|Loving the sun at Omaha Beach|
Our weekend included many stops at historical hot-spots in the regions of Normandy and Brittany (Normandie et Bretagne, en français), both of which are situated along the northern coast of France bordering the English Channel (called la Manche, "the sleeve," in French, due to its arm-like appearance). We got up early to take a 9:10am train from Paris to Bayeux, our first stop in Normandy. After a quick 2 hour ride, we had arrived in the small town of Bayeux, where we walked to a museum to check out the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
|The Bayeux Tapestry, with Harold swearing an oath of loyalty, upon relics, to William the Conqueror|
The Bayeux Tapestry is falsely named since it is, in fact, not at all a tapestry, but rather an embroidery. (Tapestries are cloths with the design physically woven into the fabric itself, whereas embroideries have their designs stitched on pre-woven fabric so the threads sit on top of the surface instead of being incorporated into it.) It is 70 meters long (230 feet), 20 inches wide, and comprised of fifty scenes depicting the Battle of Hastings and subsequent Norman conquest of Britain by William the Conquerer in 1066.
While French legend maintains that the cloth was commissioned by Queen Mathilda, the wife of William, (as it has been traditionally called "La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde" - "Queen Mathilda's Tapestry") it is presently thought that Bishop Odo, the brother of William, ordered the work to commemorate this conquest of epic proportions. The Tapestry wraps around an entire room at the museum and is comprised of 50 numbered scenes from the narrative of the invasion, coupled with stitched words in Latin describing each scene.
The fact that such a large strip of fabric from the 11th century has survived completely intact into the 21st century is amazing, as vestiges of previous centuries made out of fabric rarely survive due to their fragile nature. Its outstanding quality gives incredible insight into the clothing, meals, architecture, boats, weapons, etc. of the time when it was sewn and is a real gem for historians to study. As the fabric is damaged by light, we couldn't take any pictures inside, but the above panorama gives a good idea of the intricate nature of the cloth.
For more information about William the Conquerer (formerly know as William the Bastard, thankfully he did something significant in life so he could change his name!) check out this catchy video I watched at school a few years ago that explains all about William and the tapestry....
After an audio tour of the Tapestry museum, I ate a rather rushed lunch consisting of a salad, some cider and a galette du sarrasin - a savory crêpe filled with cream sauce, a few different types of local cheeses, ham and potatoes - before hopping back on the bus to head to our next stop. Normandy's known as being the region of all things apple, lots of cheeses, dairy products and crêpes, so I think I tried a good sampling of regional cuisine just in that one meal alone!
|Memorial at the D-Day Museum|
We drove for a while in the bus until we got to Colleville-Sur-Mer, where Omaha Beach, the D-Day Museum and American Cemetery are located. Being a bit of a history buff & especially interested in the World War II era - most of the books I read (historical fiction, of course) take place in WWII Europe - this was a really interesting place for me to visit.
As soon as we got off the bus, we found ourselves once again on good ole' US soil, as the American Cemetery was gifted from France to the US and is maintained by the American Armed Forces. The D-Day Museum was very informative, with lots of videos and exhibits to really help you appreciate what you see as soon as you exit the museum. We then made our way down to the sandy expanses of Omaha Beach, one of the five beaches (along with Utah, Juno, Gold & Sword) where the allied forces landed on June 6, 1944 to take back territory from the Germans. "Bloody Omaha," as it was known, was absolutely beautiful - we had the perfect warm and sunny day to visit the beach - but the weather made it that much harder for me to imagine the horrors of war that played out on these very shores.
|Enjoying the refreshing waves of the English Channel|
After the beach, we had a little time to see the American Cemetery that sits perched just above the shore of Omaha Beach. Reminiscent of Arlington National Cemetery back home in D.C., the expanses of graves really drive home the number of people people who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. You can't help but get goosebumps as you wander among the rows and rows and rows of white grave markers.
|Graves overlooking the blue waters of the English Channel|
|D-Day Memorial and Reflecting Pool|
|One of the many unknown soldiers|
|Pre-invasion bombing of Pointe du Hoc|
|Bombed-out land atop Pointe du Hoc|
|Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc|
|Short, narrow passageways in the bunkers|
|Some of Normandy's famous cliffs as seen from Pointe du Hoc|
|Lots of barbed wire still remains|
In the picture below, the giant concrete bunker to the right has been blasted apart, and the two large chunks of rubble on the left flew a couple hundred feet away to where they rest today. The intensity of the bombings there is absolutely unimaginable.
On a happier note, we left the destruction and headed off to our hotel in the tiny village of Pontorson. We stayed in Hotel Montgomery, a 16th century house which belonged to Baron Montgomery, the guy who killed French King Henri II after injuring him in the eye during a jousting match. Apparently there's a haunted room in the hotel, but thankfully it wasn't mine!
|Frédérique, Eric & I enjoying drinks and games in Pontorson|
|Reid, Craig & Jacques super intent on winning at YAM'S|
|TADA! Mont St-Michel|
|View from the abbey's cloister|
|Rustic stores lining La Grande Rue, the main road on Mont St-Michel|
|A replica pirate ship moored in the harbor of St-Malo|
|Nutella beignets!! MMMM!!!|
|The beach at St-Malo|
|My friend & roommate for the weekend, Kasey, and I on the beach!|