What a day I’ve had. I woke up at 0530 AM with huge excitement about the day ahead and a serious fear of missing my ferry. Grabbing a quick cup of tea, I set off down the route I planned the night before with only a few wrong turns in the pitch black of the night!
Reaching the ferry I was questioned by police about having a stamp from Tanzania in my passport. After telling them I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few years ago, they didn’t seem impressed. I joked about it being a whiteout and so actually a waste of a week, but they were not amused. They continued to ask me whether I had any plans to go to China. Startled about this question, I simply responded “no” and then they sent me on my way. Weird.
The ferry had wifi which let me sort out work emails for the day and even do some programming. Whilst leaving the ferry I had an incredibly memorable moment. There was one other bike on top of mine that was made of gorgeous carbon with tt bars that I would have expected to belong to a 20 something year old semi-pro. Finally Mel came down to collect this gorgeous bike, but he was relatively old looking. Just chatting about bikes he mentioned he had just come back from trying to reclaim his title for a 10 mile route time with his bike club in England (as he now lives in Spain). He then mentioned he was 71. This was outrageous as he spent the last 6 months training for this ride! He said he trains with some of the female professionals in Spain and when his heart rate monitor alarms go off because he is pushing himself too hard, he simply turns it off and keeps going. An incredible guy who I hope gets in touch so I can meet him again!
Anyway, I spent some time contemplating the 4 hour long crossing which must have been incredibly tough for the soldiers of the D-Day attacks. I cycled from the port along the coast (into a headwind) for several hours too, but the sun was shining and I was feeling good that I had the opportunity to do such a meaningful trip.
After arriving at the first memorial, I asked some French tourists for a photo of me next to it. After I showed them how to take a photo with my iPhone (pretty straightforward right?), the lady turned it around so that I could see the screen and then looked confused as to why she couldn’t see the screen…after giving it to someone else I got this:
Hey, can you take another one please, you know, not of your finger!
Oh give it to this other woman, she knows what she is doing – she doesn’t even put her finger on the screen. Make sure you get the top of the memorial in too yeah (I pointed to the top of it and the group returned “tête” which means head – so presumably they understood top of the statue!).
The Utah Beach memorials were absolutely stunning, although it seriously surprised me that the dates on most of them showed they were only erected in the past 10 years or so.
Next to the memorials there was a cafe where many people have gone back and inscribed the walls with their personal names or names of family members who perished during the war. I also managed to find this incredible letter (see below) which I hope you can read. It is a letter home from a soldier in Munich dated May 17 1945. He is writing on Hitler’s personal paper and mentions how they beat the crap out of the Germans, but were slowly cleaning up the town they destroyed to win back. He also mentions that the Dachau concentration camp (which I visited many years ago now) was cleared of the dead bodies lying around and the survivors were doing a lot better than when they arrived.
The final cycle to Carentan was about 15km; and feeling good and reflective I decided to take the cycling route signs. After about 5km the road turned to gravel; but fear not, the rain started coming down heavy, and actually the gravel disappeared. Well, sort of; puddles of mud replaced the gravel! A horrible feeling, but on reflection of the places I have visited, nothing compared to being at war.
After being drenched for a good half an hour, travelling slowly in the muddy gravel path and being seriously rained on, I finally reached Carentan. Noticing a short-cut to where I believe I saw potential places to stay on the map, I ran into a B&B sign with the lights on. Di, who runs the place, is an English expat. She mentioned her 18 year old grandson had been backpacking around Europe and the people were so nice to him and so she felt the need to make me dinner, clean my clothes and even give me a discount! It’s now nearly 2200 (french time) and I am ready to pass out!
Tomorrow I am planning on having a lie in (which might only be until about 8am) before heading up to the rest of the D-Day beaches and memorials. Finishing the day in Caen with about 80km of cycling, but lots of site-seeing, and not too much rain…hopefully!