Bayeux, Normandy Region - Blue Sky and Baguettes

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End May 25, 2007

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Flag of France  ,
Saturday, October 14, 2006

Find all our photos of Normandy here on our Smugmug site!

Our train ride to France was on one of the many deluxe "fast trains" railing around Europe. At one point the train goes over 300 km an hour which was very impressive when you ride so close to the ground! A stop was necessary in Paris and we were lured into the first Starbucks we had seen since leaving Seattle. After that refreshing break we went on to Bayeux, a small town in Normandy region, on the coast of France. We chose this spot for a few reasons. The first is that we were interested in the WWII history. Also, many told us that it has a nice countryside atmosphere.

As we went towards the region we found the weather improving and Bayeux itself had blue skies and sunshine. We used our Rick Steves map to get to our hotel from the train station but we learned the lesson that Rick Steves does not make very accurate maps. We ended up in a dead end but were met by two friendly ladies, one who was on her way to the town center to work out. We must have looked lost but with the map we showed her where we were trying to go. She drove us there. Small towns are great!

On our first day in Bayeux we went to their grand cathedral, the major building in the town. We then went to a WWII museum in a nearby town of Caen. This museum was highly recommended and we both enjoyed it. It gives the lead up to the war, how Germany gained power and why the rest of Europe couldn't stop them. It went all through the war, especially France's part in it, with a big exhibit on Normandy. It even went through the cold war and on peacemaking today around the world. In fact, it is known now as the "Museum of Peace". Between the museum exhibits and the films we spent over 6 hours there but it wasn't enough! We ran out of time before finishing the end of the cold war or seeing a new exhibit on Nobel peace prize winners. Good thing we already went to the Nobel museum in Stockholm!

We were really struck by how different WWII history seems when you are actually in the places where the battles were fought. Bayeux is the only significant town in Normandy that wasn't nearly bombed off the map during the war. Caen and all the other towns around it were leveled and had to be completely rebuilt. We also appreciated the French point of view on the events. It is different than ours just because it didn't take place on our soil.

The museum had other interesting exhibits, with focus on Russia's role in the war. Growing up during the cold war, we didn't learn a lot of Russia's role in WWII. It was significant! Hitler's big mistake during the war was his determination to take over Russia. He sent many of his forces to the Eastern front which allowed England and the US to amass a big supply reserve and battle their way across Europe. The Russians had such huge numbers of soldiers they just couldn't be beaten. I heard that as the Russians were approaching Berlin Hitler started calling phone numbers in the city from his bunker. When he heard a Russian voice answer the phone he knew it was over and that is when he shot himself. I don't know if the story is true, but it sounds good anyway.

To get a break from all this WWII history we also rented a car one day and drove to Mont St Michel, about an hour south. The drive was fantastic, miles of lovely French countryside and farms. The Abbey at St Michel has been a major pilgrimage sight for the last 800 years. Now it has pilgrims and tourists. We were told that in the summer it takes 3 hours to walk the short distance uphill to the abbey because the place is so choked with tourists. There were plenty of tour buses, but the climb did not take that long at all. Sometimes it really pays off to avoid these places in the summer. We were even able to attend mass at the abbey, a real treat (though it was all in French). Mass is Mass, even in French, so you always have a rough idea of what is going on.

Before leaving the region we had to do a tour of the Normandy war sites, which we did with an Irish guide that Julius called "Charahani", Swahili for sewing ´machine. In Tanzania they call people that when they talk really fast. He was a good guide and very funny in a dry way, calling all the women chicken (instead of chick) and batgirl. A real character, I guess you could say. He also managed to smoke three cigarettes during a 15 minute stop (he knew better than to smoke in a van full of Americans.) We went to many significant sites in the region including Pointe du Hoc, Omaha beach, the American Cemetary at Omaha beach plus some museums and other smaller sites. Wikipedia has a very thorough article on the battle of Normandy here so I won't blah, blah, blah about all the facts we learned. It was all interesting and the cemetery was especially sobering. Almost 10,000 soldiers are buried there, and that is only a third of the US losses in that battle (the rest were brought back to America for burial per the family's request). I tried to look for soldiers from Washington and found a few.

That was our last activity in France and so far we have a very nice impression of this country. Because it is a bigger country with a more common language, there were fewer English speakers here. We managed to go about our activities with no problem - the point and gesture method worked well with our little phrase book. On one morning there was a great farmers market where we bought delicious produce and baked goods. The french bakeries are unlike anything we have seen. They are like the Belgian bars in that they are cheap with a product far superior than any other country! We ate ham sandwiches, baguettes, croissants, quiche, flan, chocolate chip pastries... We could go to a bakery for every meal.

Now it is time for our trip across the continent to Munich!
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arla on

Mont Saint Michel
This looks like a place not to miss. I loved the photos of Normandy and your blog.

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