Caen Travelogue, including musings on French toilets, shuttle services and Caen in photos

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A welcoming sight as we reach our Hotel, the rain ends, the sun shines © Ilse Schwarz dressage-news.com
A welcoming sight as we reach our Hotel, the rain ends, the sun shines in Caen, Normandy© Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By ILSE SCHWARZ

CAEN, France, Aug. 31, 2014–The Arrival

I generally give my readers something of a travelogue overview of these events assuming that if it is new and interesting for me it will also be for at least someone else out there. Arrival on Sunday night was pretty straightforwards. I am still sad to report that I haven’t seen any of Paris other than Charles De Gaulle airport. The expressway from the airport is walled in all the way through Paris, so I saw some impressive graffiti but that was about it. The first real glimpse of French countryside was as picturesque as I had imagined…and then I think I dozed until the arrival in Caen. That evening my husband and I tried to find food. He had had no success the night before (he was here a few days ahead of me), so we were on a mission…jet lag can make me pretty determined about food. We literally picked an arbitary direction, downhill seemed like a good idea, and walked. We asked, in English, a variety of people about the location of the nearest restaurant and got a series of blank stares in return, which wasn’t too inspiring. After going left, right, down more hillside some more left and right, we happened across a delightful collection of restaurants, in the “Vaugueux.” It was like an oasis in the desert. We then proceeded to meet half of Wellington, Florida and half a dozen Germans and Dutch that we know well…always funny when you happen across friends in a foreign country.

A cluster of delightful restaurants on the Rue Du Vaugueux was THE place to run into people you knew ©Ilse Schwarz dressage-news.com
A cluster of delightful restaurants on the Rue Du Vaugueux was THE place to run into people you knew ©Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

Monday was accreditation day. I had heard rumours that the accreditation itself was easy but getting there not so much. The accreditation centre is off site, so you can’t walk there (well you can, but it would take a while). It took 3 1/2 hours from leaving my hotel to arriving at the media centre fully accredited. During the process I saw many old and wonderful looking churches, something I believe was an abbey, adorable housing, classic medieval streets, a very, very flash castle and some para dressage so it was probably time well spent. As an aside, one of my all time favourite horses I had in training, Gisele, was competing in the Para dressage, Grade II with Lauren Barwick of Canada. The mare is now called Off To Paris. They finished with an  individual silver and bronze. I haven’t worked with the mare in over three years but I felt so proud of them and shed some happy tears.

Gisele and Ilse, now named "Off To Paris", silver and bronze medals with Lauren Barwick for Canada in Para Dressage
Gisele and Ilse, now named “Off To Paris”, silver and bronze medals with Lauren Barwick for Canada in Para Dressage
 Toilets and Coffee

These two things go hand in hand. It was a total shock to me that the coffee here is AWFUL. Acrid flavour, cappucinos made with long life milk, tiny cups, no foam. You name it, it wasn’t right. Unfortunately, if I don’t get my coffee I get a headache (yes, I am addicted), so I drank the bad stuff. Enough to lead onto my brief but important discussion of toilets! It is safe to say that  I simply didn’t expect to be writing about toilets. The toilets….I just assumed they would have seats, as did the thousands of spectators in Stade De’Orano, however they had handy little ridged footholds so you could squat….I assume without slipping. I am trained in the art of a desperate squat under a gumtree but this wasn’t going to happen. Back to the media centre toilets, and they DO have seats and lung destroying ammonia vapours…seriously. To add insult to injury, after the freestyle I returned from taking photos, interviewing riders and the media toilets were gone…yes, GONE. I was assured they would return, absolutely by tomorrow but hopefully today. I need say no more. My toilet rant is over.

Editor of Dressage-news, Ken Braddick, tucks into a steaming pot of mussels cooked "Classique", with white wine, garlic and butter...so good we came back for a second sitting ©iIse Schwarz dressage-news.com
Editor of Dressage-news, Ken Braddick, tucks into a steaming pot of mussels cooked “Classique”, with white wine, garlic and butter…so good we came back for a second sitting ©iIse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

The Food

I know you are waiting to hear more tales of misery, but it is WONDERFUL…at least when I found supplies. I admit to being a little spoilt at media centers around the world, but I do expect some sort of sustenance to be provided. It is not easy to carve out time to hunt and gather between rides. It turns out that having sopping wet feet on Monday with the rain was great as I determidly went in the search of dry footwear. Again my aimless wanderings bore fruit…literally in this case. I discovered a supermarket mere minutes from the press center. It had wellies, umbrellas, wine, corkscrews, the most amazing baguettes, tomatoes, avocados and ham. Lunch and wet feet solved in one expedition. Should you ever go vegetable shopping in a French supermarket you must weigh the veggies and get a bar code in the vegetable section. Should you show up with a vegetable with no barcode at the checkout there will be many (I assume) helpful French words sent your direction…I only speak English and German. Hand signals are wonderful things.

The pastries are TO DIE FOR. The concoctions of choux pastry, almonds, decadent cream and sugar that the patisseries produce are out of this world. Yes, Ilse is five pounds heavier…but it is totally worth it. The restaurants really prepared for these Games. Our waiters were amusing and attentative. Many had Eenglish translation menues. I was tempted to order “the Net of the Can” over spinach  (I believe) but resisted. For the record the waiter later informed me that it was “a leetle female duck, a duckette perhaps?” OK, I laughed, a lot, at that.

The Shopping?

I did have a day of rest during which I played tourist,  which is a rarity at these events. However, the venues are so spread out that unless I was interested in a two-hour drive each way to see the eventing dressage I wasn’t accidently “happening across” things WEG-related. I could have finally gone to the vendor village and “shopped ’til I dropped”  but my credit cards are already in a vulnerable state so I thought I shouldn’t stretch the relationship any further. It is worth a mention that the vendor village is a bus ride, yes a BUS ride, from the dressage stadium and the bus/shuttle system is far from easy to manage and something of a running joke with pretty much everyone, so it simply was not possible to go for a quick shop over the lunch break or before competition began. My credit cards were safe but I would hate to be a vendor. Since I didn’t shop I literally went sightseeing. Caen is a beautiful ancient city and well worth the effort. The American Military Cemetary at Omaha Beach is something for everyone to see. The sight of so many crosses in such a tranquil location is both staggering and moving.

The Tourist

I rarely travel as a tourist with all of the camera gear that we bring to these international events, so in theory on this trip I should have been able to take crystal clear high quality views of everywhere we went. However, said camera gear locked in a locker at the stadium…oops. Hence,the captioned iPad photos follow my day of being a tourist. I quickly realised that being a tourist in Normandy is kind of wonderful and I would need more than one day to even get started. France may have started to win me over!

The American Military Cemetary left us all silent, speechless and in awe of what these soldiers sacrificed. So many young lives ended on Omaha Beach, Normandy on D-Day. The memorial is simply a place that every single person should spend time at.

Nothing can prepare you for the sight of so many crosses, Omaha Beach in the background © Ilse Schwarz dressage-news.com
Nothing can prepare you for the sight of so many crosses, Omaha Beach, Normandy is in the background © Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
Seemingly never-ending lines of crosses, 9000 in total, render everyone speechless as they contemplate the tremendous loss of life ©Ilse Schwarz dressage-news.com
Seemingly never-ending lines of crosses, 9,000 in total, render everyone speechless as they contemplate the tremendous loss of life ©Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

I didn’t realise that William the Conquerer built a walled castle as his residence in Caen.  Archaelogical digs are active on site to this day. The castle is definitely the centrepiece of downtown Caen and the view of the city from the walls is spectacular. It is not so difficult to imagine what it must have looked like back in 1066. Many of the original buildings inside these walls have been carefully restored. It is actually amazing how much of Caen remained intact after the World Wars. So many churches, two Abbeys and streets and streets of medieval-appearing residential areas.

 

William the Conquerers residence in Caen, France
William the Conquerer’s residence in Caen, France
The spectacular view of Caen from the walls of William the Conquerer's castle ©Ilse Schwarz dressage-news.com
The spectacular view of Caen from the walls of William the Conquerer’s castle ©Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

 

My favourite doors into one of the many ancient churches
My favourite doors into one of the many ancient churches.