Saturday, November 25, 2023

Mont Saint Michel - Giverny - Paris - London

This is an overview of the rest of our stay in France and heading back to London. Our last day in Bayeux we were up early for our second tour, Mont Saint Michel. It was about a 70 mile drive through the beautiful Normandy countryside.
Yes, that is Nanc eating French pastries for breakfast.
This was not our first glimpse of Mont Saint Michel, but the first picture I was able to get. You can see it off in the distance as you drive down to the coastal flats.
Mont Saint Michel is built on a granite island about a half mile off shore. It was established as a monastery in 708 by Bishop Aubert after a vision of  Archangel Michel appeared to him three times. In 1023 Benedict monks settled here and started construction of the Romanesque abbey. It became a major center of culture in the Middle Ages that welcomed pilgrims. 
In the 11th and 12th century the walls were added to protect the abbey from attack. After a fire in the 12th century the abbey was reconstructed in the new Gothic style and the ramparts were strengthened.
Our group inside the ramparts. After the abbey withstood an attack by England in 1433, Louis XI turned it into a prison. 
The tides here vary greatly. In 1879 a causeway was built that was only usable during low tide. In 2006 the causeway was replaced by a bridge. Once every 18 years there is a super tide that even covers the new bridge. This picture was the last super tide on March 21, 2015. This is were we are standing in the above picture.  
An aerial view of the 1979 super tide. That was also the year Mont Saint Michel became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  
Inside the walls is a little village with many shops, restaurants and hotels. There are a small number of people who live here including a few monks and nuns.
This particular restaurant is known for its famous truffle omelettes created by Anne Boutiaut Poulard in the late 1800's. At 45 euros, about $50, we passed. The other restaurants had omelettes at a much lesser price. 
Once inside the walls the street is lined with many chances to shop. It is a steady climb from here up to the abbey.. The climb seems to deter many people, so the higher we walked it became less crowded . 
Once you are passed  the shops you see the church and spiral and realize you still have a long climb ahead. 
At the top of the walkway the steps started. I don't know how many there are here, but I got nearly 18,000 steps that day. As you can see the crowd has thinned out a lot at this point.
The view of the bridge from the top. In the past you could drive across the causeway and park near the abbey. The problem was the causeway blocked the flow of water and silt built up so the island would not get completely surrounded by water even at high tide. When the bridge was built they also built a dam on the river to control the flow of water and wash out the silt. Now at  high tide water surrounds the abbey.
Looking out the other side to Saint Malo Bay. You can see how far out the water is at low tide. The island in the distance is Tombelaine. It is accessible by foot at low tide, but only with a guide as quicksand is a real thing here. It was occupied in the past by hermit monks and then by the British.
The cloister, built in the 13th century in the Gothic style, was three levels. This is the garden suspended between the sky and sea. 
This is the scriptorium where the monks copied manuscripts including bibles and scientific works. Only 200 of the estimated 800 done survived the fire. They are stored in the Scriptorial Museum in Avranches.
This giant wheel was used to lift material used during construction. A man would get inside the wheel and walk to turn it to pull a sled-like carrier up a track.
Looking down the track. It sure made the job of lifting material a lot easier than getting it up all those steps.
Mont Saint Michel is one of those places we have always wanted to see. It did not disappoint. Being in a small group and having a guide like Caroline made it much better than doing it on our own. 
The next morning we were up early to take the train to Paris. No reservations were needed because there is a train almost every hour. 
The trains are very modern and comfortable. It took about 3 hours to go the 160 miles to Paris.
In Paris we stayed at Residence du Pre located near Gare du Nord the train station we would be using to get back to London. We were on the 6th floor so we thought we were in the penthouse! Not so. The elevator was not big enough for two people plus bags and only went to the 5th floor. That said, the room was fine except there was no AC and it was in the 80's both days we were there.
We were within walking distance of the Basilic Coeur de Montmartre. As you can see, it is a major tourist stop.
From the top there is a great view of the city. That said I do believe we may be the only people to visit Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower. We have been here before so it was not on our must see list. 
The Montmartre neighborhood around the church is very neat with many restaurants and artist. This guy playing the accordion is well known. I saw his picture on websites I used in planning our trip. 
A square filled with artists. You could buy works of art or get your portrait done. 
Outdoor dining is wonderful. In France eating is more than just gobbling down a meal. It is an event that is meant to be enjoyed. Of course, the people watching is a major part of the experience.
This is a display of artwork along one of the streets. 

Our goal for our two day stay in Paris was to travel to Giverny. It was about 45 miles from where we were staying. Once again it was an easy train ride there and back.
 Giverny is the home and gardens of French artist Claude Monet (1840-1926). We had been very happy with our Viator guides in Normandy so we scheduled a tour with them in Giverny.
Monet is considered the founder of the impressionist movement which lead to modern art. Much of his work was done en plein-air, leaving the four walls and painting outdoors. This allowed the artist to use the changing light and how it affected the colors. 
Like many artists of the time Monet struggled financially until he and other impressionist artists started showing their work at the Exhibition of the Impressionist in Paris in April 1874. His work was one of the few that became popular and he became very wealthy. He used is wealth to buy this house (a former cider mill) in Giverny.  
Walking through the home is like being in a museum, though Monet's paintings here are not originals. 
More of his work.
Alice, Monet's second wife, and Claude. Their relationship was a long struggle raising his two children and her six. They all lived in the house in Giverny.
Once he became wealthy he began collecting art. He had great interest in Japanese art that had developed during a time when Japan was isolated from the rest of the world.
My favorite model at Giverny.
The gardens. Monet bought more land around his home and created the gardens and pond that are in many of his paintings.
During his time there he had seven gardeners. Today the Foundation Claude Monet has 12 gardeners including interns who train here. 
Monet's plan was to create a living plein-air outdoor studio. He had a palette on wheels to easily move around the grounds. The bamboo was part of the Japanese theme. He diverted water from the stream to make a pond with the waterlilies.
The Japanese bridge is in many of his painting.
A boat often appears in his work. He had a boat on the pond that was a small studio, so he could move around to get different perspectives.
My pictures from different perspectives as we walked around the pond. This one includes the bridge.  
From the other side of the pond. The woman could have been a model for one of Monet's paintings.
Our guide told us we were fortunate to see the waterlilies in bloom as that morning it was cool and they were not open.
This is one of Monet's many waterlily paintings. He did nearly 250. As he grew older his eyes became worse and his impression of the lilies changed. After the Armistice on November 11,1918 he gifted a series of these paintings to France as a symbol of peace. They were installed in the Orangerie Museum. Here is a link to those pictures. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to see them in person.
Our last evening in Paris we found a neat little 10 table restaurant, Hugo. We overdid it with a bottle of French wine, escargot, wonderful bay scallops, ending with an espresso and dessert.  Our meal was fantastic.
To return to London for our flight home we took the Eurostar fast train. It went 180 mph, taking only 2 hours 15 minutes from the middle of Paris through the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) to the middle of London. When booking Eurostar check the times and prices carefully. If we had left at 11AM it would have cost 170 pounds. By leaving at noon it was 120. 
We took a cab from St Pancras Station to our hotel above the Pride of Paddington Pub. It was across the street from Paddington Station where we could get the Elizabeth Line to Heathrow. 
Across the street from the hotel where we stayed was the Marten Bass Real Time Clock. Here is a Youtube video showing how it works. Poor guy works 24/7/365.
On our way to the station we took a short break at The Wild Table of Love. It was a fitting end to our time in Europe before heading back to Pittsburgh. 
We had a great time on the Norwegian Dawn getting to spend time with our friends and checking out the sites. We were so glad we extended our trip to also visit France.We loved the smaller tours as they were more in depth and much more enjoyable than the large excursions we took from the ship.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Bayeux, Normandy D-Day Beaches

For our one week stay in France we made reservations on an overnight ferry and at three different places to stay. Our plan was to use public transportation, buses, trains, taxis and subways, for each move. When we got off the Dawn from our cruise we took the shuttle to Heathrow where we could leave our big suitcase while we were touring in France. Even though the ferry we were taking out of  Portsmouth was less than twenty miles from where we got off the Dawn and Heathrow airport was over 60 miles the other way, our bag would be where we were our return flight to Pittsburgh departed. From Heathrow we took a train and the underground to Waterloo, 20 miles into London. From there it was over 70 miles by train to Portsmouth.
All that travel took awhile but we still had a long wait for the overnight ferry that did not leave until almost 11:00 PM. When we checked in they told us there was a pub just around the corner. 
The cabin was small with bunk beds, toilet and shower but it was nicer than we were expecting. It did not really matter as we went to straight to bed.
It was still dark when we got off the ferry in France the following morning so we found a restaurant and had breakfast. We then walked to the bus stop to wait for the bus to take the 10 mile ride to the train station in Caen. From there it was a 20 mile train ride to Bayeux where we were staying for three nights.
We were staying at Chez Titi, a place I found on Bookings. The apartment was on the third floor up this spiral staircase.
It was a neat little place with kitchen, living room and bath on one floor. The bed was up another spiral staircase in a loft. It was nice being able to make coffee and buy pastries for breakfast from a local shop. 
The view from the apartment. Bayeux was a very neat town with many old buildings. It was the only city in Normandy that was not damaged during WWII. 
This old Norman building is an example of the wonderful architecture.
The old cobblestone streets. In the evening some streets were closed to vehicle traffic and opened to diners.
The Bayeux Tapestry is a 70 meter long embroidery that tells the story of the 1066 conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William is know today as William the Conqueror. This portion shows the crossing of the channel in long boats.
There are 58 different scenes, 626 characters and 202 horses in the work. This one shows the cooks preparing a meal. The tapestry is a great way to learn a bit of history. Earphones are available in several different languages. Here is a link to where you can see the entire work.
The site of Notre- Dame Cathedral Bayeux was consecrated in 1077 by Bishop Odin de Conteville in the presence of his brother William the Conqueror. The church was started in the Romanesque style and later changed to Gothic. 
The Gothic style with the high narrow nave and arched ceiling. This is very different than the thick walls of the Romanesque style.
The thinner walls let in more light and lead to stained glass windows. Since we did not get to Notre-Dame Paris this one had to do.
We had two major tours we wanted to do in Normandy. The first was the World War II D-Day beaches. The invasion, called Operation Overlord, took months to plan the largest amphibious assault in history. 
Our guide Igor started the tour with a map that showed the area of the invasion. The landing area stretched nearly 50 miles along the Normandy coast.
There were five target beaches code named Utah and Omaha, American forces; Gold, British; Juno, Canadian and Sword, British. 
While D-Day was June 6, 1944,, the attack began the night before with paratroopers and gliders bringing men and supplies into France. Sainte-Mere-Eglise was occupied by the Germans but some troops where dropped there by mistake. Look closely and you can see the effigy of Paratrooper John Steele hanging on the side of the church where his parachute got stuck. He was released from his harness by a German solder and taken prisoner, but later escaped and rejoined his company.
The church has two stained glass windows that honor the paratroops. This one "they have returned" was unveiled on the 25th anniversary of D-Day in 1969. The AA honors the 82 Airborne's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. 
This widow shows the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus with three paratroopers and many more chutes in the background.
A monument honoring the 82nd and 101st Airborne who liberated the town, Sainte-Mere-Eglise, from Nazi Germany. It was not just at the tourist attractions that fly the American flag. Many homes and businesses had both the French and American flags showing their appreciation for the sacrifice of the American solders.
The story of this home on D-Day is that the owner was in her garden and a paratrooper landed beside her. She thought it was an angel from Heaven coming to help her.
If you read anything about D-Day the hedge rows that surrounded the farmers land were a major problem for the troops. In some cases gliders crashed into them killing the pilots and soldiers. Once the ground fighting began, there was a very limited line of sight. The roads we traveled on the tour were very narrow but this lane is what they would have encountered on D-Day.
Utah Beach was the first beach stormed by Allied forces. It was nearest to Cherbourg, that had a deep water port. The invasion started at low tide so the German defenses would be exposed and so the landing craft would be lifted by the incoming tide and not get stuck on the beach. By the end of the day 23,000 American troops had landed here.
The military engineers played a major role in the landing, finding and destroying the hedgehogs and other defenses the Germans had in place. This opened the path for the landing craft to come ashore.
In addition to soldiers, thousands of pieces of equipment, food and munitions were also needed
The Utah Beach Memorial honors the US VII Corps forces who landed here. The dune on this beach was lower than other beaches. Much of the land beyond the beach had been flooded by the Germans. This resulted in many deaths as paratroopers carrying 70 to 100 pound packs drown on the flood fields.
This restaurant was built using one of the remaining bunkers. Check out the name, Le Roosevelt, honoring the president.  
These are hedgehogs that were in the water and designed to pierce the bottom of the landing craft. By attacking at low tide they were exposed so the boats could avoid them and then mark them before the tide rose. The tide here is nearly 20 feet.
Andrew Jackson Higgins designed the landing craft used for the invasion. Each one was armed with only two machine guns and could carry 36 troops. Nearly 1,100 were used on D-Day to ferry troops from off shore ships to the shore. 
We were there near low tide. It is hard to imagine what it was like coming across that beach on 6/6/1944. Utah Beach did have the fewest casualties, 197 men, because the Germans were relying on those flooded fields to slow any attack.
Utah Beach on D-Day. The total number of ships, 6939 and troops,130,000 involved that day is amazing. By the end of June 1944, 148,000 vehicles; 570,000 tons of supplies and 850,000 men had been brought ashore.
This memorial honors the sailors on the Landing Ship Tanks (LST), the larger ships that were built to land on the beach with tanks, troops and supplies.
The Utah Beach Museum has a very good video of the events on D-Day. There are chronological exhibits of the day including the German response. Our guide told us it is illegal to display the swastika anywhere in France except museums.     
A B-26 bomber that, along with navy ships off shore, where used to bombard German installations along the coast.. 
We had lunch at Le Roosevelt that has displays of equipment that would have been in the bunkers. 
The walls are covered with the signatures of solders who were there in 1944 and have come back to visit. Here is a link to their web site with pictures of some of them. 
The statue of World Peace was unveiled in 2004 on the 60th anniversary of D-Day at Grandcamp-Maisy. This is where U.S. Army Rangers scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc to take out the Germans big 155 mm artillery. 
Point du Hoc is the only place that was left the way it looked after the assault, with all the bomb craters. Of the Americans who died here under the continuing bombardment, 38 are listed as Missing in Action (MIA) meaning some bodies were never found making this a cemetery with unmarked graves.
The 110 foot cliff the rangers had to climb. As you can see the beach here is very narrow.
The goal of the ranger assault was to take out the big guns, but when they finally took the point they found that the 155mm guns had been moved to Grandcamp-Maisy. It took another three days before the guns were silenced.
The German observation bunker and the Point du Hoc Ranger Memorial. Of the 225 Rangers who landed here after two days of fighting, 77 were killed in action and 152 were wounded. It truly was a heroic effort.
More bunker remains and bomb craters. This was some of the worst fighting of the landing. 
Omaha Beach is a bit wider where most of the troops landed. The high cliffs with more German defenders than expected made it the most deadly. The fighting was so intense that at one point the assault was delayed. The Americans suffered 2,400 casualties but still landed 34,000 troops by the end of the day.
The first burial site of the 2,501 Americans who died during the invasion. Today the area is a typical summer beach with hotels and restaurants.
Our last stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. The reflecting pool and memorial.
In the middle of the memorial is a bronze statue, "Spirit of American Youth Raising from the Waves", honoring those who gave their last full measure on the beaches of Normandy. 
Beyond the statue is a garden with the Walls of the Missing inscribed with the names of the 1,557 missing in action. Rosettes mark those who have since been recovered and identified. Nanc is pointing out the name LaBella. We don't know if it was a relative of our neighbor in WashPA. 
On the walls are maps of the D-Day and the battles that followed.
There are 9,387 Americans buried here, most of whom died during the invasion and the ensuing operations. The markers here are looking west toward the United States,
We were there late in the afternoon in time to see the lowering of the flags and the playing of Taps. A very chilling experience.

We really enjoyed the beautiful town of Bayeux and the tour of the D-Day beaches was fantastic. We would recommend tour operator Viator, as they only take up to eight people in a van. Our guide, Igor, was excellent and very knowledgeable.