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Normandy history day

(written by Dave)

We had a big tourist day here in Bayeux today.  We started with the Bayeux Tapestry, moved onto Notre Dame Cathedral, then to the Battle of Normandy Museum and finally finished up at the British war cemetery .  We both agreed that it is a lot harder having a day of being tourists than it is riding our bikes.  It rained on and off all day, at least when we were outside, so it was a good day to be inside.

The Bayeux Tapestry was pretty cool.  It is a 1,000 year old tapestry that documents William the Conqueror’s relationship with his half-brother Harold, the build up to the battle of Hastings and William’s ultimate Norman conquest of England.  We knew almost none of this history before we visited the museum.  In 50 words or less, the story goes something like this:  William and Harold were competing to be King of England.  William was Norman (French), Harold was English.  Edward, the former king, named William his successor.  When Edward died, Harold ignored his commitment to recognize William as the king and tried to take over.  William was so pissed off the he marshaled his forces in France, put them on boats and went over to England to claim his kingdom.  He won the battle of Hastings and swept in almost 100 years of Norman rule.

The tapestry itself was used after the wars to describe the events of the day to a mostly illiterate French population.  There is much debate of where it was made or who commissioned it but it was used through the years to relive this great Norman conquest.  The tapestry is 1.6 feet by 225 feet and contains 50 scenes embroidered in coloured wool yarn on a tabby-woven linen backing.  The fact that it has survived nearly 1,000 years is in itself pretty amazing.

As for the tapestry’s story and our understanding of the Norman vs England battle, we know a lot more now than we did at the start of the day.  Of course, we know the story from William and the Norman point of view, so we may need more study.

The Notre Dame Cathedral was impressive.  It is the same length and a little narrower than the Paris version.  Though there have been numerous revisions and additions, the original building was commissioned in 1077.  Much of the original building still exists but the style of the building is no longer considered Norman.  All the changes through the years have netted a very gothic cathedral today.  We had a long look around a massive interior, including strolling through the basement crypt.  The stained glass windows were quite impressive.

The next stop was the The Battle of Normandy Museum.  The Normandy area is littered with museums that cover single days of the battle, individual fighting units or specific battle locations.  This museum covered the entire 85 day battle from start to finish.  This was good for us as it gave us a good overview.  We’d both studied these events in high school history classes but today we learned more details than we could have ever covered in school.

While the museum was informative, it is hard to not turn the whole thing into a pile of statistics: how many troops, ships, planes, tanks; who landed where and when; how many casualties; who were the generals; etc, etc, etc.  It is too easy to forget that these numbers were actual real people, brothers, fathers, sons and so on.  Well, we finished the day at the British War Cemetery across the road from the museum.  There is nothing like reading names on headstones to bring back the personal side of warfare.  We strolled quietly through the cemetery, filled with row after row of headstone, mostly 19 to 25 year old boys who gave their lives – so much more jarring than numbers on the charts in the museum.  The cemetery mood was complete with a heavy grey sky, some light rain, autumn leaves on the trees and a sprinkling of fallen leaves on the ground.  To our surprise, there were both allied and German troops buried in the graveyard.  In a way, this was nice to see.  If the boys couldn’t be mates in life, at least in death they shared a small piece of French countryside.

Exhausted from our big day, we hit a grocery store for dinner supplies.  Neither of us felt like going out to dinner so we cooked up some soup on our stove in front of our hotel room.  We have lots stove gas left from camping and we won’t be able to take it on the plane when we fly to the US.  Only a couple other guests walked past while I was cooking.  I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels while on business travel and I admit that I’ve never seen other guests cooking on a gas stove outside their room.  I’m not sure how I would have reacted.

Tomorrow we are going on a tour of a couple of the Normandy landing beaches.  I think that Nancy and I are the only two on the trip.  We are expecting a bi-lingual guide but are not certain, it should be educational, both the WWII part and our ongoing French language study.

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2 responses to “Normandy history day

  1. Again, great pictures! Would have loved one of you cooking out front of your hotel room!

    • Nancy is too slow – I cooked again tonight outside and she missed it again! Actually, she is the prep chef and very busy. Plus I’m known to shout out the need for help. No time for a photo 🙂

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