Blogging from Normandy. Day 2 - Winging it abroad

Driving in France
The British invasion museums.
Cashing in. Kerching!

We decided to visit some of the British invasion museums today. They are the closest to where we are staying, so with baby steps in mind, it seemed like the right thing to do.

Early morning on any of our holidays usually begins we me having a face like a slapped arse and only one eye open as I'm ten coffees and a couple of hours away from full wakefulness.

Today was the opposite. I was up and in the shower before eight o'clock, Mrs Bucko had the face on and moaned like billy O that I had woken her at such an ungodly hour. It was good to have the boot on the other foot as now she knows how I usually feel.

She slept through Stompy from the room above moving all is personal possessions from one side of the room to the other, one at a time. She slept through the crappy campanologist from the church next door to our hotel who did one long series of repetitive bongs from 7am. That was until his arms must have became tired as the bongs slowed down until they stopped, then he managed one last little bong for good measure.

She slept through me getting out of bed, brewing up and having a shower. She finally woke up and started moaning because I opened the suitcase too loudly. ??

She was a little more personable once I had got a coffee and a strawberry tarté into her so we set off in search of some museums. We had talked last night of getting a taxi or figuring out the bus routes. In the end I figured the roads were quite quiet so we may as well use the car. After all, what could possibly go wrong.

The roads were actually quite pleasant to drive on as the traffic was very light. We managed to get lost in the same place both going and returning, ending up going the wrong way on what passes for a motorway around these parts. There were also a couple of times where I got confused on roundabouts and staggered junctions and I just had to close my eyes and hope all worked out well. It did.

We only had a general idea of where we were going. We have two maps, one is far to big and only has the major roads on it, the other is far too small and just about provides directions on how to get out of the hotel.

We did a lot of yelling at French road signs and turning round and retracing our steps, but eventually we found all the places we wanted to see.

The first was the Grand Bunker Museum. (2)

(I don't have any pics at the moment because I bought a memory card reader on ebay that is worth the 99p I paid for it)

The Grand Bunker is a huge fortified position overlooking Sword beach. I brought a pair of binoculars along especially for this because you can apparently see for miles from the top. I found out that you probably could see for miles before somebody put a load of houses and trees blocking the view.

There was a mock up of the beach defences leading up to the bunker. (3) How anybody managed to assault that I'll never know. Living in the bunker itself must a been an experience too, there is very little room, the ceilings are low and all the doors are about a foot shorter than myself.

They had a display of rusted and shell encrusted weapons and equipment that have been found around the beaches over the years. (4) There is probably a hell of a lot of stuff still buried under the sand too. The gift shop sold replicas of all the weapons on display in the museum but there's no way you would get something like that into Britain. Our Government are frightened stiff of even fake guns.

After the bunker we moved onto Pegasus Bridge, the location of the British Airborne landings to take the bridges over the Orne river for the ground troops invading at Sword. (5)

That's quite a museum; it even has a huge replica of the bridge because the real one, just over the road is in daily use.(6) (Update *I'm told this is actually the real bridge and they moved it to the museum when they replaced it*)

There must have been a lot going on last week for the D-Day anniversary because there were a good number of wreaths and tributes around the site. Some of the notes were quite moving.

After Pegasus it was another round of fighting the French road system before finally arriving at the Merville Battery. (7) A sign at the site boasts that the entire system has been left exactly as it was when taken by the British. In truth, all the gun enclosures have been filled in with glass display cases containing war memorabilia so you don't really get any impression of what the battery was like as a working bunker system.

A lot of it has also been blocked off for what must be health and safety reasons. At lest one of the bunkers was half under water.

Mrs Bucko happened to find an expended bullet casing while walking across the grass. We debated for a while as to weather or not she had found a genuine WW2 relic. She decided in the end that it must have been left over from some kind of tribute last week. In truth it did not look 60 odd years old but you can always pretend.

One of the bunkers contained a map which had all the pre-sighted artillery targets. The target marked at the furthest edge of the range was the town of Lion-Sur-Mer where we are staying, apparently 9.6km away from the battery. Now I'm no soldier but I think 9.6km is pretty impressive for accurate shellfire.

The final bunker contained a sound and light show to give you an idea of what the defending Jerries went through when being attacked. The noise of the fake shelling and machine gun fire went right through your bones. At one point it went fairly quiet and there was a sound of a grenade bouncing along the floor at your feet. I found myself cringing involuntarily at that point because I knew what was coming, and it did.

I bet it was no where near reality though. I've read that after a shelling the people in those bunkers would be totally senseless from the concussion. You can't do that to the tourists though, they won't buy anything in the gift shop if you frighten them away.

All these sites had gift shops. The French really know how to cash in on all this with their overpriced tat bazaars. The gift shops were packed with all the usual rubbish you find at Blackpool but instead of saying "I'm with stupid", or "Kiss me quick" on them, they were all emblazoned with the emblems of whatever regiment the museum is dedicated to.

T-Shirts with 'Airbourne Rangers' or caps with '4th Light Infantry Division' on them do not suit fat middle aged tourists.

I suppose it all helps with the upkeep. Mrs Bucko bought a tea towel and a bookmark. I just bought the coffees.

All in all it was a bloody good day. The entry fees are very reasonable and the content is superb.

What struck me most about the whole day was the location of the Grand Bunker. It is in a small rural area in a lot of rows of rustic houses. You're walking down a little tree lined avenue, turn a corner and there it is, a huge German fortification left over from the war. Turn the next corner and you're in another picturesque, tree lined avenue.

----

We're of to a local fish restaurant in a while. It was our wedding anniversary on the 5th so we decided to celebrate it while we are over here. At the moment I'm drinking a local beer that cost me a lot of sweat and tears to get.

There's a small supermarket at the end of our street so I nipped there in the car to get some bits. 10 small French lagers cost me two quid and there are some bottles of wine for less than that. Bargain.

When I got back to the hotel all the parking spaces were taken. I stopped in a disabled and nipped in to ask the staff where I could park. Round the corner at the church. Simples!

I drove round the corner, missed the entrance to the church, took another turn and ended up hopelessly lost for about 45 minutes. I even drove down a street that didn't even look French.

Eventually I found somewhere that looked familiar and managed to get my bearings. By the time I found the hotel there was a parking space available again. What bugged me most is that I had left my cigars in the room as I was only going to be gone for a few minutes.

Anyway, back at the room I was dying to get into one of these beers but realised we hadn't brought a bottle opener. I wedged a key under the cap and batted the bottle with my palm causing the top to come away a little bit a beer to squirt all up my arm and over my t-shirt. After I got cleaned up I worked at the cap for a while with the key and eventually got it off.

I did the gentlemanly thing and gave Mrs Bucko the first beer and selected another one for myself. That's when I noticed written on the cap,

"tourner pour ouvrir"

 Good times!

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