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Chris arranged to rent a car for the remainder of our stay in Paris. (Yeah! No more waiting for taxis!) And we arose super early the next morning for a day-long excursion to Normandy Beach.
Now, I’m about to confess something that will probably leave many of you thinking a lot less of me. But if nothing else, I strive to be an honest person. In my defense, I’ve never been a huge history buff (aside from reading historical romance novels) and I have only a rudimentary knowledge regarding the major wars in which the U.S. has been involved.
My confession: I had no idea what the significance of Normandy Beach was in regard to World War II. Neither could I understand why Chris--and my non-art-enthusiast son—were so adamant that we would drive three hours one way, just to look at a beach!
Needless to say, when we arrived, I was shamed and awed. Normandy’s Omaha Beach Museum was amazing!
We learned fascinating details about the brave, young soldiers who lost their lives helping reclaim the world’s freedom.
I studied the posted timeline which covered all significant events from the start to the end of the war, including an hour-by-hour account of the Normandy Campaign—the largest amphibious operation in history. This battle marked the beginning of the end of the war.
The Allied forces rehearsed their D-Day roles for months before the Normandy invasion, which began with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive air attacks and naval bombardments, followed by early morning amphibious landings on five beaches.
We wandered through the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where over 9,000 American soldiers who lost their lives during the invasion are buried.
The ocean glowed blue and serene in the distance, making it difficult to imagine the bloody battle that once took place there. The cemetery was beautiful. Immaculate. Peaceful. Fragrant with blossoming flowers, pines, carefully manicured trees and sunshine.
After leaving the cemetery, we drove to the quaint medieval village of Bayeux for lunch.
Chris often travelled to the nearby city of Caen for work and knew we would enjoy exploring the massive 11th-century cathedral located there.
Image by: Mcaretaker
As we dined in typical French style, facing the street from our little table, we noticed something odd kept happening. The narrow sidewalks were filled with people shopping among the charming boutiques lining the cobblestone streets. But every so often in the midst of the crowds, we’d spot somebody dressed like this:
These strangely dressed folks would walk past us, then disappear around a corner. Naturally, when we were done eating I insisted Chris wait on getting his gelato fix so we could follow the trail. I had to find out where those people were going!
We went around that mysterious corner…and discovered a fair! It just happened to be Bayeux’s 25th annual Medieval Festival! Complete with street performers, theatrical presentations, and costumed vendors selling their wares.
And the focal point of the fair was the very cathedral Chris wanted us to see.
The aptly named Bayeux Cathedral was consecrated on July 14, 1077. One reason it’s famous is because it was here that William, Duke of Normandy and King of England forced Harold Godwinson to take the oath, the breaking of which led to the Norman conquest of England.
It was massive and beautiful…
As we left the cathedral, we spotted these elaborately dressed women on stilts making their way through the crowd directly towards us.
Striding past, they came to a halt in the doorway of the cathedral we had just exited. Joining hands, they began to sing an enchanting medieval song in beautiful harmony.
It was so cool!
We finally left Bayeux, driving through rolling French countryside, past acres of golden wheat and this amazing field of sunflowers.
From the highway we spotted a castle ruin and spontaneously pulled off to explore it. The castle rose from a high hill and had a stunning view overlooking the entire Rouen region and River Seine.
Apparently we’d stumbled upon the Château de Robert-le-Diable. It was built during the 11th and 12th centuries and is a French feudal castle from the time of the Dukes of Normandy. The castle takes its name from Robert the Devil, a.k.a. Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy and father of William the Conqueror! Another interesting tidbit is that King Richard the Lionheart stayed here.
Well, after our major road trip, we got back to Paris late that evening, ate dinner late (by American standards, anyway), and went to bed late--well after midnight (of course!).
Tune in next week for our trip to the Palace of Versailles!
All photographs © Holly & Chris Bowne unless otherwise noted.