#4: The Bloody Battlefields and Bed and Breakfasts of Normandy

Jack took this photo as his entry into the Boy's Life Magazine summer photo contest. What do you think? Installment number four of the trip recap takes place in Normandy. After Lisieux, we drove to Bayeux, to a lovely bed and breakfast in an old hunting lodge, built in 1772. It had a yard with a swing set and plenty of room to run around and explore, which was great for the kids after being cooped up in the car (and plane and hotels and churches and historic sites) for a few days now. They tumbled out of the van and went to play (or sit in a lounge chair and frown, as the case may be), while my mom and I tried to figure out how we were going to get any food in a small French countryside town on a Sunday evening.
But it wasn't too long before things took an interesting turn. Gus came running over to say that Bobby was hurt. People run up to me to say people are hurt all the time. Mostly I tell them to rub some dirt on it. But I was assured that THIS time, he really was hurt. And he was. He had had a run in with a very sharp metal stake sticking out of the stone wall of an historic outdoor kitchen.
When the Tierneys vacation, we really like to immerse ourselves in the local culture: churches, grocery stores, emergency rooms . . . So, off went Bobby and my dad and Jim and the bed and breakfast guy to the hospital. He got five stitches and was good to go. In the meantime, Jack and Nana had found a pizza place, and we were all set. The next day was our WWII day. Before the trip, Jim read aloud to us a book called Pegasus Bridge by Steven Ambrose, about a small detachment of British airborne troops who stormed the German defense forces and paved the way for the Allied invasion of Europe. Pegasus Bridge was the first engagement of D-Day, the turning point of World War II. It was pretty awesome for the kids to have that history lesson come to life before them!
We got to see the actual landing spots of the Horsa gliders. And shout "Ham and Jam!" Which was code for something. I forget what.
We also got to eat at a restaurant that featured prominently in the book. The Gondreé Café was run by Mr. and Mrs. Gondreé, secret members of the French resistance. Mrs. Gondreé secretly spoke German, so she could overhear what the German soldiers would say in her café. She would tell her husband, who secretly spoke English, and he would pass the information to an English doctor, who passed it to the British military. All very exciting. The café is still in business, run by the Gondreé's daughter.
But unless you're looking for an Ed Debevic's-type experience, I can't recommend it. She was SO MEAN! We got chased out of tables that then sat empty the whole time we were there. They brought us the wrong drinks and told us it was our own fault and we had to keep them. We were chastised for not ordering enough. It was really somethin.' But historic! The museum at Pegasus Bridge highlights the contribution of the military photographers who experienced all the dangers and hardships of other soldiers, but usually unarmed, and while looking through the lens of a camera, rather than watching for hazards. They were running through the same hail of enemy fire, but trying to change rolls of film while doing it. It wasn't something I had considered before. Then we went to the Omaha Beach museum.
And Omaha Beach itself.
The weather was gorgeous, and we all dipped our toes in the English Channel. Even Lulu. We did some exploring up in the hills.
No filters and no editing on these photos. That's what it looked like. We then visited the American Cemetery, the final resting place of 9, 383 men and four women who lost their lives in the invasion of Normandy and subsequent military operations that restored liberty to the people of France.
Also that day, because THAT JUST WASN'T ENOUGH . . . we saw the Bayeux Tapestry.
It's not actually a tapestry. It's a 230 foot long piece of embroidery which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. It was probably created in the 1070s. Here, see it in action:
I just love it. It's got history and daring and scandal and humor and whimsy and carefully embroidered severed limbs and nudity. Plus it's in my favorite colors. I've been working on embroidering a couple sections of it on and off for the seven years since we last visited and the lady at this shop taught me how to do the stitches. Another decade or so and we are going to have the BEST throw pillows ever. After that, we toured the Bayeux Cathedral, another stone Gothic wonder that took centuries to complete.
Bayeux is a really, really quaint old town, with water wheels and cobblestones. It was especially nice to be there so close to the June 6th anniversary of D-Day. There were flowers everywhere, especially poppies, and most of the storefront windows were painted to thank the serviceman and their families who were visiting for the occasion.
This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the invasion. We feel very fortunate to have been able to gain such an appreciation for WWII and the enormous price paid by everyone involved. Freedom isn't free, as they say. Okay, I really am trying to wrap these up. If you can hang with me for probably two more (Mont Saint Michel in the rain and Paris, also raining), we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming. In case you're a sucker for this kind of thing, here are links to installment #1: Canada, and #2: Lourdes, and #3: Chartres and Lisieux.