August 10 -11, 2013
Since we spent so much time in Holland and Belgium, we knew we would never make it to meet my sister in time if we tried to ride there. So, we went to plan B and rented another car and road-tripped through France. It is really expensive to rent a car in one country and then drop it off in another, so we rented the car in Lille, France on the other side of the border. Chan rode there on his bike, then broke it down, stuck it in the trunk of the rental car and drove back to pick me and all our stuff up. We made a slight diversion on the way to taste what is supposedly one of the best beers in the world, Westvleteren’s 12.
The high status of this beer is certainly partially due to its exclusivity. Westvleteren is a Trappist brewery and only produces 3 beers: the Blonde, the 8 and the 12. All beers come in unlabeled bottles and can only be purchased at the cafe or ordered in advance from the monestary. Considering this was probably our only chance to try these beers, we shared a glass of all three. All three beers were certainly tasty, but not sure if the 12 is the best in the world. We’ll have to continue our exhaustive research before we come to any hasty conclusions!
From left to right: Blonde, 8, 12 Good, Better… BEST???
The next item on the agenda was to head to the north coast to see the Normandy coast and site of the D-Day landings.
Omaha Beach sign
We arrived too late to see the museum, but had plenty of time to explore the beach. Ohama Beach is the actual name of the beach now, adopted officially by the French from the code name used by the Allies. The beach is hemmed in by some steep bluffs, up to 50 meters high. It was almost unbelievable to think that Americans stormed the beach under heavy fire and were successful.
Sunset behind the bluffs
The other surprising thing was that the beach was being used for recreation. There were many war memorials and remnants of the past, but we were just a little shocked to see swimmers, sunbathers and kayakers. It makes sense that the beach would eventually be used for pleasure again, but we just weren’t expecting it.
National Guard Memorial
Chandler also took the opportunity to take a little dip. As usual, I stayed behind to document the occasion.
After Chandler’s swim, we walked around to give him some time to dry off. We found an American memorial on top of a German bunker with a large gun still inside. We also found the museum, but knew it was closed. However, there was a few items of interest on display outside.
Captured German gun in bunker
Tanks and tank trap
The sun was setting and we still had several hours of driving, so we had to hit the road. I wish we had arrived earlier to see the museum and explore the hillside more, but at least we got to see something. The rest of the night was spent driving and it was a little stressful. We discovered there are two Saint George du Bois in France and I had picked and routed us to the wrong one. To the one 400 miles in the wrong direction. Luckily, we were still north of pretty much everything in France, so redirecting wasn’t a problem. We did have a little bit of drama determining if we could drop off the car in a different city than originally planned.
The next day proved to be extremely stressful. It was a Sunday, so pretty much everybody in France has the day off. When I finally got someone on our cellphone from Ulrich, and I had explained the situation in my poor French, we ran out of minutes and the call was cut. We decided to just drop off the car in Angers, which was close to the correct Saint George du Bois and just deal with the situation when things were open on Monday.
So, with one problem taken care of, we next had to refill the gas tank. Normally, not a problem except that French credit card swipes don’t accept American cards. And since it was Sunday, there was no attendant whom we could pay in person. We went to three or four different gas stations before Chandler convinced a very kind woman to use her credit card and then we could pay her in cash.
Eventually, we got the car returned, the bikes put back together and on the road. We went straight to the campground, but first we took a nap. We had spent the night in the car and gotten very little sleep, so when we noticed some trees along the bike path, we strung up our hammocks and enjoyed a snooze. Once refreshed, we continued on to the campground to relax some more.