Tapestries, Tanks, Temerity and The Artist’s Garden

We have been in France a week and I feel like I have seen so much already. I wonder what the next four weeks will bring.

We arrived into Charles De Gaulle airport Paris with the intention of picking up our car and driving to a B&B just outside Giverny. On the flight across the Atlantic I was having second thoughts about getting off a seven hour flight and driving for two hours but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated. I think I will do a post of driving in France at some point in the future, it is an interesting experience and warrants a story of its own.

Giverny was the home of Claude Monet and he painted quite a few paintings while living there. The house is a large French house from the late 1800’s and to a large degree looks like a lot of the older homes we have looked at here but once you get inside things change a bit. I would have to say the dining room and kitchen were pretty amazing, the colours made both of these rooms places you would want to hang out in. We walked around the gardens and the lily pond, and while April is too early in the year to see the flowers in full bloom you can imagine how it will be in the summer.

After viewing Monet’s house we travelled to Rouen via Chateau La Roche Guyon which was Rommels headquarters during World War 2. It has a fascinating history both prior to and during the Second World War and it gave us a taste of the history lesson we would get while staying in Bayeux.

Chateau La Roche Guyon
Rommel’s World War 2 Headquarters

Wrought Iron Museum

Lets get back to Rouen. We had been told the old city in Rouen was very impressive. It had all the standard things an old French city has. A Cathedral, old buildings with the vertical walls leaning outwards, and cobbled streets. I haven’t come across another French city that has a Wrought Iron Museum though. We really enjoyed looking through it and the workmanship involved in some of the more intricate pieces was amazing.

Rouen to Bayeux was via the seaside resorts of Normandy, with a side trip to Lisieux. The resort towns are along a stretch of coast from Honfleur to Cabourg, with one town morphing into the next. This time of year isn’t conducive to lying on a beach but you could see why they are popular with the French in summertime. You may be asking why the detour to Lisieux? This was because it is where the Basilica dedicated to St Therese is (ask me about the difference between a Basilica and Cathedral sometime. It’s one of the things I have learnt on this trip) and Kate’s middle name is Therese after the Saint from Lisieux.

Basilica

Next stop was Bayeux. This was one of the few pre-organised parts of our trip, mainly because if you want a guide to take you around the Normandy Beaches you need to book three months in advance for this time of year and a year in advance for June and July. I’ve always been interested in World War 2 history and the D-Day landings are a big part of the books and movies I’ve seen over the years. While we were in this part of the world I wanted to see some of this history in person and I think Kate found the day quite interesting as well. We hired a local guide by the name of Mathias Leclere and he escorted us from Point du Hoc to Juno Beach. Having someone like Mathias with you when visiting these historical sites adds so much more to the experience, the background behind the US and German cemeteries and some of the personal stories that go with the dead lying in them made for very moving visits, explanations of how certain German defensive bunkers came to be lying over a 25 metre radius (think lots of explosives, it takes a bit to move a two metre thick slab of concrete that far), the reason that the Normandy Beaches were chosen and the experiments the Allied forces undertook to gain that learning, he gave us both sides of the story not just an Allied biased view. I said I was interested in tanks and planes and he made sure I saw more tanks in one day than I had for the previous years of my life.

Mathias and Tony on a Sherman Tank

On day two we went and visited the Bayeux Cathedral and the Bayuex Tapestry, the history of both are linked to the whole region of Normandy and England as well. The Tapestry is a little like a World War 2 movie reel for the 11th century and was displayed in the cathedral once a year to celebrate the victory of William the Conquerer over the Saxons. Suffice to say that the history of Normandy, the Normans and it’s importance to the development of England is something I didn’t know much about until I came here. I found this YouTube video that tells the story better than I can.

Our stay in Bayeux was a lovely one, it is a quiet little town (it may get busier with American visitors in the summer) that is central to a lot of the interesting places to visit on the Normandy coast. As with most places in France the food in the restaurants was good, and the coffee in the Tabac was just like a Wellington one. What more could you ask for?

We headed south from Bayeux via Utah Beach and Sainte-Mere-Eglise just to get a final fix of D-Day Landings history. We stopped in at the museums in both places and saw a couple of planes (one was a glider actually) along with other military hardware that I hadn’t seen before.

Martin Maurader B26

The next stop was Dragey-Eglise and a lovely B&B a few kilometres drive from Mont St Michel. More about that in the next post