Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Normandy: D-Day beaches, the Bayeux Tapestry & Mont Saint Michel

This post covers all the big attractions in Normandy.

On Thursday 14th June we headed off from our campsite at Berniere-sur-Mer and went to get Ace washed. People had started to stare at the large collection of insects splattered all over him so for 5 euros he had a good bath. After we had finished we realised the bedroom window was slightly ajar! Some foam had got into the window but besides a partially damp duvet, it was okay!

Above and below: Mont St Michel by night
We drove into the town of Bayeux and managed to get a car park, with some manouevering of course, right next to the building where the Bayeux Tapestry is housed. The visit starts with a 15 minute film which tells you about the origin of the tapestry and the story depicted on 70 metres of fabric, almost 1000 years old. It is as much a tale of morals as a description of how William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy (that’s what they used to call him!) became William the Conqueror, King of England. The moral is that if you go back on your word, as Harold did (he said he would recognise William as king once his brother in law Edward died, but instead took the crown for himself) you get poked in the eye with an arrow and die. Joooke! No joke really, you even see his eye being poked on the tapestry.

From Bayeux we headed back to the coast where we visited the American military cemetery on Omaha beach. This is where the opening and closing scenes of Saving Private Ryan was filmed. The car park was huge including a section just for motorhomes! Over 20 of us were there along with the cars and dozens of coaches.

Over 9000 simple white crossesand stars of David stand in rows of immaculately tended turf overlooking the beach (photo to the left). The memorials are more subdued than the Australian WW1 cemetery we recently visited. The American crosses bore only the soldiers names, rank and the state they were from. This was markedly different from the Commonwealth graves which had flowers, the soldiers’ ages and personal epitaphs from their families.
Photos below: Views from Mont St Michel

From here we drove down through Normandy to Mont St Michel. We decided to stay at an aire de service – these vary enormously, but generally they are a place where motorhomes can spend the night using your own sanitation facilities. This aire de service was run by a hotel complex and had hundreds of pitches separated by hedges with trees towering above us. The facilities included the usual drain for our grey water (water that goes down the sinks and shower), chemical toilet emptying point and fresh water tap, along with washing up facilities and outdoor urinals. Sarah was not happy at this “sexist” provision for men as there were no toilets for women! Typically, with no toilets on site, I had to twice make the 5 minute walk to the local supermarket to go..

On our night of arrival we walked out to the causeway and took photos of Mont St Michel until about 11pm. The next afternoon we walked out again across the causeway and climbed the winding, hilly street looking at the touristy shops selling local specialities such as cider and butter biscuits. We kept climbing up the street then a further couple hundred steps up to the abbey.

We didn’t think the abbey itself was particularly interesting. We hate attractions where you pay to get in and then there is very little information displayed and you wish you’d bought an audioguide to listen to. Contrast this with the excellent Bayeux Tapestry, where the audioguide was included in the price and you saw a film about it too!

The abbey does offer great views of the coast. Dozens of people were walking out along the sands to a nearby island. The tidal range here is about 15 metres during the seasonal equinoxes. You have to vacate some of the car parks by 8pm otherwise you will find your car under water!

After visiting the abbey we walked along the ramparts and then again through the narrow, hilly streets back down to the causeway. We bought some cider and biscuits on the way back and went and prepared our homemade lasagne. Sarah even made the white sauce for it, no more jar buying for us! As we were doing this a torrential storm started complete with hailstones. The pitch around us slowly started to fill with water and the hedges nearby become a lake about 10 metres long and 5 metres wide. After getting stuck in the mud in Herefordshire in February, we feared another occurrence of this and went to bed in gloomy spirits. We were a good 10 metres away from the safety of the gravel road.
The next morning we awoke and were pleasantly surprised, there was barely any water left! The drainage on the site was fantastic! We managed to leave the site early (for us that is, 10.30am!) and we headed off to Brittany.

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