Bremen, Germany

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Time for Christmas markets, folks!

The 6th edition of “The Shwits Drink Too Much Glühwein” was hosted by Bremen, Germany with a special guest – our friend, Kaitlin, joining us all the way from North Carolina!

Bremen, Germany’s 11th largest city, is located about 3 hours west of Groningen by Flixbus, closer even by car, making it a pretty popular destination for Groningners during the Christmas season. Since we’d only been to Bremen for the airport (another hot-spot for the budget airline, Ryanair), we decided it was time to pay it a proper visit.

The Bremen Christmas markets were exactly what you would expect out of a Weihnachtsmarkt. Lots of food, drinks, shopping, and general merriment!

The market Schlachte-Zauber, which is next to the river Weser that runs through Bremen.
One of many glühwein stands.

As I mentioned before, this was our 6th year of Christmas markets, and you could say we’ve established a ‘system’, so to speak, of how to best approach the weekend.

Step 1. Big lunch – traditional German food, obviously.

Step 2. Glühwein.

Step 3. Shopping.

Step 4. Curry worst.

…and the cycle continues.

Now here’s where our years of experience come in (lol). BYOA: bring your own amaretto!

You can (and will most certainly want to) add amaretto to your glühwein at the cost of an extra €1.50 per glass.

€1.50 per glass! Crazy. Do yourself a favor and bring a flask. 😉

We stayed mostly towards the markets in the direct city center (near the cathedral), but if you wander about 5 minutes out you’ll hit the Schnoor district – the medieval center.

This section of town was adorably cute and I am nowhere near a good enough photographer to capture the amazingness of this area. Cobblestone streets, houses that date back to the 14th century, small alleyways that cut you into secret courtyards – it was fabulous!

We also had to go see these guys…

The Town Musicians of Bremen!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t (and still really don’t) know the story which was written by the Brothers Grimm. Long story short (pun intended) it’s about 4 farm animals who think they can make a better living as musicians.

Naturally, you have to give ’em a little rub for good luck!


And with that – we came, we saw, we conquered!

And nice touch with the stoplights, Bremen.

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Merry Sinterklaas!

I don’t think that’s a thing people say, but ya know what? I like it so I’m going with it.

The arrival of Sinterklaas kicks off the season in mid-November.

It’s December 5th which means it’s pakjesavond (present evening) and if you were a good little one throughout out the year, maybe Sinterklaas replaced that carrot in your shoe with some treats! Tonight is the big gift-giving evening of the Dutch holiday season!

This could very well be our last holiday season in the Netherlands since Shane’s next position is still up in the air, and I’ve used this time to fully embrace the spirit of Sinterklaas. And by embrace, I mean eat myself sick on Sinterklaas-specific holiday treats.

So, in honor of the evening I thought I would do a quick round-up of those holiday goodies you will only find during Sint-season!

Pepernoten! Pepernoten! Pepernoten! Pepernoten!

THE thing. Without pepernoten there is no Sinterklaas!

I’ve literally seen them sold in a 5 kg (10 lbs) bag…

There are two types: pepernoten & kruidnoten.

Both are small cookies, but pepernoten is the more traditional version with an anise flavor. Kruidnoten are a more like a spiced cookie. Since I’m not a fan of anise, I tend to prefer the kruidnoten – as does my mother who made a special request for “those delicious little cookies” the last time Shane came home. Lucky for her, the grocery stores have started to push the seasons, and pepernoten have been available since October!

The kruidnoten section in our local grocery store.

The flavor possibilities are endless. There are entire seasonal shops which sell only pepernoten, kruidnoten, and flavored kruidnoten aka: the cookie covered in some form of flavored chocolate.

Carmel sea salt, coffee, raspberry, dark chocolate, lemon… not that I’ve tried any.

Chocolate Letters

Another important gift of the season, and another one that comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors – although the most popular flavors are milk, dark, and white chocolate.

Tradition dictates that you’ll receive the letter which corresponds to the first letter of your first name. But, if you’re name starts with an unpopular letter (sorry Quincy or Zelda) then you’ll be hard pressed to find them. If this is the case, the standard “S” – for Sinterklaas – is appropriate.

Chocolate letter… with pepernoten!

Marzipan

Particularly in the form of a pig.

Conveniently displayed next to the “super kruidnoten”.

Yes, that pig is made of marzipan. Yes, it will get chopped up and sold as smaller pieces.

If a chunk-o-pig ain’t your thang, no worries. Small pigs are also available.

The marzipan pig (made of milk, sugar, and almonds with a consistency of soft fondant) is a New Year’s German tradition to wish good luck (Glücksschwein!), and also a holiday gift tradition in Scandinavia. Given the relative location of the Netherlands, it’s not surprising it carried over.

Banketstaaf

Loosely translated to an ‘almond log’, it’s a buttery, almond-paste filled little piece of holiday heaven with origins in the Netherlands.

A word to the wise: share it. I mean, or don’t, but be prepared to go into a sugar-almond-million-calories induced coma afterwords. #worthit

My Sinterklaas paketje from work – a chocolate letter & banketstaaf.

Speculaas

Speculaas is a shortbread cookie with a spiced flavor similar to that of pumpkin pie spice in America. Actually, if you’re in America and lucky enough to live by a Trader Joe’s then you might know these cookies – called Speculoos, which is the Belgian spelling. You can usually find some sort of speculaas cookie year round, but this time of year the cookie itself changes to a more festive pattern.

Speculaas – smeckulaas. BOOOORRRINGGG.

Ditch that plain cookie, and go for the filled one!

Gevulde Speculaas

My crème de la crème. Re-named to ‘crack-ulaas’ for its sheer power of deliciousness.

Take two, large planks of soft speculaas spiced cake and add some almond paste (same as in the banketstaaf) in the middle and BOOM.

FILLED SPECULAAS. You’re welcome.

I’m genuinely sorry for anyone who isn’t able to try it. So, if you happen to run into some, buy it!


And with that, I’ll leave you with my favorite song of the season:

Sinterklaas (wie kent hem niet) by Het Goede Doel

I recommend the entire video, but if you’re in a hurry start at ~1:30.

Gah, the 80’s were great!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Utrecht, the Netherlands

Guys, we did it.

It’s taken us 5.5 years, but we made the long and treacherous 1 hour and 56 minute train ride from Groningen to Utrecht!

I know our days in the Netherlands are numbered, so I have an unofficial Dutch bucket-list running in my mind. We’ve hit a number of the major Dutch cities – Den Haag & Rotterdam, for instance – but Utrecht was still on the list. A few of my old colleagues (& friends) live in the area now, so we had an inexpensive ‘nachtjeweg’ & mini-reunion courtesy of an NS Spoordeel.

Part of the Mucosis crew in Utrecht!

Expat Tip: Take advantage of the NS Spoordeelwinkel!

We’ve used this a few times now. The deal is for two people: one night in a (mid-range) hotel with breakfast included and a return train ticket from anywhere in the Netherlands for ~ €100 – 120. Considering for us, coming from Groningen, a one-way full-price train ticket is €25 per person, this is a steal! If overnight isn’t your thing, there are ‘dagjes uit’ (days out) and other activities.


And speaking of hotels, this was the view from our room window. Notice something earth friendly and cool?!

It’s not a bus stop, it’s a Bee Stop!

It’s common knowledge that the bee population around the world is declining. To help out the Dutch bees, Utrecht has transformed over 300 bus stops into bee stops to encourage pollination. Such a simple yet innovative idea!

Back to Utrecht.

Utrecht is unique, in that there are two levels to the canals: the street and the boat level. When Utrecht was built, it was designed with a series of cellars underneath the street level which were used by the business or house above it. Today, those cellar’s aren’t used for storage, but (in the city center) have been transformed into restaurants and bars which line the canals. I can only imagine how nice this would be on a sunny & warm day!

This two-level set-up also means that the road itself can’t support the weight of delivery trucks – then or now – due to the hollow cellars underneath. The solution? Delivery boats! We didn’t witness it, but apparently the ‘Utrecht Beer Boat’ and the ‘trash-boat’ make regular appearances though the canals.

The two-level canal.

Now, you might be wondering: “How did she learn such interesting information about Utrecht?!”

A walking tour, of course!

Tip: Utrecht Free Walking Tours

They offer tours in English 4 days per week, two times per day. They have general city tours (which is what we did) or specialty tours (WWII, for example).

Our tour group. Photo courtesy of our guide, Donna.

The tour started out at the Dom Tower. I wish I had taken a picture to show how dissapointed I was when we arrived. Not because the tower was unimpressive – it’s 112m (~365ft) and the tallest building in Utrecht. It’s also under renovation and completely covered with scaffolding. *facepalm*

We also missed out on the museum DOMunder, which is a tour through the archaeological site underneath Dom square that dates back to 45 A.D.. We (mostly I) convinced people to go to Museum Speelklok, which is a museum dedicated to the self-playing musical instruments that are notoriously Dutch.

A typical Dutch street organ (in Groningen).

To be honest, if you only have time for one museum in Utrecht, don’t visit Museum Speelklok unless you’re really into musical clocks/instruments. Don’t get me wrong, they were cool to see, but it seemed over-priced and it was very, as our tour guide eloquently put it, niche. If you’re into learning a little about the city, then I would recommend something else.

Shane for scale.

One thing that I did really enjoy was De Letters van Utrecht.

It’s a piece of street art started in 2000. It’s an ongoing poem written in the bricks of the street. The unique part is that only one letter-brick is added per week – every Saturday at 13:00 you can see them add the next letter. The artist intended it to be a gift to future generations by creating an poem that can be carried on for generations. The full poem to date can be found online, and if you’re interested in contributing then you can apply to write a line of text.

The rest of our walking tour took us through the park and through city center.

It was quick, but a nice weekend away with good friends!

In other news, Shane and I tried to go see a movie last night and it was cancelled because two dead bodies were found in the theater…

That’s a first.

Tot ziens!

Whitney

Château du Val: Saint-Just, France

When your friends invite you to their wedding in a literal castle, you say yes!

Ok, so we would have said yes even if it wasn’t in a castle. Not the point.

Our road trip culminated at Château du Val, which is located just outside the tiny town of Saint-Just in the Brittany region of France.

Before I get to the wedding festivities I would like to take a moment and acknowledge the ‘French-people-eat-baquettes-all-the-time’ stereotype. Well, friends. Sometimes stereotypes are there for a reason. Please let me introduce to you the 24-hour baguette vending machine!

We didn’t use the vending machine since there was an open grocery store 200 meters away, but now I’m having regrets and thinking I should have just bought a baguette for shits & giggles…

Anyway, I digress.

The wedding was a three-day extravaganza, with guests of the bride & groom (Sarah & Barend, by the way), coming from all over – the Netherlands (his family), Ireland (her family), England, Germany*, America (& not just us!), South Africa, and Australia. Both Sarah & Barend used to work in the yachting industry, which is how they met and how they ended up with friends spread across the globe!

*sorry Chelly & Christian – I don’t know how I forgot our weekend roommates!

It was a fantastic three days spent with great people, great food, and great scenery!

I basically took zero pictures – no service, phone was always dead. So, generous thanks to those who donated photos to the WhatsApp group. Hope you don’t mind I stole some. 😉

Bride and groom, & their little – Mia.
Barend – just before the ceremony!

Gefeleciteerd, Sarah & Barend!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Dinan, France

A small French town you’ve probably never heard of!

Heading in to the final few days of our road trip through Normandy & Brittany, I wanted a place to stop over on our way from Mont Saint-Michel to Saint-Just, where the wedding was located. A few blogs suggested this “Disney-esque” town (pronounced: dee-naan) in the Brittany region and it looked adorable so I was sold.

I will be honest: it was really pretty and really old (founded in 1040!), but it’s a small town and there’s not too much going on.

So, what can you do?

Eat Crêpes…


…and other delicious baked goods!

For a small town there was no shortage of boulangeries (breads), viennoiseries (breakfast pastries, and pâtisseries (dessert pastries).

We had crêpes at the crêperie in the picture above, and lucky for me there was a boulaungerie / viennoiserie only a 2 minute walk away from our Airbnb.

Do you know what was incredibly frustrating during this entire trip? Eating times. We could never seem to figure out when restaurants were open. On the last day we finally realized they open in the morning through lunch, ~2pm. Then everything shuts down until about 7pm. So, good luck with a late lunch or an early dinner. And don’t even THINK about ordering a crêpe after 2pm. “The kitchen can’t make them anymore.” 😑

Walk the Ramparts


Characteristic of medieval towns, the city is surrounded by walls that date back to the 13th century. I love a good wall walk (here’s lookin’ at you, Dubrovnik), and with 3km (1.8mi) of preserved ramparts, you can do a lot of it!

Views from the top.

Climb the Clock Tower


It’s over 600 years old, 43m (~142ft) tall, and still functions! And, despite not being the original bell (it’s recast using the original), it still regulates the city today. How do I know this? We happened to be up top when it started ringing. I recommend timing your visit accordingly.

Take the 158 steps to the top for some great views over the historical city!

Maybe one day I’ll stop making Shane exercise on vacation…

Ehh – probably not.

Walk Rue du Jerzual to the Historical Port


This. street. is. STEEP!

But, if half-timbered houses are your thing then this is the street for you! It’s a lovely walk down to the Port of Dinan, but fuel-up when you get there because you’ll need an energy boost to make it back up! 😆

The River Rance at the bottom of Rue du Jerzual.
The viaduct – built in 1846.

Visit Château de Dinan


It’s a castle, it has a nice museum, blah blah that’s boring. (Ok it wasn’t really – you should go – but for the point of my story…)

Do you want to know what the coolest thing about this castle was?

The toilet.

A modern toilet built in the spot of the ACTUAL castle toilet! Game of thrones-style door included!

Now if that’s not ingenuity then I don’t know what is.

There were also some nice views from the top, for those not as impressed with toilets.

St. Malo Church


Last but not least, you should take a few minutes to pop into St. Malo church in the city center. The architecture of these old churches is never disappointing.

So how much time do you actually need in Dinan?

One full day is enough.

We stayed two nights – arriving around dinner on night one – and this was more than enough time to leisurely explore the city. Perhaps contrary to popular opinion: it’s certainly worth visiting if it’s on-route, but I’m not sure I would go out of my way.

Until next time, Dinan!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Mont Saint-Michel: Normandy, France

Ah, Mont Saint-Michel, you tourist-trap beauty!

2.5 million – that’s how many come to Mont Saint-Michel per year, and we were one of them. Well, two of them I suppose.

I honestly had never heard of Mont Saint-Michel until we started planning this trip, but I’m a sucker for a good castle and a great view. And, it’s a top Normandy tourist attraction, remember? In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a castle on an island. During low-tide, you can walk the surrounding mud-flats for access. During high-tide the castle is completely surrounded by water and unaccessible (except by road, in modern times)!

Tip: It’s pronounced ‘Me-chelle’.

For all you English speakers out there who tend to butcher beautiful French words (obviously, myself included). I wanted to call it Michael, which I guess technically it is in English, but we’re in France so…


A quick history:

In ~708, a sanctuary was built on Mont (mount)-Tombe (now Mont-Saint Michel) by the Bishop of Avranches in honor of the Archangel, Michel. Over time, it became a pilgrimage site, and starting in the 10th century a village began to form after Benedictines (Catholic monks) settled in the abbey. Eventually, it grew into what we see today.

The mont became a symbol of France during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453, England v. France for control of France) when it’s fortifications proved too much for the English, and it was never taken.

And, like a lot of other rocky, fortified islands, the religious guys were kicked out and it became a prison. Finally, in 1874 it was classified as a historic monument. Somewhere in there is a story about a commune and an Irish hermit, but that’s for another time…

So, how do you get to the castle on the island?

You can’t drive there, that’s for sure. There are plenty of parking lots (€14 – tourist trap, remember?) which surround the visitor center. From the visitor center, you can either take the shuttle bus (runs constantly), or you can walk ~2.5km (1.5 mi) across the bridge to the village. Their signs say ~30 minutes, but I would plan for 45 minutes if you want to leisurely stroll with pictures along the way.

Tip: If you have kids – don’t bring a stroller!

The walk to the mont is flat, that’s not the issue. Once you’re inside it’s cobblestone, steep streets, and stairs. And, with a stroller you’re guaranteeing to not walk the ramparts – too narrow for stroller + masses of people.


It looks so peaceful from far away…
And as you get closer – notice the people now?

Tip: Pack a lunch!

While the restaurants have nice views, the food inside the village is tourist-expensive. Even better though, you can walk all over / around the village essentially unrestricted. We saw lots of people who managed to find a quiet spot to themselves for lunch: down by the beach, or in a corner with a nice view.

We packed a lunch, but on account of being losers who had leftover cold spaghetti, we ate it in the car.

At the base of the mont!

It’s free to enter the village, but €10 (+ €3 for an audioguide) to enter the abbey. Well worth the money. It’s a legitimate castle perched on top of this mountain with way more space inside than you would imagine possible. Plus, the views are spectacular.

Tip: Walk the ramparts to the abbey.

You’ll want to walk the ramparts anyway, but they are significantly less crowded than the main street leading up to the abbey. When you first enter the village you’ll notice a staircase to your right – take it.

Up we go!

People walking the mud flats. And yes, it was legitimately mud not sand.
Looking out on our way up with guided groups walking the mud flats.
View from the top at low-tide – across the bridge to get to the mont.
Entrance to the abbey.
There’s even a courtyard up there!
View from the top, as far as the eye can see.

Tip: Plan to spend at least 3 – 4 hours (parking + walking + exploring).


So, was it worth it?

ABSOLUTELY!

I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was craning my neck so much on the walk back to the car that Shane stopped me, turned me around, and we just stood there staring until the count of 10 so I could soak it all in.

Oh, and then this happened.

What? It was heavy.

And, considering it was only a 2 hour drive from the D-Day landing beaches in the direction of our next stop, Dinan, it was basically destiny.

Tot ziens,

Whitney

D-Day Landing Beaches: An American’s Guide

First, I’d like to start out by wishing us a Happy Anniversary!

It was a coincidence that this trip coincided with our third wedding anniversary, andddd… this is the only picture we took together all day.

Aren’t we cute?

Why?

Well, apparently spending holidays learning about wars is our thing now: Christmas at the Vietnam War Remnants museum, anniversary in Normandy for World War II. 🤷‍♀️

Anyway, back to the beaches.

I think the theme of this whole trip (which is very unlike me) was ”unprepared”. I did most of the planning in terms of driving route, not necessarily what to see. We learned quickly that our day and a half in this area was nowhere near enough. So, I’ve decided to put together a little guide in case we have a chance to go back. Who knows, maybe someone else might find this helpful.

Let’s start with some basic history…

The Battle of Normandy, code-named “Operation Overlord”, was a coordinated attack on German forces by the British, the Canadians, and the Americans and marked the beginning of the end of Nazi control over Europe. On June 6, 1944 Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day, started the battle across five code-named beaches: Sword & Gold (British troops), Juno (Canadian troops), Utah and Omaha (American troops).

Tip: If time allows, plan for one day per beach.


As I mentioned before, we were short on time, so we prioritized from an American’s perspective.

Things to see:

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Location: Colleville-sur-Mer (Omaha Beach area)

The American Cemetery was our first stop. The overcast morning seemed fitting for the occasion.

Tip: Do not miss the (free) museum in the Visitor Center.


It’s the final resting place for over 9,000 men who lost their lives during Operation Overlord. Each Cross (or Star of David) listed the name, division, home state, and death date of the individual. An Unknown Soldier Cross was places for individuals who could not be identified.

The Visitor Center has a great exhibit on the American involvement in D-Day. Two facts stood out to me:

  • In December of 1940, America’s troops numbered ~800,000; by December 1941, 2.2 million.
  • Inflatable tanks (literally – like bouncy house inflatable) and stuffed paratroopers (called paradummies) were used as decoys to throw off German intelligence… and it worked!

I think the most powerful part of the Visitor Center was the constant roll-call. Names of those lost were said over the speakers as you left the building and walked to the cemetery itself.

Omaha Beach Memorial

Location: Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer

The memorial with the British, French, American, and Canadian flags behind.

For Americans, I would say Omaha beach is the most ‘famous’ of the landing beaches. The memorial itself is located in the center beach which, to our surprise, is 8km (5mi) long.

Tip: Parking at the beach is free, and the D-Day House restaurant directly adjacent offers a nice (& affordable) lunch.

I’ll be honest, we weren’t wow-ed by Omaha Beach. It’s hard to feel the history here – you really have to use your imagination because, at the end of the day, it’s just a beach. One thing that helped came from a documentary we watched before the trip. A veteran suggested:

Should you ever visit Omaha beach, walk out as far as you can at low tide and turn around. Notice just how much beach there is; how much unprotected beach.

Not to mention, things went sideways on D-Day. These young guys were unloaded in water over their heads carrying 35kg (75lbs) of gear and told to take the beach. We walked out at low tide as far as we could go, and thanks to that documentary, you could imagine it.

Looking back at the town & memorial at low tide.
The Omaha Memorial looking out.

Musée Mémorial d’Omaha beach 

Location: Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer (~200m from the beach)

A tank and a Czech hedgehog.

A quick walk up the road will take you to the Omaha Beach Museum. Now, you should visit this place with an open mind, because I walked in and instantly thought ‘nope!’. It’s one of those museums that has really bad mannequins… like, a lot of them. I spent the first 15 minutes annoying the shit out of Shane because all I could focus on was how f*cking creepy these things were. But, if you get over the fake people and actually look at the things on display, then you will be impressed. They have tons of artifacts from the war: uniforms, guns, obstacles from the beach (like the Czech hedgehog – meant to take out tanks), and trinkets from soldiers. And, they have a great film describing the events of D-Day as related to Omaha beach. All you need is about an hour, and it’s worth the visit.

Pointe du Hoc

Location: Cricqueville-en-Bessin

Pointe du Hoc is a cliff which overlooks Omaha Beach and was a battery for the Germans. Here, there were six 155mm cannons – which means nothing to me except for ‘that’s a big gun’. It meant a lot to the Allies, since these were intended to target approaching ships.

Looking at the English Channel from Pointe du Hoc.

On June 6, 1944, American Rangers were tasked to take Pointe du Hoc. After a series of bombings targeting the battery, the rangers scaled the 100m (~330ft) cliffs and attacked the German positions, but they found that the guns had already been dismantled.

Unlike Omaha Beach, you can see, feel, and explore the leftovers of war. The pits from bombs are everywhere and you can walk through all the bunkers and gun pits.

One of the concrete gun bunkers.
Inside a bunker looking out.
Looking out at the English Channel & remaining bombing pits.
Shane, standing in a massive gun pit.

The Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument is also here – at the very edge of the cliff overlooking the English Channel and Omaha Beach.

I purposefully chose to show the above picture first, because the monument itself is uh… well, I’ll let you decide what it looks like.

Tip: Pointe du Hoc is open 24 hours (but the Visitor Center only 09:00 – 17:00).


We did miss a few things specifically related to the American efforts on D-Day, for example, all of Utah Beach. With more time, I would suggest:

The Utah Beach Landing Museum (Location: Sainte-Marie-du-Mont), Memorial Wounded Soldier & Mulberry Harbor A (Location: Omaha Beach), & Museum D-Day Omaha (Location: Vierville-sur-Mer).

We were able to squeak in a few more noteworthy stops in our short time…

Gold Beach / Mulberry Harbor B

Location: Arromanches-les-Bains

We honestly had no idea about this (remember, I said poor planning?). We were driving to get to the American Cemetery, crested a hill, and there was a spectacular viewpoint. In the distance you could see… things? Obvious remnants, but what we weren’t sure.

Notice the ‘things’ in the distance?

Turns out, those ‘things’ are leftovers of Mulberry Harbor B and you can actually walk up to them at low tide. There’s just something about things you can physically touch that solidify the history of a place.

Leftover beetles from Mulberry B.

Mulberry A (at Omaha Beach) and B (at Gold Beach) were code-names for the temporary ports which were built by the UK so cargo could be rapidly unloaded once the landing beaches had been secured. The pieces above, that you can walk to from the beach, were part of the road from the boats to the shore: ‘beetles’ (floating steel pontoons) held ‘whales’ (the roadway). What you see in the background are caissons and purposefully sunken ships to create a harbor and shield the roads from the sea.

Unfortunately, Mulberry A was destroyed in a storm, but Mulberry B was functional until November of 1944.

Tip: If time allows check out the Musée du Débarquement which goes into more detail.

We, unfortunately, didn’t have time for this and regretted it!

The German Gun Battery

Location: Longues-sur-mer

This is the only gun battery with the guns still in place!

It feels weird to be excited about big guns?

And, similar to Pointe du Hoc, you can walk in / around / over.

Tip: It’s also open 24 hours. Go before 10am and you’ll basically have it to yourself.


Do you play ‘happy & crappy’? My Sis & TB introduced us to the game and now it’s a thing. It’s simple. At the end of each day, you pick one happy moment and one crappy moment – whatever you want them to be. It’s a nice way to reflect on the day, especially on vacation.

Shane wanted to see this SO bad and we couldn’t find it the day before. We didn’t know the name, we didn’t know the location… After some serious Googling we managed to find it and went early in the morning on our way out of town. I know for a fact this was Shane’s ‘happy’ for the day, but I think it might have even made the top ‘happy’ for the trip (no offense, Sarah & Barend – we love you 😜).

Down the barrel…

Apparently, these bad boys had a 20km (13 mile) range…

View from the top of the gun bunker; English Channel in the background.

Tip: Hour long guided tours of the area are offered for only €5! Check out their website for details!


I think, despite only having 36 hours in the general area, we managed to fit in quite a bit! And, as an added bonus, we saw a little bit of Juno Beach. We rented an Airbnb with a great view and a 2 minute walk to the beach.

View from the Airbnb – Juno Beach Visitor Center in the background.
An abandoned bunker on Juno Beach.
General Charles de Gaulle monument on Juno Beach, commemorating his return to France.

Up next, Mont Saint-Michel!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Fécamp & Étretat, France

“I dunno – cliffs and sh*t?”

My response when our friend, Michelle, asked what we were going to see on our road-trip through France.

The cliffs at Étretat.

It’s been a long and boring summer – well, for me at least. Hence why the blog was dead as a doorknob until Shane came back from Corsica.

In all honesty it hasn’t been that bad. Maybe you heard, but we actually had a few heat waves in Europe (38 ºC here!) so we spent a lot of time outside and at the bouldering gym. Regardless, June through August is vacation season in the Netherlands, so one can get a little salty watching colleagues leave for their (standard) three-week summery vay-cay.

But alas, I endured! (ha)

Thanks to our friends, Sarah & Barend, we were heading to the Brittany region of France to see these two lovebirds get married and decided to turn it into proper road trip.

We booked a Mini Cooper. We got a VW wagon. Slight disappointment.

First up, the cliffs! I’ll get to the sh*t later. 😏

Fécamp

I’ll be honest, the only reason we stopped in Fécamp was because a night in Étretat, even in the shoulder season of September, was more expensive than we were willing to pay. Fécamp, located on the coast of Normandy, is a quick 25 minutes north of Étretat and 7 hours south of Groningen so it was a good stopping point on day 1.

Tip: For a stopover night on a budget, stay at the Ibis Budget Hotel. It has free parking and is an easy 25 minute walk to the boardwalk.


Honestly, it looks like a painting. So it should come as no surprise that this area of Normandy has been the inspiration for many an artist over the years. Displayed on the boardwalk is a plaque with the painting below, by Jules Achille Noël, from 1871. I was shocked by how alike the painting and the modern day view were – even the church is still there!

The beach at Fécamp.
Crinolines sur la plage, Fecamp (thank you Wikipedia for the image).

The other unique thing about both Fécamp and Étretat are the “pebble” beaches. I say “pebble” because some of them were flat-out rocks. The pebbles are created from the soft white chalk cliffs that make up a 125 km (80 mile) stretch of coastline called La Côte d’Albâtre (the Alabaster Coast) where these two towns are located. Over time, they are perfectly polished by the waves. The sight and, oddly enough, the sound of the water moving through them was a new experience for both of us!

Tip: Have a drink (or a snack!) on the boardwalk around sunset. Hard apple cider and mussels are a specialty of the region.


Étretat

Étretat is home to (in my opinion) the most famous cliffs on the Alabaster Coast, and for good reason! They are STUNNING. The kind of place that photos don’t do justice. We arrived in the area not knowing what to expect and left in awe of the natural beauty!

Similar to Fécamp, there is a boardwalk on the beach which allows direct access to paths up the cliffs on either side. We arrived early enough to enjoy a coffee on the beach, then head up the cliffs. We started to the right of the beach, if you’re facing the English Channel.

Tip: Park for free outside the town and walk in. The signs say 10 minutes walking; expect 15 – 20 minutes but it’s a straight shot.


Of course, you can go up and stop – that’s were a lot of people ended their cliff journey. But if you’re feeling a little adventurous and the tide is out, then pick one of the paths down and go exploring! We followed the path less traveled and ended up by ourselves on the beach underneath the cliffs.

Danger?! He laughs in the face of danger! Ha Ha Ha Ha!
(name that movie… 🦁)
We made it!

The cliffs look huge from a distance, but standing at the bottom really put things into perspective. Can you spot Shane?

This was also biologist Shane’s dream world – so much life in the rocks that wouldn’t have been visible at high tide. Mussels, anemones, other things I certainly can’t identify…

Tip: If rock-hopping is your thing, look up the tide schedules before you go and plan your day accordingly.

And, a little public service announcement:

Don’t be an asshole – throw your trash away in a proper trashcan! Better yet – ditch the plastic and get a reusable bottle. We brought as many plastic bottles that we could safely carry back up the cliffs, but it’s always astounding the amount of trash tucked away in corners. #endrant


All that danger (and trash collecting) works up an appetite – a galette and some cider did the trick, then we were off to explore the other side!

If you’re facing the English Channel and turn left, you will walk towards two natural arches (Porte d’Aval and The Manneporte) and L’Aiguille (The Needle), a 70m tall pointed chalk formation. Similar to heading right, you can walk up a clearly marked path to the top for what I can assume are some spectacular views. Unfortunately for us (or maybe fortunately?) there was a triathlon taking place which used the path so it was blocked off. No worries though, the tide was low and I read online that you could walk THROUGH the arch at low tide!

And damn it – if I could walk through that arch I was walking THROUGH THAT ARCH!

That wasn’t quite the case – the water in no way goes out far enough at low tide to walk through. What you can access is a cave with a tunnel that shoots you straight through to the beaches on the other side.

I’ll take it.

View of the beach from inside the cave.
And don’t worry – if you improperly time your adventure the cave is a safe spot. You’ll just be waiting a while before you can leave again…
The views from the other side certainly made it worth the risk (the Needle & Porte d’Aval (arch)).

In the photo above, we are actually standing underneath The Manneporte (the largest arch) so I guess I did get to walk under one after all! And to put things into perspective the sheer size of this arch…

Looking up.

Tip: Wear sturdy shoes. Your feet will thank you later.


With tired calves we made our way back to the car for the ~2 hour drive to our next stopping point – the D-Day landing beaches.

Final tip: Visit this area (!) and go in the shoulder season.

The towns, the cliffs, the views – all exceeded expectations, and by coming in the fall you miss the masses of tourists. The towns themselves are small; by mid-day it was a little crowded but not annoyingly so, and you were able to be alone out on the cliffs. I can imagine it being easily overwhelmed during peak-season.

By car, it’s a little under 3 hours from Paris so it could be seen in a day, but if you have the time then spend the night so you can explore at leisure.

If it’s inspiring enough for Claude Monet to create 20+ paintings, it’s good enough for a one night stay!

Tot ziens,

Whitney