Day Six

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Tigres de Voyage

May 16, 2002
Thursday

Normandy to Mont St Michel

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Wake up in Isigny

The American Cemetery in Normandy

Pointe du Hoc, Utah Beach, St Mere Eglise

Mont Saint Michel

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Wake up in Isigny

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Dave:  It was our last morning in Isigny, so we would have to pack the car with the clean laundry from last night and check out of the Hôtel de France. Today we would drive to several Normandy D-Day sites and spend the night on Mont St Michel. All of the walking was catching up with us and Jesse was zonked when Lyn called us from home. I stepped out of the room, and walked one block down the street to the "Patisserie" (bakery), to get treats for breakfast. I took pictures of the sleepy little town square and returned with a bag full of breakfast. We ate and tuned in to "Morning Live" to see how "Loft Story" had developed.

Jesse zonked out in Isigny

Patisserie in Isigny

Jesse was zonked out, while I went for breakfast
One block away on the Isigny town square

Morning Live on M6

Breakfast in the room in Isigny

Morning Live featured "Zumeo", Jesse's favorite.
Breakfast is served!

Hôtel de France in Isigny

Our quaint 2-star hotel was a "motel" by American standards. But a bargain at $38 US per night.

Hôtel de Frace in Isigny

Packing at the Hôtel de Frace in Isigny

Peering through the archway at our room
Jesse is finally up and helping to load the noisy car

Hôtel de Frace in Isigny

The courtyard was packed with cars as all the other guests enjoyed breakfast.

Hôtel de Frace in Isigny

Looking out from the door of our room, to the small restaurant and through the archway to the street.

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The American Cemetery in Normandy

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Jesse: We loaded up the car and headed back to the east to see the famous Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur Mer, France, now usually referred by its D-Day code name "Omaha Beach". The cemetery parking lot was full of buses, even though we arrived early, with tourists chatting and smiling as they walked through the gates. Many were retiree age, possibly veterans, but others were young couples and school children and the busses were from France and across Europe including one from Germany. We walked behind the groups but were absolutely stunned as we caught our first glimpse of the massive rows of white crosses on the manicured green lawn. We walked solemnly among the graves, doing our best to be respectful to the memories of these many fallen soldiers. Other groups of people moved about the markers as well, inspecting the crosses and reading the names. Even the school children found themselves naturally acting respectful without constant reminder. It is a very moving place to visit.

Monument near Omaha Beach

A commemorative marker on Omaha Beach

US Military Cemetary at Omaha Beach

Entrance to the cemetery and memorial

Jesse: The cemetery rests on a cliff overlooking a portion of Omaha Beach and the English Channel, and walking to the far north side tree-row provides an unexpected spectacular setting for such a serene place. We rested on a fieldstone wall by the cliff-edge overlooking the beach, and realized how difficult a landing here, into fortified positions, would have been as compared to the more flat beaches where the British and Canadians landed. We sat for a while and pondered the vastness of the cemetery, and how each of those crosses represented a man that had lived and died for America. It was truly a sobering experience.

US Military Cemetary at Omaha Beach

The rows of crosses are spectacular to behold

US Military Cemetary at Omaha Beach

The cemetery rests on a cliff next to the English Channel

Jesse: The memorial portion of the cemetery consisted of a garden, a large square and perfectly smooth reflecting pool, and a large statue in remembrance of missing Americans who's remains were never found. Some wall-size operational maps showed the landing and subsequent invasion were also displayed and were interesting. In the center of the cemetery there was a small round chapel with a  mosaic ceiling donated by France as a lasting remembrance to America's contribution to the war of Liberation. Inside the chapel there was a small altar, as well as a verse from John 10:28, "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish". As we walked about the grounds, several different small family groups busied themselves in different corners seeking out a certain grave (judged by their behavior). Later, after they found it, we would see them (from a respectful distance) sitting on the rock fence or staring into the Channel privately.

Large Battle Map: US Military Cemetary at Omaha Beach

Normandy landing operational map

Chapel Ceiling: US Military Cemetary at Omaha Beach

The mosaic ceiling dome, donated by France, showing America
sending troops and supplies and the soldiers returning as angels.

Click HERE to see full screen enlargement.

Jesse: We realized it was time to go, and quickly took a few digital pictures with as much respect as we could. We took a few 3D "stereoscope" pictures in an attempt to capture the grandness of the cemetery, and the results were quite nice. We quietly headed back to the parking lot, taking one more opportunity to witness the impressive rows of crosses. We were soon back in the car and on the road, following the coastal highways.

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Pointe du Hoc, Utah Beach, St Mere Eglise

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Dave: After visiting the US Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach, we headed west toward Pointe du Hoc and later Utah beach. We followed the coastal highway, and were surprised to see these famous D-Day landing points now dotted with country homes and week-end cottages.

Pointe du Hoc is the site of the cliffs scaled, at great loss, by the US Army Rangers during the D-Day invasion. The high plateau now contains a memorial and the tattered remains of several Nazi artillery emplacements and bunkers overlooking Omaha beach and the English Channel. It was easy to see how the objective was both so strategically important and so difficult and costly to obtain.

The most unusual features were the rolling grass covered hills, resembling golf course obstacles, that were in reality craters created by extensive wartime aerial and naval bombardment.

There were several tour buses and a couple groups of school kids walking about. We took dozens of pictures, later patching together a 360-degree panorama of this most unusual site.

Click HERE to see a 360-degree
panorama of Pointe du Hoc
 (size: 7-meg)  .mov format requires
that you have appropriate viewer

Beach homes near Omaha Beach, Normandy

Beachfront homes now dot the Omaha beach coastline.

Pointe du Hoc

Remains of a Nazi bunker on Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc

Tourists look out to sea from the remains of a bunker
Jesse overlooking the cliffs and English Channel

Dave: From Pointe du Hoc, we drove to Utah Beach and onto St Mere Eglise, the site of the church made famous by the D-Day parachutist caught on its bell tower (played by Red Buttons in "The Longest Day").

Compared to Omaha beach and the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, Utah Beach seemed a relative cake walk with flat, smooth sand and an easy, level route inland; similar to the British and Canadian beaches near Arromanches and our own home in Florida.

We stopped for pastries for lunch, and took pictures of the dozens of stone churches, with each small town in the area having their own unique structure.

Jesse on Utah Beach

Jesse on the smooth sand at Utah beach
on the English Channel

St Mere Eglise, Normandy

St Mere Eglise, Normandy

The famous stone church at St Mere Eglise
Click HERE to view the D-Day memorial at St Mere Eglise

A stone church in NormandyA stone church in Normandy

A stone church in Normandy

Other Stone churches in the vicinity
A stone church framed by those famous hedgerows

Dave: It was getting late, and we needed to scoot to make it to Mont St Michel with enough light to see the famous island cathedral. We would be leaving for Rennes (and the train to Paris) early the following morning, so there would be no extra time for sightseeing after tonight.

We took off, and watched the scenic Normandy landscape roll by as we passed through St Lo and Avranches. We noticed we were following the "Voie de la Liberte" (Road of Freedom) with commemorative markers placed each KM by the French government following the route of Patton's tanks from Normandy to Bastogne.

Around 4pm, the famous island cathedral appeared in the tidal flats. 

 

"Voie de la Liberte"

We followed the
"Voie de la Liberte"
(Road of Freedom - 1944)

Jesse filled our noisy little diesel

Michigan auto-parts: a chain of stores in Normandy

Jesse filled our noisy little diesel with the broken muffler
"Michigan" auto-parts was a local chain of stores

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Mont Saint Michel

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Dave: Mont St Michel, appeared first tiny, then slowly grew, as we stopped to take one after another unnecessary pictures. We eventually arrived at the small set of hotels and restaurants at the land side of the causeway. Our hotel, Hotel La Digue, was literally the second door from the causeway entry and FANTASTIC. If you go to visit Mont St Michel, I heartily recommend that you either use this hotel, or stay on the island. Our room overlooked the timeworn dam that gave the hotel its name.

We checked in and in a jiffy unpacked, freshened up, and took some pictures of the famous landmark from the balcony of our hotel room. Then it was back to the car, over the causeway, and the pleasant surprise of an unmanned toll both and FREE PARKING ("Parking Gratuit").

The source of famous Normandy cheese

Normandy cows that produce the area's famous cheeses

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

Click HERE to enlarge our picture of Mont St Michel
View of the cathedral from our hotel balcony.

Dave:  We had read much about the silt build-up caused by poorly planned construction, and the periodic flooding of the parking areas. However, there are plans in place to completely redo the access road and parking for the island, so by the time you read this story, the logistics and layout may be entirely different. It would be nice to return to the historic situation of being entirely separated by sea during high tides, the original justification for the structure in the first place. (Click HERE to read about this historic engineering project).

So we parked the car (for free) and walked across the small drawbridge and into the imposing structure. The narrow passage spirals counter-clockwise up the island toward the cathedral at the very top. It is impossible to describe the delightful experience of walking thru this ancient structure, with each turn holding a new surprise. It was quickly obvious that we had neither the time nor inclination to walk to the very  top during this visit, and so we sought out both souvenirs and dinner.

We had watched a Rick Steve's video about his visit to Mont St Michel where he made a great fuss about the famous omelettes prepared here, so that was a requirement for our dinner. The structures nearest the entry included several souvenir stands that were due to close soon, so we selected and purchased several items. We walked up the trail less than one half rotation, and stopped when confronted by a large staircase leading to a hidden turn. We passed a small chapel and were surprised to see a young man in monk's attire (right down to the sandals) step out of a door and wend his way up the curving staircase.

Since we had already passed several restaurants, we simply chose one and headed back down the path toward dinner. Our host was loud, unpleasantly exuberant, speaking "tourist English" for us and directing us across the room to a selected table. But the menu (English and French) and setting (windows and terrace overlooking the walls to the outer tidal flats, made up for the unpleasant predictability.

We were offered overpriced wines and mineral waters, as well as dinners, but it was for the experience. But the omelette, when it arrived, was the worst. It was HUGE (per the video) but tasted awful. It was bland, and filled with a tasteless froth. I had expected pungent cheese, or sweet cream, or tempting spices to flavor it. But no, it simply brought to mind supping on thin wallpaper paste. Oh well.

The rest of dinner was grand (what can be wrong with French cuisine?), and our time together was delightful. When we finished our marvelous entrees and delectable desserts, we wandered back down the spiral path and emerged just as sun was setting and the walls were spectacularly back-lit. What a wonderful way to spend our last day in Normandy.

Free parking at Mont St Michel

Free Parking! My favorite words.

The narrow passageways of Mont St Michel The narrow passageways of Mont St Michel

The narrow passageways circling the island structure

Our dinner at Mont St Michel Our dinner at Mont St Michel

Our last dinner in Normandy, a famous omelette appetizer

Mont St Michel at Night

Click HERE to enlarge this picture of
Mont St Michel at Night

When we returned to our hotel after dinner, Jesse watched some TV and fell asleep while I organized web page pictures for the last several days and uploaded them with the modern telephone connection at Hotel La Digue. Then I called Lyn, told her to check out the new pictures, and arranged for her wake-up call to us for the morning, Finally, I again verified the Rennes to Paris train schedule and captured key GPS points for our rushed trip to the distant train station in the morning. I made sure all our clothes were laid out and the rest packed away for a quick morning departure. With that, I tucked myself into bed and quickly fell asleep.

Day 05 Return to Main Page Day 07


Original Web Upload May 2002
Last Update: March 18, 2008