Greetings from Normandy. Left La Baule on Tuesday and came up here to Normandy, to a small town called Bayeux, just north of Caen. Beautiful town, lovely hotel. Spent the first day wandering the streets, getting a feel for the place. Apart from being right in the middle of the D-day landing area, Bayeux has a history which stretches back for centuries. All the way back to the 10th century. The Bayeux cathedral
was built in 1077, and is one of the biggest churches we have come across (possible even bigger than Notre Dame in Paris). It really is a magnificent structure.
The weather is quite a bit colder here than in the south. Didn't get above 8 degrees all day, and windy, and raining. Still, if we allowed the weather to dictate our trip we would have stayed in Spain. Gave us a good excuse to frequent the cafes and bars. As if we needed an excuse for that, LOL. Spotted a few promising restaurants to try for dinner - if they're open tonight that is. Seems to be an ongoing problem with these smaller places. Don't know if it's a sign of the economic downturn over here, or if it's just the time of the year - but a lot of places seem to be closed during the week. Have to search high and low sometimes for somewhere to eat.
Went to the Musee de Tapissarie
. It houses a 70m long tapestry which tells the story of how William the Conqueror started the Norman conquest England, culminating in the battle of Hastings where he defeated Harold and proclaimed himself King of England (told you there was more to this place than just the D-day landings). The tapestry is quite amazing - the detail is so vivid and comprehensive you almost don't need the audio commentary which goes with it.
Today we did the touristy thing - tour of the D-day landing sights
. The weather seemed appropriate for such a solemn excursion - black thunderheads rolling in, gale force winds sweeping across the hills, bitterly cold rain. Still, on we went. First stop was a place called Vierville-sur-Mer, The beginning of Omaha beach. Its difficult to get a sense of the battles fought here. The area has been built over with urban developments. Apart from the plaques around the place, there doesn't appear to be any context to associate it with war. Further along the coast you get to Pointe Du Hoc
, where the American Ranger division stormed the cliffs. Huge craters pockmarked the ground, remnants of the severe shelling the area suffered. There were bombed out German concrete bunkers and gun emplacements. Looked like the field of battle hadn't been touched since it happened. It was quite eerie to realize that hundreds of men lost their lives here.
Heading east along the coast we came to a fishing town called Port-en-Bessin
. The harbour was full of fishing boats, large and small - must have been over 50 of them. While we were sitting in a cafe having some lunch we had a birdseye view of them as they were leaving the port, heading out to sea. One by one they slid past our window, navigating the narrow channel out of the harbour. It took well over an hour for all of them to pass by. Quite an impressive sight. Then we wandered down to the fish market on the wharf where we watched a couple of fishmongers getting scallops ready for the market. The way they flashed their razor sharp knives around, you wouldn't want to meet one in a grumpy mood in a dark alley.
At this time of the year all the D-day museums are closed for the winter, so we just toured the coast by car, taking in the villages, and reading a commemorative plaque here and there. We did stop in at the American War Cemetery
- very impressive. Apart from thousands of grave markers, there is a memorial with a mural describing the landings, as well as a map of operations. Gives a great overview of the scale of operations that took place here.
So, despite the atrocious weather, we thoroughly enjoyed the days excursion. As well as the places where much of the 20th century was shaped, we saw some lovely villages, tasted some wonderful food, and witnessed a small window of what life is like in this region. All up, most satisfactory.