Wednesday, December 30, 2009

St. Malo and Mont Saint-Michel

For the weekend, all four of us rented a car to drive from Paris to Normandy, and then to St. Malo. Here we are approaching the great Étoile (star) surrounding the Arc de Triumph, which is an incredibly insane experience. Lucky for us, our GPS diverted us underneath the death trap.

For lunch, we stopped off in Bayeux. We didn't know much about this village, but soon learned that it was the first town in France to be liberated during WW2. Above we see the cathedral of Bayuex (consecrated in 1077!). Now that we are home and looking up what we saw on our trip, we know this cathedral is the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry, wove sometime before 1077 to celebrate the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy). I think we should have stopped to see that tapestry. It was at this place that William "forced" the future King of England, Henry II, to swear on holy relics to support William's claim to the throne to England. This will come into play a little later when we visit Mont St. Michel.

After lunch, we continued on to Normandy Beach, the location of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Unlike the Bayeux tapestry, we have many first-hand accounts and photographs of this event that has forever changed the course of the first world. Standing up on the bluffs where the German forces were positioned, I have a more profound impression (read pit in my stomach) of the photograph taken from inside an amphibious landing vehicle (below).

After walking about Omaha Beach for a while, we drove to the American Cemetery for an even more sobering experience. This is a beautiful and well-kept place overlooking Omaha Beach, holding the remains of 9,387 dead American soldiers, many dead from D-day, and many soldiers unknown.

We continued on to St. Malo, which Carla and I visited in April (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and were so excited to return. This time, however, we got to stay in the Hotel France et Chateaubriand -- which is the birthplace of the birther of French romanticism, François-René de Chateaubriand. Above is how it looked at that time in the 17th century.

To quench our thirst, we went to a funky bar inside the walls of St. Malo called, "Le Café du coin d'en bas de la rue du bout de la ville d'en face du port," which translates to, "The café on the corner on the side of the street opposite of the city in front of the port." Every square inch of each wall and ceiling is covered with dolls, parts of dolls, pictures of dolls, and strange curiosities.

Then we had a wonderful seafood dinner. We were extremely amused at some of the offerings in English. Since Carla and I know French now, we were able to decipher "nitwits" (pickles) and "worn cheese" (grated cheese).

On our way back to Paris, we stopped by the stunning Mont Saint-Michel. Depending on the time of day, this rock will either be in the middle of the sea, or on a flat and wet sandy beach. Apparently, in the 8th century, an "archangel" (St. Michel) appeared to a bishop and said, "Please build me a church on this piece of rock." The bishop was skeptical and did nothing. Then the archangel came back after some time and said, "I said, build me a church on this rock, please." The bishop remained skeptical and did nothing. The third time, the archangel poked a hole in the bishop's skull to show him business was meant the first two times. And thus the church was built. It is also featured in the Bayuex tapestry we discussed above. An interesting tidbit here is that around the sandy flats, one can quickly get into trouble as there is quick sand. Future King of England, Henry II, is said to have saved two of his men from the quick sand here in the 11th century. He would soon die at the Battle of Hastings against his former ally, William the Conqueror.

This goes to show me: avoid quick sand; and do not promise things to people named "so-and-so conqueror."

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