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Published: October 4th 2014
Normandy France from 27 Sept to 1 Oct
We arrived at the Paris Nord train station and after ferreting the info on where our car hire place was, we found it and all was ready for us. With 2 GPSs (one built in the car and ours), Tom drove out of Paris. It certainly reminded us that we did the right thing last time we were in Paris, last year with Kerrie & Gemma, when we left our motor home in Versailles. It was bumper to bumper for 45 minutes. You have to make sure you drive confidently and while in Paris do what Parisians do, and that is, don't hesitate.
We arrived at our hotel in Pontoise which was 30 kms out of Paris and on the way to our first tourist stop - Rouen
For those following us on the map, while in Normandy we traveled as follows:
Rouen-Lahue-Honfleur-Caen-Sword Beach-Juno Beach-Gold Beach-Bayeux-Omaha Beach- Saint Mere du Mont-Coutances-Avanches-Le Mont St Michel which is on the boundary between Normandy & Brittany.
Rouen, the historical Capital of Normandy, is packed with fine half timbered houses, paved streets and Gothic churches. We visited
• The Old medieval
quarter, Rue Saint Romain and Rue Chanoines.Notre Dame Cathedral, masterpiece of gothic architecture and resting place of Rollo and Richard the Lionheart.Aitre Saint Maclou,medieval cemetery for plague and epidemics.Place du Vieux Marché where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431, and Joan of Arc Church.
We then drove to Le Havre for the night which is on the edge of the chalk cliffs and the northern side of the Siene River delta (the same river that flows through Paris).
Next morning started with a drive across the big Pont Normandy, a suspension bridge which had a backdrop of the chalk cliffs. The area has a busy cargo harbour, as well as for cruise ships and ferries to Portsmouth, England.
We arrived in Honfleur which is on the southern side of the delta, about mid morning. As soon as we arrived, we felt that this town offerd the warm welcome of
a little town. It looked as though this little maritime city, which has somehow escaped the ravages of time, had managed to preserve the traces of a rich historical past, which make it one of the most visited towns in France, with its picturesque backstreets and old houses.
We easily found a park (one advantage of a car over a motor home) and started our walk through Honfleur's narrow paved streets and admired its timber-framed house-fronts, its little shops, charming hotels and typical restaurants, but also to the variety of its monuments and the wealth of its cultural and artistic heritage.
Simultaneously fishing harbour, marina and commercial port, Honfleur has succeeded in making the most of its rich historical and artistic heritage. Honfleur, is also a town of painters so we saw a lot of galleries. The changing light on the Seine estuary inspired Courbet, Monet, Boudin and many others.
After lunch, we drove to Caen, the capital of Normandy. But on the way, we stopped at Trouville and Deauville for lunch. These little villages are right next to each other and share a harbour.
When we arrived in Caen, we learned that this city was
chosen by William the Conqueror as an administrative seat for his Duchy, the city of Caen, largely destroyed during the liberation in 1944, has maintained the treasures of its medieval heritage. Today it is a lively city with excellent tram and bus system. We saw:
Abbaye aux Hommesbuilt by William and Mathilda to gain official permission from the Pope for their marriage.Saint-Étienne de Caen Churchand the tomb of William the Conqueror.We wander through the medieval streets and the Vaugueux.Ramparts of 11th century Ducal Castle, one of the largest medieval fortress in Europe.
Next was our history lesson on the Battle of Normandy as we traveled along the northern beaches.
One of the main aims for visiting Normandy was to learn from locals, more about the D-Day of 6 June 1944 and onward, and how the Allies invaded Normandy with
the aim of removing Germany who was occupying France.
The Germans had built 15,000 structures along the entire coast of the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic which was called the Atlantic Wall. Despite the image that German propaganda sought to project, the “Wall” was not a continuous obstacle. It could basically be said to be composed of four types of structure: the fortresses, the coastal batteries, the close beach defenses and the obstacles erected either on the beaches themselves or inland.
Many remains of the Atlantic Wall – more or less well-preserved – can still be seen today along the coast of Normandy.
The momentous events of June 6th 1944 began shortly after midnight, with the dropping of the first British airborne troops between the Orne and Dives rivers. Then it was the turn of the Americans to parachute into the Cotentin, at the other end of the sector.
Meanwhile, the RAF’s heavy bombers were pounding those artillery batteries of the Atlantic Wall that were thought to pose the greatest threat.
At dawn, the incredulous Germans woke to find a sea covered with ships. Operation Neptune, the first phase of the Overlord
plan to reconquer Europe, was underway.
At 5.45 am, the fleet opened fire on the German defenses
At 6.30 am, the first American assault waves reached the Utah and Omaha beaches. In the British and Canadian sectors, the attack was launched an hour later, to take account of the different tide times.
By the evening of June 6th, 20,000 vehicles and 155,000 soldiers (including the paratroops) had been landed. The number of men reported killed, wounded or missing came to approximately 10,000 – far fewer than the planners had feared.
With the exception of Omaha, where the outcome of the battle hung in the balance for many hours, the Atlantic Wall was unremittingly smashed and the Allies advanced ten or so kilometers inland.
The Battle of Normandy lasted nearly three months – far longer than Allied strategists had anticipated.
As we traveled along the beaches, we saw numerous monuments - Canadian, Scottish, British, USA, French. Their 70th year anniversary was this year so the memorials were all in a very good state with flower beds and poppy wreaths still present.
Our next stop was Bayeux which, on the outskirts of town, was
where we saw the British military cemetery where over 4000 soldiers lay, including 17 Australians. It was very moving and was magnificently set up with multiple memorials, one of which was for Unknown soldiers.
Opposite the cemetery was the incredible Normandy Liberation Museum. Bayeux was the 1st town to be Liberated which was on 7 June 1944. The Museum retraced the military and human story of the Battle of Normandy, providing a fantastic step by step account of the Allies Liberation Campaign, including through a 25 minute movie. The Museum included information of both the Allies and German leaders, as well as items from the war.
Being satisfied that we had 'joined more dots' in our knowledge of WW2, we decided to visit the town of Bayeux. We stepped back in time to the 11th century thanks to its Tapestry, which retraces William the Conqueror's famous victory at Hastings in 1066. This is the other key reason to visit this town.
Bayeux is a perfect example of a medieval Norman town.
Historical town centre, with medieval streets and old houses.<li class="MsoNormal" style="mso-margin-top-alt:
auto; mso-margin-bottom-alt: auto; line-height: normal; mso-list: l2 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list 36.0pt;">Notre Dame Cathedral, consecrated in 1077 in the presence of William the Conqueror.Bayeux Tapestry, UNESCO listed, 200ft-long hand-woven embroidery from the 11th century.
Next was a stop in Sainte-Mere-Eflise. The city's fame stems from the role it played in Operation Overlord during WW2 because the city is the center of the N13 road, which was the way the Germans most likely would have used a larger counterattack against the troops who were landed at Utah and Omaha Beach.
The first landings at around. 1:40 came straight down into the town, which resulted in heavy casualties for the paratroopers. Some soldiers were sucked into the fire. Many hung on trees and lampposts and was shot before they could cut them off. The German defenders were alerted.
A famous incident related to parachute soldier John Steele of the 505th Parachute Regiment, whose parachute got stuck in the town church tower so he could only be a spectator on the bench in the town square. He escaped being taken prisoner by pretending
he was dead, until the city was conquered in the morning. He then cut himself free but in doing so, cut part of his thumb off!!!!! Great story.
We then drove to Coutances for the night.
The next morning, we drove through Avranches, on the way to the border of Normandy, which is the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel which is on the UNESCO list of World Cultural and Natural Heritage sites.
This is where the island of Le Mont-Saint-Michel sits. It is an international place of pilgrimage as well as a major tourist centre. The different stages of its construction have created a unique architectural ensemble which was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
It is believed that Aubert, Bishop of d'Avranches, founded a sanctuary on Mont-Tombe, after 3 successive appearances by the Archangel Michael. Consecrated in 709, the church has attracted both the curious and pilgrim from all over the world ever since.
After having been made into a prison from the time of the French Revolution up until the time of the Second Empire, the Abbey became the responsibility of the Historical Monuments Department in 1874. Since 1969 the
Abbey has been home to a monastic community, ensuring the continuation of a spiritual presence.
Rightly called "The Wonder of the Western World", the Mont-Saint-Michel is surrounded by the magnificent bay, which is the theatre of the greatest tidal ranges in Europe,a grandiose spectacle.
We had a fantastic few hours on the island, looking few 3 of their museums, having lunch looking over the Bay and generally wandering through the shop-lines cobbled streets.
The complementary bus system from the car park to the causeway added the ease of our visit.
It was now goodbye to Normandy.
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