Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 46: Visiting Lower Normandy- A Journey to the Past

Oh my goodness, I am SO sorry about the super delay in posting about this. I got back on Sunday evening from the trip but was busy with lesson planning Sunday and Monday nights, and have been feeling not so great since Tuesday evening when I got home from school.

I'm finally feeling better today though, and I'm finally on holiday! Today's my first day of "winter break", which is two weeks. I don't go back to school until March 4! Which means.... ITALY!! I'm leaving on Wednesday and get back on March 2. 10 whole days in Florence, Rome, and Naples and I can NOT wait!

Anyway, today I wanted to share some pictures and experiences from my trip last weekend to Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) with friends. We visited Caen, Bayeux, and the D-Day beaches nearby.

We got a great rate at our hotel in Bayeux, and it was split amongst 4 to a room, it was only 11€ a night (22€ total, for two nights)! How awesome is that? It wasn't the best hotel ever, but the beds were comfy and clean and for that price, I'm not going to complain about the spotty wi-fi or the smallish bathroom.

On Friday, we left Upper Normandy early enough to get to Bayeux and see a few things. First, we visited the British Commonwealth Cemetery and then went and saw the famous Bayeux Tapestry, and Bayeux's cathedral.

The cemetery is mostly British soldiers from WWII but also houses some from Commonwealth countries, including 18 Australians and 1 South African.

After the cemetery, we went to the center of Bayeux. In the centre ville, we went to the Bayeux Tapestry museum. They have the Tapestry displayed in one long row so you can see the whole thing laid out. It's really neat, and an audioguide explaining the scenes on the Tapestry is included in the price of admission (9€ for adults, 4€ if you're a student or can fake being a student like I did by going with people who still are students). For those who don't know, the Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William, Duke of Normandy (you may know him as William the Conqueror) and how he came to the throne of England in 1066. It's littered with battle scenes... and a surprising amount of penises, considering the Tapestry was made in the late 1000's/early 1100's.

Spot the phallus!

After seeing the Tapestry, we strolled up the street a few blocks to the Cathedral. It's impressively large and beautiful.

And the organ kinda looks like Jesus. Coincidence?

On Saturday, despite the cold and freezing rain, we headed out to see the landing beaches from D-Day. On June 6, 1944, contingents from Britain, the US, and Canada landed on the Norman coast in a major and decisive battle against the Germans in occupied France. For those of you not so much into history, think Saving Private Ryan and you've got it (the first grisly 15 minutes of the film is set on Omaha Beach, one of the American landing spots). The British and Americans each landed on two beaches, and the Canadians on one.

The beaches themselves contain some memorials, but other than on Gold Beach (one of the British landing areas), there's not much to actually see on the beach itself. On Gold Beach, some of the landing boats, along with such things as spotlights and large guns, can still be seen.

These things smell as nice as they look, BTW.

The major attraction of the D-day beach area is the American Cemetery in nearby Colleville-sur-Mer. Over 9000 American soldiers who died on, or in the immediate weeks following, June 6 are buried there. There's a fantastic exhibit about the war before you enter the cemetery itself. The entire visit is free of charge.

The cemetery itself is reminiscent of Washington DC with its neatly manicured lawns and reflecting pool. Despite being in France, the land technically belongs to the US, and I felt very at home there (which is slightly strange, considering it's a cemetery).


More America!

Last but not least, because one of our party is Canadian, we visited the Juno Beach museum center as well. It costs 7€ for adults and €5.50 for under 25's. It held lots of information about Canada just before and during the war, as well as after, in addition to things about the landing beach itself. It is a must-see for any Canadian visiting the D-Day beaches, but I would recommend it for my fellow Americans (and other non-Canadians) as well. All the people who work there are Canadian (and thus super nice and friendly), and they sell Canadian products in the gift shop too.

On Sunday, we checked out of the hotel and went to Caen, which isn't far from Bayeux. We visited the Mémorial de Caen, which I believe is the largest war museum in France. It covers WWII from start to end, but also has an exhibit about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall which I found fascinating; as well as a section on political cartoons, with commentary on climate change, censorship, and human rights.

Are you my mummy?

One of the more shocking (but correct) political cartoons. It was published 16 Sept, 2001...

"Are you for or against the death penalty?"

Pieces of the Berlin Wall. I can't wait to learn more about this when I visit Berlin in April!

It's a bit pricey (€18.50 full price, €16 for students and other eligible reductions; I paid €16.50 because we had a €2 off coupon from a brochure at our hotel), but I feel it's well worth it. We spent several hours there on Sunday, and I really enjoyed both the WWII exhibit and the other ones. I thought the political cartoon commentary was particularly interesting. The cafeteria is reasonably priced, and my sandwich was tasty, but the wedge fries were horrible (cold and hard) so I'd avoid those. They also have a reasonably priced gift shop. I bought a magnet.

For logistical reasons, namely being all these spots are pretty hard to reach otherwise, I'd recommend driving to and around this area. If you absolutely do not want to rent a car, you can take a train to and stay in central Caen or Bayeux and take a tour from one of the many tour operators to the D-day sights. The Mémorial de Caen even has their own tours to the beaches. From what I can tell, all these tours are pretty pricey (around €70-100 per person), but if you're lacking a car, they're pretty much the only other way to see everything. We were lucky in that two of my friends who went on the trip had cars they had brought over from the UK and were able to drive us down, around, and back.

Aaaaand, that's all! Again, very sorry it took me so long to get this post up. Hopefully, I will be posting more often while I'm in Italy because I plan to take my netbook with me.

Stay tuned for the post coming up this weekend: Packing for Italy in the Winter!


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