Travels

Cherbourg, the long way.

Saturday 8 June

For the second Friday in a row I found myself retracing road to resolve a technical problem – hence my enigmatic sign off on Thursday that I would be heading for Brittany, “all being well”.

I was not getting hot water following the pump replacement on Tuesday. After several exchanges with the motorhome place they speculated the fault was with the boiler. That could have been a real problem – replacing a boiler is not a small job. It could have been game over.

I left Omaha Beach and drove two hours back to Le Havre with all options on the table as to what I’d be doing at the end of the day. As I walked into the shop at 09:15, the English speaking woman I’d been dealing with called out, “We’ve solved your problem.” Wonderful words. It turned out the pump they fitted wasn’t man enough for the job. They switched the pump and all seemed fine.

I tried to find somewhere nearby to stay, just in case, but then decided to revert to plan A and drive to Cherbourg, covering the same roads for the fourth time in a week. It’s a long weekend in France (Whit) and I wanted to be settled somewhere. I’ve seen the French queues returning from the coast on a Sunday, a quarter of vehicles motorhomes, so I expected a lot of traffic.

I landed in Cherbourg on a grey, wet, cold mid-afternoon and pulled into one of the last two spaces on a car park by the ferry port. Through the distortion of an anxious couple of days, an early start and hours of driving in bad weather the city did not look very appealing. As rain hammered down and wind rocked the van, I ate and then had a power nap.

I ventured out early evening to get my bearings, the sun fitfully breaking through the scudding clouds. I am parked by La Cité De La Mer. It was closed but this is parked around the back.

It’s a nuclear submarine, Le Redoutable.

I wandered the harbour and the town for a couple of hours.

It looked promising but the light wasn’t great and the photos were as flat as I was. An early night beckoned. No blog, instead I watched Paul on my laptop, still laugh-out-loud funny, and it shook off my funk.

Fully restored after a great night’s sleep, despite rattling rain and buffeting winds, and the first hot shower since Tuesday, I visited La Cité De La Mer.

At 19€ it seems expensive but it’s six experiences on one site, the former Transatlantic Departure Terminal,

restored after WW2. It’s a huge place.

Before you enter, the foyer is filled by replica and actual submersibles from the last century.

Your ticket then gives you a dramatised dive in a simulator (a bit naff but I’m fifty years older than the target audience), a Titanic exhibition (ship hits iceberg and sinks) because the ship picked up about 200 from Cherbourg, an aquarium, an exhibition on the liberation of Cherbourg a couple of weeks after D-Day, and a tour of Le Redoutable, which was worth the ticket on its own.

France’s submarines are built in Cherbourg. This nuclear powered sub carried 16 warheads as part of its deterrent role. The scale and complexity of the engineering was extraordinary. It was powerful enough to power Cherbourg itself.

Cherbourg was the first large town to be liberated, its port considered essential to supplying the allies. Unfortunately, it was virtually destroyed by bombing and the retreating Germans. Then,

with ships scuppered by the Germans to block the harbours,

and now.

In the afternoon I went to the Musée Thomas Henry which holds a nice collection bequeathed the town by the local art dealer in the 1830s.

What I was interested in was original drawings by Jack Kirby,

who illustrated most of the superheroes in the Marvel Comic universe.

I should have read more comics growing up, and it’s definitely something I could get into now. I’ve always been a fan of Hergé’s Tintin and saw a lot of his stuff in exhibitions in Belgium and Denmark last year.

The sun has set, the wind has dropped. What will Cherbourg offer tomorrow?

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