Saturday, 31 July 2010

A LIBERATING EXPERIENCE

I've just realised that it is over four weeks since I last posted here so before July is out, I must do a posting to tell you about our recent trip to France. My father and I have recently had a most enjoyable few days over in Normandy. For more recent readers, I should explain that my father home cares for my elderly mother who has advanced Alzheimers. Ever three months, he has a one week respite break and my sister or I take him away for a few days. He's been to Falmouth and Florida with my sister and to Northumberland (twice) and Hong Kong with me.

This year, he didn't fancy a either long car journey or the hassle of airports so I looked in to local ferry trips from Poole, close to where he lives. We settled on the Poole to Cherbourg ferry trip which is only two and a half hours by the fast (38knots)ferry. The only downside was that it leaves at 7.15am so we were up and out of the house just after 5am! Taking the car on the ferry was simplicity itself and by 11am french time we were heading east from Cherbourg on the local coast road. We took the MGF and toured with the roof down throughout our travels.

Our first port of call was Barfleur from where William The Conquerer set sail for England in 1066. It has a delightful fishing harbour. (If you click on the photos you should get enlarged images).


We then called in at St Vaast-la-Hougue which has an enormous marina before heading down to Port-en-Bessin, central to all the D-day landing beaches, where we had booked five night's accommodation. Port-en-Bessin is a delightful village with an active fishing fleet, harbour and many seafood restaurants. In the picture below you can see the outer harbour but the port itself goes inland beyond the very far right of the photo. The hotel we stayed at is on the far right of the photo and overlooked the fishing quay where the boats unloaded their catches each day.


During our five night stay we visited most of the D-day landing beaches. The next photo shows Arromanches-les-Bains and Gold Beach where British trops landed on 6th June 1944. We (the British troops, not us) actually built an artificial harbour and its remnants can be seen in the photo.


There is a great museum in the town with an excellent guided tour. The tour guide spoke excellent english but with a very pronounced french accent. My father listened for over two minutes thinking the man was speaking french and being surprised how many words were similar in both languages. Then it dawned on him that the man was actually speaking english! "Ze sup-lies were brrrought in-too ze arbour and off-luuded". Once tuned in, he was actually a very articulate and knowledgeable guide.

A few miles inland is the town of Bayeux with its beautiful gothic cathedral and the world famous Bayeux Tapestry. To be honest, I only went to the tapestry because my father was interested, but it is truly fascinating. 70 metres (230 feet) long and full of marvellous details. In 58 scenes it tells of William's conquest of England in 1066. It is amazing to think that this fragile linen has survived over a thousand years whilst buildings have crumbled and disappeared. The centre of the town, around the cathedral is full of old buildings that survived the war. Here is the cathedral.


On the outskirts of Bayeux is the British Cemetery with over 4,800 graves of British soldiers killed in the liberation of Normandy in 1944. It is a poignant sight - row upon row of white headstones. And the ages of dead - 19, 24, 22 etc. All young men buried in a foreign field away from home. This photo shows only a small part of the cemetery.


Here's another view with my father looking at the monument.


Apparently, the film "Saving Private Ryan" gives the impression that only US troops were involved in the liberation of France. This blog isn't so crassly nationalistic. During our visit we saw Utah and Omaha beaches where US troops landed and Pointe du Hoc where US Rangers stormed 90 foot cliffs under heavy fire. And Juno beach which was taken by Canadian forces with Poles, Dutch and Czech soldiers also involved. No one individual army could have overcome the german fortifications along the "Atlantic Wall", it was truly an full Allied effort. Here is the US "Omaha" beach.


Everywhere along the coast there are Union flags, US stars and stripes and the Canadian maple leaf flying in the breeze. The locals welcome their liberators warmly.


Sitting in a restaurant on Friday evening we saw a poster advertising the UEFA Under19 football tournament in Normandy. I went online later and discovered that France were playing 'Angleterre' the next day in Saint-Lo so we even managed to take in an international football game during our brief visit!

All too soon, our five days had flown by and it time to head back to England. I can thoroughly recommend Normandy for a short vacation. Lovely scenery, gorgeous beaches, excellent museums and a special history are to be discovered only a short journey away from the UK's south coast. The roads are quiet, the parking is free everywhere (a refreshing change from the UK!) and the food excellent.

12 comments:

Debs said...

Phew, what a busy few days you had. That first photo looks a little like a painting. There are so many beautiful and interesting places to visit in France, but I think the last time I went was about five or so years ago. I really must make more of an effort.

Ladybird World Mother said...

Sounds just wonderful. We are thinking of going there one of these days, and your pictures were hugely helpful in working out the best places to go!! Ta chuck.
As ever, a worthy post to read. More please. We dont hear enough of you. xx

Crystal Jigsaw said...

That looks like a great time you had. When you mentioned about going to Northumberland I had to smile. I wonder if you enjoyed your trip to France as much, or vice versa!

CJ xx

Hadriana's Treasures said...

You've been twice to Northumberland and not popped in to say hello!! I've got a piece typed up for you. I'll post it over v.soon. :)

Troy said...

Debs - you are so close to France that you really have no excuse not to visit.

LWM - I aim to go back with Mrs Troy and Troy Junior in a couple of years to see more of Normandy and Brittany.

CJ - Northumberland and Normandy are very different but both are hugely enjoyable.

Hadriana - Northumberland is such a big county and we go up the east coast almost to the border. Next time we go to Cumbria we will drop by and say hello!

Suzanne Jones said...

Sounds wonderful. You had a busy time.

XX

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

We've done a variety of French trips over the years and remember taking our son to Normandy when he was about six or seven. I suspect he was a little young to appreciate the history of the place but his mum and dad certainly brought home some fascinating memories.
Your photos are beautiful - hard not to take good shots in France, everywhere you go there's a view!

Troy said...

Suzanne - maybe I've made it sound busy but it was actually very relaxing and enjoyable. Always doing something but never fighting the clock is a good recipe.

Trish - I've enjoyed reading your many travelogues so thought I'd do one of my own.

auntiegwen said...

How lovely to go on holiday with your dad. I'd love to do a trip to Hong Kong with my dad (it's his bigh wish) Can you imagine the fun Gadget Mad Dad would have over there?

Troy said...

Welcome auntiegwen, I can certainly recommend Hong Kong for a trip. If you click on 2008 on my blog archive (at the side) it takes you to a posting about my HK trip with my father.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Troy...did you know that there is a Troytown very near (or in) Tolpuddle Martyrs town....near Puddle Town
http://www.ukvillages.co.uk/Place/28582/Troytown-Dorset

We stayed in Dorset recently and I saw the sign but we'd whizzed past it too fast for me to get it and e-mail it to you.

Also troy gold ounces (and their existence) had completely bypassed me until the other week when they talked about them in the paper. Is that a very happy coincidence?

You and your family are very welcome to come and stay with us..if you are up this way. We are literally on the border of Northumberland and Cumbria. (Easy access from A1 or M6 via A69...we are just off A69 midway. We are half an hour from M6 Carlisle side or about an hour from Newcastle.)

If you come up the A1....come up through Piercebridge - there is a wonderful organic farmshop/cafe there. Then up A68...quicker than going all the way round on A1/A69.

Anyway I'll shut up now. We're very friendly! Vale! Hadriana xx

Hadriana's Treasures said...

I mean the photo of Troytown...not the sign!!!