Cathedrals, Beaches & WWII: La Normandie

I’m starting to believe that time in France moves faster than it does in the US. It’s already October and I’m already over 1/4th of the way through my semester here in Tours. It’s pretty bittersweet; some moments I feel like I never want it to end, others I’m missing my life at home. In any case, I’ve been up to lots of fun things here in Tours.

All of my classes have officially started. I’m taking Fundamental Liberties (my political science class at the law campus), English to French translation, French to English translation, DELF prep, German, Italian, and l’Art de la Touraine. So… now you can see why I’m not blogging as often as I’d like to be!

Now onto the fun parts. Two weekends ago, me and the BEF crew went to Les Caves du Père Augustin, a winery about 40 minutes from Tours. We learned the whole wine-making process, picked the grapes that will one day be in a bottle of wine, had a delicious family-style meal and tasted some of the wine. It was a fantastic day, although picking grapes for wine was way harder work then we expected.

  

This past weekend was our first big excursion: our three-day trip to Normandy. We hopped on the bus at 6 a.m. and headed off to the Normandy area, about 3 or 4 hours North of Tours.

Our first stop was Saint-Malo, a very old neat little city that’s closed off by huge walls (used in the past as a way to protect the citizens and the town). We wandered around on top of the walls looking down at the ocean and the city and then we went into some little shops.

 

Obviously a good photo op with Jacques Cartier

After lunch there, it was back on the bus to head off to Mont Saint-Michel, a monastery built on a tiny island right off the coast and one of the most popular destinations in France. When the tide is high, the monastery looks like it is growing right out of the water.

 

The ocean through the faded stained glass window. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a cool artsy photographer

 

From Mont Saint-Michel, we headed to the city of Caen to get to our hotel. The next day, Saturday,  we started the WWII-focused part of our trip.

In the morning, we visited the Cathédrale de Bayeux. The cathedral is huge and incredibly beautiful (I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves). It was really interesting to see the continued importance of WWII in the cathedral, as I saw in the Peace Chapel and with the amount of references to the troops that helped liberate France.

   

After lunch, we went to multiple WWII museums and saw some videos that taught us about the actual battles of Normandy. I knew parts of the story of course, but seeing how the Allies built an essentially portable harbor to create a way into Normandy was truly amazing. After the museums, we spent some time outside by the beach and got to see some of the places where troops landed.

  

After many museums and films, we went to a battle site called La Pointe du Hoc. You can still see craters from where the bombs fell and the remains of bunkers. Eerie. The cliffs in the last picture show where troops landed and had to climb up. If you saw it in person you wouldn’t believe it was even possible… but they did it.

 

Next we visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. I wish all Americans had the opportunity to see it, it’s hauntingly beautiful. To walk through the endless perfect rows of crosses and truly understand that each one represents a soldier is a truly poignant experience.

   

In stark contrast, we visited the German Military Cemetery in Normandy. As you can see in the pictures, it was incredibly different and evoked an entirely different feeling. I reflected upon the decision of these German families to have their loved ones buried here. Or did they have a choice?

 

Sunday morning, we went to the Mémoriale de Caen, a war-and-peace museum. The museum was focused on WWII with tons and tons of artifacts from WWII, but it also had exhibits on the Cold War and political cartoons. I absolutely loved the political cartoons and the fact that the exhibit was a celebration of free expression and a variety of opinions.

  

I think the most rewarding part of my weekend was physically seeing the appreciation the French have for the Allied forces and their efforts in Normandy. I’ve heard many an American claim that the French don’t appreciate what the US troops did for them, and even before this experience I have always had a problem with that type of divisive and frankly ridiculous rhetoric. After seeing the extreme gratitude the French have for the US troops (and all the other troops) that helped liberate their country from Nazi occupation, I will never again tolerate even hearing that sort of talk. Seeing all of these monuments and memorials firsthand really gave me a different perspective.

One example of literally hundreds I saw this weekend

On a less serious note, we got to take lots of fun pictures this weekend. Voilà :

Sarah doing a crazy cartwheel on the beach

Professor Gosson’s daughter trying to force me to eat her peanut butter sandwich. She is too many levels of adorable!

Skipping through France has sort of become a thing with us

À bientôt ! 

One Response to “Cathedrals, Beaches & WWII: La Normandie”

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