Paris to Nor­mandy via Nel­lie

As we mark the 75th an­niver­sary of D-Day on June 6, the ‘Magazine’ tools around the re­gion where so much his­tory hap­pened

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By BRIAN JABLON

With a free long week­end in Paris, an itch to get out of the city and en­ter­ing my third month of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety from my mo­tor­cy­cle in Is­rael, I rented a bike and trav­eled north to one of my fa­vorite des­ti­na­tions in France, the Nor­mandy re­gion. Thanks to his­tory, they still love Amer­i­cans in this part of France. The Nor­mandy re­gion, only a few hours from Paris, was where the Al­lies landed for D-Day on June 6, 1944, and there is an abun­dance of in­ter­est­ing his­tory sprin­kled through­out the area. Ex­cel­lent mu­se­ums, a mul­ti­tude of video pre­sen­ta­tions, well-doc­u­mented memo­ri­als, great beaches, de­li­cious French food, friendly lo­cals, af­ford­able ac­com­mo­da­tions and wind­ing coun­try roads make this an ab­so­lutely per­fect des­ti­na­tion for mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ers. Bik­ers from the United King­dom take their mo­tor­cy­cles on the nu­mer­ous fer­ries that cross the English Chan­nel to ride in France and through­out Europe, of­ten book­ing a year in ad­vance to en­sure a spot on the ferry.

Af­ter vis­it­ing the rental shop in Paris a few weeks ear­lier and check­ing out the mo­tor­cy­cles, I chose a 2018 BMW G310GS which I chris­tened Nel­lie, like a horse, since it was a bit of a chore to get my leg over the seat. But once on it, the BMW sank to the ground and pro­vided the per­fect saddle. Af­ter pick­ing it up on a Fri­day af­ter­noon and re­ceiv­ing a brief­ing on the bike, I made it – teeth clenched dur­ing rush hour – out of Porte Mail­lot to the A-14 high­way and through the long, barely lit tun­nels that trans­port you from the city un­der the La De­fense sub­urbs and then spit you out on the A-13 all the way to Nor­mandy.

As I wanted to get to my des­ti­na­tion be­fore dark, I took the au­toroute, but the abun­dance of rest ar­eas and nice scenery along the way made trav­el­ing on the high­way a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. Fig­ur­ing out how to ef­fi­ciently nav­i­gate through the many gare de peages (toll booths) was ini­tially a bit of a chal­lenge un­til I re­al­ized that I needed to use the ded­i­cated mo­tor­cy­cle lane, pay by credit card (as fum­bling for cash and change is too time-con­sum­ing), and not panic while re­mov­ing my gloves and putting them back on, as the gate stays open un­til pass­ing through. This is easy in a car but a bit more com­pli­cated while on a mo­tor­cy­cle.

A few notes to those who have never trav­eled by mo­tor­cy­cle or don’t ride: Mo­tor­cy­cle travel is a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than car – or as bik­ers like to say, “cage” – travel. On a bike, one is to­tally ex­posed to the el­e­ments, feel­ing the wind, weather and smells. One con­nects with na­ture and the road in a way that can­not be ex­pe­ri­enced in a cage. One

feels the change in tem­per­a­ture as you climb up or down. Road con­di­tions can be­come down­right haz­ardous in con­struc­tion zones and sud­den down­pours mak­ing the ride un­com­fort­able. How­ever, when all con­di­tions are per­fect, there is no bet­ter way to travel! Thank­fully, I had a tri­fecta – per­fect weather, no traf­fic and no break­downs.

Bik­ers are a friendly lot, es­pe­cially in France, and kick their right foot out when pass­ing as a way of say­ing hello. They wave or give the peace sign from the other side of the road as they pass and you are ex­pected to do the same. At rest stops and restau­rants it’s not un­com­mon to strike up a con­ver­sa­tion with a fel­low biker about their trav­els or their mo­tor­cy­cle and share a ta­ble, some­thing rarely done by those trav­el­ing in a cage. To most bik­ers, their mo­tor­cy­cle is a source of pride and joy and most rid­ers are happy to talk about their bike, es­pe­cially if you throw them a few com­pli­ments. In France, mo­tor­cy­cles are al­lowed to “lane split” – ride be­tween cars – which is a great time-saver in traf­fic, par­tic­u­larly in the heat, and one of the supreme ad­van­tages to rid­ing in Europe. Hel­met use is manda­tory, gloves are re­quired and most rid­ers bring their own gear. Back to the ride!

AF­TER A few hours, Nel­lie and I were well ac­quainted and en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany. We took the pe­riph­erique high­way around Caen and fol­lowed signs for Ar­ro­manches-les-Bains, a de­light­ful small vil­lage on the coast of Nor­mandy. Like most, I’m used to trav­el­ing by us­ing Waze or Google Maps and blindly fol­low their di­rec­tions. But here, with no way to mount my phone on the mo­tor­cy­cle and no com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem in my hel­met, I had to nav­i­gate the old-fash­ioned way – by us­ing my in­tu­ition and des­ti­na­tion road signs. I rarely took out my phone and in­stead planned my trip by look­ing at maps and a small at­las I had bought in Paris. I stuffed a few maps in my jacket to en­sure I could make it from Paris to Ar­ro­manches and re­al­ized that it’s ac­tu­ally quite lib­er­at­ing to travel “sans GPS.”

Soon af­ter ex­it­ing the high­way, I was on beau­ti­ful twisty coun­try D (lo­cal) roads rid­ing through French vil­lages, each one quainter than the last – this is why I came here! Signs of World War II be­gan to ap­pear ev­ery­where. It’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve now, but most of these vil­lages were to­tally de­stroyed dur­ing the war and re­built. Many chil­dren and adults waved as I passed by, as mo­tor­cy­clists are well-liked in this part of France. On the way, I stopped in Crépon, an­other charm­ing vil­lage, to view a mon­u­ment to the sixth and sev­enth bat­tal­ions of the Green Howards – the Bri­tish reg­i­ment that lib­er­ated the town on D-Day. Mon­u­ments to the lib­er­at­ing soldiers are found in most vil­lages, es­pe­cially those closer to the coast.

As it was start­ing to get late, I wanted to get to my des­ti­na­tion be­fore nightfall and as much as I wanted to linger, it was time to move on. Us­ing Tripad­vi­sor, I found the per­fect bed and break­fast that caters to mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ers. Nor­mandy Beach B&B is run by Adrian and Karen Cox, ex­pats that left the UK many years ago and opened their place in Ar­ro­manches-les-Bains. With only a small sign an­nounc­ing their B&B, I passed by their lo­ca­tion sev­eral times be­fore I no­ticed Adrian stand­ing out­side wav­ing me in. He had heard the sound of the BMW and had thought it was me!

Ameni­ties in­cluded a fridge with un­lim­ited free beer, wine and soft drinks; a com­mon ta­ble for break­fast; and a pleas­ant out­door pic­nic area en­cour­ag­ing vis­i­tors and rid­ers to so­cial­ize and share travel in­for­ma­tion. For mo­tor­cy­cle re­pairs, they even have a tool shed and con­tacts at the mo­tor­cy­cle deal­ers when things go wrong – a com­mon oc­cur­rence on long biker trips! Adrian and Karen, the per­fect hosts, pro­vided use­ful ad­vice when I was plan­ning my day trips, and I wisely al­tered my planned itin­er­ar­ies as their rec­om­men­da­tions were spot-on.

Ar­ro­manches, on Gold Beach, was the site of Mul­berry B, an ar­ti­fi­cial har­bor built by the Al­lies to un­load equip­ment, cargo and sup­plies for the D-Day in­va­sion. This vil­lage makes the per­fect base for trav­el­ing in this re­gion – east, west, or south – due to its cen­tral lo­ca­tion from the D-Day land­ing beaches, tourist sites and small vil­lages. Af­ter a de­li­cious din­ner in town of the fresh­est mus­sels I ever had in France, I was ex­hausted and ready for bed. The next morn­ing, I met with the other guests – sev­eral non-mo­tor­cy­cle tourists from Den­mark trav­el­ing by rental car, and a friendly cou­ple trav­el­ing on two splen­did Tri­umph Street Triples who took the ferry from the UK to Cher­bourg, a French port a few hours away. Af­ter a tasty break­fast, it was time to get back on Nel­lie and ex­plore.

THE WEATHER WAS “par­fait” – blue skies, high 70s, no rain in the fore­cast. Ideal for mo­tor­cy­cling! My plan was to ride along the coast to check out the D-Day Gold and Juno land­ing beaches and then turn in­land, rid­ing south to an area called La Suisse Nor­mande via the Swiss Nor­mandy Route.

I donned my gear and pulled out of the B&B, head­ing east on D-514 that fol­lows the coast. The ride is idyl­lic! D-514 is a lovely coastal road of­fer­ing invit­ing sea­side vil­lages, farms, sea views and ports along the way. There was no short­age of places to stop on this route. I made a spon­ta­neous de­ci­sion to stop at Graye-sur-Mer, one of sev­eral towns on the sea with sev­eral memo­ri­als and mon­u­ments that was lib­er­ated by the Cana­di­ans and other al­lied forces.

This is prime D-Day ter­ri­tory, where D-Day started, and was code named Op­er­a­tion Over­lord. The beaches called Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword are for­ever burned in his­tory. The One Char­lie tank, be­long­ing to the 26th Ar­mored En­gi­neer Squadron, the sev­enth Cana­dian In­fantry, is per­ma­nently on dis­play with a plaque that states:

This tank landed on Graye-sur-Mer beach at H-Hour on D-Day and was stopped on its way in­land, 100 me­ters south of this spot. The mem­bers of its crew were killed or badly wounded. It re­mains as a me­mo­rial to all those who gave their lives here on June 6, 1944.

Even more touch­ing is an­other plaque next to the tank with the fol­low­ing in­scrip­tion:

In ac­cor­dance with his best wishes, the ashes of Bill Dunn, tank driver of One Char­lie, were scat­tered here on Novem­ber 8, 2014.

There is even a mon­u­ment to the 16,000 Pol­ish soldiers and 400 tanks that be­longed to the First Ar­mored Di­vi­sion of Poland un­der the di­rec­tion of Gen. Stanistaw Maczek, which landed here at the end of July 1944. On the beach is a large Cross of Lor­raine, the French sym­bol that stood for “Free France” dur­ing World War II as well as its lib­er­a­tion.

I con­tin­ued down the coast, veered in­land via the D-60 to Caen and then around the pe­riph­erique, tak­ing the exit for La Suisse Nor­mande fol­low­ing the signs to Thury-Har­court, the start of the 65-kilo­me­ter and not widely ad­ver­tised Swiss Nor­mandy Route. Af­ter trav­el­ing at 50 km. per hour for most of the coastal road, it was a re­lief to pull Nel­lie back up to 90-100 KPH on the way south. With few gas sta­tions and mostly small vil­lages, I made sure that I filled up be­fore start­ing this route. The La Suisse Nor­mande is a ser­pen­tine road that is bet­ter suited for mo­tor­cy­clists and bi­cy­clists than four-wheel ve­hi­cles. While it is a two-lane route, much of it is wide enough for just one ve­hi­cle and me­an­ders through farm­land, small vil­lages, across streams and by cute B&Bs. If I had been in a car, I would prob­a­bly have been nau­seous due to the con­stant curves, but on a bike – it was per­fect.

The scenery is rem­i­nis­cent of Switzer­land, hence the name of the route, and ev­ery turn pro­vides spec­tac­u­lar scenery. Many of the stone coun­try houses ap­peared as if they had been un­oc­cu­pied for many years. I had to pay close at­ten­tion to the signs, as the road con­stantly splits again and again, and it would be easy to lose your bear­ings. I en­coun­tered few other bik­ers, at­test­ing to the “se­cret” of this route. For lunch, I stopped in Pont-d’Ouilly, a gor­geous town on the banks of a river with ideal, In­sta­gram-wor­thy pic­nic ar­eas and a start­ing point for kayak trips. Never did a camem­bert, but­ter and cu­cum­ber baguette sand­wich picked up at the lo­cal deli taste so good!

AF­TER LUNCH, I con­tin­ued on to Clécy, one of the jew­els of the area. This is the quin­tes­sen­tial French tourist town and has it all; lo­ca­tion, lo­cal restau­rants and na­ture abound.

A pleas­ant park on the banks of the river of­fers wa­ter­sports, kayak­ing, pic­nick­ing and walks. I stopped at the Minia­ture Rail­way ex­hibit, a la­bor of love that is con­tin­ued by the founder’s son. It repli­cates the town of Clécy in minia­ture with trains run­ning through­out and is well worth a visit. It was truly amaz­ing, and with the lights off – it was sim­ply wow! While the guided tour is in French only, there is a trans­la­tion doc­u­ment in English, but no words are nec­es­sary.

Af­ter eight hours of trav­el­ing, it was time to head back to Ar­ro­manches for a rest, din­ner in town and sleep.

Af­ter a very long day of rid­ing on Satur­day, Sun­day was go­ing to be more re­lax­ing. I started by vis­it­ing the D-Day Ar­ro­manches mu­seum that doc­u­ments and ex­plains the ar­ti­fi­cial har­bors that were built by the Al­lies to sup­port the lo­gis­tics re­quired for Op­er­a­tion Over­lord. Rem­nants of the har­bor in Ar­ro­manches, Mul­berry B, are still vis­i­ble in the wa­ter and on the beach. A sec­ond har­bor, Mul­berry A, was built at Omaha Beach for the Amer­i­cans but was de­stroyed on June 14 by a ma­jor storm.

Con­struc­tion of these har­bors was an im­pres­sive feat, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the engi­neer­ing skills avail­able at that time. The area was con­structed piece by piece in the UK in many sec­tions, then towed over for in­stal­la­tion. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of soldiers and ve­hi­cles and mil­lions of tons of equip­ment were un­loaded at both har­bors to sup­port the Bat­tle of Nor­mandy, and were used un­til Novem­ber 19, 1944. Sim­ply in­cred­i­ble!

I then hopped on Nel­lie and trav­eled west on the coastal road, stop­ping for the Sun­day mar­ket at Port-en-Bessin. A short walk around this nice har­bor town, a quick stop for lunch and off to Pointe du Hoc, a mon­u­ment built by the French to honor the Amer­i­can Sec­ond Ranger Bat­tal­ion. Be­fore the Amer­i­cans could land at Utah and Omaha beaches, the Rangers were tasked with tak­ing out the ar­tillery po­si­tions held by the Ger­mans at Pointe du Hoc. If the ar­tillery were not cap­tured, the Amer­i­cans would have been fired upon by these large Ger­man guns as they landed on the beach. How­ever, to cap­ture this po­si­tion, the US Rangers had to scale 100-foot cliffs! Once the guns were found and cap­tured, the Rangers blew them up with grenades. Out of 250 soldiers, only 90 sur­vived with­out be­ing killed or in­jured and were true he­roes. A must-see: Rem­nants of the Ger­man bunkers and plat­forms hous­ing the guns re­main as well as a mon­u­ment to the Rangers at the top of the cliff.

I was back on Nel­lie for a quick stop at the Ger­man ceme­tery, a strik­ing con­trast to its Amer­i­can coun­ter­part. The ceme­tery is well main­tained and worth a visit. I made it to the Amer­i­can ceme­tery for the 5 p.m. low­er­ing of the flag cer­e­mony, which I found to be quite emo­tional. With 9,387 graves of US ser­vice­men, one can­not help but feel con­nected to the soldiers who fought for free­dom. A new vis­i­tors cen­ter was opened sev­eral years ago and is a won­der­ful place to learn about Op­er­a­tion Over­lord and the D-Day op­er­a­tion. Mu­se­ums abound in this area and you can spend days vis­it­ing them all.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to the B&B, Adrian pro­vided gratis pizza to sev­eral of us chat­ting over drinks out­side. The Tri­umph Street Triple cou­ple and I agreed to ride east to­gether the next morn­ing to Be­nou­ville, where the fa­mous Pe­ga­sus Bridge was cap­tured by the Bri­tish on D-Day. This cap­ture was of strate­gic im­por­tance as it lim­ited the Ger­mans from re­in­forc­ing their po­si­tions and counter-at­tack­ing dur­ing the Bat­tle of Nor­mandy.

On Mon­day, I joined ev­ery­one for break­fast, said my farewells and packed for the re­turn to Paris. I had a nice ride to Pe­ga­sus Bridge, where it was raised to let a French Navy ves­sel pass. We en­joyed cof­fee, and I left at 1 p.m. to re­turn the bike by the evening, as I had a three-to-four-hour ride ahead of me. I made it back by 4:30 p.m. af­ter a few har­row­ing min­utes nav­i­gat­ing around the Arc de Tri­om­phe, where 12 av­enues con­verge into a roundabout. The total mileage al­lowed was 900 kilo­me­ters with­out ad­di­tional pay­ment, and I squeaked by with 870 km.

Nel­lie served me well and was the per­fect mo­tor­cy­cle for this short ex­cur­sion.

‘NEL­LIE AND I took the “pe­riph­erique” high­way around Caen and fol­lowed signs for Ar­ro­manches-lesBains, a de­light­ful small vil­lage on the coast of Nor­mandy.’

THE WRITER at the fa­mous Pe­ga­sus Bridge, cap­tured by the Bri­tish on D-Day.

LOW­ER­ING THE flag at the Amer­i­can ceme­tery in Nor­mandy, where 9,387 US ser­vice­men were laid to rest.

THE ONE Char­lie tank, be­long­ing to the 26th Ar­mored En­gi­neer Squadron, the sev­enth Cana­dian In­fantry, is per­ma­nently on dis­play at Graye-surMer.

THE AMER­I­CAN Sec­ond Ranger Bat­tal­ion was tasked with tak­ing out the ar­tillery po­si­tions held by the Ger­mans at Pointe du Hoc – re­quir­ing them to scale its 100-foot cliffs.

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