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From Paris to Bayeaux, Normandy

Friday through Sunday--D-Day Beaches


From Paris to Bayeaux, Normandy: Friday through Sunday
Friday: I had a noonish train, so rose early, packed and had my breakfast. I stored my bags, and walked the two blocks to the Louvre for one final visit. My Fast Pass got me right in about the time they openned. I’ve already posted some of the pictures on Facebook.

Upon exit, I came upon the underground shopping mall, and found a Starbucks where I could not resist the temptation to purchase a Paris City Mug for me and Erin (our Starbucks aficionado secretary/nurse with her own growing collection of City Mugs). They had a Post Office and an Apple Store; both of which I visited.

Soon, far sooner than I had wished, it was time to collect my bags and get to the Station. I took the train to Bayeaux in Normandy, which was about 2 hours away. For this part of the journey, I was in Second Class, and they had these little compartments instead of a central aisle; I think it was an old coach.

At Bayeaux, I shared a cab with another American couple. Normandy is crawling with visiting Americans, and everywhere one sees waving American flags. Regardless of what you may have heard, in Normandy, the French love Americans, Brits and Canadians; but especially Americans. There are American flags everywhere; I sensed that this was not merely the Tourism Office dictating this, but was a heart-felt sentiment on the part of people. They have not forgotten what the Allied Forces did for them nearly 60 years ago.

I was told that after the landings and the war, the area returned to being a sleepy farming community. Then about 15 years after the war, Americans, Brits and Canadians began returning. This is understandable, for after the horrors that one can experience in war, it takes quite some time for one to revisit the site of painful memories. My father’s sentiments perhaps echo that of so many of the Greatest Generation when he said in response to my questioning: Son, I’ve spent most of my life since then trying to forget what I experienced; why would you wish me to dredge it all up now?

But now, we flock to Normandy; even we who were not there on D-Day.

I checked into the Hotel Churchill, which is a small, tidy 3 star hotel in the heart of town, and where sister Debbie and hubby Steve stayed last summer. It was cold, windy and rainy. The rain came down in earnest, so I found an English pub with American and Union Jacks flying, and took shelter and slaked my thirst.

The rain subsiding, I found the Bayeaux Tapestry, a World UNESCO Site, and took the tour. This is a 70 meter long tapestry from the 12th (I think) century, telling the story in 58 panels of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The craftsmanship was amazing, but the history even more so. This was told from the point of view of William the Conqueror; of how King Edward sent Prince Harold over to convey to William of Normandy (nicknamed ‘the Bastard’) that he was to be King of England upon Edward’s death. Harold did so, got captured, swore an oath of loyalty to William, then returned to England, where he promptly had himself crowned as King of England.

William would not settle for this, of course, so mounted an army to unseat the Usurper Harold. It was all settled in 1066, when Harold was defeated at the Battle of Hastings. And so William the Bastard became William the Conqueror.

For some reason, this simple transformation of nomenclature made me ponder on the difference between the circumstances of one’s birth, and the life we make of what we’ve been given to work with. How many people with fine pedigrees waste their lives? How many of ignominious or difficult beginnings go on to transform one’s life, legacy and perhaps even the world?

The Cathedral was right there, and I made a tour through. Of course, it’s called Notre Dame, as France at this time had a great devotion to Our Lady. This was a late Norman/early Gothic church. Touching was the side Chapel devoted to all those who lost their lives at the D-Day landings. As I finished my tour, the organist started rehearsing; a perfect close to my time.

After lighting a candle for all in my Parish and family and friends, I went to dinner.

Dinner was a simple yet elegant restaurant minutes from the hotel; I had the Salade Normandie, Fish from the Pot (a fish stew made of shrimp, white fish, salmon and veggies) finished off with a slice of chocolate cake; yes, I treated myself!

Then it was home to the Churchill to settle in and get ready for the next day.

Saturday: Today was the reason I had come to Bayeaux, Normandy: to take the tour of the D-Day invasion. After what we would call a continental breakfast, I went to meet the tour, which departed at 0815. We were on a bus with about 14 of us, and our tour guide/driver was a retired French Marine. I fell in with a young American who turned out to be a US Army doctor, stationed in Washington, but TAD to Landstuhl, Germany for a month. Phil was good company as we treked over the sights, and spoke of our own experiences. Of course, the most sombre aspect of the tour was the American Cemetery, which is painstakingly maintained even to this day. We both agreed that this was a very good use of our tax dollars. In the Chapel, which is at the heart of the Cemetery, I paused for prayer: the Lord’s Prayer, three Hail Mary’s and a blessing upon the dead. Both Christian and Jewish symbols were present, and the Christian inscription was from the Book of Common Prayer.

The movie references were The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. I was pleased to know that no actual grave-sites were used in the filming, as this would have been disrespectful to the memory of the fallen. Instead, markers were set up for the movie set, and dismantled after.

This brought back memories of visiting the American Cemetery in Tunis, Tunisia, North Africa during my Kearsarge Med Cruise of 2000. It was a little green slice of America, made holy by the ultimate sacrifice of our men and women in uniform when the world was threatened by an encroaching darkness and evil.

Though unseen by most Americans, it is comforting to know that we as a nation still honour and remember their sacrifice by the continual care given to the final resting place of so many.

Though sombre and thought provoking, the day was not a dismal ending. Phil and I fell into company with about five Irishmen, who insisted on finding not only a pub, but an Irish pub at that. Soon, the close of the day was filled with Guinness, Stella Artois banter and joking. They went off to find the European football match broadcast from Wembley Stadium in England, and I went off to pack.

Sunday: I awoke early, as I had made the mistake of booking an early train to Paris. Breakfast was the usual croissant, meat and cheese, hard boiled egg and coffee. It seems not so very much by American standards, but I find it surprisingly filling and lasting.

I met a woman from Indianapolis whom I recognise from the restaurant from Friday night, and we fell into conversation. It turns out we were on the same train to Paris, so we shared a cab and were seat-mates for the journey; me saying prayers and dozing.

At Sainte Lazare station I looked for a cab to Station de Lyon, and ended up sharing a cab with a family from New Mexico. I had a layover of about 3 hours, so had lunch, listened to a new CD of choral music I had purchased at Norwich Cathedral, and read a book on the Marines in WWII Pacific.

In Paris I boarded my high speed train for Avignon, in the south of France. I love these high speed trains, whipping through the countryside; and it’s amazing how quickly the city gives way to countryside, and how much land is agricultural. I recall reading of the European Union, and France’s disagreements with it: chiefly the subsidies given to farmers, to keep the countryside agricultural and viable. I side with France on this one!

My hotel is centrally located on the Plaza, an easy walk to the pedestrian heart of the city.

Posted by stbrides 23:59 Archived in France

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