Bayeux seemed the quintessential small French town: a few streets of stores, local bakeries and pastry shops, a 13th-century cathedral complete with rat-infested crypt, medieval ramparts, a central park, and a winding maze of townhouse streets connecting them. It is hard to believe that this area of Normandy was the stage for the largest naval invasion in history.

On Rick Steve’s American blue bible of travel’s recommendation, we booked a half-day tour with Victory Tours to take a guided van tour of the beachfront with Raol.

This picture was taken just after the port was completed and supplies began being offloaded.

Our first stop on the coast was marked by large, dark figures protruding from the water a couple hundred yards out; I strained my eyes trying to see if it was a shoal or some rocks in shallow water. Raol said that although the water was currently lapping at the street-side, that during low tide, the beach extends 500 meters and these protruding figures are uncovered to reveal that they are five stories tall! They are the remnants of the harbour that the allies constructed in England and brought to Normandy during the invasion so as to avoid having to capture the heavily fortified ports of the French northern coastline. Five-story concrete blocks were floated over and sunk on the far end to create breakers, other containers were used inland and filled with sand and water, and these were connected by metal bridge-like pieces to form a floating road that rose and fell with the enormous tidal changes.

We passed through the port where lines were run the 100 miles underwater from England to Normandy for diesel, gas, and water (in fear of German poisoning as in North Africa) to supply the invasion.

Our second stop was to Omaha Beach, bloody Omaha where 3000 Americans lost their lives taking an unexpectedly difficult beachhead. The atmosphere was mysterious, sombre. There were virtually no gulls, no sound, just the wind and the waves. Inexplicably, each year, as the tide goes out it leaves red tailings from the so called bleeding pebbles in front of the German fortification on the C/D beach border.

The distinctive conical trees are trimmed by hand using clippers and takes two men one day to complete each tree.

Just up the hill we walked American soil on the grounds of the American Cemetery. They were extremely well kept and it was the most beautiful resting place for the thousands buried there. In the center was a reflection pool for the statue of “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” centered between two walls that detailed D-Day with maps and words. Further along was a chapel which blessed the fallen with two inscriptions for the Christians and Jews respectively who were also discerned by the Stars and Crosses above their graves. Medal of Honor recipients graves were distinguished with gold lettering and gold was also on the crosses of recently visited graves on which the sand of the beaches below are wiped and then dry gold.

We concluded our tour at Pointe du Hoc which was a German Battery that had 14-mi range guns that posed a threat to the invasion on either side and the ships at sea. US Army Rangers trained for a year in Scotland before setting on a mission the night of the landing to disable them. After scaling the 200ft cliffs with gear on wet ropes, suffering heavy casualties having originally landed on the wrong cliff and exposing their presence, found that the guns had already been moved to a non-firing position away from the battery as a result of the Air Force’s 24-hour bombing for the past two months. The site, however, is an amazing remnant of the fortifications and the bombings which pounded the landscape to lunar similarity. I stepped into the shoes of the American soldiers and tried to imagine attempting siege upon these positions. It was evident from exploring them that the only way of destroying the heavily fortified positions would have been to get close enough to use a flamethrower, truly a harrowing nightmare.

Apart from the D-Day site tour, I explored the town and visited the tapestry in Bayeux. The tapestry is a 224 foot long woven embroidery that details the tale of William the Conqueror’s ascent to the throne. It was traditionally hung in the Cathedral of Notre Dame-Bayeux to explain the tale to the largely illiterate populous and was most likely commissioned by William’s brother, Bishop Odo, although I like the tale of William’s wife, Queen Matilda and her ladies in waiting sewing the piece more. We also visited the D-Day museum and memorial in Caen which was a bit pricy and I wouldn’t recommend it for the budget traveller; save it for a tour of the beaches!

Overall a serene and historical stop in Normandy, now off to Southern France by train and bus to Nice!


Posted: April 5, 2011

Author: jahjr1989

Category: Blog

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