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July 19, 2015 / Jim Fenton

Europe Day 12: D-Day Beaches and Bayeux

Sunday, June 14, 2015

After breakfast, we set out for the D-Day beaches that are the focus of many visitors to Bayeux. A short drive took us to Arromanches, the site of a harbor set up as part of Operation Overlord, one of the engineering marvels of the effort. We walked around the town and climbed up to the cliff overlooking the beach, which was the British landing site Gold beach.

American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-mer

American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-mer

We then drove over to Omaha Beach in the American sector. The American cemetery in Colleville-sur-mer is free, and has an excellent museum describing the history of D-Day. After exiting you can walk to the War Memorial and the cemetery itself, which were just as moving as one would expect.

We stopped for lunch, first at a convenient but slow restaurant that seemed to take its location for granted. After waiting to be served in a reasonable time, we left and used Yelp to find a nearby family-run restaurant that had excellent galettes: whole wheat pancakes with ham, cheese, and perhaps egg filling them. A very enjoyable lunch.

Returning to Bayeux, we headed for the cathedral. We were offered a guided tour, and after asking for English we were guided by a bilingual woman who was just learning the tour in English, and her mentor. We had a delightful time hearing about the cathedral from her, and helping her discover the words for things she was unsure of. In the process we heard that there would be an organ and choral concert at 6 pm, and resolved to return for that.

Our next stop (after the obligatory ice cream break) was the Tapestry of Bayeux, a 70-meter long embroidery giving the history of the Norman conquest. The story is quite a bit different from what we heard on the English side of the channel, particularly as it told of Harold promising the throne to William in return for rescuing him from another group that had held him hostage. The invasion was characterized as William just collecting on that promise that Harold had broken. The tapestry was used to tell the story of the invasion to generations of people who (mostly) couldn’t read or write. Well-planned audio guides narrated the story for us as we walked, slowly, the length of the tapestry.

Interior of Bayeux Cathedral

Interior of Bayeux Cathedral

We then returned to the cathedral for the concert. A 9-member choral group sang the first half, and was joined by the cathedral’s impressive organ for the second half, which included a heavy solo piece in B minor (ré minor) that showed off the organ’s capabilities well. The quality of the performance, acoustics, and general surroundings made this an enjoyable concert, although maybe a little less for Celeste.

Being a Sunday, a lot of things are closed in France, including the restaurant that we had planned on for dinner. So we returned to the Reine Mathilde where we had dinner on our first evening in Bayeux for another enjoyable meal.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in Europe. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

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