Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Normandy Landings

brittany ferries terminal desk portsmouth international ferry port3 months ago, I travelled by train up to the old smoke (A Capital Idea) and I investigated the Tower of London with its cheap 'Crown Baubles' and Tower Bridge. As with all trips to London, there were many places (such as the Monument to the Great Fire, London Dungeons and any number of museums) that we didn't get to see. Plus I haven't bought that hotel in Mayfair yet.
boy on steel railings by harbourside cherbourg franceSo we asked the train ticket man and he said that'll be £59 please, and we said pull the other one my son, it hath baubles on, that must be your special price where you get your own carriage and dancing girls. But it wasn't.
So we said Poldarks to you, mate, I bet we can find cheaper tickets to somewhere funnier. And we found some for £58.
Cherbourg is a military port whose defensive sea walls were efficiently fortified by those nice thoughtful Germans when they visited, and at last, I needed my passport to get there.
cherbourg port authority swing bridge and lock by odeon cinemaA taxi picked us up at 0800 but at that point, I didn't know why. It took us to the ferry port, which was a Clue. Once I'd got the tickets, we got the call to Gate #1 and a very old man scanned our tickets by the knife amnesty box. We didn't put any knives in it.
In the customs hall everyone was getting X-rayed and cavity-searched but they took one look at me and waved us through: a definite hint there for any knife-smugglers who don't want cameras up their botties.
le redoutable tourist attraction cherbourg engine roomThe ShuttleBus drove us about 30 yards across the car park and dropped us off again; a McJob if ever I saw one. I watched the crew of the ship wedging cars into the vehicle decks and had a huge scout around the upper deck with its shop and we took window seats even though French waitresses kept telling us it was going to be a rough crossing and we should move to the back of the boat.
That's when we had our picnic. The kids on the table next to us had Marvel Superhero manuals, and what did I have? The handwriting practice sheets from school! I traced artistically formed lower-case letters as we sped over the waves at 42 knots, bumping and booming, rocking and rolling, lurching and lumbering. I had the whole ship to myself and staggered around quacking with laughter while all the other passengers hid in corners.
cheese eating surrender monkeys Bud lost everything he'd eaten in the last 3 days, one way to diet I suppose.
When we got to Cherbourg our catamaran parked backwards and we got off last because a Frenchman was having an argument with the control panel of the tubular walkway thing and we disembarked obediently and got the ShuttleBus to the other terminal which was miles from the town, would have been a 2 minute walk if we could have gone through the fence but they are a bit allergic to being invaded.
We walked to town and on the way I sat down and complained that I had tired feet before we were even halfway there. In the old port we looked at the lock and the swing bridge and dived down some medieval side streets to find the farmer's market, to buy some Brie cheese for Jof.
jellyfish in aquarium tank under UV black lightThey must have heard us coming because they'd packed up and gone by the time we got there so I said I had tired feet for only the 37th time and demanded pizza. I utterly refused something called Croak Masseur (cheese on toast) because I have neophobe-itis, fear of the unknown. I bought a ship-in-a-bottle in a local tabac but they didn't sell petards (bangers) so the bottlebanks are safe once more. On the pizza-hunt, we found such a device right by the swing bridge and I ordered pepperoni and we sat by the road so that all the cars that stopped at the traffic lights could marvel at our foreign-ness.  Vive la belle France.
cite de la mer tourist attraction cherbourgReplete and rested, I paid the man and we hastened back to a 'Carrefour City' we'd seen on our previous pointless wander-circuit and bought some cheeses and Sirop de Cassis. This is the direct equivalent of going to a French market town at great expense and buying cheese in Little Tesco, where's the romance? Still, we did it.
nazi forttifications hitlers fortress europe The Cite de la Mer is a splendid tourist venue housed in an old railway terminus building and it's right next to the ferryport. Paying a mere 31 Euros for entry, I headed straight for Le Redoutable. This surrendered nuclear submarine is very big, but for some reason was not sporting the traditional French military flag of a white cross on a white background.
We were genially forced into accepting guide-telephones and so you go through all the best bits of the sub with a phone strapped to your head trying not to clang your noggin on the roof or trip up on exposed nuclear cables and pipes.
They have torpedoes and atomic warheads but they've all been switched off and the reactor has been removed. Ditching the phones, we practically sprinted through the history of deep sea diving exhibition and reached the aquariums. Aquaria? They are very good indeed, much better than the Blue Reef in Pompey and didn't smell of otters at all.
cherbourg international  ferry port tour de rondEveryone seemed to be French. They have jellyfish and stonefish and a giant octopus and the deepest abyssal tank in Europe and spotted cowries and horseshoe crabs and lobsters. Then we had just enough time to tour the shop (a shirt with divers on, a submarine hat, Lego-alike nuclear sub, Eiffel tower keyring, medallion and squashed 5 Eurocent coin) and it was time to leave.
We didn't do the Titanic Exhibition or the Walk Under The Sea. My feet were falling off but we absolutely HAD to route march past our own ferry to the terminal. The staff just waved us through and we re-acquired the ShuttleBus with 4 minutes to spare. I collapsed on the floor of the bus.
The ferry was a welcome sight and as soon as we'd left the harbour a baby vomited copiously and comically behind us. I bought some Lego and a book and watched the big TV while the staff clustered around yet another vomiting girl: I ran around like a maniac investigating all the 'Acces Interdit' areas.
boy on international ferry approaching portsmouth harbourThere were crashes from the bar area of the Chunder Blunder Express as the ship pitched and yawed and zig-zagged across the ocean with tannoy announcements saying sit down everyone. I don't do sea-sickness. In fact, get me another beer, bothered/whatever?
Overall, I guess we spoke to about 15 Frenchies, all told. It's lucky that they make some effort to speak a bit of English because I'm only a beginner ("Messi") and he once got Grade A in French but that was clearly 73 years ago.
Once we'd landed and the ShuttleBus had driven us for 12 seconds, the taxi took us home and I got aching leg syndrome but managed to impress Jof with our haul of booty from foreign climes. A splendid day. She was jealous. Number of miles travelled today: buckets. Number of countries successfully invaded: 1. (OK, it was an easy one, and timed a mere 70 years after Great-Grandad did it...) Time out of house: 11 1/2 hours (again). I had to forego my bath fizzer night and settle for a shower due to running out of day. At 1103 I had finished my ablutions and was discovered asleep in bed under my pillow with my new book stuck in my nostril.

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