Fantastic French Vacation – Part1 Normandy

Water lily pond eternalized by Claude Monet’s paint brushes

Normandy, the first destination of our trip, is a coastal region northwest of France. Known for, among other specialties, its cider production and Camembert and as Versailles of Horses for amazing display of dressage and jumping show, it celebrates one thousandth anniversary of duchy of Normandy this year. While the bloody D-Day operation is still fresh in recent memory, it was not the only battle Normandy has witnessed. Given its proximity to England, many battles were fought between the two sides, including the legendary conquest by William the Conqueror. Normandy is intriguing for its steep history but also for its natural beauty. Its long list of attractions includes Bayeux, Caen, D-Day beaches, Deauville and Trouville, Dieppe and Fecamp and Etretat, Honfleur, Giverny, Mont Saint-Michell and Rouen. We settled for Giverny, Bayeux, Omaha beach and Mont Saint-Michell, spending our first night in Bayeux and second at Mont Saint-Michell.

Giverny

Claude Monet, who is one of forerunners of the impressionism movement – name of the movement in fact came from one of his early works ‘Impression: Sunrise’, is the soul of this little village. Having learnt his life story, been moved by the beauty and sunshine he captured in his paintings and delighted by the water lily garden, I understand why visitors come here in throngs.

Claude Monet House

Claude Monet Garden

Bamboo grove at Claude Monet Water lily Garden across the road

Water lily pond eternalized by Claude Monet’s paint brushes

A gorgeous water lily

Shop and Café outside Claude Monet house museum

Claude Monet’s tomb at the village church

Baueux

One and half hours away from Giverny lays the ancient town from Roman era, Bayeux. Bayeux is quaintly charming, clean, and relatively quiet, which was pleasant after the crowds at Giverny, but by no means lethargic. In fact, it offers many lodging and dining options and is a good hopping spot for Omaha Beach and other attractions. It is also home to the grand, 11th century Bayeux Cathedral and the one-and-only, thousand year old Bayeux Tapestry.

Bayeux Tapestry is a remarkable feat even when measured by today’s standards. Not actually a tapestry, the 230 feet long embroidered cloth is comprised of a number of tableaux in the center and decorative elements on the header and footer areas. The center tableaux depict events leading up to and the battle of Norman Conquest of England in 11th century and the narrower sections above and below contain mostly individual mythical creatures but also some scenes portraying local lives. The design of the frames, the story it tells, the grand its scale, the vivid of the colors and details and the extraordinary craftsmanship are tremendously impressive. As a necessary protective measurement, photo taking of the exhibit is not allowed. The cloth ensconced in glass case showed small wear and tear in several areas but fortunately no major damage to the main areas. Audio guide offering narratives in multiple languages is excellent in relaying the historical drama. A printed version in scaled back size available at the museum shop for about €8 is quite cool.

We stayed one night at Hotel d’Argouges, which is a handsome building, converted from a former townhouse, and has a nice garden in the back. Emily, a young girl at the reception desk, speaks excellent English and we found out a large framed photo in the reception area is that of Miss France who is from the area and had stayed at the hotel twice. Taking Emily’s recommendation, we tried Taverne des Ducs, a restaurant just a few doors down the street, and had a great dining experience, one of the best meals we had on this trip.

Bayeux Cathedral

Bayeux Cathedral’s front facade

Bayeux Cathedral’s cavernous interior

Stain glass at Bayeux Cathedral

Intricate stone work

Elaborate wood work in Choir area

Grand canopy for the pulpit

Revolution Tree planted the year French Revolution broke out is right next to the cathedral

Street in front of Hotel d’Argouges

Watermill from the old time

Omaha Beach and American Cemetery

The D-day coast line stretches to about 130 miles. An itinerary suggested by AAA touring all the sites takes about 3 days. We opted for Omaha Beach and American Cemetery located on the hill above the beach.

The day we were there, the sun came out of hiding of the previous day, which made it a better time for me to visit the site. First things greeting us were fresh breeze and peaceful coastal views, “Good Fengshui”, I thought. As we walked through the vast cemetery, stopping occasionally to check out the names and flowers left at the tomb stones, my heart got heavy. All these soldiers deserve to be remembered and I hope there will be no sacrifice like theirs again, ever.

There is a stepped path to go down to the beach from the cemetery and might take at least an hour for the round trip. Pressed for time, we opted to drive right up to the beach from a beach side parking a few minutes away.

Reflection pool at American Cemetery

Memorial at American Cemetery

One corner of the cemetery

Coastal view east of American Cemetery

Coastal view west of American Cemetery

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island surrounded by a vast swamp in south west of Normandy. Taking the feedback and advises on the internet, I planned to visit Mont Saint Michel both at night and during the day. I decided however to stay not on the island, instead at Les Vieilles Digues in Beauvoir, a bed and breakfast located on Route du Mont Saint Michel, the only road leading up to Mont Saint-Michel, and only several minutes away.

Our drive from Omaha beach took about one and half hours. Fifteen minutes before reaching Les Vieilles Digues, an enormous structure with a sharp top appeared in the distance right. The sky was grey and sprinkling at that moment and the blurred image disappeared moments later. It was nevertheless long and clear enough to rouse the anticipation.

It was about 8:30PM after we checked in. If we went straight to the restaurant that Daniele, our warm and lively inn keeper, had recommended, we could take the lat seating for a fine dinner. I found it difficult however to curb my eagerness. We drove pass the restaurant and continued on towards Mont Saint-Michel. It was quiet with few cars and people sharing the road. When Mont Saint-Michel emerged ahead, an exciting sensation passed through my whole being. Its unique and towering image was powerful and magical. As we strolled at ease through the town, I realized how rocky, steep and small the island is. What tenacity, determination, hard labor and intelligence were required to build this palce takes some wild and bold imagination. We had dinner on the island, at Auberge Saint Pierre. Walking out of dinner, we found Mont Saint-Michel brilliantly lit up, especially the abbey crowning the island. That was a stunning perspective!

Mont Saint-Michel

Street leading to arch way and a draw bridge

The abbey looms over the big wall

Looking down to the causeway

This house is now a hotel

Main drag in town

Mont Saint-Michel at night

When we returned to Mont Saint-Michel the next morning at about 10:30, a large number of tourists were already there. Large buses and cars filled the parking lots and we had to park in the unpaved overflow area. The island was crowded up and there was traffic jam at some spots. Mont Saint-Michel, a rightful UNESCO world heritage site, still holds its magical appeal, which it has possessed since its abbey was built on this barren island more than a thousand years ago. Tourists continue to pour in with no less zeal than that of the pilgrims of the past who came under much harsher conditions.

Mont Saint-Michel does not feel quite the same during the day when it is under siege by swarms of tourists. Combining that with other factors, few people claim citizens of and still live on the island. It is nevertheless worth battling through the crowds to pay a visit to the abbey. But I couldn’t agree more with advises of many who have been there, visit it at night too, if you can, to fully experience its magic.

Probably narrowest street on earth

Abbey’s facade

Abbey’s interior

Abbey’s cloister

This relief tells the lengend of Archangel Michael appearing in dreams of Saint Aubert, Bishopt of Avranches, and imploring him to built a monastery on the barren rocky island

More posts coming up, stay tune.
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