Misadventures in Normandy France: There’s no going back.

memorial at Omaha Beach Normandy France

My friend Angela and I took a two and a half month backpacking trip through Europe, and although the majority of our travel was via trains and planes, we did rent a car during our visit to the Normandy region of France.  It wouldn’t have been a complete trip if I couldn’t say we used “trains, planes, and automobiles.”  

Little did I know at the time, but this decision would go down in my travel journals as yet another travel misadventure. For those of you, who have read some of my previous misadventure stories, you know that I recommend you try to keep a positive attitude and have fun even when things don’t go the way you planned.  Our misadventure in Normandy was no different!

The Misadventure Begins!

The Normandy region of France is known for its rich history and beautiful coastal towns. In addition to the historic D-Day sites, there is also the unique island fortress of Mont Saint-Michel, seaside towns like Honfleur, the historic city of Rouen, the home of Claude Monet in Giverny and much more in Normandy. This region deserves so much more time than we had to give it.

We took a train from Paris to Caen, where we had a hotel just outside the city. This is an excellent base for a quick trip to see the D-Day sites. It also has an airport, which made it convenient for us to get to our next destination.  Upon arriving at Caen, we took an Uber to our hotel, where we spent the night.

The next morning we took a taxi to the car rental agency. However, we arrived before our rental time of 9:00 a.m., and the woman at the desk said that she couldn’t give us the car before 9:00. Since we still had around 20 minutes to wait, we decided to find an ATM and get some cash for our trip to Mont Saint-Michel.

We get our money and return to the car rental agency.  When we arrive back at the agency, there is now a line.  We wait and wait and wait. By the time they finally get around to helping us and giving us the keys to our car, it is almost 10:00 a.m.!  Our car, a Fiat 500, is positioned at the exit to the garage, so we quickly look over it and then get in and drive away.

Blue Fiat 500 rented in Normandy.

Our rental car while in Normandy, France.

Driving to Mont Saint-Michel

We are meeting a friend of Angela’s in Mont Saint-Michel, and we still have a 2-hour drive to get there.  Since the car rental process took longer than expected, we are running a little behind schedule.  This is a common occurrence when traveling.  Often timetables, trains, planes, and so on run behind schedule, and you must be flexible enough to adapt your itinerary accordingly.

So Angela, with the help of Google, navigates us out of the city and onto the freeway.  We talk about the road signs that are different than our own back home, but mostly this could have been any freeway in rural America.  Fields and farmhouses dot the landscape. It is not so different from many highways in the U.S.

We arrive at the parking lot for Mont Saint-Michel and quickly locate a parking spot.  Angela gets a text from her friend, who has also just arrived. We follow the signs from the parking lot to the shuttle area. However, since there is a long line for the shuttle, we decide we’ll walk to the island. 

It is cold today. The low is around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high is in the low 40’s, but with the wind chill, it feels much colder. However, we’re committed and figure it will give us excellent opportunities for photos along the way. It turns out that it’s about a 40-minute walk, thus, the reason for the shuttle line.

Mont St-Michel in Normandy region of France.

The view of Mont Saint-Michel as we walk up the causeway.

 

We meet with Angela’s friend and have a wonderful time exploring the city of Mont Saint-Michel. I plan to write a post all about our visit.  It is such a unique destination, and I recommend you take a day to visit it if you’re ever in the area.

As we leave the walled city area, we walk through an archway, and as we exit the arch, there is a man with his two kids who are throwing something – food, I assume.  Shortly after passing them, Angela says, “I think a bird just pooped on me,” but I say, “well, the kids were throwing stuff, so that was probably it.”

She leaves to use the restroom before our two-hour drive back to the hotel. She returns and shows me that she did indeed get pooped on by a bird.  It is on the front of her jacket. Talk about misadventures! Yuck!

woman with scarf and coat

Angela shows me the evidence.

The Parking Lot Discovery

We return to our car and prepare to leave. I put the car in reverse, nothing happens. It doesn’t move. So I figure that I must not have the stick shift over in the correct position. Some cars can be a little finicky, no big deal. So I try to back up again. Nope. Nothing. I try everything I can think of and still NO REVERSE.  So then Angela and I start Googling what to do. We discover that this is a common issue with the Fiat 500.  

Now to all of you out there who think I must not know how to drive a stick shift, I assure you, that is not the case.  I have driven and owned manual transmission cars off and on since receiving my driver’s license (and even before that). No, this car’s reverse was just not working.

There were a few suggestions from people online for ways to possibly get reverse to work, like turn the car ignition off, put it in first, then turn on and try putting it in reverse.  I tried all of these suggestions and still nothing!

So we realize, there’s only one thing to do–push the car backward ourselves!  So Angela, being the good sport she is, pushes the car back.  Thankfully it’s a small car. We both feel entirely ridiculous and are laughing so hard as she pushes the car backward.

Angela is our personal reverse valet! Her superhero name is The Human Reverse Machine (coming to a parking lot near you)!

Accepting the Situation and Moving Forward

We laugh and discuss the absurdity of our situation as we begin our drive back.  We both agree that it seems hard to believe the car rental company would not have known about this issue. It was rather convenient that the car was already facing forward when we got into it. Otherwise, we would have discovered the problem at the rental agency, rather than almost 100 miles away!

We talk about driving back to the rental company that night, but due to our late departure from Mont Saint-Michel, it would be a challenge to arrive before the rental agency closed. Plus, it was a hassle getting the car this morning, and we had a full day of driving to D-Day sites the following morning. So we agree to accept it as is, rather than miss out on our intended itinerary.

The walkway to Pointe du Hoc
Walking out to see Point du Hoc.

There's No Going Back

Thus our misadventure in Normandy began.  The next morning, we get in the car to leave, and Angela has to push the car out so we can be on our way. Nothing quite like something not working to make you appreciate those simple things you take for granted! Just imagine for a moment if your car didn’t have a working reverse.  

You’re at the grocery store, you go to the front of your car to push it backward, and someone walks by and asks: “Watchya doin’?”  You reply: “Oh, you know, just backing the car out.”

Perhaps you’re leaving for work in the morning, and you holler “Hey honey, I’m leaving for work, can you help me back the car up?”

You decide to stop in at the local Sonic drive-in, and the server brings your food out to your car, you thank them and then ask, “Could you help me back out now?”

Okay, you get the point, reverse is a requirement in a car!  It’s also something I never thought I’d be missing, but then, travel is unpredictable!

Omaha Beach Memorial Site

Omaha Beach Memorial Site

Angela: The Human Reverse Machine in Action

We arrive at our first D-Day site, The Airborne Museum at Sainte-Mère-Église, and discover there are no pull-through parking spots.  Just our luck! Unfortunately, this is a recurring theme throughout our entire day! Park to see D-Day sites, Angela pushes us out, and we continue to the next location. 

When we arrive at Pointe du Hoc, I turn into a disabled parking lot by mistake. It is a dead-end lot too. So now I need to–yep, you guessed it–back out! I do my best to swing as wide as possible, but it is too tight with parked cars on either side for me to complete a full U-turn.  So I am directly behind another vehicle that also happens to want to leave at this exact moment!

The passenger is outside the vehicle attempting to help her driver back up. She looks at Angela, who is getting out of our car and motions as if to say, “no-no, move, we’re trying to leave.”  Angela, of course, nods her head, saying, “yes, I understand, so are we.” 

I am inside the car, observing this hilarious game of charades.  Angela then pushes our car backward and gets in.  We drive off laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the situation and the look on that poor woman’s face! What she must have thought of us.

At Omaha Beach, when we begin to leave, people are standing around watching as these two crazy girls push their car out of the parking spot. One of them even stopped to ask Angela if she needed help, “no, been doing this all day long!”  It is tough not to laugh as the situation is so odd and funny. 

And so this is how our misadventures in Normandy went.  We were so happy to return the car that night. Note to self: never rent (or buy) a Fiat 500 again. Enjoy this video clip of the human reverse machine in action.

Embrace Your Misadventure. Choose Laughter.

Summary of our misadventures in Normandy: We get our car late, Angela gets pooped on by a bird, and we discover (after driving almost 100 miles away) that we have no reverse – not to mention it’s freezing outside!  Did this keep us from having an incredible visit to Normandy?  Not one bit.  I think it is even more memorable because of our misadventures!

Had I let the car situation ruin our trip, I would have missed out on so much.  The D-Day sites in Normandy are full of world-changing history. They hold stories of honor and sacrifice, peace, and unity. I was humbled as an American to come and see first-hand these areas I had only read about in history books. I left inspired and grateful to all who sacrificed so I could have freedom, and just think, I could have let a little thing like working reverse stop me.  

Things happen when you’re traveling, and you need to roll with the punches and have a good attitude.  We took what could have been a very frustrating situation and chose to see the endless humor in it, and we didn’t waste our only day to see D-Day sites because of it. We played the hand we were dealt with and created some unforgettable memories in the process.

Thankfully, Angela was a good sport and isn’t a wimp. She backed our car up over and over again like a boss!

So misadventures or not, have fun making memories!

Choose Laughter!

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