Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Off to Normandy!

After several days in Paris, we travelled south to Angers to stay with Myriam and Yannick, some friends we met in London who recently moved back to France to be near family. Our loss, their gain!
On the way, we popped into Chambord to show mom and dad a proper chateaux - and we were all blown away.
With one more hour of driving to go, we landed in Angers mid afternoon. It was great catching up with M & Y and the French hospitality came out in full force with a 6 course meal lasting around 6 hours as we sat on their back porch overlooking the rolling countryside. What a night!

After we said our goodbyes the next morning, we drove West toward Monte Saint Michelle - a stunning, tiny island just off the Normandy coast, topped with an old monastary jutting out like a massive castle from sea level. The weather didn't cooperate much, but we did enjoy looking around. Lots of steps to conquer which left me as the prime photographer rushing up and around the monastary whilst the others sat and enjoyed the views.

Late afternoon we drove to our b&b and as it neared, the scenery just got better and better. Lush green rolling hills set between lovely stone villages, all severely impacted by the war.

Our b&b and Mercedes which I was thoroughly enjoying the WHOLE journey!

We headed straight to Ponte du Huc the next morning, one of the landing sites for the Americans who had to scale jagged rocky cliffs whilst under direct attack from the Germans above, as their element of surprise had been compromised by delays in the operation. The yanks managed to secure the area with heavy losses, and at first sight of the area riddled with massive craters, you can get a sense of the horror of war. Craters from exploded bombs cover the ground everywhere, alongside the decaying concrete German bunkers of which most were directly hit.

Now, with a blanket of green covering the horror of war, on the fine sunny morning we visited, if you looked up, it would seem to be the most breathtaking coastal cliff. However, once your eyes returned to the surface, memories and thoughts of the struggle and the pain couldn't be ignored.

What an incredibly moving place to visit, I highly recommend going.

Soon after we arrived at Utah beach. Mom, dad and Joe went into the museum whilst I stayed in the car partly because when we rolled in, we rolled over shattered window glass inciting in me a fear of our car also being a victim of crime if we all went inside. Furthermore, the lovely French B&B owner was a bit flighty and upon our arrival the night before at 9pm, she greeted us with grave news that she has accidentally double booked her rooms and that all four of us would need to shar a room for one night. In principle, no biggie. However, in practice with mom and dad both snoring the night away, it left little in the sleep department. So, I caught up with my z's while they explored. Hence no photos of the memorial. Afterwards though, we rolled into town. ate some crepes and walked around.

The town had chosen to commemorate their liberation by ereting placards throughout the square each with a local's personal recollection of a moment during that time. As we walked past the beautiful stone buildings, you coud still see the bullet holes in the walls. The placards pointed to various gun battles which took place on the patch of road we were standing on. This obviously had quite an impact on all of us.

In hindsight, we left for Omaha beach too late in the day. When we arrived, we hadn't appreciated just how incredible the museum and memorials were and found ourselves rushing to see it all. Dad was particularly moved by what he saw all day long - and he tended to walk around on his own taking it all in. In fact, we all kind of did that as it was a lot to take in.

Unbeknownst to us, the heavens had opened while we were in the underground museum, and as it was sunny the entire day we were sodden wet waiting for Joe and the car keys so we could get in for shelter!

In the heaviest rain I have seen since I moved to England, we navigated our way through the winding roads and found what we all voted to be the best restaurant we ate at. With the rain pounding outside, we sat in a covered veranda and ate away the blues.

The next day we headed back to Paris, detouring to Versailles. We all left that place with a bit of shock and awe. Shock at the blatant austerity and pompousness of the place, which when put into the context of what was happening in France at the height of this palace's life, made us all a bit put off. Awe at the ostentatiousness (is that a word?) of the decor and at the same time seeing the beauty despite it.

As we headed back to Paris for a few more days, more memories were recorded. Read the next post for more.

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