We set out from Paris on July 25th to spend about a week traveling and camping along the Normandy coast. Our first stop was Rouen, famous as the place where Joan of Arc was executed in 1431.
After two nights we drove south paralleling the coast, with the top down, through Dieppe, Le Havre, Honfleur, and Deauville stopping for two nights in Caen. That year, 1984, was the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings and we toured many of the more famous battle sites, including Arromanches (where the British landed), Pointe du Hoc (captured by the United States Army Ranger Assault Group) and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
From there it was a short jaunt to Mont Saint-Michel, the eighth century monastery and UNESCO World Heritage site. This area is famous for its tides, which can vary greatly, as much as 40 plus feet between high and low water marks. Two memorable experiences stay with me from that time, the first occurring during our daytime visit to the monastery, which sits on an island connected to the mainland by a long causeway with parking available on the tidal flats below.
We’d finished up a long day of sightseeing in the monastery and its town and had paused to relax atop the walls that surround them, providing a remarkable view for miles around. This was that time when the tide comes in at a speed a bit over 10 miles per hour. We could hear announcements coming from below reminding people to move their cars from the parking lots as they would soon be submerged. Time passed and the tides came, water starting to lap at the wheels of the few remaining cars in the lot. The announcements became a bit more frantic as one lone car remained. Finally, we spotted the owner at the edge of the lot, rolling up his pant legs knee high, then rushing out to the car to drive it up and out of the lot to a round of applause from all who had gathered to watch the drama.
We had dinner in camp and then as the sun began to set drove back out to the causeway and parked for an evening’s entertainment. We put the top down, opened a bottle of wine, set up the camera and tripod and watched an impressive light show, taking a series of pictures that still remind us of that warm night in France, one of those magical moments that can define a trip.
Just 35 miles south the town of Saint Malo beckoned and we would spend two very relaxing days at Camping des Chevrets, outside of town in Saint-Coulomb, tent perched on a bluff overlooking the beach of a small but sweeping bay. A walled port city, Saint Malo is known has having been a home for pirates and Jacques Cartier, who is credited as the discoverer of Canada.
We returned to Les Mesnil on August 1st for three nights. Francois and Heike were to travel to her parent’s house in Stuttgart to discuss their impending marriage, as she was pregnant with their daughter, Lisa. We would drive to Giessen for two nights and then join them and travel with them for nearly three weeks through Yugoslavia and Italy. The night before our departure, Francois cooked a rabbit stew, the first time either of us had sampled this common meat not often featured in the States. We would look for it later when returning to the States but it never quite seemed to rival that meal in Les Mesnil.
We spent the night of August 6th at Heike’s parents and the 7th in Innsbruck. We arrived in Venice on the 8th and spent two nights camping there. The weather was awful, as my notes for that time state “monsoon rain and much loud thunder”, and it proved to be a disappointing visit, much as my first time there in 1977. I have hopes that I can return to Venice and find the magic that so many others have found, as it has eluded me so far. We broke camp in the pouring rain on the 10th, threw all of our wet gear into the car and drove all day into Yugoslavia seeking warmth and the sun. We spent a night at a campground in Rijeka, drove some more down the coast and then two nights in Kozica at a delightful spot overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
We’d finally found the hot days we’d been looking for and didn’t do much but lay around. Three distinct memories come back to me from our stay there, two involving food. Each morning we would be awakened to the cries of a local vendor calling out “Bombolini” as he walked through camp. He was pedaling donuts; little fried and sugar coated bits of heaven. We’d brew up a pot or two of coffee and eat them for breakfast, the perfect start to any day.
The second recollection involves ordering in restaurants. This was 1984 Yugoslavia, still under communist control and far removed from the madness that would split it apart as a country. As we would discover, all of the more formal restaurants had the same menu, a glossy, multi-page booklet with pictures of the dishes with translations into a number of languages.
The campground had a nice outdoor dining area where we had dinner twice, and each visit we’d spend quite some time perusing the menu to determine what we would order. The waiter would come to the table and one of us would state their first choice. The waiter would respond that they were out of it. Someone would ask for another item. The waiter would respond that they were out of it. This went on for a bit of time until we realized that the best course of action was to ask what they did have. We’d get the recitation of what was available and generally order all of it. And this would be the pattern for the rest of our stay in Yugoslavia.
The final memory involves Francois’ assertion, prior to our arrival in country that we would have to pay close attention to all transactions as the Yugoslavians had a reputation for being less than honest. We stopped for gas on the way down the coast; It’s important to understand that given the exchange rate at the time (the dollar was very strong) and the nature of the economy there, gas only cost about fifteen cents per gallon. So, we filled the tank, paid up, and took off down the road.
All the while Francois, who is sitting in the front passenger seat, is furiously performing calculations in his notepad, muttering all the while. After about ten miles or so, he calls out that we must turn around and go back as we had been cheated. He was quite serious, thus we doubled back to the station. Upon arrival he engaged the attendant in a heated debate, the conclusion of which resulted in a refund. Since Francois had paid for the tank (we would alternate fill ups during the trip) I’m not sure how much he received back. I can say though that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more satisfied.
We traveled further on down the coast to Zadar, camping for three nights, again spending days doing a bit of sightseeing and lying on the beach. On the afternoon of the 15th we boarded a ferry to cross the Adriatic to Ancona, Italy. Arriving late at night, we drove to a campground, threw our sleeping bags on the ground and grabbed what sleep we could. The next morning, prior to hitting the road for Siena, we searched around for an ATM in order to get some Lira. Having then secured some necessary cash, the next order of the day was breakfast. After a week or so of eating a not too terribly exciting array of foods in Yugoslavia, I was on the lookout for something to kick off our trip back through Italy. We found it at a deli/pizza joint, where we gleefully ordered and consumed multiple pieces of pizza. Not your typical breakfast, but one of the most satisfying meals of the trip.