A Travellerspoint blog

I am in awe.....

Truly the Longest Day

sunny 6 °C

I cried a lot today. It had nothing to do with the weather or my ongoing wobbly tummy but unashamedly I was incredibly moved by my surroundings. Far more than I expected to be and in a way that has put life into perspective.

Today we began exploring Normandy and specifically the sites of the D-Day landings and the Battle for Normandy. Which was, let's face it, the Battle for France, the Battle for Europe and the Battle for Humanity. Make no mistake, the life that we hold so dear and take for granted was challenged 70 years ago and 1000s of brave young men gave it all to take back the continent and the principles of freedom. We've been to battle sites in the past - this was different. This was a fight that made sense and was, really, the only option.

We went first to St-Mere-Eglise. For those that haven't seen The Longest Day, this may not mean anything, but for those that have, it's the place where Red Buttons ends up hanging from his parachute on the steeple of a church. Hollywood fiction? Not at all. Buttons was portraying a man named John Steele and it really happened - in fact, the story is still remembered and commemorated by a manequin hanging from the steeple to this day. St-Mere-Eglise was the first French town liberated by on D-Day. On the night of 5th/6th June 1944, pathfinders from the American 82nd and 101st Airporne parachuted into the area with the mission of holding the road on which the town stood. It was them main road across the Cotentin Peninsula and holding it would help prevent a German counterattack against the landings at Utah Beach. Things got horribly messy because of weather and inaccurate drops and many soldiers dropped directly into the town. What made it worse is that a house in the main street was on fire and the parachutists were clearly visible in the light that was cast. The upshot is a happy one. The Germans withdrew before dawn and, despite counterattacks, the reformed Airborne Divisions were able to hold out until the advancing forces from Utah were able to join up with them some 48 hours later. This must have been an incredibly long 48 hours.

Why am I telling the story? Well because it deserves to be told. The average age of the men that jumped that night was 20 and around 50% of them were out of action either killed or injured within the first couple of days. You can't go to somewhere like St-Mere-Eglise without feeling the sacrifice and it got to us without doubt. It's the bit in the film that always finds me going to make a drink or something but I had to confront it today and there was no John Wayne with me to make me sure it would be alright. What's more, it still looks like a French village. You can recognise the town square and the shops and there is a marker in the the brilliantly done Airborne Museum for the house that burnt and caused so much trouble.

After this, we moved on to Utah Beach. What I'll remember most about that - apart from how cold and blowy it was - was the road there. On every corner was a marker or signpost. Each one of these commemorated a soldier that had fallen at that point and the street or lane was named in their honour. So many markers. So many lives. Another brilliant museum and history is coming to life at a rate that is breathtaking.

Final call for the day was equally if not more inspirational. 11km down the road from our hidey hole is Point Du Hoc. This is where the American Rangers (including Paul Anka in the film) scaled vertical cliffs under heavy attack from German Artillery with the mission purpose of taking out the apparently impregnable German batteries that had the potential to wreak havoc on the incoming waves on Omaha. When I say vertical I'm really not kidding. One of the most telling quotes at the memorial is from President Reagan - not someone I'd often quote - who talks about the effort. I can't say it better:

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers -- at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

To walk there amongst the shellholes and gun placements and to look down on those forbidding cliffs is awe inspiring. And I cried again. This time. it was so cold I think the ice was forming on my cheeks.

I am truly humbled by this experience and I haven't finished yet. Tomorrow we're going to Pegasus Bridge and Ouisterheim. I still have the lines in my head...."hold until relieved. Hold until relieved" and the sound of bagpipes through the mist. Going to be a special day but today will take some beating.

I can only say - humbly - thank you!

Posted by dawnandhugh 13:38 Archived in France Tagged beaches battles d-day Comments (1)

In awe as history confronts us

Arrival in Normandy

sunny 8 °C

I can't finish today without acknowledging our reaction to our arrival in Normandy. We're staying in Grandcamp-Maisy on the Norman coast and we're literally 10km from Point du Hoc - yep, that place from The Longest Day. We just drove past Omaha Beach and every road sign we see seems to come from a newsreel. As we drove through the bocage on our way here this afternoon, we were silenced - can't wait to explore more.

Our new accommodation is lovely and as welcoming as Brittany was business like. Still not sure about the radiators but how can you complain when your landlady slips in late afternoon and lights the fire for you? Two cats and a cheery welcoming dog and a great location and we're happy.

As Hugh developed my lurgy overnight - plenty of exercise for him - getting across here was an effort. It's a quiet night for us and I've cooked for the first time on the trip - scrambled eggs and they were gorgeous. An early night and tomorrow is another day and there's so much to see.

Posted by dawnandhugh 11:47 Archived in France Tagged beaches Comments (1)

Walking amongst the ancients


sunny 8 °C

It would be remiss of me to let Sunday's adventures slip away lost in the blur as a result of our ill health yesterday and today. We decided on Saturday night that we'd had a big coupld of days on the road and that we'd stay relatively local on Sunday. We were also of the belief that a lot of things would be closed given our previous experience in Jarnac and the very legitimate fact that it was Easter Sunday. We decided to sleep in a little although I was awake about 7:30 and got up to follow the football on the internet - hopeless aren't I? What a great start to the day with the Pies - sadly depleted by injury - holding off a fast finishing North and me cheering along to Triple M's call!

But back to the trip. It was a much improved day on what we'd experienced previously in Brittany and while it was cold, it was sunny and still and dry. The main reason that we'd chosen our accommodation in Ste Helene was its proximity to Carnac and megaliths of the area. I'd had some concerns about whether we'd have access to the stones - be just our luck to have them closed or locked off I thought. I wonder if Brittany had got to me and wasn't a truly happy experience so I was imagining the worse. I couldn't have been more wrong I'm delighted to say. We decided to ignore Sally and just follow the signs and we were rewarded almost immediately as we found parking and fields containing dozens of stones just at the side of the road. The exciting thing is that you can just walk amongst them and touch them if you want to. There was only one other couple there at the same time of us and it was gloriously remote. We kept losing each other amongst the rocks and there was a slight Picnic at Hanging Rock come Narnia feel about it - we'd just about have gone home happily at that point but more was to come.

We moved on to the Carnac alignments - much bigger affair with a huge car park and visitors' centre at the Maison de Megaliths. Lots more people as well but plenty of room for all. The rows of stones here run for around a mile long and about 100 metres wide and it is impossible to fully understand the scale of the creation. Many are fenced off to protect the grass and the stones but, again, there were areas that we were able to get close to the stones which was great. What was also pleasing wherever we saw the stones was that noone had thought that they could improve thm with a bit of grafitti and they remained in their natural weather worn state. The Maison was - surprisingly - open and had a terrific photo display and models of the alignments - for the record, this was only one of three in the area - and had a good gift shop which we had a bit of fun with!

sense of scale

sense of scale

A quick look down the road at the Kermario alignments and a look at a burial chamber and I was slightly stoned out - and so was Hugh which was good. It was too nice a day to go home so we had a drive around the area and thought of going over to Quiberon but it's the Easter long weekend and I think half of Brittany had the same idea. Instead we dropped into lovely Port Louis and had a brief walk on the ramparts - bloody cold let me tell you!!!

Local well

Local well

In some ways it was the best of our days in Brittany as it was done at a nice pace and we managed to avoid freeways and actually see the glorious coast that we'd heard so much about. I don't think the stay was a happy one and I can't quite pin down why. The house was nice but cold and unfriendly - the heating never really worked properly and it was never cosy - the weather for the first couple of days was horrible and things were looked at from behind windscreen wipers and through a curtain of grey sleet. I'm sure it's a great place but it won't go down as an unqualified pleasure - not least because first I and then Hugh got sick - not that this is Brittany's fault!

Posted by dawnandhugh 11:45 Archived in France Tagged stones Comments (0)

Laid low

Sick on holiday

sunny 10 °C

You may have been wondering why you hadn't heard from me sooner - the answer, gentle readers, is that I've been laid low with what I hope to be a 24 hour bug and have been in bed most of the day. It started yesterday morning with an unhealthy dependency on the facilities but I didn't think much of it as French food is having an impact on me and we've just got on with things. Overnight it became a more pressing problem and while I don't want to go into details, there was way too much time being spent travelling from the bedroom to the bathroom. When the alarm went off this morning I was in pain, had not slept well and we simply turned it off and rolled over again. Sadly I didn't really emerge until about 6 o'clock this evening after taking in two lots of Berocca and a glass of water and deciding it was time to get up and test myself. On top of everything else, we're moving on to Normandy first thing tomorrowo morning and we needed to get a head start at the packing. I'm glad to say that this has been done, I've been upright for several hours and am about to try some food - dry biscuits!

I have lots to say about the glorious day we had yesterday amongst the megaliths of Carnac but this will have to wait and I promise to update tomorrow.

Posted by dawnandhugh 11:39 Archived in France Tagged disasters ill Comments (2)

It snowed!!!

Two days in Brittany.....

snow 6 °C

Did I mention that Europe is having the coldest March in however many years?? Yep, seemed like a great idea to come over in the European spring. Start in the South and make our way North as the weather gradually improved into April. Good theory but this strange shift in the Gulf Stream has stuffed that and the forecast for the foreseeable future is ..............cold!! Add wet stuff to that and it's not the stuff of dreams.

Yesterday and briefly today we actually encountered snow. The white stuff was swirling around as we drove from our base in Ste Helene (near Lorient in Southern Brittany if you're checking the maps) to start exploring the place. It was tempting to stay in bed and let the world bring it on but it's an awfully long way to come to do nothing so we got on with it. We started off in Quimper which was an hour or so up the road and was lovely. Apart from the gorgeous half timbered buildings and the general charm, it had - of all things - an Irish shop which sold woollens and warm stuff. What's more, they had our size. For those of you who don't know us, we're built on the large size so these ideas of "well you can always get something when you get there" tend to ring a bit hollow. I have been looking for a cloak or some woollens since Provence and had struck out even at those shops who haven't bravely - stupidly - loaded themselves with unseasonal spring and even summer clothing. In this shop however, we struck gold. I think the shopkeepers thought they'd struck gold as well as we walked out with: two duffle coats, two woollen jumpers, one hat, one scarf and a bottle of whisky (for internal warmth!). Would you believe, two duffle coats left in the shop and they were our sizes???? Considerably warmer and, therefore, much happier, we stomped off to have a good look around the town.

In a duffle coat

In a duffle coat

Lovely Quimper - in the sleet

Lovely Quimper - in the sleet

It really wasn't the weather to linger long so we took our photos and then had lunch in the market tavern. Yummy stuff - our first real seafood feast of the trip and we understood what we've been told about the pots of mussels.

Seaford plate

Seaford plate

Moules Cidre - steaming up the lens!

Moules Cidre - steaming up the lens!

Feeling warmed inside and out and ignoring the flying white bits, we bravely - or stupidly - decided to drive up to the north coast to Roscoff. For those that don't know, Roscoff is famous - amongst other things - for being the home of the "onion Johnnies" or the French onion men who, in their striped t-shirts, berets and bicycles (along with strings of onions) were the stereotype of Frenchmen for a whole generation of English housewives. We're not sure whether Sally is kidding us but we seemed to taken all over the place on the way and we got caught up in some huge lines of traffic. What I hadn't realised is that Roscoff is a car ferry port and it's the Easter long weekend so there was traffic all over the place. By the time we got there, our enthusiasm had waned somewhat so after a desperate dive for the facilities, we turned around and headed home again. Our host at the "local" was terribly impressed at our long distance efforts but we explained that we were Australians - and therefore slightly mad!!!

Today was marginally better weather wise - well at least there was no white stuff while we were driving and the temperature lingered about 4 degrees (as opposed to yesterday's 2!). Our plan was to see Dinan and St Malo so another long drive across the peninsula. We achieved the first part and had a fantastic time in Dinan. It was cold when we got there and it did snow on us when we were walking around but we were well rugged up and were fine. Again, we had lunch out and today was pretty spectacular. We both had oysters - well of course - and while Hugh had fillet of beef, I had half a lobster with vegetables - delicious!!



After lunch and another walk and a detour to buy the most delectable macaroons - excuse me while I eat another - some evil genius inspired us to decide to go to St Malo as the sun had come out and the temperature had reached a balmy 8 degrees. Well, we kind of got there but the traffic was life Chadstone at Christmas time and we really couldn't cope with it so we plugged in the coordinates for home and got back to home base about 7 tonight. After a lot of meals out, and a spectacularly good three course lunch, we've had some cheese, pate and wine for dinner and are now relaxing. Might stay local tomorrow - all this driving is too too like being at work.

Posted by dawnandhugh 13:46 Archived in France Comments (2)

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