I am having a difficult time “getting back to normal” following the attacks in Paris over a week ago. But, since the people of Paris and France are committed to getting on with their lives, I must do the same. And so…
After successfully negotiating the notorious traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe, we pointed our little white Fiat north to Bayeaux. We had rented a flat there via Air BnB to use as our base for exploring the D-Day beaches. Also on our agenda was a visit to the famous Bayeaux Tapestry, woven 1000 years ago (http://www.francetravelplanner.com/go/normandy/bayeux/see/tapestry.html ),and the Bayeaux Cathedral, once the home of the tapestry. The flat was comfortable and perfectly located within walking distance of all the sights in town. Additionally, the Normandy sights we wanted to see were within an hour or less, driving.
A side note about toll ways: In northern France, we used our American chip and pin credit card in the toll booths with no problem, but later in our visit, driving south of Paris back to Strasbourg, we got stuck in a booth that would not accept our card. The attendant told us American cards were not accepted, and so we had to back out and use another lane that accepted cash. It’s probably safest to just use the cash lanes!
It took two full days to take in Arromanche, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, and Point du Hoc. There are many other sights, museums, and monuments in the surrounding area from the battles to liberate France – we will have to go back. All of the sights gave great pause and impressed upon my mind the incredible sacrifice we were willing to endure to conquer the evil that was the Third Reich, but nothing brought it home more starkly than the American Cemetery on the bluff above Omaha Beach. Those 172 acres and 9,387 graves arranged in such precision and attended with such care were nearly overwhelming to contemplate. Especially considering that about 60% of the families who lost service members in the battle chose to have their bodies returned to the US in the aftermath; less than half of those lost are buried at Omaha (https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery#.VlN4__mrTIU )
Continuing our journey along the Normandy coast, our next stop was the Abbey at Mont St Michel. We stayed in the little town of Beauvoir, and walked along the canal – quite a hike but nice and flat – to get to the bus that runs out the new bridge to the entrance to the Mont. We arrived just at the end of a very high tide (the Mont has, along with St. Malo, the greatest tidal change in Europe) and so the bus was not able to get all the way out. We waited along with hundreds of other “pilgrims” for the flood to subside, and when it was calf-deep, we were among the more intrepid who shut ourselves of socks and shoes, rolled up our pant legs, and waded the rest of the way in the cold, cold water. It was worth it to get ahead of the crowds! It’s a steep uphill climb through the town the Abbey, so you need to be in good shape in order to hoof it. The Abbey itself is magnificent, having stood on this spot since construction began in 706 (http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/en/histoire.htm).
Our pilgrimage complete, we crossed the river into Brittany, and enjoyed visits to St.Malo, on the coast, and Dinan, up the Rance River. Both towns have beautiful medieval walls to stroll on, and lovely historic centers to explore. After the intensity of our D-Day time, it was nice to just relax, enjoy the views, and wander wherever our interest was piqued.
After a few days traversing Brittany, we entered the Loire Valley for our Chateau visits. We took in several lesser-known locations, and then Villandry, famed for its gardens, Amboise, and Chenonceau – the ladies’ chateau. For Chenonceau, we stayed at another Air BnB location. This time we had a room and bath in a private wing of a home in Amboise, with a very friendly host who was more than happy to share the history of his home (tuffa caves which residents took shelter from bombing in during the Second World War), the town, and his wine. We sampled a just-harvested vintage that is so sparkly the bottles cannot be corked because fermentation continues after bottling! Franck claimed the wine is only available, and must be consumed, during three weeks in the fall. It was delicious! We look forward to staying with Franck again next time we visit the Loire!
When we had originally planned our French adventure, we thought we would spend another week touring the Burgundy region. However, we decided, since one of us (NOT ME!) was not that interested in visiting wineries and tasting while driving, that we would end our vacation after the Loire. And, so, we made our way to Strasbourg for a quick tour and to turn in the car before catching the train back to Ramstein.
NEXT TIME: Homeward Bound