Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Bayeux Tapestry and more of the D-Day Beaches

After a great night's sleep in Bayeux's very affordable but elegant six room manor called Le Tardiff, I was up early for a very full day after strolling the old town in search of the perfect croissant, pain chocolate and cafe combination. May I say that Bayeux was strong in all three crucial departments!

The first stop was just 100 meters from Le Tardiff, the Bayeux Tapestry Museum. I distinctly remember Father John the Baptist, our fantastic World History teacher at St. Francis H.S. tell us about it some 50+ years ago. I must say that it was every bit as spectacular as he wanted us to believe but I, for one, did not at the time.

The Tapestry is 70 meters long and details all of the important facts leading up to the epic Battle of Hastings in 1066, that HAS stuck in my head thanks to the good Father's lessons. It was Anglo-Saxon King Harold and his troops vs. Normandy's William the Bastard and his army with the winner claiming the undisputed title of King of England. Since William's name was changed to William the Conqueror, you pretty much know the final outcome of the 14 hour battle. The stitch work used to both tell the story and embellish it I'm sure to some degree is truly amazing.

The rest of the morning and afternoon saw me meander towards more D-Day sights to the Northwest of Bayeux.

I made a quick stop before leaving Bayeux at the Monument to Reporters near the British Military Cemetery. I did not see any mention of David Lassen, I can't figure out why.

The German Military Cemetery has the remains of 21,000 German soldiers. It is a much more somber and depressing than the American Cemetery that I visited yesterday that was brimming with hope for the cause that they served in sacrificing their lives

At Pointe du Hoc one sees the very steep cliffs that American Rangers has to scale on D-Day in part with the aid of ladders borrowed from the London Fire Department. These cliffs were very heavily bombarded leading up to D-Day and the massive bomb craters are still there just as they were in 1944. Lots of rain when I visited this sight.

Almost every little village in Normandy along this historic stretch of beaches has some kind of a museum dedicated in some way, shape or form. The best one is reputed to be the Utah Beach Landing Museum so I made that my last major stop on the day and I was not disappointed in the least.

I was struck with the differences in terrain that I had seen in the last two days. At Omaha Beach, the American soldiers had to deal with crossing at least 200 yards of heavily fortified, open beach with little cover from German firepower. At Pointe du Hoc, it has climbing very steep cliffs while at Utah Beach the beach is only 20 yards of sand but it leads directly into marshlands. All different, all difficult in their own ways.

My final stop was the the village of Ste. Mere Eglise, the first village liberated by the Americans near Utah Beach. For movie buffs, Red Buttons played a real life paratrooper, Private John Steele, in the film The Longest Day. Steele's parachute landed on the village's 700 year old church steeple and got snagged there leaving Buttons/Steele in a very bad spot as the fighting went on below him. Two excellent stain glass windows in this church commemorate all of the paratroopers who fought in the village on that fateful day.

Tired, I headed towards the city of Caen where I would spend the night. With no map, a Garmin that informed me that the closest hotel was 349 km from Caen, almost no GPS system on my phone and a hotel that is located in a residential area with virtually no signs, it was a minor miracle that I found it.

Once there at only 7:00 p.m., the reception desk was closed for the night and due to the kindness of a man inside the hotel who let me in the locked front door I was able to get my room after a phone call to someone in the hotel chains control center located somewhere else in the universe. My room key, I was told, was in a safe in the lobby. All I had to do was plug in my ID code. What ID code I responded. She talked me through it and voilà, I had Room 201 at my disposal. Of course the only bed in Room 201 is a fold out couch.

What price glory?


David said...

Being on that monument is one honor I can live without. Glad to hear it exists, though.

Olivier R said...

I hope you have at least eurosport in that hôtel... The notre dame game is something!!!

George said...

This hotel has little in the way of any services much less the aND game.

steveswindle said...

Most of the "drop zones" at Fort Bragg, NC are named after French towns.....St Mere Eglise is one of them.

Toblerone.....MMMMMMMM....and sooooo good for you!!!!