22 July 2016

Back in France: Bayeux and the Normandy beaches

We spend three days and four nights staying in a lovely old B&B called Chateau de Damigny. Mine host copes gracefully with my having got the booking dates wrong - uncomplainingly moves us from room to room so we get to see about half the available rooms, all charming.
We spend time walking in the countryside round the chateau, in Bayeux itself, at the Normandy Beaches and at Caen. One becomes acutely aware of the dangers of living in a place that is a crossroads, or an entry/exit point for a continent. Here Harold of England came to talk to the French, only to be captured and have to seek help and a ransom from William the Bastard of Normandy. The same William set sail from here to become William the Conqueror by beating Harold at Hastings (brilliantly and movingly recorded in the famous Bayeux Tapestry). The Normandy beaches were chosen by the Allies as the place to start the invasion of Europe which would eventually culminate in the defeat of Hitler's Germany. Before they landed on the beaches, they bombed Caen, killing thousands of civilians, most of them innocent of anything other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many troops died in the landings and subsequent battles, but they at least knew what they were in for.
Arromanches, showing remains of Mulberry Harbour
At Arromanches we experience a documentary summary of the invasion and the time before and after, projected in a 360 degree cinema using archival footage from the time. It has a terrific impact, so moving that P is in tears at the end. Then we walk out into a perfect, sunny July day, and watch the French at the seaside, disporting themselves amongst the remaining caissons from the Mulberry Harbour, built by the Allies in a few days to provide a landing point for D-day. Back in Caen, you can see the ruins of William the Conqueror's castle, very strategically placed, and see all the new buildings that replaced the rubble left by the Allied bombings. War and peace. The cycle just keeps on going, whether its 1066 or 1944.
En route to Arromanches we experienced a traffic hold-up caused by some optimists trying to get a large truck, towing not one but two trailers, around a 120 degree bend in a tiny French village. It required the help of a tow truck and the decoupling of both trailers to get around the corner, providing the local inhabitants and us with entertainment for about half an hour.
From Normandy we drive to Paris to return our Eurolease Renault, stopping on the way at Rouen (lovely town, mediaeval streets, fine cathedral rebuilt after wartime destruction). More pictures, including nice ones of Rouen here.

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