Saturday, July 7, 2012

Normandy Driving Tour ~ Continued

Small portion of the World War II memorial to the American soldiers at the American Cemetery.

Naturally, I've heard of Normandy and knew it was the site of fighting in France, but I learned so much more during the brief time we spent on our driving tour.  

We left Belle Isle after the most delectable breakfast in the quaint dining area.  With our eventual destination Caen, where we would stay for two delightful days, we headed for Bayeux and the Normandy Beaches.

In Bayeux we viewed the tapestry, richly embroidered in brilliant shades of red, yellow and blue yarn, it was amazing and worth the stop. This original tapestry, 230 feet long, tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Norman conquest of England in 1066.  Pictures weren't allowed of the actual tapestry, for obvious reasons, but here are a couple of sections that were for sale in the gift shop that are surprisingly accurate, in color and design. 

 The audio enhanced tour described the 58 different sections vividly.  I would have never understood the story without help! I was fascinated by the whole idea of someone undertaking this incredible job (presumed to be requested by William the Conqueror's half brother, Odo, who was Bishop of Bayeux) and completed 11 years after the conquest.  

After exploring the quaint town of Bayeux and having lunch, we continued in the general direction of Omaha Beach, with the expectation of viewing one of the memorials.  We were surprised to discover that there were actually 24 different memorials and museums in the Normandy area.  

 The Memorial Cemetery near Omaha Beach, representing lost American lives during the D-Day assault.  If I recall correctly, there were over 9,000 Americans who gave their lives.  The French were grateful beyond belief, despite the fact that so much of the Normandy area was bombed and destroyed by American bombs, in the interest of saving the French from German occupation. Over and over it was made very clear that the Americans were true heroes.  I cried frequently as I watched actual film footage of the destruction, and saw evidence as we traveled of bombed and leveled buildings.  It made me proud to be an American on one level, and ashamed of how callously I take our freedoms for granted on a day to day basis.
 Just one of many, many memorial stones we saw for various ships and airborne troops who were involved in this situation that went on and on throughout the summer of 1944.

I'm not sure how clearly you can read this but it says, "You can manufacture weapons and you can purchase ammunition, but you can't buy valor and you can't pull heroes off an assembly line." Sergeant John B, Ellery U.S. 1st Infantry Division.  There were dozens of moving quotes at the cemetery.

We visited Musee Memorial d'Omaha Beach, which was impressively detailed, with thousands of personal objects, vehicles, uniforms and weapons.  It was here that we watched actual footage of the assault, with several veteran's testimonies interspersed.  Just the knowledge that these items not only survived, but were gathered and treasured, and used to personalize the history of Normandy was pretty sobering to me.  When we finished, it was late afternoon, so we drove to our hotel in Caen. 

I absolutely adored Caen! It was the perfect sized town, bigger than a village, smaller than Paris, incredibly easy to get around in.  We bought 24 hour bus passes our first morning and made good use of them, visiting the Le Memorial de Caen and Chateau du Caen.  The Memorial was an incredibly in depth look at World War II, detailing each country involved and the massive destruction in Europe.  I learned things I never learned in my prior history classes, and wept repeatedly over the awful wrenching that occurred in the Normandy area of France.  It reminded me of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, except that this museum was entirely from the European perspective, and therefore, I believe, even more instructive. The Germans and Japanese were the most destructive, in cost of human lives; yet the American soldiers, with an honest desire to save the French, destroyed much of Caen and other areas.  Kailyn told me that the French are continually appreciative of the American troops for liberating them from German rule, even though the US bombs left a wave of destruction as their calling card.

The Chateau was the remnants of a Norman castle, surprisingly complete considering it was built in 1100, and bombs pretty much knocked down the upper portions, but a lot of the walls are still standing.  The keep, which surrounded the dungeon, had sheep grazing!
Added in the 12th century, over original tile floors, which I forgot to take photos of!
Some of the original walls 
Portions of the original dungeon.  Ironically, this entire area had been filled in and there were buildings on top, which were leveled during the bombing in WW II.  When discovered, it was dug out and revealed the original moat and many of the walls. 
A different view of the leveled dungeon portion. 
Interesting information
Sheep in the keep!
Still smiling in the hotel in Caen.
While there we also visited the Museum de Normandy, which told the fascinating story of early, early civilizations, in Caen, complete with hundreds of artifacts (antiquities) telling the tale vividly.  Many of the artifacts were discovered in a recent archeological dig in 2005. I certainly got my "history wish" fulfilled on this trip!

The rest of the day was spent shopping and eating fabulous food! On Sunday, we packed up early in order to leave for our final destination in France. Right outside our hotel was the biggest market I’d 
ever experienced!  We had been told when we arrived that the streets would be cleared for market, but I had no idea how large it would be, even though Kailyn had warned me earlier that we wouldn't be able to visit all of it.
Farm fresh eggs!
Gloriously red and luscious strawberries.  I'd never seen such perfect, hand-picked ones for sale.  We bought some for the road! Every single berry was perfect, and sweet to eat. 

New meaning to the term "book mobile".

There was lots of furniture.  I had to snap a photo of this really long table for sale! Perfect for a big family dinner!

Need a mattress??

There were several stands of sewing notions.
 I snapped dozens of pictures, until my battery expired, and it was quite possibly my favorite part of the entire trip!  There are multiple markets in France, on specific days. This one in particular has been in the same place for hundreds of years, and you could literally find anything on earth that you might desire.  Much of it was produce, so attractively laid out, you wanted to buy some of everything.  We bought a container of strawberries that were so perfect, they looked like something you would personally hand pick for yourself.  All of the produce looked like that!  It was amazing!  There were carts that were portable meat markets, and all kinds of fish and seafood.  Mussels are hugely popular and people purchase them by the bucketfuls.  Different stands had large cooking pots, filled with deliciously aromatic food, enticing you to sample.

Some stands were similar to what you might see at an American flea market, with used clothing, toys and tools.  Others had jewelry, from fairly cheap to extravagant stones and settings. The girls and I bought handmade earrings and beautiful, inexpensive scarves (probably made in China!) I saw numerous stands selling mattresses, furniture, clothing and shoes.  American goods are highly popular, and were quite expensive.  A cheap bubbles sort of container that you might find at the dollar store was 3 euros!

It was quite an experience to visit such a huge market, and, Kailyn was right.  We spent quite a while there, but didn't begin to see it all!  After a couple hours, we loaded up the car and headed for Mont St. Michel, which I will save for another post!

I am home now, grateful to have had the opportunity to see some of Europe, and achingly aware of much that was missed as we drove through the countryside.  When we go again, it will be to savor the out of the way places.  I loved the small villages, quaint homes and shops.  


  1. You got some wonderful photos! I would have liked some of those strawberries, they look luscious.

    I am glad you all had such a good time.

  2. You had a magnificent trip, Sandi. I think you saw and experienced far more than most people would have. And I just have to comment that not one mention was made of your knee in this post! You walked, trudged, saw, cried, absorbed, and that knee must have held up incredibly well. I cried at some of your descriptions, too. Couldn't help it.

  3. This was really fascinating. You truly did get your history fix on this part of the trip. I would love to see Normandy sometime. Thanks for sharing this with us. You have humbled me with your words. We forget the sacrifices made here way too often.

  4. Ah Ha! You're already plotting to return. That's the sign of a successful trip. My Father-in-law was in WWII. He's soon visiting, and I'll show him your post. He's revisited the area.

  5. I was so happy that my Dad was able to visit Europe with my Mom so many years ago. I remember him saying as they contemplated the trip that he saw enough of Europe during the war. But when they came home from that trip he loved every minute of his time there..and was able to experience it during peace time. I can't imagine going back to an area where you fought and saw so much devastation, especially when he liberated the concentration camps. Thanks for sharing your trip with make me feel like I was there too!

  6. This was an awesome tour with you. I'm glad you enjoyed your dream trip. I want to shop at that market!

  7. So much fun Sandi! Thanks for sharing your adventure - I look forward to the next post.

  8. I am so glad you had a wonderful trip to France. Great itinerary. As for those strawberries, I want some! Lol.

  9. I can see how you could miss a lot on a trip like that Sandi but really, the few photos and descriptions you've showed, make me want to go!
    Those strawberries looked so good and I don't even like them that much!!! Not to mention all of that history around you. It must have been a very special feeling.
    Glad you're home and happy with all of your new memories!
    Love Di ♥


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