The trip to Moyon went very smoothly, mostly on a good autoban, and we arrived after 3 hours 50 minutes of driving which was the time our GPS system had estimated. I really like driving our new rental car – in case I didn’t mention it it’s a new black Renault Megane SW. It is more comfortable than our last rental, a Vauxhall Insigma, smaller which is good because it fits better on the narrow roads, yet it can fit all our gear just as well. The gears also feel like they are in a better position, it has GPS, a start/stop button, auto-starts of stalled (not that I do that), handles well, and even at higher speeds it feels like it still has more to offer.
Our cottage is rural again but only a couple of km’s from the village of Moyon so it doesn’t feel isolated. It’s about a 20 minute drive north to the 8th century town Saint Lo where a large supermarket is but there are smaller supermarkets closer. On Sunday we woke up early to leave for Mont St Michel – just under an hour’s drive from here. Mont St Michel gets 3 million visitors a year and the reviews on TripAdvisor, while giving it high ratings, almost all complained about too many tour groups and advised that you get there early. You can no longer park at the foot of the Mont rather you park about a half-hour walk away in a new parking facility, for 8.50 euros, which also has an information centre and toilets. There is a free shuttle bus you can catch but you still have to take a 10 minute walk through the village to reach it. Evidently the car park fee would have to rise to 11 euros to cover the costs if the bus stop was shifted to the car park itself simply because they would need more busses running. Sounds like the location is more politically motivated to ensure the local village shops that you have to walk past don’t suffer. In our case, since I was disabled, we could catch the small 100% electric bus right outside the door of the information centre for a small fee of 8 euros for the kids … Karen and I being free due to my condition!
It was marvellous as we approached Mont-Saint-Michel to see the medieval monastery perched on the rocky hilltop. Personally I think that the sight from outside at a distance is more splendid than the actual inside of the abbey. After saying that, most of my photos are of the inside architecture as I forgot to take photos of the outside! A small church was established on the rock in the 700’s and a Romanesque church around the year 1000. In the 11th century a Romanesque abbey church was founded and the monastery construction grew significantly up until around the 15thcentury.
We walked directly, climbing numerous stairs to the abbey so we could start the tour around it before we were inundated with tour groups. There were lots or stairs …
…coming on Dad, what’s taking you so long?
… stairs inside and outside …
The entrance fee to the abbey itself wasn’t too bad but the audio-guides, although worth having, were rather expensive compared to the awesome iPod video-guides at Chenonceau. Our self-guided tour around took about one hour and we were ready to leave the abbey when it was over.
The best part, as mentioned, is the outside view on looking the Mont, the abbey tour was okay but there are only so many empty rooms with gothic arches that I can marvel.
On the way down from the abbey we walked through the tourist-shop-lined streets and brought a tiny but expensive coffee.
One of the most interesting parts of the day was back at the tourist information centre learning about the efforts being taking to return Mont-Saint-Michel back to a better quality marine setting. A new dam, commissioned in 2009 to replace an old one at la Caserne, holds the river water until high tide and releases the water as the tide falls, in the process it flushes sediment away from the Mont. Coupled with this the existing causeway and old car parking areas will be dismantled and removed to allow the sea to fully circle the island at high tide. A bridge is being built with new access roads. I recall some 18 years ago when Karen and I first visited the Mont being a little disappointed that you could drive right up to it on the causeway, that it no longer seemed to be an island except with the occasional super-high tides. Next time we visit however, it will once again be an island that will be pretty cool to see. Also the problems currently experienced with sand encroachment and sediment will be resolved. For further details take a look at http://www.projetmontsaintmichel.fr/en/why_act/developments.html
Tuesday we headed out in a different direction to the Utah Beach to see the site the American troops landed on June 6th, 1944 (http://www.utah-beach.com/). I didn’t expect the museum at Utah Beach to take very long but we ended up spending several hours looking around and could easily have spent longer. Prior to our visit I didn’t know anything about the significance of the place but I learnt that the landing on Utah beach on D-Day, June 6th 1944, was key in the success in the allied forces creating a new battle front and reclaiming Normandy, then France and Europe from Hitler.
There were five beach landings at the same time as part of Operation Overlord and the position at Utah was closest to the desired, heavily guarded Cherbourg port. In addition the peninsula that Cherbourg is located on was evidently obstructed width-wise from coast to coast by the Germans flooding land to make it difficult for anyone to reach. [This is my take on it so I may not understand situation correctly.] However of the five D-Day landings the beach at Utah was above it allowing the allied forces to access and attack the defences on the way to Cherbourg. I will spare you the details but it really is worth reading about. A good place to start is http://www.utah-beach.com/uk/landing-museum/d-day/detailed-report-of-the-day/default.asp. On the 27th June the Germans surrendered in Cherbourg and by the end of August Paris was liberated. Here is the beach itself:
After a very late lunch we decided we didn’t have time to visit the Bayeux tapestries rather we went instead to the nearby Sainte-Mère-Église which was the first village in Normandy to be liberated by the Americans. There we wanted to see the church and the memorial of John Steele whose parachute got caught in one of the steeples of the church on D-Day. Two planeloads of paratroopers were mistakenly dropped right over the village occupied by Germans who found them to be easy targets. On D-Day the paratroopers played a vital role of dropping in behind enemy lines to disable and disarm their defences so the D-Day landings could move forward. Here are a few photos of the church and the John Steele mannequin.
You can just make out the John Steele mannequin in this next photo:
And the church had wonderful stained-glass windows including this one of the paratroopers:
We also enjoyed pastries and a coffee at Sainte-Mère-Église before driving home to our cottage to pack our bags ready for the next day.
Our departure went smoothly and we left at 9:15am ready for our 5.5 hour drive. As Karen was very keen to see the Bayeux tapestries which we didn’t have time to do the day before I decide we would drive to Bayeux first so she could see them. Actually, Karen drove in order to give me a rest before the long drive after that. The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story surrounding the Battle of Hastings, 1066, when William, the then Duke of Normandy invaded England to take the throne of England which his cousin, King Edward the Confessor, king of England had promised to give to William prior to Edward’s death. On the death of the English king the powerful noble Harold Godwinson crowed himself as king rather than giving the crown to William. So on one side, Harold leads the Anglo-Saxon’s and on the other William leads the Normandy army. Read the full story at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry. Below is a screen showing part of the tapestry, however you can see the full length on the page mentioned above.
I was interested in the story that the Bayeux Tapestry tells for a number of reason. Firstly I had heard Karen reading history on William the Conqueror to the kids. Also, William is said to have arrived in England at Pevensey Bay which is where we stayed a week and we had driven past Battle near Hastings. I have also seen the Domesday Book being referred to a lot and it was William who had this survey conducted.
Just before leaving Bayeux we had a quick look around the cathedral which was consecrated in 1077 in the presence of William the Conqueror so its roots are very old. Evidently it was damaged in an 1105 war and later rebuilt so is predominantly 13th century Gothic. It’s quite awesome standing in a 1000 year old building!
It was getting late, around 11:30am so we had to start moving since we still had a good 4.5 hours of driving to do and I wanted to stop at Dunkirk along the way. It was a long drive and we didn’t arrive at Dunkirk until about 5pm and then we drove around looking for the British Commonwealth War Cemetery. We must have spent about an hour without success although further out of town we did find a small cemetery mainly with WWI graves. In the end after searching further online I found the cemetery was probably back in town but sadly we just didn’t have time to go back.
Daniel wanted to stand on then Dunkirk beach, the other end of Operation Dynamo that we had learnt about at Dover Castle, so we quickly drove to the beach. I was impressed by the beach and it’s large sand dunes.
We had an hour to drive to get to Brugge and it was already around the time I had hoped to meet the owner of the apartment however not long after leaving Dunkirk we were in Belgium and the drive seemed short except at the end when a road detour sent us lost around the city! I was too tired for that after travelling for about 10 hours. In the end we found the apartment, unpacked our gear, met the owner by which time it was too late to go shopping so at about 10:30pm we walked tiredly to a pizza shop and ate dinner. It was after midnight before the kids were in bed, quiet and the lights were turned off.
(Week 29A: Saturday, 1 September 2012 – Tuesday, 4 September 2012)