Monday, December 19, 2016

Normandy, Day Seven & Eight. Caen, Driving back to Paris and wrapping up the Trip

Sunday Morning Farmer's Market and Paris Halloween

After our tour of Le Mont Saint Michel on Saturday afternoon, we walked back to our car which was parked almost three miles away.  Le Mont Saint Michel was jam packed and frankly, we were glad to "check it off" the list and get out of there.  It was so crowded and indeed a tourist trap, but an amazing thing to see nevertheless.  We were tired and hungry but chose not to dine there, instead opting to drive to our next overnight location, Caen.
Battle map of Caen depicting Allied
Caen is on the eastern edge of the Normandy Invasion Battlefront and is the capital of northern France's Lower Normandy region. Its city center features the Château de Caen, a circa-1060 castle built by William the Conqueror. It stands on a hill flanked by the Romanesque abbeys of Saint-Étienne and Sainte-Trinité, which date from the same period. Caen was an objective for the 3rd British Infantry Division and remained the focal point for a series of battles throughout June, July and into August. The battle did not go as planned for the Allies, instead it dragg on for two months.
The old city of Caen—with many buildings dating back to the Middle Ages—was destroyed by Allied bombing and the fighting. The reconstruction of Caen lasted until 1962; today, little of the pre-war city remains.
We stayed in a "normal" holiday-inn-like hotel, happy to relax after such a busy day.  After checking in, we drove into the town center for dinner and found a Basque restaurant that was fantastic.
Trick or Treaters in Paris Bar
The next morning, Sunday we drove back into town and were amazed at the beehive of activity on a Sunday morning.  A farmer's market with several hundred vendor stalls was set up along the waterfront.  It was crowded and the food, produce, meats, cheeses for sale were so amazing to behold.  We grabbed a crepe breakfast and meandered through the vast market admiring the delicious offerings.  Much of the town is new due to the rebuild after the destruction caused by the war but the castle of William the Conquerer remains as well as several cathedrals.  We walked around them and got a good feel for the town before heading back to Paris in the early afternoon.
In Paris, we returned our rental car and hung out at our accommodations there.  We actually found an Irish pub that aired American Football and spent Sunday evening cheering on our team.
The next day, Halloween, we actually saw costumes and trick or treaters in the bar we were at!  They were costumed children escorted by their costumed parents.  The bartender gave them candy treats and off they went, presumably to another bar that celebrated Halloween.

Lamb Chops at our Basque Restaurant
Grouper with a Chorizo Crust
Having Coffee after touring the market

There must have been 50 different types of potatoes!

The array of cheeses and Charcuteries were impressive 

There were thousands of people shopping that morning

The weekly Farmer's Market in Caen

A Castle tower that survived the 

   The next day we left for home on an afternoon flight, arriving around 8 pm EST.  Joseph and I left with wonderful experiences and a greater appreciation for the men who participated in the D-Day invasion.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the people I met in Normandy and can say with all sincerity, that they STILL appreciate what the Americans (and the Allies) did in those days.  For me, it is something that I will never forget and to have been able to do it with my son, made it even more special and memorable to me. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Normandy, Day Six. Sainte-Mère-Église, Utah Beach, Le Mont Saint Michel

Joseph and I checked out of our Air B&B Saturday morning and left Bayeux, our home for the past three days.  I really love this town and would love to come back some day soon. We headed out to continue our Normandy Battle site tour with our first stop, Sainte-Mère-Église.  Located on the western "shoulder" of the Normandy invasion beaches and just west of Utah beach, Sainte-Mere-Eglise was a critical crossroads to hold to prevent the Germans from re-enforcing the defenders at Utah Beach.  Notably, it was one of the first towns liberated.  The American 82nd Airborne literally landed in the middle of the town (some of them anyway) and many of them were killed and/or captured.  The paratroopers who landed outside of the town were able to capture the town and liberate as early as 6 am.  There is a very good museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise dedicated to the Airborne aspect of the Normandy Battle.  A dummy paratrooper is still suspended from the church next to the town square recreating the unlucky (or lucky since he survived) paratrooper who landed on the church and had his parachute snag on a spire.  He remained there until captured, and was later liberated by his comrades after the took the town.  It is a fantastic museum and the town is very welcoming to tourists.
Mannequin depicting the paratrooper who got stranded on the church
After touring the museum, we set out for Utah Beach.  The Americans landing here, had it a bit easier than the ones landing at Omaha.  Fewer, less skilled defenders resulted in fewer casualties for the GIs.  Utah Beach actually stretches north-south as opposed to east-west like the other beaches and is the southeastern part of the Cotentin Peninsula, which the Allies wanted to cut off and eventually capture Cherbourg, a deep water port to further advance the war effort.  There is also a museum there which we opted not to tour (we were pretty "museum'ed out" by then).  There are some great monuments there and a fairly new memorial dedicated to the U S Navy.  The Navy had nothing recognizing its part in the invasion, so this memorial was erected and dedicated in September 2008. 
From there we took a much longer trip to see Le Mont Saint Michel.  We were warned by the locals in Bayeux to avoid it, since it is such a tourist trap, but I have always wanted to see it so we "bit the bullet" and went.  It is a magnificent thing to behold, an island town dating to the 8th century.  Its population is listed as 44, but there were literally thousands of people there that day, a Saturday and was very crowded as we made our way through the narrow walkways.  You can learn more here:
View from Mont Saint Michel
It was a very long walk, but we and several thousand people were
enjoying Le Mont Saint Michel
Le Mont Saint Michel

Exhausted and hungry, we then drove to Caen, our last stop on the tour to enjoy a dinner a get some well-earned sleep.  
More about Caen in my next post.

The View as you prepare to "step out of the
transport plane to "jump" into battle.
These were miniatures under plexiglass to convey what the
paratroopers saw as they were about to jump
Inside a mock-up of a C-41, with paratroopers, As you step out the back,
there is a miniature of the area beneath plexiglass coupled with the sounds
of the aircraft and the battle to give you a sense of what it might
have been like.  Very good exhibit

The paratroopers caught the Germans by surprise that night, aome landing
in the middle off the town square.

Landing craft used for the invasion and statues depicting the soldiers

The Navy Memorial at Utah beach dedicated in 2008

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Normandy, Side Note

Calvados, Craft Beer, and French Wine

Michel Peron, the enthusiastic owner of Au Fin Goussier
Most people know about French wine.  The French have a couple of thousand years of experience growing grapes and making wine.  There are lots of areas in France that grow grapes for wine and many different regions.  In France, wines and brandies (which is distilled wine) are named after the regions and that they come from.  It is in this spirit (pun intended), that I write this blog installment, which does not encompass a day of the journey, but is rather a side entry about one of the many wonderful aspects of France.
As Joseph and I walked through the ancient streets of Bayeux, we happened across Au Fin Goussier, a wine shop owned and enthusiastically run by Michel Peron.  Here are links:

If there was such a thing as a Ph.D. in aromas, Michel would absolutely have one.  He is so knowledgeable about each region and his selection of wines is vast.  We made his shop a regular stop during our short time in Bayeux.  He also had local craft beers, which was our initial attraction to his "Cave a Vin" or wine cellar.  We certainly sampled those, but we also took advantage of his offer to a wine tasting.  Michel has individual maps of each wine region and can show you where the grapes were grown and the differences between the wines from the different regions.  He gave us a restaurant recommendation, to a place that he supplies the wines to, and it was excellent.  We paired our meal with the wine we preferred in our tasting with Michel.  Incidentally, everything was reasonably priced also.  
Our other discovery was Calvados, the apple brandy made in Normandy; specifically the Calvados region, which is where the bulk of the fighting in the Battle of Normandy occurred. Many a GI discovered this brandy as well during their fighting across Normandy.  Needless to say,  they availed themselves whenever they found it in cellars and there were many instances of "happy" GIs amidst the campaign (I know, hard to believe, right?).
Don't let the term "Apple Brandy" throw you off.  It is not sweet but has a delightful bouquet of apple and is a strong brandy that varies in smoothness with age.  The older, the smoother (pricier).  You can get Calvados in the USA, many wine and liquor stores carry it.  Give it a try!  It really is unique and a nice change from other Brandies.   
Michel, showing the region where the wine we were tasting came from
He has dozens of these maps, all of them particular regions in Fran


Calvados, the apple brandy from the Calvados region of Normandy.  Craft, local beers (above) from various areas of Normandy.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Normandy, Day Five. Bayeux, The Tapestry, Ancient and Modern History

Section of the Bayeux Tapestry

This was the day that we didn't drive anywhere.  Bayeux is an amazing town full of its own wonders, museums, sights, great shops, and restaurants.  We started with a tour of the famous Tapestry that depicts the events of the year 1066:  The lead up to and the Battle of Hastings which resulted in the Norman Conquest of England.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, it is a fascinating chapter and a pivotal point in history which had a profound and lasting impact upon England.  I won't bore you with details, but if you would like to learn more, here is a great link:  Also, here is a link to information about the Tapestry, which is a fascinating piece of antiquity; an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters long and 50 centimeters tall:  After touring the tapestry with a headset and narration, we walked to the Memorial Museum of the Battle Of Normandy.  It is a comprehensive display of vehicles, weapons, tactics and regalia used by both the Germans and the Allies.  It is one of many museums in Normandy but by far one of the best.  We then took a short walk to the European Cemetery, another somber and beautiful place honoring the dead on the European allied side (Canadians were buried there also). In total, the cemetery contains 4,648 burials. 

Bayeux was one of our favorite places and we are so happy that we stayed there the longest and made it our "base of operations," for our tour of Normandy. 
Museum of the Battle of Normandy, Bayeux, France
Allied Uniform Display
Weapons display
A German Artillery Piece
German Uniform display

Allied Self-propelled artillery
Typical Mounted Norman Cavalryman
Museum of the Tapestry

The Normans were Descendents of Vikings or "Northman" who settled
on the coast, hence the name "Normandy."  The ships used in the
invasion of England were very much like the Viking longboats.

German self-propelled anti-tank weapon

A Norman foot soldier
The Battle of Normandy Museum, Bayeux, France

 The Bayeux Memorial was erected in white stone facing the cemetery. The Latin epitaph along the frieze of the memorial is reference to William the Conqueror and the Invasion of England in 1066. The translation reads: “We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land.”

Poppy flower wreaths

Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot's grave
Crew members who died in Aircraft shot down were buried side by side

A Polish soldier's grave