It’s no secret that I’m no fan of France. As many times as I’ve been there, I’ve lost millions of nerve cells because of obnoxious people and even more obnoxious drivers, the fact that no one speaks even a word of English, absolutely outrageous prices and numerous other factors that make James Gandolfini’s quote in “In the Loop” (“This is the problem with civilians wanting to go to war. Once you’ve been there, once you’ve seen it, you never want to go again unless you absolutely fucking have to. It’s like France.”) one of my favourites.
So the bigger was the surprise when on the last day in Normandy I suddenly said, “I can’t wait until I come here again.” Not only my wife was surprised, but so was I. Who would have guessed I’d say something like that? Had I lost my bloody mind?
Perhaps it’s the fact that Normandy is different from the rest of France. Perhaps it’s the fact that Normans (or the distant Norman ancestors of the current residents of Normandy) are just much more pleasant people, or perhaps it’s the history that accompanies Normandy on every step in every second, I don’t know. The fact is, I love Normandy. And even though prices in Normandy are as outrageous as in Paris (the most expensive pint of lager I noticed cost €8 and the priciest three-course lunch €65), every other bit of Normandy outweighs the negatives.
I think the turning point for me was when a cashier in a Carrefour supermarket, noticing that I had trouble remembering the few French words I knew, started speaking English to me. In Paris, this doesn’t happen even in hotels or tourist spots. In Normandy, almost everyone I interacted with spoke at least some English and they did it voluntarily, happily, without reservations, although they all modestly claimed they only spoke English “a little”. Amazingly, most people were generally friendly and nice.
My main reason for going to Normandy was the history. The world’s largest amphibious landings on and after 6th June, 1944, made Normandy a paradise for every history freak, and knowing that under every step I took something happened in the last months of WWII that turned the tide and defined the world as it is today was an amazing experience. To visit the cemeteries and pay my respects to these thousands of young people who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom was heartbreaking. And to see the beaches, especially Omaha beach where 43,000 American soldiers came ashore on 6th June, 1944, to fight for Europe, made me feel honoured.
And in addition to history, Normandy has quite a lot to offer. Although the nature is quite similar to what we have here, it’s still nice to look at. Old, smaller and bigger chateaus, nice small ancient villages that survived the war in their entirety, and the strange, overwhelming silence on city streets on Sunday—they all define Normandy.
Also, Norman cheese is divine. And Kronenbourg 1664 lager that is also sold here in the UK, tastes like drops of heaven. I am not sure what is done with it before it crosses the English Channel, but the 5.0% version sold here tastes like shit compared with the 5.5% version in France.
I’m going to post photos, too, when they’re ready. Stay tuned.