Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trip Report/Photos: Paris, Brittany, Normandy (65th anniversary of D-Day)

This may be a record for me: a trip report, with photos, written and posted within one year from the actual trip!

I took my Dad on a trip to Normandy in June 2009 for the 65th anniversary of D-Day. No, he's not a vet - he was three at the time and no doubt sleeping snugly in his bed as it was occurring. The only thing he would have been fighting at the time was his Mom's efforts to get him to go to bed and brush his teeth.  That is the very first question I am asked when I tell others about the trip so I thought I'd get it out of the way!

Photo taken at the American Cemetery.

Here are the photos in case you would like to follow along. Some of them are from Paris so if you saw my other recent photo-set you may have seen those particular ones.

In Paris we stayed at the Hotel des Grands Hommes which is adjacent to the Pantheon (and if you look at the Pantheon you will see "AUX GRANDS HOMMES..." written across the top).

This is a great location and a lovely hotel which looks quite traditional but has all mod-cons including wi-fi. It is an easy walk to the Luxembourg Gardens as well as Notre Dame.

Photo is of the Pantheon.  Our hotel is visible.

Here is a quick summary of what we've done (taken from my emails to friends so it may sound a bit chatty):

On our arrival day, Saturday, despite the jet lag, we did about 8 miles of walking in total including a WWII guided walking tour. We wandered around on the Ile St. Louis and of course had Berthillon ice cream. Our day's walk took us from the Pantheon, down to the Luxembourg Gardens and then down to Notre Dame and from there all the way to the Louvre, Tuileries, and Place de la Concorde. We wandered back to the Pantheon through the 6th arrondissement, going up and down the side streets. Part way there we stopped and had a Kir Royale - in fact each night we had one as an aperitif. Dinner was at the Restaurant Perraudin and the 30E pp menu was a very good value - the entree was easily a meal in itself. The main course put me over the top but I had dessert anyway.

Neither of us could believe we walked so far on the first day with only about an hour of sleep. Dad is a real trouper - despite his double knee transplants (yes, he has fake knees - and they set off security bells wherever he goes) he has been keeping up just fine.

The photo is of Notre Dame. 

On Sunday we headed over to Saint Chapelle and I bought 2-day museum passes. These are a decent value at 32E per person, but, to be honest, you're better off getting the 4 or even 6 day pass because you simply won't see more than a few museums a day. 

Over Sunday/Monday (from the pass) we visited:

Saint Chapelle: you can't believe it until you see it - someone went to heaven for sure after building this.
Musee d'Orsay: Dad is diabetic and had a sugar crash and we saw little of this - we went to the top floor first and at least managed to see the Van Goghs and Whistler's Mother... and then we left to find him some OJ and crepes.
Arch of Triumph: We climbed this and enjoyed the view - as far as the eye can see - Dad exclaimed over this the most.
l'Orangerie: Dad was thoroughly impressed not only with C. Monet's paintings but that the space clearly was designed just to show them off.
Cluny Museum: We spent over 30 minutes talking to the curator about the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and in fact when I get home I am buying the Tracy Chevalier book about them - apparently she weaves a novel/story into the history of them.
Pantheon: right next door, how could we NOT? Dad was really impressed by Foucault's Pendulum.

We also visited Notre Dame. Just the church itself and not the Towers (which are on the museum pass) because the line was not only very long it was also in full sun - neither of us wanted that. Of course, finally, the Eiffel Tower.

Photo is of Notre Dame's Rose Window.

We did not get into the Louvre, as I told him that Monday would be a good day to visit just the Louvre and Les Invalides (both on the pass)... until at dinner Sunday night we realized that Monday was Pentecost.. you guessed it, CLOSED. Bummer! He was more interested in Les Invalides (Napoleon's tomb, and the Musee de l'Armee) and we visited neither.

Sunday's dinner found us sitting outside at Le Petit Pontoise, which was very good but very spendy - I paid 115E for the both of us (do the math - yes, yipes). I guess the de rigeur Kir Royales with three courses and of course espresso after that did the trick. Monday's dinner was on the Rue Cler before the walk over to the Eiffel Tower - decent but nothing to recommend although we did sit outside which was wonderful on such a nice night.

Quick tip: not far from St. Sulpice is a mecca to pastries and chocolates called Gerard Mulot. I bought croissants, pain au chocolat, macarons (which were heavenly and in fact I think they are famous for them) and some chocolate squares with spices mixed in (cardamom and nutmeg and a few others, maybe pepper?). We walked back to the Luxembourg Gardens and sat on a bench for a while eating some of our goodies.

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After three nights in Paris, we took the 9 AM TGV to Tours and picked up a car upon arrival. Before our trip, I lent my Dad my copy of the book, "Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure" and as a result he wanted to see some vineyards on this trip. Perhaps you may have read my threads in the Spring regarding the possibility of visiting Reims, which actually did figure into that book. I do wish we had more time on this trip as I think a visit to Reims would have rounded out the WWII theme - not to mention the champagne!

At any rate, once the plans coalesced I decided upon the Loire because you aren't going to find many vineyards in Brittany or Normandy and using the TGV made the Loire to Brittany drive reachable in a day. We drove along the Loire on our way to Saumur. We stopped for a brief visit in Candes St. Martin on the way. Take note: you won't find a meal in Candes St. Martin, apparently the only restaurant has closed and our wander around the little village didn't unearth anything else. We then drove on and finally found a small nondescript place on the river where we were promptly ignored - and I have to say in all my many visits to France I've never had that happen before. The food was unremarkable to boot, ah well. As our "quick lunch" took so very long (40 mins wait even before we were asked our meal preference) we unfortunately couldn't tarry too long in Saumur as we still had to drive to Fougeres.

We did stop at one winery named "Domaine de la Bessiere" and enjoyed a tasting. We bought 3 bottles - the one that was supposed to go home to Mom was unfortunately left in the trunk of the rental car but the other two were enjoyed at the Chilcott's B&B in Normandy. After a very quick photo-op stop at the chateau in Saumur we were on our way again. If I could have a do-over I'd have dropped Candes St. Martin and headed straight to Saumur and after a few wineries would have had lunch and actually visited the chateau.

Photo is of Dad at the Domaine de la Bessiere.

We pressed on and reached our destination for the next two nights near Fougeres, a B&B which is just outside of a tiny little village called Landean. This B&B was recommended by Coquelicot on Fodors and I'm so glad she directed us to it! My Dad loved the place and dearly wants to take Mom on a visit there sometime soon. Below is the link to the B&B and you'll see the owner (Paul Renault) is quite a good photographer. He even showed us the personal books he made showing the various butterflies and moths which frequent his elaborate gardens. His books not only had beautiful photos but quite a bit of information about the entomology of the bugs - you could tell he used to be a school teacher. I booked the "suite" which had two bedrooms with a shared bathroom. The breakfast featured their own homemade jams (cinnamon-pumpkin: TO DIE FOR) and he made crepes for us as well.

Their home was a little "off the beaten path" and took a little bit of sleuthing to find the first time. For this trip I bought the Pudlo guide for Brittany and Normandy. As luck would have it, for all that this village was so tiny, it actually had a Pudlo's pick. The owner recommended it even before I consulted Pudlo and I was happy to find a reference for it. I can recommend taking Pudlo on a trip to Brittany with you. It's not only small and easily packed, I can vouch from personal experience that researching restaurant options ahead of time is advisable as my last trip to Brittany in 2004 saw me living on crepes and salads because I mostly relied on what was in walking distance in the little towns I visited. The link:

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Wednesday morning June 3 dawned bright and sunny. In fact, from notes to friends home I said:

The weather has been simply perfect, if having a very intense sun - very little clouds! No humidity and a good breeze and the first few days was mid 70s - I think Monday must have been 80. Here in Brittany the sun seems even more intense for some reason. In fact, for all that we were wandering all over from Saturday to Monday in Paris, I was fine.. yesterday we spent much of the day in the car and I got the first sunburn I've had in years, just on my upper left arm, from driving! I had sunscreen on but missed the bicep I guess. Odd.

We had only one spit of rain on the whole trip, and that was on June 6 in the afternoon. You will know how lucky we were if you've visited Normandy before.

Paul (the owner) pulled out a map to show us how to find a laundromat in town. It was a full service dry cleaner in the Carrefour and they did our laundry (to the tune of 45 euros). I dropped it off with a promise that it would be done in 24 hours as we were off to Normandy the next morning. Quick tip: If you can find a Carrefour, there is a good chance it will have a dry cleaner/full service laundry there. Not cheap, but better than sitting around waiting for your laundry on vacation.

We then took off for Mont St. Michel. I especially wanted Dad to see this. Given that this is one of the top ten of tourist attractions in France I suppose I don't need to go into its history or explain what it is! On our way there we overshot a main turnoff by about a mile so instead of backtracking we reviewed the atlas and decided to take a one lane country road to get us back on track. I didn't post the photos (I tried to edit, really I did) but it was a pleasant diversion with a tiny little village and church where we stopped briefly on our way. I rather like that we did this diversion because instead of taking us into Pontorson and then straight up, we ended up driving on a road that approached MSM from a different direction and got a much, much better view (and I did post those photos).

The view from this road (which is, I believe, the D275, and it parallels the bay behind it) is incomparable and I have to again state how perfect the weather was. Full sun but no humidity and on the cool side with a light breeze. An absolutely perfect morning to wander around gazing at one of the wonders of France. You can see the cows are enjoying their meal and my understanding is that the mutton from the sheep who graze here is a delicacy given how salty their diet is from the tides.

We made our way in and spent the next few hours climbing up and up and wandering around Mont St. Michel. My Dad, as you can imagine, was utterly awestruck. He was like a little kid peering into every crevice and looking over every view and dropoff. As you can see from some of my photos, you are QUITE high up when you reach the top! Take a look at the photo of the guy wandering around in the sands below - he looks like an ant.

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After a few hours at Mont St. Michel we left to find something to eat. Paul had mentioned looking for a meal in Pontorson on our way home and we realized we were pushing it, timewise. Many places will close in France at 2 PM or so until dinner. I didn't want to chance it (especially with my Dad's diabetes) so we picked the first roundabout into town and parked and wandered a short time. We found a bar which had outdoor seating (and umbrellas! really important with that sun) and had a seat. After a meal and a glass of wine we meandered back to the B&B.

That evening our host gave us another meal recommendation. It was a cheerfully decorated (I remember a lot of purple and even some gold) bar au vin in Fougeres called Terre Happy and we had an excellent meal there with a few glasses of wine each. Here is their brief blog below. Terre Happy is the French pronunciation of the word therapy, by the way!

This wine bar is a close walk to the St. Leonard Church, which looks down (and practically across – that is how large it is) to the Chateau de Fougeres. This medieval fortified castle was the main reason I chose this town for a brief visit and a base for Mont St. Michel and we both wanted to walk its ramparts at dusk. On our walk, we saw that St. Leonard's has a large public garden which was already closed. It is a treat to finish dinner when it's full sunlight and after 9 PM - I could get used to that. Nonetheless it was a shame the garden was closed as you'd have quite a good vantage point to see the castle. Dad and I wandered through the quiet center of town on our way down the hill to the based of the fortress and happened across a man just coming home from errands. My Dad has never met a person he doesn’t want to talk to, so we spent some time chatting with him. My Dad is a real charmer! We even got invited to come in for a drink (this was very near the guy’s house – his wife joined us briefly too) but since dusk was rapidly approaching and we still wanted to walk down the hill to the castle we reluctantly said our goodbyes. Had it not been our last night in town we would have had a different ending to the evening – how often do you have locals invite you in for a drink?

We continued our walk down the hill (and one of my favorite photos from the trip is of my Dad, walking ahead of me down the hill – I posted it) and eventually made it to the ramparts where we walked along the top and peered down the side – a dizzying view and a long drop. I’m glad we made Fougeres our base and wish we had more time there because in my research we had so many options for nearby villages to visit.

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We left Thursday mid-morning for the Chilcott's B&B near Bayeux. Earlier that morning I decided to let Dad spend some time wandering around the Renault's gardens and talking with the owners and so I drove into town alone to walk around the chateau. It was, again, a beautiful morning, crisp, sunny and cool. In addition to walking around the base of the castle I also went back to the public garden in the upper part of town to view the castle "down below". It's such a huge castle you do not feel as if you are looking down very far!  Photo is of the castle.

I had the Pudlo guide out and decided that we'd stop for lunch in Vire at the restaurant Au Vrai Normand. I really think carrying the Pudlos along is a good idea. When you are on the road, good luck trying to find a place on your own that will have reliably good food. Don't ask me what we had, the fact that I even remembered to write down the restaurant names on this trip is a triumph! I can just tell you that we enjoyed the meal and Pudlo gave it good marks. They actually have a website:

We continued on and decided that we would do some touring before heading to the B&B. We made a beeline to Caen. I had not yet visited Le Mémorial de Caen but I knew Dad would enjoy the museum. I was right. This museum is billed as the "best WWII Museum in France" and I'd say it lives up to that hype. Your ticket is actually a 24 hour pass (we showed up in the mid afternoon, not sure if that is why it was a longer pass) and if you are staying in Caen it would not be a bad idea to take the museum in chunks over the time allotted because there is a lot to see. We were staying near Bayeux and had limited time so we spent almost 3 hours there all in one go.

After we left, we pulled out the map and decided to meander back roads to the beaches. I also really wanted him to see Arromanches and the Mulberries as well as the 360 degree movie theater high on the bluff above the beaches. I've seen this film 3 times now and it's one of the most interesting D-Day documentaries I've seen. As it is 360 degrees, you get that dizzy sensation that you are part of the action on the boats crossing the channel! This film was made for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

Here is the website:  After the movie we walked up and down the top of the cliff, peering over the edge. You can see in the photos the people riding horseback on the beach. You can also see Arromanches village down below. We didn't head down into the village that evening because we wanted to get to the B&B and also eat dinner. As it happened we didn't make it back to the little village which is a shame because on my last visit, five years ago, I did visit there with new friends I made at the Chilcott's home. Arromanches has quite a party there in the days surrounding the anniversary of D-Day.

After visiting Arromanches we continued along our meandering way to the Chilcotts.

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Thursday evening, June 4. We arrived at the Chilcott's home sometime after 6 PM. This is the third time I've stayed with them (the week of the 55th anniversary, and, the 60th anniversary of D-Day were the other two times) and I was eager to introduce my Dad to the Chilcotts and their friends. Colonel Chilcott has been ill for a few years and in fact isn't conducting guided tours these days (his friend and avid historian Ian is now conducting the tours). It was good to see him and his wife Rosemary but it was evident he was not in the best shape. He spent much of his time in his chair but his take-no-prisoners spirit was still in evidence. Dad and I sat in their dining room and talked with him for over an hour (fueled by the single malt scotch he frequently offers) about their times in France including what prompted them to move to Normandy many years ago (post-military career university courses as well as the history of the area - they quickly found they loved the region and moved permanently). We also met their other friends and guests that evening. One thing is for certain, you get a double bonus when you stay with them - a lovely place to stay and an interesting, convivial atmosphere! We asked Rosemary if they ever actually had their home "to themselves" and she said it was a rare occurrence - but they prefer it that way. They define the term "people magnets" and they usually have a full breakfast table. In the photos I've posted below, take a look at the number of cars in their driveway!

Dad and I eventually left for dinner and we had to ask Rosemary for a place that was open for a later dinner. In the summer there it's hard to gauge the time because it's still quite light at 10 PM - believe me I am not complaining! I love late evenings that are still bright. After we got home from dinner we stayed up talking to the other guests in the large drawing room, which had the requisite books to the ceiling, fireplace, overstuffed chairs and sofas, 300+ year old beams, etc. I must point out here that the drawing room still has the stuffed stoat which was in residence on my first visit 10 years ago. I snapped a shot and put it on facebook for my friend William who was traveling with me at that time, ten years ago - he pointed out then that the room had everything desirable in an old English country house drawing room and I'd have to say he was probably right!

Here are some photos of the Chilcott's home as well as a few of the B&B in Brittany. I'll come back later to explain some of the photos. You will see Gordon holding court and there is a humorous (if wine-fueled) story about him too.

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Friday morning (June 5) Dad and I assessed our options. We really only had two full days left to visit, because Sunday we were going to wend our way back to Paris for the Monday morning flight. We had already visited (once over lightly, alas) some interesting parts of the D-Day beaches east of Bayeux, so we decided to head straight to the American Cemetery and then head in the general direction of Ste. Mere Eglise. I had long wanted to visit La Cambe, the German Cemetery, as I had missed it on the two previous visits. Dad spent some time talking to the other guests and one mentioned that there was a small church in the area in a tiny speck of a village called Angoville-au-Plain which was used as a first aid base during the days after D-Day. So with our day more or less planned, we set off.

Our first stop was the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. The visitor center had gone high-tech since my last visit 5 years ago. There was a really well-done museum underground complete with movies and of course many exhibits and photos. One of the movies which was on a continuous reel had a voiceover by the same gentleman who played General George C. Marshall in the movie "Saving Private Ryan". Upon exiting the museum you will pass an infinity pool (see photos) which is a poignant message. Dad and I strolled through the cemetery amidst many other people. We also took the path down to Omaha Beach itself. Even this path had been improved since my other visits as it was now paved and had steps in places. Dad stood and stared off into the distance for a while and then touched the surf. It was very awe inspiring to be there and ponder the events of many years ago. It was peaceful and quiet with few walkers on the beach despite the proximity to the anniversary. No doubt many people were busy preparing for the next day's ceremonies. We saw quite a few official military aircraft go by as well as a number of old bombers and cargo aircraft.

Photo above is at the American Cemetery, it is called "Spirit of the American Youth rising from the Waves". 

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Between the visitor center and its many exhibits, our walk amidst the tidy graves with their perfectly straight rows of crosses, and our walk down to the beach itself, we spent almost three hours at the American Cemetery before heading to our next destination.

We were running low on gas so I made that the first priority. At the first gas station we saw, many miles up the road, I found my card wouldn't work in the machine (no chip). Because it was lunchtime, there was a card in the station's window helpfully pointing out that the attendant would return at 2 PM. I really didn't want to chance continuing on because it was a long drive before we found even that gas station. I will tell you this was in Isigny s/ Mer so that you don't make a similar mistake in looking for a restaurant there. We wandered around and didn't see many meal options to choose from so we just opted for a place with outdoor seating. It was a bar which had a number of people sitting under the umbrellas. That looked promising, despite the fact that it looked like a hole in the wall. Well, I'll just say that they did have Leffe on tap which was the saving grace. The food was barely edible. At 2 PM we wandered back to the car, filled up, and on our merry way found a full service "highway exit type" gas station a few miles up the road. Honestly, a meal of beef jerky and a packet of chips would have been far preferable to what we just ate! I had to giggle, for all that I brought the Pudlos Normandy with me, we had a rather hit or miss time of it. When I was able to rely on it, or on specific recommendations from our hosts (most of the time, to be fair), we had fabulous meals; otherwise, our luck was not good and we had to content ourselves with soggy "mystery meat"cheese burgers and stale toast with melted cheez whizz on it. Blech.

Next stop: Sainte Mere Eglise. Dad was especially interested in this because of the story he had just read in Stephen Ambrose's book on D-Day. I had visited here five years ago, and they really put on a party for the D-Day celebrations. Lots of re-enactors, many WWII-era planes buzzing around (a few were really low and slow - check out the photo I posted, talk about a steep turn, wow). We wandered around and Dad talked to many people. There were a few signs which said "no weapons of any kind including reproductions" and "only Allied uniforms allowed" (i.e. no Nazi uniforms). An ice cream cone, more wandering and chatting, and then we were off to Angoville-au-Plain.

Tiny, tiny little village. The 11th century church was in good shape, having been used as a makeshift hospital and first aid station. The blood-stained pews were still there, the blood not easily visible in the dim light. I do not like to use a flash in a church and taking photos of a bloody pew didn't seem very reverent so I didn't photograph it. Dad spent quite some time talking to an American veteran who had met a French woman during the war and married her and moved to France. In this church there are a few stained glass windows which honor the 101st Airborne Division and the medics.

Here is a link which gives some of its history:

Our next stop was La Cambe, a German war cemetery. During the war people were usually buried in a near where they fell, perhaps in small battlefield cemeteries, villages, or even field graves. After the war came the grim task of finding the various graves and reinterring the bodies to more formal cemeteries. La Cambe is one of the largest (if not the largest) German war cemeteries in Normandy. I hadn't visited it yet and had heard much about its atmosphere and wanted to give it a look.

The contrast between this cemetery and the American cemetery is striking. What I didn't know at the time of our visit but learned later was that the enormous mound in the center of the cemetery, crowned by a large black basalt cross and two sad figures staring down on the graves below, is a mass grave of almost 300 mostly unknown German soldiers. We walked around in somber silence looking at the various headstones, lying flat against the earth, sometimes with two, three names on them.

The German cemetery was a somber and almost eerie place, for all that it was a bright and sunny day. Imagine seeing those black basalt statues, hight on the hill, on a stormy evening... I find that the Commonwealth cemeteries are the most approachable and much like an English garden - flowers growing around every grave. I've also been to some English war cemeteries but not on this trip, for all that the British cemetery in Bayeux was walking distance from the Chilcott's home. The Commonwealth ones are similar to each other.

La Cambe (German cemetery) seems to say in a guttural voice "don't MESS with me", even in death and defeat: all those black crosses and precise lines. In their own way, the Allied cemeteries likewise seem to say "don't MESS with me (we have triumphed)" but it's a much more uplifting message to see white crosses in their own precise lines and of course the setting is stunning. With one you get the message of the prince of darkness and with the other uplifting bands of angels. I wonder whose idea it was to use the black basalt for the crosses and statues (i.e. who designed that cemetery there on French soil...).

I tagged the three military cemeteries and here is the slideshow of only those three cemeteries. This will show you directly the contrast.  The slideshow isn't in chron order, for some reason, so they are a little out of order but you can get the idea.

After spending some time here we decided to move on to Pointe du Hoc. The Germans had built strong fortifications here which were part of the Atlantic Wall. The task was left to the Rangers to capture the stronghold found at the top of this steep cliff. The night prior to D-Day the Pointe du Hoc saw enormous bombing from the Allies and the deep craters from the bombs are still there. You can walk down into the craters, dodging the protruding steel rods and climbing over the concrete jumbled all about. There is a memorial at the top and edge of the cliff. Ten years ago you could walk right up to it and peer over the cliff, now, there are barriers - more to protect people from falling than to protect the memorial I should think.

After we left the Pointe du Hoc we realized we had a full day at it was time to go back to the Chilcott's and relax over a glass of wine and spend some time chatting with the guests there. We had met some very interesting people there and were looking forward to hearing about their day too. We had wine from Saumur but we did not have cheese so our next stop was at E. Leclerc near the Chilcott's home.

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Friday night, June 5.

Having spent a full day driving and visiting many places, we wanted to relax over some of the wine we bought in Saumur before heading off to dinner. We had met many interesting people at the B&B and wanted to compare notes with them - everyone had a different plan for the day. Dad and I loaded up on cheese, crackers and bread at near the Chilcott's home and headed back to the B&B. I love shopping for cheese in France. There are so many choices and the person running the cheese counter had some great tips when I told her the wines we planned to enjoy. I took her advice and the three-four cheeses I bought I had never heard of before. Alas, I didn't write them down but I can assure you they went well with our wines. I'll also point out the cheese was a great bargain compared to what we have at home, even with the exchange rate.

Once we arrived, we saw that our new friends Robert and Phyllis were already enjoying the patio with their own wine. I retrieved our wine, and after prepping the cheese/bread we brought it out to the patio and joined them. We spent the next several hours savoring the lovely, warm evening. Fabulous company, good conversation, good wine, good appetizers.

At some point in the evening Gordon (the lonely gander you see pictured in the B&B photos link above) waddled over and started pestering us. Rosemary told us that he was very lonely since his mate had died (at the teeth of a fox I believe?) and had a habit of following everyone around. Geese are limited in the means of getting someone's attention! By this, I mean they nip at you. Phyllis and Robert brought their tiny sweet Maltipoo, Beignet, on the trip with them. Gordon was quite cocky until Beignet lifted her head for the first time. HISSSSS!! He backed off. Beignet put her head down again, and he advanced again and wouldn't give us peace. Phyllis had enough and started tailing Gordon while holding Beignet out in front of her. Well, he wasn't having any of that! Flap flap flap, HONK! He started running, Phyllis and Beignet in hot pursuit.

She came back and sat down again. This worked for a while and Gordon left us alone for about 30 minutes. He came back, slowly, and then started nipping at my Dad's bicep. Dad ignored him for a few minutes then finally Gordon got a good nip in. My Dad said, "ok buddy, that's it! You want a piece of me? You want attention? Here's some attention!"and he grabbed him, picked him up and plunked him on his lap! We were all laughing pretty hard at this point but I was also yelling , "Dad, Dad, put him down! He is going to poop on you!" Gordon of course was honking and trying to flap, my Dad was laughing, we were all laughing, and finally Dad put him on the ground. WADDLE WADDLE WADDLE as fast as he could, Gordon was gone and he didn't come back this time.

At about this point we realized the sun was pretty low. It was after 10 PM! We hadn't eaten dinner yet, we were having too much fun talking and enjoying our wine (and playing spy-vs-spy with Gordon).

There aren't a heck of a lot of choices in Bayeux for late dining. Rosemary sent us to La Taverne des Ducs. By the time we finally set off for dinner, it was dark. The other guests had filtered outside and were discussing going to watch the fireworks on the beach. We were all hungry, and had we already eaten it would have been fun to join them but food won out. We set out for the restaurant. The meal was very good - I recall one of us had the skate but I don't remember what else we had. No more wine though! We had enough over the course of the evening. It must have been past midnight by the time we left. What a fun evening. Dad was in his element, he LOVES people and we had spent the entire evening talking with our new friends.

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Saturday morning, June 6. The 65th anniversary of D-Day.  Photo is of the interior of Bayeux Cathedral. 

Dad and I had so many choices for the day, and I found myself wishing we had more time for the trip. Sunday we were heading back to Paris, so this was our last day in Normandy.

In the few weeks leading up to our trip I networked like mad to obtain passes to the ceremony at the American Cemetery on this day. I thought it would be really special to see President Obama speak, and to see the other dignitaries in attendance. On June 5 we saw a lot of movement and people in suits (especially at the American Cemetery) but didn't recognize anyone specifically.

I finally did obtain the passes but a day or two before the ceremony got our final instructions via email. The central collection point was in Caen and, long and short, it was about a twelve hour time commitment for the 1.5-ish hour official ceremony. This was due to security, mainly. The central collection point was a good hour-plus from the cemetery (and a drive from Bayeux just to get to it - and the main roads were closed off), the bus ride itself, the fact that the arrival at the cemetery was meant to be at least four hours before the ceremony, then the re-collection and bus back to the collection point, AND the drive back to Bayeux afterwards... a very long day. Add to this the instructions that no food or drink was allowed to be brought into the cemetery and the attendees were told they would have to eat on the bus (remember, early arrival) and that would be it until the return to Caen before more food would be available and it all seemed like a huge hassle. I wondered what the heck they did about all the old veterans who must have had more health issues than just my Dad's diabetes.

I told Dad "this is your trip, and I've got the passes. I'm happy to go if you want to go, but keep in mind this is a loooong day and this will be the only thing we will do all day. We won't see much else in Normandy if we go, but it would be really cool to go. Here are the other options we could have for today, you choose". I then gave him the other possibilities for the time we had left. He had already told me earlier in the week that he didn't want to spend all day on just the ceremony, and the morning we had to decide he said the same thing. He wanted to move around more and sightsee more.

We had a lovely breakfast with the gang staying at the B&B. The other guests who also had passes had long since left for Caen to attend the ceremony in Colleville s/ Mer. I love lingering over the breakfast dining room stories at the Chilcotts. There are always at least twelve people around the table and it's so fascinating to hear their stories. As I've mentioned above, the Chilcotts are people magnets and their friends and guests are varied and interesting. A few of the guests who came in from London planned to visit the British Cemetery (just a walk up the road) that morning which was of course having their own ceremonies. In retrospect I wish we had at least done that, because that night when we compared notes with the others, the guests who did go to the ceremonies saw a very moving ceremony, and a bonus - they realized after things got going that they were standing behind Prince Charles. Apparently the security isn't the same there as it was at the American Cemetery! There was also the faux pas in that the Queen wasn't properly invited, either. To be fair, the British Cemetery didn't have ALL the dignitaries show up, whereas I believe the American one pretty much had all the heads of state who made the trip (including, I believe, Prince Charles). I later found out that Tom Hanks was there too. I had wondered if he would show up, and I was bummed to have missed "seeing" him too - on the jumbotron, of course!

After breakfast Dad wandered around and took photos of the B&B and courtyard from all angles while I grabbed our guidebooks. We also visited the "Map Room" which is above their garage/barn. This is a very elaborate staging room which had many dioramas, maps, posters, and so on from the era. Colonel Chilcott's friend Ian was passed the torch for carrying on the tours, and we spent at least half an hour talking to him in the Map Room.

As an aside, 5 years ago I spent one evening sleeping in a sleeping bag, on a cot, in this very Map Room. Fear of spiders compelled me to decamp to the rental car as sleeping quarters for the following two nights. The Chilcotts were so very full at that time, the 60th anniversay. There was no room at the inn and in fact they had many many people camped out in tents on their property. This anniversary, the 65th, they were full but for the most part their guests were in their large house. I was a very last minute guest at the 60th anniversary, and since I was a repeat they had offered me the Map Room. Of course I had no problem staying in a Map Room, it's a room with a lot of maps, right? Imagine my surprise to find it as essentially a loft above the garage. hahaha (I had full bathroom/shower privileges in their house at the time but no actual room in the house). This should be a real testament to how special they are - I came back anyway! I am now famous as the "Map Room Girl" there, though. When the Chilcotts introduced me around that was the story they told and in fact Ian remembered me as soon as he heard the story.

By the way, here is a photo taken on June 6, 2004. Colonel Chilcott is in full health and you see Ian in the photo as well. Rosemary too of course, next to Colonel Chilcott!

Our plan for the day was to park in Bayeux and see the Tapestry and the Cathedral, and in general wander around. After that we were going to have lunch and then head off to visit the Pegasus Bridge. I really wanted to Dad to see the Merville Battery, which I had enjoyed on my visit ten years ago (1999).

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We headed into Bayeux and had no trouble finding a place to park just outside the town proper. Many people were already parked and walking to the British Cemetery and I briefly thought we should join them. Instead we walked into the town and wandered for a bit before heading to see the Tapestry.

I especially wanted my Dad to see this marvelous tapestry and to learn of its story. It's almost 1000 years old, having depicted the story of Guillaume le Conquerant (William the Conqueror). I am astounded upon each viewing that a piece of cloth that old is in such good shape. For starters, it wasn't even "handled with care" and supposedly was handled quite ignorantly through the years including being used as a sort of tarp for a time. Apparently it was stolen during the French Revolution (when it was already 700 years old) and was found about three years later being used by a man who was using it to cover goods on his cart. Apocryphal story? I'm not sure. Its age and condition is nonetheless astonishing.

Afterwards we walked to the Cathedral and took a look inside. I had to remind myself that, for as beautiful as the various cathedrals in France may be, they have nothing on the ones in Italy. I think the French ones (less ornate) would be more to Dad's liking, however, as he is Lutheran and I'm sure a gander at St Peter's would probably draw some remarks about the "poverty stricken Catholic Church". hahaha

We had lunch yet again at the Assiette Normande which is directly across the small street from the Cathedral (stained glass window shown here). After lunch we decided we wanted to head to Pegasus Bridge and the Merville Battery.

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I am of two minds about visiting the Normandy beaches over a major anniversary. On the one hand, this is the best chance to meet and talk to veterans. Not that you cannot do so at other times, but, there are not many of them left and most would make the visit near/on D-Day, I would imagine, in order to visit with their old chums or just to partake of the excitement of the anniversary. On the other hand, it is tough to get around on June 6 (not impossible, just tough) so if you are going to go, plan on a little more time on the ground there. We had 8 nights in France, and I wanted to show Dad a number of things not only Normandy so we were spread a little thin. My Dad said numerous times that he wouldn't have changed a thing about the trip but I would have preferred a few more days in Normandy proper. This was not intended to be his only trip to Normandy as I had hoped to encourage him to visit on his own with Mom (and I think I've succeeded but time will tell) so I'm not too concerned about the stuff we missed but it would have been nice to see even more.

Because the main roads are shut down on June 6, we took a meandering path towards Pegasus Bridge. The fact that you couldn't use a main road proved to be our undoing because when we got close to the canal we kept coming up against "road blocked" signs. We drove up and down various side streets and tried different ways to approach the road to the crossing but could get nowhere near it. Finally after prowling up and down various streets we found the one place that would have allowed us to approach. Success! Oh wait, too soon to claim victory. The traffic jam was a sight to behold. We sat in the jam for 15 minutes and finally Dad said, "we aren't going to get through any time soon and this is a waste of time. We can see it some other time. Let's start heading back and find something else to do."

That was that! We headed back towards Bayeux. The Merville Battery is beyond Pegasus Bridge so we missed out on that as well. Sigh.

Since we now had plenty of time (it was about 330 PM) we decided to take a different back road towards Bayeux and see what else we came upon. Within no time at all we came across a small Canadian cemetery and decided to take a look. This turned out to be fortuitous because shortly after we arrived a troupe of bagpipers who was practicing in the parking lot followed behind us and we saw a very moving tribute to the fallen soldiers which lasted at least 30 minutes. They played Amazing Grace, of course, among other songs. The cemetery was Beny s/Mer which is about 5 km from Juno Beach. I have posted the photos of the bagpipers in the photos above. Some find the bagpipes to be just noise, but I love them. So haunting. Afterwards Dad said the memory of that tribute was going to stay with him a long time.

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June 6 late afternoon - evening.

Dad and I left Beny s/Mer and started to head back to Bayeux. It started raining and as we approached Bayeux there was quite a traffic jam which took some time to clear. Neither of us were very hungry so it was back to E.Leclerc for some sandwiches for the evening/next day's drive. We called it an evening then. It wasn't terribly late but the rain and grey pall meant we weren't going to be wandering outside and at that point the D-Day Museum in Bayeux had already closed. That was another museum I've really enjoyed in the past so if you go to Bayeux I encourage you to visit it. It is called the Musée Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie.

We actually could have just stayed in Bayeux all day - we would have had the ceremonies at the cemetery, the museum across the street, the Tapestry, the Cathedral, a nice meal, and maybe a wander around town or a short jaunt to a nearby village. Plenty of options.

One thing I should mention is that as you drive around Normandy you will see many signs which look like tourist directions for lack of a better term. I didn't take photos of them (if I dug around I might find old photos) but they follow different itineraries. One set of signs is called "Overlord: l'Assaut" (Overlord the Assault) and another is "D-Day: le Choc" for instance (there are others). Below shows a driving itinerary for L'Assaut. Below that are the descriptions of the different itineraries.

Here is the home page for the site. You will find lots of information here:

At about 8 PM or so the guests who had braved the all-day American Cemetery ceremonies trickled back to the B&B. They said that it was a great experience but that it really was a very long day. Thankfully the organizers did have water for the people there - the rules wouldn't allow you to bring your own in. I wondered how they were going to handle that. The rest of the guests filtered into the big drawing room and I retrieved our other bottle of wine and the leftover cheese we had from the night before. Other guests broke out their own stash of wine and goodies and I'd say there were at least a dozen of us, probably more, having a very nice little party in the drawing room. It turned out to be a pretty late evening and a lot of talking and laughter. One of the guests was a regular (close friends with the Chilcotts) and was also a British WWII veteran. His wife was my Dad's age and his kids were about my age. He showed us the medals he got that day from "his town". Each year the little villages have celebrations and he goes back to the same town that he helped to liberate. The vets are treated like royalty. There are so few of them left now.

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Sunday morning, June 7. Departure for Paris with some detours.

There were a few things on my overflowing itinerary that we simply didn't get to see. I mentioned some of them above, and I had hoped to also drive Dad around La Route du Cidre which was to the east in the Pays d'Auge. The only day we would have had the time was June 6, as Sunday was the day we were to head to Paris and I had hoped to stop by Giverny on the way. Giverny is open on Sunday (closed Monday) and the weather was yet again perfect for strolling.

We had our last breakfast with the Chilcotts and guests and lingered over our tea and coffee. Rosemary told us some stories about the house and its history, as well as some history of the time leading up to D-Day. Apparently a few years ago a BBC production crew came through the area shooting a documentary and their road got a cameo (I think their house did too, I have to verify with her, I've forgotten). There was also an interesting documentary (which name I've forgotten) that was about some of the covert efforts leading up to D-Day. One tidbit I found very interesting is that there was call-out by the Allied planners for Europeans to send postcards with pictures/names of their towns to a nondescript address in the UK. If I recall the story, the call was for all northern European towns, not merely the French coast - to hide their intentions of course. Thousands and thousands of postcards poured in. This was very useful for the planners to educate the soldiers as to where they may have landed by the photos on the postcards - for instance identifying a church was very useful. I'm probably getting this story a little wrong, but that was the gist of it. How clever!

Finally, we said our goodbyes and we were off.

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Our loose plan for the day was to drive to Giverny first, as I really wanted my Dad to see Monet's home and gardens. After that, time permitting, I wanted to take him to Les Andelys and see Chateau Gaillard, which was Richard Coeur de Lion's fortress overlooking the Seine. This is a marvelous, almost 900 year old castle/fortress/stronghold in a stunning and strategic setting. It's roughly an hour's drive from CDG. I have a very fond memory of landing at CDG one morning ten-ish years ago, meeting a friend who had taken the train from Barcelona the night before to meet me as I arrived... driving immediately to Les Andelys.. and taking a nap in the grass (in the lovely warm sun) on the hill immediately adjacent to the Chateau itself. That memory is even sweeter given that when I stare out the window I see almost three feet of snow on my car.  (sigh)  But, I digress. 

In order to make an overnight stay in Paris worth the 90-100E taxi ride back and forth from the airport, I wanted to be in Paris NLT 5-6 PM. In other words, were we to arrive in Paris at 9 PM, there'd be little point as we'd essentially eat a late dinner and go to sleep. We had to be on the road by 8 AM the next morning. Based on past experience, I figured that a 9 AM departure from the B&B would put us in Giverny two hours later which would give us time to wander, have lunch, and then back on the road for the remaining hour or so drive to the airport. No sweat, right?

Off we went. Dad was all set in his role as navigator with maps on his lap and books at his feet, and we decided to take the N13 after passing Caen and its peripherique. I should note here that my atlas was ten years old and while it worked 99% of the time, there were some route numbers that were different. We were fine but that was probably because I had been there a few times previously and already knew the lay of the land. I think the old N13 may have been one of the ones re-numbered, come to think of it. I can't recall.

Our first frolic of the morning was when we entered the peripherique and after a little while I said "Dad, why does the sun seem to be coming from behind us? We should be going east." SIGH. I thought we were both paying attention to the proper exit to take to get away from Caen and either the sign wasn't clearly marked or we were both in la-la land. Not blaming the navigator or anything... ;) Luckily the roundy circling Caen is a lot smaller than, say, DC's beltway, so this was only perhaps a 20 minute detour. This time we clearly noted the exit number and got off where we were supposed to exit. NB: clock is ticking.

Why we chose the N13, I'm not sure, because I've done that before and while it's a more direct route it's not a highway but rather goes through towns. I did that drive 5 years ago because I had read the Allied armies used that route to go into Paris and I thought "cool" and thus took it, but that was then, this was now. We got stuck behind tractors and generally slow moving cars. Not a big deal but I soon realized we were not going to get to Giverny on time (or we'd have to give up one last night in Paris because it would be too late) so when I saw the A-13 I just zoomed and took it. I didn't have the map (obviously) and Dad got a little agitated when he traced it and noted that the route takes you towards the north before turning back down south. I "knew" this, having done that particular drive ten years ago, but we discussed it and I decided, OK, OK, let's get off and go back to the more direct route (NB: it would have been faster to take the A-13, despite its non-direct route). This was yet another short detour because we were already on the A-13 and I had to find the next exit and then we had to determine where to go to find the N13 again. Short detour, but clock is still ticking.

As it turned out, this was a serendipitous series of mistakes. The back roads we were on were beautiful, and I quickly realized we were heading for Beuvron en Auge. I had hoped to see this the day before which did not work out, and I figured that since we were right upon it anyway, a bird in hand... We followed the map and parked at one end of the village.

Beuvron is one of "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" (the most beautiful villages of France) and I can vouch that it lives up to that designation. Let's put it this way: we were there only a short time, and in my flickr set above, almost 20% of the photos depicted come from that brief time in this village. It's a small village which seemed (on our short visit) to concentrate mostly along one main street. Despite its small size, we still spent almost an hour walking around. The flowers were in abundance, there were a number of places to sample the cider (which sadly I did not as I was driving), and we were thoroughly delighted - the setting, the half-timbered buildings, the flowers... all of it. Just lovely.

By the time we left Beuvron I think it was probably close to 11 AM. I still hoped we could give Giverny a fly-by in but we decided to play it by ear. Back to the slow road it was. As it turned out, it was closing on 1 PM by the time we got close to the decision point of "head to Giverny or not" and I looked longingly at the signs as we passed them. We probably could have done it, but my estimations meant even a truncated visit would have meant arrival at the hotel in Paris at 7-ish PM and that was compressing things a bit too much. It boiled down to a choice of one or the other and Dad was very happy with our on-the-fly choice of Beuvron and I figured that was just fine. He got to see some great flowers and a beautiful village.

We dropped the car at CDG and taxied in to Paris and arrived at 4-ish PM at the hotel.

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The remainder of the evening was uneventful. We just walked around after dropping our bags at the Hotel des Grands Hommes. For an hour or so, we experienced our second rain on the entire trip but that soon passed and then the lighting was beautiful. You know the kind I mean: storm clouds but brilliant sun and everything looks as if you are wearing polarized glasses - but you are not. We wandered back down towards Notre Dame.

Our walk took us down the Boulevard St. Michel, past the fountain of the same name, and then we strolled through the narrow alleys nearby. There is a really excellent crepe stand as soon as you enter this area and we each had a crepe. The name of it escapes me, including the street name - but you really can't miss it. With your back to the Seine, look at the fountain, and then turn left and walk across the street into the rabbit warren of alleys behind the bookshop Gibert Jeune. Dad really liked walking through here and come to think of it, he really enjoyed the stroll down the Champs Elysees earlier that week - I suppose because you just don't see many crowds like that in NW PA.

After our roundabout stroll including a saunter past Notre Dame and a peek into St. Etienne du Mont and then back to the hotel, we had dinner at Le Petit Prince de Paris and then called it a night. The next morning, we flew home.



1 comment:

Ricky Peterson said...

Very informative post, nice pics. NormandyAmericanCemetery and Memorial is located in France. Omaha Beach is a most important beaches during the Normandy Invasion. Accommodation and food is available in this city at reasonable rate. Best time to visit this place is August to October.cemetery is opened for public visit. For more details refer Normandy american cemetery

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