It’s a memorisation thing

Mirinda felt a LOT better this morning though she didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. She skipped breakfast in order to aid her ailing tummy.

We visited the cathedral in the morning after another successful trip to the post office and an even more successful visit to the newsagent. Chelsea beat Arsenal on Tuesday night to book a place in the Champions league semi finals!! 3-2 on aggregate and we beat them at Highbury. It’s doesn’t get better than that.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Bayeux Cathedral Notre Dame. It was first consecrated in 1077 but only a few bits remain of the original building – part of the front towers and the crypt. As usual with these huge buildings, it’s a continuous round of restoration and ‘improvements’ down through the centuries. Although the cathedral is as grey and drab on the outside as most of Bayeux, the interior is very light with sunshine streaming in through gigantic vaulted windows, some with blood red stained glass and others clear.

Bayeux Cathedral

Bayeux Cathedral

Above the pulpit is an amazing sculpture which the Rough Guide totally derides. I think it’s a bit gaudy but not quite as bad as they say. The Tapestry was originally housed here in the cathedral but I couldn’t find out where.

The cathedral is renowned for its statues and along the southern transept, below the balcony, are amazing sculptures of the apostles. The crypt, unfortunately, was closed for restoration work but you could see a few of the paintings at the top of the columns.

I found a chapel dedicated to (among others) my old pal, St Sebastien but, alas, no pictures.

The church is really massive and quite cold – I didn’t feel it had the life of other similar cathedrals (like Quimper, say). Still it attracts crowds of noisy school kids who seem only too eager to pay a euro and light a candle – the only really interactive part of the whole building.

Emerging from the cathedral, an old medieval building commands your attention. It’s called the Adam and Eve House because of the carved wooden statues of them on the outside wall. These days it is used for conserving lace. By the way that Adam is gripping himself, I assume they’ve already taken a bite of the apple.

Detail of Adam and Eve house

Detail of Adam and Eve house

Mirinda was still feeling a bit delicate so we returned to our room for a cuppa and a few hours break as the D-Day Landing tour wasn’t until 1:15. When we arrived at our room, we tried to explain to the maid that we’d be leaving at 12:45 but our French and her English were sadly far too deficient. She agreed to something though. And it started raining again.

We think Bayeux may be the Bergen of Normandy – it seems to rain at least once every day regardless of how much blue sky and sunshine there is to begin with. But then it goes away just as quickly as it appeared, becoming lovely beach viewing weather, which remained for the rest of the day.

We met our guide, Samuel, at the pre-arranged spot near the TIC and he drove us to the Normandy Tours office opposite the station. At first I thought it was just going to be us but when we climbed out of the mini-bus a screaming horde of battle ready Americans jumped aboard, leaving us to the mercy of a funny little man who assured us, at 150mph that although we’d be in another bus, we wouldn’t miss a thing because the drivers are very careful and do not talk and drive.

So we got the little old man who smelled like a brewery, did not speak English and drove like Michael Schumacher on acid. Mind you, the mini-bus was more comfortable than Samuel’s so comfort for safety…it’s a trade off.

We were not alone on our bus. Along with two Americans of Asian descent, three Texans sat directly behind us. The Texans were made up of Mr & Mrs US Air Force (he a mechanic, she a nurse) and a young guy just released from uni and, we assume on his gap year. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Americans but, for some reason, once left to roam Europe, they really can be a pain. Mr Uni was saying how much he’d like to join the FBI or CIA when he returned and the Air Force couple were telling him what he’d have to do – sounded like bluff and bluster to Mirinda and an elaborate joke to me.

Then they started chatting about where they were. That morning Miss Nurse had asked for a train ticket to Normandy and was surprised to discover this was a region and not a place. Mr Uni had no idea where he was at any given time, a talent I’m sure the special forces will leap at…but enough of them (for now)…

Our first stop was the massive D-Day museum at Arromanches. It was here that the allied navies constructed an artificial harbour in order to land tanks and trucks full of supplies and soldiers. It is truly incredible what they managed to accomplish and all while retaining the element of surprise. It took a year to design and pre-build all the bits that made up the harbour and all in secret.

Arromanche looking away from the museum

Arromanche looking away from the museum

All told, this artificial harbour allowed the landing of 50,400 vehicles and 286,586 men! It meant victory for the allies as a landing without a way to ensure continued supplies would have not succeeded. It is claimed (in the guidebook) that the construction of the artificial harbour was “probably the greatest military engineering enterprise undertaken since the Persian armies crossed over the Bosphorus on a pontoon bridge in BC480.

I have to admit, the museum left me a bit upset. I have no problem with ancient battles (like those Persians in BC480) but this is all too immediate, too much a part of our lives.

Leaving the museum we strolled along the waters edge, passing the pretty carousel, gift shops and general party atmosphere. The sea looked lovely and the sky very blue. I spotted a bus from Castelfiorentina – quite a distance from home and I’m surprised it has its own coach!.

Our next stop was a German bunker, complete with gun battery, at Longues sur Mer. Nestled among the beautiful rolling hills of green are huge concrete bunkers with nasty looking barrels poking out of them, pointing towards the sea. Of course we can scramble all over them, take photos by the barrels, etc. This was a lot nicer than the museum – no shops, nothing but the hill and the gun battery. Oh, and lots of people. Still, it’s a big place and no-one got in anyone’s way.

Then on to the American War cemetery. This is 172.5 acres and is one of 14 (!) permanent US WWII cemeteries on foreign soil. The graves area contains the remains of 9,387 servicemen and women, 307 of which are ‘unknowns’. There was an awful lot of people there so it did not have the same feeling of peace and serenity I felt at the British Cemetery yesterday. Still, it is humbling to be amid so many lost lives and makes you very aware of the sacrifice these people made for us to be able to live the way we do.

The American war cemetery

The American war cemetery

At the end of the cemetery there are two huge bronze statues of women. One looks like she is holding a demented chook, the other a bird of prey but, apart from the sculptor’s name, there is no explanation. When I once more had Internet access I looked up the sculptor’s name (Donald de Lue of New York) and found out that they represent the US (an eagle) and France (a chicken) and are made of Italian granite. They are impressive but look rather odd.

From here we went on to Omaha Beach for a 10 minute walk along the front. It’s a 6 kilometre stretch of beach where the US landed, attacking gun emplacements dotted among the hills. Today it is a beautiful sandy stretch of beach and gently lapping waves – reminded us of home.

All the buildings are less than 60 years old as everything was destroyed within cooee of an artillery strike.

Our final stop of the day was also the best, if I can use so inappropriate a word: Pointe du Hoc. This is a point of land which separates Omaha and Utah beaches. There was a German battery of big guns up there shooting at anything on the horizon. Eventually 225 US rangers were ordered to climb the sheer cliffs and take the Germans out. The Germans were shooting down at them, throwing hand grenades, but the rangers managed to take the cliff.

Meanwhile, the crafty Germans had pulled back and buried themselves a kilometre away, keeping up the constant barrage. Eventually LTC James E Rudder sent 22 of his rangers in to destroy these last German guns which they managed to do by sneaking round behind them and chucking a few grenades in.

Pointe du hoc craters

Pointe du hoc craters

This freed up the navy to attack the beaches unharried. Sadly of the 225 only 80 survived. There is now a monument to them on the point. You can’t get too close to it, however, as the land is falling into the sea and it’s very dangerous – ironic really.

What makes this place so special is the fact that it has been left as it was. Huge craters, broken concrete and rusting metal. It’s all overgrowing with grass but the fierce struggle is very apparent in the landscape. It has a very strong element of truth and timelessness.

After our far too short stay of 20 minutes we leapt aboard the bus and raced back to Bayeux so the Americans could be in time for their trains outa town. Our crazy but cheerful driver, dropped us in town, causing a lot of consternation as the time ticked closer to the departure of the last train to Paris. I wonder if they made it?

The quote for this trip comes courtesy, once again, of an American. After reading and hearing so much about President Bush and the words he invents, it did not come as a complete surprise to overhear a young (35ish) American, while discussing people memorising all the US states and capitols say “It’s a memorisation thing.” Oh, so sweet!

We popped into a deli but on discovering they had no poilet rosti, we popped out again and into another, which did. Mirinda was still feeling very delicate so we had a light dinner – plain chicken and some salad did the trick and we picnic’d on the day-bed of our 18th century room with the English Daily Telegraph for a table cloth.

Mirinda fell asleep quite early while I managed to finish my conspiracy book, spurred on, no doubt, by the talk of the CIA and FBI earlier in the day.

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