Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

∑ Caen, Normandy, Northern France
∑ GMT +1:00 hour

Cherbourg... move along
Cherbourg has little to entice the average traveller, especially those, like us, who are entering the country. So we had decided long ago that we'd simply pass through on route to Caen, a more attractive city 200km or so east of Cherbourg, and use it as a base for exploring the nearby Normandy beaches. But let's not diss Cherbourg altogether; it does mark our first port of call on this trip and for that alone the town deserves a line or two here. Well, all we can come up with that might be of interest to you has to do with the port itself (which doesn't say much for the town itself); it was, for a period in 1944 during the D-day landings, the busiest port in the world. No doubt that would have impressed Napoleon, that small French general guy who, the odd military disaster aside, is widely regarded as one of the greatest commanders ever to have lived. He inaugurated the transformation of Cherbourg's rather poor, but perfectly situated, natural harbour into a major transatlantic port by means of massive artificial breakwaters. An equestrian statue in the harbour commemorates his boast that in Cherbourg he would "recreate the wonders of Egypt", Well, we're not quite sure what he meant by that and although there are, as yet, no pyramids nearer than the Louvre in Paris, he did succeed in providing the city with one of the biggest fortified harbours in the world.

Stepping off an overnight ferry and shortly after onto a high-speed SNCF train to Caen was a nice start to the trip. However the walk from the Caen train station to the hotel we had booked wasn't. It turned out to be longer than we thought it would be, which wasn't good considering the weight we had on our backs. But we forgot all that once we finally got settled into the cozy, creeky Hotel St Etienne and set about having a look around the town.

Caen, capital and largest city of Basse Normandie (one of Frances 26 regions), is the city that nine hundred years ago was the favoured residence of William the Conqueror. He liked it so much that he made the city the capital of Northern Normandy before setting about building an impressive castle and a few Abbeys. Today certain parts of the city remain impressive; namely its impressive ring of ramparts (that no longer have a castle to protect), numerous churches and the aforementioned Abbeys. We spent this afternoon arrived walking around the castle grounds and the pedestrian precincts of the compact downtown area. Nice and all as the ramparts and its surrounds are (see the pictures) the real reason for coming here was because of the proximity of the town to the Normandy D-Day beaches (Caen itself, like most of the towns and villages around here, was devastated during World War II). So tomorrow we up a gear and turn into full-time tourists. With an early start we'll hopefully get the bus to an area of France I, as something of a WWII buff, have always wanted to see. But before we sign off for now here are a few 'observations' we had from our first full day on the road. More to follow, no doubt.

Day 2 Observations (August 15th 2007)

∑ Don't the French know what a backpacker is?
We got some weird and prolonged stares from folks on the streets making our way to the train station in Cherbourg and to our hotel once we arrived here in Caen. They've either never seen a backpacker before (unlikely) or were wondering how Meg was managing to move at all with that bag on her back (more likely).

∑ Both Cherbourg and Caen are ghost towns
Everything seems closed and there were few people out and about. There has to be a reason for it.... it's a Wednesday in the middle of August after all. We'll let you know what it is when we when we find out ourselves.

∑ Old times
They still smoke, or are allowed to smoke, in bars and cafťs over here. That was a disappointment to both of us.

∑ Poop & scoop
Watch your step; there is dog poop all over the place. Poop and scoop folks, poop and scoop.

∑ Just as you'd expect
Here a CitroŽn, there a CitroŽn, everywhere a CitroŽn (& a Renault, & a Peugeot)... but we are in France after all.

And an observation Meg picked up on (I'd have never know this one).

∑ French french
The French french is way quicker than Meg's french... and more beautiful and melodic... whatever that means.
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Where I stayed
Hotel St Etienne
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