Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cycling in Normandy #3 - More than Beaches

If you think of Normandy in the context of D-Day, you are in danger of thinking only of Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and Pointe du Hoc, but there is so much more to the story. On day three of our tour with French Cycling Holidays, we cycled 25 miles from Granville to Coutances where we took our lunch break.  We started our town tour in front of the Cathedrale de Notre Dame.  You know every French town has a Notre Dame. Coutances is … about 35 miles from Utah Beach and 45 miles from Omaha Beach. It is the linchpin for the North-South roads on the west side of the Normandy peninsula. Because of its strategic position, the town received a great deal of attention from the Allied Air Forces before and during the Normandy invasion.” In fact, 60% of the town of Coutances was destroyed during the Allied bombings, but the church was somehow spared. 

Standing on the promenade in front of the church were large black and white panels detailing the destruction of Coutances in 1944.  We spent some time wandering around looking at the panels that told the story of what happened during the invasion.  The panels were in French, so we Americans relied on the photos to tell the story.

We chose Creperie la Moriniere for our lunch that day, much to the chagrin of the guys who were looking for something heartier.  We all discovered that savory crepes can be hearty. We girls ordered the salmon crepes as our main course, and they were heavenly.  The boys had what I consider hamburger crepes complete with French fries, so there were no complaints after all. An elderly French woman was seated across from us and heard us turning down dessert. Because she didn’t speak English, she asked our server to encourage us to go for it.  We succumbed to her urging and got an ice cream crepe to share amongst us. 

Soon, other patrons were joining in to ask us where we were from and to translate.  We discovered that the elderly woman’s grandparents had died in the Allied bombing of Coutances, but that her mother had survived and still lived there.  She seemed to take in stride that we were Americans and not to look askance at us because of her family’s tragedy.  

On a more cheerful note, folks in the restaurant also commented on our cycling jerseys which read, “Nous p├ędalon pour du vin”  or “We ride for wine.”    Our guides told us the very first day that we should have written, “We ride for Calvados” since that’s the specialty of the region, but hey, we’re uninformed Americans.  And, frankly, after sampling Calvados, I certainly wouldn’t ride for it!  It’s apple brandy that burns as it goes down—not my cup of tea at all. 

After lunch, only the two strongest riders continued on via bicycle.  The rest of us were worn out from strong headwinds and too many uphills before lunch, so we rode in the van to Chateau de la Roque, our overnight home.  

You may recall reading my sentiment about the sag wagon  in an earlier post.  This was neither the first nor the last time I happily climbed aboard during the trip. I only wished I’d made that decision earlier, so I could have enjoyed a glass of wine with my crepe. 

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