Friday, March 3, 2017

Long Drive Around Normandy

This day was a very long day, particularly for my chauffeur- Brian. We had spent the night outside of Paris, then woke up early in the morning to start driving to the North West coast of France.

Our first stop was in Bayeux to see the one and only Bayeux tapestry! The Bayeux tapestry is the oldest documentation of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. They are not sure whether the Normans in France created the tapestry or whether it was done on the English side, but either way it was an amazing tapestry! I knew that it would be big, what I didn't realize is that in height it's about about 3 feet, but it's length is 230 feet! It's so much bigger than what I thought. They didn't let us take pictures of the Tapestry, but here are some I found online.

The story tells of how Edward the Confessor (before his death) named William the Conqueror (a French Norman) as his heir to the throne of England. And how Harold attempted to usurp the throne, thus leading up to the Battle of Hastings. It was magnificent.

The tapestry used to be hung in the Cathedral and brought out every year to be paraded around town. However, they moved it to it's current location to prevent deterioration. However, now it's in the Museum of Bayuex.

After viewing the tapestry, you could see replicas of the Norman armor and weaponry.

And a replica of the Norman long ship used to sail those soldiers to Hasting, England.

It was incredible.

However, we couldn't afford to stay long as we made our way north east to Omaha Beach. Normandy is known not just for the home of William the Conqueror, but it's also the stage for the Allied Invasion of Nazi Germany.

The beach wasn't exactly what I expected. It was just a beach. However, you could see cliffs on either side of the beach in the distance, which makes sense why this was one of the locations the Allied ships chose this area. But I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting when we arrived.

There was some World War 2 replicas in a museum nearby.

But the main thing that helped us to make sure we were in the correct location was the memorial placed out front honoring the men who lost their lives to free the citizens of France.

Our last stop for the day before heading back towards Paris was Mont Saint-Michele. This fortified island's main attraction is the monastery atop the hill.

In addition to the large wall surrounding the town, the city is surrounded by water during high tide. This actually prevented the English from ever taking over the town during the Hundred Years War. Even Napoleon couldn't forcibly take it, but the monks willingly surrendered the town to Napoleon. After Napoleon took over the town, he told the monks they needed to renounce their Catholic faith or become prisoners inside the monastery. They chose to stay in their monastery.

The town only has 1 road going up and then down. And real estate is limited, but it was neat to see some of the things inside- mostly tourist traps. However, they also had restaurants and hotels. Many people went walking around the outside during the low tide. I think it would be interesting to spend a full 24 hours there, but I'm not sure the expense would be worth it.

Our day in Northern France was exceptional and we had beautiful weather for the trip. Well, beautiful weather while in Normandy. Upon our return towards Paris the fog and ice and clouds returned. I'm so glad we got an opportunity to see all of these things in France, even though poor Brian did do a lot of driving this day.

Chauffeur's Corner
So we started the day very early in the morning with dense fog. Fortunately, it was early enough that the traffic wasn't terrible around Paris. The driving was long...roughly 3-4 hours to Bayeux. I had never heard of the tapestry, so we cashed in again on Stacey's Masters in History. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was fascinating to see history interwoven throughout our trip. It was again true with this first stop as the tapestry brought to life history that I had previously forgotten (or glazed over). The visit was well worth the time (about 1.5 hours).

Then we headed onto Omaha Beach, an hour or two drive. Like a few other sites during this timeframe, the official Normandy tourist sites were closed. This meant we could only see the public areas, which amounted to one of the landing areas. Like Stacey, I was surprised by the sight of Omaha Beach. I think I was expecting to see what the other beaches look like - more cliffs.

We headed onto Mont St. Michele, which was another couple hour drive. Stacey had this as a must-see and all I knew was "it is a temporary island". The drive to MSM was pretty, driving on sometimes narrow curvy roads. Stacey loved all the sheep enroute to MSM and tried convincing me that we could bring one back. You have to park and then either walk (roughly 1-2 miles) or pay for a bus ride. There were many people, even though it was nearly New Year's. As Stacey mentioned, there were several people walking around in the mud and I wasn't interested in getting dirty. We walked in and around most of the buildings on the island, which was very unique. We spent an hour or two and then went on our way towards our hotel in Chartres.

I hadn't done much research beforehand (surprise) on LeMans, but we decided to stop at the LeMans Circuit enroute to Chartres. Unfortunately, it was dusk and they were near closing, so there wasn't much to see. I stopped by the gift shop and saw some of the circuit from the street. We drove on to Chartres for our hotel. We ended the day as we started it - in dense fog. Needless to say, both of us slept very well that night.

The toughest thing about driving around northwest France was the abundance of toll roads that were not cheap. If we went back, I would want to visit more of Normandy and maybe see more of the LeMans Circuit. I could be swayed into a day/night at MSM as well.

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