Down on the Bayeux, in Normandy

Okay, maybe not the same bayou but work with me…

Bayeux is a wonderful village in the Normandy region of France.  It is located 7km from the English Channel or La Manche, as the French call it.  Bayeux’s history dates back to the 1st century where is was a Gallo-Roman settlement. The city was largely destroyed during the Viking raids of the 9th century, but was rebuilt again in the 10th century.  Through the next several hundred years the city continued with its destruction and rebuilding as the English and French fought over control of the area.

Bayeux was the first city of the Battle of Normandy, during World War II, to be liberated.  On June 16, 1944,  General Charles de Gualle gave a speech in Bayeux, where he made it clear, that France sided with the allies. The buildings in Bayeux were virtually untouched during the Battle of Normandy, since the German forces were fully involved in defending Caen from the Allies.

Bayeux is popular now as visitors come to see the Bayeux Tapestry (it is actually embroidered cloth) which tells of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror.  It is a site to be seen. The tapestry measures 70m (230ft) long.  You can listen to a recording as you stroll around the tapestry.  They also have recordings specifically for children (and in English).

The cathedral there is also a site to behold and was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.  The cathedral is known as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Bayeux and was consecrated on July 14, 1077.

Bayeux is a must stop on any Normandy visit.

Normandy D-Day Beaches

I knew this was going to be an emotional day and tried to prepare myself and the kids as we headed out to the D-Day beaches. We chose to visit the beaches where the Americans had landed during the D-Day invasions, but you can also visit the beaches where the English and Canadians landed, as well.   Traveling in Europe, in itself, it such a good history lesson, but this part of Normandy has such a specific connection to all Americans that it is truly moving.  Spending time in this historic area gave me such an appreciation for the country that I am so proud to come from.  We watched The Longest Day before touring the area just to have a little more background.  There are many good books about this part of our history, and if you are planning on visiting the Normandy beaches, it is a good idea read a few (I didn’t but you should, so there).

One can spend days touring the area by visiting the museums, different allied beaches and the villages that were involved during the invasion.  We decided to keep it on the light side, but at some point it would be interesting to dig in a little deeper.  We all know that our world history can be rather gruesome, and there is certainly enough time for our 8 and 10 year old daughters to learn about all the troubles in the world.

It had been raining on our drive out to the area, but as soon as we parked at Omaha Beach, the sun showed up.  The beach is serenely beautiful.  It is hard to imagine the horrors and triumphs that took place on June 6, 1944.  It is certainly hallowed grounds.  There is a beautiful monument honoring all those who landed on the Normandy beaches that day.  There were over 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft used during the invasion.

We were able to climb up the bluffs and found German bunkers, very surreal!

Afterwards, we visited the American Cemetery.  There is a very nice museum with great information, but for those with young children, it is a little heavy.  As you leave the museum and head to the cemetery you hear, through the speakers, the names of all who perished being read and I couldn’t help thinking of 9/11.  Holding back tears, I tried to keep it together so my girls would be okay, but it was too much.  The cemetery is absolutely beautiful, an incredible tribute to our fallen soldiers.  You can walk on pathways that are on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and there is a walk down to the beach, as well.  When we finally reached the graves of the almost 10,000 soldiers, it began to rain again, truly appropriate for the moment. The rain forced us to run for cover and head back to the car.  Both of my girls had had enough by then, it was a little rough…

One amazing thing about having kids though, is that it brings you back to the present moment, no dwelling on the past for too long.  Time to continue on our journey!