D-day in Normandy

Trip Start May 04, 2011
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Trip End Feb 20, 2014


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Mont St Michel, D-Day beaches

Flag of France  , Basse-Normandie,
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our flight to Paris was scheduled for 645 am and meant departing the hotel at 4am. For non-morning people, this was actually easier than I imagined and we arrived so early to the airport that the check-in counter hadn't even opened yet! First time ever for me! We flew Ryanair which is an ultra budget airline and notorious for being strict on luggage allowance and late. We had no problem with either. After Mum stressing so much about the size and weight of her carry-on, it didn’t even get checked – as her wise son had been telling her for months. The boarding area was chaos, but I had fortunately paid an extra $10 for priority boarding and this was well worth it to beat the queues and get the seats we wanted. Only a short flight to Paris – thank god because the seats didn’t even recline! We landed at the out of town airport and picked up the cheap hire car – a tiny little Fiat. I stalled it before even leaving the garage! But before no time we were off and racing 130 km/h (legally) down the freeways towards the Normandy town of Bayeux. It would have been hilarious to other motorists seeing this tiny little beast motoring along at such speeds; we felt like we were about to blow off the road every time we passed a truck.

We got breakfast in Beauvais and then stopped along the drive at Honfleur for lunch. A picturesque French town at the mouth of the Seine River. Mum fell in love with this town and we walked about the harbour and small boutique shops. No sunshine, but just pleased it wasn’t wet. We arrived in Bayeux late arvo and had a quick look around. Tempting to stay out late because it doesn’t get dark until after 10pm (!). Our hotel was excellent. Decorated with heaps of WW2 memorabilia with a particular focus on Winston Churchill. Really put us in the mind-frame for what we came here for – to visit the Normandy D-day landing beaches.

Our first full day in Bayeux was to the Cathedral, which is over 1000 yrs old (but added to over the years) and some great Norman architecture. I didn’t fully realise before this visit, but this area is where William the Conqueror (1st united King of England) was from. He is a figure in history that I am fascinated by and it was great to be in this area and learn more. Bayeux is a relatively big town, and the first to be liberated by the allies following the D-day landings on 6 June 1944. It was also largely protected by bombings and damage so structures like this cathedral were preserved; unlike so many other towns in the area that were decimated by both German and Allied bombings. Following the cathedral, we drove an hour and a half south to Mont St Michel which is an island connected to the shore by a small road and started as a small abbey on top of the hill 1000 yrs ago. It is now a massive abbey with a bustling town, all crammed onto this little island. It looks incredible from a distance and lots of laneways and alleys to explore once on the island. You have to park on the mainland and catch a shuttle out to the island. We arrived when the tide was way out and it was creeping in as we left. Great to see it at both angles. We didn’t leave the area til late and ended up fuelling up and eating at a highway truck stop on the way back to Bayeux!!! Fine French cuisine...not! But cheap and quick and an experience all the same.

On the 2nd day we did our organised half day tour of the D-day landing beaches. So much to cover and I picked the Omaha beach since it would take at least a full-day to cover them all. The tour was a bit rushed and I didn’t get as much time as I wanted to walk along the beach and explore the American Cemetery, but it was quite emotional and meaningful to stand on this soil and simply imagine the horror that took place here 68 years ago. So many lives lost in such a small space and such a short moment, but without this invasion the world we live in today would be so remarkably different. I’ve wanted to visit this area for a long time, and so glad that I could come and pay my respects.

Our final item in Bayeux was to view the Bayeux tapestry. This is a 70m long tapestry commissioned by William the Conqueror himself to tell the story of his English victory to his largely illiterate subjects in Normandy. Amazing that this has been so well preserved and fascinating to see in person. We then had to drive to Caen and catch our train to Paris. By this stage we were both overwhelmed with so much to see in this region. We briefly stopped at the British cemetery and then stopped in Caen at the abbey where William the Conqueror is buried. We then got lost looking for the hire car return and all of this meant that surprise surprise we missed our train! We had pre-booked the train for 5pm, but after a bit of hassle we were able to get new tickets for the 7pm train. Bit of another stressful 'make it up as you go’ moment, but we got to Paris, caught a cab to our hotel, grabbed a couple of beers from the deli across the road and I skulled them back! Phew. What a couple of days. The view of the Eiffel Tower at night – we could see it from standing on the pavement outside our hotel – quickly made us re-energise and re-focus on the next part of our European Adventure.
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Comments

Kaz on

Amazing places you guys are visiting and the photos are great. Can only imagine what it felt like to visit the cemeteries. Quite emotional I'm sure.

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