By a happy accident we were visiting during the anniversary of D-Day. We didn't plan the visit for this event, but I was thrilled we just happened to choose this time to go. Bayeux was the first city to be liberated. The entire time we were there the city was playing music from the forties through the streets; there were men dressed in military uniforms (some current and some from back in the day); and there were military jeeps, motorcycles, and tanks from that period being driven around. It felt as though we were reliving a small bit of history. We spent a day touring some of the beaches of Normandy: Arromanches, the German Battery, Omaha Beach, and Pointe du Hoc. It was a living history lesson. It takes on a whole new meaning when you see these places up close and personal, it becomes very real. To see the beaches and the cliffs that were scaled, the impacts of the shells and damage done to the land and structures, as well as the extent of the areas involved really hits home. These places are beautiful but will be forever scarred and filled with the ghosts of that era.
As we were planning the trip and sketching out an itinerary, Carolyn's wish was to visit Cherbourg. One of her favorite movies is Parapluies de Cherbourg and she wanted to see the city it was filmed in. While walking through Bayeux one evening we happened past a poster advertising the 50th anniversary of the movie and it was being commemorated with walking tours of the sites highlighted in the film - another happy accident! Cherbourg is a coastal city in northern France. One of the things that struck me as so odd and out of the ordinary was that there were palm trees - this wasn't something I ever expected to see in Northern France. The site that I found the most memorable was the Basilique Sainte Trinte, it was beautiful inside and out and had charming seaside touches (the font for holy water was a seashell). It was a completely different experience and I'm so glad we worked this into our plans.
We took two additional day trips while staying in Bayeux, we visited Rouen and Mont Saint Michel. Rouen is another city filled with beautiful architecture and rich history. The sites throughout that most intrigued me were those related to Joan of Arc, from the tower in which she was imprisoned to the church built in her honor on the location where she was burned at the stake. It was another instance of historical stories merging with reality. Mont Saint Michel is an utterly unique experience. It is a walled city that at high tide is an island and at low tide is surrounded by sandy plains. At the very top of the island is a medieval monastery. There is a winding road you can walk up to the abbey lined with shops and restaurants on either side. There are also stairs along the wall you can climb to get up or down as well. You get a sense that time has forgotten this place as you wander around - it looks very much like it did when built centuries ago. It is a truly spectacular site.