Friday, July 20, 2012

France, Part 2: Normandy is Where We Enjoyed Le Perrey, A Small World and Omaha Beach

When I hatched the plan to go over to Normandy, my brother recommended a site listing rental houses and homeshares and we started the process of finding a suitable place for 9 people for a few days. We were both intrigued by the description of a "renovated cowshed" on a farm just 10 minutes from the D-Day beaches. The pictures showed an idyllic spot and the price was right. It seemed too good to be believed, so of course we went for it, with all the touristy naivete we could muster.

As we approached this fantasy of a rented farm and turned off the road, we found ourselves winding through tiny, impossibly narrow lanes with tall hedgerows on either side. The twenty-first century slipped to the edges of the scene, glimpsed only in the cars and occasional satellite dish.  Everything else could have been from 50 years ago or 300 years ago.  I was entranced. My more practical brother was a tiny bit concerned, but the GPS actually knew the name of the farm to which we were headed so we trusted in her smooth, British-accented instructions.

When we arrived at the lovely farm compound called Le Perrey, there was no bad news. It actually WAS idyllic, built in the 18th century from cream-colored stone and set in green fields edged with lavender and wild roses. Chickens were clucking somewhere in the background. The owners were friendly and let our kids play with their scooters and jump on their trampoline. This nice family had left Paris and bought this farm a few years ago and set up the guesthouse. It seemed an understatement when they described life in Blay as "better." It was so beautiful and quiet I could feel my heart rate tick down a little more every minute we were there.

After settling in, we went to the town of Bayeux to look around and discovered a charming old downtown area with a truly spectacular cathedral, which we were lucky enough to find just as the sun was setting around 9:30 pm.  More about Bayeux in another post. It's that nice of a place.

The next morning was church in Caen, France, at which we had a Small World Experience worthy of the permanent file. Two years ago a girl from Paris ended up at our Girl's camp in Pennsylvania while she was taking a summer to visit the US. Both Sara and I were acquainted with her at that camp. In this small chapel in Caen, Sara noticed first that it might be this young lady sitting to our right in the same worship service. This seemed unlikely, since she doesn't live in Caen, but it did look like her, so we went to her after the meeting and sure enough, it was her! What are the chances?? Well, it is actually a fairly common thing among Mormons to run into people like that, even far across the world, but still, this was amazing. The best part was that she was warm and kind and happy to see us and it was a completely satisfying reunion, unexpected and brief as it was.

That afternoon, we made our way to Omaha Beach, as well as the site just up the steep dunes from that historic place: one of the American Cemeteries that are found throughout the world commemorating the sacrifice of soldiers. This was our first experience so far with a large crowd. Even on a Sunday afternoon, and just a couple of hours before closing time, there were many hundreds of people here, from all over the world. Because it was a holiday weekend in France, many were French, but in a quick perusal of the guest book for that day, I saw notations of cities all over the world, from Racine, Wisconsin to Tel Aviv Israel. The large crowds were surprising and touching to me, because this place is in the middle of nowhere. You don't just come upon it. You plan to go there. And drive far from major towns and cities. It was definitely a place of reverence and contemplation. The visitor's center is filled with personal stories of the soldiers who are buried there and it is the personal stories that interest me most. I walked among the markers, wondering about the story of each and every one of the individuals whose names I saw. I'm glad we went, and on a beautifully sunny day. It made me think of how the world rolls on, even when terrible things happen. The resilience of the human spirit and the hard things that others have and will continue to do actually have an impact on those who come after. It's good to not forget.

Le Pont du Normandy-The Normandy Bridge
crosses over the River Seine on its way to the
sea. 

The ancient stone wall that bordered Le Perrey

The road past the farm

My first glimpse of La Manche or The English Channel, as
we walked up to the Visitor's Center at the American
Cemetery at Omaha Beach

The walk through the cliffs to the dunes bordering the beach.
It was gripping to imagine what it was like for the soldiers to
face all the obstacles of just the land and sea, on top of being
shot at. 

One of the memorials at the cemetery. 

The cemetery is orderly, manicured, and pristine. 

Looking out over some of the 9000 graves to the Channel. 
Without anyone mentioning it, my sweet
niece went among the stones fixing and
rearranging the
flowers that had fallen down.

We made it to the beach. 

Some might find their childish cavorting disrespectful, but
I delighted in the fact that this beach is a peaceful place, fit
for children to jump and feel safe and happy. 

There were hearts aplenty here, including this one embedded
into the walkway from the beach. Sara pointed it out to me. 




4 comments:

  1. That farm sounds like a dream! How fantastic that it was just right - I would love to go to that beach someday.

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  2. Have I mentioned yet how jealous I am? Keep enjoying for me. :)

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  3. i am loving your accounts of your adventures! thanks for letting me be an armchair traveler with you!

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  4. What an ideal way to experience the area. Thanks for sharing so many little details.

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Thank you for sharing your insights!