able to find something. My impression from thorough (read: occasional) Googling had led me to believe that Normandy has more campsites than gas stations.
We drove steadily westward with a rough goal in mind: Juno Beach, or the village of Courseulles-sur-Mer. After stopping at a few other campsites along the way – one was full, the other too expensive – we finally stumbled across a jackpot, right on the beach itself.
The campsite (Le Champ de Course) sat right up against the beach, a 3 minute walk from our plot. A funny thing happened at the counter: having approached the girl, I dusted off my best BC public school French:
“Bonjour! Parlez-Vous anglais?”
“… as well as French,” she said, without a hint of irony in her voice.
Na ja, we booked the site, then Ms. Smary-Pants’ colleague showed us to our plot, riding ahead of the van on a bicycle. It was downright adorable, which was weird considering how the first girl had spoken to us. Crazy country, France. Nevertheless, we liked the place so much we immediately decided to add another night the next day. The hedges between the plots might have been a bit shabby, but it didn’t matter: we had conveniently arrived at the end of season, so we had the place virtually to ourselves, paradise!
We set up camp and walked along the beach to the nearby village of Bernières-sur-Mer, where the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada landed on 6 June 1944. The iconic hotel (?) still stands on the waterfront, easily recognizable in several of the photographs on the nearby memorative plaques. It was a meditative, reflective walk. We paused to watch people on horseback ride by, the beach today a peaceful well of tranquility against the pushing rhythm of the surf, so unlike the photos we all know of the landing beaches.
We returned to camp in a different mood than we set out with – ready and eager to see what the next few days held. After a simple dinner cooked on Paul’s small propane stove we turned to our guidebook’s map, and began planning the next few days.