Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009 Normandy Coast to Caen by way of Lisieux
Today we decided to take the scenic route to Caen but with fog we won’t see much of the countryside. We arrived at our first destination about ten o’clock. We’d decided to stop at the town of Lisieux, located about half way to Caen. We’d read on the internet about St. Therese of Lisieux and that they have created a Sanctuary for her similar to those at Fatima and Lourdes. Our first stop was at the Cathedral of St. Peter’s where St. Therese worshiped as a child and was known as Therese Martin. She was born in 1873 and joined the Carmelite Order when she was only fifteen years old. She died at the early age of twenty four in 1897 and was proclaimed a saint in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. She was known as Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face as a Carmelite Nun. She is also known as Sainte-Therese De Lisieux.
St. Peter’s was a very large and beautiful Cathedral of Norman gothic style built in the end of the twelfth century; it was very interesting to visit and see all of the detailed information on Sainte Theresa’s years as a parishioner. We drove to the house where the Martin family lived in the late nineteenth century when Therese was a child. The Carmelite Nuns conduct tours of the house for the public; an audio tape plays in your language as they guide you through the house.
From there we drove to the Sanctuary where there is a huge Basilica that was built above the city in 1929. Its walls and those of the Crypt are covered with mosaics that illustrate the message of Saint Therese. Not as large as Lourdes but definitely very impressive.
Three hours later, the fog had lifted somewhat and we were back on the three lane road headed towards Caen; about an hours drive north west of Lisieux. Had intended to find the road that circles the city and use that to get to the northern edge where we wanted to go; no such luck…we ended up driving straight through the center of town. We found signs that said “Le Memorial”…assuming that this was the WW II Memorial Museum we followed the signs. Our hotel instructions had said to take Exit 7 from the Ring Road and those were the same instructions for the Memorial so we easily found our hotel once we found the Memorial. Checked in and then headed over to the Museum.
Built in 1988, Le Memorial de Caen is probably the best WW II Museum in France. We spent a couple of hours there and plan to return tomorrow for a few more hour tomorrow as our tickets are good for twenty four hours. It’s been a good day full of new things and several serendipity driving experiences that we could not repeat if we had to! But we always managed to find our destinations in plenty of time and that what really matters in the end.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 Bayeux Tapestry and Omaha Beach
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in our room and then headed over to the WW II Museum nearby so that we arrived there for the opening at nine o’clock. We spent an hour finishing up the Museum portion and then watched the movie about the D-Day Invasion that lasted nearly an hour. It was a split screen with the Allied Forces on the left side and the Germans on the right as each prepared for battle and then the actual fighting. It was difficult to watch both at the same time but a fascinating way to show both sides of a story.
It was nearly eleven o’clock by the time we headed out of town towards the Bayeux. The sun was out early this morning and we enjoyed the bright sunshine as we drove along the two lane highway for the short trip of about thirty miles. As we approached we could see the tall spires of the Cathedral of Bayeux miles before we arrived.
Bayeux is only six miles from the D-Day beaches and was the first town liberated after the landing. Because the Allied Forces had been informed ahead of the invasion that there were no Germans occupying the town and it was not of strategic importance; the town was spared the bombs and survived intact.
The Bayeux Tapestry is made of wool embroidered onto linen cloth; a seventy yard cartoon that tells the story of William the Conqueror’s rise from duke of Normandy to King of England. Long and skinny, it was designed to hang in the nave of Bayeux’s Cathedral about 1070 to tell the story to the masses who could not read or write. Once each year it was hung in the Cathedral for a short period of time. It has survived fires in the Cathedral, many wars, and other misuse over the centuries. Today’s enemies are light and dust but they work hard at making sure this historical work of art survives for the enjoyment of future generations. Drifted through the gift shop and headed to the Cathedral.
We’ve seen some large cathedrals over the past few months but this seems to be one of the biggest ever! The matching tall Gothic spires cap two towers and setting on top of the roof of the church below the towers is a small building that was built as a home for the caretaker of the eleventh century cathedral. There is a small crypt under the main altar that we were allowed to enter.
By two thirty we were back on the road again and continued west towards the WW II beach of Omaha and the American Cemetery. Both are awesome in their simple beauty and history. The cemetery sits on the bluffs above Omaha Beach and has continued to change over the years. Today we visited a new Visitor Center that was completed in the past few years and is devoted to honoring the values and sacrifices of the World War II generation of Americans. A section honored families who had lost multiple members. One family shown was the family that the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was based on.
From the Visitor Center we walked out to view the beach and then over to the original Memorial featuring a twenty two foot statue of “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”. In front there is a water feature and at the far end the chapel. In between are the hundreds of grave markers of fallen soldiers. Some were prior to the invasion date from airplanes that’d been shot down; most were from the actual invasion and subsequent fight that continued for months and resulted in the ultimate end of the war in Europe.
We then ventured back behind the memorial to the new “Garden of the Missing”. The walls are lined with engraved tablets with lists of the missing in action; they are still carving the final names on these tablets as we watched one lone man with a hammer and chisel slowing chipping away to complete the project
It was a somber drive back towards Caen. We made one final stop at the village of Longues-sur-Mer to see the four German bunkers with guns intact that still stand today on the bluff between Omaha and Gold Beaches. They formed a critical line in Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defense. Parking along the road we walked out to see the bunkers and then further out to visit the bluff where the observation bunker was built. The guns could accurately hit targets up to thirteen miles away. We arrived back in Caen before five pm and called it a day! Tomorrow is a full day off; we’re taking a rest and relax day in the hotel; probably our last one for the trip. On Thursday we head further west along the Normandy Coast.