26TH JULY TO 29TH JULY
26.07.2014 - 30.07.2014
CHATEAUDUN AND BAYEUX
We had another good run up to Bayeux, Villeneuve sur Yonne was one of the most interesting towns along the way. We arrived too early for entry into the Grand Caugy, at Vigorous le Grand, which is part of an old estate, huge 18th century buildings now being converted into holiday lets. Somewhat eccentric scene, the surrounding fields are a stud farm of show jumpers stock, the hostess seems very overwhelmed and the "office" is a mountain of files and paperwork. The room itself is great, beautiful shower room and view out over the paddocks. First time have ever seen fly masks on horses in France.
So, arriving too early we set off into town to wander round. Good move as being the tail end of Sunday most of the other tourists had left. We went into the Cathedral Notre Dame, so impressive. Pristine stonework and some of the choir stalls still in existence from 1300's. The stone structure, though massive, gives an air of delicacy due to the skills of the stonemasons who make their work look delicate, and on the tower and roof it almost gives an impression of lacework. MUCH to our amazement, there was no fee to enter the cathedral, nor were there pressure sales people wandering around. Just 2 or 3 collection boxes discreetly placed on the walls. So refreshing!
Also in the Cathedral was a display dedicated to the life of Franz Stock, born in 1904, who became an abbot and when WWII broke out he transferred to ministry for German soldiers, he also ministered to captured British, USA and other soldiers in the prison of war camps. Then when D day came he himself was interned with the German soldiers. A commander ordered for 3 men in the prisoner group to be selected for execution, the soldier, who had himself been a prisoner of the Germans, was delegated to select the 3 came. Going through the encampment he came across Franz Stock amongst the prisoners. He remembered how generous and supportive, even at the risk of his (Franz's) life, Franz Stock had been and he made the decision to refuse the order. Franz Stock survived as a pow, but not for long, he died in poverty in 1947 at the age of 43. Right up until his untimely demise he was working for the welfare of POW's of all nations in Paris and France. The description of his life's work is enlightening, and portrays a real Christian's mission which is in stark contrast to the fat cats and miscreants we hear so much of lately within the religious communities?
Bayeux we discovered has much to offer, ancient buildings, must find out how much damage the onslaught of the battle for Normandy inflicted on the town 70 years ago. Great little streets full of shops and cafes. River flowing through with new promenade along the banks. After we had done a fair walk around we went back to take up our lodgings.
Later we went to Arromanches on the coast. The 70th Anniversary of WWII is given full sway. Many exhibitions, banners, books and so on are all over the place. What is moving are the little things, e.g. on a shop window a brief message, "thank you to our rescuers". Arromanches is a holiday resort and it was a bit like being at home, with cafes all along the street and shops with gifts, but sprucer. Strange hearing so many English voices, but Bayeux is very near to Caen and a couple we met say they come over quite often from Portsmouth. There are events being staged for the commemoration all summer long, so well worth a visit.
Ended up in one of the cafes with a nice big bowl of moules marinieres for supper.
Breakfast, what a revelation, such gorgeous French bread, ate toooo much, but what the heck!
Breakfast room, is a walk across the courtyard, round the back of the facing building and then up a flight of steps. Here you find two small tables for two, laid up with all the bits. Delicious coffee and tea to go with the bread and croissants. We realised that the reason we had to wait until gone 9 for breakfast is that they only have room for 4 people at a time! Wonder how they will manage if they have all the rooms let now, let alone when the conversions are finished? We learned that in this part of France they adhere to Mondays being a day off, which in recent years had tended to decline somewhat. So we spent a lazy morning and then went into town to visit the Bayeux Tapestry.
Never having seen it before, we were both totally taken with it. Imagine a piece of linen, beautifully embroidered nearly 60cm wide and 68 metres long! The colours are superb and the soldiers, horses, boats, animals, weapons all so impressive. The audio guide spells out the whole history of the Norman conflict while you stroll past. Riveting experience as you just had to pinch yourself that here was the history of real events being displayed from 1000 years ago. Heard one mother say to her son "how old are you?" "4" he answered, "and this tapestry is 250 times older than you" she responded, he was suitably impressed too. "That is very very old" he said. Long may the tapestry survive. The museum was packed and it took 20 minutes from walking in to reach the start of the display, they must have 1000 or more go past every day in the summer time.
Our intention of doing a bit of shopping came to an abrupt end when we discovered, yes indeed, they shops were shut. All those folk wandering around and not many places to spend money in, apart from cafes of course. This evening we visited the artisans market, along the lines of a farmers market but mainly crafts on sale. A free range chicken I looked at was 19E, which made me blanch. We tried some of the cheese on offer, but no free sips of cider were available.
TUESDAY 29TH JULY
English sort of morning, so after brekky we set out to go to the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy 1944. Just as we entered there was a film starting on the battles, so we scooted in quickly to watch. The cinema was totally full, the film covering the battles, the conditions, the casualties, the bravery, the devastation of the tows, was very moving. After that we went back to the beginning of the museum presentation. It took 2 hours and more to walk round, reading, looking and understanding the enormity of it all. Then we drove along that coast and we saw that with that open countryside what an enormous battlefield it was. The many memorials we now felt had more meaning for us. We found out why Bayeux seemed so untouched, and that is exactly what it was, although just a stone's throw from Arromanches and Caen, it escaped totally unscathed. St. Lo was the most severely affected town and we plan to go through there to see how it has been reconstructed. Caen is now an enormous city and port, but its reconstruction must have taken many years. What amused us was that the bypass which the forces laid around Bayeux, (because the medieval streets could not take the military traffic), was laid down in just THREE WEEKS. Not tarmac, but steel sheets, and after the war it was the basis for the modern day road system. It is a daunting thought, when you realise how close the Allies were to being routed at various points, as to how long the war may have continued if they had failed.
In the afternoon we took a trip to Suisse Normande, very simiar to the Vendee in Western France, winding lanes up and down the hills and pretty villages along the way. Stopped in one village for lunch and found the local cider and wine purveyor with his shop open, so we called in to sample his wares! Not that he had tasting going on, just as well. Routing our trip back to base via the coast we returned in better weather and now enjoying the evening sun.
Now, in the evening, we sauntered into town to L'Assiette Normande for our munchies. Good job had booked as place was humming. Fortunately it took a long time to serve and eat our meal as we needed to stay put until dusk. It was a delicious meal. Watching the 4 waitresses deal with all the customers and their needs Owas fascinating, have not seen such speed and skill for many a year. There were four different dining areas, one of which was upstairs! The girls zipped around nimbly, and despite stacking high, one girl carried 9 glasses in one hand when resetting a table, no collisions with themselves or customers!
The reason we waited for dusk was the son et lumiere show which radiated over the cathedral and the huge tree in the cloister. The photos only give you a brief glimpse, and unfortunately my videos of it are too dark, but suffice it to say that it was spectacular, and moving. There were hundreds of spectators, the weather had turned fine in the evening which encouraged everyone to stay in town. The spectacle is run every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday during the summer, so we struck lucky. Noticed that the Cathedral doors are open for everyone until dusk which am sure is not the same in UK is it?
Gotta dash, horse is being lunged, client coming back to ride it in an hour.
Last day in Bayeux, we set off for Arromanches again to go to the Museum of the Invasion Operation. The Museum is right on the beach where it all happened, complete with the remains of the caissons, a landing craft and big gun, so you really could get a bit of a feeling of the situation. If not the noise, terror and trauma of ithe landings. The displays concentrated on the building of the Mulberry harbour components in UK, how the concrete caissons and Mulberry tracks were towed across the channel. About 40% of which got lost en route due to - BAD WEATHER! Within days the engineers sunk the 15 old ships to form the breakwater, flooded the concrete caissons and laid the Mulberry bridges. Just got it all going and the supplies of lorries, diesel and equipment flowing into the port when a fierce 3 day storm blew in on 19th June. This disrupted the operation, which was of great concern as the battle was then in full swing and ammunitions began to dry up. However once the storm abated, business resumed with all speed.
In the Museum there were two small cinemas, one of the liberation battle on Omaha, Utah, Gold and other beach heads, the other was a recollection of how it bore down on the residents, especially in Caen. Although the French had been told to leave, many, like those today in Syria, they were loath to leave. The ensuing 6 weeks were a constant helter skelter of emotions, the downs, as when the Americans were slaughtered on the beachhead in the early days, and the ups when the breakthroughs came in winning back Caen. Although poor Caen was wrecked.
Looking at the map of actions in Normandy that summer, the whole department was a war zone, yet there were still pictures of normal life going on, the fishing, and the harvesting.
We spent over 2 hours again looking around the exhibits. We then drove up to Port Bessin and Omaha Beach. At Porte Bessin, which is still a fishing port, there shops along the quay and restaurants, reminiscent of Padstow, but no Rick Stein equivalent! The fish market was still functioning and wandering in I espied brown shrimps. Was over the moon, cannot say have seen them at all in Cornwall for eons, a bag quickly went down the hatch.
On to Omaha, like all the other Invasion sites there was a good crowd. We decided not to go in the museum, but looked for t-shirts and caps, however they were really sticking the prices up, so that was that.
Later we returned to Port Bessin to eat, the whole place was buzzing, so different from the laidback sunny afternoon there. Just the job to set us up for the next stage of our homeward run. This time to Brittany.