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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 12 Sep 2007

Location: Normandie, France

MapOur four-wheel Tour de France continued after sharing breakfast with a nice pair of French ladies also staying at our B&B. No English kept the conversation pretty basic. After a stop in Pontorson for food supplies, we headed north for Saint Lo and the Atlantic coast, and a slice of very recent history in comparison to the centuries-old of late. Omaha Beach was one of the many beaches used by US, British and Canadian soldiers during the massive allied invasion of occupied France on June 6th, 1944. A beautiful strip of coastline, ranging from high rugged cliffs to sandy beaches, dotted with the occasional houses and “shacks”, and some German bunkers destroyed on that day. One still had the canon inside. War memorials laid by the three different nations are now on the beachfront. Some are as recent as 2004, marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day. You still drive through the villages at the top of the cliffs that were liberated within the first 24 hours of the Allies landing – Vierville, St Laurent, Colleville – just a few houses, all set on extremely narrow streets. Near St Laurent is the US War Cemetery, a massive area of manicured lawns and thousands of plain white marble crosses, laid in perfectly straight rows, each one inscribed with the name of a fallen American soldier. Time shortage stopped us visiting the Canadian Cemetery further up the road.
On to another city liberated after D-Day, Bayeux, and in particular the Bayeux Tapestry. We’d heard a lot about this artifact, and today we saw it first-hand. Hand-sewn not long after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, it tells the story of how William the Conqueror took the crown from Harold to become King of England. Amazing how this thing (over 70 metres long) has survived ten centuries, and the colours are still vibrant and have not faded much over that time.
Searching for our pre-booked B&B, we got lost getting through Rouen while looking for A28 (it didn’t help that they’d built a second A28 since our map had been printed) and we didn’t arrive at our destination until 8.30. We expected to go to bed without eating but we were delighted to be offered a delicious meal with very short notice to our host. And to top it all off, our hosts are ex-pat Brits living in France, and the second couple staying were from Wales. So we had a wonderful night speaking English without having to resort to the French-English dictionary. The house was set in the middle of a dense forest (mainly beech trees), with no other sign of civilization. Our English host Ros told us of stories told to her by elderly locals who were part of the resistance in WW2, and how they would hide shot down pilots from the Germans in the very forest just outside our door.