Welcome, everyone, to my first Normandy D-Day blog post. I’m so pleased you’ve decided to visit this website and read about my experience in France.
As many of you know, I will spend the next five days in Ranville with a Normandy Tourist representative named Kate Riley. We will explore the region together and I will be producing a series of articles and video blogs to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
This will be my first trip to Normandy and my first time travelling on a Brittany Ferries service so I really have no idea what to expect. Many of you reading this will be Normandy enthusiasts, but for those of you who are not regular visitors, hopefully reading my journey will encourage you to visit this beautiful region next year to commemorate the 70th anniversary. Each year, the date of the D-Day Landings continues to be popular, however it’s still important to keep the memory of the Battle of Normandy alive and pay respect to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who lost their lives.
To be perfectly honest, meeting Kate at Waterloo station is a relief in itself! Due to an irrational fear of missing the train, I was a full hour early and lugging near enough 20 kilos of camera equipment through the streets of London. With my unsavoury history in regards to catching trains, just being on time made the trip already a success!
Of course, Kate has to let the side down by forgetting the bank card she originally used to pay for the train tickets.
As I’m leaving England, it only seems fitting that the British weather takes a turn for the best and it truly is glorious outside. Luckily, despite this, the two hour train journey down to Portsmouth Harbour is comfortable and pretty pleasant.
We arrive in Portsmouth Harbour and grab a bite to eat at the Gunwharf Quays Marina. It’s only about five minutes in shore and a very short walk from the train station. Once again, this is another first. I’ve never been to Portsmouth and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t see much of it. It didn’t matter though because just one short taxi ride later and we are pulling up outside the Portsmouth International Port at around 9pm.
The sun is setting and the night sky is absolutely breathtaking. A canvas of deep blue, blood red and golden water colour. It really couldn’t have been move scenic! Unfortunately, we’re sat inside waiting to board and by the time we’re on the shuttle it’s already dark.
I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who has heard some pretty dreadful stories about ferries. In fact, after what some friends and family members have told me, I was really not looking forward to crossing any ocean in or on any form of transportation. Sea-sickness? Possibly. Anxiety? Quite likely. Claustrophobic? Most definitely.
So you can imagine my surprise when I first stepped onto Mont St Michel. It’s more like a fully-serviced hotel with ultimate panoramic views than a ship. This ferry was spacious, smart and modern. All the friendly staff I encountered are bi-lingual and needless to say, if like me, your French is ‘moins que parfait’ this is definitely a bonus!
Mont St Michel was launched in 2002 and with a passenger capacity of 2,170 it’s a wonder how it is so quiet! All the decks are easy to locate and there are plenty of seating areas.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to eat on board but I noticed that there are two restaurants; an à la carte restaurant, Les Romantiques, and a self-service restaurant called La Galerie. As we are travelling overnight, as expected the bar was extremely popular. Despite this, I can hear no music or noise from my cabin. I am also taken aback by the variety of shops open throughout the night, all of which sell cameras, perfumes and souvenirs.
My room and en-suite bathroom is surprisingly spacious. I mean, it’s a ferry. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not looking at a 5* suite here. But there is plenty of space to unpack. Pre-prepared bedding and towels are included in the room, however I foolishly forget a plug adapter! As you can imagine, this is a major spanner in the works. We aren’t checking in at the gîte until Monday afternoon and my mobile phone and video recorder are running low on battery.
So after a slight panic and video blog session, I try to get some kip. Due to the time difference (France is one hour ahead of UK time) we only manage about 5 hours sleep. Early the next morning, music is played through the built-in stereos throughout the cabins to wake passengers up. Mont St Michel is to arrive in Ouistreham around dawn and pulling back the curtains, it truly is a magnificent view of both the ocean and the French coast some way in the distance.
It goes without saying that I am now incredibly excited. The whole journey seems to have flown by. The train down to Portsmouth was easy enough and because we had time to relax and grab a bite to eat it wasn’t as if we were travelling non-stop under timed circumstances. On top of that I am asleep for 90% of the crossing.
Kate tells me that whenever she has eaten with Brittany Ferries, it’s been quite tasty. Unfortunately, it’s far too early for us to grab breakfast today. Instead, we settle on a coffee each from the café before I head out to take some photographs of us pulling into Ouistreham.
It’s obvious that Brittany Ferries is popular with families and school groups. A group of about 50 British school children are on board and there are also quite a few French families. It is now that I see the first group of former veterans enjoying a few mugs of coffee before docking. They are all proudly dressed in traditional American army uniforms and stroll through the deck. Afterwards, Kate and I leave to pick up the hire car with Europcar and we see the same group of men drive out of the port on a selection of vintage military vehicles. There’s no doubt that I’m in Normandy now!
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